Thursday, April 22, 2010

The war on salt goes national

Earlier this year, New York City Mayor and prominent food nag Michael Bloomberg announced a "voluntary" effort to reduce the salt content in restaurants and processed foods by 25%. Later, a New York State Senator proposed a ban on the use of any salt in restaurant kitchens. Now, the Washington Post reports:
The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products ...

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The hubris here is staggering. The federal government is going to analyze the salt content in countless different types of processed food, establish limits (and based on what? How much salt is good for me? You? Someone with hypertension? I have low blood pressure; I don’t need to cut back.), and calibrate the limits so that consumers "barely notice". Give me a break.

The science behind the federal government's war on salt is shaky. There is no "right" amount of daily salt consumption. Some people should cut back on salt, but others don’t need to. A study in Current Opinion in Cardiology found that people who ate low-salt diets were 37 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Michael Alderman, head of the American Society of Hypertension, America's biggest organization of specialists in high blood pressure, wrote in a review of the science in 2000:
The problem with this appealing possibility is that a reduction in salt consumption of this magnitude has other—and sometimes adverse—health consequences ... Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.

No matter. The government will use its mighty sledgehammer anyway.


Grim weather increases risk of prostate cancer

Some very long chains of inference here. It's all theory. There are many differences between North and South other than the weather

Cold and cloudy weather in northern countries such as Britain may make men more prone to prostate cancer, new research suggests. Scientists believe a combination of cold temperatures and lack of sun could help explain higher rates of the disease in northerly parts of the world.

Poor exposure to the sun's rays can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may increase prostate cancer risk, it is claimed. At the same time, cold weather might help to slow the degradation of cancer-triggering industrial pollutants and pesticides, said US researchers. Cold temperatures were also believed to help the chemicals precipitate out of the atmosphere and fall to the ground.

Dr Sophie St-Hilaire, who led the scientists from Idaho State University, said: "We found that colder weather, and low rainfall, were strongly correlated with prostate cancer.

"Although we can't say exactly why this correlation exists, the trends are consistent with what we would expect given the effects of climate on the deposition, absorption, and degradation of persistent organic pollutants including pesticides".

Around one in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Across the northern hemisphere, reported incidence of the disease is greater in higher latitudes, according to the scientists. The rate varies by about five per cent.

Each year in the UK, around 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 10,000 die from the disease.

It is known that some pollutants can cause cancer, said the researchers writing online in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

Experts believed that cold weather slowed the chemicals' degradation and caused them to precipitate to the ground. Rain and humidity were also thought to play important roles in their absorption and degradation.

Dr St-Hilaire said: "This study provides an additional hypothesis for the north-south distribution of prostate cancer, which builds on the existing supposition that individuals at northern latitudes may be deficient in Vitamin D due to low exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation during the winter months.

"Our study suggests that in addition to vitamin D deficiency associated with exposure to UV radiation, other meteorological conditions may also significantly affect the incidence of prostate cancer".

The scientists analysed prostate cancer data for every US county between 2000 and 2004.

They found that lower temperatures correlated with higher rates of prostate cancer, after adjusting for UV radiation, local pesticide use, rainfall, snowfall and other factors.

"We hypothesise that temperature may be associated with the incidence of prostate cancer by modulating exposure to POPs (persistent organic pollutants), some of which have been linked to the disease," the researchers wrote.

Organic chemicals tended to exist in a solid rather than a gaseous form at cold temperatures, they pointed out. This would cause them to fall to earth. Temperature also affected the degradation of POPs in the soil and atmosphere.


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