Monday, January 01, 2007


It has been a gluttonous few weeks. The parties, the chocolates, the mince pies - all capped with that 6,000-calorie Christmas Day feast. A January detox sounds sensible. A chance to purge those toxins, burn away the flab and give our furred arteries a well earned break.

Millions of us will be making just such a resolve today as we prepare for New Year's Eve and one last night of hedonistic indulgence. If, however, you are thinking of joining that bandwagon then you may be about to suffer in vain. After sponsoring one of the biggest nutritional research programmes of its kind, the BBC is set to debunk the notion of detoxing, together with a list of other food myths.

"The detox diet idea is nonsense," said Nigel Denby, a dietician at Queen Charlotte's hospital in west London, who worked on the BBC's detox experiment. "Our research has confirmed what medics have long suspected: that our bodies are extremely efficient machines for doing all the detoxing needed and they don't need much extra help."

The BBC's six-part series The Truth About Food will set out the results of dozens of scientific experiments commissioned to test popular beliefs about food. Can, for example, foods really make you feel sexy? Some can, it appears - but not the ones you might think. (Forget oysters and chocolate, think garlic instead.)

The new series, supported with a book, is not the only thing that will keep food in the headlines throughout January. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is also to hit the airwaves with advertisements promoting its traffic light labelling system for packaged foods. The voluntary system, which puts a red warning blob on foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar is driving junk food retailers and manufacturers such as Tesco, Kellogg's and Nestl‚ to distraction. They are expected to launch their own television counter-blast.

Neville Rigby, policy director at the International Obesity Task Force, said: "The labelling of food has been confusing consumers for too long. The FSA's new traffic light system is the first attempt to give consumers clear, simple information that they can use to make simple decisions about which foods to buy. It would give consumers an easy way of spotting foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar - and that is why the industry is so set against it. It will be a hard-fought battle."

All this comes as Ofcom, the communications regulator, is preparing to implement its long discussed ban on television advertising for junk food before the 9pm watershed. That could see advertisements for up to 75% of breakfast cereals and other products aimed at children being taken off the air.



Women who have difficulty conceiving will be able to benefit from a new method of IVF that is cheaper and safer than conventional fertility treatments, doctors say. Clinical trials in Denmark have shown that a pioneering technique known as in-vitro maturation (IVM) has a success rate of 30 per cent, comparable to standard IVF procedures. The patient, however, does not have to take expensive fertility drugs that can carry serious side-effects.

With conventional IVF doctors stimulate the release of mature eggs using hormone drugs and collect them during a woman's monthly cycle before fertilising them in the laboratory with a man's sperm. The IVM method involves taking undeveloped eggs from ovaries and maturing them in the laboratory before fertilisation, while using hardly any drugs or no drugs at all.

More than 400 healthy babies have so far been born to women using the technique, which could reduce the cost of fertility treatment by up to half and give thousands more women the chance to conceive. Professor Svend Lindenberg, a Danish scientist who has helped more than 1,000 women become pregnant using IVM, told a London fertility conference that the process had now achieved "stunning results". "We have demonstrated that it is possible to take an egg and fertilise it without having to use the heavy-duty drug approach," he said. "We are achieving results that are better than nature and as good as high-stimulation IVF, without the risk of potentially life-threatening ovarian hyperstimulation and, of course, saving thousands of pounds per cycle in the cost of drugs."

Professor Lindenberg, who works at the Nordica Fertility Centre in Copenhagen, explained: "We give a very low dose of a stimulating drug for three days early in the cycle and rescue up to ten eggs. For the first 24 hours a tiny amount of stimulating hormone is added to the culture, in fact one hundreth of the dose the woman would receive, and after that the eggs go on to mature in the culture alone."

Under present IVF methods many women have been reluctant to donate their eggs for IVF because the drugs they must take can lead to life-threatening complications and an increased risk of cancer.

The demand for donor eggs is huge - potential recipients outnumber donors by two to one in Britain. In Denmark the move to IVM has been driven by women who are reluctant to take drugs, often because the problem lies with the male partner and not themselves, Professor Lindenberg said.

The technique is not suitable for all women; it works best in those who are under 37 years of age, have regular cycles or polycystic ovary syndrome, where women frequently fail to ovulate naturally. "This is part of a worldwide move against high-dose stimulation IVF," Professor Lindenberg said. There was now no excuse to continue giving women high dosages of stimulation to the detriment of their health and their financial and emotional wellbeing.

IVM has previously been successful in creating animal embryos but the process has only recently been tried on human eggs. It was originally developed by Bob Edwards who, with Patrick Steptoe, were resposible for Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby. It has been made easier by the development of finer needles to aspirate the eggs from an ovary and new scanning techniques that now show doctors the best follicles to select when seeking eggs to remove.



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].

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 use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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