Friday, November 02, 2007

Here we go again

Another "expert panel", would you believe -- with TOTALLY predictable conclusions. The medical establishment has reasserted its current beliefs. A pity they regularly retreat from previous "wisdom", though. One has to laugh about the report being based on the "best 7,000" studies. Studies with pesky conclusions were no doubt excluded from being "best". The repeated finding that it is people of middling weight who live longest was obviously not "best", for instance

Being even slightly overweight can increase the risk of a range of common cancers including breast, bowel and pancreatic cancer, a landmark study has found. The largest review of links between diet and cancer, incorporating more than 7,000 studies, concludes that there is convincing evidence that excess body fat can cause at least six different types of the disease. The researchers give warning that everyone should be at the lower end of the healthy weight range.

Their recommendations include avoiding processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami or any other meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting; only consuming small amounts of red meat; moderate consumption of alcohol; and avoiding junk food and sweet drinks.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who chaired the expert panel assembled by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) to review evidence on the dietary causes of cancer, said he had been shocked to find that weight was so important. A report by the fund published ten years ago linked only one cancer to being overweight. Professor Marmot said the evidence now showed that at least six - cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, bowel, breast postmenopause, kidney and endometrium (womb lining) - were linked and that the risks were increased by even quite modest weight gains. The finding is particularly alarming, given the expanding girth of the British population. An official report last month gave warning that by 2050, 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and a quarter of all children could be clinically obese. A healthy weight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) below 25; BMI is calculated by dividing an individual's body weight in kilograms by the square of the height in metres.

Picture of a Marmot above. Is that you, Sir Michael?

Sir Michael said: "A BMI of 25 is fine, but it would be a bit finer if it was lower. The healthiest thing is to be as low as possible within the normal range." The report suggests moderation in the consumption of red meat, suggesting a limit of 500g (18oz) per person per week. A total avoidance of processed meats is recommended because of convincing evidence that eating meat increases the risk of colon cancer.

The WCRF report emphasises the benefits of exercise, for its direct effects on some cancers, and because it helps to prevent becoming overweight or obese. It made ten recommendations which do not, save in one case, conflict with advice given for the avoidance of other common causes of death, such as heart disease. The exception is alcohol, which Professor Marmot said had been shown to cut the risk of heart disease. For cancer prevention the optimum level is zero, but for heart disease it is two units a day for men and one for women, he said. The panel agreed that the levels set for minimum heart risk should be accepted.

The report is based on an analysis of cancer studies from around the world dating back to the 1960s. The initial trawl produced half a million studies, which was pared down to the best 7,000. The results were analysed by nine teams and then presented to a panel of twenty-one leading scientists for their recommendations. They looked at cancers at 17 different sites in the body and at a wide range of factors, mostly dietary, that can affect risk of developing the disease.

Professor Marmot said: "We are recommending that people aim to be as lean as possible within the healthy range, and that they avoid weight gain throughout adulthood. This might sound difficult but this is what the science is telling us more clearly than ever. The fact is that putting on weight can increase your cancer risk, even if you are within the healthy range."

Dairy foods, cheese, butter, coffee and fish get a clean bill of health. But sugary drinks - including fruit juices - can increase weight and are therefore not recommended. Nor are fast foods because they are energy-dense and lead to excess weight or obesity, which in turn increase cancer risks.

Professor Martin Wiseman, the project director, said: "This report's recommendations represent the most definitive advice on preventing cancer that has ever been available anywhere in the world."

Breast-feeding has a double benefit, the report says, protecting mothers against breast cancer and their babies against obesity. Mothers were advised to breastfeed exclusively for six months and to continue with complementary breastfeeding after that.

Dietary supplements for cancer prevention were not recommended, since there was evidence that at high doses they could have adverse effects. But selenium, in the diet or as a supplement, did appear to have benefits against lung, colon and prostate cancer.

Professor Mike Richards, the Government's clinical director of cancer, said: "The WCRF report is the most authoritative and exhaustive review done thus far on the prevention of cancer through food, nutrition and physical activity. For those of us wanting to lower our risk of developing cancer, it provides practical lifestyle recommendations."

Karol Sikora, Professor of Cancer Medicine at Imperial College School of Medicine, said: "The educational message for the public should be that there are healthy diets and unhealthy diets, but we should keep everything in perspective and not suggest rigid avoidance. Alcohol, red meat and bacon in moderation will do us no harm, and to suggest it will is wrong."

Chris Lamb, consumer marketing manager at the British Pig Executive, said that people should continue to eat bacon "in a responsible way as part of a balanced diet". Cancer was a "complicated subject" and could not be prevented simply by reducing intake of meat. "Two thirds of all cancers are not caused by diet. Just by addressing the meat issues, you are not necessarily going to prevent cancer," he said. Mr Lamb said that the average consumption of red meats was less than 500 grams per week in any case, so many people did not need to change their eating habits at all. He added that there were concerns amongst farmers that sales of processed meats could fall as a result of the report. "That is obviously a potential at the end of the day, but we're hoping that consumers will think about being responsible in overall terms.


It's time to stand up to birth correctness

WHEN are the birth police going to stop making pregnant women feel guilty for using modern medicine to bring their baby into the world? Yesterday, we woke up to news from the British Medical Journal that women who have caesareans double the risk of death and illness to themselves and their baby. And this week, British home-birth guru Sheila Kitzinger is in Australia to scare pregnant women across the country into believing that only a "natural" birth is a good birth, and the best birth is at home.

Let's take the study first. I would have thought it was pretty obvious that women who have caesareans have more problems. That's the whole idea of caesareans. Most women end up having a caesarean because their planned vaginal birth went horribly wrong and the doctor needed to get the baby out - now. That sort of drama does tend to double the risk of death and illness to mother and baby. It's hardly rocket science. Women who opt for caesareans for social rather than medical reasons areas, the too-posh-to-push brigade, are the very, very small minority.

But I'm sure the Kitzinger devotees will seize on this study as yet another reason to blame evil doctors for wanting to cut babies out of their mothers so they can make their Wednesday golf game. Many women have been brainwashed into feeling traumatised and unable to bond with their babies because they didn't slip out with just the help of aromatherapy oil massages and deep breathing.

I was once under the spell of this cult. I believed with a religious intensity that I had to have a drug-free, natural birth. In my first pregnancy, I read every Kitzinger book and wrote out a drug-free birth plan that would guarantee me Earth Goddess bragging rights among my friends. Unfortunately, the baby hadn't read it and got awkwardly stuck after I'd laboured 18 long hours the Kitzinger way. When the anaesthetist arrived to give me an epidural for the dreaded "intervention" I felt a failure as a mother. If I couldn't even give birth right, how was the poor thing going to survive the next 20 years?

Luckily, once I saw the baby, I saw the light. Who cares how he came out? He was there, he was healthy and it was bloody fantastic. Nothing else mattered.

But ask around any new mother's group and you'll hear still hear plenty of victim stories. "I felt so violated when I had to have a caesarean"; "I felt a failure when they had to use the forceps", and all said while they bounce their healthy babies on their knees. Don't these women put two and two together?

Maybe some doctors do opt for a caesarean a little earlier than they used to. But no wonder they err on the side of caution when so many people are so quick to sue unless the end result is a perfect baby. It's time we pushed out a new birth message to counteract the zealots, who want to take us back to the good old days when everyone gave birth naturally and lots of women and children died. A successful birth is when mother and child are healthy. Period.

How the baby came out, and what the mother used to deal with the pain, are irrelevant. It's just one day, for goodness sake. Get it into perspective. There are so many opportunities to feel real guilt when you are a mother. Don't start feeling guilty on your first day on the job.



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].

And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This idea emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.


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