Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nutritionist sceptical of sausage-leukaemia link

Some cautious journalism for a change

Children who regularly eat cured and processed meat may be at a greater risk of leukaemia, a study suggests, but an Australian nutritionist says parents need not panic if their children have been tucking into hot dogs and salami.

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 515 children and teenagers from Taiwan, some of whom had leukaemia, and found that those who ate cured meat or fish regularly were 74 per cent more likely to develop the disease. Those who ate vegetables and soy-based foods regularly were 50 per cent less likely than their meat-eating counterparts to develop leukaemia.

However, the study, published in the online journal BMC Cancer, did not include a detailed examination of why the foods caused the higher incidence of cancer, and Australian researchers have questioned the findings. The Cancer Council NSW nutritionist Kathy Chapman said: "It's a very small sample size to be making these kinds of associations between diet and cancer risk. "Normally when we look at a study like this you would be looking at 20,000 participants.

"Also, the best type of studies are those which follow people up over time rather than asking them what they did in the past. I don't think it's time for parents to be panicking if their kids have been tucking into the hot dogs over the school holidays." The authors of the study have acknowledged their research is not definitive but recommend that children not eat large amounts of cured meat and fish.


Food packaging chemicals may reduce fertility

And pigs might fly. There have been so many of these scares based on the most tenuous evidence. Proper caution is expressed below, however

Chemicals found in food packaging, pesticides and household items may be linked to lower fertility among women, new research has suggested. A study of 1,240 women has found that those with higher levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in their bloodstreams tend to take longer to become pregnant than those with lower levels. The findings, from scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), raise the prospect that exposure to the chemicals could be contributing to infertility. The study is published in the journal Human Reproduction.

The research, however, is preliminary and needs to be repeated. There is not yet any evidence that the association between the chemicals and lower conception rates is causative. It remains possible that higher blood concentration of the chemicals are the result of another factor that affects fertility, such as obesity. Women who eat more packaged food and thus consume more PFCs, for example, may be more likely to be obese and to have lower fertility as a result. Professor Jorn Olsen, of UCLA, who led the research, said: “We are waiting for further studies to replicate our findings in order to discover whether PFCs should be added to the list of risk factors for infertility.”

Professor Tony Rutherford, chairman of the British Fertility Society, described the link as tenuous, but interesting and worth following up. “This is an important finding and certainly warrants further detailed research, particularly in those trying for a family,” he said. David Coggon, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Southampton, said: “This is an interesting preliminary finding that may or may not turn out to be important. “We first need to see whether it can be confirmed in other studies. It would also be helpful to establish the main determinants of exposure to the chemicals in the general population.”


Friday, January 30, 2009

Active sex life supposedly 'cuts prostate cancer risk' - once you're over fifty

This is all self-report and self-report is maximally unreliable in sexual matters. It is probably more a study of attributions than of behaviour

Having an active sex life in their 50s could protect men against prostate cancer, say researchers. But greater levels of sexual activity among men in their 20s could increase their chances of developing the disease in later life, they warn. Men who are `very' sexually active in their 20s and 30s are more at risk, a study shows. Researchers at Nottingham University conclude that keeping up a regular sex life - rather than excessive activity in younger years followed by a fallow period - is best for men's health.

Dr Polyxeni Dimitropoulou, now at the University of Cambridge, said: `We were keen to look at the links between sexual activity and younger men as a lot of prostate cancer studies focus on older men as the disease is more prevalent in men over 50. Hormones appear to play a key role in prostate cancer and it is very common to treat men with therapy to reduce the hormones thought to stimulate the cancer cells. `A man's sex drive is also regulated by his hormone levels, so this study examined the theory that having a high sex drive affects the risk of prostate cancer.'

Each year 30,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in Britain. The disease remains the second most common cause of death for men in the UK, killing 10,000 a year. The study looked at the sexual practices of more than 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in their 50s, compared with 409 cancer- free men.

Engaging in sexual activity more than 20 times a month between the 20s and 30s increased the risk of prostate cancer, says a report in this month's issue of the British Journal of Urology International. But frequent activity in a man's 40s and later appeared to have little impact on their risk. Men in their 50s who were most sexually active, engaging in sexual activity more than ten times a month, had a `small' level of protection against the disease.

Dr Dimitripolou said: `One theory is that during the early years the prostate gland is more susceptible to hormonal changes and is still developing. `As men age and accumulate toxins from the diet or through their lungs, sexual activity may help release them.'

SOURCE reminder service signs up 100,000 people

My wife once said something very wise to me: "All women hate to be told they are hormonal -- especially when they are!" I have been known to mark a calendar myself

ONE hundred thousand men sick of copping a monthly serve from cranky wives and girlfriends have signed up for an online reminder service that warns when pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is about to hit., the brainchild of a 28-year-old bloke whose mates were too often in cycle-related strife, is designed for men who have a darling of a partner for three weeks of the month - and a demon for the rest. The reminders include pithy messages of encouragement such as "She's on yellow - tread carefully, fella" - as well as tips for how men can mitigate the damage. It tells men never to ask if a woman has PMS, and if all else fails to buy flowers, deemed to be "kryptonite to PMS."

Championing itself on the catchcry, "saving relationships one month at a time," the website also features a "national alert level" indicator for the US, showing how many women have PMS each day as well as the "overall threat index" on a scale of 1-4. CEO and founder Jordan Eisenberg developed after friends talked about the world-class diplomacy men needed to bring up the topic of PMS with their partners. "It's hard for guys to know if they did something to piss of their lady and hard to remember when PMS is, and always awkward to confront and ask the question without coming off like a jerk," he told "One of the guys actually kept track in his daily planner, and from there we decided to automate this process and offer it to the masses."

He admits that while functionality is first and foremost, some women may find the idea of their cycles being "tracked" a tad offensive. "Certainly some do," says Eisenberg, "but the majority do feel it is helpful, and the remainder at least get a kick and a laugh out of it. "Those in relationships have been overwhelmingly supportive and many have actually signed themselves up to warn their boyfriends (or) husbands. If anything, we feel we can minimise unnecessary fights by allowing men to offer some slack."

PMSBuddy started nine months ago and is now tracking the menstrual cycles of more than 100,000 women worldwide, including 4000 in Australia and 1000 in New Zealand via the site and a Facebook application. Users enter the date and length of a woman's last cycle. Women can sign up to send reminders to up to five men in their life. Anything from one to five days notice can be specified, allowing for warnings of various degrees of danger in the form of yellow, green and red alerts.

Eisenberg has received hundreds of emails of praise from both men and women, he said. And if the online forums are anything to go by, it has certainly stirred some controversy. Both women and men have written in with stories of PMS experiences, including one male who describes the once monthly bus that shows up to take his wife "to crazy town," and another who suggests all males should "just go and play golf" for a week.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cosmetic physicians warn that Botox linked to birth defects

The evidence for this has got more holes than a colander but the caution is not unreasonable. Botulinum toxin is one of the most toxic substances known

WOMEN contemplating injections of the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox have been warned it can cause birth defects in babies - including blindness and deafness. The Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia yesterday urged members to stick to national guidelines for the use of Botox. It follows reports last month of a case in 2005 in which a link was made between a child born deaf and blind and its mother's use of an anti-wrinkle treatment during pregnancy.

"Botulinum toxin should not be prescribed to pregnant women and we advise members to strictly follow these guidelines," said the CPSA's Dr Gabrielle Caswell. "Botulinum toxin has a long history of efficacy and a robust safety profile, however there are some circumstances, such as during pregnancy, breastfeeding, glaucoma and neuromuscular disease where it is not an appropriate medication."

The 2005 case did not involve Botox but a rival botulinum type A toxin drug called Dysport. In 2007, Australians spent about $300 million on non-invasive cosmetic treatments including Botox.


Diet pill side-effects

For years I've been searching for the next quick fix - the miracle diet, the revolutionary gym class or the ultimate fat-busting pill. In fact, I'll do anything to lose weight. Anything, that is, except eat less and exercise more. That's why I was so excited when I first heard about the fat-busting pill Alli, which has just been licensed to be sold over-the-counter in Britain.

A year ago the Daily Mail told how this medically proven obesity drug was already on sale in the US. I couldn't wait to try it. It seemed like the answer to my prayers - finally a little pill to take with every meal that would help me lose weight without any effort. But there was one problem - it was then available only in America. So when a friend suggested a long weekend in New York, the tickets were booked before you could say 'obesity epidemic'.

Arriving in Manhattan, Alli tablets weren't hard to find. The first pharmacy I went into had them. I chose the 90-capsule pack - enough for a month - which, with the exchange rate being so good at the time, cost around 25 pounds. The pack was full of little booklets offering advice on diet, exercise, how to take the pills and their side-effects. They explained that Alli is produced from the drug orlistat, which prevents your body absorbing some of the fat in the food you eat. The undigested fat is then flushed out of your body in your bowel movements. It's a half-strength version of the weight-loss drug Xenical, which is available both in the US and Britain and works in the same way but is only available with a doctor's prescription.

Alli, medical tests had proved, helped increase weight loss by about 50 per cent. So if I went on a diet and lost 2lb in a week, it could be increased to 3lb with the drug. Fantastic! Or so I thought until I read about the side-effects both in the leaflets and in all the testimonies online. Flatulence, diarrhoea and stomach pain were quite common. But I was desperate. I've been 2st overweight for as long as I can remember. I've done every diet known to man, from the Cabbage Soup Diet (great for a week but impossible to sustain any longer) to the Atkins (incredibly difficult for a strict vegetarian like myself). And I'm an emotional eater - if I'm feeling a bit low, I use crisps and biscuits to cheer myself up. So nothing short of risk of death was going to stop me taking Alli tablets.

I'm (unsurprisingly) no stranger to diet pills. I've tried lots of natural ones like Hoodia, a plant which claims to suppress your appetite, and LIPObind which, like Alli, reduces the amount of fat your body absorbs, but with no success. Around four years ago I was even so desperate that I bought appetite suppressant, Reductil, a prescription-only drug, online. I filled in a form and a doctor who didn't know my medical history happily prescribed it for me.

I lost 4lb in the first week - and certainly didn't feel as hungry as normal but the side-effects put me off. At first I felt a raging thirst and had a dry mouth. After a few days, I felt tense, ratty and was unable to sleep. I lost a stone but, even so, I didn't want to repeat the experience.

But Alli seemed different. Most of the side-effects seemed tolerable and there was a chance I might not even suffer them. Most importantly, it had been passed by America's Food And Drug Administration as safe to sell over the counter. Plus I'd read countless testimonies on line of women allegedly `achieving the impossible' with this drug. I dared to hope that I too may be one of them and swallowed my first little blue pill - one to be taken with each meal that contained fat.

The 90-capsule tub lasted about five weeks and the pills seemed to work well. Side-effects were minimal - a few stomach cramps, a little flatulence but nothing I couldn't cope with - and I lost 6lb, more than I'd normally expect to lose without going on a really hard-core diet. It seemed I'd finally found the solution to my weight problems. But Alli still wasn't available in Britain and although by now it could be bought off the internet, I couldn't stretch to 100 pounds for 60 tablets. It wasn't until last summer that I managed to get back to America to buy some more. Again I had only mild side-effects to begin with but, as the first month ended, I realised the weight wasn't coming off.

Even though I was eating about the same as last time - typically non-sugary cereal with low-fat milk for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and Quorn and vegetables for supper, with fruit snacks - I lost only a pound or two in four weeks. I would have expected to lose that amount anyway, given the amount I was eating. Yes, I'd have bad days when I'd give in and scoff a muffin, but to be honest, I expected better results.

Towards the end of October the drug's side-effects really began to kick in. Every morning I suffered from diarrhoea and agonising stomach cramps. The advice from Alli is that such problems can be controlled if you reduce the amount of fat you eat to around 15g per meal. I genuinely think I did this most of the time, but I still suffered. It got to the stage that I was so afraid of the side-effects, if I was going to eat something that I knew had a bit too much fat in, I wouldn't take the tablet. But still I was suffering from the side-effects.

By December the diarrhoea had cleared up but by then, I'm mortified to say, flatulence had become a real problem. If it wasn't for the fact I work from home and have no colleagues to worry about, I think I would have thrown the Alli in the bin. Plus there was the chronic discomfort. Each night, my stomach was incredibly bloated, like it was pumped full of gas. And each week it got worse. But last week I got on the scales and finally had to face facts. Since November, I've lost only 4lb. In the meantime I've suffered horrible side-effects and my social life has been totally disrupted. I've been in denial, but the truth is, for me, with Alli the problems far outweigh the benefits. So I've stopped taking them and am waiting for my body to get back to normal. Three days on I'm still getting cramps and wind.

Upset at why Alli didn't work for me I did a bit more research. What I discovered made me wish I'd never taken it in the first place. Judy More, a registered dietician, struggled to mask her exasperation when she told me: `If you're prepared to stick rigidly to a low-fat diet, then Alli (or orlistat as it is also known) might help you. `But if you're not, you have to be prepared for some very disagreeable side-effects. `Now it is going to be available over the counter, I have to assume the company has done the necessary research into the potential long-term health implications. 'I can see how it might help some people, but if someone really wants to lose weight, you need to motivate them to change their habits, giving them a pill isn't going to be the magic bullet that I have no doubt this will be marketed as.'

Dr Sidney Wolfe was even more direct. He says: `The drug works by inhibiting absorption of fats, and as a result the absorption of critical fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and E. Unless these are replaced, a patient could become vitamin deficient. `And, aside from the really unpleasant side-effects, which mean the company itself advises you to wear dark clothing and carry a change of clothes, we have many concerns about the long-term health implications.

`Not least is the fact that Roche's own data showed a correlation between the drug and the formation of pre-cancerous lesions in the colon. Furthermore, randomised control trials on orlistat also suggested there was a link with breast cancer, something that has still not been resolved.

More here

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Now you CATCH obesity ...spreading fat cells are linked to a virus

Sounds unlikely. Medicalizing a social problem again, I would think

Obesity can be 'caught' from another individual in the same way as a cold, scientists suggest. The condition has been linked to a highly-infectious virus which causes sniffles and sore throats. Spread by dirty hands, the adenovirus apparently attacks tissue and causes fat cells to multiply - leading to massive weight gain. Previous studies have shown that chickens and mice infected with the bug put on weight more quickly than uninfected animals - even when they do not eat more. Now human studies show that almost a third of obese adults carry the virus compared with 11 per cent of lean men and women.

Professor Nikhil Dhurandhar, who led the research, said the bug continues to add weight gain long after those infected recover from their cough or cold. He told BBC2's Horizon programme, to be shown at 9pm tonight: 'This virus goes to the lungs and spreads through the body. 'It goes to various organs and tissues such as the liver, kidney, brain and fat tissue. 'When this virus goes to fat tissue it replicates, making more copies of itself and in the process increases the number of new fat cells [why and how?], which may explain why the fat tissue expands and why people get fat when they are infected with this virus.'

The professor, from Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Louisiana, said victims could remain infectious for up to three months. 'But people could be fat for reasons other than viral infections so it's really pointless to try to avoid fat people to avoid infection,' he said.

Learning more about adenovirus's role in weight gain could speed the development of an antiobesity vaccine, or drugs to tackle the condition. British obesity experts, however, dismissed evidence of a link with adenovirus as 'sparse'. Tam Fry, of the Child Growth Foundation, said: 'You are much more likely to pick up the flu than obesity. In general, obesity is down to eating more than you need and not exercising as much as you should.'

Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said: 'A virus will never be the reason for why we have an obesity epidemic. 'There are far too many other factors, starting with our calorie intake exceeding our expenditure, and that's because we live such sedentary lives. 'Our dietary habits have changed beyond belief and I don't believe that's the effect of a viral infection - it is the fault of the commercial expansion of companies making unhealthy foods.'

Professor Colin Waine, past president of the National Obesity Forum, said: 'What we don't want to lose sight of is that if people can lose 5 to 10 per cent of their weight, the benefits on health are disproportionately good.'

Tonight's documentary also features research which could explain why dieters feel permanently hungry and often regain the weight they have lost. Dr Rudy Leibel, from Columbia University in New York, said individuals have a ' natural body weight' to which they are programmed to return after dieting. So naturally overweight people who diet will always suffer hunger pangs, even if they become lean and healthy. 'Individuals have a biology which determines how tall or short they will be and how skinny or fat they will be, and wishing it one way or the other really cannot change it that much.'


IVF advance promises leap in success rates

Success rates for IVF could be improved dramatically by a pioneering new IVF test that promises to help thousands of infertile couples to start a family. The new procedure, developed by British scientists, selects the most viable eggs for use in fertility treatment, by screening out those with genetic defects that would cause them to fail. A British woman was today announced as the first in the world to have benefited from the test.

The technique, developed by researchers at Care Fertility in Nottingham, has enabled the unnamed 41-year-old woman to conceive after 13 failed cycles of IVF treatment. She is due to give birth in two months time. The screening procedure could transform the prospects of motherhood for older infertile women and those with a history of miscarriage or IVF failure. It should also improve success rates among younger patients with a good chance of conceiving by IVF. While previous egg and embryo quality tests have been licensed only for women with a poor prognosis, the new one has been approved for any patient.

Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility, who led the development team, estimates that as many as half of all couples having fertility treatment could benefit from the technique, known as Array Comparative Genomic Hybridisation (Array CGH). "IVF success rates are around 30 per cent, and reach 40 per cent only in the best clinics, which means at least 60 per cent of cycles still fail," he said. "One of the holy grails is to get to one embryo, one baby, but the great stumbling block is that only 25 to 30 per cent of eggs are actually viable. By being able to select the normal ones, we should have an impact on success rates. How great that might be we don't yet know."

Array CGH would be especially useful when only a single embryo is transferred to the womb, to prevent the multiple pregnancies that are by far the greatest hazard of IVF, Dr Fishel said. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is seeking to reduce IVF twin and triplet births from one in four to one in ten, which will require many more patients than at present to have a single embryo transfer. "Converting IVF to single embryos is going to hit some patients very hard in terms of success rates, but if we can select those eggs and embryos with the highest chance of being chromosomally normal, I am hopeful we can mitigate that," Dr Fishel said. "I think this technology will lead towards this goal."

More here

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Please keep your babies safe - with vaccines

Below is an excerpt from the heroic Sandy Szwarc (I can even spell her surname without looking it up now!). I second every word of her appeal. It is so tragic that people have been misled by attention-seeking scaremongers into abandoning the greatest ally for good health that we have

For those of us healthcare professionals who were practicing as recently as the 1970s and early 1980s, the latest news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went right through our hearts. The CDC just reported that a 7-month old infant died, and another four became seriously ill from Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) last year in Minnesota (which tracks illnesses more closely than many states).

The baby had not received any of his Hib immunizations, nor had two of the other children. The remaining two had only received two of their primary Hib series and none had had their 1-year booster shot. The CDC report, which was published in the January 23 issue of MMMR-Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also found that fewer than half of the 7-month olds (46.5%) in the state had received their Hib series, a significant drop. That means we could be losing the herd immunity protection - that comes when high numbers are immunized to help protect others whose immune systems make them more vulnerable to getting sick, even when vaccinated, or protect babies too young to have yet received the full immunization series. And, in fact, one of the afflicted children was especially defenseless: a 3-year old who had an immunodeficiency.

With considerable relief, we thought Hib had been pretty much eradicated here, thanks to the Hib vaccine that became available in 1987, and most children were routinely getting the vaccine by the early 1990s. Before then, about one in every 200 babies and children under age five came down with invasive Hib infections and it seemed like we cared for a child terribly sick with meningitis or pneumonia nearly every week.

By around 1994, Hib had become so rare - the CDC has found fewer than ten Hib-related deaths a year since then - that we didn't have to worry about it much anymore. Neither did parents. And that's a very good thing because, as Dr. Lance Chilton, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-chair of the Clinical Prevention Initiative Immunization group, explained, back in the 70s, about one in every 20 of those sick children died, and one in five was left with severe disability. We don't want to go back to those days.

Today, most younger doctors and nurses have never even seen a case of Hib and few parents have watched babies get sick or die from Hib. So, Hib might not seem a big deal. We can only hope that we can reach young parents and help them understand why it is a big deal and why it is important to get their babies vaccinated

It might have been tempting to disregard these cases in Minnesota as possibly as statistical fluke - except for another troubling finding in the CDC report. The children who hadn't been vaccinated weren't because of a vaccine shortage, but because the parents or guardians had refused to have their children vaccinated.....


European Fascism snaps into action again

I personally loathe smoking but I am also aware that the harm done by "secondhand" smoking is a myth. Like "obesity", it is just another example of medicalizing a social problem. The EU is doing its best to prevent the myth being punctured

The 1st international conference against prohibition which was scheduled for the 27/28th January in the EU parliament, Brussels, was blocked on the 15th January following a letter to the EU president from the anti smoking organisation, The Smokefree Partnership.

The conference had gathered a great deal of interest and support due to the fact that eminent scientists from around the world, including some from within tobacco control, were attending to give speeches regarding the passive smoke fraud.

Fortunately the organisers of the event, TICAP, anticipated underhand tactics by the anti smoking industry to prevent the conference from happening, and a contingency within a separate venue right opposite the EU parliament has now been put into place. All scientists and other participants along with live satellite links for those unable to attend in person are available in the alternate building.

In the letter that resulted in the EU venue being withdrawn Florence Berteletti Kemp, Director of the Smoke Free Partnership, falsely claims a commercial interest for financial sponsors of the conference offering no factual evidence to back up her allegation. She also states that - the event goes "against all of Parliament's adopted reports and the European Community's legislation and commitments on this topic", and that "it violates the spirit of the International Framework Convention on Tobacco Control."

This is clearly a demand to prevent the freedom of speech of some of the most highly recognised scientists in the field; a demand that was upheld by the EU Bureau and hidden from the parliamentary sponsor of the conference, Godfrey Bloom MEP.

Kemp also stated that - "The TICAP conference purports to develop methods and strategies to end "the use of pseudo-science" in relation to tobacco control, in contrast the WHO FCTC recognizes "that scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease and disability".

In other words, no debate will be allowed, no scientist will be allowed a platform to disagree, only those who do agree with the policies have the right to freedom of speech on this subject in the EU building.

In an unprecedented move, the EU Bureau cancelled the conference with no record on their meeting agenda and without communication or right of reply to the sponsoring MEP, who was left to discover the truth by rumours almost a week later. These astonishingly undemocratic revelations were based upon unsubstantiated false claims and a demand that no debate should be allowed, and were submitted by an anti smoking group opposed to the content of the event.

For decades the anti smoking industry has grossly perverted science for their own ideology; it comes as no surprise to us whatsoever that they are now perverting democracy and freedom in the very heart of the EU.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Want better sex, fellas? Have a stiff drink

IT gives the phrase "a stiff drink" a whole new meaning: Australian researchers have made the surprise discovery that alcohol improves, rather than damages, men's performance in the bedroom. They hope the finding, which flies in the face of conventional belief, will reassure men who worry about the affects of drinking on their sex lives. Until now, it has been widely believed alcohol consumption could cause erectile dysfunction, commonly called "brewer's droop''.

But a study of 1580 Australian men has shown the reverse may be true, with drinkers reporting as many as 30 per cent fewer problems than teetotallers. Even binge drinkers had lower rates of erectile dysfunction than those who never drank, although this type of drinking can cause other health problems. Lead study author Dr Kew-Kim Chew, of Western Australia's Keogh Institute for Medical Research, told The Sunday Telegraph men who drank within safe guidelines appeared to have the best erectile function. "We found that, compared to those who have never touched alcohol, many people do benefit from some alcohol, including some people who drink outside the guidelines,'' Dr Chew said. Dr Chew said he had patients with erectile dysfunction who had been told to stop drinking completely.

The latest finding should prevent them compounding the problem by feeling "guilty and stressed'' about present or past drinking, he said. After other risk factors were excluded, weekend drinkers, high-risk drinkers and those who exceeded alcohol-intake guidelines had lower rates of erectile dysfunction than those who drank one day a week or less. Ex-drinkers, however, had the highest risk.


Drinking apple juice could help prevent Alzheimer's disease, particularly if you are a mouse

Mouse studies do not always transfer well to humans and the result below occurred only under very restricted and abnormal circumstances. Popular article below followed by journal abstract

Research has found that consuming two glasses of apple juice a day could delay the onset of the brain disorder, which affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. Scientists made the discovery through laboratory tests on mice, which showed that those fed apple juice performed better in maze trials. Experts observed that the drink prevented the decline in the rodents' performance in the tests, which they normally suffer as they get older.

The experiments found that apple juice stemmed the production of a small protein fragment called beta amyloid, commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers. The effect was most pronounced when mice were given the equivalent of two glasses of apple juice per day for one month, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell found. Professor Thomas Shea, from the university's Centre for Neurobiology, who led the research, said: "These findings provide further evidence linking nutritional and genetic risk factors for age-related neurodegeneration. "They suggest that regular consumption of apple juice can not only help to keep one's mind functioning at its best, but may also be able to delay key aspects of Alzheimer's disease and augment therapeutic approaches."

The study is published in this month's issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. More than 700,000 people in Britain suffer from dementia, an estimated 417,000 of whom have Alzheimer's, the most common form.


Dietary Supplementation with Apple Juice Decreases Endogenous Amyloid-? Levels in Murine Brain

By Amy Chan and Thomas B. Shea

Folate deficiency has been associated with age-related neurodegeneration. We demonstrate herein that dietary deficiency in folate and vitamin E, coupled pro-oxidant stress induced by dietary iron, increased amyloid-beta (Abeta) levels in normal adult mice. This increase was potentiated by apolipoprotein E (ApoE) deficiency as shown by treatment of transgenic mice homozygously lacking murine ApoE. Dietary supplementation with apple juice concentrate in drinking water alleviated the increase in Abeta for both mouse genotypes. These findings provide further evidence linking nutritional and genetic risk factors for age-related neurodegeneration, and underscore that dietary supplementation may be useful to augment therapeutic approaches.

Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Volume 16, Number 1, January 2009, Pages 167-171

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Authoritarian British teachers scanning children's lunchboxes and censuring families for anything they see there that they dislike -- even if there is no evidence of harm

There is actually some evidence that chocolate is beneficial to health but Britain's many mini-Hitlers just KNOW what is good and bad. Evidence be damned!

Lydia has contacted me to express her anger at being "named and shamed" because of what she put in her child's lunch box. She, horror of horrors, packed her son off to school today with chocolate spread sandwiches and received a telling off from the teacher in return. "It is our school's policy to encourage healthy eating," said the letter her son brought home. "We would prefer it if your son would bring in a nutritious, healthy sandwich for his lunch."

Lydia is not happy, for two reasons. One is that today is her son's birthday and the chocolate spread was a "special treat." Two is that she considers peanut butter a "healthy nutritious" option, but her son isn't allowed it because of what she calls the "nut obsession" (all nut products are banned at her son's school). And he has told her that he is sick of cheese and tuna!

There is clearly a big problem with packed lunches. Even if you make them healthy, it's hard to make them interesting. But should treats be banned, and should teachers be getting involved with what a parent packs in her child's lunch each day? The whole issue, bizarrely, is reminiscent of a thread I was reading on mumsnet last week. It was from a mother whose child had his jam sandwiches banned! She wasn't too thrilled either.

So, have we gone healthy eating mad, is this actually sensible advice, or is it, as Lydia grumpily points out "teachers just flexing their muscles and showing us that in school, they're the boss!"


New Pill 'eases women's pain'

A NEW contraceptive pill is set to revolutionise the lives of two million Australian women after a landmark clinical trial being launched in Sydney. Doctors are hoping the new type of pill will bring relief to women who suffer debilitating pain and discomfort each month. It comes as researchers believe women on the Pill suffer "hormone withdrawals" when they stop taking it during the seven-day break. Causing addiction-like reactions, women suffer pelvic pain, headaches, mood swings and breast soreness.

The Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick is recruiting women to take part in a worldwide trial for the new pill. Sexual health physician Terri Foran said the new pill would change the way women take the Pill in Australia. "There is no reason why women have to have a seven-day pill-free interval," Dr Foran said. "A lot of women suffer these symptoms and believe they are normal or its PMT, but they don't have to (suffer). "We believe it will work but before we put our hand on our heart and declare that, we have to test its effectiveness."

At least 70 per cent of all women who take the Pill suffer symptoms that can be mistaken for premenstrual tension. The new pill shortens the hormone-free interval from seven to two days and aims to end the withdrawals. Introduced in 1961, the contraceptive uses a combination of oestrogen and progestogen. Dr Foran said that by reducing the pill-free interval to two days, the body would not have enough time to experience the "withdrawals". "The difference with this pill to others on the market is that it alters the amount of hormone given and alters when it is given in the cycle," she said. "There is a suggestion that if you can manipulate that pill-free week, you might be able to lessen the symptoms. "The shortened break might well mean they don't get the symptoms."

More than two million Australian women take the Pill, making it the most common form of contraception. Unlike other types on the market that aim to reduce the symptoms, this new pill contains a natural form of oestrogen, estradiol, which could hold the key to ending the monthly suffering. Dr Foran yesterday urged women who suffer from withdrawal symptoms to take part in the trial. At least 880 women are needed worldwide to be part of the six month trial.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is curing your headache with acupuncture all in the mind?

Many swear it is as powerful as any headache pill – but the benefits of acupuncture could be all in the mind. Researchers have found a fake treatment is as good as the real thing at relieving the pain of headaches. An analysis of dozens of studies involving almost 7,000 men and women showed the ancient Chinese art to be better than tablets at warding off migraines.

However, fake treatments, in which the needles were placed randomly on the skin, were just as effective at stopping migraines – and almost as good at preventing tension headaches. The findings suggest many of the benefits of acupuncture are in the mind. Researchers say it is likely patients benefit from the 'placebo effect', in which care, attention and the simple belief the treatment will work, lead to improvements in health.

The analysis, published in the respected Cochrane Library's science review, is far from the first to cast doubts on the validity of the multi million-pound acupuncture industry. For instance, recent research has shown that acupuncture does nothing to boost a woman's chances of having a baby through IVF – and may even cut her odds of becoming a mother. However, other studies have proclaimed it to be effective.

In order to establish whether acupuncture helps prevent headaches, the German researchers combined the results of 33 clinical trials involving 6,736 patients. The men and women were treated for at least eight weeks in order to evaluate acupuncture's ability to ease tension headaches or the more severe but less frequent migraines. Some were treated with normal acupuncture, in which needles are inserted at specific 'energy points' in the skin. Others had a sham procedure, with the needles inserted at other points. The analysis showed the fake acupuncture to be just as good as the real thing at preventing migraines and almost as good at stopping tension headaches.

Researcher Dr Klaus Linde, from the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the Technical University of Munich, said: 'The studies suggest that migraine patients benefit from acupuncture, although the correct placement of needles seems to be less relevant than is usually thought by acupuncturists. 'Much of the clinical benefit of acupuncture might be due to nonspecific needling effects and powerful placebo effects, meaning the selection of specific needle points may be less important than many practitioners have traditionally argued.'

But, with the studies also showing acupuncture to be better than drugs at controlling migraines, the researchers said patients should have access to the treatment. Dr Linde said: 'Doctors need to know how long improvements associated with acupuncture will last and whether better-trained acupuncturists really achieve better results than those with basic training only.' Dr Mike Cummings, medical director off the British Medical Acupuncture Society, said: 'We certainly don't call what we do a "sham" procedure, as we believe there is growing evidence for a mechanism behind what we do. 'However, we still don't fully understand what is happening when needles are inserted, although these reviews suggest that for certain conditions, it is effective.'


$2-a-day anti-obesity pill is going on sale in Britain without prescription

A one pound-a-day pill that can help a woman rapidly drop a dress size could be sold over the counter within months. The drug, called alli, prevents the body from absorbing fat in food and helped slimmers lose an average of 10lb over six months in trials. It has been given the seal of approval by Europe's medicines watchdog and is expected to be available in pharmacies before the summer. Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline last night described the licensing of the drug, the first of its kind to be available without prescription, as 'a significant milestone'.

In trials, slimmers who took a tablet with every meal typically lost 50 per cent more weight than those who relied on willpower. The 10lb average weight loss after six months is the equivalent of a dress size. But some dieters lost more than five stone.

However the pills do have side-effects. The undigested fat which can't be absorbed passes through the body rather than being stored, making slimmers prone to wind and diarrhoea. Alli can also interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and slimmers are advised to supplement their diet with a daily multi-vitamin pill. The drug, a half-strength version of the prescription-only diet pill Xenical, will be available to those with a body mass index of 28 and over. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 signals that someone is overweight, while those over 30 are classified as obese.

Sales of the drug, which is likely to be displayed behind chemists' counters, totalled œ400million in the U.S. in its first year. Its price is yet to be fixed, but in the U.S., where it has been on sale for over a year, it costs around œ1 a day. Glaxo has stressed that the pill, taken three times a day, is designed to enhance rather than replace the benefits of diet and exercise.

Dr David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: 'Consumers are spending millions of pounds each year on fad diets, unproven "miracle pills" and potentially unsafe weight loss supplements. 'Medically proven licensed products give consumers the option of something which can genuinely support meaningful weight loss.'

Some, however, have questioned how well the drug will work away from trial conditions. Gareth Williams, editor of the book Obesity: Science to Practice, suggests that a healthier lifestyle would be just as effective. He said: 'Don't eat between meals, leave out food that's obviously full of fat or sugar and get half an hour's walking exercise a day. That's all you need to do.'


Friday, January 23, 2009

Scientists unravel why women love make-up

"Why" is a bit of an overstatement. "How", maybe

Women anticipate a rush of anticipation and optimism as they prepare to apply make-up, according to brain function research by Japanese scientists. The findings are the result of more than two years of research by cosmetics giant Kanebo but came as a surprise to the team, headed by brain scientist Dr Ken Mogi. The researchers had expected to find that women experience positive emotions after they had applied the make-up.

The company's "Cosmetics, Beauty and Brain Science" project determined that there are distinct cognitive activities involved in a woman's perception of her face with and without make-up. Using a brain scanner, the scientists were able to monitor activity in the caudate nucleus of the brain and confirm that when a woman sees her own face without make-up, she anticipates how she will eventually appear to others and a "reward system" is activated, releasing dopamine to give sensations of pleasure. "We know from previous research that when this area of the brain is activated we can derive pleasure from certain activities," said Keishi Saruwatari, of Kanebo's laboratories. "We interpret that as meaning that when a woman looks at her face she is imagining how she will look when she has applied her make-up. "There is a mixture of expectation, encouragement and ambition," he said. "Make-up contributes to building relationships with others and feelings of pleasure in women."

The research focused on female responses, but the team believes similar feelings may be at work when a man shaves or puts on cologne of a morning. "We can now not only put a functional value on a product now, but also measure the emotional appeal," said scientist Yasuhiko Tanaka. "By using quantifiable research, we will be able to strengthen the emotional value of a product and enable us to develop more appealing versions."


Thalidomide 'offers new hope for prostate cancer patients'

It's good for leprosy too

Treating prostate cancer patients with thalidomide and hormone-blocking drugs in alternate doses can delay the recurrence of the cancer after surgery, a study has found. The findings will help up to one third of the 31,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year where the disease has spread outside the prostate gland.

Increasingly, oncologists in the UK are prescribing drugs after surgery to reduce levels of the male hormone testosterone, thereby stopping the cancer growing. In the latest U.S. study 159 men in two groups were given hormone-blockers for six months after surgery, followed by either thalidomide or a dummy drug (placebo). The average time until the cancer showed signs of recurring was 15 to 17 months for thalidomide patients compared with just 6.6 to 9.6 months for placebo patients.

Originally prescribed for pregnant women suffering morning sickness, thalidomide was withdrawn in the UK in 1961 after it was shown to cause stunted or missing limbs in babies. But researchers in several countries have now started cautiously using the drug's growth-restricting properties to slow the development of tumours, although care is taken to ensure it is never used on women who could become pregnant.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

You don't have to diet to lose weight... just relax instead, say experts

I lead a very relaxed life so I wish this were true

Women who want to lose weight should ditch their diets and learn to relax instead, research shows. At the end of a two-year study, women who followed a programme of yoga and meditation had lost weight and kept it off, while those who focused purely on exercise and nutrition had not. The 'relaxed' women were also generally happier and healthier at the end of the study. Experts believe that reducing stress stops cravings for fatty foods and sweets.

The team at the University of Otago in New Zealand divided 225 overweight women into three groups, according to the paper in the journal Preventive Medicine. The first group took part in yoga, meditation, and positive visualisation. The second group focused on physical exercise and nutrition, while the third received nutrition information in the post.

Study co-author Dr Caroline Horwath said all three groups of women had successfully prevented any weight gain. But 'the most striking results' were in the first group --they had an average weight loss of five and a half pounds (2.5kg).

Dr Horwath added: 'At the two-year mark, these women were the only ones to maintain the psychological and medical symptom improvements. 'The positive results are exciting, given the limited long-term success of traditional dieting approaches. 'By learning and practising relaxation techniques as part of a wider lifestyle change programme, women have effective tools to manage stress and emotions without resorting to unhealthy eating.'

The study suggests dieting may not be the best way to lose weight. And Dr Horwath said that helping women 'break free from chronic dieting' is the key to better long-term health.

The researchers also found that the volunteers with a 'weight-focused mindset' were more likely to lose interest in the study and drop out early.


Why hungry women can't say 'no'

Oh no! Not "gender" differences. They are not supposed to exist!

Faced with their favorite foods, women are less able than men to suppress their hunger, a discovery that may help explain the higher obesity rate for females, a new study suggests. US researchers trying to understand the brain's mechanisms for controlling food intake were surprised at the difference between the sexes in brain response.

Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory and colleagues were trying to figure out why some people overeat and gain weight while others don't. They performed brain scans on 13 women and 10 men, who had fasted overnight, to determine how their brains responded to the sight of their favorite foods. They report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "There is something going on in the female," Wang said, "the signal is so much different."

In the study, participants were quizzed about their favorite foods, which ranged from pizza to cinnamon buns and burgers to chocolate cake, and then were asked to fast overnight. The next day they underwent brain scans while being presented with their favorite foods. In addition, they used a technique called cognitive inhibition, which they had been taught, to suppress thoughts of hunger and eating.

While both men and women said the inhibition technique decreased their hunger, the brain scans showed that men's brain activity actually decreased, while the part of women's brains that responds to food remained active. "Even though the women said they were less hungry when trying to inhibit their response to the food, their brains were still firing away in the regions that control the drive to eat," Wang said.

Nora Volkow, director of the American Institute on Drug Addiction and a co-author of the paper, said the gender difference was a surprise and may be because of different nutritional needs for men and women, although she stressed that idea is speculative. Because the traditional role of the female is to provide nutrition to children, the female brain may be hard-wired to eat when foods are available, she said. The next step is to see if female hormones are reacting directly with those specific parts of the brain. "In our society we are being constantly being bombarded by food stimulus," she said in a telephone interview, so understanding the brain's response can help in developing ways to resist that stimulus.

Eric Stice, an expert on eating disorders at the Oregon Research Institute, called the findings provocative. "I think it is very possible that the differences in hunger suppression may contribute to gender differences in eating disorders and that they are likely linked to gender differences in estrogen and related hormones," said Stice, who was not part of Wang's research team.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.3 percent of American women and 33.3 percent of men were considered obese in 2006.

Rosalyn Weller, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said she was surprised by the results and "thought the dissociation between subjective reports of hunger and brain activation in women but not men was very interesting." The results suggest that training in reducing food desires or in reacting to food cues could be effective treatments to combat obesity, said Weller, who was not part of the research team.

Weller was a co-author of a recent paper in the journal NeuroImage that studied women's brains when participants were shown pictures of food. They found that obese women had a much stronger reaction than normal-weight women in brain regions related to reward.

Wang noted that behavioral studies have shown that women have a higher tendency than men to overeat when presented with tasty food or under emotional distress. This may result from differences in sex hormones, he said, and further research is planned to see if that is the case.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, an expert in eating behavior at Tufts University, called Wang's research "very interesting ... I hope to see more like it." But, she added, a lot of different factors figure in what and when we eat. "As we learn more about the different factors that go into making that decision we'll be better at helping people regulate" their eating, said Lichtenstein, who was not part of the research team.

Obesity has been increasing and Wang also suggested that another part of the reason is changes in society. While food choices were seasonal and more limited for our ancestors, choices today are wider and the food is so tempting, he said. "You go to the buffet, you see the food, you want it," Wang went on. "Some people go to the buffet, they don't eat so much, some do. There is something different in the people."

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and by the General Clinical Research Centre of Stony Brook University.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Different bacteria in the gut 'could cause obesity'

Bacteria in the gut which are crucial to the body's ability to turn food into energy could explain why some people become obese, scientists believe.

Energy is released from food by bacteria in the stomach and the body then stores the energy as fat until it is needed. But researchers say new findings suggest that some people's guts process too much energy, and store too much fat. Over time this can cause weight gain and eventually obesity.

The finding could help scientists better understand why some people are more prone to weight problems than others. Official figures show that almost one in four British adults is now obese, while many more are classed as overweight.

Billions of microbes live in the human gut, thousands of which are linked or could be considered from the same "family". They help the body to digest food, although some of their other functions are not entirely understood by scientists. Scientists looked at the guts of obese patients, those who had recently undergone a gastric band operation and thin people. They found that obese people had different types of bacteria in their stomach than those who were naturally slender. But they also found that a gastric bypass appeared to radically change the composition of bacteria in the gut.

This difference could be one of the reasons why gastric band operations are so effective, according to the scientists, from Arizona State University, the Mayo Clinic, Arizona, and the University of Arizona. Dr Bruce Rittmann, from Arizona State University, said that the combination of different bacteria found in obese patients created a situation of energy release akin to "cars flooding onto (a motorway)". He called for further research into the findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal, which he said could open up new ways to tackle the growing obesity crisis.

Obesity is calculated using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Experts class a BMI of more than 30 as obese, while more than 25 is overweight and between 19 and 25 considered normal. A person's BMI score is calculated by taking their weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of their height in metres.


Ignorance and poverty is mainly what kills snakebite victims

Ken Winkler knows his snakes, from rattlesnakes, brown snakes, death adders and taipans to little green tree snakes and even faux snakes like Australia's legless lizards, evolutionary oddballs that just look like snakes. He's treated snakebite victims, studied snake venom, heads the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne and is adamant that the world needs to pay as much attention to snakes as he does.

But has the physician and toxinologist ever been bitten? "Never. I take a low-risk approach. Get your collaborators to handle the snakes," he confesses, pointing to one such collaborator, doctoral student David Williams. A former reptile-keeper and now a researcher at the AVRU's Papua New Guinea Snakebite Research Project in Port Moresby, Williams says it's true he takes the bites for science -- and head office. "I've had four very serious snakebites that could have killed me. It's not the snake's fault. It comes with the (professional) turf."

Few Australians will ever share Williams's experience at the fang end of a serpent. Australia is home to the 11 most venomous snakes in the world and the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show just 1750 people were hospitalised for a dangerous snakebite in 2002-05. That's 2.9 bites per 100,000 Australians. Winkel estimates that just a handful -- perhaps two, three or four -- Australians die each year from snakebite. That's not so elsewhere. Winkel wrote the snakebite section of the World Report on Child Injury Prevention, released last year by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). He found PNG's annual incidence of snakebite was 561.9 cases per 100,000 people. Nearly 26 per cent of the victims died. Globally, about 5 million people are bitten each year, of whom up to 200,000 will die. Others will be maimed for life, suffering amputated arms and legs.

Most of the victims live in poor tropical countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. For them snakebite is as serious as malaria or dengue fever. As Williams notes of their predicament, "snakebite is the one illness where you can get out of bed in the morning, go out to work in the garden and be dead by nightfall. It doesn't have to be that way". Winkler agrees. Together they co-convened a clinical toxinology conference last November in Melbourne that attracted diverse international experts, also keen to alleviate the burden of suffering and deaths caused by untreated snakebites.

The result was the Global Snake Bite Initiative. The idea is to borrow from successful international collaborations like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI). The goal is to create and implement strategies to tackle snakebite, what Winkler and Williams call a "neglected tropical disease", one not even on the radar of WHO, UNICEF and other global players. At the meeting a steering committee was formed and is busy setting up a global network of governments, antivenom producers, scientists, medical experts, agencies like WHO and UNICEF, non-governmental organisations like World Vision and philanthropists. Winkler says they're talking to the Bill and Melinda Gates and Clinton Foundations. He also has his sites trained on major antivenom manufacturers like Melbourne's CSL Ltd. "We hope to have official involvement money on the table and not just for the short-term," he says, noting that CSL supported the November conference.

To help regional experts quickly and cheaply tap into their international colleagues' expertise, the committee created an online resource, a bit like Wikipedia. People can access information and chat with one another, getting and giving advice about local problems in places as diverse as Nigeria, PNG, Mexico, Nepal, India or Bangladesh.

Sometimes the solutions can be astonishingly cheap, says Paul Scuffham, a health economist at Brisbane's Griffith University. "For example, an Australian mining company in PNG used to have about three (staff) deaths per year. They were spending about $3 million per year on antivenom. "Then they spent about $30,000 on boots for staff walking to and from work and nothing on antivenom. They've had no deaths since. That's smart."

According to Scuffham, the new initiative promises to help people on the ground get tips on other cost-effective tactics that can help prevent snakebites, improve the ability of local clinics to identify and treat snakebites and make sure the right antivenom gets to the right place at the right time.

Antivenoms, particularly, are a critical problem for cash-strapped nations, often struggling with internal corruption as well as fraudulent antivenom supplies. Williams recounts incidents of adulterated or out-of-date black-market antivenoms, water sold as antivenom and unscrupulous manufacturers knowingly selling drugs to nations that don't have the snakes for which they were designed. He says a single antivenom that counters the venom of all -- or even many -- snakes is the "holy grail" of toxicologists, specialists in animal venom.

That's where foundations with deep pockets can help make a difference, says Scuffham. Despite the huge unmet need for antivenom, demand has dropped. They're just too expensive. Manufacturers won't, or can't afford to, produce drugs for niche markets at an affordable price. "The idea being floated is that if there's a large injection of funds from an international community like the World Bank to subsidise antivenoms where places can't afford them, that would improve demand, so companies would produce more and stimulate the market," Scuffham explains.

He adds such an approach must be matched with projects to develop local technical, intellectual, administrative and manufacturing skills such that poor nations could develop "country-specific" manufacturing plants that work to international standards. "Whatever happens, it's got to be sustainable and not a windfall to manufacturers that just pushes up the price," Scuffham claims.

Meanwhile, Williams is heading to Geneva in a few weeks to help the WHO expert committee on biological standardisation to put new production guidelines online. Based on his PNG experience, he's also developed a "toxinology toolkit" that regional health officials can use to rapidly assess and tackle their snakebite problem. "Cambodia is the first cab off the rank," Williams says. His work reflects the potential Australia has to help less fortunate neighbours help themselves with a neglected public health issue. "We already have a cure on the shelf," says Williams, pointing to antivenoms. "What we're on about (with the global initiative) is getting that cure into the hands of people who can use it to save lives."


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wealthy men give women more orgasms -- in China

This has been a hugely hyped study -- presumably because people want to believe it -- but the fact that it is based on Chinese data is never stressed. That there may be genetic and cultural differences among the Chinese seems never to be considered. There is a trailing reference to Western research showing body symmetry and attractiveness also to be linked with orgasm but that is a different finding altogether. It is however an important finding. Body symmetry is integral to attractiveness and attractiveness is a sign of good health -- and rich men mostly get attractive and hence healthy women. And healthy women have more orgasms! Big non-surprise. So even the Chinese data were probably misinterpreted. It is good health that confers more orgasms, not the partner's wallet

Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner's bank balance. They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms. "Women's orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner," said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research. He believes the phenomenon is an "evolutionary adaptation" that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality.

The study is certain to prove controversial, suggesting that women are inherently programmed to be gold-diggers. However, it fits into a wider body of research known as evolutionary psychology which suggests that both men and women are genetically predisposed to ruthlessly exploit each other to achieve the best chances of survival for their genes. The female orgasm is the focus of much research because it appears to have no reproductive purpose. Women can become pregnant whatever their pleasure levels.

Pollet, and Professor Daniel Nettle, his co-author, believed, however, that the female orgasm is an evolutionary adaptation that drives women to choose and retain high-quality partners. He and Nettle tested that idea using data gathered in one of the world's biggest lifestyle studies. The Chinese Health and Family Life Survey targeted 5,000 people across China for in-depth interviews about their personal lives, including questions about their sex lives, income and other factors. Among these were 1,534 women with male partners whose data was the basis for the study. They found that 121 of these women always had orgasms during sex, while 408 more had them "often". Another 762 "sometimes" orgasmed while 243 had them rarely or never. Such figures are similar to those for western countries.

There were of course, several factors involved in such differences but, said Pollet, money was one of the main ones. He said: "Increasing partner income had a highly positive effect on women's self-reported frequency of orgasm. More desirable mates cause women to experience more orgasms."

This is not an effect limited to Chinese women. Previous research in Germany and America has looked at attributes such as body symmetry and attractiveness, finding that these are also linked with orgasm frequency. Money, however, seems even more important.

David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who raised this question in his book The Evolution of Desire believes female orgasms have several possible purposes. "They could promote emotional bonding with a high-quality male or they could serve as a signal that women are highly sexually satisfied, and hence unlikely to seek sex with other men," he said. "What those orgasms are saying is `I'm extremely loyal, so you should invest in me and my children'."


Early intervention works for stutter

You wouldn't guess from watching her performances in the hit TV drama Underbelly, but 28-year-old actress Petra Kalive started stuttering as a young child. "Basically as soon I was talking I started stuttering," says Kalive, who played Antonella Moran, wife of the gang member Mark Moran, in eight episodes of the award-winning crime series. "It was very frustrating, because I couldn't explain myself. People would always finish my sentences. And I thought I wasn't as intelligent because I couldn't finish sentences. That just made things worse." After an unsuccessful attempt to seek treatment in childhood, Kalive eventually mastered her speech issue as an adult.

And in the last few years, treatment techniques for this debilitating disorder have been refined. Once thought caused by parenting practices and anxiety about speaking, scientists now believe that stuttering is caused by problems in the brain, and is not associated with intelligence, parenting styles, or psychological trauma. Professor Mark Onslow, the foundation Director of the Australian Stuttering Research Centre (ASRC) at the University of Sydney, says people who stutter "process language in a different way to those who don't". This is because the brains of those who stutter both look and act differently to the brains of those who don't. "Reports show both structural and functional anomalies in the brains of people who stutter," explains Onslow. "Reports have shown that those who stutter have larger brain matter and more ridges, or gyri, in speech-related areas."

On a functional level, a study published last year in the Journal of Neurolinguistics showed that neurons in a part of the brain involved in producing sentences in speech do not connect as efficiently in people who stutter (2007;20:353-62). Following from this research, a study from the US last year in the journal NeuroImage suggests that this problem is a cause of stuttering, and not an effect (2008;39:1333-44).

Understanding these physical differences has allowed scientists to explain many, once unexplainable, stuttering phenomena. "By zeroing in on what is going wrong in a person who stutters, a lot of things are making sense that didn't before," says Onslow. "There are many reports of people that stutter having trouble playing wind instruments at concerts, and, as a group, people who stutter find it more difficult to imitate rapid finger-tapping sequences. "The part of the brain that controls fingers is close to the part that controls muscles required for speech, such as the lip, jaw and tongue."

About 1 to 2 per cent of adult Australians stutter, but a recent report in Paediatrics (2009;123;270-277) showed that more than 8 per cent of three-year-olds exhibit signs of the condition. "Stuttering starts to appear in children as soon as they begin putting words together," explains Onslow.

While irregularities in the brain cause stuttering, the condition is triggered once children begin speaking and stressing syllables -- the building blocks of speech. "Stuttering is triggered when children start learning to put different stresses when producing syllables," says Onslow. "In fact, the best treatments for adults who stutter involve reducing syllabic stress a little." It is generally thought that around three quarters of children recover naturally from stuttering within two years of its onset, without the need for treatment.

Brenda Carey, a Melbourne-based speech pathologist who is finalising a PhD on stuttering at the ASRC, says that with current practices, stuttering in pre-school is eminently treatable, and children who stutter "should not go untreated into school". Children have brains that are more plastic and adaptable than adult brains, Carey says. As a result, a child's brain can adjust and respond to stuttering treatment better than an adult. "While many children do grow out of stuttering, there is a small window before entry to school when we can treat the problem," Carey says. "If parents are waiting for too long they may miss the boat."

Kalive is one of many stutterers whose speech issue did not go away naturally. "My parents were really concerned about my stuttering -- they thought I would grow out of it, and I nearly did until I was in my early 20s when it started coming back," she recalls. Kalive visited a speech pathologist when she was six but was misdiagnosed and continued stuttering until she sought further treatment when she was 23.

Once children start kindergarten, teasing and bullying about their speech problem may begin. This intensifies the condition, making it harder to treat. "Anxiety affects speech control," explains Carey. "And if you don't have positive feelings about communication, it creates a negative cycle. You stop talking, or seeing people -- making the stuttering worse when you do speak." For some people, the effect of stuttering has been catastrophic. A study to be published in the Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, published online in July, by Onslow and his team at the ASRC found that 60 per cent of stutterers enrolled in a clinical trial suffered from social phobia.

Kalive described the difficulty of stuttering in daily life. "Stutterers are very easy to make fun of -- it's an easy joke and that is what we battle against," she says. "As a consequence of the joking you stop wanting to participate in conversations. I would only speak when people asked me a question, because I didn't want to embarrass myself. The only way to avoid embarrassment was to not talk."

Unlike the growing public awareness towards mental diseases such as depression, Carey says people generally "still feel that it's okay to laugh at people who stutter". "People view it as a weakness rather than an organic process that needs fixing. Those who don't stutter take communication for granted. It's a basic human need, and for those who risk humiliation when trying to communicate, it can be incredibly disempowering."

While treating adults for stuttering is more difficult than treating children, it is possible. The process, called speech restructuring, teaches those who stutter how to co-ordinate elements involved in speech, such as mouth muscle movements and breathing. This process is akin to learning how to speak all over again, says Carey. At the age of 23, Kalive relearned how to control her breathing and co-ordinate her speech. As a result, her stutter was impossible to detect while she spoke to Weekend Health. "Now it only resurfaces when I am incredibly tired or nervous," says Kalive. This is common in stuttering rehabilitation.

Carey explains that when people are tired and anxious, they are less able to deal with the stutter when it happens. She warns against any instant treatment solutions that claim to fix stuttering in the long term. "We know that for adults, getting a change in the short-term is very easy, but whether they will be fluent in a year is the test."

The short-term gains from some treatments are attributed to the boost in confidence and mood that a person who stutters will feel after treatment. "There is no new and glamorous treatment. Right now, we are fine-tuning the delivery of treatments that have been shown to be most effective," says Carey. Research at the ASRC is focusing on delivering treatment to sufferers more efficiently and conveniently than before. "We can now give constructive treatment in fewer hours, making it less inconvenient for the patient and less costly to the community," says Carey. Trials have just been completed into providing treatment for stuttering over the phone, and results, says Carey, "are very exciting".

While stuttering still holds a stigma that other disorders have left behind, research into its causes and available treatments are out in front. Although it is more difficult to overcome the disorder in adulthood than childhood, Australian research is working hard to provide treatment for all ages.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Open-plan offices making you sick

That firms with open plan offices might differ in other ways than their offices seems not to have been considered

The evidence is overwhelming - working in an open plan office is bad for your health. Australian scientists have reviewed the global pool of research into the effect of modern office design, concluding the switch to open-plan has led to lower productivity and higher worker stress. "The evidence we found was absolutely shocking,'' said researcher Dr Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. "In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover. "The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, there are privacy issues because everyone can see what you are doing on the computer or hear what you are saying on the phone, and there is a feeling of insecurity.''

Dr Oommen said there was also a higher chance of workplace conflict caused by "sitting so close to someone that each time their phone rings you can get irritated''. "I think most of us, including myself, can relate to that,'' he said.

Working in an open-plan office could contribute to higher blood pressure, Dr Oommen said, and an increased risk of illnesses as bugs such as the influenza virus were more swiftly passed around. "Based on these findings, I think employers around the country need to rethink the open-plan environment in their offices,'' he said. "The research found that the traditional design was better - small, private closed offices. "The problem is that employers are always looking for ways to cut costs, and using open-plan designs can save 20 per cent on construction.''

Dr Oommen's study has been published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management.


Addictive foods?

I have bacon and eggs for breakfast nearly every morning. Am I addicted to it? This is just another attempt to medicalize a social problem

Cornflakes, biscuits and soft drinks may be as addictive as cigarettes and are in danger of advertising bans, strict regulations, high taxes and health warning labels, scientists say. These and other heavily processed foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) trigger an addictive sugar rush that can be hard to resist and leads to obesity.

New Zealand scientists reviewed evidence showing compulsive food consumption has similar underlying brain mechanisms that result in drug dependence, and argue that heavily processed carbohydrates have the most potential to cause addiction. Lead researcher Simon Thornley, from Auckland Regional Public Health Service, said foods with a high GI caused blood-sugar levels to spike suddenly, and this sugar rush stimulates the same areas of the brain associated with addiction to nicotine and other drugs. Low-GI foods produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and a feeling of contentment and satiety.He said the theory, if proven, had important public health implications.

Nicole Wigan from Maroubra said she makes sure her two children eat a balanced diet, but her son, Jack, 4, "could eat junk food all day long if I let him".

Having a school holiday treat of fish and chips at La Perouse beach yesterday, Ms Wigan said while she's heard of the glycaemic index, she doesn't do the weekly grocery shop based on high- or low-GI foods. "I don't pay attention to it, but generally we eat quite a balanced diet and if they've eaten well, they can have a treat at night," she said.

This is the first time GI has been implicated as the predictor of the addictive potential of foods. Dr Thornley said evidence showed people who binged on high-carb foods experienced symptoms of addiction - loss of control, a compulsion to keep taking higher amounts to get the same buzz - and suffered withdrawal if they went cold turkey. And like those addicted to cocaine and alcohol, people with a higher body mass index had fewer brain pleasure receptors.

Carb addicts may benefit from getting their hit of blood sugar more slowly by eating low-GI foods or even using a food version of the nicotine patch. "Just as slow release forms of nicotine help smokers recover from addiction, low GI foods may reduce cravings in obese or overweight populations," Dr Thornley and his colleagues at the University of Auckland wrote in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

GI pioneer Jennie Brand-Miller, from the University of Sydney, welcomed the study but said the assertion high-GI foods have a shorter time to peak concentration in the bloodstream is incorrect. All foods take about 30 minutes to peak, but high-GI foods peak and fall at substantially greater levels, Professor Brand-Miller said. "It's a novel idea that draws on strong evidence that glucose consumption influences levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain."

An editorial in The American Journal of Psychiatry last year proposed some forms of obesity are driven by an excessive motivation for food and should be classified as a mental disorder, or "food addiction" in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, wrote that the symptoms of obesity - compulsive consumption of food and inability to restrain from eating - are remarkably parallel to those described for drug dependence.

The professor of population health at Deakin University, Boyd Swinburn, said while there were commonalities between drug-seeking behaviour and the extreme measures a starving person will go to for food, labelling obesity an addiction was "far-fetched".


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Left-handers not right in the head?

There is a longer summary of the findings below here. There are plenty of studies showing Left-handedness as a brain abnormality but the story below seems to go beyond what the journal article actually shows. Just the fact that it concerns females only is, for instance, not mentioned. The study is Wright, L., Hardie, S.M., & Wilson, K. (2009). "Handedness and Behavioural Inhibition: Left-handed females show most inhibition as measured by BIS/BAS self-report". Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 20 - 24.. One would think that self-reports were a rather poor substitute for direct measurement in this case too. I have probably grumbled enough about the study already but I feel a slight personal involvement with it because I too have had lots of articles published in the selfsame journal. So let me go on to make the further rather obvious point that attributing the effects to brain differences may be correct but the findingds do not show that. The results could equally well be attributed to socialization effects. Leftists might be more hesitant simply because they know they are different

LEFT-handed people make up only 10 per cent of the population, but they are more likely to be inhibited, anxious, shy and embarrassed than right-handed ones. This is according to researchers at the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland who compared lefties and right-handers.

The participants were given a behavioral test that assesses personal restraint and impulsiveness. The results showed that left-handers are more likely to feel anxiety, shyness or embarrassment about doing or saying what they want. Left-handers were more likely to agree with statements such as "I worry about making mistakes" and "Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit."

The findings could be due to wiring differences between the brains of left- and right-handers, said study leader Dr Lynn Wright. "Left-handers are more likely to hesitate, whereas right-handers tend to jump in a bit more," Wright said. "In left-handers, the right half of the brain is dominant, and it is this side that seems to control negative aspects of emotion. In right-handers, the left brain dominates."


'Marilyn Monroe' hormone discovered

The sample is a very limited one for such large generalizations and the possibility of other things mediating a hormone/behaviour correlation seems not to have been considered

SCIENTISTS have identified the Marilyn Monroe hormone that is linked to an hour-glass body shape in women, and also an increased desire to trade-up to new men. Women who have high levels of oestradoil also show elevated confidence and a greater inclination to have sex outside of their current relationship, according to the US-based research. The ovarian steroid hormone is also associated with having a symmetrical face, large breasts and a low waist-to-hip ratio.

"Marilyn Monroe is actually a really good example of a woman who was almost certainly high in oestradoil," Australian sexologist Dr Frances Quirk said in response to the research. "She was a classic hour-glass figure and because of her relationship pattern - she was a serial monogamist. "Her relationships last three or four years or slightly longer, and if you look at the men she had relationships with, they increased in status."

The University of Texas study took in 52 young women, aged 17 to 30, and checked their oestradoil levels using a saliva swab. They were asked to rate themselves on perceived desirability, quizzed on their sexual motivations and also their inclinations relating to their current relationship. An independent group also assessed photographs of the women to provide an external assessment of their attractiveness. "High-oestradiol women were considered significantly more physically attractive by themselves and others," the study, published in the journal Biology Letters, concluded. "These women reported somewhat lower levels of satisfaction with and commitment to their primary partners, and a significantly greater likelihood ... of becoming acquainted with new potential mates."

The study found while high-oestradiol women reported being "significantly more likely" to have a serious affair, they did not indicate a greater likelihood of having "brief sexual encounters". They favour long-term relationships but are "not easily satisfied by their long-term partners and are especially motivated to become acquainted with other, presumably more desirable, men".

Dr Quirk, Associate Professor at James Cook University, said because of these traits, high-oestradoil women "may also be the sort of women that other women don't like too much".


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Evolutionary curveball for curvy?

Anthropological reports can be very subjective and biased, as the Maragaret Mead debacle showed. I would not put much weight on the summary below at all. The conclusions are entirely to be expected from the known anti-Western biases of anthropologists. Any fault may lie with the data she uses rather than with the author herself, however. In one of her papers she quotes one of my papers and agrees with its conclusions! The original article is Waist-to-Hip Ratio across Cultures: Trade-Offs between Androgen- and Estrogen-Dependent Traits" by Elizabeth Cashdan

Having something less than the classic "hourglass" figure may have its benefits after all. While women with curvy figures might enjoy more attention from men in Western culture, and find it easier to become pregnant, new research suggests they may also face some evolutionary disadvantages compared to women with thicker waists.

That's because the same hormones that increase fat around the waist can also make women stronger, more assertive, and more resistant to stress, according to a new study published in the December issue of Current Anthropology. Given those findings, it makes sense that the slim-waisted body has not evolved to become the universal norm, said the study's author, Elizabeth Cashdan, an anthropologist at the University of Utah.

Her study takes aim at a theory popular in evolutionary psychology and medicine: that men universally prefer women with narrow waists and larger hips because their higher levels of estrogen make them more likely to conceive a child, and less vulnerable to chronic diseases. These preferences, the theory goes, have defined women's ideal body shape over time.

The idea took root in the 1990s when psychologists showed men drawings of women's silhouettes and asked them which were most sexy. Researchers found that men gravitated toward images with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 - in other words, with a waist about a third narrower than the hips. Those same hourglass proportions are reportedly shared by stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Alba, and linked in medical studies with a lower risk of heart disease.

The findings troubled feminists, and drew criticism from anthropologists who said researchers were generalizing about human evolution based on samples of young, mostly white men in industrialized societies. The debate endured for years. "Many of us anthropologists have been in traditional hunter-gatherer societies and most of the women there don't look like that," said Cashdan. "So the question is, if it is adaptive to have that body shape, what's going on?"

In a review of data gathered from cultures as diverse as East African foragers and Chinese immigrants in Britain, Cashdan found that the average waist-to-hip ratio both within and across populations was higher than 0.7. In more egalitarian societies, where women played a greater role in the economy, they also tended to have thicker waists.

That suggests a genetic trade-off, with nature selecting for factors in addition to fertility and attractiveness. One possibility, Cashdan argues, is that extra doses of the stress hormone cortisol and male hormones known as androgens helped our hunter-gatherer foremothers cope in an environment where they had to sidestep poisonous snakes and went to sleep to the serenade of leopards growling. Those same belly-boosting hormones may even help modern women face stressful situations, she says.

More here

Some health myths

WHAT if someone told you turkey doesn't make you tired, or that your nails really don't keep growing after you die? The answer: Check out the British medical journal BMJ, which last month published a list of health myths. It was the journal's second study into health-related myths that even many doctors believe.

Dr Laura Mosqueda, medical director of the UC Irvine Senior Health Centre in the US, said after reading the myths the most important message was not related to the medical beliefs at all: "We are susceptible to believing unproven concepts if they are repeated often enough by 'experts' - be they real, self-perceived or self-proclaimed."

So here are the seven myths:

Drink eight glasses of water each day: The authors found references as early as 1945 suggesting that healthy people should stay hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water each day. But they say there's no evidence supporting that recommendation. Studies also show that most people consume sufficient fluids through daily consumption of juice, milk and even caffeinated drinks.

People use only 10 per cent of their brain: This myth has been around for more than a century. Some believe it came from Albert Einstein, although the authors found no evidence of that. What they did find were studies that show people use much more than 10 per cent of their brains. For example, when almost any area of the brain is damaged, it has "specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative and behavioral capabilities". Also, imaging studies have found no area of the brain is completely inactive.

Hair and fingernails still grow after death: While it's impossible for the body to continue the complex hormone regulation needed to cause hair and nails to grow after death, this myth does have a basis in a biological phenomenon that sometimes occurs after death. When someone dies, dehydration of the body can cause the skin around the hair or nails to retract, creating the appearance of increased length. But the authors say this is an optical illusion.

Shaving causes your hair to grow back faster, darker or thicker: Several studies show that shaving has no effect on the thickness or rate of new hair growth. But because shaved hair is blunt, and doesn't have the finer taper at the ends of unshaven hair, it can give an impression of being coarse. And new hair sometimes appears darker because it has not yet been lightened by the sun.

Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight: While reading in dim light can cause eye strain, dryness and difficulty focusing, it does not cause permanent damage, the authors say.

Eating turkey makes you especially tired: If turkey contains tryptophan, and science has found tryptophan can cause drowsiness, how is this medical belief a myth? The authors say turkey doesn't contain "an exceptional amount of tryptophan". In fact, turkey, chicken and minced beef contain about the same quantity of amino acid. Other proteins, such as pork or cheese, contain more tryptophan per gram. Perhaps the reason turkey has long been accused of making people extra-sleepy is because of all the over-eating we do at Christmas. Studies show that eating any large meal can make you tired because blood flow and oxygenation to the brain decreases. Plus, meals that are high in protein or carbohydrates can cause sleepiness. So can wine.

Mobile phones cause significant electromagnetic interference in hospitals: Hospitals widely banned mobile phone use after a Wall Street Journal report cited an article detailing more than 100 reports of suspected electromagnetic interference with medical devices before 1993. But an internet search by the study's authors could not find any deaths caused by use of a mobile phone in a hospital.