Friday, October 31, 2008

Doctors 'unknowingly favour whites'

What absurd data! An internet survey! You could hardly get more unrepresentative data if you tried! The study proves nothing

Doctors subconsciously favor whites over blacks, US researchers said today in a finding that may explain widespread racial disparities in health care in the US. A long line of studies have found that US blacks get inferior care for cancer and a variety of other ailments compared to whites but experts concerned about the disparities have struggled to understand why.

"This supports speculation that subtle race bias may affect health care, but does not imply that it will," said Janice Sabin of the University of Washington in Seattle, who presented the study at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in San Diego. Ms Sabin said it was too early to know if there was a direct link between the findings and the quality of care delivered to blacks in the US. She said the findings reinforce other studies showing racial bias is common in the general population. "But we have to remember people are not racist if they hold an implicit bias," she said.

Ms Sabin used data from a study of more than 400,000 people who took an online test between 2004 and 2006 about their attitudes on race. More than 2500 of the test-takers said they were doctors. [But were they?]

Rather than overt racism, the test looks for subconscious signs of bias by asking a series of questions. For example, people were asked to quickly say whether photos of blacks and whites were positive or negative. "We don't call what these tests show prejudice. We talk about it as hidden bias or unconscious bias, something that most people are unaware they even possess," said Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington, who created the test and helped with the study.

Overall, 86 per cent of people who took the test said they lived in the US. Out of 2535 physicians, 76 per cent said they were U.S. residents. Of the entire sample, 69 per cent said they were white, while 66 per cent of those who said they were doctors identified themselves as white. Doctors in all racial and ethnic groups showed an implicit preference for whites versus blacks except for black doctors, who did not favour either group.

"The implicit bias effect among all the test-takers is very strong," Ms Sabin said. "People who report they have a medical education are not different from other people, and this kind of unconscious bias is a common phenomenon." Ms Sabin said the study shows diversity training should be a part of medical education in the US.

Studies have shown blacks in the US are more likely than whites to die from diabetes, strokes, heart attacks and cancer. Some studies have shown this disparity persists when incomes, education and insurance coverage are equal. [And other studies have shown no difference]


Fat kids heavily persecuted in Britain

Some kids are just naturally fat. It's in their genes

At least seven morbidly obese children were taken into care last year by social services. [i.e. removed from their families]. A boy of six who was seriously overweight, a girl of seven with a Body Mass Index three times higher than normal, and an eight-year-old girl who weighed nine stone, were among those taken from their parents. They were joined by a boy of 12 from London who had a BMI of 28 to 60 per cent above the 17.5 average for his age.

The figures were released by councils following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Dr Colin Waine, former head of the National Obesity Forum Charity, said more needed to be done to monitor vulnerable children before social services were forced to intervene.

Meanwhile, health minister Dawn Primarolo has hailed Disneyland for offering healthy side dishes in its fast food outlets. Ms Primarolo told the Food Standards Agency she wanted to see all food outlets 'making healthy choices a default option'. She also praised Tesco for using the characters Tigger and Mickey Mouse to promote fresh fruit, juice, cereal and yoghurts.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Raunchy red?

This would almost certainly apply to first impressions only

Forget that little black dress. Gentlemen really prefer a lady in red. As actress Kelly Brook knows only too well. Blushing in shades of crimson, scarlet or deep rose, a girl is regarded as prettier and more desirable, research shows. She is also more likely to be asked out on a date - and have more money lavished on her during the outing.

What is more, men seem completely oblivious to the effect that a glimpse of red can have on their emotions. The researchers said it appeared they were driven by primal instincts that associate the colour with sex. The study, carried out at the University of Rochester in the U.S., involved a series of experiments in which men were shown a photo of a 'moderately attractive' young woman. In some cases, the colour of the border framing the picture was changed, in other cases the colour of the woman's blouse varied. Red, blue, green, grey and white were tested. In all cases, red was judged the most attractive. The men were much more likely to ask out a woman wearing red. And they estimated they would spend almost twice as much on her as one in blue. Despite the clear effect, the men insisted colour played little role in their choices, suggesting they were oblivious to the power of red.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, claims to provide the first hard evidence of 'society's enduring love affair with red'. From the red body paints used in ancient fertility rituals, to the phrase 'red light district' and the red hearts of Valentine's Day, the colour has long been associated with romance. In the animal world, red often signals a female is at her most fertile, with female baboons and chimps blushing conspicuously at this time.

Men are not alone in being attracted to red. The research suggests a man in scarlet is just as irresistible to women.


Scientists discover how to switch obesity cells off

Hurray! Soon we will all be able to eat like hogs and still stay slim -- or have I got the wrong angle on this?

A WORLD-first breakthrough by Melbourne scientists could give them the ability to switch off fat, fuelling hopes of overcoming obesity and a host of weight-related diseases. In the past month tissue engineers at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery have discovered chemicals that act as the switch telling fat cells to grow and multiply. They have also found two drugs, which can switch off fat cells' growth, in the laboratory and will soon begin a long study testing them in rats to see if they could become an obesity treatment.

In other world-first discoveries over the past two years, Bernard O'Brien scientists have developed a technique to grow fat cells into breast and beating heart-muscle tissue. And they are now confident their latest discovery could help to reverse the process. The team is yet to publish its findings and can't release full details or the identity of the signalling enzymes and drugs. However, director of tissue engineering Prof Greg Dusting said the breakthrough could have a huge impact in the fight against obesity and weight-related disease. "We know what those molecular signals are and we have got some molecules that block them," he said. "We can modify these molecules and turn them on to enhance the development of a breast or heart tissue, or we might be able to change those molecules to ones that block those pathways. "It's fabulous and offers all sorts of possibilities. It's what pharmacologists always think about."

Prof Dusting hopes that within two years the animal trials will provide enough information for researchers to know if they can control fat growth effectively. But he warned there was still little idea of what the consequences would be for the body or what would happen to the excess fuel caused by overeating. The institute has already been able to grow a fist-sized lump of fat in a laboratory -- the largest piece of tissue grown through tissue engineering techniques -- but until recent weeks the researchers were unsure exactly how the fat growth was stimulated.

The breakthrough discovery of oxidase enzymes -- which signal fat cell growth -- was made by Prof Dusting and colleague Dr Keren Abberton, in collaboration with Melbourne University. It is believed to be the same process that is triggered by overeating and by fat-rich diets.

The Melbourne University collaboration has seen rats fed a diet of meat pies, chips and doughnuts, increasing their body weight and fat by about 10 per cent over a few weeks. As well as suffering high blood pressure, the fat rats showed an increase in the level of the special oxidase enzyme in both their blood vessels and in their fat deposits, which are also bigger. In the laboratory, the scientists can use drugs to turn the switch on in stem cells derived from fat to produce more fat. In the human and the rat body, the same process is triggered by excessive eating and a fat-rich diet, resulting in excess body fat.

Prof Dusting said fat was being revealed as one of the most active agents in the human body and had an effect on every organ. "We don't know whether it's the central box of something smaller, but the more we look the more we find that fat has an important impact on everything," Prof Dusting said.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Psychometricians go to great lengths to maximize the reliability of the self-reports that they use but most medical researchers don't even seem to know that there is a problem there. The revelation below that actual behaviour and self reported behaviour share only 22% of their variance (r=.47) should ring warning bells but it won't

Self-Reported and Measured Sleep Duration: How Similar Are They?

By Lauderdale, Diane S. et al.


Background: Recent epidemiologic studies have found that self-reported duration of sleep is associated with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and mortality. The extent to which self reports of sleep duration are similar to objective measures and whether individual characteristics influence the degree of similarity are not known.

Methods: Eligible participants at the Chicago site of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study were invited to participate in a 2003-2005 ancillary sleep study; 82% (n = 669) agreed. Sleep measurements collected in 2 waves included 3 days each of wrist actigraphy, a sleep log, and questions about usual sleep duration. We estimate the average difference and correlation between subjectively and objectively measured sleep by using errors-in-variables regression models.

Results: Average measured sleep was 6 hours, whereas the average from subjective reports was 6.8 hours. Subjective reports increased on average by 34 minutes for each additional hour of measured sleep. Overall, the correlation between reported and measured sleep duration was 0.47. Our model suggests that persons sleeping 5 hours over-reported their sleep duration by 1.2 hours, and those sleeping 7 hours over-reported by 0.4 hours. The correlations and average differences between self-reports and measured sleep varied by health, sociodemographic, and sleep characteristics.

Conclusion: In a population-based sample of middle-aged adults, subjective reports of habitual sleep are moderately correlated with actigraph-measured sleep, but are biased by systematic over-reporting. The true associations between sleep duration and health may differ from previously reported associations between self-reported sleep and health.

Epidemiology. 19(6):838-845, November 2008

Breast scans of no use to young women, says doctor

Good to see this message getting out. There is some reason to believe that ALL routine breast examinations are pointless and may even be counterproductive. See e.g. here

The deaths of Jane McGrath and Belinda Emmett from breast cancer are driving large numbers of young women to have mammograms which may be of no use. Experts have warned the scans bring no benefit for females under 40.

The so-called "Kylie effect" remains around the disease, with overblown public perception of rising rates of breast cancer in younger women and confusion around the best ways to detect it. "It is important to dispel the misconceptions, address unnecessary alarm and provide the facts for this age group," Dr Helen Zorbas, director of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, said at the launch of breast cancer awareness day in Sydney. She said women under 40 made up just 6 per cent of the 12,000 females diagnosed with the disease, and rates remained static. However, younger women are more prone to an aggressive form of the disease and have a 39 per cent increased risk of dying.

Diagnoses among young celebrities like pop star Kylie Minogue, fashion designer Heidi Middleton and actress Christina Applegate, and the deaths of Jane McGrath, wife of former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath, and actress and singer Belinda Emmett, have given the public the misguided impression of an epidemic among the young, she said. "The so-called 'Kylie effect' led to an increase in the number of women who made bookings for mammograms but many of these women were in the under 40 age group, where mammographic screening is not effective," Dr Zorbas said.

Her audience at the launch included Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and a host of other dignitaries, doctors, scientists and survivors. Screening programs have reduced breast cancer deaths by 30 per cent among women aged 50-69 years, because the small white abnormalities can be detected with relative ease. Younger, denser breasts, however, resemble "cotton wool" in scans, making the lumps unrecognisable. "Early detection for breast cancer in young women relies almost completely on young women themselves, knowing their own bodies and picking up the early signs of the disease," Dr Zorbas said.

A new campaign recommends "breast awareness" for young women, encouraging them to check themselves regularly for lumps using no special technique after international studies found specific checking styles didn't reduce cancer deaths. The retro-style advertisements encourage women to check their breasts as part of everyday life, while drying their hair or waiting for the toast to pop. Studies show women can also reduce their breast cancer risk by up to 30 per cent by keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Mr Rudd told the audience Australia needed to do better in tackling all forms of cancer. "It's time as a nation that we renew our national efforts in what must be a national war against cancer," he said.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sitting down is dangerous!

But jogging is bad for you too because it crunches your joints. And swimming is bad because swimmers drown a lot. And walking outdoors is bad because you might get cancer from the sun. So just DIE!

Physiologists analyzing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes found that the act of sitting shuts down the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase. They found that standing up engages muscles and promotes the distribution of lipase, which prompts the body to process fat and cholesterol, independent of the amount of time spent exercising. They also found that standing up uses blood glucose and may discourage the development of diabetes. You're probably sitting down right now. Well, by the time you're done reading this, you may see sitting in a whole new way!

"Chair time is an insidious hazard because people haven't been told it's a hazard," Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Ivanhoe.

That's right -- the time you sit in your chair could be keeping your body's fat burning in park! More than 47 million adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome, which causes obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Biomedical researchers from the say the reason so many of us have the condition is because we sit too much!

"The existing data, by numerous studies, are starting to show that the rates of heart disease and diabetes and obesity are doubled or sometimes even tripled in people who sit a lot," Dr. Hamilton explains. One reason, he says, is an enzyme called lipase. When it's on, fat is absorbed into the muscles, but when we sit down, lipase virtually shuts off.

"Instead, the fat will recirculate in the blood stream and go and be stored as body fat or it can clog arteries and cause diseases," Dr. Hamilton says. And it's not a small amount of fat. Plasma samples were taken from the same person after eating the same meal. When they ate sitting down, the sample was cloudy, but when they ate while standing up, it was clear.

"If you can perform a behavior while sitting or standing, I would choose standing," Dr. Hamilton says. That's why he swapped his desk chair for a treadmill. Not ready for that step? "You can have just as much fun watching your kids play if you're standing by the fence, next to a friend who pulls out that aluminum lawn chair and is sitting there," Dr. Hamilton advises.

You can also limit chair time by taking frequent breaks at work to stand and walk around. Stand up while talking on the phone or even while watching TV. Standing also helps shrink your waistline! The average person can burn an extra 60 calories an hour just by standing! "But just avoid the chair is the simple recommendation, as much as you can," Dr. Hamilton says. That's advice worth a standing ovation! Another benefit to standing -- it improves your HDL or good cholesterol levels. People who sat reduced their good cholesterol levels by 22 percent!


At least some food preferences are genetic

So nagging kids to eat broccoli etc. can be very cruel

Summary: In the first study to link taste genes to behavior in children, researchers looked at how natural variations in a recently discovered taste gene affected sensitivity to bitter tastes and food preferences in a group of children and adults. Collecting genetic samples from 143 children and their mothers, the researchers showed moms and kids who had at least one bitter-sensitive region in the gene were generally able to detect even a hint of bitter flavor in a test drink. The same group of children, carrying one or two bitter-sensitive regions of a gene, also preferred higher concentrations of sucrose solutions and had stronger preferences for sweet-tasting food and beverages than did the bitter-insensitive kids.

If you're a parent, chances are you've had a difficult time getting your child to eat certain veggies. The next time your child pushes away his spinach, it may not be that he's being difficult or picky. A new study finds some children may be extra sensitive to bitter tastes.

Abby Plummer is part of a tasting study that looks at the effect of a bitter-taste receptor gene on food preferences. "We genotyped children and mothers -- and by genotyping, I mean we took cheek swabs and got DNA from mothers and children -- and looked for the presence of this bitter taste receptor gene," says Julie Mennella, a developmental Psychobiologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Psychobiologists, who combine psychology and biology, grouped the 143 children and their mothers into three genotypes: PP, AP or AA. The P signifies the presence of the bitter gene. As expected, those with two bitter genes, PP, were the most sensitive to bitter taste. However, mothers and children with the same genotypes did not have the same taste experience. Mennella says, "An interesting thing is that children who carried one of these bitter taste alleles were much more sensitive to the bitter taste than mothers."

Which could be why many children have an aversion to bitter foods like certain vegetables. "Childhood may represent a period of heightened bitter taste sensitivity in some children that lessens with age. That's not to say that as you get older you can't taste bitter anymore, it's just a dampening effect," Mennella says. She hopes her research leads to healthier diets for kids.

The study also found children who had the bitter taste gene preferred higher levels of the sucrose solution they were given in the study. Researchers point out that as we age, life experience begins to override genetic disposition for taste.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Pesky: Welfare makes you fat

And that's in a program that focused on making the poor healthier as well

While a poverty-alleviation program launched by the Mexican government that has been modeled in the United States and around the world has led to improved health and cognition outcomes in children, a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers says that the cash component of the program has a downside for adults.

The program, called Oportunidades, provides money to impoverished families on the condition that they participate in health-promoting activities, such as getting annual health checkups and attending nutrition and hygiene education seminars. This is in contrast to traditional welfare programs that provide cash to families based solely upon their income or where they live.

The study published today (Monday, Oct. 20) in the Journal of Nutrition found that adults in households that received more cash from the program were more likely to be overweight, obese and have higher blood pressure than those who had received less money over time.

"It's a controversial finding because it suggests that adults are not necessarily spending the money wisely for themselves," said Lia Fernald, UC Berkeley assistant professor of public health nutrition and lead author of the study. "It's not clear why the cash is having this effect, but it could be because people who suddenly have more cash are able to buy more high-calorie soft drinks, alcohol or snacks that they couldn't afford before, though we did not analyze how the money was spent in our study. This result could also reflect trends in the developing world, particularly in rapidly changing economies, of increased availability of foods high in fat and sugar in place of healthier cereals, fruits and vegetables."

The surprising study results come on the heels of an earlier paper, authored by the same UC Berkeley researchers, which showed that overall, the conditional cash transfer program was linked to better health outcomes among adults. The researchers noted that the earlier paper compared adults who had been enrolled in Oportunidades for 3.5 to 5 years with newly enrolled adults who had not yet received any program benefits. In the new study, the authors wanted to specifically examine the role played by money accumulated through the program.

The Mexican government randomly selected communities that were eligible to enroll when the program first launched and allowed the remaining communities to enroll 18 months later. Households who enrolled first thus received more money cumulatively than ones enrolled later.

The study linked people's receipt of greater amounts of cash with higher body mass index, higher diastolic blood pressure and a higher prevalence of overweight and moderate to severe obesity in adults. In their analysis, the study authors controlled for other factors that could have influenced the results, such as length of time enrolled in the program, age, gender and education level.

"Our paper is in line with something that other economic studies have found: As people come out of poverty, they spend money on foods that can lead to obesity," said study co-author Paul Gertler, UC Berkeley professor of economics and health services finance. "It is interesting to note that in other work, we find the cash component of the program lowers obesity in young kids. One possible reason for this difference is that adults are using increased cash to provide protein and micronutrients for their children, whereas they are purchasing soda, alcohol and junk foods for themselves."

The researchers noted that the initial and central aim of the Oportunidades program was to improve health and development outcomes for children, a goal that the program has largely achieved. The impact of the program's components on adult health, however, has been a matter of debate.

"It's not unusual for adults to make better health and nutrition decisions for their kids than they do for themselves," added Fernald. "It's also possible that healthier foods and beverages are not available in the rural and impoverished regions where the Oportunidades program operates, and so adults may not have adequate access to sufficient resources for the whole family."

When the researchers factored in the length of time individuals were enrolled in the program, they noticed that those enrolled the longest - 5 years - had slightly better health outcomes than those enrolled for only 3.5 years. While the differences were not consistently significant statistically, the researchers pointed out that the trend, at least, was in the right direction.

Combined with the results from the earlier study showing that adults in the program had lower blood pressure and lower body mass index, the new findings suggest that the program's non-cash interventions - screening for chronic diseases and educational classes - seem to be counteracting the negative effects of extra income, the researchers said.

Launched in 1997, Oportunidades serves more than 5 million Mexican families and has been replicated in more than 20 developing countries. In 2007, New York City established the first conditional cash program in the United States that was modeled after Oportunidades. "Our data suggest that if cash is given to adults unconditionally, with no health education or promotion component to balance it out, it could cause an increase in obesity and hypertension for adults," said Fernald. "What this study shows is that a strong focus on health education and prevention is a really critical part of any cash transfer or welfare program targeting adults."

The paper was also co-authored by Xiaohui Hou, an economist at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C., who was a graduate student at UC Berkeley while the study was conducted.


New 'miracle' pill for insomniacs

It will however probably be safe for only 99.99% of users so will have to be banned. That's what happened to rimonabant, after all

Insomniacs will soon be able to literally turn off their wakefulness switch with a pill that leaves no drowsy after-effects. The new-generation drugs being developed by Sydney researchers specifically target receptors controlling the sleep-wake cycle rather that sedating the whole brain. The drug temporarily suppresses orexin, the brain's wakefulness protein, to induce sleep.

Professor Ron Grunstein, head of sleep research at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said early findings on the new pills were "exciting". "They seem to cause people to wake up refreshed and they don't seem to have the hangover effects that some of the others (sleeping pills) do," he said. "It's targeted in a very specific way using new information about how the sleep system works, whereas with the older medications we had a more general sedation of the brain."

Another advantage to the new treatment is that there have been no reports of dependency issues in users - unlike those who take current sedative drugs.

Normally we alternate between two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM or deep sleep. Current sleep medications increase deep sleep but reduce REM sleep. Disturbed REM sleep has been linked to impaired brain performance. The new drugs boost both types, which is hoped to improve the quality of sleep.

More than a third of Australians suffer from intermittent insomnia, triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, jet lag or shift work. More severe, chronic insomnia affects one million people, rendering them unable to function properly for years. The condition is most common in older people and women. Hormonal changes, alcohol and medicine or drug use can also cause insomnia.

The Woolcock Institute is trialling the new drug to determine whether it results in a better night's sleep and next-day performance in insomniacs. Researchers are in the final phase of trials, with participants undertaking overnight sleep studies, memory tests and electronic diaries. Professor Grunstein expects the new generations of sleeping pills will be made available to the public within the next two to three years.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some users of slimming drug at risk of psychiatric disorders

One hundredth of one percent is a worry?? I would have thought that a drug which 99.99% of people use without suffering severe side-effects was a triumph of safety! All drugs have side-effects. I know one lady who had acute renal failure after taking the common antibiotic Keflex (cephalexein). Maybe we should ban that too! And aspirin would never have been approved under current guidelines

An anti-obesity drug that has been prescribed to 97,000 people in the UK doubled the [tiny] risk of psychiatric disorders in those who took it, the European Medicines Agency has found. The EMA has decided that the benefits of the drug Acomplia - which has been licensed in Europe since June 2006 - no longer outweigh the risks, and have advised doctors to no longer prescribe the drug. In a trial of 36,000 this summer, five of those taking the drug [i.e. 0.01%] committed suicide, compared to only one of those taking the placebo.

Acomplia, whose active substance is rimonabant, has been available on the NHS since June this year. It works by suppressing the appetite. During clinical trials, one third of patients lost more than 10% of their initial bodyweight in a year. Nearly two thirds of patients lost over 5%. The drug is prescribed for people who are clinically classified as obese, or those who are overweight and suffer from problems like type 2 diabetes and a high cholesterol.

Warnings about the side effects of the drug-- which can cause depression-- have been known since the drug was introduced. It is only now however, that it has been decided that these side effects make the drug too dangerous to prescribe. Following a re-evaluation of the drug, the EMEA said that "there is an approximate doubling of the risk of psychiatric disorders in obese or overweight patients."

The EMEA, and their UK counterpart the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), have recommended that the drug is no longer prescribed, and said that those currently on the drug- thought to be about 20,000 in the UK- should consult a doctor about their treatment. The MHRA is alerting healthcare professionals about the recommendation. The MHRA said: "Patients who may be at highest risk of psychiatric reactions cannot be identified reliably. Therefore, further restrictions on the use of this medicine would be unlikely to reduce the risk to an acceptable level."

There are three main anti-obesity drugs prescribed in the UK- Acomplia, Sibutramine, and Orlistat. Acomplia is prescribed in for about 9% of cases, whereas Orlistat, approved by the EMEA in July 2007, is prescribed in 66% of cases. The manufacturer of the drug, Sanofi-Aventis, said: "Sanofi-Aventis will comply with the European authorities' request to temporarily suspend the marketing authorisation of Acomplia in obese and overweight patients and will make every effort to actively support patients and healthcare professionals in this process." They said that the drug had provided "significant clinical benefits to patients" and that 700,000 people worldwide had used the drug.

Dr June Raine, Director of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines at the MHRA said : "Most medicines work well and are acceptably safe and most people take medicines without suffering any side effects. The MHRA and the EMEA work together to continuously monitor the safety and quality of medicines after they have been licensed, and use a range of approaches to minimise risk. "In the case of Acomplia these measures have not proved to be effective in clinical use.


A stroll in the park is as good at calming children as Ritalin, study finds

This does not seem to have been double-blind so could well be a Rosenthal (experimenter expectation) effect

A stroll in the park could be just as effective for treating hyperactive children as drugs such as Ritalin, a study has revealed. Troubled youngsters showed significant improvements in concentration levels after what researchers called 'a dose of nature'. A 20-minute walk in green surroundings gave improvements on a par with a daily dose of drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Record levels of medicines are being dished out to hyperactive children on the NHS. Latest figures show GPs wrote more than 535,000 prescriptions for anti-hyperactivity drugs last year - more than 10,000 a week. The figure has doubled since 2002. Critics have accused doctors of using such drugs as a 'chemical cosh' to calm thousands of youngsters thought to have ADHD, a condition that makes them inattentive or boisterous and unable to concentrate at school. Roughly one child in every classroom is thought to be affected by ADHD.

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Illinois took a group of 17 hyperactive children on three walks in a park, town centre and residential area. The children stayed off their medication that day so researchers could be sure any benefit was from the environment alone. The youngsters were tested on their powers of concentration after each walk.

After strolling in green areas, their scores were improved by as much, if not more than, when they took prescription drugs. But the same children did not get any benefit from walking through town centres or residential streets. Researcher Andrea Faber Taylor said: 'The greenest space was best at improving attention. 'We calculated the size of the effect in our study and compared it with the size of effect in a recent study involving medication. 'We were surprised to see the "dose of nature" had effects the same size or even larger than those of drugs. 'We can't say for sure that two hours of outdoor play will get you this many days of good behaviour. But we can say as little as 20 minutes could potentially buy you an afternoon, or a couple of hours, to get homework done.'

Andrea Bilbow, from the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service, said it was a well-known fact that fresh air and exercise could calm down a child.

But she stressed: 'You cannot possibly alter the structure of the brain by going out and looking at trees. There is no good evidence that this is as effective as drug treatment.'


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The secret to happiness? Having at least 10 good friends

Very mixed up! They first admit that direction of cause is unknown then speak as if it is known. All that the study tells me is that happy people tend to have a loose definition of what constitutes a friend

In love, two is company and three's a crowd. But in friendship, ten is the magic number. Being able to count at least ten people as friends makes us happy, researchers say. But those with five or fewer are likely to be miserable with their lot, they claim. Their study of hundreds of men and women also found that contented sorts tend to have lots of close friends and regularly make new ones.

While it is not clear whether our friends make us happy or we make friends because we are happy, the researchers say it is clear we should nourish our friendships.

Psychologist Richard Tunney said: 'Whatever the reason, actively working on friendships in the same way as to maintain a marriage is a prerequisite to happiness.' Dr Tunney, of Nottingham University, quizzed more than 1,700 people about their satisfaction with their lives and the state of their friendships. Those with five friends or fewer had just a 40 per cent chance of being happy. In other words, they were more likely to be unhappy than happy.

Ten was the first number at which people were more likely to be happy than unhappy. Happiest of the lot were those with dozens of friends, according to the study, which was carried out for the National Lottery. For women, this meant having 33 friends; for men, the figure was 49.

Dr Tunney said: 'People who were extremely satisfied with their lives had twice the number of friends of people who were extremely dissatisfied.' Women tended to have fewer friends than men but formed tighter bonds.

Interestingly, the study found that childhood friends are no more likely to make us happy than people we become close to later in life. Lottery winners, however, had a different take on life. They tended to be happier than others despite spending their time with a small circle of old friends. This could be because they trust those they've known for longest. Alternatively, financial security may allow them to lavish more time and attention on those who matter the most to them.

The analysis also showed Brummies [inhabitants of Birmingham] to be the happiest people in Britain, with an average 29 friends each and a 75 per cent chance of happiness. Most miserable are the people of Brighton. Despite an average friend total of 42, residents have just a 56 per cent chance of happiness.

Dr Tunney, who describes himself as happy and having a lot of good friends, said factors such as a high cost of living could be behind the city's poor rating. 'Brighton is a very gregarious city, so maybe there is more pressure to have social networks than elsewhere,' he said, adding: 'I spent three happy years in Brighton when I was younger. I would be quite happy to live by the sea.'


One brain cell may reverse muscle paralysis

Sounds hopeful

Activation of a single brain cell may be enough to help restore muscle activity in the arms of paralysed patients with spinal cord injuries, scientists say.

Chet Moritz of the University of Washington and colleagues rerouted control signals from the brains of temporarily paralysed monkeys directly to their muscles. The brain region utilized was an area known as the motor cortex, which controls movements.

The research, published in the Oct. 16 issue of the research journal Nature, has potential for the future treatment of spinal cord injury, stroke and other impairments affecting movement, according to the group.

The researchers explained that they created artificial pathways for the signals to pass down. As a result, muscles that lacked natural stimulation after paralysis regained a flow of electrical signals from the brain. The monkeys were then able to tense the muscles in the paralysed arm, a first step towards producing more complicated goaldirected movements.

The team argues that a neuron, or brain cell, previously not associated with movement could be "coopted" to assume a new control role. This has implications for future brainmachine interface machines, devices designed to translate thoughts into physical movements by harnessing the electrical activity of neurons.

Brain-machine interfaces are an important tool for the study of brain injury and motor control, but the machines have so far focused on exploiting populations of neurons rather than single cells, Moritz and colleagues noted.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Fatties eat faster. So what?

Once again the direction of causation is assumed below. They assume that eating faster LEADS TO people being overweight. The perfectly reasonable possibility that strong food needs cause people to eat faster is not considered. So the implied claim that making people slow down will make them slimmer is simply a non-sequitur

People who eat quickly and eat until full are three times more likely to be overweight, according to a study published today on the website of the British Medical Journal. Researchers from Osaka University in Japan studied over 3,200 men (1,122) and women (2,165) aged 30–69 between 2003 and 2006 to examine whether eating until full and speed of eating were associated with being overweight.

Until the last decade or so most adults did not have the opportunity to consume enough energy to enable fat to be stored, but this has changed with the increased availability of inexpensive food in larger portions, fast food, fewer families eating together and eating while distracted.

Professor Hiroyasu Iso, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan and colleagues, sent the study’s participants a diet history questionnaire about their eating habits including questions about eating until full and their speed of eating. They found that around half (50.9%) of the men and just over half (58.4%) of the women said they ate until they were full. Just under half (45.6%) of men and 36% of women said they ate quickly.

The group of participants who said they ate “until full and ate quickly” had a higher body mass index (BMI) and total energy intake than those who did not “eat until full and did not eat quickly”. Results showed that men and women in the “eating until full and eating quickly” group were three times more likely to be overweight than the participants from the “not eating until full and not eating quickly” group.

The report says: “In conclusion, eating until full and eating quickly were associated with being overweight in Japanese men and women, and the combination of the two eating behaviours may have a substantial impact on being overweight.”

In an accompanying editorial, Elizabeth Denney-Wilson from University of NSW and Karen Campbell from Deakin University, both in Australia, said the findings demonstrated how current eating patterns may contribute to the current epidemic of obesity. “Clinicians should recognise that behavioural counselling, using cognitive therapy, can help in the management of this aggressively “eat more” food environment,” says the editorial.

The authors call on doctors to work with parents to encourage healthy eating habits in their children like eating slowly, serving appropriate portion sizes, and eating as a family in a non-distracting environment.


New drug raises hope of reversing multiple sclerosis in early stages

Sounds good. Might work on Alzheimers too

A step change in the treatment of multiple sclerosis is heralded today by the first study to suggest that a drug can stop the disease in its tracks and even reverse its progress. A trial of the medicine, known as alemtuzumab, has found that it offers benefits that are “better by a country mile” than other treatments for MS, and that it is effective for a much wider cross-section of patients.

The results offer hope that thousands of people who suffer from MS will eventually be able to control the condition, which causes nerve damage, loss of mobility, blindness and cognitive decline.

Scientists cautioned, however, that alemtuzumab will not be available outside clinical trials for about five years, and that it is suitable only for patients with early-phase MS. Those in whom the disease has already been diagnosed are unlikely to benefit.

When people with early-stage MS were treated with alemtuzumab, their condition improved significantly more than those on beta interferon, the best treatment available now, across three standard clinical indicators.

The drug reduced the number of MS attacks by 74 per cent, and the progression of disability by 71 per cent, when compared with beta interferon. Patients on alemtuzumab also showed recovery of brain function, so that they were less disabled at the end of the three-year study than at the beginning, while those on beta interferon continued to decline. Almost every patient taking alemtuzumab improved, whereas about half of MS patients show no response to beta interferon.

Scientists behind the research said that if the findings were repeated in a larger sample it would promise a revolution in MS care within five years, though only for patients who had yet to develop much nerve damage. “It is a landmark, a step change,” said Alistair Compston, Professor of Neurology at the University of Cambridge, who led the study. “It is more effective than beta interferon by a country mile, and the efficacy is so high that we hope it will represent the definitive treatment if used in the right people.”

Alasdair Coles, another member of the team, said: “It is our view that alemtuzumab offers the most effective treatment for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis described to date. The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented. We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of damaged brain tissue.”

The study, which is published in The New England Journal of Medicine, was a phase 2 trial, conducted on 334 patients as the first test of the drug's efficacy. Two phase 3 trials, of 600 and 1,200 patients, are now under way and positive reports will be needed from these before it can be licensed. Alemtuzumab was also shown to have some potentially serious side-effects, which means that patients who take it will have to be monitored by their doctors. One patient taking the drug died of a brain haemorrhage after developing an autoimmune condition that destroys a clotting agent in the blood, and two others were successfully treated for the same disorder.

Lee Dunster, head of research at the MS Society, said that the charity was delighted at the results. “This news will rightly bring hope to people living with the condition day in, day out.”


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Some strange results in the study below but to people of Greenie faith it is all clear. The results below make no sense at all if you think pollution has anything to do with premature birth. Which suggests that pollution had nothing to do with it and we are looking at a random result. If pollution caused premature delivery, such deliveries should have been rarest after the pollution was all gone. Instead they find that such births were rarest in an intermediate state of pollution! The wonders of faith!

Preterm Birth After the Utah Valley Steel Mill Closure: A Natural Experiment

By Parker, Jennifer D. et al.


Background: Prior studies have linked the Utah Valley Steel Mill closure that took place between August 1986 and September 1987 to improvements in several health outcomes. So-called natural experiments ease concerns over confounding and exposure misclassification, concerns that are common in studies of air pollution and pregnancy outcome.

Methods: We compare birth outcomes for Utah mothers within and outside the Utah Valley, before, during, and after the mill closure.

Results: Mothers who were pregnant around the time of the closure of the mill were less likely to deliver prematurely than mothers who were pregnant before or after; effects were strongest for exposure during the second trimester. Preterm birth within the Utah Valley did not change during the time of mill closure. No patterns for birth weight were observed.

Conclusions: These results support other studies that have found effects on preterm birth of air pollution exposure early in pregnancy.

Epidemiology. 19(6):820-823, November 2008

Here we go again: "Tips to stay sane are based on hard evidence"

This article does not cite the research behind it but I am pretty certain it will all turn out to be epidemiological. Which makes the evidence very soft indeed. Mental ill health is caused by lack of social participation? Isn't it more likely that people who are mad to start with participate less well socially? Etc., etc.

The audience for Foresight's science futures work is usually government policymakers, but this project has advice for individuals too, including its "five-a-day" for mental wellbeing. They might sound like pure Pollyanna; but they are based on evidence in a paper commissioned by Foresight from the New Economics Foundation.

"Connect with the people around you" reflects compelling evidence of the importance of social interaction. Surveys show that the most significant difference between individuals with mental ill-health and those without it is social participation.

"Be active" is another recommendation with a compelling evidence base. For children, action is essential for thinking and learning. Studies of large groups of individuals born at the same time show that physical activity protects against cognitive decline and against depression and anxiety. Even bouts of exercise of less than ten minutes can make a difference.

"Take notice" is about being aware of sensations around you and of your own thoughts and feelings. Being in this state of "mindfulness" promotes mental wellbeing.

Being aware of what takes place in the present can help to reinstate life priorities, an important consideration for those who have been buffeted by ill-fortune. Think of it as a way of rebooting the mind through joy in the here and now.

"Keep learning" is also strongly backed by evidence. Statistical analysis of group studies shows that learning, almost without regard to subject, is the single greatest predictor of mental wellbeing. It impacts on one's self-esteem, resilience and sense of purpose.

"Give" is perhaps the most surprising of the five-a-day. In one experiment, committing an act of kindness each day for six weeks was associated with an increase in wellbeing.

Increasingly, the Government listens to Foresight. Its recommendations on obesity were included in policy within six months. It will be interesting to see whether Gordon Brown will do the same with this report.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Web Surfers Have More Brain Power?

Haven't these deadheads thought of the possibility that people who take up web surfing might tend to have more complex minds to start with??

People who spend time surfing the web may be building brain power at the same time. A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles reveals middle-aged and older adults who use the Internet may trigger centers in their brain responsible for decision-making and reasoning.

Researchers performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan as experienced and non-experienced participants searched the Web and performed book-reading tasks. Both exercises activated the brain in both groups, but there were some major differences. Web-savvy participants who searched the Web activated areas in their brain responsible for decision-making and reasoning. They also showed twice the amount of brain activity than those with little Internet experience.

Compared with simple reading, the Internet's abundance of choices forces people to make decisions about what to click to find out more information. "A simple, everyday task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older," Gary Small, M.D., principal investigator and a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, was quoted as saying.

Researchers say you may want to add surfing the web to the list of other brain teasers, such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku. "Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function," Dr. Small explained. "The study results are encouraging that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults."

FROM: American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, published online October 14, 2008


Study Shows Dad Involvement Means Higher IQ, More Success for Kids

Sorry to upset a good cause but what about the possibility that high IQ fathers might be more likely to take an interest in their children and that the high IQ of the children concerned is simply due to its being genetically transmitted? IQ is HIGHLY heritable genetically

Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Executive Director of Fathers & Families, has an interesting new piece on an English study which found that father involvement has a large, positive effect on children's intellignce and success. Holstein writes:
Published in the summer of 2008, this study looked at all the children born in Britain in a single week in March, 1958. When the children were eleven years old (1969), the mothers were asked, "How involved is the father in the management of the child?" In the same year, the children took an IQ test. Finally, the researchers looked at the children's upward social mobility at age 42 (year 2000).The researchers found some very interesting results:

The fathers' involvement in 1969 was "equal to mother" in 62 percent of the cases;

Children with high father involvement had significantly higher IQs at age 11 than those with low father involvement;

By age 42, children with high father involvement had shown substantially more upward mobility than those with low father involvement;

Fathers tended to be slightly more involved with sons than daughters, but when they did engage equally with daughters, the positive effect was just as great as for sons.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here we go again: Does drinking alcohol shrink your brain?

More stupid epidemiology. Brain size and IQ are correlated so what the findings probably show is that dumb people drink more. What is refreshing to note however is that the small size of the differences found is mentioned

What's good for the heart may hurt the brain, according to a new study of the effects of alcohol. People who drink alcohol -- even the moderate amounts that help prevent heart disease -- have a smaller brain volume than those who do not, according to a study in the Archives of Neurology. While a certain amount of brain shrinkage is normal with age, greater amounts in some parts of the brain have been linked to dementia. "Decline in brain volume -- estimated at 2 percent per decade -- is a natural part of aging," says Carol Ann Paul, who conducted the study when she was at the Boston University School of Public Health. She had hoped to find that alcohol might protect against such brain shrinkage.

"However, we did not find the protective effect," says Paul, who is now an instructor in the neuroscience program at Wellesley College. "In fact, any level of alcohol consumption resulted in a decline in brain volume."

In the study, Paul and colleagues looked at 1,839 healthy people with an average age of about 61. The patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and reported how much they tippled. Overall, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume, with abstainers having a higher brain volume than former drinkers, light drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), and heavy drinkers (14 or more drinks per week).

Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers than women. But the link between brain volume and alcohol wasn't as strong in men. For men, only those who were heavy drinkers had a smaller brain volume than those who consumed little or no alcohol. In women, even moderate drinkers had a smaller brain volume than abstainers or former drinkers.

It's not clear why even modest amounts of alcohol may shrink the brain, although alcohol is "known to dehydrate tissues, and constant dehydration can have negative effects on any sensitive tissue," says Paul. "We always knew that alcohol at higher dosages results in shrinking of the brain and cognitive deficit," says Dr. Petros Levounis, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's -- Roosevelt Hospital Center, who was not involved in the study. "What is new with this article is that it shows brain shrinking at lower doses of alcohol."

However, the study did not demonstrate that the smaller brain volume actually impaired memory or mental function, notes James Garbutt, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And the differences between brain volumes in drinkers and nondrinkers were quite small -- less than 1.5 percent between abstainers and heavy drinkers. "We're talking very small differences here," says Dr. Garbutt, who was not involved in the study. "We're not seeing 10 to 20 percent shrinkage." However, he says, reduction in brain mass is an interesting finding. "But we have a long way to go to figure out the implications of it."


Just one of glass of wine a day increases women's risk of breast cancer

Findings about alcohol derived from a campaign against it should be treated with a saltmine full of salt

Drinking just one large glass of wine a day increases the chances of developing breast cancer by a fifth, say experts. The amount of alcohol in measures regularly served in wine bars and pubs pushes up the risk of cancer by far more than most women realise, it is claimed. A large glass of wine is the equivalent of three units of alcohol at 12 per cent strength. Drinking two glasses raises the risk by more than a third and it doubles for women who consume nine units or three glasses a day compared with those who do not drink.

However, Government research reveals that four out of five women are ignorant of the breast cancer risk. The findings from the Know Your Limits campaign represent a total of more than four million women who are regularly putting their health in danger.

Doctors believe rising rates of breast cancer are being fuelled by soaring levels of drinking among women, as there has been a steady increase in breast cancer cases in the last ten years when rates should have been falling, or at least reached a plateau, because of mass screening.

Only obesity levels - which are also linked to breast cancer - have shown the same kind of upward trend over the last decade. Around 44,000 British women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and it claims 13,000 lives. Previous research suggests that binge drinking - five or more drinks on one occasion - can double the risk of breast cancer.

It is unclear how drinking alcohol promotes breast cancer but it may work by raising levels of the sex hormone oestrogen in the body. Drinking alcohol is one of the few identified risk factors for developing breast cancer, although the biggest risk factor is increasing age. Four out of five breast cancers diagnosed in the UK occur in women over 50.

Dr Sarah Cant, Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'Drinking moderate or high levels of any type of alcoholic drink has many health consequences, including an increased chance of breast cancer. 'Although many factors might affect our risk of getting breast cancer, limiting how much we drink is one thing we can do to try to reduce that risk.'

Public Health Minister-Dawn Primarolo said: 'It's shocking, even for me, to see the potential risks of drinking over recommended guidelines in black and white. 'One large glass of 12 per cent wine takes a woman to her recommended daily limit in just one drink. 'Knowing the potential health consequences enables women to make choices that can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.'

A separate survey published by Breakthrough Breast Cancer also shows women wrongly blame their genes for getting cancer. A strong genetic history of breast cancer is to blame in only 5 per cent of all breast cancer cases, but nearly two-thirds of women over the age of 50 believe the disease 'runs in the family'.



This is a 1999 study but bears repeating

Hormone replacement therapy before breast cancer diagnosis significantly reduces the overall death rate compared with never-use among 984 breast cancer patients

By H Jernstrom et al.

Nine hundred and eighty-four breast cancer patients were interviewed regarding exogenous hormonal use. This represents a random sample of breast cancer patients in Southern Sweden referred to the Department of Oncology at Lund for treatment between 1978 and 1997 (excluding 1980 and 1981) with a 100% follow-up. Ever-use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prior to diagnosis was significantly associated with a longer overall survival in women with their breast cancer diagnosed at ages 45 and above, relative risk (RR) of dying 0.73 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.62-0.87; P = 0.0005). Ever use of HRT prior to breast cancer diagnosis was significantly positively associated with overall longer survival after adjustment for T-stage, N-stage, M-stage, year of diagnosis and age at diagnosis, RR of dying 0.78 (95% CI 0.65-0.93; P = 0.006). Hormone replacement therapy use and oestrogen receptor positivity were independently significantly associated with overall longer survival, P = 0.005 and P < 0.0001, respectively, in one model. HRT use and progesterone receptor positivity were also independently significantly associated with longer overall survival, P = 0.003 and P = 0.0003, respectively, in another model. The mode of diagnosis was known in 705 women. Mammography screening was not more common among HRT users compared with never-users, where this information was available. Both mammography screening and HRT use were independently associated with longer survival, P = 0.002 and P = 0.038 respectively.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Coffee can make women's breasts smaller: Swedish study

Coffee is banned from my place with immediate effect!

Women who drink a lot of coffee may see their breasts become more petite, according to the results of a new Swedish study. Around half of all women possess a gene shown to link breast size to coffee intake. "Drinking coffee can have a major effect on breast size," said Helena Jernstrom, a lecturer in experimental oncology at Lund University.

But while a regular brew appears to have a somewhat deflationary aspect, there is also one very positive effect in that coffee reduces the risk of breast cancer. Women with an average weight but big breasts and a high number of mammary glands run an above average risk of developing breast cancer.

Previous studies have shown that women can reduce this risk by drinking at least three cups of coffee a day. Jernstrom wanted to know if there was a further correlation: If drinking coffee and breast size were both connected to the risk of developing breast cancer, could there also be a link between coffee and cup size?

Studies carried out on almost 270 women showed that there was indeed a clear connection between coffee and smaller breasts. The results of Jernstrom's findings have been published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Source. (H/T Mike Pechar). The underlying academic article is here. Abstract follows:
As breast volume may be associated with heart cancer risk, we studied the relationship between breast volume, CYP1A2*1F and coffee intake. Among healthy premenopausal non-hormone users, 3+ cups per day was associated with lower volume only in C-allele carriers (Pinteraction=0.02), which is consistent with reports that coffee protects only C-allele carriers against breast cancer.

This is, I am afraid, another epidemiological finding, so the question is whether the C-allele mediates behavioral or other characteristics that are the real cause of the observed association. Are they big users of illegal drugs, for instance? Are they prone to ill health generally? Breast size can vary in response to a number of factors so the causal pathway between the allele and breast size may not be direct.


There have been many studies showing this -- from Terman & Oden in the 1920s on. But I think there is some point in noting the recent high quality study below which also shows that.

More Intelligent, More Dependable Children Live Longer: A 55-Year Longitudinal Study of a Representative Sample of the Scottish Nation

By Ian J. Deary et al.

ABSTRACT-The associations of childhood intelligence and dependability with adult mortality were examined in 1,181 people who were representative of the Scottish nation. Participants were born in 1936 and were followed for mortality from 1968 through early 2003. Higher intelligence and greater dependability were independent, significant predictors of lower mortality: With both factors entered together, the hazard ratio (HR) was 0.80 (95% confidence interval, CI: 0.65-0.99, p= .037) per standard deviation increase in intelligence and 0.77 (95% CI: 0.63-0.94, p= .009) per standard deviation increase in dependability. Children in the lower half of the distributions for intelligence and dependability were more than twice as likely to die compared with those who scored in the top half for both these measures (HR = 2.82; 95% CI: 1.81-4.41). Studied together for the first time in a representative sample, these two psychological variables are independent life-course risk factors for mortality. It is important to discover the mechanisms by which they influence survival.

Psychological Science, Volume 19 Issue 9, Pages 874 - 880, 2008

New Discovery Has Been Made About How Antioxidants Attack Cancer Cells

But do they attack normal cells too? They seem to shorten your life!

There's a new reason, and a big one, to think that we benefit from free-radical-inhibiting antioxidants. We've long thought that by reducing free radicals, antioxidants can help prevent cancer, of course. But a recent experiment at Johns Hopkins and published in the March 14 issue of Science shows how antioxidants may be doing much more: interfering with the growth of cancers that are already established, and potentially, even reversing them once established, by knocking out communications signals between cancer cells that encourage cells to grow and divide. Those communications signals turn out to be... free radicals, which the cancer cells often produce in abundance. Runaway cell division was actually slowed when cancer cells were introduced to the antioxidant N-acetyl-L-cysteine, under experimental conditions. This now demonstrates the existence of a mechanism that can allow a simple antioxidant to slow down or reverse a cancer that's already in place.

Genetically altered connective tissue cells expressing the cancerous H-RasV12 gene, together with non-cancerous cells were used in the study. The cancer cells produced an abundance of superoxide, a well-known free-radical. But cells' Ras or Rac1 genes produced proteins that blocked this signal and kept the cell from turning cancerous, as did doses of other protein inhibitors. However, it was considered more significant that antioxidants could also inhibit runaway cell proliferation.

At least in the case of cancers produced by the model H-RasV12 gene, other cells are influenced to become cancerous "at a distance" if free radicals or protein-inhibitors aren't present in sufficient numbers to step in and stop the process.

Kaikobad Irani cautiously summarizes his research by saying that "Control of signaling pathways involving oxidants may explain why some antioxidants appear to prevent development of certain cancers." If you're equally inclined to caution, you may wish to make sure you're getting plenty of antioxidants.

There are plenty of sources of antioxidants in a good diet, of course, but by far the most potent and effective antioxidant known to science is as cheap and available as a long, dark night: that is, melatonin. Turning your light switch to the off position earlier, keeping it off longer, and making sure that you are always sleeping in real darkness are excellent natural ways to boost your melatonin production. Even occasional changes in your routine, staying up for a couple of extra hours, can reduce your melatonin for weeks, just as jet lag does.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Drug abuse a 'cause not effect' of social problems

A bold claim in the heading above. But the last sentence below contradicts the heading. The study is an epidemiological one so it is the last sentence that should be heeded. The article is not yet on line at the journal site but a preprint is available here. It is pleasing to see that obvious confounds such as social class and IQ have been controlled for but many other confounding variables are possible -- particularly in the personality realm. That tendency to risk-taking (for instance) could both cause you to take drugs early and also get you into other trouble is fairly obvious but was not measured in the study. It would have been more interesting to present a fuller psychological and sociological profile of those kids who do take up drugs early.

Drug or alcohol abuse among children under the age of 15 is a cause and not an effect of a host of health and social problems, research has suggested. Early drinking and drug-taking raise the future risk of addiction, teenage pregnancy, failure at school, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and crime, independently of other factors that might predispose to these outcomes, scientists have determined.

The findings, from a study that followed people for 30 years, are particularly significant because they indicate that drug and alcohol abuse at a young age probably contributes directly to subsequent problems. While the link is known from previous research, scientists have struggled to tell whether early substance abuse is a cause of later behavioural and health troubles, or a symptom of deprived social or family circumstances that also explain these issues.

The new study, led by Candice Odgers, of the University of California, Irvine, favours the former hypothesis - that "drugs are bad for kids", rather than "bad kids do drugs". Dr Odgers, who conducted the research while at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, said: "Findings from this study are consistent with the message that early substance use leads to significant problems in adolescents' future lives - that drugs are bad for kids - versus the alternative message that young adolescents with a history of problems are just more likely to use drugs early and experience poor outcomes - that bad kids do drugs.

"Even adolescents with no prior history of behavioural problems or family history of substance use problems were at risk for poor health outcomes if they used substances prior to age 15. Universal interventions are required to ensure that all children - not only those entering early adolescence on an at-risk trajectory - require an adequate dose of prevention." [And what would that be? A hit on the head, perhaps??]

In the study, which is published in the journal Psychological Science, Dr Odgers investigated a set of 1,000 young people who were born in the New Zealand town of Dunedin in 1972 and 1973. She found that those who used drugs or alcohol before the age of 15 were between 2.4 and 5 times more likely than their peers to have experienced health or social problems later in life. The effect applied to dropping out of school, becoming addicted to drugs or an alcoholic, having a criminal convicion, becoming pregnant as a teenager, and testing positive for an STI.

Early use was classified as taking drugs or drinking alcohol on numerous occasions, buying them, or using them at school. This eliminated anyone who drank alcohol at home, or who tried the substances on a one-off basis.

Dr Odgers also compared children deemed at high risk of poor health and social outcomes, such as those with prior behavioural problems or from broken families, with low-risk children.

Low-risk children who used drugs or alcohol early still tended to finish secondary school. However, they remained between 2.7 and 3.8 times more likely to have experienced one of the four other social and health problems.

The results, Dr Odgers suggested, mean that it is important to try to prevent early drinking and drug use among all children, not just those from high-risk backgrounds.

Almost 50 per cent of adolescents who used alcohol or drugs before the age of 15 could not have been identified based on child behaviour problems or family risk factors, she said.

The study is indicative of a causal effect, but does not prove it, because children were not randomly assigned to drug-use and non-drug-use groups.


British aspirin study attacked

Generalizing from diabetics to all people certainly is pretty crazy. The belching professor just got carried away with the importance of her own work, it would seem. She may be right but her work does not prove it

A specialist has urged patients to keep taking prescribed aspirin, labelling a UK study questioning its benefits as "potentially dangerous". Australian Medical Association Queensland cardiology spokesman David Colquhoun said the Dundee University study which questioned the benefits of daily aspirin to ward off heart attacks was "too small" to guide medical practice.

The study, led by Jill Belch, of the Institute of Cardiovascular Research, involved more than 1200 patients aged over 40 with diabetes and evidence of artery disease who had not suffered a previous heart attack. It found that after eight years there was no overall benefit from aspirin or antioxidant treatment in preventing heart attacks or death. "If you're taking aspirin for secondary prevention because you've had a heart attack or stroke, or have a circulatory problem, then it works," Professor Belch told the Daily Mail. "But it doesn't work if you have none of these problems."

But Associate Professor Colquhoun said previous research had shown "clear unequivocal benefits" in preventing heart attacks in the middle-aged. "Doesn't this professor . . . read the literature?" he said. "To say we have to reassess the place of aspirin in individuals is silly. "This should not make any difference to the way we treat patients. This type of study, I find, is potentially dangerous in the sense that the wrong message can be sent. "It adds nothing to helping us as clinicians but it can help cause confusion in the community. We don't want people to stop taking aspirin."

Professor Belch said there was widespread prescribing of aspirin in diabetes despite the lack of evidence to support its use. But studies showed it could double the risk of stomach bleeding from an ulcer. "Unfortunately, aspirin has side-effects and it's one of the biggest reasons for admission to hospital for drug-related adverse reactions, mainly gastrointestinal bleeding. "Although the risk is relatively small, the numbers taking aspirin is large so it's a major problem."

However, Professor Colquhoun said the very low dose daily gave patients only an "extremely low" chance of internal bleeding.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rain makes you fatter

There could be something in this but if so the Brits should be hugely fat. It rains all the time there. But they seem to be about average for weight, in fact

SUNSHINE not only makes you feel good, but now it has been revealed that it has powers of weight loss, as rain can cause people to gain weight. While it may be the only good news for the drought-ravaged farmers, a team from Aberdeen University found miserable weather made it harder for dieters to shed weight.

They found those who were overweight had lower levels of vitamin D - which is created when the body is exposed to sunlight. The amount of vitamin D in the blood influences the functioning of a hormone called leptin, which tells the brain when the stomach is full. The obese produced a tenth less vitamin D than those of average weight.

Heavy rain, particularly in rural areas, also raises the risk of catching the potentially fatal bug E-coli. The concern is that farmers' slurry contains E.coli O157 bacteria from cattle muck; heavy rain can wash the slurry into streams and form puddles; the bacteria can then be found in mud stuck to boots, or spread by pets.

The Daily Mail reports that people with old injuries maintain that their scars ache when the weather is threatening and the low atmospheric pressure can induce premature labor. Monica Seles, the tennis star who was stabbed in the back during a tennis tournament in Germany, told one interviewer that her scar would tingle when rain was coming.


Obese take less pleasure in eating

This sounds paradoxical but could be right. That differing brain response patterns could predict weight gain over as short a period as one year sounds fishy, though

OBESE people may have a diminished ability to experience the pleasure of eating, prompting them to overindulge to boost their satisfaction, according to a new study. The study, published this week in the journal Science, found that obese individuals may have fewer pleasure receptors in their brains, requiring them "to take in more of a rewarding substance such as food or drugs to experience the same level of pleasure as other people,'' said Eric Stice, a psychology researcher at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and lead author of the study.

In a throwback to humankind's evolutionary past, the human brain releases the "pleasure chemical'' dopamine, a reward to the body for consuming life-sustaining nutrition. But the researchers theorise that weak "reward centres'' in the brain prompt obese people to eat more. "The research reveals obese people may have fewer dopamine receptors, so they overeat to compensate for this reward deficit,'' said Mr Stice, who has studied eating disorders and obesity for almost two decades.

Although past research has shown that biological factors play a major part in obesity, the study is one of the first to positively identify factors that increase people's weight gain risk in the future.

The researchers from UT, worked alongside scientists from the Oregon Research Institute, and brain scientists from the Yale University School of Medicine, Connecticut. Using a technique called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), researchers examined the extent to which pleasure receptors in individuals were activated in response to a taste of chocolate milkshake versus a tasteless solution. The participants were next tested for the presence of a genetic variation linked to a lower number of the dopamine receptors. Researchers then tracked changes in the test participants' body mass index over a one-year period.

The results, said Mr Stice, were key for understanding weight gain and to helping at-risk individuals. "Although people with decreased sensitivity of reward circuitry are at increased risk for unhealthy weight gain, identifying changes in behavior or pharmacological options could correct this reward deficit to prevent and treat obesity,'' he said.


Another summary of the above work is given below, followed by the journal abstract:

What are the factors that increase an individual's risk of future weight gain? It has been hypothesized that obese individuals may have an underactive reward circuitry, which leads them to overeat in an effort to boost a sluggish dopamine reward system. Using brain imaging, Stice et al. (p. 449) discovered a relationship between activation of the striatum and ingestion of a tasty calorific liquid compared with a neutral liquid that could differentiate between obese and non-obese individuals. This differential activation was accentuated in individuals bearing the A1 allele of the dopamine D2 receptor gene, which is associated with reduced dopamine transmission in the striatum. This relationship predicted an individual's weight gain when measured a year later.


Relation Between Obesity and Blunted Striatal Response to Food Is Moderated by TaqIA A1 Allele

By E. Stice et al.

The dorsal striatum plays a role in consummatory food reward, and striatal dopamine receptors are reduced in obese individuals, relative to lean individuals, which suggests that the striatum and dopaminergic signaling in the striatum may contribute to the development of obesity. Thus, we tested whether striatal activation in response to food intake is related to current and future increases in body mass and whether these relations are moderated by the presence of the A1 allele of the TaqIA restriction fragment length polymorphism, which is associated with dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) gene binding in the striatum and compromised striatal dopamine signaling. Cross-sectional and prospective data from two functional magnetic resonance imaging studies support these hypotheses, which implies that individuals may overeat to compensate for a hypofunctioning dorsal striatum, particularly those with genetic polymorphisms thought to attenuate dopamine signaling in this region.

Science 17 October 2008: Vol. 322. no. 5900, pp. 449 - 452

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blood test finds coronary disease

Genetic markers predict coronary artery disease, Duke doctors say. Those pesky genes again! How odd that eating fruit and vegetables has no such predictive power!

A simple blood test could soon replace expensive and invasive exams to detect coronary artery disease. The test, announced Wednesday by doctors at Duke, is being developed after the discovery of genetic markers that show the presence and intensity of blockage in coronary artery disease, said a Duke cardiologist who co-authored research on the link. Such a blood test could save millions of dollars annually by allowing some patients to avoid risky procedures in which catheters are inserted into patients' arteries.

"I think it is a big deal," Dr. William E. Kraus, a Duke cardiologist, said in an interview Wednesday. "What we want is a test that tells us the status of your disease today and if what you have is heart disease." Kraus' research was published in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

Current detection of the disease -- the leading cause of death in the United States and a top killer in North Carolina, with 23,610 deaths in 2006 -- can require expensive tests such as echocardiograms, stress tests and imaging techniques that use radiation. "A blood-based test to diagnose coronary artery disease would be less invasive and risky and would prevent patients from [receiving] radiation exposure," Kraus said in a statement.

Raleigh retiree Robert Sharpe said going directly from a blood test to having a catheter inserted would have been an improvement over what he went through before two recent heart surgeries. "It would have been a whole lot easier," said Sharpe, 74, who now stays in shape at the Institute of Lifestyle & Weight Management in Raleigh. "I had a stress test and all of that."

The finding that 14 specific genes tend to accompany the narrowing of arteries arose from research by Duke and CardioDx, a molecular-diagnostics company in California that helped fund the study. It's based on the examination of genes in 41 heart patients, some from Germany and some from Duke. Together, the 14 genes form a "signature" that indicates the presence of coronary artery disease, but may not be a cause or effect of the disease, researchers said.

Two Triangle cardiologists not involved in the research said it looks promising, but noted the small number of cases involved. Patients from a variety of backgrounds will be tested in larger trials under way at 28 sites across the United States. "If these findings hold for this broad group of population, the test could prove to be a valuable supplement in our management and treatment of patients with coronary heart disease," said Dr. Sidney Smith, a UNC-Chapel Hill cardiologist.

Dr. Joe Falsone, an invasive cardiologist at Wake Heart & Vascular Associates, called the discovery "potentially exciting news." "We could probably use this as a screening tool for patients we thought were at high risk," Falsone said.


Leading geneticist Steve Jones says human evolution is over

Human evolution is grinding to a halt because of a shortage of older fathers in the West, according to a leading genetics expert. Fathers over the age of 35 are more likely to pass on mutations, according to Professor Steve Jones, of University College London. Speaking today at a UCL lecture entitled "Human evolution is over" Professor Jones will argue that there were three components to evolution - natural selection, mutation and random change. "Quite unexpectedly, we have dropped the human mutation rate because of a change in reproductive patterns," Professor Jones told The Times.

"Human social change often changes our genetic future," he said, citing marriage patterns and contraception as examples. Although chemicals and radioactive pollution could alter genetics, one of the most important mutation triggers is advanced age in men. This is because cell divisions in males increase with age. "Every time there is a cell division, there is a chance of a mistake, a mutation, an error," he said. "For a 29-year old father [the mean age of reproduction in the West] there are around 300 divisions between the sperm that made him and the one he passes on - each one with an opportunity to make mistakes. "For a 50-year-old father, the figure is well over a thousand. A drop in the number of older fathers will thus have a major effect on the rate of mutation."

Professor Jones added: "In the old days, you would find one powerful man having hundreds of children." He cites the fecund Moulay Ismail of Morocco, who died in the 18th century, and is reputed to have fathered 888 children. To achieve this feat, Ismail is thought to have copulated with an average of about 1.2 women a day over 60 years.

Another factor is the weakening of natural selection. "In ancient times half our children would have died by the age of 20. Now, in the Western world, 98 per cent of them are surviving to 21."

Decreasing randomness is another contributing factor. "Humans are 10,000 times more common than we should be, according to the rules of the animal kingdom, and we have agriculture to thank for that. Without farming, the world population would probably have reached half a million by now - about the size of the population of Glasgow. "Small populations which are isolated can evolve at random as genes are accidentally lost. World-wide, all populations are becoming connected and the opportunity for random change is dwindling. History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. We are mixing into a glo-bal mass, and the future is brown."


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Evangelists for assorted food religions

Amazing how they get people to pay more on the basis of mere assertion

The buffet offers a variety of pizzas, with whole wheat crust, organic toppings and hormone-free cheese. The salad bar includes some greens and vegetables grown without pesticides in a nearby garden. And the chef even takes special requests from vegetarians, those wanting gluten-free food or even an extra slice of free-range meat.

This isn't a restaurant in one of Kansas City's trendy neighborhoods, but a cramped room in the basement of the Kansas City Academy, a private school for 6th-12th graders in the city's Waldo district. The Academy is one of three Kansas City-area private schools that participate in Bistro Kids' Farm 2 School program, which is committed to improving students' health by offering lunches from organic, natural, locally-grown food.

"It's really, really good," said sixth-grader Peter Imel, while chomping away on pizza. "When I first heard about it, I thought, 'OK, maybe, maybe not.' But it's better than any restaurant I've been to."

Kiersten Firquain, owner/operator of Bistro Kids, passionately believes that typical school lunch fare such as high-fat, nutrient-poor cheeseburgers, nachos and hot dogs is damaging the mental and physical health of the nation's children. Health and nutrition experts agree, saying poor dietary habits are a contributing factor in dramatic increases in childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma and high cholesterol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of overweight children from ages 6-11 has more than doubled in the last 20 years and tripled in those aged 12-19.

Schools across the country are responding by adding more fruits, vegetables, salads and healthier alternatives to menus. But few have gone as far as Firquain wants to go. She advocates providing lunches using foods free of additives, hormones, antibiotics and trans-fats. And she believes the ingredients should, as much as possible, come from local producers.

For Farm 2 School, Firquain uses several sources within a 200-mile radius of Kansas City, such as small family farms and organic bakeries. The rest she orders through Ball's Food Stores, which promotes locally grown foods.

Besides eating the healthy lunches, the program also educates students about the food cycle by bringing farmers and producers to the schools, teaching nutrition classes, growing school gardens and encouraging recycling.

While Firquain's is the first for-profit business in Kansas and Missouri promoting the farm-to school ideals, the concept has been gaining traction across the country since 2000, when a national Farm To School program started. More than 2,000 school districts have some facet of a farm-to-school program, although most are not offering full meals but have selective products in the schools or bring in food producers for education efforts.

Schools - particularly public schools - face several obstacles before starting a farm-to-school program, advocates say. Many schools do not have the kitchen facilities or skilled labor needed to provide more than heat-and-serve meals. "Schools often don't see food or cafeterias as a major investment," said Anupama Joshi, co-director of the national Farm To School network. "It's really sad because research has shown that the food we serve our kids can help them facilitate learning and is tied to performance."

But the top barrier for both public and private schools is money. Public school districts are reimbursed $2.57 by the federal government to provide a free meal, Joshi said, but most districts say a meal costs an average of $2.88. Firquain said some public schools have told her they have $1 left for food after they pay administrative costs.

Firquain said she currently works only with private schools, partly because of costs but also because of the bureaucracy and red tape in public school districts. But she said she eventually wants to serve 10-12 schools in the region, or about 1,000-1,200 students a day, with half of the schools targeting at-risk populations. "We don't want to serve food only to kids who can afford to pay for it, but get it into the populations that need it most," she said.


Brain shrinks even with a glass or two

Alcohol is good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you. I doubt that I will hear the end of that indecision in my lifetime

THAT after-work glass of red wine may be less medicinal than you thought: researchers have found that drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol shrinks the brain. Brain volume naturally decreases by nearly 2 per cent per decade as people age, but scientists had speculated that moderate alcohol intake could slow this process, by improving heart function and bloodflow.

But US researchers have dealt a blow to that theory, finding a "significant negative linear relationship" between the amount of alcohol someone consumes and the space their brain takes up, The Australian reports.

While men were more likely to drink alcohol, the researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging scans of drinkers' and non-drinkers' brains, and found the association was stronger in women. They speculated this could be due to women's smaller stature and greater tendency to feel alcohol's effects.

The study, which was based on an analysis of drinking habits and brain volume in nearly 2000 US adults between 1999 and 2001, found that while the brains of people who never touched alcohol occupied nearly 78.6 per cent of their cranial space on average, this dropped to about 78.2 per cent in people who previously drank but had since quit, and dropped again, to just under 77.8 per cent, for moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers were lower still, at 77.2 per cent.

Brain size shrank by an average of 0.25 per cent going from one drinking category to the next highest, which was larger than the average annual decline normally associated with ageing of 0.19 per cent.