Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Australians unhappy?

I don't suppose many people take seriously reports such as the one below but in case they do, perhaps I should say that I don't believe the results at all. All the Australians I meet seem to be cheerful and friendly folk whereas the British are a chronically gloomy lot. Yet the survey below would have you believe the opposite. I suspect poor sampling. It was probably phone polling. With Australia's benign climate and strong outdoors orientation, maybe it was mainly gloomy losers who were at home to answer the phone in Australia. And maybe it was only rich and happy people who could afford a phone in Puerto Rico and Columbia

AUSTRALIA is 22nd in a survey of the world's happiest nations - one place below Britain and seven behind New Zealand. Denmark, with its strong welfare system and social equality, was the happiest country, University of Michigan researchers found.

Zimbabwe, torn by political and social strife, was the least happy, while the world's richest nation, the US, ranked 16th. Puerto Rico and Colombia came after Denmark, followed by Northern Ireland, Iceland and Switzerland.

Overall, the world was getting happier, the survey found. Increased happiness from 1981 to last year was detected in 45 of 52 countries analysed.


Tofu 'may raise risk of dementia'

I am not going to criticize this one. I enjoy the conclusion too much! Though I suspect that tofu eaters in the Western world are not too good mentally to start with

Eating high levels of some soy products - including tofu - may raise the risk of memory loss, research suggests. The study focused on 719 elderly Indonesians living in urban and rural regions of Java. The researchers found high tofu consumption - at least once a day - was associated with worse memory, particularly among the over-68s. The Loughborough University-led study features in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.

Soy products are a major alternative protein source to meat for many people in the developing world. But soy consumption is also on the increase in the west, where it is often promoted as a "superfood". Soy products are rich in micronutrients called phytoestrogens, which mimic the impact of the female sex hormone oestrogen.

There is some evidence that they may protect the brains of younger and middle-aged people from damage - but their effect on the ageing brain is less clear. The latest study suggests phytoestrogens - in high quantity - may actually heighten the risk of dementia.

Lead researcher Professor Eef Hogervorst said previous research had linked oestrogen therapy to a doubling of dementia risk in the over-65s. She said oestrogens - and probably phytoestrogens - tended to promote growth among cells, not necessarily a good thing in the ageing brain. Alternatively, high doses of oestrogens might promote the damage caused to cells by particles known as free radicals. A third theory is that damage is caused not by the tofu, but by formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in Indonesia as a preservative.

The researchers admit that more research is required to ascertain whether the same effects are found in other ethnic groups. However, previous research has also linked high tofu consumption to an increased risk of dementia in older Japanese American men.

Professor David Smith, of the University of Oxford, said tofu was a complex food with many ingredients which might have an impact. However, he said: "There seems to be something happening in the brain as we age which makes it react to oestrogens in the opposite way to what we would expect."

The latest study also found that eating tempe, a fermented soy product made from the whole soy bean, was associated with better memory. Professor Hogervorst said the beneficial effect of tempe might be related to the fact that it contains high levels of the vitamin folate, which is known to reduce dementia risk. "It may be that that the interaction between high levels of both folate and phytoestrogens protects against cognitive impairment." She also stressed that there was no suggestion that eating tofu in moderation posed a problem.

Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, which funded the study, said more research was needed to pin down the potential risks and benefits of so-called superfoods. However, she said: "This kind of research into the causes of Alzheimer's could lead scientists to new ways of preventing this devastating disease. "As over half a million people have Alzheimer's in the UK today, there is a desperate need to find a new prevention or cure."


New vitamin pill 'doubles' pregnancy rates

Utter crap

QUEENSLAND doctors are backing a new male fertility pill that claims to double pregnancy rates in infertile couples. The over-the-counter supplement Menevit contains seven anti-oxidants and minerals that experts believe can help boost sperm quality. Keith Harrison, Associate Professor of Queensland Fertility Group which carries out the majority of the state's fertility treatments, recommends all couples trying to conceive take the treatment. "The evidence is clear to us that the pill is beneficial to patients in getting pregnant and staying pregnant," Dr Harrison said.

The tablet, which costs $29.95 for a packet of 30, was developed by Australian scientist Kelton Tremellen from the University of Adelaide. It contains anti-oxidant vitamins C and E, and zinc, and works by neutralising free radicals in the body - caused by drinking and smoking - which lead to the breakdown of sperm.

One in six couples has trouble conceiving and male infertility is to blame in 30 per cent of cases. Brisbane obstetrician Gino Pecoraro, a spokesman for the Australian Medical Association, said the Menevit treatment looked promising. "We know that zinc has been shown to be useful in fertility and anti-oxidants play a big role in improving the production of quality sperm," Dr Pecoraro said.

But University of Melbourne fertility expert Hugh Baker and Melbourne in-vitro fertilisation specialist David Edgar criticised the trial in a letter to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. They wrote: "The trial provided no evidence that Menevit treatment improved embryo quality. "Large multi-centre double-blind placebo trials should be performed to confirm if this agent is beneficial before it is sold to patients." Scientists are now working to extend the trial.

Gold Coast couple Paul and Ros Jones tried for seven years to have a baby and are now pregnant after taking Menevit. "We tried IVF unsuccessfully for five years, so I think the supplement may have assisted us," Mr Jones said.


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