Saturday, May 16, 2009

Diet Patrol With Side Orders of Tax and Scare

This week the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is embarking on a major effort to assert its position as the world champion of food policing. CSPI leader Michael Jacobson will present an ambitious wish list to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. (Its list of demands has just been made available online.) In less than 24 hours, CSPI will ask Congress to forcibly remove half the salt from all packaged and restaurant foods. It’s a request so heavy-handed that the group is laying the groundwork one day early with its own sodium study. But as we’re telling reporters today, it doesn’t take a diet expert to see why CSPI’s new salt report isn’t worth a grain of it.

Taking a page from New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, CSPI is wants a congressionally mandated overhaul of restaurant and packaged food recipes. If implemented, the plan would cut half the salt out of those meals and snacks over the next ten years. But as some of the nation’s leading health experts have been warning, such a drastic reduction of Americans’ salt intake could be a public health disaster in the making. CSPI’s salt report is a desperate attempt to scare Americans into believing otherwise.

The CSPI paper offers plenty of scary statistics by documenting sodium levels in the saltiest restaurant meals Jacobson’s staffers could find. What it doesn’t offer, however, is anything new. CSPI merely looked through the nutrition information already provided by restaurants and republished the data for five meals per establishment: four meals containing the highest levels of sodium and one meal with the lowest.

This lazy cherry-picking methodology represents the first step in CSPI’s one-two punch this week. Taxing Americans for eating their favorite foods? That’s the second. If CSPI’s Michael Jacobson gets his way, look out for his half-baked anti-salt scheme and a tidal wave of federal tax hikes on alcohol and non-diet sodas.


The health alerts that make you ill: Negative thoughts 'can induce sickness'

If you feel ill just looking at the side effects of the medicine that's supposed to cure you, it might be best not to bother. The warnings themselves might actually be making you sick, scientists say. A series of studies from around the world has shown that if you believe something could make you ill, it might well do just that. Simply reading the side-effects on a bottle of tablets raises your risk of experiencing them. And, taken to its extreme, patients who believe they will not survive surgery, are more likely to die on the operating table.

Just as positive thinking can be good for your health, negative thoughts can be bad for well-being. 'The idea that believing you are ill can make you ill sounds far-fetched, yet rigorous trials have established beyond a doubt that the converse is true - the power of suggestion can improve health,' reports New Scientist magazine. 'The placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo effect, in which dummy pills and negative expectations can produce harmful effects.' Examples included clinical trials for new drugs, in which up to a quarter of patients given dummy versions experienced the side-effects associated with the real thing.

In trials for blood pressure-lowering beta blockers, tiredness and loss of libido were just as common in those given dummy versions. And more than half of chemotherapy patients start experiencing the nausea -- 'A self-fulfilling prophecy' -- associated with the cancer treatment days before it started. The phenomenon raises the prospect that just telling a patient about the side effects associated with their pills, could make their health worse.

Hull University psychologist Professor Giuliana Mazzoni said: 'On the one hand, people have the right to be informed about what to expect but this makes it more likely they will experience side-effects.'

Research has shown that women who believe they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions than other women.

The power of suggestion can also be responsible for mass outbreaks of ' disease'. In 1988, a high school teacher, in Tennessee in the U.S, noticed a gasoline-like smell and began to complain of headache, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. The school was evacuated and over the next week, more than 100 staff and students were admitted to casualty complaining of similar symptoms. Extensive tests could find no medical explanation for their problems.

Dr Clifton Meador, of Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville in the U.S, said fear can turn into self-fulfilling prophecy. 'Bad news promotes bad physiology. I think that you can persuade people that they're going to die and have it happen. I don't think there is anything mystical about it. We're uncomfortable with the idea that words or symbolic actions can cause death because it changes our biomolecular model of the world.'


Scientists close to vaccine for a major childhood killer

AUSTRALIAN scientists are in the final stretch of developing a vaccine which could dramatically cut deaths from the world's seventh biggest disease killer.

Rheumatic Heart Disease and Acute Rheumatic Fever start out as a relatively minor bacterial throat infection but they claim 400,000 lives, often children in developing countries, every year.

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have developed a trial vaccine which has proven effective at warding off multiple strains of the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria, the cause of these throat infections.

Human trials could begin as early as next year, says Dr Michael Batzloff, who is working on the vaccine alongside colleagues at the institute's Bacterial Vaccines Laboratory. "There is potential for this vaccine to be used in Australia and in many indigenous communities, and in developing countries where there is a huge need for it," Dr Batzloff said. "There's information out of Tibet that at one hospital, 50 per cent of child admissions were for heart conditions due to rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease."

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children suffer the world's highest rates of the diseases.

School-age children are most at risk of suffering a GAS infection, and while most recover without incident from their "strep throat" in a small percentage of cases, particularly those who have repeat GAS infections, it leads to an auto-immune reaction. The body attacks its own tissues - primarily the heart valves - causing damage that will be lifelong or even lead to death. The World Health Organisation lists this as the seventh leading cause of disease death behind respiratory diseases, HIV, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria and measles.

Dr Batzloff says the trial vaccine had proven effective against "almost all" GAS bacteria strains found around the world, and the protection was thought to last years. "It's an exciting phase for us now because it is moving from the lab into the clinic," he says of the imminent human trials. "(And) when this vaccine ultimately becomes available, the idea is that it will prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease."

The vaccine could be added to the roster of early childhood immunisations in Australia, with Dr Batzloff saying the step could end severe throat infections in children.

The research results are to be presented today at the Heart Foundation's annual conference, a three-day gathering of 500 cardiologists, GPs and other professionals now under way on the Gold Coast.


1 comment:

Lena said...

Removing the salt is stupid. In many instances it is in there for a good reason, food chemistry! Salt is needed in specific amounts in baking for example, to help the dough have a certain texture.

It is also the only way many people get enough iodine, which is why iodine was added to salt in the first place. If something like this happens, watch the incidence of hypothyroidism (with goiter) rise! Ironically, hypothyroidism can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain and even blood sugar problems that can lead to diabetes. Oh well, more medications for the pharmaceutical companies to sell.