Sunday, March 08, 2009

New guidelines say two drinks a day increases risk of death

And who do they think is going to be guided by them? This is just more rubbishy "modelling" (Translation: pretentious guesswork) based on equally pretentious epidemiological speculation. All the big Wall St firms had modellers to save them from doing risky things and look where it got them! And none of the climate models predicted that global warming would peak in 1998 and remain flat thereafter either

Two alcoholic drinks a day - the maximum recommended on a regular basis under new national health guidelines - put people at greater risk of death from alcohol than from drowning, being in a pedestrian accident or an accidental fall. The long-awaited [awaited by whom?] guidelines, released yesterday by Australia's top health advice body, warn that the health benefits of alcohol have been overstated, and that someone consuming two drinks a day has nearly one chance in 100 of dying from alcohol-induced injury or illness. That compares with a one-in-683 lifetime risk of drowning, a one-in-403 risk of being in a pedestrian accident and a one-in-125 risk of a fatal fall, the Weekend Australian reports.

World-first modelling of the health risks of alcohol shows that above two drinks a day, the dangers escalate quickly - taking drinkers closer to better-recognised dangers such as car crashes (one in 54), cancer (one in four) and heart disease (one in four).

The guidelines, published by the National Health and Medical Research Council, also recommend that adults drink no more than four drinks on any one occasion. Children and young people under 18, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers, are all advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

The guidelines, which halve limits set in 2001, were greeted enthusiastically yesterday by health groups. [Yea! New ammunition for dictating to others!]

Despite renewed concern from some experts that many Australians might ignore the advice, some organisations called for even tougher steps. The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation called for mandatory health warnings reflecting the new advice to be put on all alcoholic products, while the Cancer Council Australia said it would have preferred the daily drinking limit for women to be halved again, to one drink.

Jon Currie, chairman of the NHMRC committee that compiled the new advice, said the guidelines were "not telling you what you can and can't do", but were instead designed to help Australians make informed choices about health risks. He said the health benefits of alcohol had been exaggerated and that any positive effect could be achieved by consuming just one drink every two days. In addition, any benefit would affect only middle-aged and elderly people. "There is no level of drinking alcohol that can be guaranteed by scientific evidence as being completely safe," Professor Currie said. [There is no way that Prof. Currie's advice can be guaranteed as completely safe, either]

However, the guidelines have already come in for the same criticism they attracted when released in draft form in October 2007, when they were attacked by some experts as too removed from most people's experience. Alex Wodak, director of the alcohol and drug service at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, said the gap between the two-drink recommended limit and many people's habits was such that "I fear these recommendations will be dismissed by many people".


Common chemical found to block HIV in monkeys

A common chemical found in food and cosmetics has been shown to protect monkeys against HIV infection, raising hopes that a similar treatment can be developed for humans. A team of researchers has identified a compound that, when applied as a gel, appears to block the simian version of HIV from being transmitted between monkeys during sexual intercourse. Scientists said that the chemical, which is applied in the vagina, marked an important advance in the field of microbicides - the development of creams and gels designed to prevent HIV from infecting cells. With an Aids vaccine still decades away, there is a growing consensus that microbicides now offer the most realistic drug strategy to control the spread of the disease.

Last week The Times revealed that research into microbicides - in which Britain is a world leader - is to receive more than 90 million pounds from the Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the next five years.

Aids has claimed more than 25 million lives. Of the 16,000 people around the world contracting HIV every day, the majority are infected by unprotected sex, with the greatest incidence in sub-Saharan Africa and India.

In the new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that glycerol monolaurate (GML) appeared to interfere with signalling processes in monkeys' immune systems, blocking SIV - the primate version of HIV - at a key stage of potential infection. When HIV enters the body, defence systems unleash a cascade of orders, dispatching so-called T cells to the site of the infection. These cells are then hijacked by the virus, enabling it to proliferate throughout the bloodstream.

Of the ten female rhesus macaque monkeys injected with SIV, none of the five treated vaginally with GML developed the infection - even after four large doses. Four of the five macaques without GML contracted the virus. The paper, published in the journal Nature, concludes that GML breaks a "vicious cycle" of immune-system signalling and inflammatory response in the cervix and vagina. "This result represents a highly encouraging new lead in the search for an effective microbicide to prevent transmission that meets the criteria of safety, affordability and efficacy," the authors said.

Ashley Haase, the lead researcher, said that a long road lay ahead before the microbicide could be verified as safe and effective for humans but hailed the findings. "If GML as a topical microbicide can add to our prevention, it could contribute to saving millions of lives," he said. "Even though it sounds counter-intuitive, halting the body's natural defence system might actually prevent the transmission and rapid spread of the infection."

GML exists naturally in the human body and is already licensed for use in cosmetics and toiletries and as an emulsifier in foods. Each dose of GML used in the experiment cost less than a penny.

Today's paper follows results from a preliminary trial, released last month, which suggest that another gel, PRO2000, may reduce the chances of women contracting HIV by a third. The findings - the first positive results for a microbicide - raise the prospects of success for a second, larger, trial of the same drug, run by Imperial College London, which is due to finish in August.

Describing the new monkey research as exciting, Professor Andrew McMichael, director of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, said: "This is an inexpensive compound that could be used in humans and clinical trials are very likely to follow."

Dr Adriano Boasso, research fellow at Imperial, urged caution. "This treatment was tested on a relatively small number of animals and several years of research are still needed to determine whether this approach will eventually develop into a prospective preventive drug," he said.


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