Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ho hum! A "new" but old THEORY: Too much junk food `raises the risk of cancer and dementia'

The idea that junk food leads to insufficient micronutrient intake is sure to be popular among the do-gooders but is unproven garbage. There are usually half a dozen different foods in a hamburger and all are common dietary constituents: Meat, bread, lettuce, tomato, pickle etc. If such foods are inadequate, we are all going to DIE!

And note again that Australians eat all the "wrong" foods in great quantities but have exceptionally long life expectancies. Pesky!

Eating too much junk food may contribute to cancer, dementia, stroke and other diseases through a lack of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients in the diet, according to a new theory. Professor Bruce Ames, of the Children's Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, California, believes that many common disorders associated with ageing can be traced in part to poor diet earlier in life. The research that he presented to the conference yesterday suggested that taking regular multivitamin supplements could protect against some bad effects of micronutrient deficiencies.

This idea is contradicted by other studies that have shown little benefit to health in taking vitamin and mineral supplements, suggesting that they are no substitute for a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

Professor Ames emphasised that his idea was theoretical and he accepted that much more work into the effects of supplements was needed to provide sound medical advice. He said that shortages of 15 micronutrients, including magnesium and vitamin D, had been associated with greater levels of DNA damage to cells and a raised risk of cancers.

Fifty-six per cent of Americans obtained less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium from their diets; 12 per cent consumed insufficient zinc; and most African-Americans were deficient in vitamin D, which was mainly synthesised by exposure to sunlight and was often lacking in people with dark skins who were living at higher latitudes. "Most of the world's population, particularly the poor, has inadequate intake of one or more micronutrients that a varied and balanced diet should provide," he said. "Social concern is low because no overt pathology has been associated with these levels of deficiency."

Whereas serious vitamin or mineral deficiencies had symptoms, such as scurvy for vitamin C and ricketts for vitamin D, mild shortages generally had none. Professor Ames said that it was possible that the body compensated for such shortages by rebalancing metabolism, so that individuals stayed alive for the short term at the cost of their long-term health. "The consequences of this homoeostatic response are, for example, DNA damage (future cancer), adaptive immune dysfunction (future disease), and mitochondrial decay (future cognitive dysfunction and accelerated ageing)," he said. "Much evidence supports this idea that micronutrient shortages accelerate ageing."


Herbal hope for Alzheimers?

A jar of browny-green goo is all it took to end Dr Stephen Minger's doubtsabout whether traditional Chinese medicine could teach anything to Western science. When a colleague walked into the leading stem cell scientist's lab at King's College London with a Chinese remedy that he believed could boost brain cell growth, and asked if he could test his theory on some neurons that Dr Minger had grown in his lab, he wasn't keen.

"My first thought was `you're not putting that on my cells'. But it turned out to be amazing stuff. It really stimulated the cells to grow; they grew like weeds," recalls Dr Minger, the ponytailed scientist who has has been in the spotlight since 2003, when his team created the UK's first lab-grown human embryonic stem cells. These are the "blank-slate" cells that have the power to turn into any cell of the body and may be key in producing more effective treatments for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.

But for all of his scientific credentials, Dr Minger is about to step out of the conventional and into the alternative. At the time of the "green-goo" incident, neither he nor his colleague had the time or money to investigate further the ancient remedy that produced such an astonishing effect. But the experience stayed with Dr Minger and he began to view Chinese medicine in a different light. If its remedies could make brain cells grow, could they help to treat diseases that destroy the brain such as Alzheimer's?

Now the Government has asked him to head a two-year project aimed at strengthening links between UK and Chinese scientists. He immediately thought of using the project as a way of probing the ancient cures of traditional Chinese medicine, often referred to as TCM, to see if they can be converted into modern treatments.

The project starts this month. Dr Minger will fly to Shanghai to bring together Alzheimer's scientists in the UK with Chinese researchers in the hope of mining TCM for new medicines for the disease. He believes that the traditional system, based on energy flow in the body, yin and yang, anecdotal evidence and treatments made from ground-up plant and animal products, can help evidence-based Western medicine. So do many drug developers in the West who are turning their attention to TCM in the hope that the thousands of remedies in its armoury may have tangible biological and therapeutic effects. "I think there are clearly active ingredients in some of these plant extracts which have potent biological effects," says Dr Minger. "It's not that surprising when you look at the fact that Taxol, a cancer treatment, originally came from yew, and aspirin from willow. Assuming that this project works, TCM could represent a whole new class of drugs that no one has had access to before."

He believes that there is a pressing need for new Alzheimer's treatments. "It is such a huge healthcare burden; it's projected to bankrupt most Western countries in the next 50 years. There are almost no therapies and the existing ones work only on a subset of people. Plus, in most cases, they only slightly slow the progression of the disease." Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, agrees that looking for potential cures in Chinese medicine could open up new avenues of treatment. "It's always worth looking at the unusual. We shouldn't assume we've got all the answers here. Just because something is traditional doesn't mean that it doesn't have active compounds in it."

In fact, experts estimate that one in four prescription medications used in the UK was originally developed from plants. Dr Paul Francis, a neuroscientist at King's College London and one of the Alzheimer's researchers who will join Dr Minger in China, points out that even some of the conventional Alzheimer's medications prescribed in the UK started off as shrubs. "If you look at the three drugs currently available, one of them came from daffodils and snowdrops," he says. Further, many current conventional treatments are based on Chinese herbal remedies, including a possible treatment for dementia.

In recent years the Chinese Government has invested huge sums into investigating whether its vast library of traditional remedies can be converted into orthodox treatments. "The Chinese are very committed to this," says Dr Minger. "They have state-run labs that are doing nothing except investigate TCM."

But developing conventional drugs from these ancient cures is not an easy process as a single remedy can contain many different plant ingredients. How do you know which one is responsible for the curative effect, and is this effect due to one ingredient or a combination?

The process starts with scientists identifying a remedy that they think may have therapeutic potential. Using modern technology - and working by a process of elimination - they test each fraction of the remedy for biological activity, discarding the pieces that have no effect. They continue until they have sieved the remedy down to a point where only a few chemical constituents remain, which they deduce must be the ones that elicit the therapeutic effect. Artificial copies of the active chemical are then made and tested on patients in clinical trials.

But why can't they just give patients the traditional remedies in their native form? Because, Dr Francis says, they are not guaranteed to have any medicinal effect, and, more importantly, they may be dangerous. No two traditional remedies are the same, he says, unlike a pharmaceutical treatment where each pill has an identical composition. The remedies also need to undergo conventional scientific testing to make sure that they won't interact with other medication. This involves a barrage of safety tests, test-tube studies and, eventually, trials in patients. "Any chemical, even a natural chemical, can have side-effects," says Dr Francis.

Dr Minger, who believes that East-West scientific collaborations are the way forward for UK researchers, says that he may also use it to investigate whether TCM holds any potential treatments for cancer. "China is going like gang-busters, particularly if you're thinking in terms of medicine and pharmaceuticals. In many cases their labs are as good, if not better, than labs here or in the US. A lot of Chinese scientists also are moving back. When you ask them why, they say it's too good a place not to be right now."

Does Dr Minger anticipate any culture clashes? "Most of the Chinese guys are Western-trained so it's not that difficult to work together," he says. Plus, much of their science is regulated to the same level as UK science. The only potential problem he sees is the traffic. "It takes for ever to get anywhere. When you're scheduling something, you have to pack in so much extra time to get from one place to another." And he has learnt from the green goo incident how important it is to have no preconceptions. "I think it just takes a little bit of open-mindedness



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].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that 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.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

"What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


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