Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Low-carb diets may hit levels of folate

Once again slimming is bad for you

A disturbing drop in the blood folate levels in young American women, which could lead to increased birth defects, may be a result of the growing popularity of low-carb diets. Government health officials said yesterday that, while it was unclear what had caused the slide in the important B vitamin, diet trends could well be a factor.

A Centre for Disease Control and Prevention study released yesterday found an 8 to 16 per cent decline in folate levels in US women of childbearing age, according to large blood-drawing surveys done between 1999 and 2004. It is not clear how the decline has affected newborns, but preliminary data suggest the dramatic declines in neural tube defects seen in the late 1990s may have levelled off by 2004, CDC officials said. "This is a cause of substantial concern," said Nancy Green, medical director for the March of Dimes, which campaigns for birth defects prevention.

It is the first time such a decline has been seen since the start of government health campaigns urging women to make sure they get enough folic acid. Years ago, scientists concluded that folate deficiencies contributed to the occurrence of serious birth defects of the spine and brain, known as neural tube defects. The Government has long urged women to eat cereals and breads fortified with folic acid to prevent birth defects. By the late 1990s, the fortification campaigns were succeeding: folate levels increased, and neural tube defects dropped by as many as 1000 a year.

CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the study Joseph Mulinare said that in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring that folic acid be added to breads, cereals and other products that use enriched flour. Whole-grain breads did not count because they already contain some folate.

Low-carb diets have increased in popularity since 2000. Women who avoided flour and bread products for their carbohydrates may have also taken in less folic acid, Mulinare said.

Increasing obesity rates among young women could also be a factor. Research has found obese people metabolise folate differently from thinner folk, and some doctors believe heavier women need more folic acid to prevent neural tube defects.

The decline was most pronounced in white women, although black women continue to be the racial group with the least folate in their blood.


Pregnancy test gives doctors more time to detect condition that kills

Protein points to pre-eclampsia risk; Breakthrough could lead to a cure

A simple test for pregnant women could predict a serious complication weeks in advance. A team led by British scientists has developed the test for pre-eclampsia, which causes 22,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year. Until now the first signs of the condition were the symptoms: large increases in blood pressure, headaches, blurred or altered vision, abdominal or shoulder pain, nausea and vomiting, confusion, shortness of breath and excessive swelling of the hands and feet.

The only treatment is careful monitoring, and early induction of birth if the symptoms become dangerous. Doctors balance the interests of the baby — which does better the longer it stays in the womb — with the threat to the mother’s life. As soon as she has given birth, the symptoms subside.

A team led by Thomas Rademacher, of University College London, has found that testing for the presence of a protein called inositol phosphoglycan P-type in the urine gives a reliable indication that the condition is developing.

They compared the levels of the protein in the urine of 27 women who developed pre-eclampsia with 47 who did not. They found that the women who developed pre-eclampsia had levels of the protein several times greater than those who did not. The increases were detectable before symptoms appeared, up to seven weeks earlier in some cases, the team reports in Hypertension.

It is not known whether the protein is responsible for triggering the condition, but this seems possible. If so, the discovery could open the way to developing more effective treatments.

Professor Rademacher said: “Being able to predict the onset of this disease has been the single greatest challenge in obstetric medicine.

“Pre-eclampsia is the most common of the serious complications that can occur during pregnancy and affects millions of women and children. It is a particular problem in the developing world, where treatment is less readily available.

“Our research has identified that the presence of inositol phosphoglycan P-type is a reliable indicator of whether a pregnant woman will develop PE. Now a reliable diagnostic test has been developed, this paves the way for identifying new treatments.”

Pre-eclampsia affects about 5 per cent of pregnancies. It can occur any time during pregnancy, but normally appears in the last three months.

Worldwide, the condition affects more than seven million pregnancies a year and causes 22,000 maternal deaths. More rarely, it can develop into eclampsia, which affects 700,000 pregnancies a year, leading to 43,000 maternal deaths.

“PE is presently only curable by delivery,” Professor Rademacher said. “In many cases clinicians must deliver a baby in order to save its mother’s life, even if this means the baby is born prematurely.”

PE arises when the placenta releases a toxin, causing the mother’s blood pressure to rise sharply. If it develops into eclampsia it can cause seizures and she may lapse into a coma.



Even politicians tell the truth sometimes

The minister in charge of the food industry in Britain has divided the farming community by saying that there is no conclusive evidence that organic food is healthier than food produced conventionally.

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, told The Sunday Times that eating organic food came down to "a lifestyle choice" and that shoppers should not regard non-organically produced food as second best. "It [organic food] is only 4 per cent of total farm produce, not 40 per cent, and I would not want to say that 96 per cent of our farm produce is inferior because it's not organic."

There has been a reported 30 per cent rise in sales of organic food in the past year, to about 1.6 billion pounds. Organic Farmers & Growers said: "It's not just about health. It's about producing food in a way that is sympathetic to the environment and which enhances the countryside."



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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