Sunday, May 02, 2010

Organic nutrition benefit 'a myth'

ORGANIC food does not have greater nutritional value than conventionally grown food, a major University of Sydney study has found. The study found food grown without pesticides or herbicides shouldn't be promoted as healthier as there was no evidence to show "it contained more nutrients than" normal food.

The author of the report went further, recommending consumers stick with conventionally grown fruit and vegetables because they are cheaper and, therefore, people could eat more of them.

The study, conducted by the School of Molecular Bioscience, surveyed the international literature on organic produce, conducted laboratory analyses of Australian foods and surveyed Australian health professionals about organics, critically evaluating the results.

But the study did not measure pesticide residues - one consumer concern driving organic food purchases.

The results, which will be published in the international science journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, showed that while some studies found organic foods had higher levels of vitamin C and phosphorus [Hey! Wait a minute. Aren't phosphates supposed to BAD for you?] than conventional foods, when these studies were correctly scrutinised there was little difference between the two.

But Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu rejected the study [He would], saying other long-term reports had found organic food was higher in nutrients than non-organic food. Mr Leu said most people who bought organics did so because they worried about the level of pesticide residue in conventional food, an issue not addressed by the study.

"Studies show there is no, or next-to-no, pesticide residue in organic produce," he said. "There is no real scientific data that shows the safety of pesticides in the human body, especially in children. [Most pesticides can simply be washed off and their use is heavily regulated anyway]


My mind is melting, man, but in a good way

Very dubious: Psychedelic drugs including LSD are back on the medical research agenda as treatments for depression and trauma. Where are the proper clinical trials? There has been plenty of time for them

IT could be any sales conference at any hotel in the US. The delegates wear name tags, buffet meals are served and each day's schedule is packed with "workshops" and panel discussions. But there are a few telltale signs that all is not quite as it seems.

For a start, many of the featured speakers have the letters MD after their names and wear unkempt beards and greying ponytails. And at the concessions stand near the registration table is a man selling didgeridoos.

In fact, this international gathering of 1200 medical professionals, researchers and students at the airport Holiday Inn in San Jose, California, couldn't be farther removed from the average photocopier salesmen's jamboree. After all, the delegates are here to promote use of a substance once considered the antithesis of the American way of life: lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD.

The idea isn't as insane as it sounds. After 40 years of being a medical research taboo and virtually impossible to use in government-approved studies, acid is finally making a comeback, with the US Food and Drug Administration relaxing the conditions for trials involving the mind-altering substance, and many doctors now convinced that the controlled use of LSD and other psychedelics (including psilocybin, found in "magic mushrooms") could hold the key to treating everything from severe depression to post-combat stress.

"It's unfortunate that people associate LSD with spaced-out hippies because these medicines go back 50,000 years," says Randy Hencken, a director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychiatric Studies (Maps), which is hosting the conference, entitled "Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century". "But there has always been an intellectual curiosity, and now more and more people want to do the research. We have as many psychedelic studies going on in the US as we did in the early 1970s."

When the mind-altering effects of LSD were discovered by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1943 -- he infamously attempted to ride home from the lab on his bicycle after mistakenly ingesting more than 100 times the threshold dose -- researchers were convinced that it could have medical applications.

By the 60s, mainstream celebrities including Cary Grant were experimenting with the drug, which was promoted enthusiastically by a Harvard University lecturer, Timothy Leary, whose slogan was "Turn on, tune in, drop out". All this came to an end in 1966, when LSD was declared illegal. Meanwhile, Leary was named "the most dangerous man in America" by president Richard Nixon and sentenced to 30 years in prison (with a $US30,000 fine) for possession of half a marijuana cigarette.

It has taken until today for research involving hallucinogens to overcome the stigma of the Leary era, when the FDA effectively closed down academic studies involving such drugs. Now even the renowned Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore has conducted a government-funded study into hallucinogens.

In the study, the results of which were published recently in the journal Psychopharmacology, 36 volunteers were treated with psilocybin. The participants had an average age of 46, had never used psychedelic drugs before and were given it in an eight-hour session during which they lay on a sofa wearing an eye mask and listening to classical music.

Many said that it was the single most meaningful or spiritually significant experience of their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent.

Nevertheless, one-third of the subjects also found the experience frightening, even in the highly controlled setting, suggesting that bad trips are still a problem.

LSD and psilocybin are not the only drugs back in vogue in medical research. Studies are also being carried out into how MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, can be used to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"With MDMA, some treatment-resistant patients are able to revisit their trauma without being overwhelmed by fear," says Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist from South Carolina and a keynote speaker at the San Jose conference, who conducted a landmark study using the drug between 2004 and 2008. "It's very encouraging."

In spite of the growing respectability of psychedelic sciences, however, funding remains scarce -- partly because drugs such as LSD and MDMA are now "in the public domain" and are therefore un-patentable by large companies. "There's no profit motivation," Randy Hencken of Maps says. "Also, the idea is to take these drugs only a few times in a lifetime," which doesn't make for a good business model.

Yet, as in the 60s, many of LSD's most enthusiastic proponents don't need research budgets or government approval to conduct personal experiments.

Alex Kryzanekas is one such person. When the 26-year-old student at Daytona State College in Florida fell into a deep and seemingly incurable depression after his girlfriend cheated on him a few years ago, he decided to self-medicate by using a hallucinogen given to him by a friend.

"It was the greatest epiphany I've had in my life," he recalls. "I relived the moment of trauma in my head and understood events in my life, including childhood issues I had with my mother, as I never had before. I realised that I had always been focusing on the negative." Kryzanekas turned his experience into a research paper and now hopes eventually to qualify as psychiatrist.

"To me, this conference feels like the arrival of a new generation," he says as he sits by the hotel swimming pool, preparing for the next morning's seminars. "In future, I would much rather a doctor prescribed someone a guided LSD session to treat depression than a 10-month course of Prozac."

But not everyone is convinced. Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist at King's College London, who treats patients with post-traumatic stress disorder highlights the potential dangers. "Any British practitioner who gave LSD to a patient with PTSD without sound evidence from clinical trials supported by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence would be doing something very risky," Wessely says.

"With anxious people, you want to decrease their arousal and increase their contact with reality, not give them something that dissociates them from reality."


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