Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Expanding lifespans make health doomsters look absurd

Most of the oldsters discussed below would have grown up on a diet heavy in animal fat, salt, sugar and just about everything the food freaks deplore

WHEN Judy Meade turned 50 she bought herself a speedboat and learnt to water-ski. That was 50 years ago. This year she marked her 100th birthday with a regular glass of red wine and a few choice remarks about those who feel sorry for the aged. "I haven't seen a doctor in years," said the Atlanta-based widow. "I don't believe in them. They haven't done a darn thing for me. There really isn't anything difficult about being 100."

As a centenarian in rude health, Meade is far from being unusual. America is beginning to wake up to a demographic revolution that is forcing officials to redefine old age and life expectancy. As the 20th century's postwar baby-boom generation edges towards retirement, scientists are predicting explosive growth in the segment of the population aged 100 or older. There are currently more than 80,000 centenarians in America; by 2050 there will be more than 1m.

Despite a constant drumbeat of warnings that everything we eat is contributing to our imminent demise, recent studies have confirmed that human longevity is steadily expanding, especially in the country that invented the fat-clogged cheeseburger. "The centenarians we are studying disprove the perception that `the older you get, the sicker you get'," said Dr Thomas Perls of the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting the world's largest research project into the health and lives of 100-year-olds. He added: "Centenarians teach us that the older you get, the healthier you've been."

In a study of 800 centenarians and around 700 of their siblings and children, Perls and his team found that neither education nor socio-economic status played a significant role in living to 100. "Some have no years of school, others have postgraduate degrees. They are very poor to very rich. They are strictly vegetarian or have diets extremely rich in saturated fats," he said.

Yet several important patterns have emerged. Men who live to 100 tend to have lower than average blood pressure and are almost always lean. Most centenarians never smoked, and those who did gave up on average in their late fifties. But a few, like Meade in Atlanta, still smoke up to two packs a day.

The Boston study also found that women who give birth naturally after the age of 40 have a four times greater chance of living to 100 than other women. Bearing a child in your 40s may be a sign that the body is ageing slowly, Perls said.

Dementia is not inevitable. The study found that 30% of centenarians had no significant changes in their thinking abilities. A separate study of 100 centenarians by a nursing home chain found that 27 liked to watch the MTV music channel, 15 played video games, and four knew how to use an iPod.

The last US Census revealed that there are already 1m Americans aged 90-94. Improvements in health care will enable many of those to reach three figures, but there is one statistical imbalance that science has not yet been able to correct. At the age of 85, there are only 46 men for every 100 women. Centenarian romance has been found to be rare.


Flesh-eating bacterium on rapid rise in Victoria

The original heading on this article referred to a "virus". Should journalists who obviously don't know the most basic things about biology be reporting on health-related matters? A bacterium is NOT a virus, nor anything like it. It is about as intelligent as saying a cat is a fungus

HUNDREDS of Victorians each year are contracting a virulent flesh-eating bug described by scientists as "the most dangerous in the world". More than 300 Victorians fell victim to the invasive 'A' streptococcal disease during a two-year period of a study and 25 of them died.

Medical experts want the disease to become a reportable condition in Victoria. Australian streptococcal expert Prof Jonathon Carapetis, who led the study, said people in Victoria were not being protected against the spread of the bacteria. "There is a strong case that people who come in contact with streptococcal patients are at risk," he said. "They should be given antibiotics to prevent contracting the nasty bug, as is done with those who come in contact with meningococcal - and they are not. "We also believe that immuno globulin and clindamycin can stop the bacteria, but most people are not being given these drugs."

The disease particularly affects children under five, pregnant women and the elderly. One of the victims in the study was a two-year-old child, with a history of a sore throat, who died of streptococcal bacteraemia.

Prof Carapetis said the Victorian health department needed to make it a notifiable disease because Victorians were at risk. "It has been around for decades and we suspect in that time there have been many more severe cases," he said.

The study, between 2002 and 2004, tracked the number of serious strep cases found in hospitals and GP's surgeries in Victoria. Of the 25 victims, five died from necrotising fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) caused by the streptococcal bacteria and 11 died from toxic shock because of overwhelming infection.


Goji berry fad a fraud

THEY are extolled as a "miracle food" with powers to prevent cancer, heart disease and obesity. But experts warn trendy goji berries are nothing more than an expensive and cleverly marketed fruit. The dried red berries and juice have become the latest nutrition fad to hit Australia, flying off shelves in health food shops, supermarkets and shopping centre stalls.

They are not cheap, at up to $34 per 500g packet and $70 for a one-litre bottle. Yet suppliers say sales are sky-rocketing, with one company reportedly making $4 million in sales per month. According to marketing, the berry is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world, has anti-ageing properties and can help everything from cellulite and diabetes to impotence.

But the NSW Food Authority forbids distributors from making any health claims about goji berries, which are usually imported from Tibet or China. Kathy Chapman, a nutritionist with the Cancer Council NSW, said consumers should be aware goji berries do not have special benefits that you can't get from other fruit and vegetables. "The people who probably get most pulled in are those who have cancer, as they want to do everything they can to improve survival," she said. "But you can't say that goji berries will do that any better than any other fruit and vegetables."

Christopher Cooper, general manager in the Pacific region for goji juice distributor FreeLife, said his company had to be vigilant to stop eager distributors from making health claims about the berry. "A lot of Hollywood celebrities are name-dropping in relation to our products," Mr Cooper said. "There is a bit of a euphoria about goji juice, which for us is terrific, but we are not driving it. "We are doubling our sales every few months and making $4 million a month in sales of Himalayan Goji Juice."

The NSW Food Authority is currently investigating the activities of companies marketing the juice to ensure compliance with Australian food standards rules.



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 and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they 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.


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