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, 2013

The vegetarian crusade continues

Most people like meat so that has to be WRONG!

The data below is just correlational.  Maybe middle class people are more susceptible to the vegetable siren song and they live longer anyway

Many people struggle to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but new research suggests that even those who do manage it should be doing more.  The Spanish study revealed that people who eat seven-a-day live, on average, for more than a year longer than those who do not.

The research revealed that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is particularly protective against heart disease.

Researchers at the Andalusian School of Public Health’s Granada Cancer Registry analysed 25,682 deaths among 451,151 people over a 13 year period, Science Daily reports.

They found that people who ate more than 569 grams of fruit and vegetables – seven portions – a day were 10 per cent less likely to die and lived, on average, 1.12 years longer than those who ate less than 249 grams a day.

The study also suggested that for every 200 gram increase in consumption, mortality risk falls by six per cent.

Therefore, the researchers believe that almost three per cent of deaths could be prevented if everyone ate six or seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Previous research has also shown that if everyone ate their recommended daily allowance of fruit and vegetables, the number of people with chronic diseases would fall and the risk of early death would fall by 10 to 25 per cent.

‘There is now sufficient evidence of the beneficial effect of fruit and vegetable consumption in the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases,’ lead author María José Sánchez Pérez told Science Daily.

‘For this reason, one of the most effective preventative measures is promoting their consumption in the population.’

The study also established that people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables are 15 per cent less likely to develop heart disease.

More than four per cent of heart disease-related deaths could also be prevented if everyone ate enough fruit and vegetables.

According to the researchers, raw vegetables are particularly good at reducing mortality risk.

They also found that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables was particularly good at reducing the mortality risk for people who consumed a lot of alcohol, were obese and who smoked.

They believe this is because of the antioxidant content of fruit and vegetables which reduces the oxidative stress caused by drinking alcohol, smoking, and being overweight.


Children who walk to school are calmer and more focused in lessons - and may be less likely to need drugs for ADHD

This is just self-report data in response to a survey by a group with a vested interest in getting the results they did.  Worthless

Walking to school helps children concentrate in lessons better and may even reduce the need for medication for conditions like ADHD, new research suggests.

A survey of more than 2,500 pupils showed that 80 per cent of those who walked to school reported feeling calmer and more able to concentrate when they got there.  They also said they felt healthier and looked better.

The survey was carried out by Henley-based health technology company Intelligent Health, which said that the link between exercise and school performance would also benefit children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The firm's founder William Bird said: 'Physical activity improves brain elasticity, which allows children to learn.  'Exercise also releases endorphins, which make you more relaxed.'

He told the Daily Telegraph that research in America, where children with ADHD are encouraged to play in parks, has shown such a calming effect from exercise that children were 'almost back to normal'.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, whose common symptoms include a short attention span, restlessness, and difficulty controlling behaviour.

Drugs such as Ritalin are prescribed to help control the symptoms and NHS prescriptions for them have doubled in England in the last six years - last year there were 657,000 NHS prescriptions for ADHD drugs, and nearly 5,000 private prescriptions.

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission said the number of prescriptions rose by 11 per cent just from 2011 to 2012, and medications to help sufferers of ADHD are now said to cost the NHS £31m a year.

Mother-of-three Emily Parker, 39, of Hammersmith, takes her children to school on foot, covering a mile each way every day.

She said: 'I started noticing that on the days we did walk to school, rather than drive, the children had much better days.  They behaved better, ate better, and even slept better when they came home.

'Now we do it every day unless the weather is awful - I have no doubt there's a link between exercise and doing better at school.'

Other benefits reported by the children who took part in the survey included making new friends.  However only three in 10 teachers agreed that walking helped children to learn more.

Psychologist Oliver James said: 'I'm all in favour of children walking to school but ADHD is best understood as a form of anxious attachment, not something caused by lack of exercise.'


29 September, 2013

Musicians 'have sharper minds': study

I would think that you would mostly have to be of above IQ to play a musical instrument -- so all we are seeing here is effects of higher IQ

PLAYING a musical instrument could help protect against mental decline through age or illness, according to a new study.
Musicians have sharper minds and are able to pick up and correct mistakes quicker than non-musicians, researchers at St Andrews University found.

They measured the behavioural and brain responses of amateur musicians compared with non-musicians when performing simple mental tasks.

The results showed that playing a musical instrument, even at moderate levels, improves a person's ability to detect errors and adjust responses more effectively.

Musicians also responded faster than those with little or no musical training, with no loss in accuracy, the study found.

The research was led by psychologist Ines Jentzsch, a reader in the university's School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

"Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning," she said.

"Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are amongst the first to be affected by ageing, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression.

"The research suggests that musical activity could be used as an effective intervention to slow, stop or even reverse age or illness-related decline in mental functioning."

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, builds on previous work showing the benefits of musical activity on mental and physical well-being.

Pianist Dr Jentzsch said: "Musical activity cannot only immensely enrich our lives but the associated benefits for our physical and mental functioning could be even more far-reaching than proposed in our and previous research."


Want to stay sharp in old age? Have a drink: Alcohol found to improve memory in most elderly people

A glass of wine every day could be the secret to keeping a brighter mind in old age.  Moderate drinking was found to improve memory and learning skills in a long-term study of elderly people.

The research claims that the benefits only begin to emerge after middle age.

However, not everyone will feel the benefits of a daily tipple.

While about 80 per cent of pensioners will do better with a drink, an unlucky 20 per cent will not.

In fact, a regular drink will put this group’s cognitive abilities into reverse because their DNA includes a gene called APOE e4, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Alcohol And Alcoholism, states: ‘Light and moderate alcohol  consumption during late life was associated with greater decline in learning and memory among  APOE e4 carriers.  ‘Whereas light and moderate alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in learning and memory among non-APOE e4 carriers.’

The study said there were ‘several mechanisms’ that may explain the relationship between alcohol and ability to think clearly.

These include alcohol’s anti-inflammatory properties and the fact that moderate consumption has been known to protect against dementia, stroke, coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes.

The study, by the Universities of Kentucky and Maryland, continued: ‘APOE e4 is a widely accepted genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease [and] is also associated with lower cognition among non-demented older adults.’

Paul Green, from the lifestyle company Saga, said: ‘There’s no doubt a tipple or two can take the edge off the ageing process. Our own research shows that the over-50s are sensible drinkers and you don’t get to a certain age in life without knowing your limits.

‘But if more work was done to find out who carries the APOE e4 gene then it could encourage people to better protect their health by reining in how much they consume.’

The study examined 619 US pensioners aged 69 to 92 in Framingham, Massachusetts. They are part of a long-term health-monitoring project which began in 1948.  Their drinking habits and cognitive faculties were tracked from mid-life to the present day.

Researchers found that the effects of alcohol were largely determined by whether or not a person possessed the e4 variant of the APOE gene, which helps regulate cholesterol in the body.

Among the 22 per cent who were found to be carriers, teetotallers fared markedly better in tests charting decline in brain function.

However, for the 78 per cent who did not possess e4, those who enjoyed alcohol showed more resilient learning and memory abilities than those who abstained.

The protective effect was strongest for those who consumed between seven and 14 drinks a week.

A recent Newcastle University study claimed that the safe limits for the elderly should be slashed to avoid alcohol interfering with medication as well as causing falls, depression and dementia.

Last night, Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said: ‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good, as the saying goes, and drinking low to moderate levels of alcohol can often be an important part of social life for older people.

'Everyone reacts differently, but every older person needs to be aware that too much alcohol can both cause and exacerbate health problems.’


27 September, 2013

Can dieting make you dumber? How calorie-counting and resisting cravings clogs up the brain

Sounds reasonable

Dieting may make you thinner, but new research has found that it may also be detrimental to your mental capacity.

Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan told the New York Times that obsessive calorie-counting and spontaneous cravings 'clog up' a dieter's brain, leaving little room for other thoughts or calculations.

Professor Mullainathan explains that this 'clogging' negatively impacts our ability to carry out various tasks that make up what he calls 'bandwidth' - which includes logical reasoning, problem solving and the absorption of new information.

Studies have found that those who are on a diet have less bandwidth than non-dieters, meaning they are worse at achieving these tasks.

There are other aspects of dieting that affect a person's bandwidth - such as having to determine 'trade-offs', like whether having a cookie means you need to skip the appetizer at dinner.

The article cites one 2005 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that looked at the different ways dieters and non-dieters reacted to eating a chocolate bar.

Researchers found that those subjects who weren't on a diet simply ate the chocolate bar and then moved on to other tasks.

Those who were on a diet, however, reportedly spent the following several minutes thinking about how many calories were in the chocolate bar, and pondering why they ate it in the first place.

Consequently, a diet that requires less thought seems to have a better chance of being successful.

Indeed, the writer cites another study, published in January 2010, which found that people on the Atkins diet - which categorically cuts out specific foods - tend to stick to it longer than people on more complex diets, like Weight Watchers.

'Perceived rule complexity was the strongest factor associated with increased risk of quitting the cognitively demanding weight management program,' says the summary of the study.

'The results emphasize the importance of considering rule complexity to promote long-term weight management.'

Professor Mullainathan and Princeton University professor Eldar Shafir have written about the phenomenon in their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

The authors assert that scarcity in any form - not just food - has a similar effect on the mind, and there is therefore a general need to economize on bandwidth.

'Just as dieters constantly track food, the hyper-busy track each minute and the poor track each dollar,' writes Professor Mullainathan.

For instance, low-income students applying for financial aid for college must complete a dense ten-page booklet, which is especially mentally taxing for this particular set of people.

'A one-page version would not only be simpler but it would also recognize that the poor are short on bandwidth as well as cash,' he writes.


Leftist Hysteria Over Monsanto

The left is in a frenzy over the American agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto and other agribusinesses that tinker with crop genetics. Is there any truth to their scare stories asserting that we’re being poisoned with “Frankenfood,” breeding new strains of superbugs and superpests?

Genetically modified crops, known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms), have been used by American farmers since the mid-1990s in order to increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides. The FDA has approved their use. Today, 70-80 percent of grocery products in the U.S. include genetically engineered ingredients. In contrast, only 5 percent of the food sold in Europe contains GMOs, due to governmental restrictions.

According to opponents of GMOs, “The concern is that genetic modification alters the proteins in foods in ways that researchers do not yet fully understand. Substances that have never existed before in nature are entering our food supply untested.” In addition to ingesting modified food, people are eating livestock that has been fed GMOs. Food sensitivities, allergies and other health problems have been increasing in recent years, and opponents claim it is due to GMOs. Where the science gets murky is whether this correlation is true.

Efforts are being made by the left to pass laws requiring the labeling of GMOs. In Washington state, Initiative 522 would require fruits, vegetables and grain-based products to be labeled, but exempts meat and dairy products from animals fed genetically engineered grains. Monsanto has contributed $4.6 million to defeat I-522, and opponents are outspending proponents by more than three to one. A similar initiative lost in California last year, where opponents including agribusiness and major food manufacturers outspent proponents almost five to one. Initiatives have passed in Connecticut and Maine, and legislation is pending in 20 states.

I-522 opponents cite estimates by the state’s Office of Financial Management computing that the average family’s food bill would rise $490 a year if it passes. The liberal Seattle Times editorialized against the initiative, pointing out that consumers already have the option of buying organic foods, and many companies already choose to self-label. Dan Newhouse, a former director of the Washington Department of Agriculture, says the bill is poorly written, containing confusing and absurd requirements.

The website says labeling genetically modified food would put a stigma on it. “The very act of labeling suggests to consumers there’s something potentially risky about X – if you don’t believe it try giving away bottles of water labeled ‘Contains DiHydrogen Monoxide’ and see what reactions you get.”

There is some scientific approval of GMOs. The American Medical Association has come out against labeling GMOs, declaring, “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.” UCLA professor Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist and a member of the National Academy of Science, asserts, “Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world. We’ve been testing them for 40 years. They’re like the Model T Ford. There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe.” One prominent environmentalist activist, Mark Lynas, recently switched his position on GMOs, coming out in support of them.

The problem with GMOs is there hasn’t been scientific testing done on human subjects - and both sides of the debate are using this to their advantage. Rats given massive doses of GMOs had adverse reactions. Female rats lost their babies at a high rate, gave birth to fewer and smaller babies, and the testicles of male rats changed color. A study of buffaloes in India that were fed GMOs produced similar results. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine warned, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation.”

The problem with studies like these is the dosages of food given the animals is forced and unrealistic. There have been reports of humans becoming sick who live in close proximity to GMO-producing farms. Yet these stories are anecdotal evidence and not rigorous scientific studies.

The most controversial aspect of GMOs involves the modification of crops beyond just hybrids. The latest modification added an actual pesticide component to food. A built-in pesticide was added within the cellular structure of corn, a gene copied from the insect-killing bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. It eliminates the need to spray the corn with pesticides. This prompted concerns about humans ingesting food containing a built-in pesticide.

One study found that this pesticide-enhanced corn is causing problems for some crops in Illinois. Michael Gray, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, observed that rootworms are growing more resistant to the genetically modified corn - despite the fact that the corn was modified to resist the rootworms. Previously, farmers rotated corn crops with soybean crops, since rootworms would not infest the soybeans. Since the modified corn was introduced, rootworms are now being found in the soybean fields too, destroying both kinds of crops. Some farmers are reluctant to reject the modified corn, however, because generally it helps reduce pesticide use.

There is a lawsuit in place currently against Monsanto by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), a group of 73 American organic and conventional family farmers, public advocacy groups and seed businesses. They are accusing Monsanto’s genetically-engineered seed of contaminating neighboring non-GMO farms via wind-borne pollen and insects.

Monsanto spends millions lobbying Congress and the Department of Agriculture. A Monsanto attorney, Michael Taylor, has spent the last few decades revolving between Monsanto and government jobs with the FDA and the USDA, where he directed much of those agencies’ policies on GMOs. To the casual observer, this would appear to be a clear conflict of interest. This is typical of the Obama administration, known for its revolving door between the big banks and Obama’s cabinet.

Republicans better not be in the pockets of big agricultural business. While onerous regulations are not the answer to murky science, sweeping everything under the rug isn’t either. Many of those speaking out in defense of GMOs come directly from the GMO industry, lowering their credibility. Unfortunately, most Republicans have little interest in investigating GMOs, since the hysterical left is leading the opposition to them, straining credibility.

Americans are getting sicker than people in other high-income countries. Until there are rigorous scientific studies performed on human subjects, both sides should tread carefully in this area. Since “you are what you eat,” consumers who believe that GMOs present a threat to their health should put their money where their mouth is and buy food from businesses like Whole Foods which label food or provide organic food. And don’t force everyone else to.


26 September, 2013

Commonly-prescribed statin may impair memory

Side effects are slowly being admitted

Some commonly prescribed statins can impair memory but others do not, scientists have found.

The most recent review of statins suggests that for three quarters of those taking them, they offer little or no value

Between six and seven million people in the UK take the medicines every day to lower "bad cholesterol" in the blood.

But after starting the treatment, some patients complain that their memory is affected.  Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insisted all manufacturers list in their side effects that statins could affect cognitive function.

Scientists at the University of Bristol tested the effects of two commonly prescribed statins – pravastatin and atorvastatin – on rats.

Pravastatin, with the brand name Pravachol, was found to have adverse effects on working and recognition memory.

However, atorvastatin, with the brand name Lipitor, did not have any effect.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, found adverse effects of pravastatin on memory could be reversed by stopping the medication.

Neil Marrion, professor of neuroscience at Bristol's School of Physiology and Pharmacology and the study's lead author, said: "This finding is novel and likely reflects both the anecdotal reports and FDA advice.

"What is most interesting is that it is not a feature of all statins.  "However, in order to better understand the relationship between statin treatment and cognitive function, further studies are needed."

The research examined adverse effects on memory from prescribed statin medicines, used to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood.

Results showed rat performance for simple learning and memory tasks were impaired when taking pravastatin, but not atorvastatin.

The rats were treated daily with pravastatin or atorvastatin for 18 days.  The rodents were tested in a simple learning task before, during and after treatment, in which they had to learn where to find a food reward.  The rats also performed a task which measured their ability to recognise a previously encountered object, on the last day of treatment and a week after it finished.

Pravastatin tended to impair learning over the last few days of treatment, though this was fully reversed once the rats stopped taking the medicine.

In the novel object discrimination task, object recognition memory was also impaired by pravastatin.

No effects were observed for atorvastatin in either task.


Why going to the gym could make you fat: 'Treats' after a workout mean 25% of us actually GAIN weight

A quarter of gym users gain weight when they start exercising, according to a new study.  The new gym-goers pile on the pounds because they allow themselves a treat after working out.

The survey found that 39 per cent of people burn as little as 300 calories during each visit to the gym making them susceptible to weight gain if they then treat themselves to a high-calorie snack.

The poll found that regular gym sessions gave dieters a 'feeling of complacency' which made it more difficult for them to stick to their recommended daily calorie intake.

Diet firm Forza Supplements polled 1,000 gym users on their diet habits.  It found that 26 per cent of gym users actually put on weight after starting regular exercise.

A further 49 per cent said that their weight had stayed the same while just 27 per cent said that they had lost weight.

The survey revealed that most keep fit fans go the gym between three and four times a week - exercising on average for between 40 minutes and an hour.

Four out of ten users burn between 300 and 500 calories in a session - though a quarter manage only 200 to 300 calories, 10 per cent just 100 to 200 calories and four per cent less than 100 calories.

More than a third of people allow themselves a treat after going to the gym - most typically a chocolate bar such as a Kit Kat - 233 calories for a four finger bar - or a glass of wine - 190 calories.

Another reason why going to the gym can make you fat is that users have far bigger appetites than people who do not exercise.

The poll revealed that 53 per cent said their exercise sessions substantially boosted their appetite.

Many gym users also exercise regularly ahead of a night's partying.

Almost half of fitness fans said they would work-out prior to a big night out to 'compensate' for the calories they would consume later.

And 42 per cent of gym goers felt that by exercising regularly, they had earned the right to deviate from controlled diet plans.

Many celebrities admit to using the gym to earn 'brownie points' prior to a night's partying.

Luisa Zissman, runner-up in The Apprentice, said: ‘Who hasn't had a guilt inspired exercise session?  ‘We all do it - work out furiously in the gym to get “brownie points” ahead of a night on the town.  ‘You know you are going to consume a stack of calories by boozing and drinking - so why not burn off a load beforehand.’

Forza Supplements managing director Lee Smith said the survey showed many dieters struggle to lose weight despite exercising.  He said: ‘Battling the bulge is the toughest thing many of us do.  ‘Lots of people go the gym because they know they have no control over their eating habits.  ‘They figure, “I am going to pig out anyway so I may well do my best to limit the damage”.

‘Many gym goers underestimate the level of exercise the need to do to shift fat.  ‘To lose 1kg of body fat, you need to burn about 8,000 calories - that is around 80 miles of running to cover just 1kg in weight.’


25 September, 2013

‘Marriage improves cancer survival rate by 20% and can be BETTER than chemotherapy when it comes to battling the disease’

This is an old chestnut:  Does marriage make you healthier or are healthier people more likely to marry?  The second is almost certainly true.  But both could be true

Marriage has many benefits when it comes to raising children, buying a house, and having a hand to hold during life's toughest times.  But new research suggests that, for some cancer patients, having a husband or wife could be more beneficial than chemotherapy.

New research from Harvard University shows that, for 10 common kinds of cancer, being married means patients are 20 per cent less likely to die from the disease.

Academics found that people who were married were more likely to get diagnosed early, before tumours could spread, and more likely to have life-saving surgery.

Amazingly in some forms of cancer, including breast and colon, the benefits of being married outweighed the stated benefit of chemotherapy.

The study, of 750,000 people including those with lung and prostate cancer, also found that the effect was larger in men than in women.

Unmarried cancer patients - including those who were widowed - were 17 per cent more likely to have metastatic cancer, which spreads beyond its original site and were 53 per cent less likely to receive the appropriate therapy.

Dr Ayal Aizer, chief resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Programme, said: 'Our data suggests that marriage can have a significant health impact for patients with cancer, and this was consistent among every cancer that we reviewed.

'We suspect that social support from spouses is what's driving the striking improvement in survival.

'Spouses often accompany patients on their visits and make sure they understand the recommendations and complete all their treatments.'

However, the finding shouldn't be seen as a downer for singletons as Dr. Paul Nguyen, the study's senior author, said that the findings just showed the importance of strong social support, which could also be provided by family or close friends.

He said: 'We don't just see our study as an affirmation of marriage. 'Rather it should send a message to anyone who has a friend or a loved one with cancer, by being there for that person and helping them navigate their appointments and make it through all their treatments, you can make a real difference to that person's outcome.

'As oncologists, we need to be aware of our patients' available social supports and encourage them to seek and accept support from friends and family during this potentially difficult time.'

While this isn't the first study to identify a positive link between cancer survival rates and marriage, it is the first to link to the 10 most common cancers.

However researchers were unable to say exactly why marriage is so beneficial. One possibility is that patients with a spouse are more likely to undergo health screening which would diagnose cancer at an earlier stage.

Married people are then more likely to follow through with treatments and appointments, while widowed or single people may struggle to keep up with tough medical routines.

Dr. Victor Vogel, the director of breast medical oncology and research at Geisenger Health System, agrees, calling the study 'very proactive.'

He added: 'We need to help our patients find social support throughout their illness.

'If there isn’t a spouse to do that then we have to find other systems and networks to make that happen.'


Retirement age has NO impact on life expectancy...unless you are forced out of work without a choice

It seems reasonable that there should be both positives and negatives in early retirement

Whether you make your millions and retire young or work long into old age, your chance of having a long and healthy retirement will remain the same.

Australian researchers found that the age at which a person retires has no impact on how long they live.

Previous research has suggested that people who retire young lose their social networks and have less mental and physical activity meaning they are more likely to die young.

Other studies have concluded that people who work into old age are more likely to die young because they are subjected to stress for longer.

However, the latest research by the Australian School of Business is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date and it concluded that there is no correlation between retirement age and life expectancy.

‘While it is tempting to link retirement to life expectancy, the reality is that health status is the primary determining factor in when we die,’ said Professor John Piggott, Professor of Economics at the Australian School of Business.

‘Health influences both the timing of retirement and when we die which has sometimes caused confusion in earlier studies.’

However, the researchers did find that there is a strong correlation between being forced out of work, due to company closures or downsizes, and age of death.

Professor Piggott said: ‘When a person’s choice to leave work is removed, this does seem to impact mortality, most probably because of a variety of factors such as depression and loss of social networks.’

For the study, the researchers studied population data from the Norwegian government for the period from 1990 to 2010.

Through the 1990s, a significant number of public and private sector companies in Norway progressively reduced the pension access age from 67 to 62 causing employees to retire earlier than expected.  For the remainder of the population, the national retirement age remained at 67.

When comparing the longevity of individuals that retired early, with those who worked through to 67, the researchers could find no discernible difference.

This led them to conclude that retirement does not impact when we die.

Previous research has shown that people who work for longer are less likely to develop dementia.

Carole Dufoil and her team at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherché Médicale (INSERM) in France discovered that a person who retires at 65 is 15 per cent less likely to develop the condition than someone who retires at 60.

The researchers believe that this is because intellectual stimulation and mental engagement are protective against dementia.


24 September, 2013

Why sweeteners may INCREASE your sugar craving: They tickle the taste buds, but can't fool the brain into producing the pleasure response

More perverse results from dieting

Choosing diet drinks and artificial sweeteners instead of high-calorie treats may increase your craving for sugar, a study has found.

It is because sugar subsitutes tickle the tastebuds, but can’t fool the brain.

The pleasure we get from sweet treats is the result of a chemical called dopamine, which is released in the brain when sugar is consumed and is linked to a feeling of reward.

Artificial sweeteners and other low-calorie options do not cause the same reaction, leaving dieters with their craving – and making them far more likely to binge on sugar later on.

‘[Our discovery] implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high-calorie alternatives in the future,’ said Professor Ivan de Araujo, who led the study at Yale University’s School of Medicine.

Rather than starve yourself of sugar, he said, it is better to consume very small amounts, tricking the brain into producing a pleasure response.

The steady release of dopamine will prevent cravings from building up.

Professor de Araujo added: ‘The results suggest that a “happy medium” could be a solution, combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.’

Scientists suggest the findings may explain why obesity levels have rocketed despite the widespread introduction of diet drinks and snacks.

Professor Ivan de Araujo said: “The consumption of high-calorie beverages is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, even after the introduction of artificial sweeteners to the market.

'We believe that the discovery is important because it shows how physiological states may impact on our choices between sugars and sweeteners.

'Specifically, it implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to ‘relapse’ and choose high calorie alternatives in the future.

'The results suggest that a ‘happy medium’ could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.”

The research was performed in mice, using a combination of behavioural testing involving sweeteners and sugars, whilst measuring chemical responses in brain circuits for reward.

Professor de Araujo said: 'According to the data, when we apply substances that interfere with a critical step of the ‘sugar-to-energy pathway’, the interest of the animals in consuming artificial sweetener decreases significantly, along with important reductions in brain dopamine levels.

'This is verified by the fact that when hungry mice - who thus have low sugar levels - are given a choice between artificial sweeteners and sugars, they are more likely to completely switch their preferences towards sugars even if the artificial sweetener is much sweeter than the sugar solution.'

Further research is planned to identify the associated receptors and pathways in the brain after the study established dopamine cells were critical in sugar or sweetener choice.


Statins increase risk of cataracts, study finds

This is just a correlational study but it fits with many findings of ill-effects from statin use

They have been heralded as the new wonder drug and are used by millions to fight heart disease, but statins could increase the risk of cataracts, a new study has found.

Those taking the low-cost medication could be 27 per cent more likely to develop the condition, which leads to cloudy lenses, the researchers discovered.

Older people are particularly vulnerable as they make up the majority of statin users and cataract patients, the Daily Mail reported.

The medical records of more than 14,000 people, covering a period of more than eight years, were examined by researchers in the US.

Half of the patients had used statins for at least three months and the other half had never taken the drug.

Those who took statins had a 27 per cent increased risk of developing cataracts, which require surgery to prevent blindness, even when other factor such as high blood pressure were accounted for.

The researchers believe that one explanation could be that cholesterol is necessary to maintain healthy cells in the eye and the transparency of the lens.

The authors of the study, published in journal JAMA Ophthalmology, concluded: “The risk for cataract is increased among statin users as compared with non-users. The risk-benefit ratio of statin use, specifically for primary prevention, should be carefully weighed, and further studies are warranted.”

Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, taken by more than eight million Britons.

They are currently prescribed to patients with at least a 20 per cent risk of having a heart attack or stroke within ten years.

A team from Oxford University concluded that the benefits of statins outweigh the side effects after they found they cut by at least a third the risk of heart attacks, strokes and operations to unblock arteries.

All patients in the trials, which involved 175,000 people, had a positive reaction to the drug and even healthy people given statins had lower overall death rates than those who were given a placebo.

The findings have even led to calls for statins to be prescribed to everyone over the age of 50, but the latest research casts doubt on the recommendation.

Earlier research on the link between the drugs and cataracts has provided mixed results.

Around one in three people over 65 develop cataracts, and 341,000 operations were carried out last year on the NHS.

As well as cataracts, statins have been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, constipation, diarrhoea, headaches, loss of appetite and loss of sensation or pain in the nerve endings of the hands and feet.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Products Agency has warned about the risk of sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression and certain lung diseases.


23 September, 2013

Cup of tea boosts brain cells?

The report below is rather mad in a couple of ways.  For a start, the journal article concerned  -- by Giesbrecht et al. is from nearly 3 years back.  Secondly, the researchers administered L-theanine  and caffeine together.  How do they know that it was not caffeine alone which produced the effects?  All the effects reported would be normal for caffeine

NATURAL ingredients found in a cup of tea can improve brain power and increase alertness, it is claimed. Researchers looked at the effect of key chemicals found in tea on the mental performance of 44 young volunteers.

The effects of these ingredients, an amino acid called L-theanine – which is also found in green tea – and caffeine at levels typically found in a cup of tea, were compared with a dummy treatment.

The active ingredients significantly improved accuracy across a number of switching tasks for those who drank the tea after 20 and 70 minutes, compared with the placebo.

The tea drinkers' alertness was also heightened, the study found.
Tea was also found to reduce tiredness among the volunteers, who were aged under 40, according to the Dutch researchers reporting on their findings in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

'The results suggest the combination helps to focus attention during a demanding cognitive task,' they said.

Previous trials have shown that adding milk to a cup of tea does not affect the drinker's absorption of flavonoids – or antioxidants – or disrupt the health benefits from these.

Tea drinking has already been linked with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and Parkinson's. Other research shows drinking tea on a regular basis for ten or more years may help improve bone density.

Dr Tim Bond, of the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said the latest findings backed a previous study which showed drinking two cups of black tea 'improves the ability to react to stimuli and to focus attention on the task in hand'.

'Taken together, these two studies provide evidence that consumption of black tea improves cognitive function, in particular helping to focus attention during the challenge of a demanding mental task,' he said.

'As a result, all this new data adds to the growing science that drinking tea, preferably four cups of tea a day, is good for our health and well being'.


Ditch the diet! Why carrying a few extra pounds can actually make you live longer

As middle-age approaches, the health risks of being overweight are well-documented.

But a new study has found that those who are classed as 'overweight' in their 50s yet kept this stable, were in the group most likely to survive the next 16 years.

It appears that weight retention is key - this group were deemed to be better off than a normal-wight individual who added weight but kept within their range.

The study, conducted by Ohio State University, did back up the prominent belief that those most at danger are the obese, who continue to pile on the pounds.

The weight categories were set by using people's BMI Index - their height-to-weight ratio that can identify body fat.

Almost 10,000 people were interviewed every two years from 1992 until 2009, with their BMIs recorded, and it concluded that 7.2 per cent of deaths after the age of 51 are due to weight gain among obese people.

In a release from the Ohio State University, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology Hui Zheng said: 'You can learn more about older people’s mortality risk by looking at how their weight is changing than you can by just looking at how much they weigh at any one time.'

Those involved in the study were classified into six different groups, depending on their BMI at the beginning of the study and how it changed over the 16-year period they were surveyed.

While slightly overweight people (BMI of 25 to 29.9) whose weight was steady had the highest survival rate, those who moved from overweight to obese (BMI 30 to 34.9) were close behind.

'This suggests that among overweight people at age 51, small weight gains do not significantly lower the probability of survival,' Zheng added.

Third were normal-weight individuals who add gradual mass, followed in fourth by Class I obese people whose weight was on the rise.

Next to last were those of normal weight who were reducing in size, followed by the most susceptible group who were the most obese, BMI of 35 and over.

So carrying a few extra pounds as we hit the big 5-0 is not such a worry after all.

'It is probably because the older population is more likely to get illnesses and disease, especially cancer, that cause dangerous weight loss,' Zheng added, explaining why being slightly overweight might not be so bad.

'In that case, a small amount of extra weight may provide protection against nutritional and energy deficiencies, metabolic stresses, the development of wasting and frailty, and loss of muscle and bone density caused by chronic diseases.'


22 September, 2013

Impaired IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced moderate to severe infantile malnutrition: A 40-year study

After a fair bit of looking I cannot find a good explanation of WHY some Barbadian infants were malnourished.  It seems likely that they came from poorer or less functional families -- so  poverty alone would explain the effects observed. Poor people are dumber on average. Contrary to the conclusions below, the effects may be entirely genetic  -- JR

By Waber DP, Bryce CP, Girard JM, Zichlin M, Fitzmaurice GM, Galler JR.


Objectives: To evaluate IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced an episode of moderate-to-severe infantile malnutrition and a healthy control group, all followed since childhood in the Barbados Nutrition Study.

Methods: IQ and academic skills were assessed in 77 previously malnourished adults (mean age = 38.4 years; 53% male) and 59 controls (mean age = 38.1 years; 54% male). Group comparisons were carried out by multiple regression and logistic regression, adjusted for childhood socioeconomic factors.

Results: The previously malnourished group showed substantial deficits on all outcomes relative to healthy controls (P < 0.0001). IQ scores in the intellectual disability range (< 70) were nine times more prevalent in the previously malnourished group (odds ratio = 9.18; 95% confidence interval = 3.50–24.13). Group differences in IQ of approximately one standard deviation were stable from adolescence through mid-life.

Discussion: Moderate-to-severe malnutrition during infancy is associated with a significantly elevated incidence of impaired IQ in adulthood, even when physical growth is completely rehabilitated. An episode of malnutrition during the first year of life carries risk for significant lifelong functional morbidity.


Older fathers don't have dumber kids

Some recent research below bears on the often asserted "danger" of older fathers

The effect of paternal age on offspring intelligence and personality when controlling for paternal trait level

Ruben C. Arslan et al


Paternal age at conception has been found to predict the number of new genetic mutations. We examined the effect of father’s age at birth on offspring intelligence, head circumference and personality traits. Using the Minnesota Twin Family Study sample we tested paternal age effects while controlling for parents’ trait levels measured with the same precision as offspring’s. From evolutionary genetic considerations we predicted a negative effect of paternal age on offspring intelligence, but not on other traits. Controlling for parental IQ had the effect of turning a positive-zero order association negative. We found paternal age effects on offspring IQ and MPQ Absorption, but they were not robustly significant, nor replicable with additional covariates. No other noteworthy effects were found. Parents’ intelligence and personality correlated with their ages at twin birth, which may have obscured a small negative effect of advanced paternal age (< 1% of variance explained) on intelligence. We discuss future avenues for studies of paternal age effects and suggest that stronger research designs are needed to rule out confounding factors involving birth order and the Flynn effect.


20 September, 2013

Sugar is 'the most dangerous drug of our time' and should come with smoking-style health warnings, says Dutch health chief

This is just an attention-seeking bureaucrat making baseless assertions.  If he was any sort of serious thinker he would address the question of distinguishing between people liking something and being addicted to it

Sugary foods and drinks should come with a smoking-style health warning, according to a leading Dutch health expert.

Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam's health service, said that sugar is ‘the most dangerous drug of our time’.

The health chief - from a city that has a famously liberal attitude to cannabis - added that sugar is a drug like alcohol and tobacco and that its use should be discouraged.

Writing on a public health website, he said that users should be made aware of the dangers.

He wrote: ‘This may seem exaggerated and far-fetched, but sugar is the most dangerous drug of this time and is easy to obtain.’

He added: ‘Just as with smoking labels, soft drinks and sweet products should come with the warning that sugar is addictive and bad for the health.’

Mr Van der Velpen wrote that more and more people are becoming overweight and that this is increasing healthcare costs at a time when many governments are trying to save money.

He added that obesity could be tackled by encouraging people to take more exercise, but that changing people’s diets would be more effective.

He cites research which suggests that when people are eating fats and proteins they stop when they are full, but that when they are eating sugars they will keep eating until their stomachs hurt.

He believes this is because sugar is addictive and is ‘as hard to give up as smoking’.

As a result, he says sugar should be taxed in the same way alcohol and cigarettes are.

He also suggests that the amount of sugar that can be added to processed food should be regulated.


How a salt jab could be more effective for lower back pain than steroids

An interesting possibility

A saline injection in the spine could be more effective than steroids for treating lower back pain, a new study has revealed.

Spinal pain is a leading cause of disability in the industrialised world and epidural steroid injections - the most common nonsurgical treatment - have been the standard treatment for more than 50 years.

Yet the alternative spinal injection in the space around the spinal cord may provide better relief than steroids which can have adverse side effects.

Steroids raise blood sugar in diabetic back patients, slow the healing of wounds and accelerate bone disease in older women, the Johns Hopkins University study found.

Professor of Anaesthesiology Steven Cohen at the U.S. university said: ‘Just injecting liquid into the epidural space appears to work.  ‘This shows us that most of the relief may not be from the steroid, which everyone worries about.’

The research was prompted when more than 740 people in 20 U.S. states became ill with fungal meningitis and 55 people died after getting epidural injections of contaminated steroids last year.

Although better oversight might reduce that risk, patients can only get a limited number of steroid injections each year, even if their pain returns.

Professor Cohen said it was too soon to recommend that patients stop receiving epidural steroids, but added that their analysis also suggests that smaller steroid doses can be just as beneficial.

Fellow researcher Dr Mark Bicket said larger scale studies were needed to determine whether steroid alternatives can be just as helpful for back pain patients.

He said: ‘Our evidence does support the notion that, for now, reducing the amount of steroids for patients at risk may be advisable.’

The review covered medical records of 3,641 patients from 43 studies conducted in October 2012 and compared epidural steroid injections to other sorts of epidural and intramuscular injections.

Professor Cohen said the new analysis suggested that decades of mixed results of research on epidural steroid injections may have been due to the use of saline or anaesthetic injections as the comparison ‘placebo’ treatment.

He said: ‘It’s likely that those studies were actually comparing two treatments, rather than placebo versus treatment. Researchers may be wasting millions of dollars and precious time on such studies.’

The findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Anaesthesiology.


19 September, 2013

Babies given Calpol just once a month 'are five times as likely to develop asthma'

This sounds like a plausible alternative to the discredited hygeine hypothesis.  Modern homes are not only cleaner but also more likely to use pharmaceuticals.  Proper caution about the direction of the causal arrow is however expressed below

Children who are given Calpol are far more likely to develop asthma, a major study has found.  Those given the medicine once a month are five times more at risk while even having it just once a year increases the chances by 70 per cent.

Over the past 50 years the number of children developing asthma in Britain has more than doubled but experts are divided over the causes.

Around 1.1 million youngsters now have the condition – in addition to 4.3 million adults – and it leads to 1,400 deaths every year.

Researchers who studied 20,743 children say there is now growing evidence that the increasing rates may be linked to paracetamol – the main ingredient in Calpol.

The drug is the most popular painkiller in Britain and 84 per cent of babies are given it for pain and fever within the first six months of their life.

Although the NHS advises on what doses parents should give children depending on their age, there are no warnings concerning possible health risks.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, academics from the University of A Coruna in northern Spain questioned the parents of 10,371 children aged six and seven and 10,372 aged 13 and 14.

All were asked whether the children had asthma – and if so, how severe – and how often they had been given paracetamol within the previous year and when they were babies.

Those in the younger age group who were given the medicine at least once a month were 5.4 more times likely to have asthma and those given it just once a year were 70 per cent more at risk.

Children who had a dose of the medicine at any time before their first birthday were 60 per cent more at risk, according to the findings published in the European Journal of Public Health.

The study also found that 13 and 14-year-olds were 40 per cent more likely to have asthma if they had taken paracetamol within the previous 12 months.

If they took the drug at least once a month they were 2.5 times more at risk.

The academics say paracetamol may reduce levels of a chemical called glutathione in the lungs and blood, which results in damage to the lung tissue.

A spokesman from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, the drugs’ watchdog, said it was ‘carefully reviewing’ the data and would consider whether to take any action.

Malayka Rahman, research analyst at Asthma UK, said previous studies had suggested there may be a link between giving children paracetamol and an increase in their risk of asthma and other allergic conditions.

‘We would be keen to see more research to establish whether or not there is a causal link as it’s vital to ensure appropriate advice is given to people who are living with the condition,’ she said.

Dr Martin Scurr, the Mail’s medical expert and a GP in London, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions but more work needed to be done.  ‘It could be that children with asthma are more likely to get coughs and colds and then are given Calpol by their mothers,’ he said.

‘At the moment Calpol is the best we have – and it’s all we have so there is no reason to stop using it.’

Parents are advised to give children Calpol up until the age of 12 when they can start taking standard paracetamol tablets.

Calpol is manufactured by Johnson and Johnson and 12 million bottles are sold in the UK every year. No one was available for comment at the firm.


Why speaking a second language can make you brainier: Bilinguals have 'better memories and problem solving abilities'

This could well be so, particularly if both languages were learned from early childhood on.  The brain is highly malleable at that age

People who can switch between two languages seamlessly have a higher level of mental flexibility than monolinguals, research suggests. Researchers believe bilingualism strengthens the brain's executive functions, such as its working memory and ability to multitask and problem solve.

The psychologists think that as fluent bilinguals seem to use both languages at all times but rarely use words unintentionally, they have control of both languages simultaneously.

Judith Kroll, professor of psychology, linguistics and women's studies at Penn State University, said: 'Not only is bilingualism not bad for you, it may be really good.

'When you're switching languages all the time it strengthens your mental muscle and your executive function becomes enhanced.'
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found fluent bilinguals have both languages 'active' at the same time, whether they are consciously using them or not.

Pointing to bilingual people's ability to rarely say a word in the unintended language, the researchers believe they have the ability to control both languages to select the one they want to use without consciously thinking about it.

Linguistic researchers at the university conducted two separate but related experiments to explore bilingualism.

They studied 27 Spanish-English bilinguals reading 512 sentences in alternating languages who were instructed to read the text silently until they came to words written in red at which point they read them out loud as quickly and as accurately as possible.

About half the words written in red were cognates - words that look and sound similar in both languages - and were processed more quickly than other words, according to Jason Gullifer, a graduate student in psychology who was involved with the study.

He said the experiment suggests both languages are active at the same time.

The participants took part in a similar study but this time read the sentences in one language at a time.  The scientists said the results were similar to the first, suggesting the context does not influence word recognition.

Mr Gullifer said: 'The context of the experiment didn't seem to matter. If you look at bilinguals there seems to be some kind of mechanistic control.'


18 September, 2013

Heavy coffee drinkers face death risk: study

An honest researcher:  "It could be the coffee, but it could just as easily be things that heavy coffee drinkers do," says The University of Queensland's Dr Carl Lavie.  "We have no way of knowing the cause and effect."

This is not meant to keep you awake at night, but heavy coffee drinkers are at increased risk of death, according to a major study.

For reasons that researchers don't fully understand, a 17-year study of 45,000 people shows those aged under 55 who average more than 28 cups a week are at risk.

It's not that people are dying at a rapid rate. But men who drink more than four cups a day are 56 per cent more likely to die and women have double the chance compared with moderate drinkers, according to the The University of Queensland and the University of South Carolina study.

Cardiovascular disease is not a major factor and people aged older than 55 do not appear to be adversely affected, say the authors of the report published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"It could be the coffee, but it could just as easily be things that heavy coffee drinkers do," says The University of Queensland's Dr Carl Lavie.  "We have no way of knowing the cause and effect."

However, the statistics have been adjusted to remove the impact of smoking.

Close to five per cent of people in the study died during the 17 years.

"It's not as if people are dying like flies because they are drinking coffee. But it is statistically significant," says Dr Lavie.

"We are not trying to scare people, but I do think it makes sense to keep average coffee consumption to two to three cups a day."

This does not mean people should be afraid to occasionally have more than that, he says.

Senior investigator Steven Blair of the University of South Carolina says it is significant the results do not show an association between coffee consumption and people older than 55.

It is also important that death from cardiovascular disease is not a factor, he says.


Healthy lifestyle 'slows cellular ageing'

A very small and unrepresentative sample and an effect of mainly speculative implications

Healthy lifestyle changes such as eating whole foods and practising yoga could reverse the ageing of the body's cells, a new study suggests.

Patients who adopted healthy diets, exercise regimes and "stress management" techniques such as meditation or yoga for five years developed younger-looking chromosomes.

The type of change seen in their chromosomes, the structures which house our genetic code, has previously been linked to a lower risk of age-related disease and greater life expectancy.

The findings, from a pilot study of prostate cancer patients, could equally apply to women and healthy men although larger studies are needed to confirm the results, researchers said.

They studied data on 35 patients who had a non-aggressive form of prostate cancer and had chosen to be regularly assessed by doctors rather than undergoing conventional treatment.

Ten of the men adopted a "lifestyle change intervention" which included eating a plant-based diet of whole foods, moderate exercise, stress management and regular group support classes, while the other 25 made no change to their lifestyle.

The scientists, from the University of California, San Francisco, examined changes in the men's telomeres, structures which sit at the ends of chromosomes like the protective caps on the end of a shoelace.

Telomeres prevent the DNA within our chromosomes from being damaged, but as we grow older they become shorter and cells begin to age and die more rapidly.

Previous studies have linked the shortening of telomeres to a decrease in life expectancy and a greater risk of age-related diseases such as heart disease, vascular dementia, obesity, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

But the new research found that in the group who adopted strict and comprehensive healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle, telomeres lengthened by an average of 10 per cent over five years.

The more positive changes the men made, the greater the increase in telomere length. In contrast, among those who did not alter their way of life, telomeres decreased in length by three per cent on average.

Although it is well known that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise can result in a host of medical befits, the findings published in The Lancet Oncology journal, are the first evidence of such an effect on telomeres.

Prof Dean Ornish, who led the study, said: "The implications of this relatively small pilot study may go beyond men with prostate cancer.

"If validated by large-scale randomised controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases and premature mortality. Our genes, and our telomeres, are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate.”

Dr Lynne Cox, a Biochemistry lecturer at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said the findings "support the calls for adoption of and adherence to healthier lifestyles".

It is "perhaps too soon to judge whether this increase in telomere length will correlate with increased longevity or healthspan", she added.


17 September, 2013

Will your drinking water poison you?

The addition of fluoride to drinking water has remained controversial so we are greatly indebted to the massive and very thorough literature review below  -- which summarizes the available evidence on the question.  And what it finds is that there is no cause for alarm. 

Scientific studies very rarely find exactly zero differences between two groups.  Zero effect is however recognized if the difference is very small.  SOME differences will arise due to random variations alone.  And the  results below show a tiny difference and hence signify zero real difference between the groups, meaning that no concern about fluoride is warranted.

An important source of random variation in the study is that IQ testing is just not fine-grained enough to recognize true differences of less than one point. And it was a difference of less than half of one point that was found in the work below. Large differences in IQ score are highly diagnostic of many things but tiny differences are simply unreliable as predictors. The authors are clearly not familiar with the psychometrics of IQ research.  IQ tests are not a magic black box.  They have to be used and interpreted with care.

I note that statistical significance was achieved for the results reported.  Statistical significance is only a first condition for work to be taken seriously, however.  It shows that the results are not due to just one source of random variation: small sample size.  Since the sample below was large, that finding is essentially irrelevant

The authors below seem to think that they have found something alarming.  After all the work they did, I suppose they would.  They have lost perspective.  These are resoundingly negative results

The journal abstract:

Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Anna L. Choi


Background: Although fluoride may cause neurotoxicity in animal models and acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults, very little is known of its effects on children’s neurodevelopment.

Objective: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies to investigate the effects of increased fluoride exposure and delayed neurobehavioral development.

Methods: We searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, Water Resources Abstracts, and TOXNET databases through 2011 for eligible studies. We also searched the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) database, because many studies on fluoride neurotoxicity have been published in Chinese journals only. In total, we identified 27 eligible epidemiological studies with high and reference exposures, end points of IQ scores, or related cognitive function measures with means and variances for the two exposure groups. Using random-effects models, we estimated the standardized mean difference between exposed and reference groups across all studies. We conducted sensitivity analyses restricted to studies using the same outcome assessment and having drinking-water fluoride as the only exposure. We performed the Cochran test for heterogeneity between studies, Begg’s funnel plot, and Egger test to assess publication bias, and conducted meta-regressions to explore sources of variation in mean differences among the studies.

Results: The standardized weighted mean difference in IQ score between exposed and reference populations was –0.45 (95% confidence interval: –0.56, –0.35) using a random-effects model. Thus, children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas. Subgroup and sensitivity analyses also indicated inverse associations, although the substantial heterogeneity did not appear to decrease.

Conclusions: The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment. Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment.


Could the winter vomiting bug be wiped out by brass taps and fittings? Study finds the virus can't survive on copper

Very interesting indeed

The winter vomiting bug could be virtually wiped out by reintroducing brass taps and fittings, according to new research.

A study has found norovirus cannot survive on the metal, offering hope of a cheap and effective way of reducing the 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis it causes each year.

The highly infectious bug costs the National Health Service at least £100 million annually, with up to 3,000 people admitted to hospital each year.

There is no treatment or vaccine, and outbreaks require expensive cleaning, with lost working days when staff are infected adding to the burden.

Its impact is also felt beyond healthcare, with cruise ships and hotels suffering significant damage to their reputation when epidemics occur among guests.

Dr Sarah Warnes, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘The use of antimicrobial surfaces containing copper in clinical and community environments, such as cruise ships and care facilities, could help to reduce the spread of this highly infectious and costly pathogen.’

The virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person to person contact and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning those made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.

A study designed to simulate fingertip touch of surfaces showed norovirus in room temperature was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60 per cent proving particularly effective.

The rate of destruction was initially very rapid and proportional to the copper content. No such effect was found on stainless steel.

Copper alloys have previously been shown to be effective antimicrobial surfaces against a range of bacteria and fungi.

Dr Warnes said: ‘Copper alloys, although they provide a constant killing surface, should always be used in conjunction with regular and efficient cleaning and decontamination regimes using non-chelating reagents that could inhibit the copper ion activity.’

Professor Bill Keevil added: ‘Although the virus was identified over 40 years ago, the lack of methods to assess infectivity has hampered the study of the human pathogen.

‘The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions.  ‘That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection.

‘Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks. What we have found is the metal destroys the genetic material of the norovirus.

‘In the U.S., 100,000 people die each year from hospital acquired infections. In the UK, I believe the figure is about 5,000. If a healthy person gets norovirus they are sick for a couple of days, and then get over it. But for an elderly person, it can be fatal. The figures are frightening.

‘If you build a hospital, a care home or a liner from scratch using copper instead of stainless steel, the cost will be about the same.

‘Brass fittings were used in hospitals forty or fifty years ago, since when we have gone over to stainless steel. During this time hospital acquired infections have soared. Is that a coincidence?’

Earlier research has found copper fittings rapidly kill bugs on hospital wards, succeeding where other infection control measures fail.

In a ten week study at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs.

It is believed the metal 'suffocates' germs, preventing them breathing. It may also stop them from feeding and destroy their DNA.

Lab tests show that the metal kills off the deadly MRSA and C difficile superbugs. It also kills other dangerous germs, including the flu virus and the E coli food poisoning bug.

Although it is usually thought to be an expensive metal, copper is actually a similar price to stainless steel.


16 September, 2013

Booze doesn't cause depression

This is based on generalizations from a known atypical group so is interesting but not conclusive

There is no truth to the long-held belief that alcohol causes depression, clinical neuroscientists from The University of Western Australia have concluded.

Professor Osvaldo Almeida, of UWA's School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, said that until now everyone had assumed that alcohol caused people to become depressed, particularly if consumed at excessive levels.

"Even one of the diagnoses we have for depressive disorders - Substance Induced Mood Disorder - is a diagnosis where alcohol plays a role," Professor Almeida said.  "However, because of the observational nature of the association between alcohol and depression, and the risk of confounding and bias that comes with observational studies, it is difficult to be entirely certain that the relationship is causal.

"For example, people who drink too much may also smoke, have poor diets and other diseases that could explain the excess number of people with depression among heavy drinkers."

Professor Almeida and fellow researchers with the long-running Health in Men Study (HIMS) decided to search for a causal link via physiological pathways instead: specifically the genetic polymorphism, or mutation, most closely associated with alcohol metabolism.

"We now know that certain genetic variations affect the amount of alcohol people consume," Professor Almeida said. "There is one particular genetic variation that affects the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of alcohol.  This variation produces an enzyme that is up to 80 times less competent at breaking down alcohol.  Consequently, people who carry this variation are much less tolerant to alcohol.  In fact, there is now evidence that alcohol-related disorders are very uncommon in this group.

"Now, if alcohol causes depression, then a genetic variation that reduces alcohol use and alcohol-related disorders, should reduce the risk of depression.  The great advantage of looking at the gene is that this association is not confounded by any other factors - people are born like that."

The researchers analysed the triangular association between the genetic mutation, alcohol and depression in 3873 elderly male participants of the HIMS study, using data collected over three to eight years.

"We found (as expected) that this particular genetic variant was associated with reduced alcohol use, but it had no association with depression whatsoever," Professor Almeida said.

"The conclusion is that alcohol use neither causes nor prevents depression in older men.  Our results also debunk the view that mild to moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of depression."

He said the association observed between alcohol and depression was likely explained by other factors, but not by alcohol itself.

"It doesn't mean alcohol is entirely safe and people can consume it in whatever way they like.  We know that alcohol when consumed in excess does create a lot of health problems - but what we now know is that one of those problems is not depression."

HIMS is a longitudinal study of 12,201 men aged 65-83 when recruited in 1996.  The HIMS research team, largely made up of UWA researchers, has so far published more than 100 papers on a wide range of men's health and ageing issues.

A paper on the study  "The triangular association of ADH1B genetic polymorphism, alcohol consumption and the risk of depression in older men" as published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry


Does anorexia have a genetic link? New theory suggests the disorder may not be purely down to social pressures

Anorexia is clearly an obsessive-compulsive disorder so is highly likely to be strongly genetic.  Pretty heavy speculation below

Anorexia could be caused by a genetic mutation, according to new research.  A study of the DNA of more than 3,000 people found the eating disorder may be caused by mutations that interfere with the processing of cholesterol, disrupting mood and diet.

The findings, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, may lead to the development of drugs to treat the condition.

Sufferers starve themselves because they believe they are fat, and more than one in ten cases are fatal making it the deadliest of psychiatric illnesses. Just 30 per cent of patients make a full recovery.

Although many experts believe the condition is caused by social pressure, there is growing evidence there may also be a genetic link.

Researchers analysed genetic information from more than 1,200 anorexia patients and almost 2,000 healthy controls.

They looked for variants of genes that had already been linked to feeding behaviour or been flagged up in previous studies.

Just a handful of more than 150 genes studied showed signs of a link, but one stand out was the gene EPHX2, which controls an enzyme that regulates the burning of cholesterol.

Professor Nicholas Schork, of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, said: ‘When we saw that, we thought we might be onto something, because nobody else had reported this gene as having a pronounced role in anorexia.’

Anorexia affects up to one in a hundred women but how it develops is still not fully understood.

Professor Schork added: ‘These findings point in a direction probably no one would have considered taking before.’

His researchers followed up with several replication studies, each using a different cohort of anorexia patients and controls, as well as different genetic analysis methods.

The scientists continued to find evidence that certain variants of EPHX2 occur more frequently in people with anorexia.

To help make sense of these findings, they looked at existing data from a large-scale, long-term heart disease study and determined that a subset of the implicated EPHX2 variants have the effect of altering the normal relationship between weight gain and cholesterol levels.

Professor Schork said: ‘We thought with further studies this EPHX2 finding might go away, or appear less compelling, but we just kept finding evidence to suggest it plays a role in anorexia.’

It is not yet clear how EPHX2 variants that cause an abnormal metabolism of cholesterol would help trigger or maintain anorexia.

But Professor Schork noted people with anorexia often have remarkably high cholesterol levels in their blood, despite being severely malnourished.

Moreover, there have been suggestions from other studies weight loss, for example in people with depression, can lead to increases in cholesterol levels.

At the same time, there is evidence cholesterol, a basic building block of cells, particularly in the brain, has a positive association with mood.

It is possible some anorexics for genetic reasons may feel an improved mood, from having higher cholesterol, by not eating.

Professor Schork explained: ‘The hypothesis would be in some anorexics the normal metabolism of cholesterol is disrupted, which could influence their mood as well as their ability to survive despite severe caloric restriction.’

Around 60,000 Britons have anorexia. Nine out of ten sufferers are women, the majority aged 15 to 25.


15 September, 2013

Garlic can lower blood pressure by 10%... but only if you take it in tablet form

Meta-analyses are hard to evaluate but the effect is in any case very weak  -- and no mortality or morbidity effects appear to have been demonstrated

Twelve weeks of treatment with garlic tablets led to a ‘significant’ cut in blood pressure, slashing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to a review of evidence.

Researchers claim those with hypertension, or high blood pressure, could control their condition better by adding garlic to conventional medication.

The review of 21 studies on humans found supplements of dried garlic containing a guaranteed dose of the active ingredient allicin consistently led to reductions in blood pressure.

But eating the real thing would not have the same effect, says the review. Although allicin is produced when raw garlic is crushed or chewed, much of it is destroyed during cooking.

The tablets also have the significant advantage of not producing the bad breath associated with eating fresh garlic.

The review looked at supplements with a guaranteed allicin yield of 1.8mg per dose.

The earliest authoritative clinical trial to be published in 1990 found taking Kwai brand garlic tablets led to a significant fall in blood pressure of 10 per cent within 12 weeks.

More studies conducted since 1990 have demonstrated significant blood pressure lowering effects from dried garlic releasing allicin at 1.8mg per dose.

Not all garlic preparations release allicin in significant, standardised amounts, says the review by nutritionist Dr Pamela Mason in the journal Complete Nutrition.

A trial comparing garlic oil versus standardised dried garlic failed to show a blood pressure lowering effect with the oil, but blood pressure again fell significantly with dried garlic.

Around 16million Britons have high blood pressure, including the third who do not know they have it. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Garlic is thought to counter high blood pressure because it stimulates production of the chemicals nitric oxide and hydrogen sulphide, which helps relax blood vessels.

Dr Catherine Hood, an independent expert in nutrition and dietetics, said: ‘This review found evidence that garlic, in particular Kwai, can reduce the stickiness of the blood, results in dilatation of the arteries and has antioxidant activity.’

Dr Hood said there was some evidence garlic may also use the same mechanism as drugs called ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure.

The drugs stop the body creating a hormone known as angiotensin II. This has a variety of effects but essentially relaxes blood vessels.

Nutritionist Sarah West said other research suggests allicin helps lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – a common form of fat.

She added: ‘It would be very difficult to get a therapeutic dose from eating raw garlic, it would need 30 cloves at one sitting – and we don’t actually have the evidence that it would work.

‘The allicin content of raw garlic varies enormously and a significant drawback is the odour on the breath – a problem you don’t get with tablets.’


Does being fat cause headaches? Obese people are almost TWICE as likely to suffer migraines than those who are slim

Childishly naiive research.  Poor people are fatter and have worse health.  The finding is simply the usual class effect

Being seriously overweight can nearly double a person’s chances of suffering migraines, a study has found.

The disabling condition affects one in seven adults and costs the UK economy an estimated £2billion a year. Now scientists have found a link with weight.

They discovered that obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraines than those of normal weight.

Episodic migraines affect the vast majority of sufferers, who have the severe headaches for less than 15 days a month. In contrast, those with chronic migraines feel unwell for more than half the days in the month.

The research suggests that weight loss and exercise could help those who suffer from migraines. The findings also indicated the link between the condition and obesity is stronger in those under the age of 50.

‘Previous studies have shown a link between people with chronic migraines and obesity, but the research has been conflicting on whether that link existed for those with less frequent attacks,’ said researcher Dr Barbara Lee Peterlin, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

‘As obesity is a risk factor that can potentially be modified and since some medications can lead to weight gain or loss, this is important for people with migraines and their doctors.’

For the study, 3,862 people with an average age of 47 filled out surveys with information on height, weight and migraines.

A total of 1,044 participants were obese and 188 of the participants had occasional, or episodic, migraine, which is defined as 14 or fewer migraine headaches per month.

Obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraine of any frequency as compared to people of healthy weight.

Dr Peterlin said: ‘These results suggest that doctors should promote healthy lifestyle choices for diet and exercise in people with episodic migraine.

‘More research is needed to evaluate whether weight loss programmes can be helpful in overweight and obese people with episodic migraine.’

The results also showed that the link was stronger in those under 50, when migraine is most prevalent.


13 September, 2013

Forget hi-tech trainers, stick to plain plimsolls parents told

Parents whose children demand the latest Nike or Adidas trainers may be better off buying old-fashioned plimsolls because they encourage a healthier style of running, researchers claim.

But adults have been warned not to cast aside their hi-tech trainers as their bones are unable to adjust to the sudden increase in impact.

Human feet are designed to land on the front part of the foot when running, but modern trainers with cushioned heels make it virtually impossible to do so.

Instead they force us to land on the heel, which causes a sharper shock than landing on the front foot and puts more strain on joints like the knee.

Once we have grown used to running in trainers it is extremely difficult to alter our technique, even if we change or remove our shoes, and can even raise the risk of injury.

Children should be encouraged to wear shoes with thin, flexible soles such as plimsolls from a young age to help them develop a natural "barefoot" running style, experts said.

Dr Mick Wilkinson, a sports scientist at Northumbria University, told an audience at the British Science Festival in Newcastle: "I would say [to parents] don't go and buy expensive Adidas or Nike big cushioned jobs, just get them a normal plair of flexible, flat shoes.

"Give them basic footwear. Nothing structured, nothing particularly cushioned...there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the human foot is structured to be able to cope with the forces of running on the midfoot or barefoot.

"I think if somebody is going to learn to run from the very first principles, let them learn to run using their natural equipment as much as possible."

Barefoot running has become increasingly popular in America, and is moving to the UK, because studies have shown that we are built to run long distances, absorbing the impact on the front foot.

One in five runners develops injuries linked to landing on their heels, such as stress fractures in their feet and legs, and injury rates have not improved since the 1970s despite new technology being incorporated into shoes, Dr Wilkinson said.

"There's been a suggestion that barefoot running, or particularly the way that barefoot runners run - the technique they adopt - could alter some of the impact forces such that injury risk might be reduced," he said.

But there is no evidence linking barefoot running to reduced injury rates, and shedding your shoes could even raise the risk of harm unless you adopt a change in technique, he added.

"If you do it correctly, there could be some benefits. But people need to realise that barefoot running is a skill, it's a particular way of running associated with a particular style and that style for most people needs to be learned," he said.


Health myth of the juicing craze

It is a trend driven by celebrities and the perceived health benefits of making drinks with entirely natural ingredients. But “juicing” could actually be bad for you, experts have warned.

Drinking smoothies and blended fruit juices can have the unintended consequence of massively increasing the amount of sugar a person consumes, said scientists.

Retailers have reported a boom in the sale of juicers as part of a trend that began in California and grew with the endorsement of celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress, and James Cracknell, the Olympic rower.

Juicing, which is different to blending or pulping, extracts the water and nutrients from a fruit or vegetable while discarding the tough fibre which aids the digestive system.

Barry Popkin, a professor at the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, and Dr George Bray, an American physician, said people were deceiving themselves about their sugar intake by swapping fizzy drinks for juices and smoothies.

For example, one smoothie from Innocent — “pomegranates, blueberries and acai superfood”— contains 34.3g of sugar in a 250ml bottle, while a 500ml bottle of squeezed orange juice sold at Pret a Manger contains 51g of sugar. This compares with 39g of sugar in a 330ml can of Coke.

Prof Popkin said: “Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled. Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat.

“We feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”

Lakeland, the kitchenware retailer, reported last week that sales of juicers had shot up by 4,000 per cent in a week following a Channel 5 documentary in which a man lost six stone by going on a juice-only diet. John Lewis reported that sales had risen by 2,600 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Will Jones, a buyer of small electricals at John Lewis, said: “Juicing is a huge trend for us this year in response to high levels of customer demand for juicers. Customers have been looking for healthy alternatives to help them stay refreshed in the heat and juicing ticks those boxes.”

Prof Popkin and Prof Bray warned almost 10 years ago that high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soft drinks was linked to obesity. Their research was said in part to have led Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to diversify into fruit juices.

In research published as an update, they warn that “smoothies and fruit juice are the new danger”. “To the best of our knowledge every added amount of fructose – be it from fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages or any other beverage, or even from foods with high sugar content – adds equally to our health concerns linked with this food component,” they say.

Coca-Cola bought Innocent smoothies while PepsiCo owns Tropicana, which launched a range of smoothies in 2008. “Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to boost daily fruit intake as each 250ml portion contains the equivalent of 2 fruit portions,” it said at the time.

Prof Popkin suggested that the long-term effects of sugar consumption are the same whether it comes from natural sources such as fruit or in the form of artificial sugars added to soft drinks.

Last week research published by the British Medical Association found that nurses, who ate whole fruit, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, were less likely to get type 2 diabetes, while those who drank fruit juice were at increased risk. Those who swapped fruit juice for whole fruits three times a week cut their risk by 7 per cent.

The British Soft Drinks Association said consumption of sugary soft drinks had fallen by 9 per cent over the past 10 years, but at the same time obesity had increased by 15 per cent. “Obesity is a serious and complex problem requiring concerted action by a wide range of organisations as well as by people themselves. Soft drinks companies recognise the role they have to play,” a spokesman added.


12 September, 2013

Could listening to Miley Cyrus make you more INTELLIGENT? Scientist claims certain pop songs can make you smarter

No research details given.  I'm guessing it was not very rigorous

A British scientist has claimed that listening to songs by Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake while studying has a calming effect on the mind that aids logical thought.

Despite not being perhaps the most obvious choice of relaxing tracks, the clinical psychologist believes pop songs with 50 to 80 beats per minute allow the brain to learn and remember new facts more easily.

Dr Emma Gray, who specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy at The British CBT and Counselling Service in London, said emotive pop and rock songs including Katy Perry's 'Firework' song can produce a heightened state of excitement that is likely to enhance creative performance in subjects such as English, Drama and Art.

She believes students who listen to classical music while they study, do better in maths exams, while listening to music while revising makes students smarter.

Dr Gray's research, which was commissioned by music streaming service Spotify to investigate the effect music has on studying, found it is important to choose the right music for the topic a person is studying as it stimulates learning and can enhance concentration.

She said students who listen to classical music with 60 to 70 beats per minute while they study, score on average 12 per cent more in their Maths exams - the equivalent of climbing a whole grade.

This is because the melody and tone range in classical music, such as Beethoven’s Fur Elise, help students to study for longer and retain more information.

Dr Gray explained the left side of the brain is used to process factual information and solve problems, which are key skills in Science, Humanities and Languages.

The research found songs like 'We Can't Stop' by Miley Cyrus or 'Mirrors' by Justin Timberlake fostered logical thoughts and helped students to learn and recall new facts.

Dr Gray said: 'Music has a positive effect on the mind and listening to the right type of music can actually improve studying and learning.

'Music can put you in a better frame of mind to learn - and indeed, students who listen to music can actually do better than those who don’t.

'For logical subjects, like Maths, music should calm the mind and help concentration, whereas for creative subjects, the music should reflect the emotion that the student is trying to express.'

Angela Watts, vice president of global communications at Spotify, said: 'With millions of students streaming music on Spotify, it’s great to see the positive effect it could have on their studies.'

The music streaming service with the help of Dr Gray has created playlists to help students study effectively.


Diabetes pills costing just 2p each could give men's love lives a lift  -- if you are a rat

Tablets costing just 2p each could be a new treatment for men with erection problems. New research suggests the medicine, called metformin, could boost a man's performance in the bedroom.

The drug has been widely used on the NHS for many years to treat patients with type 2 diabetes.

But now scientists think it may also work as an alternative to anti-impotence drugs such as Viagra or Cialis.

Laboratory tests at the Georgia Health Sciences University in the U.S. show the diabetes drug boosts erectile function by relaxing blood vessels in the genital  area, allowing blood to flow more freely  into the penis.

Although it has yet to be tested in humans, it could quickly emerge as a new treatment because it is readily available, extremely  cheap and has an excellent  safety record.

Although drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra have revolutionised treatment in the last ten years, around 30 per cent of men who take them experience no improvement.

For these men, the only other options are to inject drugs straight into the penis, or use a pump that manually increases blood supply to the organ. Neither is very popular.

Metformin has been attracting a great deal of attention from researchers in recent years, mostly because it seems to hold promise as a potentially powerful new weapon against certain cancers, such as prostate, breast and ovarian tumours.

The drug belongs to a class of medicines known as biguanides, which have been used for decades to treat type 2 diabetes - the form of the disease  that normally affects obese people and those over 40.

Taken twice a day, it works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and helping cells mop up sugar that is circulating in the bloodstream. This prevents damage from excessive blood sugar levels. It can also decrease appetite and lower dangerous blood-fat levels.

The latest research, published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed the drug may also increase the amount of the naturally occurring chemical nitric oxide.  This makes blood vessels flexible and dilated - and can increase blood flow to the genitals.

Commenting on the study, Dr David Edwards, a GP who runs a male sexual health clinic at the White House Surgery in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, said: 'Metformin is an old, cheap, well-tried and tested drug which is usually well tolerated.

'But it was only used for 28 days, which is a short time, and just in rats. Many diabetics are already on metformin and yet erectile dysfunction is very common in this group.

'It may be that their problems might be worse if they were not on the drug.'


11 September, 2013

Correlation  between small testicle size and “sensitive new age men”

Not really a surprise

A link between the size of a father's testicles and how active he is in bringing up his children has been suggested by scientists.

Researchers at Emory University, US, said those with smaller testicles were more likely to be involved with nappy changing, feeding and bath time.

They also found differences in brain scans of fathers looking at images of their child, linked to testicle size.

But other factors, such as cultural expectations, also played a role.

Levels of promiscuity and testicle size are strongly linked in animals, those with the largest pair tending to mate with more partners.

The researchers were investigating an evolutionary theory about trade-offs between investing time and effort in mating or putting that energy into raising children. The idea being that larger testicles would suggest greater commitment to creating more children over raising them.

The study, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, looked at the relationship between testicle size and fatherhood in 70 men who had children between the ages of one and two.

The team at Emory University in Atlanta performed brain scans while the men were shown pictures of their children.

It showed those with smaller testicles tended to have a greater response in the reward area of the brain than those with a larger size.

MRI scans showed a three-fold difference between the volumes of the smallest and largest testicles in the group.

Those at the smaller end of the spectrum were also more likely, according to interviews with the man and the mother, to be more active in parenting duties.

One of the researchers, Dr James Rilling, told the BBC: "It tells us some men are more naturally inclined to care-giving than others, but I don't think that excuses other men. It just might require more effort for some than others."

The exact nature of any link is not clear.

The researchers believe the size of the testicles, probably through the hormone testosterone, is affecting behaviour. But it is not clear if the process of having a baby may have some effect on the father.

"We know, for instance, that testosterone levels go down when men become involved fathers," said Dr Rilling.

Further studies, involving analysing the size before and after becoming a father, are still needed.

Cultural and societal expectations on the role of the father are also not accounted for in the study.

All of the men were from the Atlanta area so the relative impact of society and biology has not been measured.


Could going vegan two days a week ease your creaky knees? The pros and cons of a meat-free diet

This is just opinion:  No facts

Many of us wouldn't relish the idea of giving up meat and cheese - imagine living without that juicy steak, tasty roast or delicious piece of brie.

Yet a growing number of sports stars are crediting a switch to veganism for enhancing their performance and helping them recover from joint injury or surgery.

Tennis ace Venus Williams says her overall health has improved dramatically since she stopped eating animal products.

She has Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune illness that causes muscular pain and fatigue - and giving up meat, she says, has eradicated the worst symptoms, including joint pain and swelling. But she recently said: 'I think it's pretty well known that I'm a cheagan (a vegan who occasionally eats meat). I'm not perfect but I try.'

British singer Leona Lewis has also announced she'd become a vegan.

And last week the Mail reported how U.S. journalist Mark Bittman shed 2½?st in a couple of months just by eating vegan food until 6pm each day. He ate meat in the evenings. His best-selling book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good, documents how his cholesterol and blood sugar levels were reduced, too - probably due to his reduced intake of saturated fat.

Increasing evidence suggests a vegan diet has health benefits for us all - from easing painful creaky joints to lowering cholesterol and boosting heart health.

But some experts argue there are many nutrients we can only get from meat - and that a vegan or vegetarian diet can have serious implications for our health.

Just last week, lifelong vegetarian Laura Dixon hit the headlines for giving birth to triplets after being told she couldn't have children. She credited the births to shunning vegetarianism and eating three portions of meat a day.


10 September, 2013

Brainpower of elderly boosted by video game: Just 12 hours playing dramatically improved multi-tasking ability, memory and attention span

Probably a temporary practice effect

A simple video game devised by scientists dramatically rejuvenated the brains of pensioners after only 12 hours.  The improvements were so great, they did better than those in their 20s at the driving-based challenge, said researchers.

The multi-tasking ability, memory and attention span of the men and women aged 60 to 85 were all boosted by the ‘brain training’ with some of the benefits still obvious six months later.

The scientists said that their technique could be used to keep healthy older adults ‘at the top of their game’ for longer.

Brain training is a popular way of trying to keep the mind sharp into old age but views about its value to everyday life are mixed.

However, the researchers at the University of California believe their NeuroRacer game is different as it was designed to improve multi-tasking, a skill known to deteriorate with age.

Players use a joystick to navigate a car along a winding road while various signs pop up.

Users must push a button when they see one particular sign while ignoring all the others.

The game gets more difficult as a player improves but shouldn’t become so difficult that it is too frustrating to enjoy.

Tests showed that a small amount of practice led to rapid improvements. After just 12 hours of using it on a laptop at home over a month, the pensioners fared better than players who were decades younger.

Working memory and attention span also improved, despite the game not aiming to do this, reported the journal Nature.

Dr Adam Gazzaley, who has patented NeuroRacer, believes it does more to train the brain than other methods like crosswords and card games.

Alexandra Trelle, of Cambridge University’s memory lab, said the results should encourage people to strive to improve their mind sharp and agile throughout life. 

She said that games like NeuroRacer aren’t the only option – with activities such as learning a new language or taking up a musical instrument likely to be more fun and at least as beneficial. 

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘The ability to improve cognitive health in old age could be crucial in the search for new treatments and preventions for dementia.’


Ready in three years, the simple op to cure high blood pressure: Procedure will remove two rice-sized modules

Sounds hopeful  -- as long as it is not attacking a symptom rather than the disease

A simple operation developed by British scientists could cure millions of patients with hard-to-treat high blood pressure.

The procedure involves removing a small cluster of nerves in the throat linked to blood pressure regulation.

Researchers from Bristol University are ‘very hopeful’ the measure could help the estimated 2.5million individuals with hypertension that cannot be controlled by medication.

If given the go-ahead, it could be available within three years as a ‘relatively simple’ day treatment for adults, they say.

Scientists have already started a clinical trial on 20 people with high blood pressure after the novel approach successfully ‘cured’ the condition in laboratory rats.

Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure or hypertension affects a third of adults and significantly raises the odds of heart attacks, strokes and other potentially fatal conditions if left untreated.

At the moment, there is no known effective remedy for individuals who do not respond to conventional drug therapies.

But scientists at Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology identified a key organ in the development of high blood pressure – the carotid body.

The novel approach, which involves removing two rice-sized nerve endings linked to blood pressure regulation, has already been successfully tested on rats

It consists of a tiny cluster of nerve cells that sit on the side of the two branches of the carotid artery in the neck, each the size of a grain of rice.

Despite being one of the body’s smallest organs, it has the highest blood flow of them all – reflecting its importance as an early warning device for the brain if there is any change to oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

It is thought that in some cases the carotid body becomes overactive and sends a message to the brain to keep blood pressure high. The team removed the organs in rats with hypertension, and found that blood pressure fell and remained low.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the journal Nature Communications, said the animals suffered no adverse side-effects either.

In human trials, only one carotid body would be removed in order to reduce blood pressure while maintaining the organ’s vital regulatory function.

Lead researcher Professor Julian Paton said: ‘We knew that these tiny organs behaved differently in conditions of hypertension, but had absolutely no idea that they contributed so massively to the generation of high blood pressure; this is really most exciting.

‘It certainly has the potential to be a very novel interventional approach to drug-resistant hypertension [high blood pressure].’


9 September, 2013

Could GOOD hygiene cause Alzheimer's? People in wealthy countries are at 'greater risk' as they have less contact with bacteria

That hygeine hypothesis won't die, regardless of the evidence against it.  Tribal Aborigines in Australia, for instance, live in very dirty conditions  -- yet have high rates of autoimmune disease such as asthma and diabetes

The article is nonetheless a brave attempt to use official data to examine an hypothesis.  I think that the difficulties of doing that do defeat then in the end, however. They had three indices related to Alzheimer's.  I quote:  "The WHO report presents three variables related to AD: age-standardized DALY, age-standardized deaths, and DALY for age 60+. There is low correlation between these three measures (linear regressions after necessary data transformations had R-squared values 0.040; 0.089; 0.041)."

Those correlations are effectively zero.  So measures that should have at least been highly correlated were not.  Choosing just one and running with it is therefore suspiciously like data dredging and fails to address the question of its validity.  I would conclude nothing from this research.

The journal article is Hygiene and the world distribution of Alzheimer's Disease

An obsession with being too clean and hygienic could lead to a higher risk of dementia, researchers have warned.

Their study pinpointed a significant relationship between a nation’s cleanliness and the number of Alzheimer’s patients.   Countries which can afford better sanitation have higher rates of the disease.

The study found a 'very significant' relationship between a nation's wealth and hygiene and number of Alzheimer's patients within a country's population

So Britons and inhabitants of other developed nations were around ten per cent more likely to suffer dementia than those in countries like Kenya and Cambodia.

The researchers suggested the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ was behind the difference. This is the theory that an excessively clean lifestyle leaves our immune systems out of balance and unable to combat many germs.  It has already been linked to the rise in the number of allergies, such as asthma and eczema.

One in three Britons over 65 will develop dementia. Alzheimer’s and other forms of the condition blight the lives of more than 800,000, with 500 new cases each day.

Lead researcher Dr Molly Fox, from Cambridge University, said: ‘The hygiene hypothesis is well-established. We can now add Alzheimer’s to this list of diseases.

‘There are important implications, especially in developing countries as they increase in sanitation.’

The study of health data from 192 nations found those with a relatively low risk of infection had more patients with Alzheimer’s.

Likewise, better sanitation and urban living were linked with a higher incidence of the disease, irrespective of life expectancy. Taken together, these factors accounted for 42.5 per cent of the variation in rates of Alzheimer’s between countries.

Dr Fox said changes in diet, life expectancy and healthcare could not explain the differences.

The researchers found that exposure to germs throughout an individual’s lifetime, not just early on, may affect the risk of dementia.

A lack of contact upsets the development of white blood cells, particularly those called T-cells, which are a key part of the immune system.

This imbalance has been linked to the types of inflammation found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, said the report in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘It is an interesting  theory. However, it is always difficult to pin causality to one factor.’

The best way to cut risk is to eat healthily, exercise, not smoke and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, he added.

Countries where more than three-quarters of the population are located in urban areas, such as the UK and Australia, had 10 per cent higher rates of Alzheimer’s compared to countries, such as Bangladesh and Nepal, where less than one-tenth of people inhabit urban areas.

Overall, differences in levels of sanitation, infectious disease and urbanisation accounted for 33 per cent, 36 per cent and 28 per cent of the variation in Alzheimer’s rate between countries.

Previous research has shown that Alzheimer’s affects fewer people in Latin America, China and India than it does in Europe.

Even within those regions, prevalence is lower in urban than in rural areas, according to the new findings.

The hygiene hypothesis is based on the assumption that lack of contact with 'dirt' in the form of bacteria and other infectious agents upsets the development of white blood cells, key elements of the immune system.

‘Exposure to microorganisms is critical for the regulation of the immune system,’ wrote the researchers.

They added that, since increasing global urbanisation beginning at the turn of the 19th century, the populations of many of the world’s wealthier nations have increasingly very little exposure to the so-called ‘friendly’ microbes due to ‘diminishing contact with animals, faeces and soil.’

‘The increase in adult life expectancy and Alzheimer’s prevalence in developing countries is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time,’ said Dr Fox.

The hygiene hypothesis is normally thought to be most relevant in childhood, when the immune system is still developing.

But in the case of Alzheimer’s, exposure to microbes across a person’s lifetime might be important, say the scientists.

This is because regulatory T-cell numbers peak at various points in life, for example at adolescence and middle age.

The results of the study are published by the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.


A 'cure' for Down's syndrome? Scientists discover compound that reverses learning difficulties in mice

Only the beginning of a beginning

A compound that reverses Down’s syndrome-like learning disabilities has been identified.  Researchers used the compound to reverse learning disabilities in mice.  However, it only works when given to affected mice on the day of their birth.

The Down’s Syndrome Association has described the finding as of ‘great interest’ but recognises that it would not help people currently living with Down’s syndrome.

U.S. researchers, led by Professor Roger Reeves at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, identified the compound that dramatically boosts the learning ability and memory of mice with a Down’s syndrome-like condition.

They believe that a single dose encourages the cerebellum of the rodents’ brains to grow to a normal size - most people with Down's syndrome have a cerebellum that is only 60 per cent of the normal size.

After being injected with the compound, the rodents’ were able to function as well as mice without learning disabilities in behavioural tests.

The scientists have warned that use of the compound, a small molecule known as a sonic hedgehog pathway agonist, has not been proved safe for use in people with Down's syndrome, but say their experiments hold promise for developing drugs like it.

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, said: ‘Professor Reeves and his team are part of the respected worldwide Down's syndrome research community.  ‘This successful piece of clinical research will be of great interest to them all.

‘As Professor Reeves explains, this is not going to translate into clinical applications for people currently living with the condition but is another step along the path of understanding the complexity of an extra chromosome 21 in every single cell.’

Down's syndrome is a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities and a characteristic range of physical features.

Most children with the condition have reduced muscle tone, eyes that slant upwards and low birth weight.
The compound only works when administered on the day of birth. It works by enabling the cerebellum in the brain to grow to a normal size. Image shows the chromosomes of a person with Down's syndrome

The compound only works when administered on the day of birth. It works by enabling the cerebellum in the brain to grow to a normal size. Image shows the chromosomes of a person with Down's syndrome

They are also prone to a range of complications such as heart disorders, bowel and digestive problems, poor vision and hearing, thyroid dysfunctions and blood disorders.

The condition affects about 750 babies born in the UK every year.

It is caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 in a baby's cells.


8 September, 2013

Phony Studies by pesticide opponents Will Not Rid Us of Lyme Disease!

By Rich Kozlovich

This morning I received my e-newletter from the National Pest Management Association which linked an article titled, Lyme activist questions federal study of pesticides in private yards, quoting "A leading local advocate in the fight against Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is calling a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “junk research” and a waste of taxpayer money.”

Auerbach is absolutely correct in her assessment.  That money spent on this study was wasted research.  It is also clear to me that this study must been conducted by those who really didn't understand how important widespread pesticide use is in order to impact pests, or this was a case of "pre-conceptual science", where you reach a conclusion before doing the research and then dismiss anything that disagrees with the conclusion. Therefore by ignoring anything that shows their conclusion is wrong they can then logically claim they're must be right.

However - in the real world - making isolated pesticide applications will not resolve any pest problem if the surrounding areas are still filled with the target pest.

Case scenario: You are responsible for treating a twenty suite apartment building for roaches.  Two of the apartment’s tenants refuse to allow you to treat their apartment and they both are filled with roaches.  What happens?  The other eighteen will still have a number of roaches each month when you return.  Now, what if the numbers were reversed and only two suites were treated and the other eighteen left untreated.  The migratory habits of roaches would bring them right back into the untreated suites in large numbers.  There would be a whole lot more than just a few cockroaches in the treated suites in following month.

Now, let’s apply this real world situation and the problem of disease transmission.   Let’s suppose that that roaches carried Lyme disease.  What would give anyone reason to believe that the rate of disease would be reduced since the overall pest pressure from the surrounding environment would overwhelm any individual efforts, no matter how effective.

I think this statement is important to understanding what is going on behind the scenes; “Testing whether spraying reduces the risk of tick-borne disease is critical because people spend lots of money spraying their yards,” “These sprays can be toxic to wildlife, pets and people, and people expect a strong health benefit from doing so. The study’s finding … is very important in evaluating what works and what doesn’t. This was money well spent, in my opinion.”

That was a quote from Rick Ostfeld, disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies,  who also said didn’t think the study was poorly designed, which is what I would you expect from “independent” activists.  So what is this group’s answer? I better leave a _________blank they can fill in later.

Well it was poorly designed!  That is, if you really wanted to know what the real impact pesticides have on ticks and the transmission of Lyme disease.  However, if your goal was to give the impression that making pesticide applications are valueless for the control of Lyme disease – this piece of junk science was an anti-pesticide activist’s dream.

One more thing!  Bifenthrin is a synthetic pyrethroid.  All pests are starting to show serious resistance to this chemical class.  When we lost organophosphates, due to EPA’s manipulation of the rules as outlined in the Food Quality Protection Act, this problem with ticks and Lyme disease became far more serious, just as in the case of bedbugs.

Here is the reality of this article and what these grant chasers will not tell you.  If you design a study that uses less effective chemistry in small areas that are isolated and  surrounded by areas where no pesticide applications are made, but have large tick infestations; the conclusion will be forgone.   They will kill some pests in the treated areas but those areas will quickly re-infest, and if that pest is a disease carrier the rate of transmission will remain the same as if no pesticides were applied.  I could have told them that for free and saved the taxpayers a half a million dollars.

Picture this; your job is to control mosquitoes that you know are carrying malaria, or yellow fever, but you're only making pesticide applications on one street and miss the next six blocks.  Would you really expect to see positive results in thwarting disease transmission? 

In my opinion, any honest person who is familiar with pest control and reads this can only come to one conclusion.  This study is a case of conclusions in search of data!

The reality is this.  The answer to all these pest problems was effective, easy to use, inexpensive chemistry that was available to everyone.   If that isn’t part of the answer there will be no answer and no amount research that leaves that component out will ever be anything by junk science. 



The 'healthy' butter alternative that is as salty as SEAWATER: Campaign group reveals the hidden danger of supermarket spreads

So what?  There is now clear evidence that salt restriction has no health benefits

Some brands of butter and supposedly ‘healthy’ spreads contain almost as much salt as seawater, a study shows.

Because of its high saturated fat content, butter is associated with health risks such as weight gain, clogged arteries and heart disease.

However, research by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), suggests the salt content of some spreads is also a concern.

Seven in ten salted butters would receive a red traffic light label for salt under guidelines drawn up by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).  Researchers found that fewer than four in ten spreads meet the Department of Health’s 2012 salt reduction targets.

The study warned that labels can be confusing. It pointed to Marks & Spencer Softer Butter, which is described as ‘slightly salted’, but contains more than the chain’s Salted Farmhouse Butter.

The study found that ‘low fat’ spreads can be higher in salt than the full fat versions, while one was as salty as some oceans.

The saltiest butter was found to be Country Life at 2g of salt per 100g, ahead of Essential Waitrose Salted Dairy Butter at 1.9g.

Among margarines and spreads, the highest level was in Weight Watchers Dairy Spread at 2.5g salt per 100g – seawater is typically between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent salt.

Katharine Jenner, campaign manager at Cash, warned: ‘Just one slice of buttered toast can contain more salt than a packet of crisps.’

Consumers generally eat spreads in relatively small amounts but their salt intake is boosted by eating processed foods such as bread and breakfast cereals.

High salt intake poses few health problems in the short term. But continued high consumption is linked to raised blood pressure and the greater risk of a stroke and early death.

Britons routinely consume more than the recommended maximum of 6g of salt a day for adults, resulting in an extra 70,000 heart attacks and strokes each year.

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Cash and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, said: ‘It is a national scandal that there is still so much unnecessary salt in our food. ‘For every one gramme reduction in salt intake, we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, strokes and heart failures, half of which would have been fatal.  [Rubbish!]

‘It is vital that the Department of Health ensures that manufacturers reduce the salt in these products immediately.’

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Shoppers clearly have to look twice when making the switch from butter to unsaturated spread.


6 September, 2013

'LSD could be good for you': Hallucinogens 'wrongly linked with mental health problems for years' study says

I get the impression that hallucinogen use was/is more of a college-kid thing rather than a working class thing.  In that case the underlying health of the users should be generally good and that may cancel out damage from use of the drugs.  But this is epidemiological data so it's all speculation

Hallucinogenic drugs may actually be good for you, a team of researchers has concluded.  Norwegian scientists have carried out extensive research on the effects of LSD - or trips - by studying drugs surveys from tens of thousands of Americans.

The findings are at odds with the long held belief that LSD and other 'mind-enhancing' drugs - such as mescaline and the drug psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms -  result in flashbacks, paranoia and long term mental health problems.

Researchers Pal-Orjan Johansen and Teri Krebs from Norway’s University of Science and Technology in Trondheim examined the drug taking habits of more than 130,000 American citizens between 2001 and 2004.  Some 22,000 of those surveyed had taken psychedelic drugs at least once.

Their findings were published in the science journal PLOS One.

They wrote: 'There were no significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics, or use of LSD in the past year, and an increased rate of mental health problems. Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with a lower rate of mental health problems.'

Mr Johansen said that previous studies on the psychedelic drugs had not proved that they caused chronic health problems in an interview with Norway’s English-language news website, The Local.

Mrs Krebs added: 'Everything has some risk; psychedelics can elicit temporary feelings of anxiety and confusion, but accidents leading to serious injury are extremely rare.

'Over the past 50 years, tens of millions of people have used psychedelics and there is just not much evidence of long-term problems.'

Instead, they said, the idea that the drugs caused mental health problems came from a small number of case studies, and that these patients were already suffering some form of mental illness.

They said psychedelic drug use and mental health problems both occurred in late adolescence and so were wrongly linked by researchers, the Independent reports.

Last year, the pair wrote in the British Journal of Psychopharmacology that  one dose of LSD was 'a highly effective treatment' for alcoholics, and was 'just as effective' as approved and currently used medications.

Sixty per cent of the patients tested who had been given a dose of LSD had either stopped drinking completely or were drinking less than they were before taking the drug.  [Scared straight?]


A daily glass of milk during pregnancy makes your children taller - even when they are teenagers

Middle and upper class people are taller.  The findings below simply suggest that those classes dring more milk.  Since milk is widely seen as "good for you", that is no surprise

Children born to women who drink milk during pregnancy are more likely to be tall when they are teenagers, new research shows.

A team of scientists who tracked babies born in the late eighties found their height during adolescence was directly related to how much milk their mothers consumed when they were in the womb.

Although maternal milk intake has long been thought to promote growth in newborn babies, the latest research suggests the benefits last well into early adulthood.

Nutrition experts from Iceland, Denmark and the U.S. wanted to see if the benefits seen in the early stages of life from milk were extended into later years.

They tracked babies born to 809 women in Denmark in 1988 and 1989, after monitoring how much milk the women had consumed during the pregnancy.

The babies were measured for weight and birth length and tthen followed up again almost 20 years later.

The results, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show teenagers of both sexes were generally taller if their mothers had drunk more than 150 millilitres - roughly a quarter of a pint of milk - a day during the pregnancy, compared to children born to women who drank less than that amount.

By their late teens they also had higher levels of insulin in their bloodstream, suggesting they were less at risk of getting type two diabetes.

In a report on the findings researchers said: ‘Maternal milk consumption may have a growth-promoting effect with respect to weight and length at birth.

Although maternal milk intake has long been thought to promote growth in newborn babies, the latest research suggests the benefits last well into early teenhood and even adulthood

‘These results also provide some suggestion that this effect may even track into early adult age.’


5 September, 2013

Mediterranean diet lowers risk of developing dementia?

The last paragraph below is the operational one 

Eating a Mediterranean diet is good for the mind, research has concluded. Scientists say people who eat large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil have a lower risk of age-related diseases such as dementia.

The research, by the University of Exeter’s Medical School, is the first systematic review of previous studies into the diet’s benefits to the brain.

It comes after research last month showed the same diet could help counteract a genetic risk of strokes.

The team, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula, analysed 12 eligible pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomised control trial.

In nine of the 12 studies, a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, results for mild cognitive impairment - the stage before Alzheimer’s or dementia, when someone could be experiencing some cognitive difficulties - were inconsistent.

Lead researcher Iliana Lourida said: 'Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia.

'While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyse all existing evidence.'

She added: 'Our review also highlights inconsistencies in the literature and the need for further research. In particular research is needed to clarify the association with mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia.

'It is also important to note that while observational studies provide suggestive evidence we now need randomised, controlled trials to confirm whether or not adherence to a Mediterranean diet protects against dementia.'


Women at a HEALTHY weight are more likely to get breast cancer

More evidence that fat has a protective effect

Women who are a healthy weight are more likely to get breast cancer when using hormone replacement therapy, according to a new study. Breast cancer has long been associated with the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the menopause.

Scientists say this risk is increased among certain groups - including white women with a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Researchers at the University of Chicago analysed 1,642,824 mammograms, which included 9,300 breast cancer cases, from menopausal women.

Data on HRT use was analysed by ethnicity, age, BMI and breast density for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute study.

Results showed there was a 20 per cent increased risk of breast cancer associated with HRT use among white and Hispanic women, but not black women.

HRT use was more strongly associated with breast cancer risk in women with low or normal BMI, but no link was found among those with a high BMI.

Women with denser breasts also had an increased chance of breast cancer while using HRT.

The researchers found a significant relationship between breast density and HRT independent of BMI.

HRT use was not associated with breast cancer for women with high BMI and low breast density, whereas HRT use was associated with a significantly higher risk of disease for women with low or normal BMI and high breast density.

The researchers say the results show HRT may be used for some women without increasing breast cancer risk.

Lead author Dr Ningqui Hou said: ‘Black women, obese women, and women with breast tissue composed largely of fat may benefit from HRT use with minimal excess breast cancer risk.

‘Further studies to confirm these findings and provide more information on other modifiable risk factors for breast cancer in relation to HRT use are needed.’

Dr Mary Beth Terry, from the Department of Epidemiology and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Columbia University, said: ‘Ultimately, efforts that improve risk stratification, whether made through improved risk models or through measuring valid intermediate biomarkers such as breast density, will inform appropriate use of not only HRT, but also other medications, including chemopreventive drugs.’


4 September, 2013

Mothers who swim during pregnancy increase their child's risk of eczema and asthma, scientists warn

This is just theory.  No facts at all

Pregnant mothers who regularly attend swimming classes may be increasing the risk of their child developing an allergic condition.

Scientists believe that commonly-found airborne chemicals, such as chlorine from pools and compounds found in cleaning products could be behind the five-fold increase in inherited allergies during the past 50 years.

Exposure to these chemicals may be altering an unborn child’s immune system, leaving them more sensitive to conditions such as eczema, asthma and hay fever.

The warning comes from a report in the British Journal of Dermatology that looks at the growing prevalence of these ‘atopic allergies’.

One theory, known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, is that an excessively clean lifestyle has resulted in a generation of children developing immune systems unfamiliar with many germs.

As a result, when they are later exposed to new irritants their body is more likely to have an allergic reaction.

However, experts from the St John’s Institute of Dermatology in London and the University of Manchester are investigating whether exposure to everyday airborne chemicals ‘during critical windows of pregnancy/early-life development’ have also contributed to the rise.

‘High-level exposure to volatile organic compounds in the domestic environment either during maternal pregnancy or in early life, is associated with development of childhood atopic disease,’ says the report.

‘Similarly, sustained exposure to airborne chlorinated chemicals from swimming pools during childhood has been associated with the development of atopic allergy.’

Dr John McFadden, consultant dermatologist at St John’s Institute, said further investigation was needed.

‘We in the science world are still struggling to find the exact cause of this rise,’ he said. ‘We have not proved anything, we are not saying this is the cause, this is a hypothesis, but we do know we are using far more chemicals than we did 50 years ago, whether it is in personal care products or processed food.’

Dr McFadden said the  findings should not change  the advice currently given  to soon-to-be mothers, but  the link required further study.

‘It is conceivable, but not proven, that persistent low-dose exposure to chemicals can have some effect on the immune system,’ he said.

Expectant women are encouraged to continue exercising during pregnancy, and swimming is recommended by the NHS as water helps support their additional weight.

Elizabeth Salter Green, director of CHEM Trust, which campaigns against the overuse of manmade chemicals, said: ‘It is well known that the foetus developing in-utero is extremely vulnerable to chemical exposures.

‘Simply put, in-utero growth, including neurological wiring of the brain and the development of the immune system, rely on chemical messengers – hormones – being at the right level at the right moment of development.

‘Therefore the theory that our increasing exposure to worrying chemicals is [affecting] those natural chemical messengers, leading to alteration of immune response and development of atopic allergies, via cleaning products, personal care products and volatile chlorinated chemicals in swimming pools, is highly plausible.’

The research is the latest to blame chemicals found in everyday products such as washing-up liquid and shower gel for a surge in allergic reactions.


Eating McDonald's gave me TRIPLETS! Vegetarian who was told she would never have children gives birth to three babies after turning to a daily diet of meat

Pregnant women often have powerful cravings as their bodies tell them what their babies need.  This lady certainly did

A lifelong vegetarian told she would never have children has given birth to triplets after she started eating meat.  Laura Dixon, 34, turned to IVF after trying for ten years to  get pregnant naturally, but during her second cycle of treatment she  suffered a miscarriage.

When she became pregnant during her final round of IVF, she was warned she had a high risk of another miscarriage or a dangerously early labour.

So she started eating three portions of meat a day to increase her intake of iron, vitamin B12 and protein to improve her chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Mrs Dixon, who had never eaten meat, tucked into chicken, bacon and sausages every day and at 35 weeks gave birth to identical boys Max and Mason and daughter Mia.

Naturally slim, she piled on more than five stone gorging on chicken, bacon and burgers as well as a daily McDonald's breakfast and a sausage and egg McMuffin.

Her meat cravings became so strong she was tucking into three portions of meat a day with a Marks and Spencer chicken and stuffing salad sandwich her favourite snack.

The high protein diet carried her pregnancy through to 35 weeks when she gave birth to identical boys Max and Mason, and daughter Mia.

Ms Dixon, a PA from Essex, said: ‘When the sonographer found a third heartbeat I remember shouting “oh no” and crying - thinking I'd lose them all.  ‘After losing one baby to a miscarriage, I thought I would never be able to carry three.  ‘But then my hunger kicked in and despite never eating meat, I craved it. I ate about six meals a day.

‘It all seems like a blur now. I just remember the cravings were so strong that I would wake up in the night and make my husband go and get me a McDonald's.  ‘Several times my husband had to go up to Nandos for chicken and chips with me.  ‘Eating meat definitely helped me get all the protein you need when you're pregnant.  ‘I think it could be one of the reasons I managed to carry all three to full term.’

Ms Dixon was diagnosed with endometriosis and polycystic ovaries which doctors told her would stop her getting pregnant.

She underwent two laparoscopies in a bid to correct the problems but both were unsuccessful.

Her first cycle of IVF failed when she developed dangerously swollen ovaries and treatment had to be abandoned.

She became pregnant during the second cycle using frozen eggs but miscarried at eight weeks.

During the third IVF attempt she got ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome but decided to proceed at her own risk and two fertilised eggs developed.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome can occur after taking medications that stimulate the ovaries.  It causes the ovaries to swell and produce too many follicles.  Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and bloating.

In severe cases it can be life-threatening as it can cause a blood clot in an artery or vein, kidney and liver dysfunction and breathing difficulties.

However, on her 33rd birthday Mrs Dixon and her husband heard three little heartbeats and on Mr Dixon’s 33rd birthday doctors told them they were expecting identical boys and a girl.

Max was born weighing 3lb 12oz, Mason was 5lb 4oz and Mia weighed 5lb 15oz - all three were born by C-section within a minute of each other.

The triplets, now 14 months, were allowed home from hospital just two weeks after their birth.

Medics believe Mrs Dixon’s protein boost will have contributed to her successful pregnancy.

Nutritionist Jo Travers, who runs The London Nutritionist, said: ‘There is a lot of evidence that women experience taste changes throughout the pregnancy, which in turn can alter their preferences as they progress through the trimesters.’

Since becoming a mother Ms Dixon has continued to go to McDonald's - but has reverted to her vegetarian diet and only has a veggie-wrap and fries.


3 September, 2013

Another study showing that statins will not help you to live longer

Meta-analyses are not always well done but the large number of "negative" finding is in this case impressive.  For more on existing findings, see here

Benefits Of Statins In Elderly Subjects Without Established Cardiovascular Disease. A Meta-Analysis

By Gianluigi Savarese et al


Objectives:  To assess whether statins reduce all-cause mortality and CV events in elderly people without established CV disease.

Background:  Since ageing of the population is steadily raising, prevention of cardiovascular (CV) disease in the elderly is relevant. In elderly patients with previous CV events, use of statins is recommended by guidelines, whereas benefits of these drugs in elderly subjects without previous CV events are still debated.

Methods:  Randomized trials comparing statins versus placebo and reporting all-cause and CV mortality, myocardial infarction (MI), stroke, and new cancer onset in elderly (>65 years old) subjects without established CV disease were included.

Results:  Eight trials enrolling 24,674 subjects (42.7% females; mean age 73.0+2.9; mean follow-up 3.5+1.5 years) were included in analyses. Statins, compared to placebo, significantly reduced the risk of MI by 39.4% (relative risk [RR]: 0.606 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.434 to 0.847]; p=0.003), as well as the risk of stroke by 23.8% (RR: 0.762 [CI: 0.626 to 0.926]; p=0.006). In contrast, the risk of all-cause death (RR: 0.941 [CI: 0.856 to 1.035]; p=0.210) and of CV death (RR: 0.907 [CI: 0.686 to 1.199]; p=0.493) were not significantly reduced. New cancer onset did not differ between statin- compared to placebo-treated subjects (RR: 0.989 [CI: 0.851 to 1.151]; p=0.890).

Conclusions:  In elderly subjects at high CV risk without established CV disease, statins significantly reduce the incidence of MI and stroke, but do not significantly prolong survival in the short-term.


But they do prevent Alzheimers in mice!

High doses of statins may prevent dementia in old age, according to research.  Patients who received the most potent forms of the cholesterol-lowering drug were up to three times less likely to suffer from the disease, scientists discovered.

The findings seem to back up earlier studies that claimed a widely prescribed statin may combat Alzheimer’s by improving the function of blood vessels.

The latest research examined nearly 58,000 patients in Taiwan to discover if use of the drug was associated with new diagnoses of dementia.

Dr Tin-Tse Lin, who presented the findings at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam said risks were reduced with increased total or daily dosages of the drug.

‘Patients who received the highest total equivalent doses of statins had a three-fold decrease in the risk of developing dementia,’ it was found.

‘Similar results were found with the daily equivalent statin dosage.’

Researchers found that the dosage rather than solubility of potent drugs such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin were responsible for their effectiveness.

Almost every available version of the drug, except lovastatin, decreased the risk for new onset dementia when taken at higher daily doses.

‘Higher doses of high potency statins gave the strongest protective effects against dementia,’ said Dr Tin-Tse Lin.
High doses of statins may prevent dementia in old age, according to research

High doses of statins may prevent dementia in old age, according to research

‘A high mean daily dosage of lovastatin was positively associated with the development of dementia, possibly because lovastatin is a lipophilic statin while the anti-inflammatory cholesterol lowering effect of lovastatin is not comparable to that of atorvastatin and simvastatin.’

An earlier study found that a widely prescribed statin may prevent some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by improving blood vessel function.

The research, carried out on mice by researchers at McGill University in Montreal, also found the drug boosted learning and memory in younger sufferers when the disease had not progressed far.

However, treatment using simvastatin had no effect on one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s – a build-up of a particular protein in the brain, even in those who otherwise benefited.

About 1million prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs are written in England each week, and statins have become a mainstay for doctors treating the survivors of heart attacks and strokes.

They make up the vast majority of lipid-lowering drugs and are effective at lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in blood that clogs up arteries and leads to heart attacks.

So far there has been no clear evidence that statins help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In fact, memory loss is a known side-effects of the drug.


2 September, 2013

Teenage cannabis users are more vulnerable to heavy drug addiction and psychosis - and genes drive up the risks

These conclusions seem to reply on epidemiological reports -- which can be of dubious logic.  It could be that problem personalities are drawn to the drug rather than the drug damaging the personaity.  I have known cannabis users who seemed pretty spaced out whether they were high or not

Teenage brains may be especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of cannabis, experts believe.

The notion that cannabis is a 'safe' drug is misplaced and scientifically inaccurate, say researchers.  Scientists came to the conclusion after reviewing more than 120 studies looking at the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain.

Professor Didier Jutras-Aswad, from the University of Montreal in Canada, who led the team, said: 'Data from epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown an association between cannabis use and subsequent addiction to heavy drugs and psychosis.

'Interestingly, the risk to develop such disorders after cannabis exposure is not the same for all individuals and is correlated with genetic factors, the intensity of cannabis use and the age at which it occurs.

'When the first exposure occurs in younger versus older adolescents, the impact of cannabis seems to be worse in regard to many outcomes such as mental health, education attainment, delinquency and ability to conform to adult role.'

Rat experiments had shown how cannabis targets areas of the brain linked to motivation, decision-making and habit-forming that change rapidly during the teenage years.

Taking the drug at this stage in life could greatly affect development of the brain and personality, according to the scientists writing in the journal Neuropharmacology.

'Of the illicit drugs, cannabis is most used by teenagers since it is perceived by many to be of little harm,' said Prof Jutras-Aswad.

'This perception has led to a growing number of states approving its legalisation and increased accessibility.

'Most of the debates and ensuing policies regarding cannabis were done without consideration of its impact on one of the most vulnerable population, namely teens, or without consideration of scientific data.

'While it is clear that more systematic scientific studies are needed to understand the long-term impact of adolescent cannabis exposure on brain and behaviour, the current evidence suggests that it has a far-reaching influence on adult addictive behaviours particularly for certain subsets of vulnerable individuals.'

Some people are genetically more susceptible than others to becoming dependent on cannabis, the research suggests.

In adolescent rats, scientists had observed individual differences in the chemical pathways that govern addiction and vulnerability.

This may help explain why around a quarter of teenager cannabis users end up abusing the drug or developing a dependency.

Studies also indicate that cannabis dependence can be inherited through certain genes passed by parents to their children.

Psychological influences are another important factor, say the researchers.

'Individuals who will develop cannabis dependence generally report a temperament characterised by negative affect, aggressivity and impulsivity, from an early age,' said Professor Jutras-Aswad.

'Some of these traits are often exacerbated with years of cannabis use, which suggests that users become trapped in a vicious cycle of self-medication, which in turn becomes a dependence.'
DNA Helix

Studies indicate that cannabis dependence can be inherited through certain genes passed by parents to their children. Psychological influences are also another important factor

He added: 'It is now clear from the scientific data that cannabis is not harmless to the adolescent brain, specifically those who are most vulnerable from a genetic or psychological standpoint.

'Identifying these vulnerable adolescents, including through genetic or psychological screening, may be critical for prevention and early intervention of addiction and psychiatric disorders related to cannabis use.

The objective is not to fuel the debate about whether cannabis is good or bad, but instead to identify those individuals who might most suffer from its deleterious effects and provide adequate measures to prevent this risk.'

'Continuing research should be performed to inform public policy in this area,' added co-author Dr Yasmin Hurd, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

'Without such systematic, evidenced-based research to understand the long-term effects of cannabis on the developing brain, not only the legal status of cannabis will be determined on uncertain ground, but we will not be able to innovate effective treatments such as the medicinal use of cannabis plant components that might be beneficial for treating specific disorders.'


Ketamine can relieve the symptoms of depression in more than 60% of patients - in as little as 24 hours

This was a rather small study of unknown representativeness so not much can be concluded at this stage. It could also be that side-effects make the cure worse than the disease

Ketamine could relieve the symptoms of depression in as little as 24 hours, new research suggests.  The drug, which is also used in anaesthesia, can relieve symptoms in more than 60 per cent of people with depression within 24 hours.

In contrast, most prescription anti-depressants take four to six weeks to prove effective.

The findings come after the biggest ever study to examine ketamine’s effect on depression.  Some 73 people with the condition were involved in the U.S. study, with two thirds given ketamine, and one third midazolam – a short-acting anaesthetic medication.

The researchers found that 64 per cent of those given ketamine improved within 24 hours.  In contrast, only 28 per cent of those given midazolam improved.

The research was carried out at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York,

Lead researcher, Dr Sanjay Mathew, said: ‘Through this study, we’ve now confirmed in an optimised trial design that ketamine does have robust and rapid antidepressant effects.’

Ketamine was given to the patients intravenously and in very low doses.

Dr Mathew explained: ‘All previous studies of ketamine have compared it to saline, an inert placebo without physical or psychological reactions.

‘The problem with this is that ketamine has usual side effects, such as feelings of floating, feelings of altered sense of time, maybe some blurred vision or some other physical or psychological symptoms.

‘Patients know that they received something active and the raters would know that as well, so the validity of the study may be in doubt with saline studies.

‘This is the first trial to compare ketamine to another drug that also has psychoactive properties.’

Dr Mathew and his colleagues followed the patients for seven days and found that many of the patients who received ketamine continued to benefit from the treatment after seven days, although there was a decrease in benefits by day seven.

They then studied the subgroup of patients who did well at day seven to see how long they remained depression-free and found that a small group of patients were able to remain depression-free for an additional four weeks.

Dr Mathew says that there is still much more that needs to be understood before ketamine can be used clinically.

For example, the best dose to use would have to be established and side effects, such as elevated blood pressure, would have to be taken into account.

The researchers believe that ketamine reduces depression by influencing the glutamate system – glutamate are neurotransmitters which speed up the transmission of information from one nerve cell to the next.


1 September, 2013

More fresh fruit deters diabetes while juice boosts risk (?)

This is just data dredging, with the usual weak and contradictory results

EATING more whole fresh fruit, especially blueberries, grapes, apples and pears, is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, but drinking more fruit juice has the opposite effect, says a study.

British, US and Singaporean researchers pored over data from three big health investigations that took place in the United States, spanning a quarter of a century in all.

More than 187,000 nurses and other professional caregivers were enrolled.

Their health was monitored over the following years, and they regularly answered questionnaires on their eating habits, weight, smoking, physical activity and other pointers to lifestyle.

Around 6.5 per cent of the volunteers developed diabetes during the studies.

People who ate at least two servings each week of certain whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes by as much as 23 per cent compared to those who ate less than one serving per month.

"Our findings provide novel evidence suggesting certain fruits may be especially beneficial for lower diabetes risk," said Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

On the other hand, those who consumed one or more servings of fruit juice each day saw their risk of the disease increase by as much as 21 per cent.

Swapping three servings of juice per week for whole fruits resulted in a seven-per cent reduction in risk, although there was no such difference with strawberries and cantaloupe melon.

The paper, published on Friday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says further work is needed to to explore this "significant" difference.

It speculates that, even if the nutritional values of whole fruit and fruit juice are similar, the difference lies with the fact that one food is a semi-solid and the other a liquid.

"Fluids pass through the stomach to the intestine more rapidly than solids even if nutritional content is similar," says the paper.


The glass really IS half full: Realistic optimists are happier and more successful than other personality types

Conceptual confusion here, I think.  I see realism as half way between optimism and pessimism.  So a realistic optimist is a contradiction

A scientist has discovered it is beneficial to be a glass-half-full person.  Sophie Chou has found people who have a realistic sense of optimism are more likely to be happy and successful than people who are pessimistic or wildly optimistic.

The psychology researcher believes realistic optimists' positive outlook, combined with their rational perspective on life tend to be very successful.

A realistic optimist is defined as someone who looks on the bright side of life but has a realistic grasp on the present and what to expect in life.

She said realistic optimists use their realism to perform well at work and in exams, while their positive outlook enables them to dodge periods of depression and helps them spot opportunities.

Ms Chou, an organisational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, shared her findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Hawaii this month.

While past research has shown optimists value thoughts that make them feel good,  pessimists have a more 'truthful' view of themselves and a realistic view can sometimes lead natural pessimists to suffering depression, LiveScience reported.

Another study concluded that optimists tend be in better health and live longer.

However, Ms Chou noticed that some people were both optimistic and realistic as well as being very successful, leading her to question whether a sense of optimism and pessimism are in opposition to one another.

She questioned 200 college and graduate students about the 'positive illusions' they held as well as whether they were motivated by reality or becoming a better person.

Ms Chou found optimists could be divided into idealists and realists.  She said: 'Realistic optimists tend to choose accuracy over self-enhancement; the unrealistic optimists tend to choose self-enhancement.'

The realistic optimists got better grades than their more forward-thinking aspirational peers, perhaps suggesting those lacking a realistic outlook deluded themselves they could do well without working hard, Ms Chou said.

Her study challenges conventional beliefs that a realistic outlook goes hand-in-hand with greater depression and instead shows realistic optimists are happy people.

Ms Chou thinks this might be the case as realistic optimists believe they have more control over themselves and their destinies, including in relationships and at work.

She said: 'Every time they face an issue or a challenge or a problem, they won't say "I have no choice and this is the only thing I can do." They will be creative, they will have a plan A, plan B and plan C.'

The psychology researcher said their balanced outlook allows optimistic realists to stay upbeat about the future, while recognising and overcoming present challenges.

However, Ms Chou warned people with this personality type are more prone to anxiety than more unrealistic people, probably because they recognise the chance of failure.

The research also suggests that realistic and unrealistic optimists might have very different personality types.



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Posts here by Dr. John Ray

I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.

SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes

Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

Phthalates harmless

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like


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