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

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

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

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

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

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


30 September, 2012

Eating Cherries Lowers Risk of Gout Attacks by 35% (?)

The journal article is  "Cherry consumption and the risk of recurrent gout attacks".  It appears that the gout sufferers quizzed were aware of the hypothesis underlying the research.  The results are therefore worthless:  Just the usual "trying to please" effect at work.  And the fact that the sample was gathered online could also have biased the results.  Volunteers may have been more likely to believe in the widely-promoted magical powers of various fruits and hence have given replies in accordance  with that expectation

A new study found that patients with gout who consumed cherries over a two-day period showed a 35% lower risk of gout attacks compared to those who did not eat the fruit. Findings from this case-crossover study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), also suggest that risk of gout flares was 75% lower when cherry intake was combined with the uric-acid reducing drug, allopurinol, than in periods without exposure to cherries or treatment.

Previous research reports that 8.3 million adults in the U.S. suffer with gout, an inflammatory arthritis triggered by a crystallization of uric acid within the joints that causes excruciating pain and swelling. While there are many treatment options available, gout patients continue to be burdened by recurrent gout attacks, prompting patients and investigators to seek other preventive options such as cherries. Prior studies suggest that cherry products have urate-lowering effects and anti-inflammatory properties, and thus may have the potential to reduce gout pain. However, no study has yet to assess whether cherry consumption could lower risk of gout attacks.

For the present study, lead author Dr. Yuqing Zhang, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University and colleagues recruited 633 gout patients who were followed online for one year. Participants were asked about the date of gout onset, symptoms, medications and risk factors, including cherry and cherry extract intake in the two days prior to the gout attack. A cherry serving was one half cup or 10 to 12 cherries.

Participants had a mean age of 54 years, with 88% being white and 78% of subjects were male. Of those subjects with some form of cherry intake, 35% ate fresh cherries, 2% ingested cherry extract, and 5% consumed both fresh cherry fruit and cherry extract. Researchers documented 1,247 gout attacks during the one-year follow-up period, with 92% occurring in the joint at the base of the big toe.

"Our findings indicate that consuming cherries or cherry extract lowers the risk of gout attack," said Dr. Zhang. "The gout flare risk continued to decrease with increasing cherry consumption, up to three servings over two days." The authors found that further cherry intake did not provide any additional benefit. However, the protective effect of cherry intake persisted after taking into account patients' sex, body mass (obesity), purine intake, along with use of alcohol, diuretics and anti-gout medications.

In their editorial, also published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, Dr. Allan Gelber from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. and Dr. Daniel Solomon from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Mass. highlight the importance of the study by Zhang et al. as it focuses on dietary intake and risk of recurrent gout attacks. While the current findings are promising, Gelber and Solomon "would not advise that patients who suffer from gout attacks abandon standard therapies." Both the editorial and study authors concur that randomized clinical trials are necessary to confirm that consumption of cherry products could prevent gout attacks.


Mercury Policy Project Reveals New Low In Quasi Science

Last week when Mercury Policy Project (MPP) released its agenda driven ramblings in the form of a "report" on mercury in canned tuna, a number of questions were raised about this opinion piece that was neither peer-reviewed nor published. The fact that the report completely ignored the multitude of studies showing the benefits of eating tuna -and the harm that comes when people don't eat enough seafood- had some asking just what type of risk analysis MPP had done in order to put the actual risks in perspective.

Well, now we have that answer and it is, not surprisingly, a new low in quasi science. You'll remember the report's lead author Ned Groth was featured in various news outlets including the venerable Food Chemical News.  Let's take a look at what he told them:

"Additionally, there are some questions to be asked about the report.  Groth admits his organization didn't conduct a survey to find out how commonly tuna is served in schools, adding that he's heard 'anecdotal' references to the frequency of tuna served in lunches of a friend's grandson in New Jersey."

 Really? MPP is basing its current study on "`anecdotal' references to the frequency of tuna served in lunches of a friend's grandson in New Jersey"? Is that the threshold used by FDA, USDA and CDC? I wonder if Dr. Margaret Hamburg at FDA immediately consults that organization's vast library of anecdotal food safety literature authored by a friend's grandson in New Jersey before ordering a risk assessment for any number of products. I'm sure she does. It sounds like the platinum standard in science.

Just to be clear. and just so all the reporters who covered this story know. the Mercury Policy Project chose not to research the actual exposure risk associated with its findings and in fact made up its own policy recommendations based on what it's lead researcher heard about a friend's grandson in New Jersey.


28 September, 2012

Harvard hits out at valium and related drugs

Predictable:  It's popular so it must be bad.  The risk reported was small and it's just correlational rubbish anyway.  Some people with physical illness probably had trouble sleeping and needed pills because of it.  But their premature death was most likely caused by the illness, not the pills taken to cope with it.  Just the usual profound ignorance of basic statistics and logic that we find in the medical literature.  They should all read "How to lie with statistics" and revise their thinking accordingly.  It's profoundly disappointing to find Harvard involved in such intellectually disreputable "research" but given the Leftism of the place is hardly surprising.  Leftists prioritize their hatreds over the facts

The journal article is here.  If they had just reported their results without any inferences it would be reasonable enough but they actually draw policy inferences from it!

For reference, the title of the article  is "Benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia: prospective population based study".  It is also striking that they combined users of different types of benzodiazepine.  Why?  The two drugs have different classes of users and clearly should have been treated separately.  Would it be that the effects observed were so weak that they could get significance only by combining the two classes of drugs?  What a nasty mind I've got!

Sleeping pills taken by more than a million Britons significantly increase the risk of dementia, researchers warn today.  Pensioners who used benzodiazepines – which include temazepam and diazepam [Valium] – were 50 per cent more likely to succumb to the devastating illness, a Harvard University study found.

Academics believe the side effects of the drugs may be so harmful that doctors should avoid prescribing them.

Around 1.5million Britons are believed to be taking the pills at any one time and more than 10million prescriptions are handed out a year.

The researchers also estimate that up to 8 per cent of the over-65s have used them within the last few years to treat insomnia or anxiety.

But there is growing evidence that they have serious side effects and a number of studies have linked them to falls, memory problems, panic attacks and early death.

Academics from Harvard University in the US and the University of Bordeaux in France discovered that over-65s who had taken the drugs within the last 15 years were 50 per cent more likely to get dementia.

The drugs can only be obtained by a prescription. They work by changing the way messages are transmitted to the brain, which induces a calming effect.

But scientists believe that at the same time they may be interfering with chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters, which may be causing dementia.

Professor Tobias Kurth, who works jointly at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and the University of Bordeaux, said: ‘There is a potential that these drugs are really harmful. ‘If it is really true that these drugs are causing dementia that will be huge. But one single study does not necessarily show everything that is going on, so there is no need to panic.

‘These drugs certainly have their benefits and if you prescribe them in a way they should be prescribed they treat very well.’

The study, published today in the British Medical Journal, involved 1,063 men and women over the age of 65 for a period of 20 years in south west France. Initially none of the participants had dementia and no one was taking benzodiazepines.

The researchers followed them up after 15 years and found that 253 had developed dementia. They worked out that out of 100 not taking the drug, 3.2 would be expected to get the illness.  But among 100 patients on these drugs, 4.8 would get dementia – a significantly higher proportion. The patients had taken the pills at least once – over the course of a week or so – at some point in the previous 15 years.

The study concluded: ‘Considering the extent to which benzodiazepines are prescribed and the number of potential adverse effects, indiscriminate widespread use should be cautioned against.’

In the last 20 years the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepines has fallen by 40 per cent, largely due to concerns that patients were becoming addicted.

But they remain one of the most commonly used drugs and there are fears some patients are taking them for far too long.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘This is the not the first time it has been suggested that these drugs could have a negative impact on cognition. With this long-term study adding to the evidence, it emphasises how important it is we properly monitor how treatments for anxiety or sleep problems are used.’


Pre-clinical trials show new drug can stop type 2 diabetes in mice

A NEW drug has stopped type 2 diabetes developing and prevented its progression in pre-clinical trials.  The results, from four animal trials, have been described as promising by the researchers who hope eventually it will become a key weapon in the obesity epidemic.

Austin Hospital Professor of Medicine Joe Proietto said type 2 diabetes was caused by too much fat in the body, which eventually led to insulin resistance.

The therapy aims to block Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor B (VEGF-B) which controls the transport and storage of fat in body tissues.  "If you block the VEGF-B signalling, you stop the fatty acids from accumulating in the tissue and type 2 diabetes developing," said CSL researcher Dr Andrew Nash, who wrote the paper.  "It's a very important breakthrough. Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions."

The drug, developed by CSL, will now progress into toxicity tests and human trials.

Dr Nash and Prof Proietto said there were no adverse outcomes in the mice, but if the drug was successful it would take up to 10 years before it became available to the public.

The research was published in the Nature journal.


27 September, 2012

Red wine 'could help you lose weight'  -- if you are a bee (!)

Generalizing from mice to people is bad enough but this is absurd

Drinking red wine could help you lose weight by suppressing your appetite and preventing you from overeating, a study suggests.   Researchers found that when bees were fed resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, they ate less food afterwards.

While bees normally gorge themselves on sugary foods when they are freely available, those which had been fed resveratrol chose to stop eating once they had taken on enough to meet their energy needs.

They also became uninterested in diluted sugar solutions, suggesting they had become less sensitive to it, the scientists reported in the Aging journal.

Previous studies have indicated that resveratrol could also combat obesity by mimicing the effects of a low-fat diet, and help prevent the onset of age-related disease.

Gro Amdam, one of the study's authors from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, said: "Because what we eat is such an important contributor to our physical health, we looked at the bees' sensitivity to sugar and their willingness to consume it.

"Bees typically gorge on sugar and while it's the best thing for them, we know that eating too much is not necessarily a good thing."

Brenda Rascón, another of the researchers, from Arizona State University, added: "Surprisingly, the bees that received the drug decreased their food intake.

"The bees were allowed to eat as much as they pleased and were certainly not starving — they simply would not gorge on the food that we know they like.  "It's possible resveratrol may be working by some mechanism that is related to caloric restriction — a dietary regimen long-known to extend lifespan in diverse organisms."


Junk science is worse for your health than egg yolks

We all know that eggs contain a lot of fat and cholesterol. While that does not make them "bad,” most of us realize that if you eat eggs or any other food to excess you will likely suffer some negative health effects. But are egg yolks as bad as cigarettes for heart health? That’s question that’s been making headlines in recent months after the publication of a study that asserts this idea. Unfortunately, most of journalists reporting on the story did not bother to actually read the paper, which has major flaws that cast serious doubt on the conclusion — something the authors of the paper note when they call for further study into their hypothesis.

Yet the presses roll on, leading a lot of readers to question whether or not they should change their diet based on what seems like new data. Even more worrying than individuals altering their eating habits is the likelihood that politicians could use this study as justification for any number of hare-brained schemes to improve the health of Americans.

Published in the Journal of Atherosclerosis, "Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque,” was authored by three Canadian physicians motivated by an increasing lack of regard for the role that dietary fat and cholesterol play in the development of coronary heart disease, according to the paper’s introduction. They looked at nearly 3,000 people, all of whom they found at vascular prevention clinics in Canada, and asked them about their egg consumption and cigarette smoking. Over the years, they tracked these participants and found that "egg yolk years” — that is, the number of eggs eaten per week times the number of years in the study — are correlated with increasing plaque in the carotid arteries. They found that the egg yolk year-to-plaque correlation was similar to the cigarette-plaque correlation.

There are numerous problems with this study. First, the research was based on yearly self-reporting from patients. Self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate (can you remember how many eggs you ate last year?). There is also the major issue that all of the participants were patients at vascular prevention clinics — which one can assume means they either already have vascular problems or are at high risk as a result of genetic or lifestyle risk factors. As SUNY professor and biochemist Richard David Feinman put it, "this is a limitation of many nutritional studies and, while a source of error, it is depends on how you interpret the data.” But that brings me to what I see as the biggest problem in this study: the limited data the researchers chose to examine and draw conclusions about. The researchers did not track other foods the participants ate (maybe they always ate toast and bacon with their eggs) nor did it take account of activity level or exercise.

What they found in their research is that "egg yolk years” correlated with plaque build-up in carotid arteries — in a similar fashion to cigarette smoking. Based on the authors’ premise, one would have expected cholesterol to rise with egg consumption as well. But this is not what the study’s data show. They show no relationship between egg yolk consumption and serum cholesterol. As "diet guru” Zoë Harcombe noted:
    For this study to suggest an association between egg yolks and carotid plaque (which is analogous for heart disease in effect in the article) there needs to be a plausible mechanism. Interestingly the study has ruled out cholesterol as a mechanism. Hence the conventional view that cholesterol is ‘clogging up arteries’ cannot be used because no association with cholesterol holds.

In fact, it seems that the strongest factor that correlated with plaque buildup was time. As fitness author Mark Sisson noted of the study:
    Those who ate the most eggs were the oldest – almost 70 years old on average, compared to the relatively sprightly 55 year-old egg avoiders. It’s pretty well accepted that with age comes the progression of atherosclerosis, a process that takes, well, time to occur. Plaque doesn’t just snap into existence; it develops. All else being equal, the older you get, the more plaque you’ll have.

The authors of the study didn’t talk a lot about the lack of a relationship between cholesterol and egg consumption, which is good because most of the research in the last 15 years has pointed toward other causal factors in heart disease. Where doctors once took it as gospel truth that eating fat and cholesterol caused one to be fat and have high cholesterol, researchers now believe inflammation, caused by numerous factors, is the cause of heart disease with raised cholesterol as a symptom:
    Excessive free radicals created by high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoke, fatty meals, elevated insulin levels with oxidized LDL cholesterol, elevated homocysteine, and possibly some infectious agents have the capability to cause inflammation of the surface lining of the arteries called the endothelium. This either causes an actual tear of the endothelium or causes the endothelium to function abnormally. LDL cholesterol is then allowed to enter into the subendothelial space (area just under the lining of the artery) where it becomes oxidized and starts to build a plaque. The cholesterol actually comes along as a band-aid trying to repair the damage to the artery caused by inflammation. This is what creates hardening of the arteries.

It might come as a shock to a few readers that dietary cholesterol does not go straight into your arteries, just like dietary fat does not instantly get transferred to your butt. In fact, even if you consumed zero cholesterol, your body would still make it anyway and your blood cholesterol would only fall by 20-25 percent.

But like I said, the authors do not seem to mind that there is no correlation between yolk eating and blood cholesterol. They bypass the glaring lack of a proposed mechanism by which yolks increase carotid plaque, as well as glazing over the possibility that other factors in the participants’ lives could correlate with increased plaque. Instead, they come to the conclusion that reducing yolk consumption is the way to reduce the risk of heart disease. To their credit, the authors at least conclude the paper by declaring the need to test their hypothesis with "more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference,” yet they still recommend that people at risk of cardiovascular disease avoid eating egg yolks.

All this study has demonstrated is that the group of people these doctors chose to look at had an increasing amount of plaque in their arteries as they got older and maintained whatever kind of diet and lifestyle they had been living prior to the study. That hardly seems like something to write home about let alone write a news story about or change your diet because of. Yet I fully expect to see policy makers declaring the need for "fat taxes” or caps on the amount of cholesterol allowed in fast foods, wielding this study as proof.

In the end we all have different dietary needs and it should be up to each individual to determine how many egg yolks they should or should not be eating for their own desired health.


26 September, 2012

Move to Less Poor Neighborhood Boosts Physical and Mental Health

The elephant in the room here is crime.  The deeper into the ghetto you go, the worse the crime is.  And pervasive ambient crime is undoubtedly stressful  -- thus leading to the effects noted.  Interesting to see if there was any effect left after crime was factored out.  The journal article is "Neighborhood Effects on the Long-Term Well-Being of Low-Income Adults"

Moving from a high-poverty to lower-poverty neighborhood spurs long-term gains in the physical and mental health of low-income adults, as well as a substantial increase in their happiness, despite not improving economic self-sufficiency, according to a new study published in the Sept. 20 issue of Science by researchers at the University of Chicago and partners at other institutions.

Although moving into less disadvantaged neighborhoods did not raise incomes for the families that moved, these families experienced important gains in well-being in other ways. Moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to one with a poverty rate 13 percentage points lower increased the happiness of low-income adults by an amount equivalent to the gains caused by a $13,000 rise in family income.

Using data from a large-scale randomized social experiment called Moving to Opportunity, the authors found that neighborhood income segregation had a greater impact than neighborhood racial segregation in shaping the outcomes of adults in the study. "This finding is important, in part, because racial segregation has been trending down since 1970, but income segregation has gone up steadily since then," said lead author Jens Ludwig, the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at UChicago and director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. "So the problem of adverse neighborhood effects on low-income families seems to be getting worse, rather than better, over time."

Another implication of the study is that looking at the growth over time in inequality with respect to family income -- a key focus of much of the inequality discussion -- understates the growth in inequality of well-being. Focusing on income inequality ignores the negative effects on poor families from growing residential segregation by economic status. The researchers estimate that the drop in happiness of low-income adults due to growing residential income segregation since 1970 is large enough to offset the full income growth for low-income Americans over the past four decades.

"Focusing just on trends in income inequality over time in the U.S., while ignoring the growth of income segregation over time, understates the trends towards greater inequality in well-being in America," Ludwig said.

The new paper, "Neighborhood Effects on the Long-Term Well-Being of Low-Income Adults," was co-authored by a national team of collaborators in addition to Ludwig. It relied on data from 4,604 low-income families that enrolled in Moving to Opportunity, an experiment that used a random lottery to offer some families initially living in distressed public housing projects the chance to move into lower-poverty areas. The Science paper looks at outcomes among adults 10 to 15 years after they moved.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development operated Moving to Opportunity from 1994 to 1998 in five cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Families volunteered for the study, and some were picked at random to receive housing voucher subsidies to move to lower-poverty communities. Other families were randomly assigned to a control group that received no special assistance under the program.

People in the study were extremely disadvantaged economically. Most households were headed by African American or Hispanic females -- fewer than 40 percent of whom had completed high school. Their primary reason for participating was to get away from gangs and drug activity and find better apartments and better schools for their children.

A previous paper found that MTO participants who moved had fewer problems with extreme obesity and long-term risks. The study in Science showed that neighborhood environments have much broader effects on well-being for low-income families and implicate neighborhood income segregation as the key feature of distressed urban neighborhoods that seems to matter most for well-being.

"These findings suggest the importance of focusing on efforts to improve the well-being of poor families, rather than just the narrower goal of reducing income poverty, and the potential value of community-level interventions for achieving that end," Ludwig said.


Complaints Mount Against Michelle Obama’s New Lunch Menu

 In Wisconsin, high school athletes are complaining about not getting enough to eat each day, due to the skimpy new school lunch menu mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama.

The story we published earlier this week on that subject is unfortunately not unique. Students across the country are complaining about the new school lunch regulations.

Perhaps the real motive is to starve students into slimming down. Just ask students in Pierre, South Dakota who, too, are in an all-out revolt.

"I know a lot of my friends who are just drinking a jug of milk for their lunch. And they are not getting a proper meal," middle school student Samantha Gortmaker told

Despite the fact that the new regulations have increased the cost of a lunch 20 to 25 cents per plate, it’s not pleasing students.

Some are throwing away their vegetables while others are adapting to the rules by becoming industrious. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, students have created a black market - for chocolate syrup. The kiddie capitalists are smuggling in bottles of it and selling it by the squeeze, according to

Nancy Carvalho, director of food services for New Bedford Public Schools, was quoted as saying that hummus and black bean salads have been tough sells in elementary cafeterias. That means even smaller children are going through the day fighting hunger pains, which can never be considered a good thing.

One government official tried to put the blame on the students.

"One thing I think we need to keep in mind as kids say they're still hungry is that many children aren't used to eating fruits and vegetables at home, much less at school. So it's a change in what they are eating. If they are still hungry, it's that they are not eating all the food that's being offered," USDA Deputy Undersecretary Janey Thornton was quoted as saying.

Ms. Thornton just put her finger on the problem. The government is trying to impose a new diet that children are not accustomed to. It’s not reasonable to expect them to either eat what the government deems healthy or go hungry.

Many will opt to go hungry, and that’s the government’s fault.


25 September, 2012

Some obesity propaganda from NPR

The slip-sliding around the facts starts with the first sentence.  They give no reference for the "one in three"  assertion -- and it is obviously an assertion that depends heavily on the definitions used -- so a reference should be given. 

Even if we accept the figure however, lumping together the overweight and the obese is fraudulent.  Overweight people are in fact the longest-lived category! Only the grossly obese have  slightly reduced average lifespans.  So the article goes on to discuss the undoubted problems of the grossly obese after giving the impression that they are discussing one third of the population  -- which they are not.

And why is it the responsibility of the school anyway?  Schools have enough problems teaching the kids just to read and write

One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Significant numbers of those young people are grappling with health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Those conditions can be difficult for children to manage in any setting, but they can pose particular challenges for children during the school day.

Dr. Yolandra Hancock used to be an elementary school teacher, and it shows. She's patient, encouraging and has an endearing way of ending her sentences with "my love" and "my sweet."

Her patients include a 13-year-old who weighs 400 pounds; a child whose teeth are so rotted she can't bite into carrots; and many preteens who are diabetic. Today, Hancock is examining Derek Lyles, 13. He's 4 feet 11 inches and weighs 256 pounds.

"When we look at his body mass index, which is how well his weight and height balance out, his BMI today is 46.7," Hancock says. "For an adult male, we like to see a BMI of 30 or less."

Hancock is also troubled by dark patches of skin around Derek's neck.

"When little ones, especially around the back of the neck, have that sort of thick, almost velvety appearance to their neck, it means that their bodies are becoming less sensitive to insulin," she says.

Back-to-school checkups for patients like Derek mean lots of follow-up work for Hancock. Their belly fat pushes down on their bladders, so she'll have to write notes to principals, asking that her patients be allowed to go to the bathroom frequently. She must also draft requests to excuse children whose sleep apnea makes them appear drowsy in class, or whose joints hurt as they walk between classes.

Practical Challenges, For Kids And Schools

These accommodations also mean more work for schools, says Camille Wheeler, a nurse at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.  "It's a lot. It really is," Wheeler says. "It takes a lot for the student, for the nurse, the parent and the school. Especially the school. Because the majority of the time the students are here, you know?"

Wheeler says it's not unusual for a child to arrive at school at 8 a.m. and depart at 6 p.m., depending on a family's aftercare arrangements.  "That's a large chunk of their time," she says.

On a recent afternoon, Wheeler is thumbing through stacks of paper, racing to process students' health information. "I have a whole stack here of many, many health certificates, dental forms, health records," she says. "It's about well over 200 forms in here, and I'm getting them daily."

Many of the forms are related to obesity. Children with diabetes need midmorning snacks. Some are on special diets and some need medication. All this means time away from the classroom.

"It may not be in the forefront, like a broken bone for example, but it's there and it affects the students every day," says Shirley Schantz, nursing education director for the National Association of School Nurses.

Schantz says that nurses from across the country are increasingly calling her organization, asking for guidance on how to deal with childhood obesity in schools — even preschools.

"They see students that can't walk upstairs," she says. "They see students that are absent because they're overweight or obese, [who] don't want to go to physical education."

The physical aspects of living with obesity can be difficult enough for a child. But there's an emotional toll, as well. Bullying is a common problem for obese kids. Derek says other students often called him fat in middle school.

Taking A Toll On Learning

All these challenges can also affect learning. Dr. Hancock says there is evidence that children who are obese score less well on standardized tests and basic classroom tests.

"Some researchers believe that there may be something physiologically that's affecting the child's ability to learn," Bell says. "Others believe, because of self-esteem issues and bullying, it makes them less eager to attend school and participate in school activities."

Derek wants to lose weight so he can "walk fast like other kids." And he really wants to start playing football again this year.

"During training camp, I couldn't do most of the, like, exercise that other people was doing," Derek says. "I just couldn't do it."

For many obese children, even maintaining their weight when they're not in school is challenging. This summer, Derek could eat whenever he wanted, and the fridge was always stocked with food. At school, he says, he ate cereal or a muffin for breakfast. But over the summer, he often ate sausage and eggs. The pounds piled on.

Hancock hopes eating meals at school will help Derek get his weight under control. She embraces Derek as she says goodbye.

"All right, handsome, give me some hugs," Hancock says, embracing Derek. "I have faith you'll be able to make changes, because you've done this before."

As Hancock reminds her young patient, it's a brand new school year — an opportunity to start fresh.


Antioxidant-rich diet 'cuts heart attack risk'

Just the usual correlational garbage.  Proves nothing. Pure speculation

Eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables does appear to cut the chance of having a heart attack, but popping vitamin pills in the hope of aping a healthy diet does not, according to research.

Swedish researchers estimate that eating a diet high in antioxidants - mainly derived from fruit and veg - could cut the chance of a heart attack by a quarter.

The results contrast with studies that suggest taking antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin A, C and E pills, has no effect.

They believe that different antioxidant compounds could work together to protect the body in a much more powerful way than taking single large doses can achieve.

Specifically, the researchers found that older women ate seven fruit and vegetable portions a day, were between 20 and 29 per cent less likely to have a heart attack over a decade, than those who ate just 2.4.

The researchers assessed antioxidant intake by looking at the diets of 30,000 Swedish women aged 49 to 83 at the start of the study.

Those with the highest antioxidant intake were 20 per cent less likely to have suffered a heart attack than those with the lowest intake, after statistically adjusting for a host of factors like differences in age, weight, and whether they smoked or exercised.

Women who ate a lot of fruit and vegetables also tended to eat less saturated fat. When the researchers adjusted for intake of fats, the difference in heart attack rates rose to 29 per cent. The study did not look at overall mortality.  [I wonder why?]

Dr Alicja Wolk from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was the lead researcher, said their research contrasted with tests of single antioxidant supplements, which have largely failed to find evidence that they cut heart attacks or mortality rates.

Pamela Hannley, managing editor of the American Journal of Medicine, where the report is published, said: "Although weight-loss diets abound, the few which emphasize increasing intake of fruits and vegetables actually may be on the right track."

However, not all ascribe to the theory that antioxidants are universally good for health. Two years ago cardiologists at King's College London published results that some free radicals could actually help protect against heart disease.


24 September, 2012

"A rancid, corrupt way to report about science"

On 21st, I called the study discussed below a fraud.  I said so after just looking at the initial media report.  It seems that my judgment was well justified  -- JR

The quote in the headline on this post comes from Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom, in a commentary on coverage of recent European study on possible health effects of eating GM crops. To give you the short version, the study authors appear to have practiced some very questionable science and some - and cynical - manipulation of the science media.

Or as Ivan Oransky put it on Embargo Watch:  "A study of the effect of genetically modified corn on rats that you may have read about earlier this week doesn’t seem to have said much about whether GMOs are safe. But it sure said a lot about how the scientists who did the work used a crafty embargo to control their message."

And Zimmer and Oranky weren't the only notable science writers to express real dismay over the way the French researchers worked to control the media in this case (you'll find in Oransky's post the fact that the lead researcher has a book coming out on the subject of GM crops, by the way).

The story began in fairly standard way, publication of a study on the effects of feeding the weedkiller, Roundup, and Roundup resistant corn to rats.  The study, published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, which was embargoed for release this week.

Here was the catch: The researchers agreed to provide advance copies of the study, which purported to find that a large increase in tumors in the GMO-crop and herbicide exposed rodents, only  journalists would sign an agreement not to show the paper to any other scientists for comment. In other words, the initial stories would be required to take the study at face value. Although Oransky notes that news outlets later updated their story, the first accounts are still enjoying an uncritical ride in activist circles, such as this one from France's Le Monde, where I assume the agreement was signed and which reads almost like a press release.

As the researcher and science blogger Scicurious pointed out in a post at Scientific American's The Crux, this meant that such stories played right into the anti-GMO narrative rather than putting the story in full context or calling attention to the concerns expressed by other researchers about the validity of the results.

To quote: Scicurious: "Following the release of the study, numerous scientists questioned the findings, citing 'anomalies throughout the paper that normally should have been corrected or resolved through the peer-review process.' In particular, there are problems with the statistics performed on the data, the way the data were presented, and the numbers and types of animals used in the study."

Among the problems, for instance, the researchers chose a strain of rats known to spontaneously develop tumors without exposure to any of the products under study. Given a 30 percent mortality rate in their control animals, they also failed to provide ncessary data about which those animals had developed tumors. In fact, so many scientists criticized the findings that the British-based Science Media Centre ended up putting a resource list of such comments on its website.

At The New York Times, Andy Revkin noted that anti-GMO advocates were already promoting the uncritical versions of the study. The piece is also worth reading for the excellent point about the "single-study syndrome" - the tendency of advocacy groups to use these kinds of reports, often out of the context of the greater body of work, to argue their points.

Which is exactly what Rosie Mestal, at The Los Angeles Times, reported - that  the study - despite the methodological criticisms -  "was embraced by opponents of genetically altered foods, including backers of Proposition 37, which if approved by California voters in November would require most foods with genetically modified ingredients to bear a label."

Still, outside of activist circles, it's worth noting that many (good) journalists responded with skepticism to the report:

 At The Washington Post, Tim Carman wrote a thoroughly researched story, describing the study as controversial in the very first graf. (The headline - "French Scientists Question Safety of GM Corn" - oversimplified but that's another risk inherent in single study syndrome).

At Boing-Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote a savvy and sharp-edged analysis with the excellent headline: Authors of study linking GM corn with rat tumors mainpulated media to prevent criticism of their work."

At Discovery News, we find Emily Sohn's excellent "GM Corn-Tumor Link Based on Poor Science".

At Geekosystem, Ian Chant goes farther, calling lead researcher, Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen,  sketchy for refusing to turn over his data to the EU agency responsible for food safety. This follows on a report from Martin Enserink at Science that agencies with both the EU and the French government are planning to investigate the results more thoroughly.

In other words, that non-disclosure demand from Séralini and his colleagues should have been a red flag from the beginning, a warning that this could be some very suspect research. And the appropriate response from any journalist should have been a flat no - it's far better to be second-day on a suspect story than to be suckered on the first day. Or, to quote Zimmer again, as he calls out organizations that did sign the agreement: "For shame."


Students strike against new federal school lunch rules

A far as I can see, this stupid authoritarianism is mainly going to hit poor families.  Other families can surely send their kids to school packing a sandwich or two

By 7 a.m. Monday, senior Nick Blohm already had burned about 250 calories in the Mukwonago High School weight room.

He grabbed a bagel and a Gatorade afterward; if he eats before lifting, he gets sick.

That was followed by eight periods in the classroom, and then three hours of football practice. By the time he headed home, he had burned upward of 3,000 calories - his coach thinks the number is even higher.

But the calorie cap for his school lunch? 850 calories.

"A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice begins," Blohm said. "Our metabolisms are all sped up."

Following new federal guidelines, school districts nationwide have retooled their menus to meet new requirements to serve more whole grains, only low-fat or nonfat milk, daily helpings of both fruits and vegetables, and fewer sugary and salty items. And for the first time, federal funds for school lunches mandate age-aligned calorie maximums. The adjustments are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 touted by Michelle Obama and use the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The changes are hard to swallow for students like Blohm. On Monday, 70% of the 830 Mukwonago High students who normally buy lunch boycotted cafeteria food to protest what they see as an unfair "one size fits all thing." Middle schoolers in the district also boycotted their school lunches, with counts down nearly half Monday. They're not alone in their frustration; schools across the country are reporting students who are unhappy with the lunch offerings.

The sub sandwich line at Mukwonago High used to let students pile veggies on a six-inch French bread bun. Options now include a fist-sized whole wheat roll or multigrain wrap, and the once popular line is now mostly empty.

The healthier food is less the issue than the portions.

"A freshman girl who weighs 100 pounds can eat this lunch and feel completely full, maybe even a little bloated," said Joey Bougneit, a Mukwonago senior.

But Blohm is a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker. He's also class president, and takes several Advanced Placement classes. If schools want students to perform well, he said, they can't be sitting in their chairs hungry.

Last year's fare featured favorites like chicken nuggets and mini corn dogs in helpings that were "relatively decent," Bougneit said. But health-conscious regulations have changed that. Last week's super nacho plate, for example, offered just eight tortilla chips.

Adding to the dissatisfaction is a 10-cent price hike on lunches because the USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, forced many districts to raise full-price lunches closer to the $2.86 it reimburses for students who qualify for free lunches. That means the leaner, greener lunches at Mukwonago High this year now cost $2.50 instead of $2.40.

"Now it's worse tasting, smaller sized and higher priced," Bougneit said.

Officials share concerns

Pam Harris, the district food service supervisor and a registered dietitian, said children's weight and poor nutrition in America are serious problems, but the changes are too abrupt.

"I could not be more passionate about this," Harris said. "I want to solve this problem. But limiting calories in school lunch is not going to help the overweight kid. What happens at home is a major piece of that puzzle."

"Our issue is pretty much kids just don't want to eat vegetables," she said. "The USDA wants to solve the problem of childhood obesity. Those are two kind of separate issues."

Harris spoke at all lunch periods Friday to explain the federal dietary changes and had students fill out comment cards explaining what they do and don't like about the new menu. She plans to send those and parent letters to the USDA in hopes the department will allow districts including Mukwonago to gradually introduce their menu over a few years.

In a clothing store bag the size of a backpack, Blohm lugged his homemade, linebacker-size lunch including a bag of raw carrots, two ham sandwiches on wheat bread, two granola bars, an apple and three applesauce cups - an estimated total of 1,347 calories.

How long will the students keep boycotting the lunch program?

"I've already told my mom we might be packing my lunch for the rest of the year," Blohm said.

Clay Iverson, Mukwonago's varsity football head coach, said student-athletes are bigger, stronger and more athletic than ever before, and their food intake needs have evolved.

"Everything has been accelerated, and maybe nutrition hasn't been," he said.

He worries that if players' stomachs are growling by the end of the school day, they'll go home and binge on anything they get their hands on and undo any of the benefits of the lighter, healthier school lunch.

Teens need a push to make healthy eating choices, Iverson said, but they've got plenty else to worry about during the football season.

"I wonder if the people who made the decision had to go through a day like Nick Blohm."


23 September, 2012

Yoghurt a day 'cuts risk of high blood pressure'

The usual epidemiological nonsense.  Yoghurt is not a traditional food for many people so middle class people are more likely to take it up and they have better health anyway

Eating a small pot of yoghurt a day can cut the chance of having high blood pressure by a third, a study suggests.

Naturally-occurring calcium can make blood vessels more supple, enabling them to expand slightly and keep pressure low, say dietitians.

American researchers who looked at the diets of some 2,000 volunteers, found those who regularly ate a little yoghurt were less likely to develop high blood pressure.

Specifically, those who took two per cent of their calories from yoghurt were 31 per cent less likely to develop high blood pressure over a 15 year period, than those who did not.

That equates to about 40 or 50 calories from yoghurt daily, or about half a typical 4.3oz (120g) individual pot.

Huifen Wang, a public health specialist at Minnesota University, presented the research at an American Heart Association meeting about high blood pressure on Wednesday.

Rick Miller, a member of the British Dietetic Association, said calcium had "a plethora of effects on the body, including a hypo-tensive effect, meaning it helps to lower blood pressure.”

He explained: "Calcium is needed in muscle tissue, including blood vessel walls, and if there isn’t enough, they are not going to operate properly. In effect the calcium helps keep vessels supple.”

Calcium from dairy products like yoghurt and milk was particularly good for this, he said.

But taking too much calcium in pill form could have the opposite effect, he cautioned.

Studies indicate it can then be deposited on artery walls, leading to hardening of the arteries.

Mr Miller said were also suggestions that the ‘friendly’ bacteria in yoghurt could help lower blood pressure, although these were not conclusive.

Professor Gareth Beevers, a trustee of the Blood Pressure Association, said other studies had shown yoghurt to have a "small effect" on lowering blood pressure, but he said it should not be considered a way of counteracting it in people who already had hypertension.

"I would regard it as part of a healthy lifestyle - even if personally I can't stand the stuff," he said.

More than 8.5 million people are registered as having high blood pressure. People with the condition are three times more likely to develop heart disease and suffer strokes as people with normal blood pressure and twice as likely to die from these.

Patients are often put on drugs to lower their blood pressure, such as beta-blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. In 2008, the NHS in England spent £83 million on beta-blockers alone.


'Healthy' vitamins to avoid if you're ill

Are you one of the many who has a pot of vitamins by the kettle or in the bathroom that you vow to take every day — but don’t? There may be no need to feel guilty after all.

Ten million of us take vitamins regularly — whether for general health or specific conditions. And we spend a whopping £175?million a year on supplements and pills which contain antioxidants that are claimed to help combat disease.

But despite all the promises, the pros and cons of vitamins and supplements are still very debatable — and studies show that some can be bad for your health.

Just last month U.S. researchers discovered the routine practice of taking calcium and/or vitamin D supplements to protect against bone loss caused by hormonal therapy for prostate cancer could actually be making patients’ conditions worse.

You should always speak to your doctor before taking any supplement, says Professor Hilary  Powers, head of human nutrition at Sheffield University.

‘Some illnesses can alter the way our body uses vitamins and minerals. Added to that, there may be adverse interactions between medications and supplements which might influence the safety of the supplement or action of the drug.’

Remember that it’s the vitamin and mineral supplements taken in addition to your daily diet that can cause problems — not the nutrients found in your day-to-day diet.

‘There’s absolutely no need to limit your intake of certain foodstuffs because they may contain a certain vitamin,’ stresses Sylvia Turner, of the British Dietetic Association.


21 September, 2012

GM corn caused extensive cancers in rats?

The results below are so extreme that a fraud has to be suspected.  What else were the rats fed?  Peer review is no defence against fraud.  The research was led by "a  critic of GM technology".  Spare us!

Rats fed a lifelong diet of one of the bestselling strains of genetically modified corn suffered tumours and multiple organ damage, according to a controversial French study published today.

Scientists said the results raised serious questions about the safety of GM foods and the assurances offered by biotech companies and governments.

The first lifetime trials involving rats fed on GM corn found a raised incidence of breast tumours, liver and kidney damage.

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular biologist at King’s College, London, and an expert on GM foods, said: ‘It shows an extraordinary number of tumours developing earlier and more aggressively – particularly in female animals. I am shocked by the extreme negative health impacts.’

The research was carried out by Caen University in France, and has been peer reviewed by independent scientists to guarantee the experiments were properly conducted and the results are valid.

It is the first to look at the impact of eating a GM diet over a lifetime in rats, which is two years. To date, safety assessments of GM crops have been based on rat feeding trials lasting 90 days.

The corn was genetically modified to withstand spraying with glyphosate, the main chemical in the weedkiller Roundup, developed by Monsanto. The idea is that the corn can be sprayed without being damaged, while weeds are destroyed.

The tests looked at the impact of several scenarios including eating the GM corn (NK603), eating the GM corn sprayed with Roundup, and consuming Roundup at low doses in water.

The results were compared against those for a control group fed a ‘clean’ diet without GM or Roundup.  The researchers found:

 *   Between 50 to 80 per cent of female rats developed large tumours by the beginning of the 24th month, with up to three tumours per animal. Only 30 per cent of the control rats developed tumours

 *   Up to 70 per cent of females died prematurely compared with only 20 per cent in the control group

 *   Tumours in rats of both sexes fed the GM corn were two to three times larger than in the control group

*    The large tumours appeared in females after seven months, compared to 14 months in the control group. The team said the tumours were ‘deleterious to health due to a very large size’, making it difficult for the rats to breathe and causing digestive problems.

Significantly, the majority of tumours were detectable only after 18 months – meaning they could be discovered only in long-term feeding trials.

The study – led by molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a  critic of GM technology, and published yesterday in US journal Food and Chemical Toxicology – said the GM corn and Roundup weedkiller ‘may cause hormonal disturbances in the same biochemical and physiological pathway’.

The Daily Mail’s Frankenstein Food Watch campaign has long highlighted problems with the lack of rigorous safety assessments for GM crops and food.

Although GM corn is widely used in the US, British consumers have turned their backs on the technology because of  concerns about its impact on human health and the environment.  Although it is not available in British supermarkets, it is fed to farm animals including chickens, pigs and dairy cows.

Mustafa Djamgoz, professor of Cancer Biology at Imperial College, London,  said the findings relating to eating GM corn were a surprise.  ‘We are what we eat,’ he added. ‘I work at the molecular level on cancer. There is evidence what we eat affects our genetic make-up and turns genes on and off.  ‘We are not scaremongering here. More research is warranted.’

Dr Julian Little, of the Agricultural  Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, insisted GM foods were safe, adding: ‘The industry takes all health concerns regarding biotech food and feed very seriously.’

Anthony Trewavas, professor of cell biology at Edinburgh University, questioned the way the research had been conducted, saying the number of rats involved in the study – 200 – was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.  ‘To be frank, it looks like random  variation to me in a rodent line likely to develop tumours anyway,’ he said.

He also claimed Professor Seralini was an anti-GM campaigner and that previous studies questioning the technology’s safety had not withstood scrutiny.


Are statins really such a wonder pill? New study finds they DON'T prevent blood clots

A reduced effect on replication is common but this was a complete wipeout. 

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do not appear to help prevent blood clots, according to an extensive new study.

Researchers from Oxford University led a team that looked at 29 published and unpublished trials involving over 100,000 people.

They found venous thrombosis (a blood clot formed in a vein) occurred in 0.9 per cent of people taking statins compared to one per cent of people who were not taking the drugs. There was no difference between those who took higher or lower doses of statins.

The study, published in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine, said: 'We were unable to confirm the large proportional reduction in (clot) risk.'  However, it added that 'a more modest but perhaps clinically worthwhile' effect could not be ruled out.

In 2009, a trial called JUPITER found that so-called rosuvastatin -- marketed as Crestor -- halved the risk of blood clots among apparently healthy adults, a finding that boosted suggestions the drug should be taken preventively. But the figures to support this finding were relatively small.

The 2009 study randomly assigned 17,800 people to take Crestor or dummy pills.  After two years of followup, 34 in the statin group and 60 in the placebo group developed a venous thrombo-embolism, a clot which can form in the legs and travel to the lungs. The latest study, led by Kasem Rahimi, found no such effect.

Commenting on the findings, British Heart Foundation medical director, Professor Peter Weissberg, said: 'It has long been thought that statins may have additional health benefits on top of their proven ability to reduce heart attacks and strokes.

'An earlier study suggested that one statin, rosuvastatin, might reduce the risk of blood clots in deep veins and lungs, known as venous thromboembolism.  'However, findings in single studies can sometimes happen by chance. By pooling a large amount of data on several different types of statin, this analysis shows that any significant protection against blood clots is highly unlikely.'


20 September, 2012

Children of older mothers do better

Probably because those who have children early tend to be a bit dim to start with  -- and dimness is hereditary

The British study said children born to women over 40 benefited from improved health and language development up to the age of five. It also found increasing maternal age was associated with children having fewer hospital admissions and accidents, a higher likelihood of having their immunisations by the time they were nine months old and fewer social and emotional difficulties.

Older mothers tend to be more educated, have higher incomes and be married - all factors associated with greater child wellbeing, said the study from University College London's Institute of Child Health, which looked at data covering more than 78,000 children, and was published in the British Medical Journal.

In Australia, 4 per cent of the almost 300,000 women who gave birth in 2009 were aged 40-plus. Gino Pecoraro, a spokesman for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said older mothers tended to be more established, educated, mature and financially settled, helping with language development and the potentially improved supervision of children.

"At least, for a change, the headlines are pointing out something good about being older as it is usually all so dismal," said Hannah Dahlen, the associate professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney and national spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives.

Ms Dahlen gave birth to her daughter a few weeks before her 40th birthday.

"It is well known that this phenomenon exists with children born to older mothers but most of the association is due to higher education and social advantage," she said.

"The higher educated a mother in particular is the more financially stable she is and the more likely you will see children with better linguistic skills."


No health risk from mobile phones or wi-fi, claim Norwegian researchers (but they still say you should use a hands free kit)

The critics will never give up

Using a mobile or wi-fi doesn’t cause cancer and poses no damage to health, according to a new study.

Previous studies have found low-level electromagnetic field exposure from mobiles and other transmitting devices could cause harmful heating of tissue, male infertility and cancer.

But after assessing health hazards from low-level electromagnetic fields generated by radio transmitters, researchers found there is no scientific evidence exposure to these poses a health risk.

These electromagnetic fields are found around mobile phones, wireless phones and networks, mobile phone base stations, broadcasting transmitters and other communications equipment.

Previous work has focused on the risk of cancer in the head and neck, but the Norwegian Expert Committee found no scientific evidence of an association between mobile phone use and fast growing brain tumours.

So far, the effect on slow growing tumours has been studied in people who have used mobiles for up to 20 years, but the study shows no association.

However, only limited data exists for other types of cancer - such as leukaemia and lymphoma - but there is no evidence of an increased risk from mobile use, and cancer registries have not observed an increase in these tumours since mobiles were introduced.

The Committee found no evidence low level electromagnetic field exposure from mobiles and other transmitters increase the risk of cancer, impair male fertility, cause other reproductive damage or lead to other diseases and adverse health effects - such as changes to the endocrine and immune systems.

They also discovered mobile phones and other equipment are not associated with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, but admit the symptoms - headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin problems and pain and ache in muscles - are not imaginary.

Professor Jan Alexander said: 'We have no grounds to say that the symptoms are imaginary.  'But a large number of studies suggest that these symptoms must have other causes than the physical effects of low-level electromagnetic fields around mobile phones, wireless transmitters and other wireless equipment.

'Research provides no evidence to support that interventions help, such as reducing the use of mobile phones or wireless networks.

'Our opinion is that patients with these health problems must be taken seriously by the health service and should be treated as other patients.

'There is a need for greater expertise in the health service for this group of patients.'

However, the researchers warn some caution should be taken by users, and exposure should not be higher than necessary to achieve the intended purpose.

The report - available from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health - says authorities should inform people that hands-free kits will significantly reduce exposure from mobile phones.


19 September, 2012

Cut down on the overtime! Working more than eight hours a day raises the risk of heart disease by 80% (?)

More useless epidemiology.  It could be that working class people were more likely to be in jobs that required overtime and they were less healthy anyway

Doing overtime increases the risk of heart  disease by up to 80 per cent, a major study has claimed.  Researchers say long working hours could be condemning thousands of employees to heart attacks and strokes.

The warning follows analysis of 12 studies dating back as far as 1958, involving a total of 22,000 people from around the world.

The analysis, by scientists at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, found that those whose working days that were longer than the traditional eight hours had a 40 to 80 per cent greater chance of heart disease.

The size of the increase varied depending on how each study was carried out.

The effects were more pronounced when participants were asked how long they worked for - but when researchers closely monitored working hours, the increased risk of heart disease was closer to 40 per cent.

Lead researcher Dr Marianna Virtanen said the effects could be due to 'prolonged exposure to stress'. Other triggers could be poor eating habits and lack of exercise due to restricted leisure time.

In 2009, the same team discovered that long working hours increased the risk of dementia later in life. The effect was similar in magnitude to that of smoking.

Middle-aged workers putting in 55 hours or more a week had poorer brain function than those clocking up no more than 40 hours, with lower scores on tests to measure intelligence, short-term memory and word recall.

Britons work some of the longest hours in Europe, with full-time employees averaging 42.7 a week. Those in Germany typically work for 42, while Danes do 39.1.

It estimated that more than five million people a year in Britain work unpaid extra hours to hang on to their jobs.

But the long-term toll on workers' health could be devastating, the new research suggests.

In a report on the findings Dr Virtanen said: 'There are several potential mechanisms that may underlie the association between long working hours and heart disease.

In addition to prolonged exposure to psychological stress she said other triggers could be raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity due to restricted leisure time.


Drinking too much water probably killed bushwalker, coroner declares

It's not the water as such that kills you.  It is the way all the water dilutes the levels of salt in your blood.  The food freaks are always going on about salt being bad for you but it is too little salt that is likely to kill you

A 30-YEAR-OLD Victorian man who died while bushwalking in North-West Tasmania last year most likely died from excessive consumption of water, a coroner has found.

The findings have come with a strong warning about the dangers of drinking too much water while exercising, and calls for better education about how much water the human body can safely take in.

Coroner Michael Brett said that Jonathan Paul Dent died on or about April 19 last year while bushwalking in the Dial Ranges, near Devonport.

In handing down his findings, Mr Brett said Mr Dent had most likely died from exercise-related hyponatremia, "which itself resulted from excessive consumption of water during the course of the prolonged exertion of the bushwalk".

After an initial autopsy failed to determine Mr Dent's cause of death, Mr Brett arranged for the evidence to be reviewed by Professor Anthony Bell, whose report noted that the autopsy showed a swollen brain with signs of herniation, which was consistent with excess water consumption.

According to Mr Brett, Mr Dent had set out for a bushwalk alone about 9.30am on April 19 from Wings Wildlife Park with the intention of following the track to Foggs Flat, a walk of about four hours.

Mr Brett said Mr Dent appeared to be in good health and was well equipped for the walk - he carried a mobile phone and was appropriately dressed for the conditions.

During the course of the day, Mr Dent's wife, Katherine, had several telephone calls from him indicating that he was lost but was still hopeful of making his way to a planned meeting spot with her later in the day.

By about 4pm he called his wife saying he was tired and dehydrated.  Further conversations indicated that he was lying down and his breathing was heavy and he was coughing, Mr Brett said.

By 8.25pm, Mrs Dent reported to Ulverstone Police that her husband was missing.  Mr Dent's body was found at 1.10pm the next day on a track just north of Foggs Flats.

Mr Brett said the case highlighted two specific concerns, including a general perception, particularly among people involved in athletic activities, "that one should drink as much as possible and avoid becoming dehydrated during prolonged strenuous exercise".

He said that there was a need for greater education in relation to the danger associated with excessive consumption of fluid during exercise.

Mr Brett also highlighted the issue of bushwalking alone.  "Had Mr Dent been in company, whilst it cannot be said that he would not have suffered the condition that led to his death, I suspect that he would have been in a substantially better condition to cope with the disorientation and fear that arose from being lost," he said.


18 September, 2012

Study: Placebo or not, acupuncture relieves pain

Meta-analyses are hard to evaluate.  There is a lot of room for "fudging" in deciding what to include

Acupuncture gets a thumbs-up for helping relieve pain from chronic headaches, backaches and arthritis in a review of more than two dozen studies -- the latest analysis of an often-studied therapy that has as many fans as critics.

Some believe its only powers are a psychological, placebo effect. But some doctors believe even if that's the explanation for acupuncture's effectiveness, there's no reason not to offer it if it makes people feel better.

The new analysis examined 29 studies involving almost 18,000 adults. The researchers concluded that the needle remedy worked better than usual pain treatment and slightly better than fake acupuncture.

The results "provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option," wrote the authors, who include researchers with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and several universities in England and Germany.

Their study isn't proof, but it adds to evidence that acupuncture may benefit a range of conditions.

The new analysis was published online Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine. The federal government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine paid for most of the study, along with a small grant from the Samueli Institute, a nonprofit group that supports research on alternative healing.

Acupuncture's use has become more mainstream. The military has used it to help treat pain from war wounds, and California recently passed legislation that would include acupuncture among treatments recommended for coverage under provisions of the nation's new health care law. That law requires insurance plans to cover certain categories of benefits starting in 2014. Deciding specifics is being left up to the states.

Some private insurance plans already cover acupuncture; Medicare does not.

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves inserting long, very thin needles just beneath the skin's surface at specific points on the body to control pain or stress. Several weekly sessions are usually involved, typically costing about $60 to $100 per session.


"Eat drink and be merry" is GOOD for the British taxpayer

Because abusers die younger  -- as even insurers recognize

Those with prohibitionist fantasies can bang on as much as they like about costs to the NHS of unhealthy lifestyles, but then it’s not their own money which is being discussed, is it?

If their salaries were linked to truthfulness of their statements, I think we’d see an entirely different rhetoric. After all, their current abject failure is simply not being punished, sadly.

The opposite applies to industries where proper, accurate economics – as opposed to the fairy tales told by ASH and Alcohol Concern, for example – decide what level of profit and pay actuaries are entitled to.

Binge drinkers are to be given better pension payouts by insurance companies, it emerged last night.

Those who swig more than four bottles of wine or 15 pints of beer a week could qualify for up to £2,000 a year more than someone who is clean living.

Set aside, for a minute, the laughable emotive claim that someone drinking just over two pints a day is a ‘binge-drinker’. The point here is that insurers have identified, quite rightly, that those who enjoy a drink here and there are – on a macro-economic scale – less likely to live as long as health nuts and are therefore a better financial risk.

By extension, the NHS should be very happy that the highly expensive parts of their creaking system – geriatric care – are lessened by those of us who enjoy life to the full and are quite happy to take the risk of careering into our box sozzled and stinking of cigars. The fact they are not just shows why we don’t go to our local surgery if we want a financial adviser.

It might help to explain why the NHS is bankrupt in many areas too.

Edmund Tirbutt, a health consultant and author of Help Them Beat the Booze, said: ‘There is a real danger of insurers sending out the wrong message.

‘It might make perfect commercial sense to offer more to drinkers, but it will verge on the irresponsible if insurers now start using it as a selling point.’

This is probably one of the most stupid things I have ever read from any health dickhead anywhere.

Safe in the knowledge that it isn’t his money he is risking (it never is with these people, is it?), he is adamant that the irresponsibility is with those who understand money and risk; who are the world’s prime experts at it; and realise that the insurance industry would collapse if they took idiot advice like this regularly.

Beggars belief, doesn’t it? The arrogance of the health lobby never ceases to amaze as they stray from their core knowledge base into professing themselves global experts in anything from market economics to global trade. When did the concept of doctors restricting themselves to what they are trained at, that is curing people when they are ill, cease to be applicable?

Remember, too, that insurers do not benefit from hugely inflated monetary contributions from smokers and drinkers like our government (and by extension, the NHS) does. The bonuses are being paid out despite all policy-holders paying an identical premium.

Next time you see the regular sheep-like refrain from some dull-headed online commenter that the NHS suffers financially from those who choose a lifestyle which includes booze or baccy, spark up a tab, pop open a cool one and toast their generosity in exhibiting their hilarious ignorance to the world.

Cold, hard, unbending numbers expose them as being weapons grade deludos


17 September, 2012

Spinach could help fight off dementia (?)

There were absolutely NO findings about spinach in the research below,  just stupid old antioxidant speculation

Spinach could help beat help beat dementia, according to a study.   Researchers have discovered a link between low vitamin C, beta-carotene levels and dementia.

So antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables - such as spinach, carrots and apricots - could help fight the disease’s devastating symptoms, their findings suggest.

German scientists from the University of Ulm looked at the differences between 74 people with mild Alzheimer’s disease and 158 healthy subjects.

The participants, aged between 65 and 90, underwent neuropsychological testing, answered questions about their lifestyle and had their blood examined and their body mass index calculated.

The team, led by epidemiologist Professor Gabriele Nagel and neurologist Professor Christine von Arnim, found the serum-concentration of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene were significantly lower in patients with mild dementia than in control group.

There was no such difference between the groups in levels of other antioxidants including vitamin E, lycopene, coenzyme Q10.

Dr Nagel said although more studies were needed to confirm the results, the findings suggested fruits and vegetables could play a role in fighting the disease.

'Longitudinal studies with more participants are necessary to confirm the result that vitamin C and beta-carotene might prevent the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease,' he said.

'Vitamin C can for example be found in citrus fruits; beta-carotene in carrots, spinach or apricots.'


Diabetics with sympathetic doctors are more likely to have a better outcome and fewer complications

This is just old "correlation is causation" rubbish.  Maybe middle class people had nicer doctors and had better health anyway

Patients with more sympathetic, understanding doctors have better outcomes and fewer complications, new research suggests.  By measuring a doctor's understanding of a patient's concerns, pain, suffering and an intention to help, researchers found a link between diabetic patients' outcomes and their physicians.

A large study done by a team from Thomas Jefferson University along with Italian researchers evaluated the relationships among 20,961 diabetic patients and 242 primary care physicians they were enrolled to in Parma, Italy.

Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., research professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and director of Jefferson Longitudinal Study of Medical Education in the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care at Jefferson Medical College said: 'This new, large-scale research study has confirmed that empathic physician-patient relationships is an important factor in positive outcomes.

'It takes our hypothesis one step further.  'Compared to our initial study, it has a much larger number of patients and physicians, a different tangible clinical outcome, hospital admission for acute metabolic complications, and a cross-cultural feature that will allow for generalisation of the findings in different cultures, and different health care systems.'

Researchers used the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) which measures the level of empathy in the context of patient care.

Researchers used the results of two medical tests, the haemoglobin A1c (blood) test and cholesterol levels measurements, and found a direct association between a physian's JSE and a better control of their patient's medical results.

Dr Hojat said: 'Results of this study confirmed our hypothesis that a validated measure of physician empathy is significantly associated with the incidence of acute metabolic complications in diabetic patients, and provide the much needed, additional empirical support for the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care.

'These findings also support the recommendations of such professional organisations as the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Board of Internal Medicine of the importance of assessing and enhancing empathic skills in undergraduate and graduate medical education.'

Italian patients and doctors were evaluated because there is universal health care coverage in Italy and there is no confounding effect of difference in insurance, lack of insurance or financial barriers to access care.

'What's more, this second study was conducted in a health care system in which all residents enrol with a primary care physician resulting in a better defined relationship between the patients and their primary care physicians than what exists in the United States,' said co-author Daniel Z. Louis, Managing Director for the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care and research associate professor of family and community medicine at JMC.

Co-author author Vittorio Maio, PharmD, M.S., MSPH, associate professor at the Jefferson School of Population Health said: 'Italy has a lower rate of switching doctors, facilitating long-lasting physician patient relationships.'


16 September, 2012

Not a grain of truth: Bread has been 'demonised by TV nutritionists and is a vital part of our daily diet'

From hot buttered toast to the simple sandwich, bread was once the staple of the British diet.

But in recent years it has suffered from a serious image crisis and has become something of a health bogeyman, a food to be avoided and resisted.

Now nutrition scientists believe that most of the health alerts about consuming bread are myths.

Researchers at the British Nutrition Foundation said that people are instead going without vital vitamins and minerals that are contained in each loaf.

And they have dismissed 20 years of warnings that bread is responsible for a range of symptoms, including fatigue, stomach pain, bloating and headaches.  They also dispute that wheat allergies are on the increase.

Lead researcher Dr Aine O'Connor said that despite a massive downturn in bread consumption, Britain's obesity crisis is the biggest in Europe and continues to worsen.

She said that sliced white bread, in particular, had been unfairly 'demonised' by health campaigners and TV nutrition shows.

Dr O'Connor said that wheat allergies have not risen, but many people are are now incorrectly convinced they suffer from wheat intolerance or an allergy to gluten (the protein found in wheat).

'Health professionals need to dispel the myths,' she told The Sun. 'Bread is an important source of nutrition.'

Sales of bread have been dropping since the 1970s. In 1974 the average Briton got through 2.2lb (1,029g) of bread a week, by last year it had fallen to 1½lb (700g).

A survey by the University of Portsmouth in 2010 found that one in five British adults believes they are allergic to a food, with most blaming wheat.

Meanwhile, low-carb diets such as Atkins and Dukan haven’t helped either - the claims that carbohydrates cause blood sugar levels to rise, preventing the body from burning fat, have put many off their lunchtime sandwich.

Yet despite this, bread is often the food people crave the most.   Many dieters name their greatest weakness as toast in the morning or irresistible basket of warm rolls on the restaurant table.


Fizzy drink cleared as one of your five a day: Outcry as watchdog backs McDonald's health claims

A children's fizzy drink sold by McDonald's has won the right to be labelled as one of the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables, even though it contains around six teaspoons of sugar.

The fast-food giant has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority watchdog to put Fruitizz in the same category as eating an apple or a serving of broccoli.

The drink is a mixture of fruit juice concentrate - including grape, raspberry and lemon - with fizzy water, natural flavourings and the preservative potassium sorbate.

A small 250ml serving, which costs 89p, has 100 calories and 25g of sugar, which equates to around six teaspoons.

The high levels of sugar come from the fruit juice content. But the ASA said that the addition of natural flavourings and preservatives in the drink 'did not negate the five-a-day benefits of that 150ml of fruit juice, providing the entire 250ml serving was consumed'.

The ASA made its decision after an investigation, which was launched in response to complaints about a McDonald's TV commercial and an advert on the Mumsnet website.

A voiceover on the TV advert said: 'Grape, apple, and raspberry juice with refreshing sparkling water.  'Fruitizz is full of fruity bubbles with no added sugar, artificial colours or flavours. And it's one of your child's five a day.'

Malcolm Clark, of the Children's Food Campaign, said the ASA ruling was evidence that the rules which define health claims around fruit and vegetables are not sufficiently strict.

He added: 'McDonald's is only doing what other companies do: exploiting the laxness surrounding the five-a-day claims regime for commercial benefit.

'We are concerned that increasingly the five-a-day message - originally designed to tackle cancer and heart disease - is being used to promote junk foods, sometimes with very low fruit or vegetable content.

'If the Government actually values the five-a-day claim and wants it to be a meaningful label that consumers can have confidence in, they need to re-issue and reinforce robust guidance restricting the five-a-day message to genuinely healthy foods.'

Dietitian Christina Merryfield, of London's Bupa Cromwell Hospital, said: 'Sugary drinks can encourage tooth decay and erosion and lead to weight gain.  'Water is a much better option and milk is great because it is full of calcium and other vitamins and minerals.'

A McDonald's spokesman said: 'We welcome the ruling by the ASA. Fruitizz is a drink designed for the Happy Meal menu, served in a 250ml measure as standard and it is not marketed in any larger sizes.

'In the development of Fruitizz we followed the five-a-day guidance provided by the Department of Health.  'Fruitizz contains no added sugars, artificial colours or artificial flavours and all size servings provide one daily portion of fruit, as defined by the Department of Health.'


14 September, 2012

LOL.   Gorging on a high fat diet can PREVENT obesity!

It's welcome news for anyone who has ever tried to shift a few pounds.  Eating a high fat diet can actually prevent obesity and improve your metabolism, according to a study.

After tests on mice, researchers found eating a high fat diet on a fixed schedule - eating at the same time for the same length of time each day - leads to a reduction in body weight and a ‘unique’ metabolism.

Previous research has revealed disrupting mammals’ daily rhythms, or feeding them a high fat diet, disrupts metabolism and leads to obesity.

However, scientists say eating on a schedule leads to a metabolism where ingested fats are not stored, but used for energy at times when food is not available.

And improving metabolism through careful scheduling of meals, without limiting the amount of food, could be used to prevent obesity in people.

They hypothesised careful scheduling of meals would regulate the biological clock and reduce the effects of a high-fat diet that, under normal circumstances, would lead to obesity.

For 18 weeks, researchers fed mice a high fat diet on a fixed schedule, comparing these mice to three control groups - one eating a low fat diet on a fixed schedule, one that ate on an unscheduled low fat and one group eating an unscheduled high fat diet.

Results showed all four groups of mice gained weight throughout the experiment, but final body weight was greater in the group that ate an unscheduled high fat diet.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers also found the mice on the scheduled high fat diet had a lower final body weight than the mice eating an unscheduled high fat diet.

But surprisingly the mice on the scheduled high fat diet also had a lower final body weight than the mice eating an unscheduled low fat diet - despite both groups consuming the same amount of calories, the FASEB Journal study says.

Professor Oren Froy said: 'Our research shows that the timing of food consumption takes precedence over the amount of fat in the diet, leading to improved metabolism and helping to prevent obesity.

'Improving metabolism through the careful scheduling of meals, without limiting the content of the daily menu, could be used as a therapeutic tool to prevent obesity in humans.'


New stem cell gel applied to site of injury 'can regenerate broken spinal cord nerves to an astonishing degree'

It will be a huge step forward if this generizes to people but caution is advisable.  Regeneration is not uncommon in lower  species but not found in people

A stem cell gel developed by scientists can regenerate broken spinal cord nerves, research has shown.

The gel is applied to the site of an injury. In rats with completely severed spinal cords, it produced an 'astonishing degree' of nerve growth, U.S. scientists said.  Treated animals which were previously paralysed experienced 'significant' functional improvement and were able to move all the joints of their affected legs.

The gel was made by embedding neural stem cells in a mixture of blood clotting protein and growth chemicals.

Lead researcher Professor Mark Tuszynski, from the University of California at San Diego, said: 'Using this method, after six weeks the number of axons (nerve fibres) emerging from the injury site exceeded by 200-fold what had ever been seen before.

'The axons also grew ten times the length of axons in any previous study, and, importantly, the regeneration of these axons resulted in significant functional improvement.'  Similar results were obtained in the laboratory using human stem cells.

Cells were tagged with a fluorescent protein so that their progress could be monitored.  Scientists watched them grow, become neurons, and sprout axons.

In June, it was announced that researchers had successfully grown living bones in a laboratory using stem cells.

That technique could in future be used to replace shattered limbs, treat osteoporosis and arthritis and fix defects such as cleft palate, it was claimed.

The researchers took around a month to transform stem cells originally taken from fat tissue into sections of fully-formed bone up to several centimetres long.

Standard bone grafts involve two procedures, to cut bone from elsewhere in the patient's body before transplanting it into the damaged area, which carry the risk of infection and complications.

Bone can also be obtained from donations, but this brings the chance of rejection.

The new method would allow bones to be custom made to shape outside the body, using the patients own stem cells, removing the need for a potentially traumatic operation and reducing the likelihood of rejection.

So far the research has been carried out only on animals but a patient trial is planned for later this year.

That Israeli technology, developed by biotech company Bonus BioGroup and researchers at the Technion Institute of Research, involves growing the bone to fit the exact shape and size of the damaged area.


13 September, 2012

Horrors!  Fish oil supplements 'do NOT cut risk of heart attacks and strokes'

To food freaks this is like declaring God is dead!  But they're not giving up yet

Scientists claim fish oil supplements do not cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes despite being widely used and even prescribed for prevention.

A review of 20 studies involving almost 70,000 patients concluded that taking omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil had no significant effect on rates of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths.

Previous trials have had conflicting results about whether supplements may protect the heart.

But fish oil supplements are approved on the NHS to prevent heart attack survivors from having a second attack and recommended in official guidelines.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Pufas) are known to fight inflammation, one of the key processes that contribute to narrowing of the arteries.

Researchers conducting the new study analysed data on 7,044 deaths, 3,993 heart-related deaths, 1,150 sudden deaths, 1,837 heart attacks and 1,490 strokes.

The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed no evidence of risk reduction associated with omega-3.

Dr Evangelos Rizos, from the University Hospital of Ioannina, Greece, who led the study, said 'In conclusion, omega-3 Pufas are not statistically significantly associated with major cardiovascular outcomes across various patient populations.

'Our findings do not justify the use of omega-3 as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice, or guidelines supporting dietary omega-3 Pufa administration.'

Fish oil supplements are approved for prescribing on the NHS to patients after a heart attack, or who have metabolic syndrome or high triglycerides - unhealthy blood fats.

Omacor, which is licensed for post-heart attack treatment, has been shown in clinical trials to cut the risk of sudden death by up to 45 per cent.

Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish.  Oily fish contain the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which are considered essential because the body cannot make them from other sources and must obtain them through diet.

Omega-3 fats are important throughout adult life for mental wellbeing but in particular help heart patients, and those with arthritis, by blocking the body's response to inflammation.

They work in several ways to reduce heart attack risk by cutting blood fats, reducing the chances of a blood clot and blocking dangerous heart rhythms that might otherwise prove fatal.
Omega-3 fats are important throughout adult life for mental wellbeing but in particular help heart patients, and those with arthritis, by blocking the body's response to inflammation.

Omega-3 fats are important throughout adult life for mental wellbeing but in particular help heart patients, and those with arthritis, by blocking the body's response to inflammation.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service, said the EU Commission had recently authorised a favourable heart health claim for omega-3 fatty acids.

She questioned why only 20 studies were used in the analysis of existing trials, when 3,635 papers were considered.

She said 'Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their heart health benefits with a significant body of evidence.'

Previous reviews found a 28 per cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality in people receiving omega-3 supplements, and a 16 per cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality.

'Moreover, the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the consumption of 1000mg daily of omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil) in patients who have had a heart attack' she said.

Dr Ruxton said many people failed to eat recommended levels of oily fish, which meant supplements might suit them better.

'Given the low intakes of omega-3 fatty acids in the UK and many people's apparent dislike of oily fish, a supplement containing omega-3 fatty acids may be appropriate for the maintenance of heart health' she added.


Dengue vaccine shows promise in clinical trial

Good news for Northern Australia, where Dengue is endemic.  Mosquito eradication keeps it under some control but Mosquito eradication is always imperfect

A major clinical trial of the frontrunner in the race for a dengue fever vaccine is showing great promise.

Every year, the World Health Organisation estimates between 50 and 100 million people are infected with the virus, and the most vulnerable are children and adolescents.

Scientists have been searching for a vaccine for the last 90 years.  But now a drug developed by a French company has shown encouraging results, protecting against three of the four types of dengue virus in Thai children.

Cameron Simmons, a professor working in Oxford University's clinical research unit in Vietnam, says the results are hugely encouraging.  "It's regarded as a neglected tropical disease. The sheer scale of the disease burden in dengue endemic countries is enormous," he told PM.  "It's a major public health problem, places enormous strain on often fragile healthcare systems."

The major clinical trial of the drug involved 4,000 primary school aged children in Thailand.

"We were optimistic and hopeful that we would see protection against all four dengue viruses," Professor Simmons said.  "What the study has shown us is that the vaccine seems to offer protection against three and not four of the dengue viruses.

"There's more research to be done to really try and understand why protection is not against all four but we're heading in the right direction. I think that's the important result."

There is no clinical difference between the four types of virus; the patient still presents with symptoms like muscle and joint pain, fever, rashes, hair loss, intense headache and extreme fatigue.

The one type of dengue not affected by the vaccine was the most prevalent type in the study's region, and there are concerns that may have dragged down the results.

The fact that it appears to have worked on the other three has already led to speculation that that could be enough to prevent severe disease, but Professor Simmons is not so sure. 

"I think a trial of that trivalent vaccine could be possible," he said.  "But it's going to need a lot more research to understand from a modelling perspective what a trivalent vaccine might do to the epidemiology of dengue in an endemic setting and also very importantly the cost effectiveness of such a vaccine."

Professor Simmons says even for countries like Vietnam, where child mortality rates from dengue fever are relatively low, any hope is welcome.  "The disease burden is enormous here, 10 to 15 per cent of the hospitalised patients in the hospital that I work in are dengue cases," he said.

"So it's one of the most important causes of hospitalisation for children. So the scale of the disease burden is enormous, public health importance is very large.  "One dengue virus infection actually predisposes you to a more severe infection a second time around and so it's a complicated disease in that fashion."

A third stage of the trial involving 30,000 people from South-East Asia and Latin America is due to deliver results in 2014.

Professor Simmons says he is hoping for a fully-fledged dengue virus vaccine within five to 10 years.


12 September, 2012

Just a little breast-feeding in infancy 'lowers the risk' of a child suffering from depression in adulthood

Retrospective self-report data and a small sample of ill people.  Thin grounds for generalization

Adults are less likely to suffer from depression if they were breast-fed as infants, according to scientists.  However, the amount of time a person was breast-fed has no bearing on the severity of later depression.

German researchers studied 52 people with an average age of 44 who were being treated for severe depression at an inpatient facility.

The patients were considered to have been breast-fed if they, or their mothers, stated that they been nursed for more than two weeks.

They then contrasted these results with those gathered from 106 people without mental health problems.

The study revealed that some 73 per cent of those who didn't suffer from depression had been breast-fed, compared to just 46 per cent of people with depression.

Despite these results, the scientists said that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between breast-feeding, or lack thereof, and depression, reports MyHealthNewsDaily.

Firstly, a mother who breastfeeds might be more likely to go on to provide her child with a more loving environment growing up, thus lowering the chance of a child suffering from depression in adulthood.

Secondly, breastfeeding could be linked to an increase in the hormone oxytocin being released in mothers, which protects against stress.

Thirdly, the researchers said, breast milk could contain components that help prevent against depression.

Lastly, breast-feeding may lower the risk for diseases, like hypertension, which have been shown to be associated with an increased risk for depression.

The study is published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Its authors claim it is the first report showing an association between breast-feeding and the occurrence of depression later on in adulthood. However, they admit that the limited sample size and the inevitably retrospective nature of this analysis are limitations.


Another Stilnox/Ambien miracle

I take the stuff myself as a mild sleeping pill and have no problems with it

A South African man who had been in a coma for seven years was 'woken up' after being given a sleeping pill.

Ayanda Nqinana, from Johannseburg, was left with severe brain injuries after his car crashed along an Eastern Cape road in 2005.   His doctors said the father-of-one would most likely never recover.

But his wife Nomfundo recently read a newspaper article about other long-term coma patients who had woken up after being fed sleeping pill Stilnox.

She insisted her husband be given the tablets and, just five days later, Mr Nqinana was awake and able to talk.

He even recognised relatives, including his son Ayavuya, and could recall conversations from before his crash.

Mrs Nqinana told 'Ayavuya was so excited that he kept running to me saying: "Mum! Daddy knows my name."   'I will never forget the day Ayanda woke up; it was the happiest day of my life.

Stilnox, also known as Ambien, is a prescription medicine used to treat insomnia by initiating sleep.

It contains Zolpidem, which studies have found increases blood flow in the brain, particularly in areas involved in language comprehension - allowing improved function.

Studies into the connection between stroke rehabilitation and Stilnox are ongoing.

John White at Moss Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia is leading a study into the connection.

So far he has found that fewer than 10 per cent of stroke victims respond to the drug.  'We’re not able to yet advise families on how to use this drug clinically because the research is in the very early stages,' he said last year.

'The very first request he made was to see his son, and that moved me.'

Although Mr Nqinana is unable to hold a proper conversation, he can say the odd word and respond using sign language such as a thumbs-up gesture.

But his doctor, Siyabulela Bungana, remains unconvinced about Stilnox's ability to rouse patients out of a coma. He said: 'He has not spoken to me. I have not seen any evidence of improvement.'

The case is not the first time that Stilnox has woken up somebody in a coma.

Last December, it is believed to have roused Sam Goddard, 23, after he suffered a series of strokes that left him in a coma.

Mr Goddard, from Brisbane, Australia, was playing football in February 2010 when his head began to pound so severely he screamed for an ambulance.  Doctors told his fiancée Sally Jane Nielson that he had suffered a staggering eight strokes, leaving him with permanent brain damage, and would never be able to walk, talk or recognise his loved ones, and would likely be blind.

But after 45 days in a coma in the Intensive Care Unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital – where he also contracted pneumonia – Mr Goddard woke up and began making slow progress after he was given Stilnox.


11 September, 2012

Taking Omega-3 every day could help children who have poor reading skills

No overall effect but by careful dredging through the data they found something they liked.  You can usually do that but replicating it is the problem

Children with poor reading skills could have their performance boosted by taking daily supplements of fatty acids found in seafood and some algae, according to new research.

Scientists at Oxford University gave 600mg omega-3 fatty acid pills to 362 children aged seven to nine daily for 16 weeks.

Although there was no significant effect in the overall study sample, they found those whose reading skills were in the lowest fifth of the normal range improved their reading age by three weeks more that a group taking a placebo.

And in the group of children whose initial reading skills were in the lowest 10 per cent their reading age was improved by 1.9 months.

The study was funded by DSM Nutritional Lipids which makes omega-3 supplements but carried out independently by Oxford University.

Dr Alex Richardson, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention at Oxford University, said: ‘Our results showed that taking daily supplements of omega-3 DHA improved reading performance for the poorest readers (those in the lowest fifth of the normal range) and helped these children to catch up with their peer group.’

Paul Montgomery, Professor of Psychosocial Intervention at the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention at Oxford University, said: ‘Previous studies have shown benefits from dietary supplementation with omega-3 in children with conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia and Developmental Coordination Disorder, but this is the first study to show such positive results in children from the general school population.’

However, while parents said their children had fewer behavioural problems, their teachers did not report similar improvements such as less hyperactivity and 'opposition-defiant behaviour'.

And Michael Crawford at Imperial College London warned: 'People working with children, on the brain, expect the brain to be manipulated in a period of 16 weeks. It's a fundamental flaw.'


An end to the flu? Oral spray 'kills 99.9% of infectious airborne germs'

The only real tests of this stuff appear to have been in laboratory glassware -- which is pretty unconvincing

The influenza season is a thorn in the side of both employees and employers alike.  But a first-of-its-kind oral antiseptic spray promises to end the annual misery endured by millions of flu sufferers, and thousands of lives, around the world. Or so its manufacturer claims.

The Halo Oral Antiseptic has been found to be 99.9 per cent effective in killing infectious airborne germs.

Lead author Dr Frank Esper, from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said: 'Respiratory tract disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world. Yet there has been limited progress in the prevention of respiratory virus infections.  'Halo is unique in that it offers protection from airborne germs such as influenza and rhinovirus.'

The scientists used glycerine and xanthan gum as a microbial barrier combined with cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) as a broad-spectrum anti-infective agent to fight respiratory illnesses.

To test this, clinical strains of 2009 pandemic H1N1 were used as a prototype virus to demonstrate Halo's anti-infective activity in cell culture assays.

Dr Esper said: 'The glycerine and xanthan gum prevent the germs from entering a person's system and the CPC kills the germs once they're trapped there.'

He said Halo will have clear benefit to aid against infection and reduce disease from epidemic, sporadic or pandemic respiratory viral infections, particularly helping people at risk for severe respiratory illness including immune-compromised individuals with chronic lung disease, and military personnel.

The study findings were presented yesterday at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco.

Another study on Halo will be presented by Dr Mahmoud Ghannoum of UH Case Medical Center, also in Cleveland, showing Halo's effectiveness against disease-causing pathogenic germs.

That study asserts that respiratory and/or systemic infections through airborne and manually transmitted pathogenic microbes often enter the system through the mouth, making Halo, an oral spray that targets these pathogens, an effective way to prevent infections.

Additionally, preliminary data from the researchers found that Halo completely kills all 11 clinical strains of whooping cough against which the spray was tested.

The results showed that when a person used three sprays of Halo, it destroyed airborne germs breathed in for up to six hours, even when people were eating and drinking.

The concept of coating the back of the oral cavity to prevent germs from entering and then providing sustained antiseptic action to kill airborne germs was developed by a Cleveland company, Oasis Consumer Healthcare.

Dr Ghannoum said: 'Exposure to airborne germs is inevitable - especially in crowded environments and when travelling. Unlike other products that support the immune system or protect from germs on surfaces or hands, Halo is the first and only product of its kind to offer protection from airborne germs.'

The Halo Oral Antiseptic is on sale in the U.S. now.


10 September, 2012

Drinkers in soft water areas at higher risk of liver disease, warns  surgeon

In the absence of a journal reference, the report below is hard to evaluate   -- but given that a previous large and well-controlled study ("Magnesium in drinking water supplies and mortality from acute myocardial infarction in north west England") showed NO protective effect of magnesium, the speculations and proposals  below would seem incautious

People who live in areas with soft water are more likely to develop  alcoholic liver disease (ALD) than those elsewhere, according to one of the world’s most eminent specialists.

Professor Roger Williams wants the Government to medicate the water supply to combat the effects after his research revealed the danger.

A paper co-authored by Prof Williams, who helped carry out the  UK’s first liver transplant in 1968 and was George Best’s surgeon, found those living in soft-water areas may be more at risk because of lower levels of magnesium. The mineral can help to protect the liver from alcohol.

It is the first time a link between water softness and the disease has been established.

The study examined hospital admissions in 28 English regions between 2003 and 2006.

The six areas with soft water – Lancashire, Birmingham, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, the South West and County Durham – had rates of alcoholic liver disease 21 per cent above the national average.

But the 13 areas with hard water – including South London, Essex, Shropshire and Staffordshire – had rates 13 per cent below the average.

The research may also explain why rates of the disease in Scotland are almost double those in England, despite average alcohol consumption being approximately the same. Most water is soft north of the border.

While the call to add protective magnesium to the water supply will be controversial, there is increasing concern at a deteriorating health  situation.

Liver-disease deaths in England as a whole have risen to record levels. Prof Williams, director of the Institute of Hepatology, said: ‘We have never understood why some people will consume large amounts of alcohol and be unscathed while others drink more moderately and develop ALD.

‘These results suggest for the first time that the water supply may be a significant factor in explaining this anomaly. Perhaps we should supplement the water supply with magnesium.’

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust charity, said: ‘Treating the water supply would be controversial but, if explained properly to the population, I think most people would say, "If it’s protecting the health of my liver then what’s the problem?”?’

However, campaigners who have opposed adding fluoride to the water supply are likely to oppose any proposed new measure.

John Graham, spokesman for the National Pure Water Association, said: ‘This sounds like nonsense. Why would we want to dose all of the water and all of the population for a tiny number of people who have a problem with alcohol?

‘Recommending supplements for those at risk seems much more sensible.’

The content of drinking water is affected by local geology and the minerals that seep into it.


Evolution could explain the placebo effect: Human immune system has developed on-off mechanism to save energy

The explanation below does not seem to acknowledge the power of suggestion generally

Scientists have discovered a possible evolutionary explanation for the placebo effect with new evidence suggesting the immune system has an on-off switch to save energy.

People who suffer from a weak infection often recover whether they take a medicinal drug or a simple sugar pill - which suggests humans can heal themselves.

But this has begged the question why people need to wait for the placebo before the recovery process from an infection begins.

According to the New Scientist, researchers have now found that something similar to the placebo effect occurs in animals, after studying Siberian hamsters.

If lights above the hamsters laboratory cages mimicked winter, they found the hamsters would not fight the infection.   However, if the lighting was changed to replicate summer conditions, the hamsters mounted a full immune response.

Similar to this, people who think they are taking medicine to treat an illness, but are actually receiving a placebo, can see a response from their immune system twice that than people who take no pills.  The evidence shows that intervention causes a mental response which kicks the immune system into action.

According to Peter Trimmer, a biologist at the University of Bristol, there is an explanation for this.

He suggests that the immune system uses up lots of energy when it is in action. So an animal's energy reserves could be severely depleted if the immune system launches a long response to an illness.

If the infection is not likely to causes death, it could be better to wait and see that fighting the illness will not put the animal in other dangers.

Evidence from a computer model designed by Mr Trimmer and his colleagues now supports this evidence.

It found those animals which live in more challenging environments were food was harder to find, they lived longer if they put up with infections rather than launch a response from their immune system.

However, for those animals living in much more favourable conditions, it was better for them to launch a response from their immune systems so they return to health quicker.

This is because in better conditions they have more access to food which provides energy to sustain an immune response.


9 September, 2012

Fit fatties live longer than unfit fatties

And it's only the unfit fatties who die earlier.  The authors below seem surprised by their findings.  I guess it blows away the "fat is bad" gospel

The intriguing metabolically healthy but obese phenotype: cardiovascular prognosis and role of fitness

Francisco B. Ortega et al.


Aims: Current knowledge on the prognosis of metabolically healthy but obese phenotype is limited due to the exclusive use of the body mass index to define obesity and the lack of information on cardiorespiratory fitness. We aimed to test the following hypotheses: (i) metabolically healthy but obese individuals have a higher fitness level than their metabolically abnormal and obese peers; (ii) after accounting for fitness, metabolically healthy but obese phenotype is a benign condition, in terms of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Methods and results: Fitness was assessed by a maximal exercise test on a treadmill and body fat per cent (BF%) by hydrostatic weighing or skinfolds (obesity = BF% ?25 or ?30%, men or women, respectively) in 43 265 adults (24.3% women). Metabolically healthy was considered if meeting 0 or 1 of the criteria for metabolic syndrome. Metabolically healthy but obese participants (46% of the obese subsample) had a better fitness than metabolically abnormal obese participants (P < 0.001). When adjusting for fitness and other confounders, metabolically healthy but obese individuals had lower risk (30–50%, estimated by hazard ratios) of all-cause mortality, non-fatal and fatal cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality than their metabolically unhealthy obese peers; while no significant differences were observed between metabolically healthy but obese and metabolically healthy normal-fat participants.

Conclusions: (i) Higher fitness should be considered a characteristic of metabolically healthy but obese phenotype.

(ii) Once fitness is accounted for, the metabolically healthy but obese phenotype is a benign condition, with a better prognosis for mortality and morbidity than metabolically abnormal obese individuals.


Secret weapon in fight against lung cancer... is being MARRIED: Singles less likely to survive after treatment

They fail below to ask WHY people might be unmarried.  In some  cases it may be because they are in less than robust mental and physical health to start with.  Even a small minority of unmarrieds of that sort would produce the findings below

Being married can make a big difference in how long people survive after undergoing treatment for lung cancer, a study has found.

Researchers studied 168 patients with locally advanced lung cancer, who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation over a 10-year-period, from January 2000 and December 2010.

They found that 33 per cent of married patients were still alive after three years compared to 10 percent of the single patients, with women faring better than men.

Married women had the best three-year survival rate (46 per cent), and single men had the worst rate (3 per cent).

Single women and married men had the same survival rate. White married patients had a better survival rate than married African-Americans.

The study’s lead author, Elizabeth Nichols, a radiation oncology resident at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center said: 'Marital status appears to be an important independent predictor of survival in patients with locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

'The reason for this is unclear, but our findings suggest the importance of social support in managing and treating our lung cancer patients. Patients may need help with day-to-day activities, getting to treatment and making sure they receive proper follow-up care.

'We believe that better supportive care and support mechanisms for cancer patients can have a greater impact on increasing survival than many new cancer therapy techniques.

'Not only do we need to continue to focus on finding new drugs and cancer therapies, but also on ways to better support our cancer patients.'

Further research is now being planned to determine if the findings can be corroborated on a wider basis.

E. Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, said: 'Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in both men and women, and this study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that having a spouse who can act as a caregiver may improve survival for patients with this type of cancer.

'We must figure out ways to help all of our cancer patients live longer, with a better quality of life, regardless of their marital status.'


7 September, 2012

Greek diet may protect against melanoma

Everything they say below may be true but there is also lots of evidence that antioxidants shorten your life.  Is it worth it?

A DIET rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fats could help protect against skin cancer, research suggests.

Dr Niva Shapira said the Greek-style Mediterranean diet could play a role in contributing to that country's low rates of melanoma compared to Europe and other sunny countries such as Australia.

"It's more than their olive skin," said Dr Shapira, a researcher from Tel Aviv who is presenting her findings this week at the International Congress of Dietetics in Sydney.

"We think the difference in skin cancer rates may be partially due to the different eating habits in these countries," she said.

Dr Shapira studied two groups of women exposed to the sun for four to six hours a day over two weeks, with one group drinking an antioxidant-enriched beverage and the other drinking water or soft drinks.

Levels of malondialdehyde, an indicator of oxidative stress in the body linked to cancer risk, increased by about 55 per cent in those drinking water but dropped by 16 per cent in the women who had the fortified beverage.

Dr Shapira conducted further studies that found tomato paste, a Greek staple containing antioxidants such as lycopene, reduced and delayed UV-induced skin redness.

She said antioxidants accumulate in the skin and form a first line of protection against UV radiation and cell damage.

Antioxidants are plentiful in other foods that form the traditional Mediterranean diet, including omega-3 fats from fish, omega-9 in olive oil, fruit, vegetables, herbs and tea, Dr Shapira said.

An antioxidant-rich diet may be useful along with current sun-smart advice, she said.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos said the research was promising.

Such a diet could be especially useful during childhood, when the risk of inducing melanoma was high, she said.

Israel once had the world's third-highest rate of skin cancer after Australia and New Zealand but recently dropped back to 18th.

In 2010 the Israeli Cancer Association recommended that sun smart behaviour should include the right nutrition.


Traffic pollution linked to pre-eclampsia

Just correlations.  No causal data

Exposure to traffic pollution can increase the risk of pregnant women suffering pre-eclampsia by as much as a third, an Australian study suggests.

And the effect of traffic-related air pollution is even greater for women deemed to be at-risk of developing the disorder, such as Indigenous women and women with diabetes.

"Modest increases in exposure were associated with a 30 per cent increase in risk, and more-so among women with other major risk factors for pre-eclampsia," says lead author Dr Gavin Pereira, who did the research while at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that occurs only in pregnancy and post-birth and can be life-threatening for the mother and unborn child.

The causes and origins of pre-eclampsia are not well understood, but it normally develops late in pregnancy and can impact on the mother's various body functions such as the cardiovascular system, liver and kidneys.

Pereira, now based at the Yale Centre for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology at Yale University, says exposure to traffic-related air pollution is practically unavoidable in an urban environment.

However he believes there is potential for decreases in the levels of pollution to prevent some cases of pre-eclampsia and associated deaths.

"It is infeasible for pregnant women to avoid this ubiquitous exposure," he says.  "Air pollution can be present even if you cannot see it or smell it. The obvious message for the public is to reduce your reliance on your car. Use public transit and switch to active modes of transport like walking and cycling."  [And spend even more time swimming through pollution?]

For the study, Pereira and colleagues took measurements of the nitrogen dioxide, as a marker for traffic-related air pollution around Western Australia's Perth metropolitan area in 2010.

They developed a model to predict these measurements based on the season of measurement and exposure to major roads near the measurement site.

They also undertook a retrospective study in the southwest area of Perth, which identified 23,452 pregnant women who had delivered children between 2001 and 2006.

Of this group 943, or 4 per cent, developed pre-eclampsia. Pereira used the modelling to predict the levels of the traffic-related pollutant at the residential addresses of the women in the year of their pregnancy.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology Community Health, shows elevated exposure in the third trimester and higher average traffic-air pollutant levels across a whole pregnancy are associated with greater risk.

"Although I cannot fully explain why exposure seems more relevant in late pregnancy, it is this period when most cases of pre-eclampsia develop," says Pereira.

"My interpretation is that traffic-related air pollution is more of a precipitating or promoting cause than an initiating cause of pre-eclampsia."

"That is, some women develop pre-eclampsia independently of pollution levels, and some women don't develop pre-eclampsia irrespective of the pollution levels, but for some women air pollution could be the last straw."
Strongest link

He says the strongest link between traffic pollution and pre-eclampsia was for women with diabetes.

"Women with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia as their pregnancy progresses. So again there is suggestion that traffic-related pollution seems to promote or precipitate pre-eclampsia in already susceptible pregnancies," says Pereira.

He says the study did not pinpoint exactly which chemicals in traffic emissions was causing the adverse impact.

However he says he hopes to answer these types of questions while at Yale using chemical data from the US Environmental Protection Agency and a very large cohort of approximately half a million pregnancies.


6 September, 2012

Study links high-sugar diet to brain shrinkage

Stupid logic.  Just because high blood sugar was correlated with brain shrinkage does not mean high blood sugar caused brain shrinkage.  If  "age, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use and other factors" were also correlated, there could have been many other factors as well.  Maybe it was just that poor people had more sugary diets, for instance

NEW research linking a diet high in sugar and processed foods to brain shrinkage has prompted a rethink on safe blood sugar levels.

People with blood sugar levels of 4ml-6.1ml were found to have a greater risk of the brain atrophy that occurs with ageing and dementia, researchers at the Australian National University's College of Medicine found.

These blood sugar levels are not high enough to meet the clinical definition for type 2 diabetes and are at the upper end of the normal range, which has surprised researchers.

The research may force doctors to redefine what blood glucose levels are dangerous.

The study found that the loss of brain volume affected mostly memory and cognitive skills.

Dr Nicolas Cherbuin, who conducted the study, said the research suggested long-term exposure to  foods like sugary drinks and white flour were responsible for the problem.

Previous medical research found higher levels of brain shrinkage among the obese and patients with type 2 diabetes.

"These findings suggest that even for people who do not have diabetes, higher blood sugar levels could have an impact on brain health," Dr Cherbuin said.

"More research is needed, but these findings may lead us to re-evaluate the concept of normal blood sugar levels and the definition of diabetes," he said.

After controlling for age, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use and other factors the study found blood sugar accounted for six to ten per cent of the brain shrinkage.

The study involved  249 Canberra residents aged 60-64 who had an MRI scan of the brain and a blood glucose test and  were then retested four years later.

The shrinkage of the brain was measured by comparing brain size in the two MRIS.

Dr Cherbuin says he is now undertaking new research to see whether people aged in their 40's and 50's experience the same brain shrinkage.

The best way to avoid brain shrinkage was to eat low- glycaemic foods and avoid sugary soft drinks and highly processed foods that used sugar, white flour and fat, he said. Physical activity also helped lower blood sugar levels.


Frozen embryos better for IVF treatment

Surprising but there's some logic to it

Using frozen embryos in all IVF treatments rather than as a last resort could lower the risk to both mother and baby, a study claims.

Babies which grow from frozen embryos are less likely to be born preterm or underweight and have a lower risk of dying in the days after their birth, a study found.

Using embryos which have been frozen and then thawed, rather than being implanted shortly after being created, also reduced the risk of bleeding in the mother during pregnancy.

Researchers said the increased reliability of frozen embryos could be down to the delay between removing the eggs from the mother and implanting it back in the mother after fertilisation.

In IVF treatment, doctors stimulate the ovaries to produce a number of eggs, and remove and fertilise them all. The healthiest-looking ones are implanted three to six days later, and the remainder are frozen for future use.

Fresh embryos can be implanted a matter of days after they are removed from the mother, meaning the lining her womb may not have fully recovered from the invasive procedure and could be damaged, researchers said.

The fact that only the healthiest embryos survive the freezing and thawing process could also increase the likelihood of the pregnancy going according to plan, it was claimed.

Previous studies have suggested that drugs used to stimulate egg production which would still be circulating in the mother's body at that stage could have a harmful effect on the pregnancy.

Existing research has also shown there is no difference in pregnancy rate whether fresh or frozen embryos are used.

Experts from Aberdeen University reviewed 11 previous studies which followed more than 37,000 pregnancies from implantation of either fresh or thawed embryos to birth.

When frozen embryos were used, there was a 30 per cent lower risk of bleeding during pregnancy, 30 to 40 per cent less chance of the baby being born underweight, 20 per smaller risk of it being born preterm and 20 per cent less likelihood of it dying shortly after birth.

The study by Dr Abha Maheshwari of Aberdeen University was published in the Fertility Sterility journal and will be presented at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen today (TUES).

Speaking ahead of the festival Dr Maheshwari said: "We found pregnancies arising from the transfer of frozen thawed embryos seem to have better outcomes both for mothers and babies when compared to those after fresh embryo transfer."

Although no changes in fertility practice should be made until the study's findings have been backed up by a controlled trial, the findings could one day lead to a shift in clinical practice to improve the chance of success at the first attempt, she added.

"Our results question whether one should consider freezing all embryos and transfer them at a later date rather than transferring fresh embryos. This represents a major paradigm shift in assisted reproduction.

"We are all very aware that a postcode lottery still exists [in NHS fertility treatment]. Most clinics only provide one cycle and that does not include the frozen treatment, only the fresh treatment."


5 September, 2012

Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce

The NYT below takes a very cautious approach to the findings and for once I agree with them.  Meta-analyses are sometimes just GIGO but, more importantly, what is termed organic is one huge fudge.  There are standards but very little enforcement.  You mainly just have the word of the grower that something is organic.  Still, it is clear that any health advantage of anything organic has yet to be demonstrated in any kind of scientific way.  Health nuts mostly seem to rely on intuition or an interpretation of some personal experience rather than science

Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the "maybe not” side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods.

They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.

The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.

Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits, the scientists said. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans.

"When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” said Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper, which appears in Tuesday’s issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. "I think we were definitely surprised.”

The conclusions will almost certainly fuel the debate over whether organic foods are a smart choice for healthier living or a marketing tool that gulls people into overpaying. The production of organic food is governed by a raft of regulations that generally prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones and additives.

The organic produce market in the United States has grown quickly, up 12 percent last year, to $12.4 billion, compared with 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic meat has a smaller share of the American market, at $538 million last year, the trade group said.

The findings seem unlikely to sway many fans of organic food. Advocates for organic farming said the Stanford researchers failed to appreciate the differences they did find between the two types of food — differences that validated the reasons people usually cite for buying organic. Organic produce, as expected, was much less likely to retain traces of pesticides.

Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"Those are the big motivators for the organic consumer,” said Christine Bushway, the executive director of the trade association.

The study also found that organic milk contained more omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial for the heart.

"We feel organic food is living up to its promise,” said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, which publishes lists highlighting the fruits and vegetables with the lowest and highest amounts of pesticide residues.

The Stanford researchers said that by providing an objective review of the current science of organic foods, their goal was to allow people to make informed choices.

In the study — known as a meta-analysis, in which previous findings are aggregated but no new laboratory work is conducted — researchers combined data from 237 studies, examining a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. For four years, they performed statistical analyses looking for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet.

The researchers did not use any outside financing for their research. "I really wanted us to have no perception of bias,” Dr. Bravata said.

One finding of the study was that organic produce, over all, contained higher levels of phosphorus than conventional produce. But because almost everyone gets adequate phosphorus from a wide variety of foods, they said, the higher levels in the organic produce is unlikely to confer any health benefit.

The organic produce also contained more compounds known as phenols, believed to help prevent cancer, than conventional produce. While the difference was statistically significant, the size of the difference varied widely from study to study, and the data was based on the testing of small numbers of samples. "I interpret that result with caution,” Dr. Bravata said.

Other variables, like ripeness, had a greater influence on nutrient content. Thus, a lush peach grown with the use of pesticides could easily contain more vitamins than an unripe organic one.

The study’s conclusions about pesticides did seem likely to please organic food customers. Over all, the Stanford researchers concluded that 38 percent of conventional produce tested in the studies contained detectable residues, compared with 7 percent for the organic produce. (Even produce grown organically can be tainted by pesticides wafting over from a neighboring field or during processing and transport.) They also noted a couple of studies that showed that children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide fragments in their urine.

The scientists sidestepped the debate over whether the current limits are too high. "Some of my patients take solace in knowing that the pesticide levels are below safety thresholds,” Dr. Bravata said. "Others have questioned whether these standards are sufficiently rigorous.”

Similarly, organic meat contained considerably lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised animals did, but bacteria, antibiotic-resistant or otherwise, would be killed during cooking.

Dr. Bravata agreed that people bought organic food for a variety of reasons — concerns about the effects of pesticides on young children, the environmental impact of large-scale conventional farming and the potential public health threat if antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes jumped to human pathogens. "Those are perfectly valid,” she said.

The analysis also did not take factors like taste into account.

But if the choice were based mainly on the hope that organic foods would provide more nutrients, "I would say there is not robust evidence to choose one or the other,” Dr. Bravata said.

The argument that organic produce is more nutritious "has never been major driver” in why people choose to pay more, said Ms. Lunder, the Environmental Working Group analyst.

Rather, the motivation is to reduce exposure to pesticides, especially for pregnant women and their young children. Organic food advocates point to, for example, three studies published last year, by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The studies identified pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of pesticides known as organophosphates and then followed their children for years. In elementary school, those children had, on average, I.Q.’s several points lower than those of their peers.

Critics of the Stanford study also argue that lumping all organic foods into one analysis misses the greater benefits of certain foods. For example, a 2010 study by scientists at Washington State University did find that organic strawberries contained more vitamin C than conventional ones. [Big deal!  Lots of things have vitamin C.  Eat an orange if in doubt]

Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler, another member of the Stanford team, said that the strawberry study was erroneously left out but that she doubted it would have changed the conclusions when combined with 31 other studies that also measured vitamin C.


How taking exercise can trigger a deadly food allergy

Eating vegetables and taking exercise are the cornerstones of healthy living advice.  But for Traton Steven, these two innocuous sounding activities have a far from positive effect.  In fact, he’s allergic to them.

Traton, 18, is one of half a million Britons who suffer from a condition called food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (FDEIA), where physical exercise sparks a severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction.

Indeed, it was only because of his father’s quick thinking that Traton survived his first attack at the age of 14.  He was helping out at his parents’ garden centre two hours after eating a meal of cannelloni.

‘I’d always had hay fever and allergies to horses, but I suddenly got what I can only describe as really bad hay fever, terrible stomach ache and, without being too dramatic, a sense of doom,’ says Traton.  ‘I went to wash my hands and change my clothes, which usually helps with my hay fever, but it got worse.’

Traton’s father put him in the car and rushed him to nearby Maidstone hospital.

By the time he arrived, 20 minutes after the reaction had started, the teenager’s face and eyes were so swollen he couldn’t see, his tongue was lolling out and he was having severe breathing problems.

He was suffering from anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction where the body’s immune system over-reacts to an allergen, triggering the release of the chemical histamine, which can affect the airways and mucous membranes (lips and eyes) and cardiovascular system.

The hospital administered adrenaline, steroids and oxygen, kept him in overnight and ran tests for peanut allergy, which came back clear.

Puzzled doctors released the teenager with an EpiPen — an adrenaline shot he can administer himself when the next reaction starts — and told him to be cautious.

Over the next three years, Traton had several more severe reactions, but allergy specialists could not explain why.

Finally, he was referred to Dr Stephen Till, a consultant in adult allergy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, who diagnosed him as having FDEIA, brought on by a substance in green vegetables and salad called lipid-transfer protein.

Around 750,000 Britons are thought to have suffered an anaphylactic reaction — and a food allergy is one of the most common causes.

But in an estimated ten to 20 per cent of people with a food allergy, the reaction is only sparked when they exercise.

It typically occurs two to four hours after ingesting food, but in some people it can be as much as 12 hours later.  Wheat and prawns are the most common culprits, but fruit, vegetables and nuts can also cause anaphylaxis.

The patient may go through life eating the food they are allergic to without any reaction, and it’s only when they exercise afterwards that the anaphylaxis strikes.

‘The exercise involved can be moderate — one patient suffered anaphylaxis when pushing her baby’s pram up a hill — and in many different forms, from labouring on a building site or dancing in a nightclub to taking a walk or going for a run,’ says Dr Till.

But it’s thought that the more the person exerts themselves, the stronger the reaction.

Diagnosis is based on a patient’s history, what they ate and when they ate it before exercise, plus blood tests commonly used to detect food allergies.

‘Classically, anaphylaxis will occur if the patient exercises two hours after eating the food, but sometimes it can be much longer,’ he says.  ‘One patient, a triathlete, reacted to something she had eaten the night before a race.’

Allergy consultants estimate they see one or two patients with FDEIA a month, but all agree the number of undiagnosed sufferers is likely to be much higher.

Why exercise should spark anaphylaxis is unknown, but there are theories that it increases the permeability of the gut, changes the way the blood vessels react to allergens or has an effect on the body’s neuroendocrine cells (specialised nerve cells that produce hormones such as adrenaline).

Heat, alcohol, anxiety and mental stress are also thought to exacerbate the problem.

The first case of FDEIA was recorded in a marathon runner in 1979, who collapsed when he ran after eating prawns.

However, there has been no other research into the condition — due, in part, to the danger of inducing a potentially fatal condition.

But this year, doctors will begin a three-year study, funded by the Food Standards Agency, looking at the effects of exercise on food allergies.

Dr Andrew Clark, a consultant in paediatric allergy at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, is leading the study that will involve 100 people with a peanut allergy.  ‘Each will eat peanuts on four occasions and, under strictly controlled conditions, exercise on a static bike,’ he says. The researchers expect exercise to lower the threshold at which patients can tolerate peanuts before suffering a reaction.

They think that even people with a food allergy who do not have full-blown FDEIA, exercise may make reactions worse.

‘We will take blood tests to see if there are changes in the blood vessels, gut or allergy cells during exercise,’ says Dr Clark.

Whatever the causes, once a diagnosis is made, avoiding the food causing the reaction is often all that’s necessary for cure.

Alastair Lockhart, 70, from Oban, avoids wheat after an attack earlier this year.   ‘For many years I would sometimes get "the itches” — hives and red blotches around my mouth — but thought nothing of it, until the day I walked a mile to the nearby village in the sunshine after a meal,’ he says.

‘I started to get itchy, so I stopped at the local shop to buy antihistamine.  'But soon I was shaking and shivering and couldn’t keep still. I felt as if I was losing consciousness.’

Luckily, a builder in the shop spotted the signs of anaphylaxis and called the local GP, who administered adrenaline.

Alastair was referred to Professor Jonathan Brostoff at King’s College London, and was diagnosed with FDEIA with an allergy to wheat.  ‘Working out what foods contain wheat has been tricky — even some whiskies do,’ he says.

As well as food avoidance, patients must have adrenaline with them at all times.  If anaphylaxis strikes, Professor Brostoff advises them to lie down and raise their legs so blood goes back to the heart.

‘Take an antihistamine or adrenaline as soon as possible, call the doctor and, when you are better, ask your GP for a referral to an allergist,’ he says.

Some patients also need to work with a dietitian so they can identify the culprit food.

Since Traton was diagnosed, he avoids greens and salad. He feels healthy and works at the family garden centre part-time. ‘I can eat cauliflower, carrots and red cabbage as well as fruit,’ he says.  ‘Luckily for me, I’m a meat and potatoes person, so I don’t mind.’


4 September, 2012

Report: Chocolate may lower risk of stroke in men

Self-report data!

Chocolate – often touted for aiding heart health – may have another benefit up its sleeve.  Men who eat a moderate amount of chocolate per week can possibly lower their risk of stroke, according to new research published in the journal Neurology.

Study author Susanna Larsson, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said it was natural to examine chocolate’s effects on stroke, given its other healthy properties.

"Chocolate consumption has been shown to reduce blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for stroke,” Larsson told  "Chocolate also reduces LDL cholesterol, which is also a risk factor for stroke.  So it made sense to look at stroke.”

Larsson and her team conducted a study of over 37,000 Swedish men between the ages of 49 and 75.  Each participant filled out a food questionnaire detailing the different foods and drinks they consumed, as well as discussing how often they ate chocolate.  The scientists then identified how many men suffered from strokes over a 10 year period – recording close to 2,000 cases.

Upon analyzing the questionnaires, the researchers found that the men who consumed the most chocolate – 63 grams or one-third of a cup of chocolate chips – had the lowest risk of stroke compared to the men who did not eat any chocolate.  Overall, the highest chocolate consumers decreased their risk of stroke by 17 percent.

In previous research, dark chocolate has often been hyped for its heart health benefits.  But an interesting aspect of the study revealed that 90 percent of the participants actually ate milk chocolate.  Larsson said that both types of would most likely provide the same benefits, but dark chocolate may still be the better option.

"If you eat dark chocolate, you need to eat only 30 grams instead of 60 grams, so you don’t need as much,” Larsson said.  "Then there’s less of a risk that you gain weight if you consume smaller amounts.

From previous research, the scientists have a few ideas as to why chocolate has such beneficial properties.

"There are possible antioxidant effects because chocolate contains flavanoids,” which have been found to be protective of cardiovascular health, Larsson said.  However, she noted they don’t know exactly why chocolate is so protective against stroke.  "There are several potential mechanisms,” she said.

While the results are encouraging, Larsson doesn’t want people to significantly increase the chocolate consumption.

"I think, it’s too early to give a recommendation about chocolate,” Larsson said.  "People can continue to consume, and if other people start to consume chocolate, they have to reduce the consumption of something else, because too much could lead to overweight or obesity.  So consume in moderation.”

Larsson agreed, however, that the association between chocolate and a lower risk of stroke has been concretely proven.

"We have examined the association in women previously,” Larsson said.  "And we have the same combined results in both men and women.  This was the last study of this relationship, and now it’s in men.  So there’s definitely an association."


For Diabetics, a Steady Job Is Good for Your Health

Sounds like some social class factors at work.  Middle class people more likely to hold down a job

 If you're diabetic or prone to diabetes, having a steady job appears to be good for your health, and not just because of the insurance coverage.

A new University of Michigan study found that that jobless working-age people with diabetes are less likely to adhere to their oral anti-diabetic medications than diabetics who are employed. Further, people of working age with diabetes are more likely to be unemployed than those who do not have diabetes.

The lack of a clear-cut, cause-and-effect relationship between insurance and medication adherence surprised lead researcher Rajesh Balkrishnan of the U-M College of Pharmacy and School of Public Health.

"Improved use of medications is more than just a facet of having medical insurance. It is linked to bigger issues such as being employed, periods of joblessness or a personal financial strain," said Balkrishnan, who believes that a healthier, active lifestyle and access to medical care resources through employers that want employees to remain productive play a big role in adherence.

Other factors that account for lack of medication adherence include lack of financial resources, stress due to unemployment and lack of access to health care.

Researchers looked at diabetes because it is one of the most commonly present chronic conditions in working-age adults in the United States, Balkrishnan said. And globally, diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death and the eighth-most costly disease to treat. In 2007, total health care costs for diabetes were estimated at $174 billion.

Policy changes would help, Balkrishnan said.  "Workforce participation for adults with diabetes and other chronic conditions command the attention of public policymakers, particularly when prioritizing resource allocation," he said. "As a starting position, health care providers and systems need standard processes to identify individuals facing financial pressure and their vulnerability to lower medication adherence."


3 September, 2012

The Miracle Cure That’s Hiding in Plain Sight

You've maybe never heard of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin—it sounds kinda French after all, so why would you? But scratch a little deeper and you'll find that BCG, as it's commonly known, is one of the most overlooked wonder-drugs of our time.

BCG is first and foremost the world's most common tuberculosis vaccine, and was first used in humans all the way back in 1921. Made from a weakened strain of live bovine tuberculosis bacteria, it's been show to be up to 80 percent effective in preventing TB for a duration of 15 years, depending on geographical location. That's pretty impressive, which is why—US aside—it's shoved into many a childhood arm around the world. But that's just the beginning.

Cancer killer

Jumping from TB to cancer is quite a leap, but it's one BCG has made time and again. As far back as 1979, a clinical trial declared that "BCG is beneficial in the treatment of lung cancer". Then, in 1991, a study published in the new England Journal of Medicine suggested that the BCG vaccine offered strong protection against the recurrence of bladder cancer.

There followed a 1994 trial which provided evidence that BCG increased survival time and reduced risk of recurrence in those suffering from malignant melanoma; reports that it was beneficial in the treatment of colorectal cancer; and, most recently, concrete examples of its beneficial effects in bladder cancer treatment.

TB, dead. Four disparate types of cancer kept in check. That alone would make for a pretty impressive scorecard.

But wait, there's more

But BCG has plenty more up its sleeve. Take multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the fatty sheaths around axons in the brain become damaged, in turn leading to scarring and, over time, cognitive disability. In 1999, it was demonstrated that BCG reduced the incidence of MS symptoms. In a later study, it was shown that this effect was likely due to the fact the vaccineattenuated the scarring of nerve cells by up to 50 percent—an effect that was observed on MRI scans. While it's not commonly used as a treatment, it was deemed a safe and sensible use of the vaccine in the journal Neurology.

The list keeps going. A 2006 paper in the Lancet explained how BCG has a protective effect on leprosy, while another pointed out that it delayed the onset of Buruli ulcers—nasty growths beneath the surface of the skin. There are also a host of animal experiments which promise even more positive news: in particular, a mouse model of Parkinson's disease has shown that BCG provides a mild neuroprotective effect, and it's hoped it can be replicated in humans.  Not bad for a 90-year old treatment.

Old drug, new tricks

BCG's latest feat, though, is perhaps its most unexpected. Several years ago, Harvard professor Denise Faustman showed that BCG could be used to treat diabetes in mice. She demonstrated that the vaccine helped mice to produce a protein which kills off T-cells, which are responsible for type 1 diabetes. With bated breath, the scientific community waited while the same experiments were replicated in humans. What was at stake? A positive finding could mean that diabetes patients no longer had to inject themselves with insulin.

Four years later, Fausmtan and her colleagues have published results from a very small-scale trial in PLoS One. Their work is limited and caveat-laden—the study looked at three patients for just 20 weeks—but the researchers observed the same protein production and T-cell death as they saw in mice. While it's not quite time for diabetes sufferers to pop the champagne corks and stop injecting insulin just yet, it's certainly a major finding that promises a great deal.

Perplexingly, we don't even really know quite what makes BCG so successful. There are hypotheses that suggest that it activates a protein called the "tumor necrosis factor-alpha"—and the diabetes study lends some weight to that idea—but the research community isn't 100 percent sure yet. Put simply, though it seems to be helpful across many conditions, we don't yet know exactly why.

Ignore at your own risk

Given the success of BCG against so many disease, you might wonder why it's not more common. It's certainly not unsafe: outside the US, it's one of the most widely used vaccines in the world, and has few adverse effects other than a little scarring where the injection is given. It's certainly not prohibitively expensive, either, as it's used throughout vast swathes of Asia and South America.

Perhaps more likely is that the US—usually the pioneer in cutting-edge treatments—has never really embraced BCG. Instead, it's always shunned the vaccine as a TB preventative, instead preferring to opt for programs of detection and treatment of latent tuberculosis. In turn, BCG is less commonplace in the States: medical professionals aren't as generally aware of it as in other parts of the world and, as a result, it sometimes goes overlooked.

Given what a panacea it's proven to be, though? Perhaps it's time that changed.


Scientists close to creating single-dose cure for all strains of malaria

Scientists believe they are close to creating a single-dose cure for all strains of malaria.  A team from the University of Cape Town said a recently discovered compound, called MMV390048, may also be able to block transmission of the parasite from person to person.

Conventional multidrug malaria treatments only work for a short period of time as the malaria parasite becomes resistant to them.

However, the UCT team led by Professor Kelly Chibale said their new treatment 'killed these resistant parasites instantly' in more than 18months worth of trials.

Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Science & Technology in South Africa, said: 'This is a significant victory in the battle to alleviate the burden of disease in the subcontinent.

'Clearly the war on this disease is not yet won, but I am excited by the role that our excellent scientists have played in this milestone in finding a potential cure for malaria and possibly preventing its transmission.'

The promising new compound shows potent activity against multiple points in the malaria parasite's lifecycle, which is why it could stop the parasite from spreading between human populations.

In 2010, malaria caused an estimated 655 000 deaths - mostly among African children.

Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.

The compound is being developed by scientists at the University of Cape Town in collaboration with the Medicines for Malaria Venture based in Switzerland.

So far it has displayed a complete cure of animals infected with malaria parasites in a single dose given orally, and thus has the potential to cure millions of people. It is also active against a wide panel of resistant strains.

'We are very excited that this promising compound, researched by African scientists, has been selected by MMV for further development,' said Dr Chibale.

'Our team is hopeful that the compound will emerge from rigorous testing as an extremely effective medicine for malaria - a disease that accounts for 24 per cent of total child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.'


2 September, 2012

Calorie restriction doesn't help in primates

This is a big blow to the conventional wisdom.  The conventional wisdom was however mainly founded on rodent studies and I have always said that generalizing lifespan effects from short-lived creatures, such as rodents, to long-lived creatures, such as humans,  is absurd.  Things that help rodents are probably already embedded in human physiology

To those who enjoy the pleasures of the dining table, the news may come as a relief: drastically cutting back on calories does not seem to lengthen lifespan in primates.

The verdict, from a 25-year study in rhesus monkeys fed 30% less than control animals, represents another setback for the notion that a simple, diet-triggered switch can slow ageing. Instead, the findings, published this week in Nature, suggest that genetics and dietary composition matter more for longevity than a simple calorie count.

"To think that a simple decrease in calories caused such a widespread change, that was remarkable,” says Don Ingram, a gerontologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who designed the study almost three decades ago while at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Bethesda, Maryland.

When the NIA-funded monkey study began, however, studies of caloric restriction in short-lived animals were hinting at a connection. Experiments had showed that starvation made roundworms live longer. Other studies had showed that rats fed fewer calories than their slow and balding brethren maintained their shiny coats and a youthful vigour. And more recently, molecular studies had suggested that caloric restriction — or compounds that mimicked it — might trigger a cascade of changes in gene expression that had the net effect of slowing ageing.

In 2009, another study, which began in 1989 at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) in Madison, concluded that caloric restriction did extend life in rhesus monkeys. The investigators found that 13% of the dieting group died from age-related causes, compared with 37% of the control group.

One reason for that difference could be that the WNPRC monkeys were fed an unhealthy diet, which made the calorie-restricted monkeys seem healthier by comparison simply because they ate less of it. The WNPRC monkeys’ diets contained 28.5% sucrose, compared with 3.9% sucrose at the NIA. Meanwhile, the NIA meals included fish oil and antioxidants, whereas the WNPRC meals did not. Rick Weindruch, a gerontologist at the WNPRC who led the study, admits: "Overall, our diet was probably not as healthy.”

Further, the WNPRC control group probably ate more overall, because their meals were unlimited, whereas NIA monkeys were fed fixed amounts. As adults, control monkeys in the WNPRC study weighed more than their NIA counterparts. Overall, the WNPRC results might have reflected an unhealthy control group rather than a long-lived treatment group. "When we began these studies, the dogma was that a calorie is a calorie,” Ingram says. "I think it’s clear that the types of calories the monkeys ate made a profound difference.”

Researchers studying caloric restriction in mice have become accustomed to mixed results, which they attribute to genetic diversity among strains. Genetics probably explains part of the variation between the monkey studies, too, as the NIA monkeys were descended from lines from India and China, whereas the Wisconsin monkeys were all from India.

The molecular effects of caloric restriction have also turned out to be complicated. Using compounds such as resveratrol, found in red wine, scientists have triggered the stress response that caloric restriction activates, which shuts down non-vital processes in favour of those that ward off disease. But hopes that ageing could be delayed by targeting a single gene or protein in a single molecular pathway have faded, as researchers have learned that the key pathways vary according to the animal."It may take us a decade to sort out longevity networks,” says David Sinclair, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, there is a dearth of evidence that caloric restriction slows ageing in humans. Observational studies have found that people of average weight tend to live longest [by a small margin]. Nir Barzilai, a gerontologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says that the centenarians he studies have led him to believe that genetics is more important than diet and lifestyle. "They’re a chubby bunch,” he says.

A more nuanced picture would suit Ingram, who enjoys an occasional feast of Louisiana crawfish. Ingram says that he looks forward to studies of how diet composition, rather than caloric intake, affects ageing. "Is the human lifespan fixed?” he asks. "I still don’t believe that for a minute.”


Statin fanatic ignores issues of therapeutic compliance (discontinuing treatment)

It seems very easy to find people who have had bad side-effects from statins but clinical trials report very few side-effects.  Why?  Because people enrolled in clinical trials are embarrassed to tell the researchers that they have flushed the garbage down the toilet because they couldn't tolerate it.  "I'd rather risk a heart attack" is one comment I have head

Statins should be given to all over-50s, regardless of their health history, because they dramatically cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life, one of the UK's leading experts has said.

Currently statins are given only to high-risk patients, around eight million people, who have high cholesterol or have a risk of heart disease.

But there is 'clear evidence' that healthy people can also benefit based on their age alone, says Professor Sir Rory Collins.

He led the world's largest study to investigate statins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease which proved that cutting levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol in the blood saved lives.

The risk of having a major vascular event such as a heart attack is cut by one-fifth for each 1.0mmol/L (millimoles per litre) fall in LDL, whether in high or low risk patients.

But current guidelines on their use - and misguided safety fears about muscle pain and memory loss - are restricting the range of people who can take them, he said.

'At 50 you should be considering it and whether you should be taking them at an earlier age is an open question' he said.

'If you start treatment earlier and continue for longer the benefits will be much greater, you're not trying to unfur the arteries, you're preventing them from furring in the first place' he said.

Prof Collins, who was giving a keynote lecture at the European Cardiology Congress in Munich, said evidence from 130,000 patients taking statins in trials show they are safe.

Yet drug safety watchdogs here and in the US have insisted on flagging up relatively minor side effects which are putting patients off the drugs, he said.

These include memory loss, depression, sexual difficulties and depression, while recent research suggests cataracts and diabetes may be more common in patients taking statins.

Trial data shows only one significant side effect, myopathy or muscle pain, which affects one in 10,000 patients, said Prof Collins.

He said: 'We need to look properly at the safety of statins. The reality is that these drugs are remarkably safe, but the problem is that high risk patients are getting the message that these drugs have side effects.'

Prof Collins, 57, went to his GP a fortnight ago to ask about taking statins despite a relatively low cholesterol level, and was dismayed to learn she could not get high risk patients to take them because of fears about side effects.

Research earlier this year co-ordinated by the Clinical Trial Service Unit Oxford University, where Prof Collins is co-director, reviewed findings from 27 statin trials involving 175,000 people, some of whom were at low risk of heart problems.

The drugs cut the risk of heart attacks, strokes and operations to unblock arteries by one third or more.

The benefits were gained no matter what level of cholesterol patients started out with. Healthier people who were given statins also had lower overall death rates than those who were given a placebo.

It concluded the positives greatly exceeded any side-effects from taking the drugs.

More than eight million adults are already taking statins, but it is estimated that routine use by the over 50s would lead to 10,000 fewer heart attacks and strokes a year, including 2,000 fewer deaths in the UK.

The small cost of the drugs - as low as £16 a year - would be outweighed by NHS savings due to the reduced number of heart attacks and strokes.

At present, statins are restricted to those with at least a 20 per cent risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next five years.

But, said Prof Collins, trial data shows very low risk groups can benefit where individuals have just a five to 10 per cent chance of heart disease, and even lower.

He said there did not appear to be a threshold at which the drugs didn't work and the longer they were taken, the greater the benefit.

'We need to review the guidelines and the current thresholds should go,' said Prof Collins, who claimed medical tests such as liver function were also unnecessary.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'The issue is where do you set the threshold between low, normal and high risk.

'The current arbitrary threshold was decided by cost but now statins are off patent (and much cheaper) it may be appropriate to see if there are benefits for more people - the threshold is a bit too high,' he added.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like