Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Organic food tough? Try new organic metal

The breathtaking and insouciant ignorance we all have to live with

When I began to learn about chemistry as a boy at school, I was introduced to the world of the organic and the inorganic. The term "organic", I was told, referred to the presence of carbon and identified livings things such as plants and animals, while "inorganic" described non-living things such as minerals, metals and rocks.

Over the last decade I rode out the non-sequitur of "organic" vegetables with the begrudged understanding that the advertisers were claiming that pesticides had not been used in the production process. But I still winced when people earnestly tried to tell me the advantages of organic eggs and organic milk. It was, and is, impossible to argue against such frustrating nomenclature.

But now a line has to be drawn in the sand, before we enter the linguistic nightmare of the "post-organic". The ultimate misuse of the term came on Saturday morning when I needed to buy some magnesium tablets to keep the leg cramps away - these are one of the joys of cycling later in life. In my local health food shop I discovered a small bottle of Organic Magnesium. "How can magnesium be described as organic?" I asked the woman who so gushingly wanted to assist me. "It's healthy, it's organic!" she gushed. "But magnesium is a mineral and a mineral can't be described as organic … it's like talking about organic steel."

She stared and blinked, like a knowing owl. "The organic label," she explained, trying not to sound condescending, "tells us that no pesticides were used in producing it. This magnesium is completely organic." My mouth opened slowly, quietly and stupidly. "Ah, magnesium doesn't grow on plants, so you don't need pesticides. It's a mineral."

The woman shrugged. She seemed to size me up: pot belly, white beard, I could almost hear her say: "What would you know about health food?"

At this stage I knew I had lost, and began to wonder if there were such a thing as "orgasmic magnesium". Now, that would lead to some interesting discussions. Anyway, I bought that particular bottle of Organic Magnesium, probably out of a sense of personal perversity. Later I recounted the incident to my grey-haired girlfriend and showed her the bottle. She laughed, "You have made a good choice," she said, "look at the fine print: 'organic magnesium is good for preventing PMS'."

Just what I needed: an affront to science and a question over my sense of masculinity. I grimaced and we took off up the highway in our organic car. Organic? Well, no pesticides or chemical fertilisers were used in its production. Therefore, ipso facto, my car is the latest commodity to become truly organic.


Children 'should not be given common painkiller after a vaccine'

Parents should not give their children the common painkiller paracetamol in the hours after they are given a vaccine because it stops the immune system working so well, a new study suggests. Paracetamol, found in Calpol, can reduce the effectiveness of the injections, researchers have found.

As well as a painkiller, the drug is used to prevent fever, which can be a side effect of vaccines, as the body responds to the jab. The team behind the study believe that paracetamol could limit how the immune system responds to the vaccination. The drugs effects could leave children underprotected when they come into contact with dangerous diseases in the future.

The study tested the effectiveness of vaccines for flu, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio if children had been given the painkiller as well. The research found that the children had significantly lower numbers of antibodies, the immune systems response to infection, in those given paracetamol for 24 hours after the jab.

Prof Roman Prymula, from the University of Defence in the Czech Republic, who led the study, said: "To our knowledge, such an effect of paracetamol on post-immunisation immune responses has not been documented before.” Researchers gave the drug to 226 children every six to eight hours for 24 hours after the vaccination. They then compared the findings with those from 223 children who had the same injections but were not given the painkiller.

The research team also analysed 10 previous studies on the effects of paracetamol, which confirmed their findings, which have been published in the Lancet medical journal. Writing in the same journal, Dr Robert Chen, from the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, called for more research to be done on the effect of paracemtol on vaccinations. He said: "Further assessment at the individual level, such as whether or not paracetamol increases the proportion of vaccine non-responders, is warranted. “However, a larger question is the extent to which paracetamol might reduce population protection."

All children in Britain are offered vaccinations against a number of major diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough, bacteria which can cause meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella, also known as German measles. Last year the Government began vaccinating girls aged 12 to 18 against the virus which causes cervical cancer.

A spokesman for Calpol said: "Parents and health care professionals have relied on Calpol (paracetamol) for more than 40 years in the UK. Calpol is indicated for the treatment of mild to moderate pain and for the treatment of fever in children over 3 months. Calpol can also be used from 2 months to treat post-vaccination fever in infants. However, Calpol is not indicated for the prophylaxis (prevention) of fever in children at the time of vaccination.


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