Sunday, November 01, 2009

Snack and soft drink sweetener putting millions at risk of high blood pressure (?)

More moronic epidemiology -- and based on self-reports at that! A LONG way from a double-blind study and of unknown implications. Probably it was poor people who drink more of the beverages concerned and poor people have poorer health anyway

A sugary ingredient in processed snacks and soft drinks is putting millions at risk of high blood pressure, new research has revealed. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is abundant in many types of foods and beverages and was originally viewed as a "healthy" method of sweetening. Its introduction 20 years ago has caused consumption of the fruit sugar fructose to rise sharply, alongside increasing levels of obesity.

Although healthy amounts of fructose exist naturally in fruit, excessive amounts of the sugar may be harmful. Large quantities of fructose cause the liver to pump fats into the bloodstream that may damage arteries.

Researchers who carried out the new study in the US looked at more than 4,500 adults with no prior history of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Fructose intake was calculated using a dietary questionnaire which asked participants to rate their consumption of foods such as fruit juices, soft drinks, bakery products and confectionery.

The study found that people who ate or drank more than 74 grams of fructose per day - equivalent to 2.5 sugary soft drinks - increased their risk of developing high blood pressure.

Consuming more than 74 grams of fructose a day increased the chances of a reading of 135/85mmHg by 28%, the study found. It also raised the risk of higher readings of 140/90mmHg and 160/100mmHg by 36% and 87% respectively.

The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego, California. Dr Diana Jalal, from the University of Colorado, and colleagues wrote in their paper: "These results indicate that high fructose intake in the form of added sugars is significantly and independently associated with higher blood pressure levels in the US adult population with no previous history of hypertension."

Further work was needed to see if lowering fructose consumption could normalise blood pressure, they said. Americans today consumed 30% more fructose than they did 20 years ago and up to four times more than they did 100 years ago, said the researchers.


Fat or mad? Take your choice

Children on widely used psychiatric drugs can quickly gain an alarming amount of weight – many pack on nearly 20 pounds and become obese within just 11 weeks, a study has found. "Sometimes this stuff just happens like an explosion," said Dr. Christopher Varley, a psychiatrist with Seattle Children's Hospital. "You can actually see them grow between appointments." He called the study "sobering."

Weight gain is a known possible side effect of antipsychotic drugs that are prescribed not only for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but also increasingly for autism, attention deficit disorders and other behaviour problems. The new study in mostly older children and teens suggests they may be more vulnerable to weight gain than adults.

The study also linked some of these drugs with worrisome increases in blood fats including cholesterol, also seen in adults. Researchers tie these changes to weight gain and worry that both may make children more prone to heart problems in adulthood.

The research is the largest in children who had just started taking these medicines. It provides strong evidence suggesting the drugs, not something else, caused the side effects, said lead author Dr. Christoph Correll, of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Glen Oaks, N.Y. But because these drugs can reduce severe psychiatric symptoms in troubled children, "we're a little bit between a rock and a hard place," he said.

The study authors said their results show children on the drugs should be closely monitored for weight gain and other side effects, and that when possible, other medicines should be tried first.

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. It involved 205 New York City-area children ages 4 to 19 who had recently been prescribed one of the drugs; the average age was 14. Depending on which of four study drugs children used, they gained between 10 and 20 pounds on average in almost 11 weeks; from 10 per cent to 36 per cent became obese. The drugs – none are approved by Health Canada for youths under age 18 – are Abilify, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa.

Of the four, Seroquel and Zyprexa – with the worst effects on weight and cholesterol – are not yet approved for children in the U.S. However, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted in favour of their use with adolescents.

The four drugs have been considered safer than older antipsychotic drugs, which can cause sometimes permanent involuntary muscle twitches and tics. That has contributed to widespread use of the newer drugs, including for less severe behaviour problems, a JAMA editorial said. Doctors "should not stretch the boundaries" by prescribing the drugs for conditions they haven't been proven to treat, said Varley, co-author of the editorial. The number of U.S. children using these drugs has soared to more than 2 million annually, according to one estimate.

Why these drugs cause weight gain is uncertain but there's some evidence that they increase appetite and they may affect how the body metabolizes sugar, said Jeff Bishop, a psychiatric pharmacist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The drugs also can have a sedation effect, making users less active.


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