Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Which shows how absurd conventional definitions of poverty are

Residents in Sydney's [poor] south-west are among the fattest in the state, with more than half the inhabitants of the Campbelltown and Camden area overweight or obese, new figures reveal.

Meanwhile, Sydney's affluent eastern suburbs and North Shore have the lowest percentage of overweight and obese residents, with just one in five women above the healthy weight range.

Figures from the NSW Health Department, compiled for The Sun-Herald from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 adult health surveys, highlight the correlation between weight and wealth. They come as doctors grapple with the nation's obesity crisis and experts call for the regulation of food outlets and subsidising of healthy, fresh food. Compiled from interviews with 32,877 people across the state over three years, the figures also draw attention to the disparity between obesity levels in rural and city regions.....

Social researcher Neer Korn, a director of research organisation Heartbeat Trends, said the figures showed the direct correlation between socio-economic status and obesity problems. "People from a lower socio-economic background eat more junk food and they have less time to care for themselves," Mr Korn said. [Another nitwit! Has she never heard of the long houres at work that many middle-income put in?] "If you have a nanny and you're not working, you have all day to go shopping for food to get something nice to cook for dinner which is healthy, and you can afford gym membership." Mr Korn said Australia's obesity problem was more pronounced in rural areas because fresh food was more expensive [What rubbish! He hasn't got a clue! He must never have lived in a country town and found out how much informal exchange of fresh fruit and vegetables there is] and the health message was a lower priority for residents there. "Try getting fruit and vegies in Wilcannia - it's so expensive there, it's much cheaper just to go to Maccas," he said.

Ian Caterson, Boden Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Sydney, said the availability of food was a major contributor to the increasing obesity problem. He told a WeightWatchers-hosted discussion forum on obesity last week that an American study found the abundance of food outlets accounted for 68 per cent of the increase in obesity levels. He recommended introducing legislation to police the number and type of food outlets [No disguising the Fascism there!] that could be built in any one area to ensure people could obtain, say, fresh fruit as easily as fast food....

More here

That greater self-discipline might make you both richer and slimmer is not of course mentioned

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

True love is for 12 months only: "They say true love lasts a lifetime. But according to scientists, that intoxicating head-spinning feeling that comes when you first clap eyes on the love of your life does not last quite that long. In fact, they say the chemical in the brain which is responsible for the first flush of romance wears off after just 12 months. The researchers found the effect was the same even among couples who were still passionately in love. They studied a group of men and women aged 18 to 31, some of whom had just fallen in love, some of whom were in long-term relationships and others who were single. Among those in the first throes of passion, levels of a protein called Nerve Growth Factor - which causes those telltale palpitations, sweaty palms and butterflies - rocketed. But in couples who had been together for a year or more, the levels had fallen back to that found in singletons"

Monday, November 28, 2005


Last January, media outlets reported that cancer had overtaken heart disease as the number one killer in the United States. Sounds scary, no? Fear not. As is usually the case, beyond the scary headline, deep into the copy, came the real story. Both diseases are in steady decline. Cancer rates and deaths from cancer have fallen every year since the early 1990s. The thing is, incidence and mortality rates of heat disease and stroke have fallen even more over the same period (25 percent since 1990). So while it's true that cancer has "overtaken" heart disease, that's really not the story. The story is that both are in decline, heart disease remarkably so.

Late last February, another health story hit the wires: Americans are living longer than ever before. Life expectancy is up across the board, among both genders and all ethnicities. The gaps in life expectancy between men and women and between black and white are shrinking, too.

At the same time all of this good news has transpired, the number of Americans classified as "obese" and "overweight" has been on a steadily upward trajectory since about the mid-1970s. In 1985, 8 states reported that at least 10% of their populations were obese. By 1990, the number rose to 33. By 2001, it was all fifty.

Of course, as you might expect, the scariest numbers about the condition of America's waistline are overblown - there are significant problems with the way the government measures obesity, which I'll discuss in a moment. But most researchers agree that the average American is carrying 10-15 more pounds than he was thirty years ago.

If you believe media, nutrition activists, and public officials, those extra 10-15 pounds portend a looming healthcare catastrophe. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, for example, said in 2004 that childhood obesity is "every bit as threatening to us as the terrorist threat." A congressionally commissioned report from the Institute of Medicine published in the fall of 2004 called for massive government intervention to stave off the crisis. One author said we need "nothing short of a revolution." The World Health Organization warned "If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders."

But if we've been getting fatter for 30 years, shouldn't we be seeing at least the front end of this coming crisis? Why are we getting healthier? In fact, a closer look at the statistics suggests that even some of the diseases most associated with obesity are in retreat.

Take cancer, for example. In 2002, the BBC reported researchers had found that "the more excess weight a person carries, the greater their risk of certain types of cancer." In 2004, USA Today echoed that claim. "The nation's current epidemic of overweight and obesity is likely to drive up cancer rates in coming years," the paper wrote. The Associated Press wrote that, "heart disease and diabetes get all the attention, but expanding waistlines increase the risk for at least nine types of cancer, too" (other sources put it at ten).

But of the ten types of cancer commonly associated with obesity, deaths from nine - pancreatic, ovarian, gall bladder, stomach, prostate, kidney, colal-rectal, cervical-uteran, and breast - have decreased since 1992, some of them significantly. Only one - pancreatic cancer - has seen an increase in mortality rates over that period.

And heart disease? Case Western Reserve University researcher and obesity skeptic Paul Ernsberger notes that "The greatest improvements are in cardiovascular disease deaths, which are most strongly linked to obesity."

As noted, the gap in life expectancy between black and white is shrinking. But at the same time, blacks as a group have put on more weight than whites......

America is at war with obesity. We could eventually come to find, however, that this war's origins are dubious as the sinking of the Maine. None of this is to say extreme or morbid obesity is healthy, or even benign (though again, there seems to be some modest protective effects to carrying some excess weight). The decline in incidence and deaths from heart disease and cancer are almost certainly due to advances in medical research and technology. We're getting better at uncovering these diseases early, and with pharmaceutical marvels like Statin drugs and chemotherapy, we're making huge leaps in treatment once we've diagnosed them. And it's of course likely that the gains we've made would be even more significant were the most obese among us a bit more svelte.

But the notion that our expanding waistlines have put us on the verge of a calamitous offensive against our health care system simply isn't borne out by the evidence. And so these incessant calls for immediate, large-scale government interference in how we grow, process, manufacture, market, prepare, sell, and eat our food ring hollow, hyperbolic, and needlessly invasive....

The bizarre thing about the obesity debate is that less than a decade ago, the very thought of it was often discussed only in parody, or in a reductio ad absurdum context. Opponents of the tobacco lawsuits often invoked the idea of trial lawyers suing fast food restaurants as one example of the "parade of horribles" that might follow should the tobacco suits be allowed to go forward.

Well, we're here now. This is post-reductio America. If the anti-obesity proposals currently up for debate become law, it's difficult to come up with any aspect of our lives that's out of the reach of the public health activists. Or, as one advocacy group that represents the food industry has put it, the question will no longer be "what's next?"...but "what's left?"

Much more here

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Cranberies are good for you: "Cranberries, which already are known to help thwart urinary tract infections, may also prevent tooth decay and cavities, dental researchers reported in the January issue of the journal Caries Research. The same sticky compounds in the small, hard red fruit -- which is boiled into a jelly that is a staple at American winter holiday meals -- that help keep bacteria at bay in the bladder also appear to help prevent bacteria from clinging to teeth, according to the researchers. They also found it seemed to help ward off plaque, a gooey substance formed from bits of food, saliva, and acid that can harbor bacteria and eventually irritate the gums. "There's potential to find compounds there that prevent dental cavities," said Hyun Koo, an oral biologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York"


Plans for a walkway high in the forest of Westland National Park have stalled over a requirement to provide access for wheelchair users. South Island tribe Ngai Tahu is behind the $2 million treetop venture, a more than 300m-long looped walk, 14m high and against a backdrop of the Southern Alps' Franz Josef village.

Ngai Tahu Tourism acting general manager Rick Tau said providing electric or mechanical lifts to get disabled people up and over sets of steps built into the walkway would add more than $100,000 to the cost of the project. "It could put the kibosh it," he said.

More than $50,000 had already been spent on design and planning. Electric lifts would require a power supply, and self-operated mechanical lifts could be a problem if people were severely disabled, Mr Tau said. The tribe had asked the Department of Building and Housing for an exemption under the Building Act, but was turned down.

It's not the first time Ngai Tahu's tourism ventures had come up against disability laws, Mr Tau said. "Some of it is idiotic. We have lodges that take two days' walking to get to, yet we have to provide wheelchair access to toilets."

More here (Hat tip to Kiwi Pundit)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Nestle under fire for 'sexist' TV ad

Humourless lesbians suspected again

"Confectionery giant Nestle is under fire in Britain over chocolate bar adverts suggesting football is "not for girls". The company is promoting a bar called Footie with wrapper slogans including: "It's definitely not for girls", "no passes to lasses" and "no wenches on the benches". Wrappers also contain an image of a woman holding a handbag framed in a no-entry road sign.

The Women's Sports Foundation said such advertising undermined attempts to encourage girls to play more sport and improve fitness levels in teenage girls. "We'd rather not see this kind of advertising," she said. "Research shows that 40 per cent of girls have dropped out of sport by the time they reach 18. It's a serious problem with implications for health and fitness. "There are all sorts of cultural barriers to women getting involved in sport. A campaign like this adds to the problem."

Privately, staff at the Equal Opportunities Commission said they were disturbed by the messages on Footie bar wrappers. A spokeswoman said she could make no official comment because confectionery advertising was not within the organisation's remit. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority said it had no powers to adjudicate on the wording of confectionery wrappers.

Nestle said the Footie bar was a version of the Yorkie bar and the slogans were "meant to be humorous". "The Yorkie 'Wenches on the Benches' pack is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous and we apologise if (anyone) has taken offence," said a Nestle spokeswoman. "The 'Wenches on the Benches' Yorkie pack is part of the wider 'Not For Girls' Yorkie campaign. "The spirit of this is to reclaim chocolate for men, based on the consumer insight that there are not many things that men can look at and say that it's just for him. "This is especially true for the chocolate confectionery market, which is full of female-targeted brands. "Yorkie was launched 26 years ago as the chocolate for men and used a very popular 'Trucker' campaign. "We are building on this strong male heritage using a light-hearted and fun way of talking about the differences between men and women.""


Friday, November 25, 2005

No kidding: Americans acquiring taste for goat: "For many Californians, goat has become the other red meat. Curried goat and birria stew have become fixtures on the menus of local restaurants. Markets catering to Muslims and Latinos do brisk business selling fresh goat meat. Even the meat section of the upscale Whole Foods Market in Glendale now peddles the commodity. Goat meat imports to the U.S. jumped about 140% over a seven-year period ending in 2003. Now some California farmers see gold in goat. They are expanding their herds, hoping to cash in on consumers' broadening tastes. 'As goat producers, we are standing in one of the most enviable positions of any agriculture industry in the United States,' said Marvin Shurley, president of the American Meat Goat Assn. in Sonora, Texas. 'High demand for our products and livestock prices are unmatched within the history of our industry.'"

Boffins crack beer goggles: "Scientists have figured out why alcohol makes ugly people seem more attractive - otherwise known as the "beer goggles" effect. Far from being a simple matter of how much you have to drink, the researchers have devised a complex formula which takes into account the level of light in the pub or club, the drinkers' own eyesight, the smokiness of the room and the distance between two people. A phenomenon which has caught out millions of people over the years, the beer goggles effect refers to how having too much to drink can make someone you find repulsive suddenly exude all the charms and allure of a supermodel. While getting intimate with the person may seem like a good idea at the time, it's only the morning after when you realise that the Angelina Jolie superbabe you hooked up with the night before actually resembles Margaret Thatcher in the cold harsh light of day... "The beer goggles effect isn't solely dependent on how much alcohol a person consumes, there are other influencing factors at play too," said Professor Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester. Amazingly, scientists now believe you don't even need to have had an alcoholic drink to suffer from the beer goggles effect. "The formula shows for example, that a person with poor vision who's talking to someone in a very smoky bar will be experiencing a beer goggles effect close to someone who has consumed eight pints in a smoke-free and well-lit room.":

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shriek! Vegetables, fruits cause more US food illnesses

What will the food freaks eat now?

Contaminated fruits and vegetables are causing more food-borne illness among Americans than raw chicken or eggs, consumer advocates said a in report released on Monday. Common sources of food illnesses include various bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli that can infect humans and animals then make their way into manure used to fertilize plants. The practice of using manure fertilizer is more common in Latin America, which has become a growing source of fresh produce for the United States.

"Although poultry has historically been responsible for far more Salmonella infections, in the most recent years ... produce seems to be catching up," the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said, calling for tougher federal food safety standards.

In fact, vegetables and fruits triggered 31 outbreaks from 2002 to 2003, compared with 29 for chicken and other poultry, according to the report.

Overall, contaminated tomatoes, sprouts and other produce made 28,315 people sick during 554 outbreaks from 1990 to 2003 -- 20 percent of all cases CSPI analyzed.

Chicken made 14,729 people sick in 476 outbreaks, and eggs were responsible for 10,847 illnesses from 329 outbreaks, according to the group.

"Pathogens can adhere to the rough surfaces of fruits and vegetables, so consumers should take precautions, such as washing produce under running water," the report said, adding people should "still eat plenty of produce."

Food-related infections cause a range of problems from discomfort to severe dehydration and death, but most problematic organisms can be killed when food is cooked long enough at high enough temperatures.

Not all people exposed to an outbreak get sick, but those who do can experience vomiting, diarrhea and fever, among other problems for about a week. Some experience no symptoms but can infect others.

The report found seafood was the largest cause of outbreaks but led to fewer illnesses than other foods. There have been 899 such outbreaks between 1990 and 2003, leading to 9,312 illnesses.

CSPI officials urged federal regulators to do more to protect the nation's food supply -- a job currently divided among at least 10 U.S. agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

One large, independent agency would reduce coordination troubles, conflicting standards and other problems that make the government slow to act, the group said.

Other changes could be made in the meantime, it added.

"FDA should require growers to limit the use of manure to times and products where it poses no risk. And packers and shippers should mark packaging to ensure easy traceback when fruits and vegetables are implicated in an outbreak," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's food safety director.

CSPI's database includes reports mostly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other sources, including state health departments and medical journals, make up 7 percent of the data.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Biscuits aimed at the older eater: Faced with the grim reality of a declining number of sweet-toothed youngsters, one of Japan's biggest confectioners is re-tooling itself for the swelling ranks of weak-jawed oldies. As the greying of Japan's population begins in earnest because of the plunging birthrate, biscuits [cookies] and other products are being redesigned with a simple remit in mind: they should look like the original, taste like the original and the first bite should crunch like the original. But after that they must dissolve instantly so as not to strain ageing jaws. The company, Ezaki Glico, is a global leader in the cutting-edge science of "biteability". Deep among the bubbling flasks and test tubes of Glico's central research laboratory in Osaka lies the world's most sophisticated electronic gauge of a biscuit's crunchiness..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The bizarre excesses of certain food labelling exercises have been subject to ridicule for some time. A friend of mine recently bought some goats' cheese that carried the warning 'Contains goats' milk' - a case in point. But if the UK government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) gets its way, the fad for daft food labels has only just begun.

On 16 November, the FSA announced that it has just completed its research into the colour-coding of food according to its levels of fat, saturates, sugar and salt, and has concluded that a 'Multiple Traffic Light' system is the way to go (1). If this goes ahead, consumers picking out their pizzas and ready-meals in supermarkets will be confronted with a brightly-coloured label on the front of the packaging advising how their proposed dinner scores on the healthy-eating chart. So a pizza, for example, might have a green light for saturates and sugar (good), and amber light for fat (don't make a habit of it) and a red light for salt (stop right there! Are you trying to poison your children?). And you thought a trip to the supermarket was wearing enough already.

What is behind this complicated colour-coding system for everyday foods? The FSA says it is about helping consumers make the choices they want to make. 'Consumers have told us that they would like to make healthier choices but find the current information confusing', said Deirdre Hutton, chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency. 'After carrying out rigorous and comprehensive research, we now have the makings of a system that will make it quicker and easier for people to do so.' Well, fine - but it seems pretty damned complicated to me. And it is far from clear whether the 2,600 people upon whom the FSA conducted its research really think that food traffic lights would make all the difference to their diets.

The FSA consulted about four possible 'signposting' schemes, of which the Multiple Traffic Light system was one. Another was a 'simple' traffic light system, where green meant healthy, amber meant okay and red meant unhealthy. Further options were a Colour Guideline Daily Amount (CGDA), listing the amount of fat, saturates, sugar and salt per serving against the Guildeline Daily Amount of that ingredient; and a monochrome version of this CGDA.

The option 'none of the above' does not seem to have been given. And when it came to which of those four limited choices the guinea pigs actually preferred, the majority opted for the Colour Guideline Daily Amount. But the FSA, in its infinite wisdom, has rejected this choice because one third of respondents from lower socio-economic and ethnic minority groups were apparently unable to use it to identify whether a food had high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Given that it is the eating habits of the poor that most bother the government, it couldn't just go with what most people wanted, if this meant failing to capture the ignorant oiks in the all-pervasive healthy eating message. And as Deirdre Hutton explained, the FSA is, in fact, less interested in making it easier for people to make their choices than in encouraging them to make the right choices. 'What we choose to eat is a personal matter, but we want to help people make informed choices for themselves about the content of their food', she said - making sure people know that it's red for STOP, and that they jump the lights at their peril. Simplistic? Very. Patronising? Oh yes.

However, the biggest problem with the forward march of the food traffic-light system is the way it seeks to package food in terms of risk, rather than nutrition. We are used to the food industry's attempts to brand its products as 'good' for you - for your heart, your energy levels, your cholesterol intake - and we tend to take these with a pinch of salt (no pun intended). But the traffic-light system seeks to categorise food according to how bad it is for you. Red means danger, and the best that can be said for the green-light products is that they are not as bad for you as the red ones. This is an unhealthy, and rather miserable, approach to the food we eat on an everyday level. In reality, food does not kill us, but keeps us alive. The FSA should remember that, before it starts plastering everything with warning labels and treating fat, salt and sugar like some kind of toxin.

And we should remember that the premise of this entire government-sponsored healthy eating crusade is founded on nothing more than prejudice. For all the authorities' simplistic prescriptions about eating five fruit and veg a day or banning chips in schools, there is no evidence supporting the contention that the precise foods we eat make a major difference to our health. It is telling that one of the FSA's proposed colour-coding schemes, the 'simple traffic lights' that coded foods as simply healthy, okay or unhealthy, was rejected as 'too basic' - whereas in fact, as any nutritionist or person with basic common sense could tell you, it's just wrong. The fact that a food is low in salt, sugar, and fat does not automatically make it 'healthy', and the consumption of foods high in fat, sugar or salt as part of a normal diet will not make you ill. (NB: 'Normal' does not mean eating a super-size burger and chips every day.) To encourage people to speculate increasingly about whether this or that particular food is good or bad for you, particularly when it comes to children, is a recipe for increasing our neurotic obsession with food.

The FSA has now launched a 12-week public consultation about exactly which foods should be signposted, and where on the packet this signposting should appear. It would be more useful if such a consultation asked people whether it is useful for a government to promote a widespread fear of food, and to cajole people into filling their shopping trolleys according to the inflexible orthodoxy of 'healthy eating'.


Monday, November 21, 2005


Bad diets costing the British taxpayer billions?

Panic: 'NHS picks up 6 billion pounds a year bill for our bad diet', reports today's Daily Telegraph. Researchers working in the British Heart Foundation (BHF)'s Health Promotion Group at Oxford University brought together figures on NHS costs broken down by disease, and compared them with figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which attribute percentages of each disease by cause. The main claim is that 'food-related ill health is responsible for about 10 per cent of morbidity and mortality in the UK and costs the NHS about 6 billion pounds annually'.

Don't panic: Even the researchers accept that their results are 'crude estimates', although they think they are probably reasonable. They are, nonetheless, estimates based on other estimates.

The headline figure sounds incredible until you realise that the NHS spent around 70 billion pounds in 2002, increasing to around 88 billion pounds in the current financial year. So while 6 billion pounds seems like a lot of money, it actually reflects the huge sums now spent on healthcare as much as it might be an indictment of our diets.

The figures still need to be treated with caution. They are based on WHO figures suggesting that diet contributes about 15 per cent of all life-years lost to death and disability. However, such estimates are prone to re-evaluation, as the embarrassingly massive downward revision in US obesity-related deaths earlier this year demonstrated. US health authorities produced a figure of 400,000 obesity-related deaths in 2004, but now the accepted figure is in the region of 75,000.

It's also worth noting that the category of '15 per cent' who die of 'bad diet' includes not just those who are overweight and obese (6.9 per cent) but also those who have a low fruit and vegetable intake (2.3 per cent) and consume a lot of saturated fats (6.4 per cent). Yet the links between ill-health and all three of these factors is much more controversial than is suggested by such bald estimates. All estimates of deaths from any lifestyle cause (smoking, eating, alcohol and so on) are produced by extrapolating risk factors from small studies, each with their own methodological problems, to whole populations. There is plenty of room for error in such an exercise.

Above all, it is laughable to suggest that all this death and illness would disappear if we all just switched to eating fruit and salads and avoided burger bars. But such news reports help groups like the British Heart Foundation to bang the drum in favour of greater levels of spending on their particular concerns.

The wickedness of salt

Panic: A report published this week suggests that people in Britain consume too much salt, and that reductions in salt intake could cause a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease. Why 6g? A Summary of the Scientific Evidence for the Salt Intake Target, produced by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), argues that a reduction in salt intake from current average levels of about 9.5g per day to the government's 6g per day target would lead to a predicted 13 per cent reduction in stroke and a 10 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease.

One of the report's authors, Dr Susan Jebb of the MRC, said: 'It is important for people to understand the links between salt and high blood pressure and to recognise the importance of reducing salt intake as part of broader lifestyle changes to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.'

Don't panic: While a link between salt intake and cardiovascular disease seems plausible, there is little direct evidence to support this report's assertion. High blood pressure is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Reducing salt intake seems to lower blood pressure for many people, although for some people it has no effect whatsoever - and for a few, leads to an increase in blood pressure.

However, little research has been done into the direct effect of salt intake on the risk of ill health. What we do know is that the human body is very adept at regulating salt levels in the blood so that excess salt is excreted. This capacity to adjust salt levels has been crucial to our ability to cope with changes in temperature and diet, and our ability to adapt to living in a very wide range of different climates. It seems that the government and medical researchers would prefer to downplay this sophisticated mechanism in favour of salt regulation by guideline.

Moreover, blanket advice to cut salt intake may even cause harm. Sudden changes in temperature, due to a heatwave, exercise or travel to a hot country, can cause those accustomed to milder temperatures to suffer sodium deficiency. The current obsession with cutting salt intake may increase this risk.

The data linking salt intake with health is contradictory - and if there is a positive benefit, it is likely to be small. Reducing salt may help the seriously hypertense, for whom any means of reducing blood pressure is beneficial. For the rest of us, reducing salt in our diet is more likely to lead to bland food than better health.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

What will they ban next? "Fans of organic raw milk are going to extremes to get their fix. Months after the state's only raw organic dairy was shut down, black-market buyer groups have emerged, drophouses are cropping up, and FedEx is making special deliveries to the Valley from California. ... State dairy regulators, also concerned about the health risks, enforce strict rules on raw-milk producers and sellers and are cracking down on illegal practices. Still, consumer demand is brisk. Nationally and in Arizona, people are breaking the law to get their hands on raw organic milk, claiming it is superior in health and taste to the pasteurized, homogenized milk found on the supermarket shelf. They swear it tastes like melted vanilla ice cream. 'It's like heroin right now,' said Tony Spaltro, a night manager at Gentle Strength Co-Op in Tempe, one of the few places Arizona consumers can purchase raw milk."

Stanford study: Playing music good for your brain: "Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading problems. The study, made public Wednesday, is the first to show that musical experience can help the brain improve its ability to distinguish between rapidly changing sounds that are key to understanding and using language. The research also eventually could provide the 'why' behind other studies that have found that playing a musical instrument has cognitive benefits. 'What this study shows, that's novel, is that there's a specific aspect of language ... that's changed in the minds and brains of people with musical training,' said researcher John Gabrieli, a former Stanford psychology professor now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge."


"If you eat too much cholesterol, or saturated fat, your blood cholesterol will rise to dangerous levels. Excess cholesterol will then seep through your artery walls causing thickenings (plaques), which will eventually block blood flow in vital arteries, resulting in heart attacks and strokes.... Scientific hypotheses don't get much simpler than this: the cholesterol, or diet-heart, hypothesis, which has broken free from the ivory towers of academia to impact with massive force on society. It has driven a widespread change in the type of food we are told to eat, and consequently the food that lines the supermarket shelves. Many people view bacon and eggs as a dangerous killer, butter is shunned, and a multi-billion pound industry has sprung up providing 'healthy' low-fat alternatives.

However, all is not what it seems. The cholesterol hypothesis can be likened to a cathedral built on a bog. Rather than admit they made a horrible mistake and let it sink, the builders decided to try and keep the cathedral afloat at all costs. Each time a crack appeared, a new buttress was built. Then further buttresses were built to support the original buttresses. Although direct contradictions to the cholesterol hypothesis repeatedly appear, nobody dares to say 'okay, this isn't working, time to build again from scratch'. That decision has become just too painful, especially now that massive industries, Nobel prizes, and glittering scientific careers, have grown on the back of the cholesterol hypothesis. The statin market alone is worth more than 20 billion pounds each year.

In reality, cracks in the hypothesis appeared right from the very start. The first of these was the stark observation that cholesterol in the diet has no effect on cholesterol levels in the bloodstream: 'There's no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we've known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn't matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.' Ancel Keys PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota 1997.

A bit of a blow to a cholesterol hypothesis, you might think, to find that dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol levels. However, as everyone was by then fully convinced that something rich and 'fatty' in the diet was the primary cause of heart disease, nobody was willing to let go.

So the hypothesis quietly altered, from cholesterol in the diet to saturated fat in the diet - or a bit of both. As if cholesterol and saturated fat are similar things. In reality, this could hardly be further from the truth. Saturated fat and cholesterol have completely different functions in the body, and they have very different chemical structures....

It is true that Ancel Keys appeared to have proven the link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease, but when it came to the major interventional trials, confirmation proved elusive. The MR-FIT trial in the USA was the most determined effort to prove the case. This was a massive study in which over 350,000 men at high risk of heart disease were recruited. In one set of participants, cholesterol consumption was cut by 42 percent, saturated fat consumption by 28 percent and total calories by 21 percent. This should have made a noticeable dent in heart disease rates.

But nothing happened. The originators of the MR-FIT trials refer to the results as 'disappointing', and say in their conclusions: 'The overall results do not show a beneficial effect on Coronary Heart Disease or total mortality from this multifactor intervention.'

In fact, no clinical trial on reducing saturated fat intake has ever shown a reduction in heart disease. Some have shown the exact opposite: 'As multiple interventions against risk factors for coronary heart disease in middle aged men at only moderate risk seem to have failed to reduce both morbidity and mortality such interventions become increasingly difficult to justify. This runs counter to the recommendations of many national and international advisory bodies which must now take the recent findings from Finland into consideration. Not to do so may be ethically unacceptable.' Professor Michael Oliver, British Medical Journal 1991

This quote followed a disturbing trial involving Finnish businessmen. In a 10-year follow-up to the original five-year trial, it was found that those men who continued to follow a low saturated fat diet were twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who didn't.

It is not as if this was one negative to set against a whole series of positive trials. In 1998, the Danish doctor Uffe Ravnskov looked at a broader selection of trials: 'The crucial test is the controlled, randomised trial. Eight such trials using diet as the only treatment has been performed but neither the number of fatal or non-fatal heart attacks was reduced.' As Ravnskov makes clear, no trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat.

Much more here

Saturday, November 19, 2005

New aphrodisiac: "A new inhaler-delivered love drug for women and men is threatening to better Viagra, putting anyone with sexual dysfunction in the mood, US media reported today. Sex experts said the drug, known as PT-141 and which is in final trials before US Food and Drug Administration review, will be the boon to women with desire woes that Viagra has been for millions of impotent men... PT-141 is a copy of the hormone that stimulates the melanocyte-receptors in the brain that play a role in sexual arousal. Unlike Viagra, which gets the blood flowing in men, PT-141 goes straight to work on the mind, in both sexes. "It affects the central nervous system," said Ms Berman. "It affects desire." In lab trials, female rats exposed to PT-141 immediately began seeking out male rats for sex. New York magazine reported that women who took part in trials within minutes felt a "tingling and a throbbing" along with "a strong desire to have sex". Men told the magazine a snort made them feel "younger and more energetic" as well as eager for sex. "You get this humming feeling," one man told the magazine. "You're ready to take your pants off and go."

New aphrodisiac: "A new inhaler-delivered love drug for women and men is threatening to better Viagra, putting anyone with sexual dysfunction in the mood, US media reported today. Sex experts said the drug, known as PT-141 and which is in final trials before US Food and Drug Administration review, will be the boon to women with desire woes that Viagra has been for millions of impotent men... PT-141 is a copy of the hormone that stimulates the melanocyte-receptors in the brain that play a role in sexual arousal. Unlike Viagra, which gets the blood flowing in men, PT-141 goes straight to work on the mind, in both sexes. "It affects the central nervous system," said Ms Berman. "It affects desire." In lab trials, female rats exposed to PT-141 immediately began seeking out male rats for sex. New York magazine reported that women who took part in trials within minutes felt a "tingling and a throbbing" along with "a strong desire to have sex". Men told the magazine a snort made them feel "younger and more energetic" as well as eager for sex. "You get this humming feeling," one man told the magazine. "You're ready to take your pants off and go."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Oral sex is bad for you: (Feels good, though) "Certain cases of mouth cancer appear to be caused by a virus that can be contracted during oral sex, a Swedish study shows. People who contract a high-risk variety of the human papilloma virus, HPV, during oral sex are more likely to develop mouth cancer, according to a study conducted at the Malmoe University Faculty of Odontology in southern Sweden. "You should avoid having oral sex," dentist and researcher Kerstin Rosenquist, who headed the study, told Swedish news agency TT. HPV is a wart virus that causes many cervical cancers".

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bones fix hearts? "Heart attack victims recover much more quickly if they are injected with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow. A study of more than 200 patients in Europe found those receiving stem cells had almost twice the improvement in their heart's pumping ability as patients given a placebo. Researchers from Goethe University in Germany said the new treatment not only limited damage to the heart but also regenerated heart cells. "The medications and interventional therapies available so far are intended only to limit further damage to the heart," said Andreas Zeiher, a professor at the university and senior author of the study. "In contrast, progenitor cell therapy has the potential not only to limit damage but to regenerate heart function.""

Monday, November 14, 2005

Keeping warm DOES help beat a cold: "Mothers and grandmothers the world over can feel vindicated today after their advice to "wrap up warm or you'll catch a cold" was backed by scientific research. For years the theory that chilling the surface of the body, through wet clothes, feet and hair, can lead to illness has been dismissed as an old wives' tale with no scientific basis. Now researchers from the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University appear to have shown that being chilly really can cause a cold to develop. Ron Eccles and Claire Johnson recruited 180 volunteers to take part in their five-day study during the city's common cold season. Half of the participants immersed their feet in bowls of ice-cold water for 20 minutes. The others sat with their feet in empty bowls. Over the next few days, almost a third of the chilled volunteers developed cold symptoms, compared with fewer than one in ten in the control group".

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Censored snacks

Panic: 'What's on your plate?' asks the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in a new campaign to encourage children to eat heathily. The campaign is accompanied by gruesome pictures, emblazoned with 'CENSORED', of what really goes into burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. (Those children fascinated to know what got censored can easily view the pictures on the BHF website, clearly appealing to those kids who enjoy being grossed out.)

The BHF argues that obesity levels in children are rising, and it quotes figures suggesting that a further 440,000 children will be overweight or obese within two years. Children can't eat well, say the BHF, if they don't know what goes into their food, noting that a third of the children they asked didn't know what chips were made of.

Don't panic: While there is evidence that the very overweight have an increased relative risk of heart disease, the precise causes of both heart disease and obesity remain elusive. Simplistic campaigns like this one only increase anxiety while doing little to improve health outcomes.

While the BHF feverishly campaigns against 'junk' food, it is worth noting the BHF's own report on cardiovascular disease (CVD), which notes that 'Death rates from CVD have been falling in the UK since the early 1970's. For people under 75 years, they have fallen by 36 per cent in the last 10 years'. Heart disease is the main cause of death in the UK but it overwhelmingly kills in old age.

As for our diets, there is no such thing as 'junk' food. All the foods mentioned by the BHF are perfectly nutritious. It is not healthy to eat one kind of food to the exclusion of others, but as long as there is some variety in the diet, children will generally thrive perfectly well on what some might consider 'crap'.

While many of the ingredients in 'junk food' may not look particularly appetising in their unprocessed state, this does not mean that they aren't nutritious. In a country not blessed historically with a wide range of foodstuffs, the imaginative use of the 'unattractive bits' has been central to British cooking. Much of what the BHF turns its nose up at, is served as haute cuisine at restaurants like St John in London.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Serbs line up for testicle shocks: "Men in Serbia are lining up to have electric shocks delivered to their testicles as part of a new contraceptive treatment. Serbian fertility expert Dr Sava Bojovic, who runs one of the clinics offering the service, said the small electric shock makes men temporarily infertile by stunning their sperm into a state of immobility. He said: 'We attach electrodes to either side of the testicles and send low electricity currents flowing through them. This stuns the sperm, effectively putting them to sleep for up to 10 days, which means couples can have sex without fear of getting pregnant.' ... Dr Bojovic added patients were now lining up at his fertility clinic in Novi Banovci for the shock treatment, as it had none of the problems attached to using condoms, the male pill or having a vasectomy. He added: 'We are hoping to have a small battery powered version on sale in the shops in time for Xmas.'"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Drug makes dummies smarter than normal: (But only in certain mice) "Scientists report that in mice, they have used a popular cholesterol drug to reverse attention deficits linked to the leading genetic cause of learning disabilities and mental retardation...The researchers bred mice bred to develop the disease, called neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), which affects an estimated one in 3,000 people. The results proved so hopeful, they said, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the drugs in three clinical trials currently under review to test their effect in people with NF1. If scientists understand this learning disability, they may be able to use the information to tackle a wide range of learning and memory problems, the researchers said.... A popular class of drugs called Statins, which lower levels of artery-clogging cholesterol in the blood, work by blocking the effects of certain fats. Because Ras requires fat to function, less fat results in less Ras, allowing normal learning to take place, Silva said.... Silva's lab tested the effects of statins on mice bred with the NF1 mutation. They displayed the same symptoms as people with NF1: attention deficits, learning problems and poor coordination. The NF1 mice on statins showed a 30 percent improvement in their ability to pay attention, outperforming normal mice, the researchers said. The treated mice also beat normal mice on a maze test."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Clever milk not so bright: "Lord Winston, the broadcaster and fertility doctor, has been accused by leading nutritionists of making unsubstantiated health claims about a new brand of milk as part of a 2 million pound advertising campaign. Winston, who has presented several medical and scientific series for the BBC, appears in advertisements for St Ivel Advance Omega-3 milk. In the presentation, Winston holds up a bottle of the product, which uses the slogan "clever milk". The adverts claim the milk may make children more intelligent because its additive, omega-3 fatty acid, which is normally found in fish, enhances concentration and learning. However, two British organisations responsible for evaluating claims about the health benefits of food insist there is no firm evidence that adding omega-3 to milk improves a child's intelligence."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Baldy gets his money back: "A Melbourne man with thinning hair has scored a major victory over hair regrowth company Ashley and Martin. Edward Burke, 29, of Prahran, was awarded a full refund of $1900 yesterday after a tribunal found the hair regrowth giant had deceived him. Mr Burke was induced into signing an eight-month contract with Ashley and Martin in May, after being promised results within three months, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found. Mr Burke gave evidence that during his initial meeting consultant David Booth used high-pressure, hard-sell tactics. "He said it was a severe case and I needed to be treated immediately or I would end up bald," he said. "He said if I didn't sign up on the day it would cost me an extra $800." Mr Burke told the tribunal he applied lotions and swallowed pills religiously for three months but saw no difference".

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Olive oil beats bowel cancer: "Olive oil could safeguard against one of the most deadly forms of cancer, researchers have claimed. Scientists at the University of Ulster found a mixture of compounds, called phenols, extracted from virgin olive oil could offer protection against colon cancer, the second highest cause of cancer fatalities in the US. Dr Chris Gill said the research - which used in vitro cell models - supported the long-held belief in the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil. "We found that incubation of one cancer cell line with increasing concentrations of olive oil phenols for 24 hours protected the cells from DNA damage," the scientist said. "The effect of olive oil phenols on another cell line after 48 hours of exposure suggested that they 'may exert an anti-promoter effect in the carcinogenesis pathway'." Olive oil is high in mono-unsaturated fat and a good source of antioxidants".

Sauerkraut prevents breast cancer! "Many find it to be the perfect companion to hot dogs and sausage, but new studies suggest that sauerkraut may have another beneficial side effect-it may protect women from breast cancer. Results from the U.S. component of the Polish Women's Health Study are showing an association between cabbage and sauerkraut consumption, and a constituent called glucosinolate, and a lower risk of breast cancer. The influence seemed to be highest among women who consumed high amounts beginning in adolescence and throughout adulthood."