Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Men who are heavy users of mobile phones have significantly lower sperm counts than those who are not, according to research that suggests radiation from handsets could be damaging male fertility. Both the quantity and quality of a man's sperm decline as his daily mobile phone use increases, a study of 361 infertility patients in the United States indicates. The greatest effects were seen among very heavy users who talked on a mobile phone for more than four hours a day. They produced about 40 per cent less sperm than men who never used a mobile phone at all. Smaller falls in sperm count were also found among those who used the phones less frequently.

The findings, from a team led by Ashok Agarwal, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, could indicate that the electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phone handsets are interfering with sperm production. Previous studies have shown that close and heavy exposure to this form of radiation damages sperm in the laboratory, though an effect has never been demonstrated convincingly outside this environment.

Other researchers, however, cautioned that the study showed only an association between mobile phone use and sperm counts, but established no causal link. It was more likely that heavy phone use was linked to another factor, such as stress or obesity, which was responsible for the effect, they said. "The findings seem pretty robust, but I can only assume that mobile phone use is a surrogate for something else," said Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield. "If you are holding it up to your head to speak a lot, it makes no sense it is having a direct effect on your testes. "Maybe people who use a phone for four hours a day spend more time sitting in cars, which could mean there's a heat issue. It could be they are more stressed, or more sedentary and sit about eating junk food getting fat. Those seem to be better explanations than a phone causing the damage at such a great distance."

Dr Agarwal, who presented the results yesterday at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in New Orleans, said that they were worrying because of the wide extent of mobile phone use. "Almost a billion people are using cell phones and the number is growing in many countries at 20 to 30 per cent a year," Dr Agarwal said. "People use mobile phones without thinking twice what the consequences may be. It is just like using a toothbrush but mobiles could be having a devastating effect on fertility. It still has to be proved, but it could have a huge impact because mobiles are so much part of our lives."

In the study, 361 men whose sperm was being analysed before fertility treatment were asked about their mobile phone use, and split into four groups: those who never used a phone, those who used a phone for less than two hours, two to four hours, and more than four hours a day. Median sperm counts were measured at 85.89 million per millilitre for non-users, 69.03 million for the second group, 58.87 million for the third and 50.30 million for the fourth. Sperm motility, or swimming ability, also fell as phone use increased, as did other measures of quality. "The main finding was that on all four parameters - sperm count, motility, viability and morphology - there were significant differences between the groups," Dr Agarwal said. "The greater the use of cell phones, the greater the decrease in these four parameters. That was very clear and very significant."

The results are similar to a previous study by researchers at the University of Szeged, in Hungary, which suggested a 30 per cent reduction in sperm count among men who kept a mobile phone on standby in their trouser pockets. The research, however, failed to control for lifestyle. Such controls are important because sperm production is sensitive to a number of factors, including obesity and heat: lorry drivers and travelling salesmen, for example, tend to have low sperm counts because the long hours that they spend sitting increases the temperature of their testes.

Dr Agarwal said that if the effect was caused by mobile phones, several explanations were possible. Studies have shown that electromagnetic fields can damage Leydig cells in the testes, and mobile phones are also known to cause a heating effect on tissue that may be hazardous to sperm. Both phenomena occur over short distances, so holding a phone to the head while speaking should not be dangerous.


The obvious explanation -- that infertile men need more social support -- seems not to have been considered


I remember vividly the first time I offended an American. I was living in New York at the time and feeling a bit homesick, so I dragged the US citizen in question to an expat fish’n’chip shop in Greenwich Village. There, I ordered the homesick Northerner special: a chip butty, smothered in a thick curry sauce — just like the butties I used to inhale at the bus stop in Alnwick on a school night.

My friend thought this was all very cute and, like, totally British, until she realised exactly what I was eating. “You put the French fries . . . in a bread roll?” she asked, her throat tightening. “And then you pour Indian sauce all over it?”

Through molten, brownish-green mouthfuls, I mumbled something about the Queen. “That might be okay in Britain, but it’s definitely not okay here,” she choked. “You have to get rid of it. Now.” When I realised she wasn’t joking — she began to dry retch loudly — I threw the butty away, half eaten.

It’s been a hard few years for us butty lovers in America. Not only have we had to contend with the Americans’ general lack of respect for British food — they’ll happily eat a Spanish empanada, but will vomit on command at the thought of a Cornish pasty — but we’ve also had to deal with the low-carb fad that has essentially outlawed the very staples of the British diet. Fancy a pub lunch of lasagne and chips? Not a chance.

A move from New York to Los Angeles simply made it worse. I found myself eating soyburgers with alfalfa sprouts, and drinking low-calorie lager, which, to quote the great Eric Idle, is like making love in a canoe: f*****g close to water.

It is, therefore, with a happy (but not necessarily healthy) heart that I bring you news of a breakthrough. Yes, carbs are back. A nutritionist from New Zealand has found that feasting on potatoes, rice and white bread at bedtime does not necessarily make you put on weight. Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture has tweaked its food pyramid to allow 9oz of various grains per day (and 3.5oz of veggies, which can include white potatoes). What’s more, the return of the carb has been trumpeted on this season’s trend-setting television show, Ugly Betty. Bread consumption, which suffered a 7.5 per cent decline between 1997 and 2003, is already on the rise.

The press, naturally, has gone wild. Profiles have been written about John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who created the British lunch when he was too busy gambling to stop for a meal (he asked instead to be served roast beef between two hunks of bread). Other publications have invited Americans to dust off their bread-making machines and start baking their own carbs, using everything from leftover vegetables to overripe fruit for extra flavour.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the reaction of The Los Angeles Times, which put together a full-page feature telling gourmands where to find the most carbtastic British treats. It recommended no fewer than 36 British themed pubs across LA, including joints called Scotland Yard, the Beckham Grill (it has wing back chairs!) and Lucky Baldwin’s, which is patronised by the rocket scientists of Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena.

The best-known pubs of the bunch, however, are Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica, where the paparazzi go drinking, and the Cat & Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard, where the same Ladies and Gentlemen of the British press play darts and eat Yorkshire puddings. The LA Times declared the Fiddle’s Scotch egg to be “iconic” and “hilarious but delicious with beer”. It also raved about the English bangers and the meat-filled pies. What it should have said, of course, is that it all tastes better when you’re cross-eyed and dribbling.

I’m hoping this is the start of a wider trend. After carbs, what else can make a comeback? Cigarettes? Snuff? Tinned meatballs? But I fear that our culinary heritage will be forever changed by the embrace of the carb loving Americans. The Whale & Ale pub in Long Beach, for example, is already serving a bastardised version of steak pie, filled instead with oysters. Inevitably, we will soon have to call this kind of thing “British-American” food.

As for the chip butty, I remain confident that there is absolutely nothing about this delicious abomination that can be tweaked to make it acceptable to LA yuppies. Which is probably why I haven’t been able to buy one since leaving New York.


Veggies good, fat good, fruit bad

I can't be bothered to poke holes in this bit of silliness

Vegetables are brain food, according to new US study showing vegies can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly. "Compared to people who consumed less than one serving of vegetables a day, people who ate at least 2.8 servings of vegetables a day saw their rate of cognitive change slow by roughly 40 per cent," study author Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago said. "This decrease is equivalent to about five years of younger age."

Researchers followed the eating habits of 3718 senior citizens over a six-year period and found that consumption especially of green leafy vegetables were linked to a slowing of cognitive decline. They also found that the older the person, the greater the impact of eating more than two servings of vegetables a day.

Researchers said they were surprised that fruit showed no link to reducing memory loss. "This was unanticipated and raises several questions," said Ms Morris. "It may be due to vegetables containing high amounts of vitamin E, which helps lowers the risk of cognitive decline. Vegetables, but not fruits, are also typically consumed with added fats such as salad dressings, and fats increase the absorption of vitamin E. Further study is required to understand why fruit is not associated with cognitive change.

The study is published in the October 24 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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


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