Monday, August 31, 2009

The alcohol merrygoround spins again: Good for you, bad for you, Good for you, bad for you, Good for you, bad for you

Boozing wards off dementia? Sounds like another failure of theory. Alcohol is a neurotoxin so should make dementia worse. Other effects, such as vascular dilation, could be helpful, however. The study is another epidemiological one so I am pleased to see that the authors are properly cautious about causal inferences: "Our results suggest that alcohol drinkers in late life have reduced risk of dementia. It is unclear whether this reflects selection effects in cohort studies commencing in late life, a protective effect of alcohol consumption throughout adulthood, or a specific benefit of alcohol in late life". Putting that into plain English: Maybe heavy drinkers have to be especially healthy to survive into old age

OLDER Australians who drink up to 28 glasses of alcohol a week have a better chance of warding off dementia than those who abstain, a study shows. Data compiled from 15 global studies, including responses from more than 10,000 people, found drinkers, not teetotallers, are better off when it comes to developing diseases affecting cognitive function.

Those aged 60 and older who consumed between one and 28 alcoholic drinks each week were almost 30 per cent less likely to have Alzheimer's later on in life, the data found.

Light and moderate drinkers were also 25 per cent less likely to contract vascular dementia – associated with circulation of blood in the brain – and 26 per cent less likely to suffer from any form of dementia. The report, Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Cognitive Decline, was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

But Professor Kaarin Anstey, from the Australian National University, warned this was not encouragement to start drinking 28 glasses of alcohol a week. "This article used all published studies to include one to 28 drinks per week, but in some countries (the range) differed – they were higher in some and lighter in others," Professor Anstey said. "Australian guidelines, for instance, don't say 28 drinks is moderate."


Marijuana prevents cancer?

Proper caution expressed about these results below. Marijuana users may be more middle class, for instance, and that could explain the better health. A balanced evaluation would also look at harms that marijuana might inflict -- such as a greater incidence of paranoid psychosis

Among the more interesting pieces of news that came out while I was on vacation the first half of August was a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that marijuana smokers have a lower risk of head and neck cancers than people who don’t smoke marijuana. Alas, this important research has been largely ignored by the news media.

While this type of study cannot conclusively prove cause and effect, the combination of this new study and existing research — which for decades has shown that cannabinoids are fairly potent anticancer drugs — raises a significant possibility that marijuana use is in fact protective against certain types of cancer.

A team of researchers from several major universities conducted what is known as a “case-control” study, comparing patients who had squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx with control patients matched for age, gender, and residence location who did not have cancer. By looking at matched groups with and without cancer, researchers hope to find patterns indicating risk or protective factors. In this case they focused on marijuana use, but also took into account known risk factors for this type of cancer, including tobacco and alcohol use.

After adjusting for those confounding factors, current marijuana users had a 48% reduced risk of head and neck cancer, and the reduction was statistically significant. Former users also had a lower risk, though it fell short of being significant. The investigators crunched the numbers several different ways — for example, by amount of marijuana used or the frequency of use — and the findings stayed the same nearly across the board, with moderate users showing the strongest and most consistent reduction in cancer risk.

The scientists write, “We found that moderate marijuana use was significantly associated with reduced risk HNSCC [head and neck squamous cell carcinoma]. The association was consistent across different measures of marijuana use (marijuana use status, duration, and frequency of use).”

Strikingly, among drinkers and cigarette smokers, those who also used marijuana reduced their cancer risk compared to those who only drank and smoked cigarettes. So marijuana may actually have been countering the known bad effects of booze and cigarettes.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

EU bites into cereals’ health claims

For once I agree with the EU. A LOT of food claims are just fraud

BREAKFAST cereal manufacturers will be forced to abandon many health claims used to promote their products unless they can be scientifically proven, under a European Union clampdown. The move will hit some of the UK’s most popular cereal brands and other foods, many of which claim to improve health because they have been enhanced with ingredients such as vitamins and oat bran, but which also contain high levels of sugar, fat or salt. Kellogg’s, which makes Special K, Frosties and Optivita, and Nestlé, which produces Shreddies and Cheerios, could be among the biggest firms affected.

Corinne Vaughan, deputy head of nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said: “Cereal manufacturers make a variety of health claims. Some are genuine, but other foods are heavily promoted on the basis of health claims for one ingredient, while unhealthy levels of sugar, fat and salt hardly get a mention.”

Among the products which could be affected are Sugar Puffs, which claim on their packaging to help growth, maintain healthy skin and eyes, and boost the digestive and nervous systems. However, as their name suggests, sugar accounts for 35% of their content. Weetabix’s Weetos brand, comprising chocolate-covered wheat hoops, boasts on the front of the packet that it is “wholegrain goodness fortified with vitamins and iron”. The 23.5% sugar content is noted only on a nutrition label. “We need more clarity in the science behind the claims and in the labelling,” said Susan Jebb, head of the Medical Research Council’s human nutrition unit.

There are two facets to the Brussels crackdown. First, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) is conducting a scientific review of 4,000 health claims made by food producers, including cereal manufacturers. Most of the 60-plus rulings published so far for foods, including pro-biotic drinks and yoghurts, have been dismissive of industry health claims.

The European Commission is also developing a scheme to restrict food manufacturers promoting products on the basis of one or two healthy ingredients if they also contain “high” levels of sugar, saturated fat or salt. The crucial question is how “high” will be defined. Health campaigners and Britain’s Food Standards Agency believe foods with more than 15% sugar should be considered “high”. However, last week it emerged that Europe was likely to settle on a figure of 20%-25% for cereals.

Even at these higher levels, the European rulings could dramatically change the way cereals are promoted. Those affected could include brands such as Kellogg’s Special K Yoghurty, which is targeted at slimmers but contains 23% sugar, or Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, which is endorsed by Sir Chris Hoy, the Olympic cycling champion. The blurb on packets of Bran Flakes suggests that a daily bowl can enhance heart health, keep nervous and immune systems working and support concentration levels. The 22% sugar content — equivalent to two to three heaped teaspoons in each bowl served with milk — is mentioned only in small print.

Optivita, another Kellogg’s cereal, uses health claims even more prominently. Its packet bears a large banner claiming it can lower blood cholesterol, backed by a dozen red heart logos and an endorsement from Heart UK, a medical charity. The claim is based on the fact that Optivita is enhanced with oat bran, which has been shown to lower cholesterol if several grams are eaten regularly each day. Optivita contains about 1g of active bran per bowl — less than a third of the weight of a 1p coin. By contrast, a bowl of Optivita Nut Oat Crisp with milk contains 14g of sugar, equivalent to three heaped teaspoons, as well as 7g of fat.

Kellogg’s, which admits making a “five-figure” donation to Heart UK, accepts there is no published scientific evidence to show that eating a daily bowl of Optivita lowers cholesterol. A spokesman said: “We do have evidence of our own to show it reduces cholesterol, but we have not published it as it is proprietary and confidential. All our claims are backed by good science.”

The new EU rules may also hit some brands of muesli, whose healthy reputation often belies their high levels of added sugar. Alpen, for example, contains 23% sugar, some from fruit but some added, making a total of two to three teaspoons of sugar per bowl. By contrast Berries & Cherries muesli, from Dorset Cereals has 41% sugar, but most of this comes from fruit so it is unlikely to be affected by the rules.

A spokesman for the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers, said: “Cereals may often be high in sugar but they bring many other wonderful nutrients to the table like vitamins and minerals so they can still be seen as healthy.”


DNA swap could cure inherited diseases

There was another report on this last year

The prospect of a human baby with three biological parents has moved closer after scientists created monkeys using a technique that one day could stop children from inheriting severe genetic diseases. The birth of four healthy macaque monkeys in the US offers the strongest evidence yet that DNA can be transplanted safely from one egg to another to correct genetic defects that damage health.

The successful experiment in a close human relative suggests that it should be possible within a few years to use the method to help women who carry genetic disorders to avoid passing them to their children. It should allow scientists to replace faulty “cellular batteries” called mitochondria, which affect about 1 in 6,500 births. While most mitochondria defects have mild effects, some can trigger severe brain, heart, muscle and liver conditions, as well as cancer, diabetes, blindness and deafness.

The technique is controversial, however, because the children it creates would inherit genetic material from three parents. The mother and father would contribute most of their child’s DNA but a small amount would come from a second woman donating healthy mitochondria. Such children would be the first produced by germline genetic engineering, in which genes introduced by artificial means would be passed to successive generations.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre, who led the research, said that this would be justified because it was the only viable approach. “The only way to treat these defects is to replace the genes,” he said. “This is gene transfer involving the germline, which is a concern, but we are pursuing it not for general use but for patients with mutations they will pass to the next generation. We believe this technology will prevent that.”

Although more than 99 per cent of a cell’s DNA is carried in the nucleus, a small amount resides in the mitochondria — tiny energy-producing structures inherited from the mother — and it is mutations in this mitochondrial DNA that can cause disease. In the research, published in the journal Nature, the modified eggs containing chromosomes from one female monkey and mitochondria from another, were fertilised by injecting a sperm. The resulting embryos were transferred to the wombs of surrogate mothers.

The first monkeys to be born were twins called Mito and Tracker, after a dye called MitoTracker used in the experiments. Two more monkeys were born after later experiments, named Spindler and Spindly after a genetic structure called the spindle along which chromosomes divide.

Tests showed that none of the monkeys had any trace of mitochondrial DNA from the mother that provided their nuclear DNA, suggesting that the process was successful. “We consider it a big achievement,” Dr Mitalipov said. “Anything we study and achieve in non-human primates can be translated much more easily to humans.” He said that the technology could be applied “pretty quickly” in humans, and that his team would apply to an internal ethics board and the US Food and Drug Adminstration for permission to try it with human eggs.

Clinical use will have to wait for the results of experiments with humans and follow-up studies on the health of the four monkeys. “It may take a few more years,” Dr Mitalipov said.

Similar research is being carried out by a team from Newcastle University using a slightly different technique. British scientists welcomed the Oregon study and urged the Government to change the law. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA), passed last year, allows such experiments on embryos but made it illegal for altered embryos to be implanted into the womb. Ministers have the power to rescind this ban.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said: “These are proof-of-principle experiments suggesting that transfer of the nuclear genetic material from one egg to another may be a valid way to avoid the devastating problems associated with the inheritance of abnormal mitochondria that are present in the eggs of some women. “It would seem unreasonable to delay real trials where any embryos produced were transferred to the women who wanted to avoid having children affected with these diseases.” He added: “I think it is quite reasonable to activate the regulation-making power now.”


Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Hopeless' women at risk of stroke

This is almost certainly just another social class effect. Working class women are less healthy and would have good reasons to feel less hopeful about their future. The researchers did control for income but income is not a good proxy for social class, particularly among women. The occupation of a husband may put a woman into a much higher class bracket than her own income would, for instance. And even among males, there are some high-income working class people and low income middle-class people. An electrician or plumber will usually earn more than an office-worker, for instance. In my own research into social class, I found that a simple white-collar/blue-collar dichotomy was a powerful predictor -- as was self-assigned class

FOR women, feelings of hopelessness are not just unfortunate, they are a stroke risk, US researchers said. They said otherwise healthy women who are chronically hopeless are more likely to have a build-up of plaque in their neck arteries that can trigger a stroke.

Many studies have linked depression with heart disease and recent studies have suggested that optimism may protect women from heart disease. However this latest study, by Susan Everson-Rose of the University of Minnesota Medical School, is the first to show that hopelessness may directly affect a healthy woman's risk for stroke.

Researchers looked at 559 women with an average age of 50 who had no clinical signs of heart disease, such as elevated blood pressure. To measure hopelessness, they asked questions about the future and personal goals. They also measured symptoms of depression using a 20-item assessment scale. And they took ultrasound images of the women to measure the thickness of their neck arteries.

"What we found is, those women who reported feeling hopeless about the future or their personal goals had more thickening in the neck arteries - more atherosclerosis - which is a predictor of stroke and subsequent heart attack," Ms Everson-Rose said.

The difference was measurable. Women who scored high on the hopelessness scale had neck arteries that were 0.02mm thicker than their more hopeful counterparts. The difference was significant even after adjusting for other heart risk factors including age, race, income, heart disease risk factors, even depression.

Ms Everson-Rose said the team looked specifically for differences between women who where hopeless and those who were depressed - a more global disorder that affected things like sleep, appetite and overall mood. "What we find is this thickening in the neck arteries is a specific feature to hopelessness," she said.

Ms Everson-Rose said studies are needed to understand what physiological changes specifically occur in women who are chronically hopeless. The study did not track levels of cortisol, a known stress hormone, for example. Nevertheless, women should be aware that feelings of hopelessness may have physical consequences. "If women do have these strong feelings, it is potentially a predictor of cardiovascular disease and they should seek help," she said.


Stomach-stapling surgery can eliminate diabetes symptoms

It should be noted that less than 3% of the population are diagnosed diabetes 2 cases so we are dealing with a small population subset here. Most fatties do NOT get diabetes. What the research below shows is that those prone to diabetes are set back by overeating. It does NOT show that overeating will give you diabetes

Weight-loss surgery can eliminate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in nearly eight out of ten patients who have the drastic procedure, a large international study has found. A review of medical research involving 135,000 patients found that the symptoms of diabetes were resolved or improved in a majority of those who had bariatric surgery to help to lose weight.

Overall, 78 per cent of patients had a “complete resolution” of their diabetes for up to two years after surgery, while 87 per cent experienced either resolution or an improvement in their condition.

Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common because of obesity. Unlike type 1, which emerges in childhood, type 2 occurs when the body’s production or use of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, is impaired. Diabetes and its complications account for about one in ten deaths in England each year.

Bariatric surgery, also known as a gastric-band operation, involves fitting a staple or band around the upper part of the stomach, limiting the amount people can eat before feeling full. It can also take the form of a gastric bypass. Previous research has suggested bariatric surgery could benefit patients with diabetes, but the procedure is typically only recommended on the NHS for those who are morbidly obese — with a body mass index of 40 or more — and where other attempts to lose weight have failed.

The number of procedures carried out on the NHS rose 40 per cent last year, but some pay up to £12,000 to have the operation done privately. About 6,000 people had the procedure last year.

The new study was presented yesterday at a conference of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders in Paris. The study was led by Professor Henry Buchwald, of the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It found patients lost an average of 38.5kg after the procedure, representing 55.9 per cent of their excess weight.

The benefits of the operation for diabetes are not fully understood, but are thought to be related to weight loss. Losing weight helps the body to make more efficient use of available insulin, which can avoid the complications of poor blood sugar control such as kidney issues, nerve damage and eye problems.But the charity Diabetes UK expressed concern that the findings may encourage diabetics to consider weight-loss surgery as a solution to their condition, rather than diet and exercise.

Zoë Harrison, care adviser for the charity, said: “Although the data shows good results from bariatric surgery, it must be remembered that any surgery carries serious risks. “Bariatric surgery should be considered only as a last resort. It can lead to dramatic weight loss, which in turn may result in a reduction in people taking their type 2 diabetes medication, and even in some people needing no medication at all. This does not mean type 2 diabetes has been cured. “These people will still need to eat a healthy, balanced diet and be physically active to manage their diabetes.”


"Low-fat" food no help

SOME "skinny foods" are no different than chocolates or other high-fat options when it comes to trying to lose weight, dietary experts warn. Eating so-called light food can sometimes result in consuming the same amount of kilojoules as eating "full-fat" varieties. Over-eating of low-fat biscuits, light yoghurts and low-carb beers can be waist-bloating, the experts warn. And although many of those items are lighter in kilojoules, they often don't appease an appetite and can result in indulging again a short time later.

Dietitian Clare Evangelista, from the Dietitians Association of Australia, said so-called diet drinks were among the worst offenders. "Recent research suggests people who consume large amounts of diet soft drink do not weigh less than those who don't," Ms Evangelista said. "This may be because after drinking diet soft drink, the body does not get the fluctuation in blood-glucose levels that helps tell the body we are full. "So, drinking diet soft drink may increase food cravings and feelings of hunger."


Friday, August 28, 2009

Australian Primary School bans bottled water

I must admit that I find the bottled water craze quite mad but if people get some satisfaction out of it, who are we to judge them? I am sure I do some things that some others might consider mad -- like blogging, for instance. I am sure the Greenies would be able to find something wrong with blogging if they tried -- uses too much electricity or some such -- JR

A Melbourne school has banned commercially bottled water in what is believed to be a Victorian first. Pupils at Eltham North Primary School are being told to drink tap water and use only environmentally friendly re-useable containers.

Principal David Foley said the ban was part of the school's green policy, which includes re-useable containers for lunches, the Herald Sun reports. "We have good water in Melbourne," he said. "It's a waste of money buying plastic bottled water and most of the bottles end up in our waterways or in landfill. "We don't want students to come to school using soft drink or bottled water."

It is estimated Australians spend about $500 million each year on bottled water. A bottled water ban was introduced in the NSW town of Bundanoon last month.

But Mr Foley said his school had been moving towards the policy since installing waste-cutting water fountains last year. "It's the way to go," he said. "We're also using it as an education process to see what can happen if water goes off and what can happen if you're using a poor bottle like a soft drink container." Mr Foley said bags wouldn't be checked for dodgy bottles, but staff would monitor the use of drink containers in class and in the playground.

Brendan Lynch, from water dispenser firm Aquabubbler, said his company had supplied eco-friendly products to hundreds of schools in Victoria. "Kids are a lot more discerning about where they drink from these days," he said. "A lot of water troughs at schools are unhygienic." Mr Lynch said it was crazy that people were buying so much bottled water during the economic crisis. "A lot of those bottles can't be recycled and end up as landfill, it's a no-win situation," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said he had no problem with the bottle ban. "It's something that they have weighed up carefully," he said. "It's good to allow schools to do something innovative and environmentally friendly."


Health warning: exercise makes you fat

I must admit that I have to laugh at a lot of the stories I put up. There is so much flailing at the wind. There is NO long-term way of changing your weight other than surgery. Nothing else works -- JR

Fat is a massive problem. Really massive. Nearly 60 per cent of the country’s adult population is now overweight, while one in 10 children are so obese by the time they start school that their health is deemed to be at risk. All told, weight problems are estimated to cost the economy £16 billion a year – on top of the facts that ambulances have to be fitted with reinforced heavy-lifting equipment to get patients into the vehicles and that a growing number of soldiers are, according to Army commanders, too fat to fight.

Yet something strange is going on. While obesity levels have grown year on year, so have levels of physical activity. More people in Britain do the recommended amount of exercise – at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five times a week – than did 12 years ago. Use of personal trainers and gyms has soared: over the past five years, the amount spent on the latter has grown by 50 per cent, to more than £1.25 billion. Is it possible that all that exercise is doing nothing to make us slimmer?

Exercise is, of course, essential for good health, improving our heart and lung function while triggering the release of a host of hormones that bring on feelings of wellbeing. But some surprising studies in America are starting to reveal that even under gruelling training regimes, people fail to lose as much weight as they should.

In a study of 464 overweight women, Dr Timothy Church of Louisiana University examined what would happen if they conducted differing levels of exercise. One group was asked to do no additional exercise, while three other groups were asked to spend 72 minutes, 136 minutes or 194 minutes with a trainer each week for six months. All were asked not to change their diet.

The results were surprising. While all of the women lost weight, including the control group (which is thought to be a consequence of basing the study on overweight women who wanted to lose weight), those who exercised the most did not lose significantly more weight than those who were told not to change their diet.

“People are often undoing the work they have done during exercise by eating the wrong foods afterwards,” explains Dr Church. “When they exercise heavily, they compensate and increase their energy intake. So after spending time in the gym, they eat a chocolate muffin, which undoes all of the work they did.”

Another study due to be published next month in the journal of Public Health Nutrition by researchers at the University of Leeds draws similar conclusions. Professor John Blundell and his colleagues found that people asked to do supervised exercise to lose weight also increased the amount they ate and reduced their intake of fruit and vegetables.

“A single bout of exercise can be considered a relatively slow method of 'removing’ energy from the system,” say the researchers. “The time spent exercising has to be significantly long in order to expend a meaningful amount of energy. Even when exercise energy expenditure is high, a healthy diet is still required for weight loss to occur in many people.”

The problem, it seems, is that exercise is a relatively poor way of burning calories. So exasperated scientists are now starting to turn to the most unlikely of solutions – fat itself. Until recently, fat has been disregarded as a simple storage tissue – a place where excess energy is tucked away by the body for when food is scarce. With our modern diets, this excess energy is never needed, so it builds up, creating layers of fat.

New findings, however, are suggesting that fat plays a far more active role in the body. “Fat cells have been found to produce more than 100 different chemical signals and hormones,” says Prof Paul Treyhurn of Liverpool University. And scientists at Harvard have found it may be possible to manipulate body fat so it starts to do us good.

Fat found around the belly, known as intra-abdominal fat, has been found to be harmful, increasing the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. But subcutaneous, or peripheral fat, found beneath the skin of the hips and thighs works to protect us. “If we can reprogramme the fat so that it produces less bad effects, it could get rid of some of the metabolic consequences of obesity,” says Prof Ronald Kahn, head of obesity research at Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Centre.

In research on rats, Prof Kahn has found it is possible to transplant peripheral fat into the abdominal area, and so reduce the risk of developing obesity-related diseases. He believes that it may be possible to “reprogramme” belly fat so that it behaves more like subcutaneous fat: people would still be fat, but they would at least be healthier.

Another discovery, however, has this year set the world of obesity research alight – that humans have deposits of brown adipose tissue, or brown fat. Unlike white fat, brown fat burns energy rather than stores it. And it burns a lot of energy.

Previously, adult humans were not thought to have any brown fat – it had only ever been found in animals such as rodents or in human babies, quickly disappearing as they grew older. But a new scanning technique this year revealed tiny hot spots around the necks of patients, with brown fat cells mixed in with the white fat.

“As little as two ounces of brown fat can burn up 400 to 500 calories a day,” says Prof Kahn, who is among the scientists leading research into brown fat. “It’s very hard to burn off that much with exercise. A little bit more active brown fat can be very beneficial for helping to keep weight down.”

Like muscle tissue, brown fat contains abundant numbers of tiny cellular power plants known as mitochondria. In muscle, these convert sugar into the energy that powers our bodies. But in brown fat, the mitochondria are slightly defective and highly inefficient, meaning that much of the energy is lost as heat.

Scientists now believe that activating brown fat stores in obese patients – and even increasing their levels of brown fat – could help them to keep their weight down. In particular, Prof Kahn has discovered that a growth factor called BMP-7 can be used to turn stem cells into brown fat. When this was transplanted into mice, the tissue formed discrete islands of brown fat. The team now plans to use the approach on fat from humans.

“If we treat fat that has been removed by liposuction to convert it into brown fat, we could then put it back into patients,” says Prof Kahn. “If you combined this with improved diet and exercise, the effect could be dramatic.”

Other groups are also looking at alternative methods to maximise the amount of brown fat in obese patients by manipulating cells. Researchers in Australia have found more brown fat mixed in with our muscles – and in experiments with sheep, they have found a hormone that increases muscle temperatures by two and half degrees during and immediately after meals, as brown fat stores are activated.

Prof Iain Clarke, from the department of physiology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, believes that while brown fat may be responsible for some of this heat production, the muscle cells themselves may also provide a way of burning off extra calories. His group has found they are able to manipulate the energy-burning process in sheep by giving them a natural hormone. If successful in humans, it could provide a new kind of weight-loss drug.

However, there may be an even simpler approach. In the past, brown fat was probably important for keeping humans warm in cold weather. In fact, studies have shown that in cold rooms, patients have higher brown fat activity. Could turning down the thermostat a few degrees help us reduce our swelling waistlines?

Scientists are not yet sure. But what is clear is that the solution to obesity can no longer simply be better diets and increased exercise. Instead, the best way to fight fat could be with fat itself.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Breast cancer drug Tamoxifen may have long-term risks

Another backflip in the official wisdom. People have been taking this stuff for decades

Thousands of women taking a “gold standard” drug to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer are at increased risk of another type of tumour developing, according to new research.

Tamoxifen, which is prescribed to most breast cancer survivors for several years after initial therapy, prevents new tumours by blocking the sex-hormone oestrogen. It can prevent the recurrence of cancer after surgery for pre-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive cancers — which account for about two thirds of breast cancers. But the US study, reported in the journal Cancer Research, shows Tamoxifen may raise the risk of developing other aggressive tumours. Researchers found that five or more years of Tamoxifen treatment quadrupled the chances of a non-hormone-sensitive breast tumour developing.

Christopher Li, who led the study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said: “This is of concern, given the poorer prognosis of oestrogen-receptor negative tumours, which are also more difficult to treat.”

Dr Li’s team assessed Tamoxifen use among more than 1,000 women who had hormone-sensitive breast cancer diagnosed. Comparing those who received Tamoxifen with those who did not showed that the drug reduced the chances of oestrogen-positive breast cancer returning. However it also appeared to greatly increase the risk of an oestrogen-negative second tumour developing.

Alison Ross, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Women should be reassured that, based on extensive scientific evidence, the benefits of taking drugs such as Tamoxifen far outweigh any potential risks.”

The association was not seen in women who took Tamoxifen for less than five years.


Broken hearts mend with 'patch'

Very clever but probably pretty distant as a treatment. Showing the potential is important, however

A team of Israeli scientists has developed a potential way to fix the damage from heart attacks. A "patch" has been made from heart muscle that can be used to fix scarring left over from a heart attack. Writing in the journal PNAS, the scientists describe how the technique strengthened the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks. The "patch" was grown in abdominal tissue first, then transplanted to damaged areas of the heart.

This experiment is the first to show that such patches can actually improve the health of a heart after it has been damaged. The scientists measured an increase in the size of the muscle in damaged areas, and improved conduction of the electrical impulses needed for the heart to pump normally.

Heart attacks usually cause irreversible damage to heart muscle. If people survive, then the damaged muscle can cause another serious condition called heart failure.

It is hoped that the procedure may eventually lead to treatments in humans because of its "simplicity and safety", the authors - led by Tal Dvir from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva - wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). However, they added that "because most patients with heart attacks are old, and multiple surgery can pose a large risk to them, our strategy is not currently an option".

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told BBC News: "In the last decade there has been significant research into injecting cells, including stem cells, into the heart to try and repair the damaged area. "This study was in animals, but may help scientists better understand how to repair damaged human hearts in the future." The technique is also being developed for livers and bladders.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Suncream may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, say experts

This is just the old nanoparticle scare again

The frightening possibility of Alzheimer's disease being induced by suncream is being investigated by academics. Millions of British holidaymakers use block to protect their skin from the sun every year. Now the University of Ulster says two of its experts have been awarded £350,000 by the European Union to explore the possible links between the suncream and the brain disease.

They are leading a groundbreaking three-year research project into whether human engineered nanoparticles, such as those found in sunscreen, can induce neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

It follows a 2003 study by British doctors that found some leading brands of sunscreen lotions failed to stop the sun's damaging rays penetrating the skin. They recommended staying out of the sun or covering up when outside as the best way to protect against skin cancer. [I second that!]

Professor Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist and toxicologist, and Dr Christian Holster, an expert in Alzheimer's, are conducting the latest research as part of a worldwide project called NeuroNano. The University of Ulster experts will be specifically looking at nanoparticles present in chemicals found in sunscreens and an additive in some diesel fuels - titanium dioxide and cerium oxide - and their connection to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Professor Howard said: 'There is now firm evidence that some engineered nanoparticles entering intravenously or via lungs can reach the brains of small animals. 'Indeed they lodge in almost all parts of the brain and there are no efficient clearance mechanisms to remove them once there.'

There were also suggestions that nanoscale particles arising from urban pollution had reached the brains of animals and children living in Mexico City, he said. 'It has recently been discovered that nanoparticles can have highly significant impacts on the rate of misfolding of key proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. 'The brain itself is a very special organ. It cannot repair by replacing nerve cells, the ones you get at birth have to last all your life, which makes them peculiarly vulnerable to long term low dose toxicity.' [That is the old view but the well-known ability of the brain to repair itself (after strokes etc.) has led some to question that. It is certainly now well-established that the brain can repair alcohol damage. Given what the brain can do for stroke victims and alcohol abusers, I don't think we should worry too much about nanoparticles] The brain had built up some protective mechanisms but a major worry was that nanoparticles seemed to be able to circumvent them, he said.

'All this adds up to a new field of investigation. This research programme is deeply challenging and entails the gathering of entirely new knowledge in a field - neuronanotoxicology. 'It requires the marshalling of unique expertise, methodologies, techniques and materials, many themselves completely new and never before brought together in the required combination,'" said the professor.

Latest figures show neurodegenerative diseases currently affect over 1.6 per cent of the European population, with dramatically rising incidence likely in part to the increase of the average age of the population. 'There is also some epidemiological evidence that Parkinson's disease is connected to environmental pollutants and it is often noted that, historically, reports of Parkinson's symptoms only began to appear after widespread industrialisation. [Because people died young in the old days]

'The risk that engineered nanoparticles could introduce unforeseen hazards to human health is now also a matter of growing concern in many regulatory bodies, governments and industry,' said the professor.


Brain chemical could hold key to treating multiple sclerosis

Sounds hopeful

Scientists say that they have taken “a major step forward” in understanding how to reduce the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS), a university claims.

Tests on mice found that the brain chemical galanin can significantly reduce the seriousness of the disease, which attacks the central nervous system. Experiments with the molecule on human brain tissue suggest that it could have the same effect on people.

The researchers at the University of Bristol said that further study was needed but that potentially a drug could be developed within ten years. The research offers hope to some 85,000 MS sufferers in Britain. They found that mice with high levels of galanin were resistant to the MS-like disease, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

David Wynick, who works on the function of galanin in the relief of neuropathic pain, initiated the project and worked with David Wraith and Neil Scolding on the research.

Scientists believe the key to the currently incurable condition may lie in galanin, a neuropeptide or small protein-like molecule that influences the brain’s activity. They found that mice with a large amount of galanin became “completely resistant” to the EAE, but mice that had no galanin at all developed a more severe form. They then carried out tests on human brain tissue already affected by MS and found that galanin repaired some of the damage seen in acute sufferers of the condition. Professor Wraith, who is working on a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of MS, commented: “The results were really remarkable: rarely do you see such a dramatic effect as this.”

MS is the most common disabling neurological disease among young adults and symptoms range from pain and tiredness to spasms, paralysis and memory loss.

A spokeswoman for the university said that although the results were “very encouraging” there was still much work to be done before a drug could be developed and it could be at least ten years before one was on the market. She said the team were now expected to seek the “substantial” funding needed to advance their findings.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PETA loses one in New York

Kangaroos are in plague proportions in many parts of Australia. There are millions of them. They can even be seen in the streets of some outer Brisbane suburbs if you get up early. Culled wild kangaroos sold for meat are usually killed instantly by expert marksmen

A LITTLE-KNOWN ban on the sale of kangaroo meat in New York has been overturned, sparking outrage from animal rights activists. After a six month lobbying effort, New York lawmakers have agreed to drop a ban on the sale of all but one kangaroo species. Only the rare Tasmanian Forester Kangaroo will remain off the menu, News Limited has learned.

Australian officials recently rejected a push to place the giant marsupial on the national threatened species list.

The New York Department of Conservation and Environment confirmed the law had been modified. New York Governor David Paterson this month signed off on the change, which allows any roo but the Forester to be served from November 11.

Animal rights activists are furious. "We would always be happy with laws that do restrict the sale of meat and we wouldn't want a law banning roo meat overturned," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's Asia director Jason Baker. "They come to a violent and bloody death, as do all animals in this industry," he said.

News Limited learned of the drama after a popular Australian-themed bar in Manhattan, Eight Mile Creek, removed kangaroo skewers from its menu. The bar was one of at least three vendors that were blindsided by a conservation department blitz about eight months ago, when they were issued fines of up to $US5000. The establishments, which included one of downtown Manhattan's best-known butchers, removed all traces of roo as lawmakers debated changing the rules.

New York lawyer, John Dyett, said the ban had been a "serious piece of conservation law" that New Yorkers had introduced four decades ago, before clear roo slaughter rules existed in Australia. He said the legislature had made a "wise and sensible" decision by taking up local assemblyman Rob Sweeney's push to update the law, which lets conservation officials extend the ban to any roo species they want in the future. "We do know back in Australia they are prolific breeders," Mr Dyett said.

"New York State is heavily protecting an endangered Australian species and the commissioner has been given the authority to further protect others as needed," he said. The Tasmanian Forester roo is not an endangered species in Australia. Australia's Threatened Species Scientific Committee rejected a move to have it listed as threatened as recently as May based on a receommendation that said the species "is not subject to a continuing decline, nor has it undergone a recent decline."


Rapid evolution observed

In 1948, 5,209 residents of a medium-sized New England town signed up for what would become the longest-running, systematic medical study in the world. The Framingham Heart Study, as it was called, was the first to show that smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol all increased people’s chances of developing heart disease. Six decades on, it’s also the first multigenerational human study to reveal that some of these same traits are actively undergoing natural selection.

The news should come as a surprise to many physicians. Ever since Charles Darwin, a prevailing attitude among medical practitioners has been that evolution does not operate in humans because modern medicine and culture have greatly leveled the playing field by homogenizing survival rates. The same sentiment has also been echoed by some leading evolutionary biologists, most famously the late Stephen Jay Gould.

Not so, says Yale University’s Stephen Stearns, who specializes in life history evolution. Survival rates have indeed evened out, particularly among children, yet human birth rates remain highly variable. Some people simply have more children than others. And if there’s variation in lifetime reproductive success, and if some heritable trait is associated with that variation, then natural selection must be acting. To demonstrate natural selection in humans, however, requires a multitude of data collected over successive generations. Enter Framingham.

In 2005, Raju Govindaraju, a medical geneticist at Boston University and the former director of the Framingham Heart Study Genetics Laboratory, approached Stearns with an idea: analyze the Framingham data from an evolutionary perspective. Govindaraju had read many of Stearns’s seminal evolution papers as a plant biology graduate student in the 1970s, and was sitting on a goldmine of Framingham data, so he gave Stearns a call. “That was one of the best phone calls I ever had,” Govindaraju says.

“The thing that immediately struck me,” recalls Stearns, “was that, gosh, we can actually study selection operating on a contemporary human population and thereby make clear to everybody that natural selection is operating on humans.”

Stearns hired a postdoc, Sean Byars, and together with Govindaraju and Douglas Ewbank, a University of Pennsylvania demographer, set to work analyzing a handful of medically relevant traits for their effects on women’s lifetime reproductive rates. They measured the statistical associations between the traits and family size in the first two generations of Framingham women to estimate the strength of natural selection and the potential genetic response to selection. Early results show that women with lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and women who conceive earlier in life and reached menopause at a later age, all had more offspring. As a result, a model based on the data (that also controlled for social factors that influence fertility) predicts that levels of all these genetically based traits will change over the next generation. “People, myself included, may have written off evolution in humans,” says Ewbank. “But it’s still there. It’s still happening.” But the same response won’t continue indefinitely. Obviously, says Stearns, “if selection continued to reduce cholesterol, we couldn’t build a brain.”

The researchers also plan to study several other traits of medical interest, including high-density lipoproteins, triglycerides, and bilirubin levels. The researchers have not yet looked at the genetics behind the trend, but neither did Darwin when he was studying natural selection, which can be demonstrated solely by showing statistically that a trait can be heritable and lead to larger family sizes.

“The findings are startling,” says Govindaraju. “This will set the stage for really a new way of thinking about modern populations,” and allow researchers to make short-term predictions about humanity’s future evolution. Peter Ellison, a Harvard evolutionary biologist who was not involved in the study, agrees. “We can now think about human phenotypes much more dynamically than we normally do,” he says.

Stearns and his colleagues, who plan to publish their findings later this year in a special supplement of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are now looking at male reproduction and combining their phenotypic analyses with genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism data from Framingham participants to search for genetic signatures of the tradeoffs between survival and reproduction. “We’ll try to push Framingham as far as we can,” says Stearns.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Food Cop Logic is Toxic Waste

A few weeks ago, we commented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s obesity conference in Washington, DC, reminding readers that government regulation will be a part of the obesity-fighting problem. Coinciding with the conference, the Urban Institute released a study that wiggled into a few news stories by claiming that a “junk food” tax could be an effective tool for combating obesity. But reporters failed to note something far more insidious in the study: The researchers also write that your cookie (or parts of it) may well wind up as a “toxic” chemical. We’re not making this up.

As they explain:
Furnishing an instructive model is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which authorizes strict regulatory action (including prohibitions on manufacture and distribution) for products where “there is a reasonable basis to conclude” that they “will present an unreasonable risk of injury or health to the environment.”

…a substance is considered toxic if its unregulated use would cause harm to health that outweighs the substance’s anticipated benefits to society. Applying this balancing test to nutrition, a food substance might be considered toxic or “junk” if its nutritional benefits are outweighed by its contribution to obesity.

This would be a gross manipulation of federal law. The Toxic Substances Control Act regulates the use of chemicals in lead-based paint, indoor radon levels, and asbestos. In other words, actual health threats.

The study authors’ real goal is to draw analogies to the war on smoking, writing that “The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has noted that ... tobacco would fit this definition of a toxic substance … and the same may be true for nutritionally worthless, obesity-inducing foods.”

But there’s one key flaw: Food isn’t tobacco (or radon, for that matter). There’s no such thing as second-hand soda (or potato chips, or cookies, or pizza). Taxing certain foods is simply punishing people for their personal food choices. Or as Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, might say, “nudging” us toward a government-approved lifestyle.

Trying to demonize fat, sugar, salt, or other culinary items as toxic substances will only serve to fuel even more scaremongering headlines. Of course, maybe that’s just what the food police have in mind.


Female orgasms and a 'rule of thumb'

'C-V distance' may be a factor in how easily a woman has an orgasm

During intercourse, the female orgasm can be elusive. What frustrated woman hasn't wondered: Am I simply, um, put together differently than other women?

Kim Wallen, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University, is busy doing the math to find out. And, yes, he says, simple physiology may have a lot to do with orgasm ease -- specifically, how far a woman's clitoris lies from her vagina. That number might predict how easily a woman can experience orgasms from penile stimulation alone -- without help from fingers, toys or tongue -- during sexual intercourse.

In fact, there's even an easy "rule of thumb," Wallen says: Clitoris-vagina distances less than 2.5 cm -- that's roughly from the tip of your thumb to your first knuckle -- tend to yield reliable orgasms during sex. More than a thumb's length? Regular intercourse alone typically might not do the trick.

Wallen is not the first to check into this "C-V distance." In the 1920s, Princess Marie Bonaparte, a French psychoanalyst and close friend of Sigmund Freud, grew fed up with her own lack of orgasmic response. In her professional practice, she saw plenty of patients with the same complaint ("frigidity," in the parlance of the day).

She blamed physiology, not psyche. Bonaparte collected C-V and orgasm data from her patients and in 1924 delicately published her observations under a pseudonym. (She also persuaded an Austrian surgeon to experiment on her, by cutting around her clitoris and stretching it closer to her vagina -- with disappointing results.)

Recently, Wallen dug up Bonaparte's measurements and analyzed them with modern statistical techniques. Sure enough, he found a striking correlation. Now he is hoping to do his own measurement study.

Preliminary work has revealed that only about 7% of women always have orgasms with sex alone, he says, while 27% say they never do. The current research hold-up: developing a reliable, at-home technique for measuring C-V distance, especially one that can deal with stretchy skin.

Women with a large C-V distance should not be discouraged, Wallen says. "Personally, I don't think the inability to experience no-hands, penis-only intercourse with orgasm says anything about a happy sex life," he says. "Maybe it could allow couples to be a bit more inventive in how they have sex."

He acknowledges that the measure might become one more standard women feel they need to live up to, like breast size. "People would ask, 'Is your distance really small?' "


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another big medical backflip: "Stop prescribing Tamiflu for routine swine flu cases"

Healthy people who catch swine flu should not be given antiviral drugs, as most will recover within a week, the World Health Organisation has said. The drugs are offered to anyone in England with flu-like symptoms but guidance from the UN health agency suggests that the side-effects of taking medication may outweigh the benefits for otherwise healthy people.

Tamiflu or Relenza should, however, still be used as soon as possible on people with severe illness or whose condition is deteriorating, the WHO advises. Those in at-risk groups — such as pregnant women or people with an underlying medical condition such as diabetes — should also receive treatment promptly.

The Department of Health, which has stockpiled enough antivirals to treat up to 80 per cent of the population, said that it would maintain a “safety-first” policy of offering everyone the medication.

Overall illness and the number of people in hospital with swine flu have declined in the past fortnight. However, the number of deaths linked to the H1N1 virus in Britain increased after the deaths of women in Wales and Northern Ireland. The woman patient in Northern Ireland, the first victim in the Province, was said to have had an underlying health condition. She died on Thursday night in hospital. Her family has asked for her identity to be kept private.

A 55-year-old woman from Caerphilly County Borough was the first fatal case in Wales. She died in hospital last Saturday after developing circulatory complications. She was admitted to the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, on August 2 after falling ill with flu-like symptoms. She tested positive for swine flu and was put on a course of antiviral medicine. Four days later she was transferred to the intensive care unit of the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, with heart-related problems. No further details were released at the family’s request.

The latest WHO advice, from a panel of international experts, came as new figures showed that 45,986 courses of antivirals were given to patients in England last week. In the previous week 90,363 had been given out after callers contacted the National Pandemic Flu Service, the telephone and internet service that allows patients to obtain medication without seeing a doctor.

There have been fears that the mass use of Tamiflu would encourage the H1N1 swine flu strain to become resistant to the antiviral. Researchers have also expressed concern over the side-effects of the drug, including sickness, nightmares and insomnia in children.

A team from the University of Oxford said earlier this month that children with mild symptoms should not be given the antiviral, and urged the Department of Health to urgently reconsider its policy.

The new advice on the WHO website said that most patients were experiencing typical flu symptoms and would get better within a week. Its experts recommended prompt antiviral treatment for all children aged under 5 with severe or deteriorating illness but added that older children, who were otherwise healthy, “need not be given antiviral treatment unless their illness persists or worsens”.

Illness due to swine flu appears to have peaked for the summer, official figures showed, with an estimated 11,000 cases being diagnosed last week, down on 25,000 the previous week.

Only one person in ten in England who sought treatment from the Pandemic Flu Service or their doctor last week actually had the virus, the Health Protection Agency said yesterday. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, warned that a second wave of illness was expected as Britain entered the winter flu season but said that it was virtually impossible to predict accurately when this would peak.


Why sleep? Scientist delves into one of science's great mysteries

Bats, birds, box turtles, humans and many other animals share at least one thing in common: They sleep. Humans, in fact, spend roughly one-third of their lives asleep, but sleep researchers still don't know why. An evolutionary explanation is offered below

According to the journal Science, the function of sleep is one of the 125 greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Theories range from brain "maintenance" — including memory consolidation and pruning — to reversing damage from oxidative stress suffered while awake, to promoting longevity. None of these theories are well established, and many are mutually exclusive.

Now, a new analysis by Jerome Siegel, UCLA professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has concluded that sleep's primary function is to increase animals' efficiency and minimize their risk by regulating the duration and timing of their behavior. The research appears in the current online edition of the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

"Sleep has normally been viewed as something negative for survival because sleeping animals may be vulnerable to predation and they can't perform the behaviors that ensure survival," Siegel said. These behaviors include eating, procreating, caring for family members, monitoring the environment for danger and scouting for prey. "So it's been thought that sleep must serve some as-yet unidentified physiological or neural function that can't be accomplished when animals are awake," he said.

Siegel's lab conducted a new survey of the sleep times of a broad range of animals, examining everything from the platypus and the walrus to the echidna, a small, burrowing, egg-laying mammal covered in spines. The researchers concluded that sleep itself is highly adaptive, much like the inactive states seen in a wide range of species, starting with plants and simple micro-organisms; these species have dormant states — as opposed to sleep — even though in many cases they do not have nervous systems. That challenges the idea that sleep is for the brain, said Siegel. "We see sleep as lying on a continuum that ranges from these dormant states like torpor and hibernation, on to periods of continuous activity without any sleep, such as during migration, where birds can fly for days on end without stopping," he said.

Hibernation is one example of an activity that regulates behavior for survival. A small animal, Siegel noted, can't migrate to a warmer climate in winter. So it hibernates, effectively cutting its energy consumption and thus its need for food, remaining secure from predators by burrowing underground.

Sleep duration, then, is determined in each species by the time requirements of eating, the cost-benefit relations between activity and risk, migration needs, care of young, and other factors. However, unlike hibernation and torpor, Siegel said, sleep is rapidly reversible — that is, animals can wake up quickly, a unique mammalian adaptation that allows for a relatively quick response to sensory signals.

Humans fit into this analysis as well. What is most remarkable about sleep, according to Siegel, is not the unresponsiveness or vulnerability it creates but rather that ability to reduce body and brain metabolism while still allowing that high level of responsiveness to the environment. "The often cited example is that of a parent arousing at a baby's whimper but sleeping through a thunderstorm," he said. "That dramatizes the ability of the sleeping human brain to continuously process sensory signals and trigger complete awakening to significant stimuli within a few hundred milliseconds."

In humans, the brain constitutes, on average, just 2 percent of total body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy used during quiet waking, so these savings have considerable adaptive significance. Besides conserving energy, sleep invokes survival benefits for humans too — "for example," said Siegel, "a reduced risk of injury, reduced resource consumption and, from an evolutionary standpoint, reduced risk of detection by predators."

"This Darwinian perspective can explain age-related changes in human sleep patterns as well," he said. "We sleep more deeply when we are young, because we have a high metabolic rate that is greatly reduced during sleep, but also because there are people to protect us. Our sleep patterns change when we are older, though, because that metabolic rate reduces and we are now the ones doing the alerting and protecting from dangers."


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Antioxidants FACILITATE cancer growth

This should be the death-knell of the antioxidant religion. The authors below are of course careful to give believers an "out" of sorts and caution is proper but in conjunction with some previous studies (see side-column) which have shown harm from antioxidant intake, the warning is loud and clear

Cells don't like to be alone. In the early stages of tumor formation, a cell might be pushed out of its normal home environment due to excessive growth. But a cell normally responds to this homeless state by dismantling its nucleus, packing up its DNA, and offering itself to be eaten by immune system cells. Simply put, the homeless cell kills itself. This process, known as apoptosis, typically stops potential cancer cells before they have a chance to proliferate.

Now, researchers from the lab of Harvard Medical School professor of cell biology Joan Brugge have uncovered another mechanism that kills these precancerous, homeless cells. By studying two different types of human breast epithelial cells, the researchers found that when separated from their natural environment, these cells lose their ability to harvest energy from their surroundings. Eventually, they starve.

"We originally thought that in order for cells to survive outside their normal environment, they would simply need to suppress apoptosis," says Brugge, senior author on the paper, which appeared August 19 online in Nature. "But our studies indicate that this activity is not sufficient to prevent the demise of homeless cells. Even if they escape apoptosis, these cells can't transport enough glucose to sustain an energy supply."

Surprisingly, metabolic function is restored if antioxidant activity is increased inside the cells, allowing the cells to use energy pathways that don't rely on glucose. "It raises the interesting idea that antioxidants, which are typically thought to be protective because they prevent genomic damage, might be allowing these potentially dangerous cells to survive," says first author Zachary Schafer, assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame and a former postdoc in Professor Brugge's lab.

The authors caution against extrapolating too far from their data, which were based on experiments in laboratory cell culture. They also emphasize that the experiments were not designed to mimic the effect of dietary antioxidants in the body. The researchers used two specific antioxidant compounds - which are chemically distinct from those found in food and supplements - only in order to understand how oxidants contributed to the metabolic defects.

"We think that genes with antioxidant activity play a much bigger role than antioxidant compounds administered from outside the body," says Brugge. "What happens with dietary antioxidants is much more complicated and not what we were trying to study."

The researchers had previously reported that when cells were endowed with a cancer-causing gene that prevents them from committing suicide, they still died when cut off from their extracellular environment. This puzzled researchers, who have long thought that apoptosis was the only way the cells could die.

In the recent study, Schafer and colleagues took a closer look, measuring the levels of proteins and molecules associated with metabolic activity in the displaced, but apoptosis-resistant, cells. They found that the cells had become incapable of taking up glucose, their primary energy source. Under the microscope, the cells also displayed telltale signs of oxidative stress, a harmful accumulation of oxygen-derived molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS). The end result was a halt in the production of ATP, the molecular lifeblood that transports energy in the cells. The unmoored cells were literally starving to death. "The idea that a lack of extracellular matrix can prevent cells from accessing nutrients hasn't been shown conclusively before," says Schafer. "Loss of glucose transport, decreased ATP production, increased oxidative stress - all those things turn out to be interrelated."

To figure out what was wrong, the researchers took a straightforward approach - they tried to fix it. Schafer engineered the homeless cells to express high levels of a gene, HER2, known to be hyperactive in many breast tumors. He also treated the cells with antioxidants in an attempt to relieve oxidative stress and help the cells survive.

Both strategies worked. The cells with the breast cancer gene regained glucose transport, preventing ROS accumulation, and recovered their ATP levels. The antioxidant-treated cells also survived, but by using fatty acids instead of glucose as an energy source. "Our results raise the possibility that antioxidant activity might allow early-stage tumor cells to survive where they otherwise would die from these metabolic defects," says Schafer.

The researchers are currently planning to test the effects of antioxidant genes, some of which are abnormally regulated in human tumors, and a wider range of antioxidants in animal models. They also plan on characterizing the metabolic consequences of matrix detachment in more detail. "Ultimately," Brugge says, "we want to understand enough about the metabolism of tumor cells so that new types of drugs can be designed to target them."


Kidney dialysis machine 'small enough to be worn as a belt'

This really does seem to deserve that much over-used word "breakthrough"

Scientists have developed a kidney dialysis machine small enough to be worn as a belt which can allow patients to receive the treatment as they walk around. The breakthrough could potentially free thousands of patients from attending hospital every other day. More than 25,000 people in Britain need to have regular dialysis, usually around three times a week, because their kidneys do not function properly.

Described as “small and light enough to be wearable”, the battery-powered machine weighs around 10lb. Researchers hope that the device will give patients the freedom to have their treatment whenever and wherever they choose. Dr Victor Gura, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, one of the team behind the new machine, said: “Our vision of a technological breakthrough has materialized in the form of a Wearable Artificial Kidney, which provides continuous dialysis 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

While hospital patients have to receive a fairly intensive form of dialysis, because of the limited time available, the researchers hope that this machine can offer a gentler form, more akin to that provided naturally by the kidneys themselves.

The researchers are carrying out preliminary tests on the machine, including in patients who need dialysis. “However, the long-term effect of this technology on the well-being of dialysis patients must be demonstrated in much-needed clinical trials,” Dr Gura said. “Although successful, this is but one additional step on a long road still ahead of us to bring about a much-needed change in the lives of this population.”

Timothy Statham, chief executive of the National Kidney Federation (NKF) said that few patients would want round the clock dialysis but many would appreciate the extra freedom the device could offer. He added that many of the estimated two per cent of patients who had been able to have more regular dialysis, thorough machines in their own homes, had seen “remarkable results”.

The findings are published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Now candles are bad for you

How did our ancestors ever survive? But it's just speculation. No tests were done to see how they actually affected people

They can add a hint of romance to a meal or make taking a bath a real luxury. But scented candles can be bad for your health, say scientists. The smoke produced by many of them is laced with toxins linked to cancer, asthma and eczema. The odd candle is unlikely to do any harm, but we should avoid using them day after day in bathrooms and other poorly ventilated rooms, say the researchers.

The U.S. researchers burnt a range of candles in the laboratory and collected and tested the substances given off. This showed that those made of paraffin wax, the most common type, released potentially harmful amounts of chemicals such as toluene and benzene. Some of the pollutants have been linked to cancer, while others could trigger asthma attacks or skin complaints, the American Chemical Society's annual conference heard.

Most of those on sale in Britain, including many scented ones, are made of paraffin wax, a byproduct of the petroleum industry. Beeswax and soy candles, which are more expensive, were given a clean bill of health in the tests.

Researcher Dr Amid Hamidi, of South Carolina State University: 'An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you. 'But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems.'

Dr Noemi Eiser, of the British Lung Foundation, echoed the advice. She said: 'We would like to reassure people that occasional use of paraffin candles should not pose any risk to their lung health. 'However we would advise people to take sensible precautions when burning candles, such as opening a window to keep the room ventilated to minimise the amount of emissions breathed in.'

But Dr Joanna Owens, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'There is no direct evidence that everyday use of candles can affect our risk of developing cancer.' She said it more important to focus on the risk factors that there was hard evidence for, such as smoking, alcohol, obesity, unhealthy diets, inactivity and heavy sun exposure.

The British Candlemakers' Federation said an authoritative study two years ago concluded that candles, including those made of paraffin wax, did not pose a health risk.


Tiny magnets that help heal injuries could be used to treat cancer

Tiny magnets have been used to guide stem cells to repair injuries in a study that opens a new approach to targeted medicine. Research by British scientists has shown that nanomagnets consisting of stem cells “tagged” with microscopic particles containing iron, each of which is 2,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, can be steered around the body using an external magnetic field.

The first study of the technique has shown that it can boost by five times the number of stem cells that reach the injured blood vessels of rats. The results also suggest that similar methods could be used in other branches of medicine, for example to guide chemotherapy drugs towards tumours while avoiding healthy tissue.

As the nanoparticles used in the experiment are already approved for medical use by the US Food and Drug Administration, human trials of the technology could potentially begin within three to five years, scientists said.

Mark Lythgoe, of University College London who led the study, said: “These particles are tiny: one nanometre is the distance that a fingernail grows in a second.” “It’s feasible that heart attacks and other vascular injuries could eventually be treated using regular injections of magnetised stem cells.

“The technology could be adapted to localise cells in other organs and provide a useful tool for the systemic injection of all manner of cell therapies. And it’s not just limited to cells – by focusing tagged antibodies or viruses using this method, cancerous tumours could be much more specifically targeted.”

In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Interventions , the team focused on a type of stem cell called endothelial progenitor cells, which have been shown to be important in vascular healing. Each cell was tagged with a “nanomagnet” about 50 nanometres in diameter, before these were injected into the rats. A magnetic field was then used to guide the tagged stem cells through the bloodstream until they reached an injured artery.

Panagiotis Kyrtatos, another member of the UCL team, said: “This research tackles one of the most critical challenges in the biomedical sciences today: ensuring the effective delivery and retention of cellular therapies to specific targets within the body. “The nanomagnets not only assist with the targeting but with the aid of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) also allow us to observe how the cells behave once they’re injected.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which helped to fund the study, said: “This encouraging research shows that nanomagnets could be used to help therapeutic stem cells reach specific areas of the body, particularly inside blood vessels where the blood is flowing fast and at high pressure. “We await further research to find out if, as well as increasing the chances of these cells getting to where they are needed, this strategy can actually speed up the repair process.”


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quack psychotherapy kills

"Encounter groups" and the like once had a certain vogue in mainstream psychology but it became apparent that they often did more harm than good to vulnerable people and they therefore largely fell out of mainstream use. The quacks, however, seem to have reinvented and worsened the procedures.

Last I heard, NSW had psychologist registration laws requiring 6 years of accredited training in some form. I would have thought that the quacks below were in breach of that and could be prosecuted

JOHN Marshall had a sense of deja vu when he heard that Rebekah Lawrence had jumped naked to her death just days after completing a self-help course. Eighteen years earlier, Mr Marshall's stepson died during a self-help program run by the creator of Ms Lawrence's course. "When I first heard about it in the news, I thought, my God," Mr Marshall told The Australian yesterday. "They're identical. They've just changed the dates and the names."

Darren Hughes was 24 when, in 1987, he fell to his death from a 12m-high window during the Breakthrough residential self-help program. In 2005, Lawrence jumped naked to her death from her office window, just two days after completing The Turning Point course. Hughes's course was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership until 1988. Mr Bellin also created The Turning Point course.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard last week from Geoffrey Kabealo, the chief executive of People Knowhow, the company behind The Turning Point and Breakthrough courses since 1988. Mr Kabealo said last week that "some 40,000 people have come through the (Turning Point) course and we haven't had any episodes like Rebekah Lawrence". Mr Kabealo has since denied any knowledge of Hughes's death.

Mr Marshall, a sergeant with Sydney Water Police, said organisers of the course were aware of his stepson's mental problems. Hughes had been in a psychiatric hospital, had had electric shock therapy and was recovering from drug addiction. Mr Marshall warned one of the organisers that his stepson should not be doing the $1500 course because of his mental health history. "It's all right," the organiser told him. "He's on a higher plane now." The woman he spoke to was a volunteer who had taken the course herself but who did not have any professional training.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard a similar story about the volunteers' training. The 34-year-old called two members of her "service team" the night before she died. The first team member told the inquest he had not expected to receive calls in the middle of the night. The other told Lawrence she was not qualified to answer her questions. Neither had any formal training or qualifications in counselling or psychology.

Mr Marshall said his stepson, a welder and boilermaker, was on medication and "seemed to be getting himself back on track" before starting the Breakthrough course. It was on the fourth day of the program that Hughes fell 2 1/2 storeys at a guest house in Robertson, in the NSW southern highlands. A policeman told Mr Marshall the group had reacted to Hughes's death "as if nothing had happened".

Mr Marshall said the organisers "took participants' watches away and any personal effects, like photos, that gave them a link to their identities". "The idea was to disorientate them and reprogram them," he said. Hughes's parents describe the course when it was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership as "brainwashing" and "a cult". The inquest into Hughes's death recorded an open verdict, but his mother, Dorothy Marshall, believes the course was to blame. She said she was horrified to discover "that the same people could do it again". "They take innocent young people that trust them and they destroy them mentally," she said.

Mr Marshall hopes the inquest into Lawrence's death will ensure courses use qualified practitioners and are properly regulated. "Otherwise it will happen again," he said.


Junk food dummies: How bingeing on burgers and chips can drain your brainpower -- if you are a rat

This generalization from rats has a number of problems. The rats were fed a VERY high fat diet and fat is probably not a large part of a normal rat diet anyway. They would not have good adaptation to it. So once again poor generalizability from rodent studies to humans can be expected

Eating too much fast food will make you thicker in more ways than one, according to a study. As well as expanding the waistline, a high-fat diet of curries, kebabs, burgers and chips can make you less intelligent. The research was performed by scientists at Oxford University on rats. A high-fat diet over less than ten days damaged the rodents’ short-term memory and made them less mentally alert, as well as significantly decreasing their ability to exercise.

The group of biological experts say their results – dubbed a ‘high-fat hangover’ – show an important link between what people eat, how they think, and how our bodies perform.

Andrew Murray, co-author of the study, said: ‘Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention. ‘We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness.’

The research team studied rats fed a lowfat diet, comprising just 7.5 per cent of calories as fat, and compared them with rats fed a high-fat junk food diet, typically 55 per cent of calories as fat. They discovered that after just four days the muscles of the rats eating the high-fat diet were less able to use oxygen to make the energy needed to exercise, causing their hearts to work harder and increase in size. After nine days on a high-fat diet, the rats took longer to complete a maze and made more mistakes in the process than their low-fat-diet counterparts. The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of five to 5.5.

The low-fat rats were also running 50 per cent further by this stage than their fatter and ‘thicker’ counterparts.

Researchers then investigated the cellular causes of these problems, particularly in muscle cells. They found increased levels of a protein called uncoupling protein 3, which made the cells less efficient at using oxygen to make the energy required for running.

The findings are published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the journal, said: ‘It’s nothing short of a high-fat hangover.’

The research funded by the British Heart Foundation may have implications for athletes looking for the best diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders. The scientists are now studying the effect of a short-term high-fat diet on humans.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Powerful anti-cancer compound uncovered (in mice)

Many effects found in rodents do not generalize to humans

A new study conducted on mice has uncovered a chemical compound that effectively targets cancer stem cells - the key cells that spread malignant tumors and are usually resistant to treatment. In a study published in Thursday's edition of the journal Cell, a group of medical researchers said they had discovered that a compound called salinomycin directly targeted cancer stem cells. "Evidence is accumulating rapidly that cancer stem cells are responsible for the aggressive powers of many tumors," said Robert Weinberg, a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and one of the study's authors.

Cancer stem cells are rare but aggressive parts of tumors and their ability to seed new tumors while proving largely resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy makes them a key component in treating cancer patients. "Many therapies kill the bulk of a tumor only to see it regrow," said Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, another author of the Cell paper.

Previous attempts to study cancer stem cells have been stymied by difficulties in locating the rare cells within tumors, and the tendency of the cells to lose their key properties when grown outside of the body. To conduct their research, the study group found a novel way to manipulate cultured breast cancer cells into cancer stem cells that retained the tendency to seed tumors and resist anti-cancer treatments. The researchers then analyzed some 16,000 chemical compounds, looking for one that could target the cancer stem cells, eventually narrowing the field to 32, and then down to one: salinomycin.

The compound showed impressive results, both against naturally-occurring and manipulated cancer stem cells, reducing the proportion of breast cancer stem cells by more than 100-fold compared to a commonly-used breast cancer treatment called paclitaxel. It also inhibited the ability of the cancer stem cells to seed new tumors when injected into mice, and slowed the growth of existing tumors in the animals. "It wasn't clear it would be possible to find compounds that selectively kill cancer stem cells," said Piyush Gupta, one of the study's lead authors and a researcher at the Broad Institute. "We've shown it can be done."

The compound even targeted groups of genes, usually linked to particularly aggressive tumors and poor patient prognoses, that are highly active in cancer stem cells, effectively decreasing their activity, the study said. "Our work reveals the biological effects of targeting cancer stem cells," said Gupta. "Moreover, it suggests a general approach to finding anti-cancer therapies that can be applied to any solid tumor maintained by cancer stem cells."

The researchers are not yet sure how salinomycin works, and there are a number of pharmaceutical steps that would need to be taken before it could be used to treat cancer patients. However, the study's authors are positive both about the prospects for salinomycin and a number of the other chemical compounds tested, several of which also showed some ability to target cancer stem cells.


Always look on the bright side of life... it could help fend off a heart attack

This is just another replication of the long-established finding that hostile people have more coronary heart disease

A study of 100,000 women showed that the optimistic ones had a nine per cent lower chance of developing heart disease. The research, from the University of Pittsburgh, examined the women aged 50 to 79 who were initially free of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It revealed that those seen as having positive characters were less likely to die from conditions linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol or have depressive symptoms, smoke, be sedentary or have a high body mass index. But women with a high degree of 'cynical hostility' were at a higher risk of dying earlier.

Women were deemed to be optimistic if they agreed with statements such as: 'In unclear times, I usually expect the best.' Pessimism was defined as agreeing: 'If something can go wrong for me, it will.'

Lead author Hilary Tindle said: 'As a physician, I'd like to see people try to reduce their negativity in general. The evidence suggests that sustained, high degrees of negativity are hazardous to health.'

A separate study, from the University of Alberta, Canada, found that positive expectations helped patients with whiplash injuries recover three times more quickly. Those who had low expectations of complete recovery were four times more likely still to feel symptoms of the injury six months later. ... and why reading this could make you smile

According to the old song, when you're smiling the whole world smiles with you. And according to psychologists, it's true. An experiment suggested that the tendency is to smile or frown when you see someone else doing the same thing. The facial muscles are automatically activated just by observing the other person's expression, researchers from Dutch universities found. And even merely reading certain trigger words can have an effect.

The study, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, detected different facial reactions to the words 'smile' and 'cry' or 'funny' and 'frustrating'. As volunteers read the words, the researchers monitored the reaction in the zygomatic muscle which control smiles and the corrugator supercilii, controlling frowns. When they read the verb 'to laugh' from a screen, it activated the zygomatic 'smile muscle' yet when they read 'to frown' the frown muscle did not respond at all.

There was some, but not as much, movement from both the smile and frown muscles when the volunteers read the words 'funny', 'frustrating' and other adjectives.


Australia: Vaccine fear campaign investigated

These fruitcakes certainly are dangerous

A GROUP that claims vaccines cause autism, brain damage and cancer has been reported to the healthcare watchdog for allegedly spreading misinformation and endangering children's health. The official complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission follows a newspaper advertisement paid for by businessman Dick Smith pleading with parents to ignore the Australian Vaccination Network's fear campaign.

AVN is run by Meryl Dorey, who publishes a website and newsletter, campaigns against mass public immunisation programs and promotes the use of homeopathy to prevent disease.

The Australian Skeptics group supports the complaint that Ms Dorey and the network are breaching the Health Care Complaints Act by making unsubstantiated health claims based on "conspiracy theories", pseudo-scientific evidence and debunked research.

Ms Dorey, of Bangalow on the Far North Coast, says her eldest son, now 20, was "vaccine-injured" from the diphtheria-tetanus-polio immunisation when he was two months old and the measles-mumps-rubella shot at 12 months. She attributes his life-long sleep apnoea and allergies to the vaccinations. Ms Dorey said she was not anti-vaccination, just "pro-information and pro-choice". "We never have and never will tell anyone that they should not vaccinate. We simply fill the information void left by government and the mainstream medical community," she said.

But Dick Smith, the Skeptics and the author of the complaint, Ken McLeod, say Ms Dorey and AVN do not promote choice because her speeches and publications never mention the proven benefits of immunisation, and the group's motto is: "Love them, protect them, never inject them.". "They can have their view but be upfront about it and don't quote dubious scientific evidence that has been debunked," Skeptics executive officer Tim Mendham said.

Mr Smith wrote and funded the advertisement because he believed young, vulnerable mothers were being conned by the network's claim to be an independent voice.

Complaints commission executive officer Kim Swan said the allegations were being assessed, and AVN had been asked to respond. Ms Dorey said the commission did not have jurisdiction over her or the network because she was not medically qualified and did not provide a health service.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

IQ a bigger contributor to socioeconomic influence on risk of CV death than conventional risk factors

To translate that heading into plain English: Poor people get more heart attacks not because they are fatter and smoke more (etc.) but because they are dumber. That reinforces the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness as well as being a marker of mental ability. Another indication of that is that high IQ people live longer. I imagine that some readers think I overdo it in attributing so many epidemiological correlations to IQ and social class (which are themselves correlated) but the paper below shows just how important those factors are

A couple of footnote-type comments: 1). It is odd that alcohol consumption was not mentioned in the study. Perhaps they were afraid that they might find that boozers live longer. 2). There is a constant tendency for people to counter generalizations that they don't like with contrary examples, quite ignoring that you can prove anything by examples. So when confronted by the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness, some people say: "What about Stephen Hawking? He's very bright but he's none too healthy". One might reply however that to have lived into his 60s with his severe disability his basic health must be exceptionally robust!

Intelligence appears to play a greater role than traditional cardiovascular risk factors in the relationship of socioeconomic disadvantage with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, according to a new and unusual study.

This is the first research to properly examine this issue, say Dr G David Batty (University of Glasgow, Scotland) and colleagues in their paper published online July 14, 2009 in the European Heart Journal. "Our findings suggest that measured IQ does not completely account for observed inequalities in health, but probably— through a variety of mechanisms— may quite strongly contribute to them." The findings indicate the need to further explore how the links between low socioeconomic status, low IQ, and poor health might be broken, they observe.

In an accompanying editorial, Drs Michael Marmot and Mika Kivimäki (University College London, UK) say research such as this "is challenging . . . [but it] makes clear that what happens in the mind, whether the influence came from the material world or the social, has to be taken into account if we are to understand how the socioeconomic circumstances in which people live influence health and well-being." [It must have been hard for The Marmot to admit that. He is associated with the dubious WCRF and some equally dubious dietary claims]

Adding IQ to statistical models strengthens their power [But it is SO "incorrect"]

Batty and colleagues explain that controlling for preventable behavioral and physiological risk factors attenuates but fails to eliminate socioeconomic gradients in health, particularly CVD, which raises the possibility that as-yet-unmeasured psychological factors need to be considered, and one such factor is cognitive function (also referred to as intelligence or IQ).

They studied a cohort of 4289 US male former military personnel, from the Vietnam Experience Study, which they say had a number of strengths that enabled them to explore the role of IQ. It provides extensive data on IQ (early adulthood and middle age) and four widely used markers of socioeconomic position: early-adulthood and current income; occupational prestige and education; a range of nine established CVD risk factors; and cause-specific mortality.

They used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socioeconomic position and mortality. Over 15 years, there were 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from other causes). In age-adjusted analyses, each of the four indices of socioeconomic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and "other" causes of mortality, such that, as would be expected from previous findings, elevated rates were evident in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socioeconomic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD mortality (55%), and "other" causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked: all causes (40%), CVD (40%) and "other" mortality (43%).

And adding IQ to the model adjusted for age and CVD risk resulted in further explanatory power for all outcomes, they say.

Consider IQ when planning health promotion and in consultations

In their editorial, Marmot and Kivimäki say there is probably not a direct IQ effect but rather cognitive function more likely "explains" the link between socioeconomic position and mortality, insofar as intelligence is a determinant of social and economic success in life. Further research will help clarify this issue, they note. [The Marmot is trying to waffle his way out of it. I am not even sure what he means there]

Batty et al say their results suggest that individual cognition levels should be considered more carefully when health promotion campaigns are being prepared and in health-professional-client interactions.


Journal abstract follows:

Does IQ explain socio-economic differentials in total and cardiovascular disease mortality? Comparison with the explanatory power of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors in the Vietnam Experience Study

By G. David Batty et al.

Aims: The aim of this study was to examine the explanatory power of intelligence (IQ) compared with traditional cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in the relationship of socio-economic disadvantage with total and CVD mortality, that is the extent to which IQ may account for the variance in this well-documented association.

Methods and results: Cohort study of 4289 US male former military personnel with data on four widely used markers of socio-economic position (early adulthood and current income, occupational prestige, and education), IQ test scores (early adulthood and middle-age), a range of nine established CVD risk factors (systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total blood cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, body mass index, smoking, blood glucose, resting heart rate, and forced expiratory volume in 1 s), and later mortality.

We used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socio-economic position and mortality. Fifteen years of mortality surveillance gave rise to 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from ‘other’ causes).

In age-adjusted analyses, as expected, each of the four indices of socio-economic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and ‘other’ causes of mortality, such that elevated rates were evident in the most socio-economically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle-age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socio-economic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD (55%), and ‘other’ causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked than that seen after IQ adjustment: all-causes (40%), CVD (40%), and ‘other’ mortality (43%).

Adding IQ to the latter model resulted in marked, additional explanatory power for all outcomes in comparison to the age-adjusted analyses: all-causes (63%), CVD (63%), and ‘other’ mortality (65%). When we utilized IQ in early adulthood rather than middle-age as an explanatory variable, the attenuating effect on the socio-economic gradient was less pronounced although the same pattern was still present.

Conclusion: In the present analyses of socio-economic gradients in total and CVD mortality, IQ appeared to offer greater explanatory power than that apparent for traditional CVD risk factors.

European Heart Journal 2009 30(15):1903-1909

WCRF crooks now attacking ham sandwiches

The newspaper accepts them as cancer experts. Frantically fundraising frauds would be a better name. They seem to come out with these scares every few months. Some background on the WCRF and their unsubstantiated scares here and here

Parents are being warned not to put ham, bacon and other processed meats in their children's packed lunches. Ham sandwiches are given to thousands of children every day in packed lunches. Many parents regard them as a healthy option. Now, however, parents are being urged not to put the sandwiches in their children's lunch boxes - because of the cancer risk. Ham, bacon and other types of processed meat raise the risk of bowel cancer over a lifetime, according to a cancer charity.

Giving sandwich fillers such as ham and salami to children means they get into habits that increase their risk of developing cancer later in life, it claims. Healthier alternatives are fish, low-fat cheese, houmous, or small amounts of unprocessed, lean meat such as chicken.

Scientists estimate that in the UK about 3,700 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70grams of processed meat a week, which is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon.

The World Cancer Research Fund charity said that although the research has not specifically looked at the effect of eating processed meat in childhood [That's a great basis for decision-making, isn't it?], the 'convincing' evidence in adults makes it important to teach children to avoid it where possible. Marni Craze, children's education manager for the charity said: 'If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it. 'It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all.

'We also need to do more to raise awareness of the issue, as a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people in Britain do not know that eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer. [Because it doesn't] 'This is despite the scientific evidence about a link being convincing.'

The warning applies to meats that have been processed by smoking or having salt or additives put in them. It does not relate to cooked meat, although the charity recommends limiting the intake of red meat to 500grams (cooked weight) per week to cut down the risk of developing bowel cancer.

The charity also says packed lunches that contain sugary drinks and items high in fat and calories could indirectly raise the risk of cancer by making children overweight - with the extra pounds carried into adulthood. [Funny that middling-weight people live longer, isn't it?]

Miss Craze said: 'If children are regularly eating high-calorie foods or sugary drinks then they are more likely to become overweight. Putting ham in your child's sandwich might seem like a convenient option, particularly for parents who do not have a lot of time to prepare their child's lunch box. 'But packed lunches are a part of a child's diet that is relatively easy to control. 'Putting some salad into a sandwich will count towards the five portions of fruits and vegetables children should be eating every day. [And that rule is totally made-up, with NO experimental support] 'A small fruit juice instead of a fizzy drink will also give a portion. Chicken that has not been processed, fish, houmous or low fat cheese are easy alternatives.'

Last year, the WCRF claimed that, after not smoking, staying a healthy weight is the most important way to prevent cancer. In 2007, the charity also blamed drinking and everyday foods, including processed meats, for cancer. Among the findings of the analysis of thousands of studies on lifestyle and cancer was that small amounts of processed meat raise the risk of bowel cancer by 20 per cent. Processed meats may also trigger cancer in the prostate, lung, stomach and oesophagus. Last year, the charity linked the research to a warning about traditional cooked breakfasts.