Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Antihistamine Use Linked to Extra Pounds

More epidemiological stupidity. Isn't it obvious that chronically ill people might get less exercise and thus gain weight? They obviously want to blame the remedy instead of the illness for weight gain but rightly chicken out in the end

People who use prescription antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms may be more likely than non-users to carry excess pounds, a new study suggests, although the significance of the connection is not yet clear.

In a study of 867 U.S. adults, researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, found that prescription antihistamine users were more likely to be overweight or obese than non-users were.

Among the 268 antihistamine users, 45 percent were overweight, versus 30 percent of the 599 study participants not on the medications.

The researchers stress, however, that the findings do not prove that antihistamines are the cause of the extra pounds. This type of study, known as an observational study, can only point to an association between two variables — in this case, antihistamine use and body weight — and cannot prove cause-and-effect.

It's possible that some other factor explains the link, according to lead researcher Dr. Joseph Ratliff, a postdoctoral associate in Yale's department of psychiatry.

"There have been studies that show allergies and asthma themselves are associated with obesity," he told Reuters Health in an email, "so these conditions themselves may have an effect."

Still, in a report in the journal Obesity, Ratliff and his colleagues say the findings point to an important question for future studies to explore.

More here

Pesky genes overturn the conventional wisdom again

A man's higher risk of heart attacks can be down to his genes, rather than lifestyle

SCIENTISTS have found a genetic explanation for why men are more likely than women to suffer heart attacks and strokes.

The British team found a cluster of genetic variants on the male sex chromosome that puts carriers at an increased risk of heart disease.

Previously, the difference between the rate of heart disease for men and women was attributed to men being more likely to have “high-risk” lifestyles - by smoking, for example - and to the protective effect on the heart of the female hormone oestrogen.

The latest study, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Stockholm, indicates that men who carry a set of genes - the I-haplogroup - on their Y chromosome are at 55 per cent greater risk of heart disease.

“We're very familiar with this difference between men and women but it has been unclear whether it is to do with lifestyle, hormones or whether there is a genetic origin,” said Nilesh Samani, Professor of Cardiology at Britain's University of Leicester and the lead author.

The finding also provides a tantalising explanation for why northern Europeans tend to be at greater risk of heart disease than their Mediterranean counterparts. The I-haplogroup is most prevalent in northern, central and eastern Europe, suggesting that genetics as well as a diet and lifestyle may play a role.

In future, doctors could take into account this risk factor, alongside cholesterol and blood pressure, to help identify those individuals at greatest risk. “As a man I would want to have this test,” said George Kassianos, a GP with a special interest in cardiology, based in Berkshire in England. “As a doctor, if someone was already at risk and they had these gene variants as well, I could put them on statins sooner.”

The scientists behind the study said that it would be necessary to establish the mechanism by which the genetic variants increased a person's risk before pre-emptive genetic tests would be clinically useful.

However, they cautioned that direct-to-consumer testing companies were likely to jump on the findings and add the I-haplogroup to the portfolio of risk factors that could be disclosed through personal genetic tests. “They're giving out information that we don't yet understand properly, let alone know what to do about,” said Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study.

While women have two X chromosomes, men have one X and one Y, and the Y is always inherited from their fathers. As it is never paired with a partner, it escapes a process called recombination that shuffles the code of every other chromosome in each new individual. It is thus transmitted almost intact in the male line from generation to generation, altered only by rare spontaneous mutations.

These mutations can be used to identify categories of Y chromosome, known as haplogroups. Men from the same haplogroup must have shared a common male ancestor in the past. The I-haplogroup can be traced back to the Gravettian culture, which arrived in Europe from the Middle East about 25,000 years ago.

In the study, 3,000 males were tested, including 1,295 with heart disease. Those carrying the I-haplogroup variant had a 55 per cent higher risk of the disease. The association was not explained by traditional risk factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking. “This study could explain to a large degree what predisposes men to heart disease,” Professor Weissberg said.

The scientists are working to identify the specific genes involved and the biological mechanisms by which they increase risk. Studies are also planned using data from other European countries to determine the extent to which the I-haplogroup explains the lower incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries.


Monday, August 30, 2010

The alleged fast-food/diabetes link

The British article excerpted below is typical of what one reads about fast food causing diabetes. The connection seems to be almost an article of faith. Yet when I looked at the evidence a couple of years ago, I could not find anything like conclusive evidence of an obesity/diabetes link, let alone a fast-food/diabetes link.

Let me state the obvious: Most fat people don't get diabetes and you can find lots of non-obese people in any McDonald's. Neither of those things would be true if fast food caused diabetes via obesity.

What has happened here, I suspect, is the usual epidemiological inattention to the direction of causation. It is true that those who already have diabetes do benefit by weight-loss and altering their diet but that does not mean that their diet caused the diabetes in the first place.

So what has caused the diabetes upsurge? At a guess: An interaction between genes and inactivity. Or maybe the increased stress of life in an increasingly lawless society. Or maybe both. But the research to find the real cause will not get done until this stupid obsession with fast food is abandoned. Don't hold your breath

The first thing you see when you enter Mayday University Hospital, Croydon, is a Burger King concession next to the main reception desk. If you don’t fancy that, there is an Upper Crust, and the shop opposite has a huge display with a buy-two-get-one-free offer on packs of Revels, Maltesers and Skittles. Bags of custard-filled mini-doughnuts were half price - but they’re all sold out now.

It is a depressing scene, not least because Mayday was the focus of a recent installment of The Hospital - a hard-hitting, five-part Channel 4 series examining the immediate and long-term effects of teenage obesity, alcoholism, violence and sexually transmitted infections. They are problems which, say health experts, are in danger of crippling the NHS.

The episode at Mayday looked at the impact of diabetes, particularly the obesity-related type 2 diabetes. The TV programme followed consultant diabetologist Dr Richard Savine and his team as they struggled to convince young sufferers to take responsibility for their health.

Speaking today, Dr Savine sums up the problem. ‘When I qualified it was unheard of to find a type 2 diabetic under the age of 40. Now we are seeing teenagers with the disease. 'They have diabetes because they have been fat since they were five years old or younger. In 20 years these people will get heart disease, be going blind, suffer strokes and need dialysis. 'And a large proportion of them will not survive, no matter what we do.’

'When I qualified it was unheard of to find a type 2 diabetic under the age of 40. Now we are seeing teenagers with the disease. They have diabetes because they have been fat since they were five years old or younger'

Watching nurses and doctors at the hospital - where one in five patients has diabetes - tuck into burgers and double choc-chip muffins, it is not hard to see why, with the best will in the world, their words fell mostly on deaf ears....

So what can be done? ‘We need to educate,’ he says. ‘Children are growing up with a skewed idea of what healthy eating is. ‘We need to get them to understand it isn’t normal to eat pizza or kebabs three times a week. And many patients see their health as something that doctors look after when it goes wrong.’

How does a Burger King in the hospital reception fit into that message? ‘Most patients will be fed hospital food, which is now very good,’ he answers. ‘It doesn’t matter whether the burger bar is in reception or next door - if a family brings junk food to a diabetic in hospital, you have already lost the battle.’

Of course, Mayday is not alone. Out of 170 NHS Trusts, 40 rent space to chains including Burger King, Subway and Upper Crust.


The toxic truth about vitamin supplements: How health pills millions take with barely a second thought can do more harm than good

Four years ago, I began taking the much promoted glucosamine supplement after hurting my knee in a skiing accident. Glucosamine is made from shellfish and is widely believed to promote joint health - the theory is that it speeds up the production of the protein needed to grow and maintain healthy cartilage.

Although there's no clinical evidence of its effectiveness, my GP said it might help rebuild the damaged cartilage and improve my joint strength. I didn't hesitate, and immediately started taking the recommended dose, 1,500 mg a day.

Not long after, I found I needed to go to the lavatory far too often - sometimes more than five times a day. I had abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas and my stools were dark and tarry. I self- diagnosed IBS.

My GP prescribed drugs to relax the bowel muscles, but they didn't help. Then, early last year, I ran out of glucosamine and didn't restock. My knee was better and I was taking fish oils, which were being promoted as the new miracle supplement for joints.

Within a few days, my bowels returned to normal and remained so until, after another ski accident damaging the same knee in March this year, I began taking glucosamine again.

Within a week my 'IBS' had returned and I made the link. I researched glucosamine and found that side-effects include diarrhoea and loose stools. I stopped again and, hey presto, everything's back to normal.

Sales of health supplements have soared in recent years, with 40 per cent of Britons taking them. It's such a huge market that manufacturers spend around £40 million a year just telling us about their products.

As supplements are either made from natural substances or mimic substances produced by our bodies, many people, like me, assume they cannot do any harm.

But we're wrong, say health professionals. They point out that the health supplement industry is unregulated, which means manufacturers are not required to list potential side-effects - nor do their products have to go through costly clinical trials.

There are a handful of exceptions, such as folic acid, which is recommended for women trying to conceive. If you take a tablet of 400 micrograms (mcg) strength to help with conception, it is classed as a food.

But increase the dose to 5 mg (to treat anaemia and other conditions) and it becomes a medicine, requiring a licence. Otherwise, there are no checks and balances to protect consumers. And this worries experts.

'Health supplements can produce ill effects,' warns Anna Raymond, from the British Dietetic Association. 'People take supplements randomly, but they can be toxic if taken with some medicines or in high quantities.'

Indeed, glucosamine has been linked to the death of one man. In 2004, Norman Ferrie, a 64-year-old engineer from Dundee, died of liver failure within weeks of taking the supplement. 'The liver had been normal and something had attacked it,' gastroenterologist Dr John Dillon, of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, told the inquest in 2008. He said there had been two other cases involving extreme reactions to the widely used supplement.

'Increasingly, people are being taken in by the prospect of a magic pill that will make them healthy,' says Dr Dillon. 'Most people don't know that glucosamine and other supplements are only licensed as a food, but are sold as a medicine. 'It would seem fair to ask manufacturers of supplements to list serious risks.

'Everything we need can be got from a healthy diet. The vast majority of health supplements are a waste of money. People feel fluey and start taking supplements they don't need. They could end up with hypervitaminosis, caused by excessive amounts of supplements.' This can lead to vomiting, lethargy and even renal failure. 'The only time a person should take a supplement is if a doctor recommends it,' adds Dr Dillon.

But even taking supplements on doctors' recommendations is not risk free. Last month, it was reported that taking calcium supplements - often prescribed for osteoporosis - could raise the risk of heart attacks by 30 per cent.

And it's not just the main ingredient than causes problems. Another risk is having an allergy to one of the constituents of a tablet, such as a binding agent or the gel coating, says nutritionist Dr Carrie Buxton, from the Health Supplement Information Service.

Despite the concerns, the Food Standards Agency says legislation on supplements is adequate. So, what can you do to ensure your safety? Dietitian Anna Raymond advises anyone who starts taking supplements should tell their GP.

More here

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crazy legal verdict on vaccine damage

This is just doctors feeling sorry for a disabled kid and coming to a crazy conclusion in order to help him. Where to start?

* His condition is NOT of the kind usually blamed on the vaccine (autism)

* The vaccine has repeatedly been found to be safe in large trials of it

* His problems developed 10 days after the vaccination, which is a common time-frame for MMR side-effects (hence the verdict) but the side effects concerned are very short lived, akin to the flu. Epilepsy is NOT such a side effect.

Logical conclusion: His problems were completely outside what has otherwise been associated with the vaccine so the timing is a coincidence and the vaccine did not cause the effects observed

A mother whose son suffered severe brain damage after he was given the controversial MMR vaccine as a baby has been awarded £90,000 compensation. The judgment is the first of its kind to be revealed since concerns were raised about the safety of the triple jab.

Robert Fletcher, 18, is unable to talk, stand unaided or feed himself.

He endures frequent epileptic fits and requires round-the-clock care from his parents Jackie and John, though he is not autistic. He suffered the devastating effects after being given the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine when he was 13 months old.

The Department of Health had always denied that the jab was the cause of Robert’s disability.

But now, in a judgment which will give hope to hundreds of other parents whose children have been severely affected by routine vaccinations, a medical assessment panel consisting of two doctors and a barrister has concluded that MMR was to blame.

Robert’s mother Jackie said the money would help with his care, though she described the amount as ‘derisory’.

Her first application for compensation under the Government’s Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme was rejected in 1997 on the grounds that it was impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt what had caused Robert’s illness.

But Mrs Fletcher appealed and in a ruling delivered last week, a new panel of experts came to a different conclusion.

In a six-page judgment, they said: ‘Robert was a more or less fit boy who, within the period usually considered relevant to immunisation, developed a severe convulsion... and he then went on to be epileptic and severely retarded.

‘The seizure occurred ten days after the vaccination. In our view, this cannot be put down to coincidence. 'It is this temporal association that provides the link. It is this that has shown on the balance of probabilities that the vaccination triggered the epilepsy. 'On this basis, we find that Robert is severely disabled as a result of vaccination and this is why we allowed the appeal.’

The ruling will reignite the debate over the safety of common childhood vaccines, although it makes clear that Robert’s case does not involve autism.

There is one other reported case of a family being given compensation as a result of an MMR jab.

But Mrs Fletcher said she believed the compensation award to Robert was the first to a surviving MMR-damaged person since controversy erupted in 1998 when the now discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield raised concerns about a possible link between the combined MMR injection and autism. He has since been struck off the medical register....

The controversy over a suggested link between MMR and autism erupted in 1998 when Dr Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet medical journal.

His work has since been discredited and earlier this year Dr Wakefield, who has moved to America, was struck off the medical register after the General Medical Council ruled that he had acted against the interests of patients and ‘failed in his duties as a responsible consultant’.

Robert Fletcher does not suffer from autism. But Mrs Fletcher, from Warrington, Cheshire, said the ruling would give hope to hundreds of other parents fighting to prove that their children’s disabilities were caused by the MMR injection....

The first doctor who assessed Robert under the compensation scheme in 1996 concluded that he had suffered a ‘simple febrile convulsion with no long-lasting consequences’. Although he agreed that Robert had a degree of disability, he refused to accept that the MMR vaccine was to blame.

At this month’s appeal, evidence was given by a leading expert on vaccine-damaged children, paediatric neurologist Dr Marcel Kinsbourne. He explained the biological changes which had occurred in Robert’s brain following the vaccination.

The one-day hearing was chaired by a barrister sitting with two doctors, Professor Sundara Lingam, a former consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and Dr Adrian Allaway.

In a dissenting judgment, Professor Lingam said he believed Robert was ‘genetically predisposed to epilepsy and that the vaccination triggered it rather than caused it. 'Robert would have developed epilepsy in any event, even if he had not had the vaccination’.

But Professor Lingam was overruled by his two colleagues. In their final judgment, they accepted that MMR had caused Robert’s illness but added: ‘We would stress that this decision is fact-specific and it should not be seen as a precedent for any other case. 'In particular, it has no relevance to the issue... as to whether there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.’

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a London GP whose own son is autistic, said: ‘It is a very important principle that parents should be compensated in cases of this kind. 'But although a causal link has been established in law in this instance, exhaustive scientific research has failed to establish any link between MMR and brain damage. 'This case should not make parents feel any different about the safety of the vaccine.’

The Department of Health said: ‘This decision reflects the opinion of a tribunal on the specific facts of the case and they were clear that it should not be seen as a precedent for any other case. 'The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries.’


Food fanaticism hits charity fundraising in South Australia

There's no proof that there is anything wrong with any of the stuff banned and if people want it, they will get it elsewhere anyway

THEY'VE been a staple of hospital waiting rooms and reception desks for decades, but charity fundraiser chocolates, mints and lollies [candies] will be banned from all SA Health buildings under a crackdown on "unhealthy" food.

Butter, pies, pasties, sausages, bacon, soft drinks and even cordial are among more than 20 food items on a "red" list which will also be banned at department events, meetings and functions under the new state food policy which becomes mandatory on October 1.

Workers will even have to seek permission from department executives if they want to serve alcohol such as sparkling wine and fried food such as spring rolls at their staff Christmas party.

Already boxes of charity chocolates and Lion Mints have been removed from counters at the Royal Adelaide and Women's and Children's Hospitals.

However, while the sale of confectionery to raise money for good causes will be banned, chocolates and lollies will still be able to be sold at hospital and office cafeterias and in vending machines, as long as they make up only 20 per cent of the food on display.

SA Health's 30,000 staff were sent an email about the policy last week by chief executive Dr Tony Sherbon, who wrote: "Healthy eating is important for healthy lifestyle, which is why SA Health is making healthy food and drink choices easier in the workplace through the Healthy Food and Drink Choices for Staff and Visitors in SA Health Facilities policy."

The email stated "RED (unhealthy) category food or drinks should not be provided" at functions, meetings, events or even in "social club fridges".

The new policy also bans staff and charities from holding fundraiser sausage sizzles or lamington drives at SA Health sites, instead recommending staff seek sponsorship for "climbing stairs", playing hacky sack or having their head shaved.

Nurses, doctors, unions and charities have lined up to oppose the policy, describing the bans as "heavy-handed" and a "ridiculous" waste of money.

Service organisation Lions Club, which has raised funds through the sale of its trademark mints for more than 30 years, said the banning of its fundraiser boxes "was of course disappointing". National executive officer Rob Oerlemans said the organisation was looking into the impact the ban would have on fundraising at its national board meeting in Sydney today.

"We will just have to abide by these regulations, but the money we raise from these sales fund things like research into child cancer, spinal injury and diabetes prevention," Mr Oerlemans said.

Elaine Farmer, general manager of Surf Life Saving South Australia, which relies on funds raised through annual chocolate drives, was also disappointed by the ban. "It's getting tougher and tougher out there to raise money and every door that is closed on us just makes it worse," she said. "We have quite a few clubs that have chocolate runs for five to six weeks every year, which raises thousands of dollars, and it's very disappointing to now be banned from public hospitals and health departments."

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender labelled the banning of foods "patronising and ridiculous". "There is no such thing as bad foods, it's all about how you use them, and this arbitrary banning is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," Dr Lavender said. "This policy is a waste of resources. It's a nanny state approach and it would be much better putting that time and money into education programs."

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars also described the policy as heavy handed. "It is getting to the point people are not sure if they can bring a chocolate cake to work to celebrate someone's birthday," she said. "It seems extraordinary that people will have this type of control placed on them in the workplace.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mothers who breastfeed 'are at lower risk of diabetes'

Ho hum! It's middle class mothers who are more likely to "do the right thing" and they are healthier anyway

Mothers who do not breastfeed are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life, according to a study. Breastfeeding helps shift fat remaining around the abdomen after pregnancy, one of the factors behind the disorder, say scientists.

They believe that declining rates of breastfeeding in the western world may help explain the explosion in type 2 diabetes among middle-aged women.

Findings from a study of 2,233 women aged 40 to 78 were published yesterday in the American Journal of Medicine.

Dr Eleanor Schwarz, from the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study, said: 'Diet and exercise are widely known to impact the risk of type 2 diabetes. 'But few people realise that breastfeeding also reduces mothers' risk of developing the disease in later life by decreasing maternal belly fat.'

In the study, a quarter of mothers who did not breastfeed developed type 2 diabetes and they were almost twice as likely to get it as women who had breastfed or never given birth. In contrast, women who breastfed all their children were no more likely to develop diabetes than women who remained childless.

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe, with almost one in three new mothers never attempting to breastfeed compared with two per cent in Sweden.

Previous research by the same US team also found breastfeeding could protect mothers against heart attacks and stroke in later life. Just one month of breastfeeding led to 10 per cent lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol - all of which contribute to heart disease - compared with women who had never breastfed.

'Our study provides another good reason to encourage women to breastfeed their infants, at last for the infant's first month of life. 'Clinicians need to consider women's pregnancy and lactation history when advising women about their risk for developing type 2 diabetes' added Dr Schwarz.

NHS experts say breastfeeding gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life. The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with additional breastfeeding while the baby moves on to solids if the mother wants to.


Dubious Locovore mathematics

On vacation in Massachusetts, I reel from frequent arguments from lefties. (I vacation right between a home owned by the late Howard Zinn and one owned by Joe Sibilia, CEO of CSR Wire). I also rage at the NYTimes, which I unfortunately now have time to read.

It is then such a relief to stumble across a rare bright spot on the Op Ed page, like this one by Stephen Budiansky.

What a joy too when the latest group of silly people, the locavores, have their myths punctured in their own "paper of record."

"[T]he local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations...

[I]t is sinful in New York City to buy a tomato grown in a California field because of the energy spent to truck it across the country; it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson Valley...

One popular and oft-repeated statistic is that it takes 36 (sometimes it’s 97) calories of fossil fuel energy to bring one calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the East Coast.... It is also an almost complete misrepresentation of reality... Shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill.

Eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways. But it is not an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself. The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make..."


Friday, August 27, 2010

LOL! Now it's black rice

Just the antioxidant religion again. Good to see some realism in the last paragraph below

Black rice - revered in ancient China but overlooked in the West - could be the greatest 'superfoods', scientists revealed today. The cereal is low in sugar but packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer, say experts.

Scientists from Louisiana State University analysed samples of bran from black rice grown in the southern U.S. They found boosted levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants.

Anthocyanins provide the dark colours of many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and red peppers. They are what makes black rice 'black'. Research suggests that the dark plant antioxidants, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.

Food scientist Dr Zhimin Xu said: 'Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants. 'If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants.'

Centuries ago black rice was known as 'Forbidden Rice' in ancient China because only nobles were allowed to eat it. Today black rice is mainly used in Asia for food decoration, noodles, sushi and desserts.

But food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or bran extracts to make breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, biscuits and other foods healthier, said Dr Xu.

When rice is processed, millers remove the outer layers of the grains to produce brown rice or more refined white rice - the kind most widely consumed in the West.

Brown rice is said to be more nutritious because it has higher levels of healthy vitamin E compounds and antioxidants. But according to Dr Xu's team, varieties of rice that are black or purple in colour are healthier still. They added that black rice could also be used to provide healthier, natural colourants. Studies linked some artificial colourants to cancer and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists presented their findings today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'In reality, it's unlikely there's a single food out there that will have a great impact on lowering your risk of heart disease. Healthy eating is about a balanced diet overall. 'It's great if you can eat more of some groups of healthy foods, like having five portions of fruit and veg a day, but there is still no conclusive evidence that 'super foods' alone make a real difference to your heart health.'


New drug shrinks 80 per cent of melanomas

But maybe only temporarily

AN experimental therapy that targets the protein that feeds certain types of advanced melanomas has successfully shrunk tumours in up to 80 per cent of test patients, a study said on Wednesday. The orally-administered medication, called PLX4032, "shuts off" tumours by neutralising a mutated gene called "BRAF" that feeds the cancerous growths.

"We have never seen an 80 per cent response rate in melanoma, or in any other solid tumour for that matter, so this is remarkable," said Paul Chapman, senior author of the study and a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre.

"Metastatic melanoma has a devastating prognosis and is one of the top causes of cancer death in young patients," said Keith Flaherty of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre and a lead author. "Until now, available therapies were few and unreliable, so these findings can really change the outlook for patients whose tumours are fuelled by this mutation."

The study, published in the August 26 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, grew out of the discovery that BRAF mutations, which occur in roughly half of patients with melanomas, effectively feed and grow the tumours. PLX4032 blocks the BRAF protein at the cellular level, allowing researchers to test whether starving the melanomas of the gene would shrink patients' tumours.

The research is potentially exciting news for the treatment of patients with advanced skin cancer. Early-stage melanomas can usually be successfully removed surgically, but few treatment options currently exist once the cancer has spread.

The only two drugs currently available on the US market help only between 10 to 20 per cent of patients, and for those with advanced melanomas, the prognosis for survival is usually nine months or less.

The study released this week documents the results of two phases of tests involving PLX4032, the first to determine the optimum dose and the second to examine the drug's effectiveness. During the first phase, 55 patients received gradually escalating doses that allowed scientists to determine that a twice-daily dose of 960 milligrams would be optimal.

The second stage involved 32 patients with BRAF-mutated melanomas, 26 of whom saw their tumours shrink more than 30 per cent, including two whose tumours disappeared altogether.

The drug proved capable of shrinking metastatic tumours in the liver, small bowel, bone and thyroid and produced minor side-effects, the researchers said.

"One of the things that make these results truly remarkable is that this drug works so reliably," Mr Flaherty said. "And patients who have been experiencing symptoms like pain and fatigue begin to feel better within a week of starting treatment, giving them a much better quality of life."

The study acknowledged that many patients eventually developed a resistance to the therapy, with tumour suppression lasting anywhere from three months to two years.

They said they would examine long-term prospects for the therapy, including how it might be combined with other drugs to extend its capabilities against tumours, during a final, phase III trial. "We don't know if treatment really improves overall survival of melanoma patients," Mr Chapman said.

"That is what we are trying to find out in the ongoing phase III trial. In the future, we hope to combine PLX4032 with other anti-melanoma drugs currently being developed."


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hype about lobsters and BPA: Here we go again!

A series of articles and blogposts now warn that the chemical Bisphenol A–used to make hard clear plastics–is wreaking havoc on lobsters in the Long Island Sound. Here are a few such hyped headlines: “Bisphenol A: Bad for you, bad for lobsters,” “Lobsters and Us,” “Plastics, chemicals may weaken lobster’s health,” “Lobster dieoffs linked to plastic pollution, including bisphenol A.”

Problems began in 1999 when Long Island suffered a massive lobster die-off. Lobstermen blamed the pesticide spraying used to control the spread of the deadly mosquito-borne West Nile Virus. But the spraying occurred after the die-off began–it could not have caused it.

Researchers pointed more likely causes: overly warm water and parasites. Nonetheless, lobstermen sued the pesticide company involved and netted $12.5 million in a settlement in addition to receiving $3.65 million in federal disaster payments. They proved nothing, but gained quite a bit.

Now they are looking at plastics—particularly those plastics made with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). They cite the research of one scientist who says pollution might be contributing to a disease that rots lobster shells, which is now plaguing lobsters in Long Island and Southern New England.

BPA is a convenient target since it’s been in the news quite a bit. Environmentalists say BPA-based products are dangerous to humans, despite the fact that dozens of research panels around the world have ruled them safe. States are passing bans on some BPA-based plastics and Congress is looking at the issue as well.

With BPA already in the headlines, Hans Laufer–professor Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Connecticut—was sure to gain attention with his claims that BPA pollution might also be affecting lobster health. He maintains that BPA, along with other chemicals, creates stresses that reduce lobster resistance to the disease.

One of 15 researchers with the New England Lobster Initiative, Laufer recently presented this research at a symposium in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there is no public record of this meeting and Laufer’s research is not yet available. According to a representative with the initiative it will go though peer review and be published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. Until then, all we know right now is what Laufer has told the press.

While it is important to investigate all possible factors, Laufer has been playing up his “findings” with some highly questionable claims. On the University of Connecticut website he claims: “The U.S. produces about 1 million tons of BPA produced annually, 60 percent of it ends up in the ocean.” Yet he offers no evidence or source for this very provocative claim.

Perhaps a more important question is whether the levels are high enough to have any effect. A 2009 analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology reported that BPA levels are extremely low—at parts per trillion–and impact on aquatic life is also low. This is not surprising, since BPA breaks down rather quickly. There was one exception: higher levels were found in fresh water sediments in areas impacted by several waste water treatment plants depositing into the waters–a situation that does not apply here.

It may be that Laufer simply just doesn’t like plastics or BPA, which he says is “as big a threat to human health as tobacco.” Never mind that there are no documented cases of anyone dying from trace exposures to BPA, but thousands of people every year from smoking.

Other researchers involved with this initiative have produced solid research that on focuses on more likely sources of the problem, mostly pointing to Mother Nature herself.

Researchers have shown that lobsters in New York and New England suffer in large measure because relatively warm waters make it a marginal area for their survival. “[The lobster decline] is a combination of factors that are all related back to changes in water temperature,” Robert Glenn– a marine biologist with Rhode Islands’ Division of Marine Fisheries–told the Cape Cod Times.

Warm water has some of same effects that Laufer says chemicals do. It stresses the lobsters; makes them more susceptible to disease; and can even impact growth and development. Not surprisingly, lobsters are migrating away from the warmest areas and are doing much better in the cooler waters, such as in waters near Maine.

Another problem may have more to do with perception than reality. New York lobstermen are using the 1990s as a baseline to measure the yield they want to take from the waters. Yet during that decade, lobstermen pulled far more of the critters out of the water than ever before—probably more than could ever be sustainable.

In New York, lobster take peaked in 1971 then dipped in the late 1970s into the 1980s, only to balloon in the 1990s, up to a record of more than three million pounds in 1992 and then to its pinnacle of nearly 9.5 million pounds in 1996.

Before the 1990s, such high figures must have been unimaginable to New Yorkers. The average yield for all the years between 1950 and 1989 totaled less than a million pounds. In fact, 1999 ended a decade that was largely an aberration for New York. Interestingly, the take for 1999 (just over 7 million) and 2000 (nearly three million) is still higher than any year before 1990.

The University of Rhode Island’s Kathleen Castro, who chairs the New England Lobster Research Initiative executive committee, highlighted such factors in a press release related to Initiative research. She explains:

“In the 1970s we didn’t have many lobsters around, and in the 80s and 90s we had them coming out of everywhere. We don’t know why there used to be so many of them, and now we don’t know why there’s so many less. Fishermen got used to the high numbers, and it may be that now they are just back down to more normal levels. It may be related to water temperature, predator abundance, or shifts in the ecosystem.”

It is likely that the pollution angle will continue to be a media focus. After all, too many people have too much to gain. The greens gain more hype to push a BPA bans, activist researchers garner more headlines, and the lobstermen amass more targets to sue for “damages.”

Source (See the original for links)

Intolerant, hysterical and smug! How I hate the organic fanatics

By Susan Hill, writing from Britain

One net of four lemons - £1.23; one net of four ORGANIC lemons - £2.49. One pint of semi-skimmed milk - 89p; one pint of ORGANIC semi-skimmed milk - £1.20. These price differences incensed me so much the other day that I spent an hour going round the small supermarket in a town near my home in the Cotswolds filling two trolleys with identical items, one organic and 'eco-friendly', the other non-organic and what you might call 'normal'.

When I had filled my trolleys, I went into a corner of the shop and worked out the cost of each. The organic trolley was £93.72. The other £66.30.

Now, a difference of almost a third is a big difference. How can many ordinary working families afford to pay such a lot extra for their shopping trolley week in, week out?

My little experiment confirmed what I always suspected - that organics are for the rich. This doesn't apply only to food. What about organic cotton bed linen, eco-friendly floor cleaner, organic dog biscuits? All of it costs a lot more.

The rich can, of course, afford to indulge their organic fads. They are the ones who fall for the hysterical hype about organic being better, more nutritious, more likely to make you live longer and not poison you with all those awful chemical pesticides that non-organic food is supposedly soaked in. But ordinary people have got far less money and a lot more sense.

Just as rich celebrities usually fall for daft religions and alternative everything, so naturally they fall for the religion of An Organic Existence. If you embrace the organic faith, the first thing that happens is that you lose your sense of perspective and your ability to read any facts, especially scientific facts, that run contrary to your beliefs.

So with the fervent belief that organic food is more nutritious comes the blindness which prevents you from accepting properly conducted scientific investigations, like the one reported in the Daily Mail last year.

After lengthy trials, the Berlin-based consumer watchdog Stiftung Warentest concluded that organic food has no health, taste or nutritional advantages over conventionally manufactured or harvested food. But you could scream that in their ears all day - the organic religionists will not listen.

If you can't justify organic foods on nutritional grounds, surely they are less harmful because they're not stuffed full of toxic pesticides which damage health? Er, no.

The old powerful weedkillers are now banned on all farms. Meanwhile, modern versions are strictly regulated, don't harm the soil and residues in food are undetectable. It seems the EU's safety regulations aren't all bad. But again, try to explain this to the organic fanatics and it's like talking to a brick wall.

Now, that's fine. People believe what they want to believe. I am a Christian and as a result a lot of people think that I'm a nutter. But with the organic brigade, as with many converts to other religions, it doesn't always stop there. They want to convert the rest of us to their faith - forcibly if necessary. You listen to a fervent organic believer and it's like listening to someone off to the Crusades.

Now, don't jump to the conclusion that because I know that 'organic' is a con and a rip-off, I want everyone to die of pesticide poisoning, the earth to become barren and animals to suffer. I don't.

I always buy free-range eggs and meat, not because they taste better or are more nutritious - sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. It's because of the way the animals are treated. Their welfare ought to concern everyone.

And I was pleasantly surprised when I did a price comparison on free-range eggs and chickens, and on normal versus free-range bacon. On the eggs, there was 2p difference per half-dozen; on the bacon, 6p per pack.

That's not so much and it's worth forgoing a few pence to cover the cost, once you know how battery animals are treated. The benefits of free-range may be non-existent to us, but to the hens and pigs they are everything. The benefits of organic seem to be non-existent to anyone.

I asked a neighbouring vegetable grower if he had thought of converting to organic. Yes, he'd looked into it. It takes three years to change over to organic methods and get the seal of approval from Organics HQ. It is very labour intensive, pests flourish and yields are much smaller.

Since the recession, the bottom has dropped out of the organics market. Shops once allocated long stretches of shelving to organic produce. Now, they have shrunk or even vanished - except, of course, in stores where the rich live.

The rich who buy only organic products are telling us they are morally superior, that they have tender consciences and hug the planet on a daily basis.

So why can't they widen their concern and get real? After all, we will only eliminate hunger and gradually increase the life-expectancy of the world's poorest if we produce food on a massive scale, with all the benefits of modern fertilisers and pesticides.

While many mothers struggle to feed their young families at all, the rich indulge theirs in expensive organic-only babyfoods - some of which, when tested, were found to have fewer nutrients and minerals than the non-organic sort. Devoted poorer mothers know they should provide fresh fruit and vegetables for their children - yet find it hard enough to pay for the regular sort, never mind organic. The price of five bananas in my supermarket today - (special offer) £1. Price of five organic bananas - £2.39.

Yet the propaganda about organic everything is constantly pumped out, so that parents are made to feel guilty and inadequate. They are told that because they are not giving their families organic food, their children will be allergy-prone and stunted from ingesting pesticides. And that's before they're told that they are harming/polluting/ shortening the life of Planet Earth and helping to wipe out biodiversity.

Those who can ill afford to pay an extra £2.39 for five bananas make huge efforts to do so to in order to assuage their consciences, which have been pricked by the rich organic-fanatics who cannot face scientific facts because it's against their new religion.

Yes, organic might be a matter of faith - and some doctors would say that if you believe the medicine is doing you good, it really works. By all means, eat organic because you think it tastes better; sometimes it does. Believe it is more nutritious if you must and that non-organic is junk. It's a free world.

Just don't make others who can't afford your organic faith feel bad about it.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Virus link to chronic fatigue gives hope to sufferers seeking a cure

It's a sad commentary on the medical science community that their response to something they did not understand was to say it did not exist. Yet that was the response to chronic fatigue syndrome for a long time -- and still is to some extent. I had the ailment myself once but I have a good immune system so it only lasted a month with me

Scientists have found further links between a virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, a study published this week says.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and Harvard Medical School analysed blood samples that had been collected 15 years ago from 37 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Of the subjects, 32 - or 86.5 per cent - tested positive for the murine leukaemia virus-related virus, the researchers found. In contrast, tests on 44 healthy blood donors detected evidence of the virus in only three of the subjects, or 6.8 per cent.

While providing new evidence that a virus may play a role in the condition, the researchers said the findings, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are nowhere near proving the virus causes the syndrome.

But they are being hailed by advocates for people who suffer from chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome. Kim McCleary, head of the CFIDS Association of America, said the findings were an important step towards developing treatments and dispelling the notion that the condition was psychological.

An estimated 140,000 Australians are believed to suffer from the syndrome, which causes prolonged and severe fatigue. Over the years, many viruses have been unsuccessfully linked to the syndrome. In 2009, Judy Mikovits and colleagues at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, published a paper in the journal Science. That paper reported that many patients appeared to be infected with a little-known virus called the xenotrophic murine leukaemia virus-related virus. But four other groups subsequently failed to duplicate the findings in other patients.

The virus detected in the new study does not appear to be exactly the same one the Reno group found, but it is related.

In addition to detecting evidence of the microbe in a majority of the stored blood samples, the researchers found evidence of the virus in fresh blood samples, indicating the infection persists.

Harvey Alter of the NIH said there were also indications the virus had evolved over time, which is what would be expected from a retrovirus.


Asparagus, garlic and artichokes 'could help fight obesity and diabetes'

Pure guesswork

Eating vegetables such as asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes could hold the key to fighting obesity and diabetes, researchers believe. Scientists are examining whether a diet rich in certain types of fibre can suppress hunger and improve the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.

Foods such as garlic, chicory, asparagus and artichokes are known as fermentable carbohydrates, which are thought to activate the release of gut hormones that reduce appetite. They also enhance sensitivity to insulin – the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter the body’s cells – thereby leading to better glucose control, it is believed.

The charity Diabetes UK is now funding research into the health benefits of such foods. If proved to be effective, the findings could revolutionise treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Nicola Guess, a dietitian at Imperial College, London, who is leading the three-year study, said: "By investigating how appetite and blood glucose levels are regulated in people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, it is hoped that we can find a way to prevent its onset. "If successful, this study will be able to determine whether fermentable carbohydrates could provide the public with an effective and affordable health intervention to reduce an individual's risk of developing diabetes."

There are 2.35 million people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Britain, and a further half a million sufferers who are unaware that they have the condition. If left untreated, it can lead to complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and amputation.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Now sugar is in the gun

These compulsive attacks on anything that people enjoy really do get tedious. I suppose we should be thankful that the authors do in this case acknowledge that they have shown no causal link. I could add some more reasons why the study proves nothing but I will leave it where the authors have left it

People who consume a diet high in fructose, a type of sugar and a key ingredient in high-fructose corn syrup, are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension), according to a new study. Drinking 2.5 cans or more of non-diet soda per day--or consuming an equivalent amount of fructose from other foods--increases your risk of hypertension by at least 30 percent, the study found. What's more, the increased risk appears to be independent of other dietary habits, including sodium, carbohydrate and overall calorie intake.

The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, focused on foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars, such as soda, fruit punch, cookies, candy and chocolate. (Although fructose occurs naturally in fruits, the researchers excluded them because they contain other nutrients that are difficult to measure.)

"High-fructose corn syrup is very prevalent," says Dr. Michel Chonchol, M.D., the senior author of the study and a blood pressure specialist at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, in Aurora. "If you go to grocery stores, it's everywhere."

Chonchol and his colleagues analyzed the diet and blood pressure readings of more than 4,500 U.S. adults with no history of hypertension. The data used in the study was collected in nationwide surveys over a four-year period by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also included information on health measures such as physical activity and body mass index.

The researchers estimated each person's fructose intake using detailed diet questionnaires and nutrition information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average fructose intake was 74 grams a day, an amount roughly equivalent to that found in 2.5 cans of soda.

People who consumed more than the average amount were more likely to have high blood pressure than people who consumed less, the researchers found. Above-average fructose intake increased the likelihood of having blood pressure above 140/90 and 160/100 mmHg by 30 percent and 77 percent, respectively. (Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below, while anything above 140/90 is considered high.)

Hypertension can affect the health of blood vessels and is a leading risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease, and other ailments.

The findings don't prove that fructose actually causes hypertension, however. Although the researchers took various health factors and dietary habits besides fructose intake into account, it's always possible that other, unknown factors explain the apparent link between fructose and hypertension, says Dr. Cheryl Laffer, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in Temple.

The study "doesn't tell us anything about causation," she says. "People who have high blood pressure may eat more fructose. It can go either way." One important drawback of the study is that the participants reported their own diets based on memory, which makes the estimates of fructose intake less accurate.

But the study's limitations don't mean that people should feel free to go on sugar binges, Laffer says. "I wouldn't discourage people from eating less fructose, because we have evidence that high fructose [consumption] is not particularly good for you," she says.

Animal studies have linked fructose consumption to higher blood pressure, for instance, and a study published earlier this year in the journal "Circulation" suggested that cutting back on sugar-sweetened beverages may lower blood pressure.

In a statement, the Corn Refiners Association, a trade group representing manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup, said that Chonchol and his colleagues were drawing "inaccurate conclusions about fructose." The association challenged the authors' estimate that 2.5 cans of soda contain about 74 grams of fructose, and also highlighted the inaccuracies of diet surveys that rely on memory. "The risk of hypertension from fructose is not a matter of concern for the overwhelming majority of Americans," the association stated.

Chonchol and his colleagues acknowledge that more research is needed to confirm a link between fructose and hypertension.

It's still unclear how fructose might affect blood pressure, for instance. One theory is that fructose might make the body absorb sodium more readily, Chonchol says. Fructose intake may also increase levels of uric acid, which has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure.


Arthritis protein may reverse Alzheimer's

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer's Disease could be reversed after scientists discovered that a chemical naturally produced by the body to fight arthritis also works on the brain condition. Researchers found a protein triggered by rheumatoid arthritis could undo the "tangles" in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer's.

Memory loss associated with the disease was partially reversed by the protein, GM-CSF, which also lowered the risk of getting the illness.

Scientists at the University of South Florida even found that in some cases the memory impairment was completely reversed after treatment. The protein is commercially available and known as Leukine.

As people with rheumatoid arthritis suffer swollen joints, the protein stimulates scavenger cells in the body. In tests on mice, these cells removed deposits left by Alzheimer's in the brain.

Scientists said they were excited by the research, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Prof Huntingdon Potter, a molecular medicine expert involved in the study, said yesterday that he hoped the treatment could soon be tested on humans. “Our findings provide a compelling explanation for why rheumatoid arthritis is a negative risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

In the study, scientists used two groups of mice, one healthy and the other genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, including memory loss. Half of the mice were injected with GMCSF, the other with a placebo saline solution. After 20 days, researchers found the memories of Alzheimer’s mice injected with the protein had improved substantially compared with mice treated with a placebo. “We were pretty amazed that the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days,” said Dr Tim Boyd, the scientist who led the study.

The research could provide new hope to almost 500,000 people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia in Britain.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Some progress against Ebola

I can't imagine what the clinical trials will be like. Who would voluntarily be infected by Ebola? Death-row inmates, maybe? Are they going to do safety tests only and then take a dangerous vacation in Africa? Kudos to them if they do, I guess

US scientists say they've cleared a key hurdle in the quest for a drug to treat Ebola, a notorious African virus and feared future weapon of bioterrorism.

A treatment administered to rhesus monkeys within an hour of being infected by the deadliest strain of Ebola was 60 per cent effective, and a companion drug was 100 per cent effective in shielding cynomolgus monkeys against Ebola's cousin, the Marburg virus, they say.

After studying the findings, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light for trials on a small group of human volunteers, the scientists said.

Ebola and Marburg are part of a family of so-called filoviruses, which cause hemorrhagic fever - a disease with mortality rates of up to 90 per cent where, in some cases, the patient bleeds to death.

The drugs are in a class of compound called PMO, for phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers. They are designed to hamper the virus' replication in cells, thus buying time for the immune system to mount a response and crush the invader.

The research, appearing online in the journal, Nature Medicine, was conducted by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in collaboration with a Washington-based biotech firm, AVI BioPharma.

The Pentagon pumped funding into research for a vaccine and treatment for Ebola-type viruses in the wake of the September 9, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. Filoviruses are on the list of pathogens such as anthrax that are considered tempting sources for biological warfare or terrorism.

An important step in combatting Ebola was announced in May, again using tests on lab monkeys but involving a somewhat different technique to disrupt viral replication.

A team at the US National Emerging Diseases Laboratory Institute at Boston University Medical School designed drugs with small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, which hamstring reproductive enzymes.

Despite this progress, a long road lies ahead before any treatment is licensed for humans, experts say. Testing a prototype drug is a three-phase process that starts with a tiny group of volunteers, where it is initially assessed for safety, and then broadens out to successively bigger groups, where effectiveness becomes a parallel question.

According to the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), about 1850 cases of Ebola, with about 1200 deaths, have occurred since 1976.

The virus has a natural reservoir in several species of African fruit bat. Gorillas and other non-human primates are also susceptible to the disease.


Hazy truth about organics

Comment from Australia but almost certainly similar elsewhere

ENTHUSIASM for "clean, green" food is being tempered by confusion about what constitutes organic, with shoppers often not getting what they pay for.

Australians spend about $1 billion a year on organic food and other products, paying up to 50 per cent more than for conventional produce. Yet there is huge confusion about what the label "organic"means. There are now calls for the introduction of better industry standards.

Industry expert Joanna Hendryks from the University of Canberra, said that from a consumer's point of view "it's a dog's breakfast". "Consumers need to be incredibly motivated to tell if something is organic just by looking at the label."

Chairman of the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), Andre Leu, said shoppers deserve a better deal. "Consumers find it very hard to decide what are genuine organic products," he said.

The fact there are seven separate organisations that certify products as organic, each with a different logo, adds to consumer confusion.

In 2008, OFA commissioned research to find out how well understood the logos were. It found that even the best recognised symbol, which belongs to the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, was recognised by only 28 per cent of regular organic shoppers. Only 5 per cent of regular organic buyers recognising the other logos.

There is even confusion among the various certifiers about how to define a product as organic. One of the certifying bodies, Demeter, will only put its logo on food that has been grown using "bio-dynamic" principals, including the application of fermented cow manure that has been buried in a cow's horn.

Assistant professor Hendryks said shoppers gave a variety of reasons when asked why they buy organic. "For some consumers it is about taking back control and being able to make a difference to the environment in their own way," she said. "For others it is about the health benefits - or perceived health benefits, as the studies to date are still contradictory on whether there are or aren't benefits. "Then a lot of people swear by taste, particularly when they are talking about things like organic chickens and tomatoes."

Research shows shoppers are often casual when selecting what they assume is organic food - some believe chicken labelled free-range is also organic. "In my research, many people assumed Lilydale chicken was organic," Professor Hendryks said. "If you look at their packaging they don't anywhere say they are certified organic - and I'm not wanting to imply they are deceiving consumers - but there is a lot of confusion. "People will also assume that what is being sold in a farmers' market is organic when that's not necessarily the case."

A popular range of skin and haircare products is not certified as organic, despite having the words "Nature's Organics" on the label. A spokeswoman for the Melbourne company admitted many customers probably assumed the products were organic. "It is as natural as we can make it at this point," she said.

Until late last year there was no legal definition of the word "organic". As long as a product was not labelled "certified" organic, a manufacturer or grower could imply that it had been produced organically.

Only goods destined for export had to meet a minimum standard set by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. "On domestic markets there has been no legal requirement at all," Mr Leu said. "It's been at best a gentlemen's agreement that products on the market are certified but [there] has been no law to say that. "We always felt that was a bit of a problem because people could make organic claims when they haven't had anyone to accredit them or certify them as genuinely organic."

A new voluntary domestic Australian organic standard that, among other things, bans the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and genetically modified material was introduced last October.

It will be up to the ACCC to prosecute producers who fail to comply under trade practices legislation. The OFA is pushing for the seven certifiers to accept one standard logo.

Professor Hendryks said the move would be a great boost to consumers: "I think with a big education campaign it will definitely solve a lot of the confusion.".


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Live Free Or Die

Here’s a letter to the Baltimore Sun from Don Boudreaux, a professor of economics

Vincent DeMarco thinks that among the justifications for Maryland’s ‘sin taxes’ on cigarettes and alcohol is the fact that they “save lives” (Letters, August 19).

Let’s grant that these taxes do, in fact, extend Marylanders’ life-expectancies. So what? The lives of individuals are the property neither of any government nor of officious “public interest” groups such as the one that Mr. DeMarco leads.

The life of each individual Marylander belongs to that individual. If he or she chooses to endure a higher statistical chance of dying sooner rather than later in order to enjoy smoking, drinking, hang-gliding, or gulping down gasoline it is no business of the state or of the likes of Mr. DeMarco and other busybodies.

Don’t forget that Maryland’s ringing motto is “The Free State” – not “The Long Life-Expectancy State.”


Spinach and cabbage 'may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes'

A minuscule correlation that proves nothing

Eating extra cabbage, broccoli and spinach may reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes, researchers have found. A diet rich in leafy green vegetables was associated with a 14 per cent reduced risk of developing the condition, a study by a team at University of Leicester has found.

There are around two million people in Britain with type two diabetes and some do not know they have it.

A diet high in fruit and vegetables generally has been found to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease but it had not been known whether there was a beneficial effect in diabetes.

Patrice Carter, a research nutritionist at the University and lead author, wrote in the British Medical Journal online that a lack of fruit and vegetables is thought to account for 2.6m deaths worldwide in 2000.

The team analysed six research studies involving more than 220,000 people. It was concluded that eating 1.15 servings of leafy green vegetables a day resulted in a 14 per cent reduced risk of type two diabetes when compared with people who ate less than half a serving per day. This was the equivalent of eating 122 grams of leafy green vegetables per day.

However there was no significant link between overall consumption of fruit and vegetables and the condition although the trend suggested eating more portions was beneficial.

Mr Carter wrote: "there are several possible mechanisms that could explain the benefit of consuming green leafy vegetables in the diet.

"Our results support the evidence that “foods” rather than isolated components such as antioxidants are beneficial for health.

"Results from several supplement trials have produced disappointing results for prevention of disease, in contrast with epidemiological evidence.

"Results from our meta-analysis support recommendations to promote the consumption of green leafy vegetables in the diet for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The results support the growing body of evidence that lifestyle modification is an important factor in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

"The potential for tailored advice on increasing intake of green leafy vegetables to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes should be investigated further."

However in an accompanying editorial, Professor Jim Mann from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and Research Assistant Dagfinn Aune from Imperial College London, were cautious about the results.

They said that the overall message of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption must not be lost“in a plethora of magic bullets', even though leafy green vegetables are included in that.

It was too early to reach a conclusion about leafy green vegetables on their own, they said.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at the charity Diabetes UK said: “We already know that the health benefits of eating vegetables are far-reaching but this is the first time that there has been a suggested link specifically between green, leafy vegetables and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"However, because of the relatively limited number of studies collated in this analysis it is too early to isolate green leafy vegetables and present them alone as a method to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"Diabetes UK would be concerned if focusing on certain foods detracted from the advice to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, which has benefits in terms of reducing heart disease, stroke, some cancers and obesity as well as type 2 diabetes.”


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Epidemiologist Fired for Reporting Politically Incorrect Results

James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who has worked at the UCLA School of Public Health for 34 years, was recently fired, supposedly because his research "is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department [of Environmental Health Sciences]." As Michael Siegel notes, this rationale is patently false. The department's official mission is to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment," and that is exactly what Enstrom has done.

The problem is not that he tackled the wrong questions; it's that he came up with the "wrong" answers. Specifically, he has failed to find a connection between exposure to fine particulate matter and disease. Worse, he is a prominent critic of the view that such a connection is established well enough to justify new regulations by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

He has not only criticized the evidence underlying the proposed regulations but has made trouble by pointing out that a key CARB staffer, Hien Tran, had falsified his academic credentials and that a UCLA colleague who supports regulation of fine particulate matter, John Froines, had served on a scientific panel that advises CARB for 25 years without being reappointed every three years, as required by law.

Froines, who has publicly ridiculed Enstrom, participated in the faculty vote recommending his dismissal. Enstrom's popularity among his colleagues was not enhanced by his work on secondhand smoke, which also failed to generate politically correct results.

These circumstances have led observers such as Siegel, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry, epidemiologist Carl Phillips, and Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health (where Enstrom is a trustee) to conclude that Enstrom's sacking was politically motivated.

Siegel reviews Enstrom's impressive body of work dating back to 1975, which includes studies reporting positive as well as negative results (among them important research on the lifestyle factors that make Mormons less prone to cancer). Siegel concludes that Enstrom "has not been afraid to report the results of his research as they unfold," an openness to evidence that clashes with what appears to be the true mission of his former department:
The mission of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences is not to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment." Instead, its mission is to show that fine particulate matter pollution and other environmental exposures adversely affect human health.

If your research fails to show an adverse effect of an environmental exposure on human health, then your research is apparently no longer "aligned" with the mission of the Department and School....As soon as you obtain negative findings and report them, you have deviated from the School's mission and you are at risk of being fired....

Is there no room for a difference of opinion in a public health institution? Must all faculty members [toe] a certain party line, regardless of what their research shows?

You can supply the answers yourself after considering the weak case against Enstrom as a scientist. I have interviewed him several times over the years, and he impresses me as an honest and conscientious investigator who is genuinely dismayed by the extent to which science has been politicized since he began his career. It is sadly unsurprising that his long stint at UCLA has ended this way.


Promising malaria breakthrough

THE race to subvert the drug resistance of malaria parasites has been hotly contested by scientific teams across the world. Rowena Martin leads the team that solved the problem, which is why she has been awarded the inaugural Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Early Career Research. She is among 19 winners of the Australian Museum's Eurekas, worth $190,000 and now in their 21st year, announced last night in Sydney.

After establishing how the drug resistance works, Martin and her team are now collaborating on drugs to overcome it.

At 36, Martin is a National Health and Medical Research Council Australian Biomedical Fellow and shuttles between the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. Last year her paper describing her breakthrough work in the field was published in Science.

Malaria causes untold human suffering; there are 300 million cases annually and a million deaths, mostly of children, and mostly in developing countries.

The parasite has now developed resistance to one of the most effective drugs ever used against it, chloroquine, that works by accumulating in large quantities inside the parasite's "stomach", or digestive vacuole. Resistant parasites thwart that accumulation, leaking the drug out of the vacuole and rendering it harmless.

"It was during my PhD that I began developing a hypothesis that led to this work," she says, harking back to 2002.

By then, scientists had discovered the culprit was a protein called the chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT), that sits in the membrane enclosing the digestive vacuole. "But they didn't know exactly what it did, or what similarities it had to other proteins, so they had no strong direction to follow in research.

"There were a lot of teams trying to produce enough of it to experiment on, or understand it, but they were not finding anything conclusive. It was all very unclear and that's when I began thinking of this as an interesting field.

"I had had some experience in doing some expression of malaria proteins and had some ideas for what might be causing the problem and a hypothesis on a way of getting around the problem. When I began my postdoctoral work I put it into practice."

She turned to a common lab animal, the South African claw-toed frog, whose eggs are large and therefore easy to inject with genetic material encoding the protein of interest. The egg acts as "a little factory, producing many copies of the protein and targets them to the egg surface, where they can be studied".

By getting the eggs to produce and send to their surface the copies of the protein, the team was able to introduce chloroquine and observe how the resistant parasites dealt with it. Now the way is open for the development of drugs that can inhibit the function of the mutant protein.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The human magnet

Wotta lotta! It's Uri Geller all over again: Pure trickery. The woman is portrayed with a brass key and a copper coin sticking to her but magnetism attracts ferrous metals only -- NOT copper and brass

LOOKING on the bright side, she should never lose her keys. But for mother-of-one Brenda Allison, her mysterious 'power' that means metallic objects stick to her body has long since lost its attraction.

Dubbed 'the human magnet', Miss Allison says she is often embarrassed by the effect, which she has been told is down to a heightened electromagnetic current running through her body.

The accounts manager says coins, safety pins, magnets, spanners and even a metal lid from a Vaseline pot can stay on her body for up to 45 minutes without falling off. When the pulse is at its strongest, she says she can even dance in her living room without them coming off.

For as long as she can remember, she explains, her body has set off car alarms, interrupted the TV signal and blown out light bulbs. When she was a child, she said, her parents stopped buying her watches because her magnetic field kept interfering with the timing mechanism.

Every person has a subtle electromagnetic field flowing through their bodies - but most of us are unaware of its presence. However, Miss Allison, 50, says she first noticed the effects of her magnetism when she was in a nursery school.

As she grew up she started to keep a diary and realised the magnetic pulses were strongest at the end of each menstrual cycle. 'People laugh when I put metal objects on my skin and they don't fall off,' Miss Allison, of Holloway, North London, said: 'But sometimes my condition can be extremely embarrassing.

'On one occasion I had a dreadful experience at the supermarket. When I reached the check-out the till machine started to misbehave and it was obvious I had caused it. 'The man on the checkout started shouting at me and accused me of putting a voodoo curse on his till.'

Doctors have told Miss Allison that her magnetism may be caused by high stress levels and have urged her to take steps to relax. During strong magnetic periods she has been advised to grip the kitchen taps as they are 'earthed'.

Last night she said she her one wish was to be tested by electromagnet specialists so she can understand the cause behind her condition, adding: 'When I was a child my parents knew there was something different about me - but they never entertained the idea of taking me to the doctor.


Once again: The poor have poorer health

Study links diabetes to low income, education among women. The link between social class and health is undoubtedly the most pervasive finding in epidemiology but is usually ignored. Nice to see it explicitly mentioned this time

A new study by Statistics Canada released on Wednesday has linked Type 2 diabetes in some women with low levels of household income and education.

Excess weight is a well known risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. The report suggests that while factors like excess weight and ethno-cultural origin play a role in who develops diabetes in both income groups, women in poorer households were significantly more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

In men, however, when researchers controlled for other risk factors, there was no link to income and education.

"Instead, the development of diabetes among men was related to being overweight or obese, and to the number of secondary behavioural factors they reported, such as heavy drinking, smoking and physical inactivity," the report said.

The study, "The role of socio-economic status in the incidence of diabetes," tracked the health status of more than 17,000 Canadians since 1994-1995.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The pill makes women more chatty

Since it mimics pregnancy that is not too surprising. Women chat a lot to their bubs, long before their bubs can talk. It's the only way the bubs learn

Only mentioned in passing below is that while speech areas in the brain grow, the brain does not increase overall in size. Very bad of me to mention it but the implication is that other areas of the brain shrink

Taking the Pill makes certain areas of women's brains bigger, a study has found. In a further discovery that will give women plenty to talk about, the research showed the contraceptive enhances the brain's 'conversation hub'.

Grey matter essential for memory and social skills also grows in size.

Differences in brain structure between the sexes have been studied many times before but this is the first study that has looked at the impact of the hormonal contraceptive on the brain.

The study found that the contraceptive of choice of 3.5million British women - a quarter of all 16 to 49-year-olds - increases brain size by around 3 per cent.

Scientists took high-resolution images of the brains of 14 men and of 28 women, half of whom were on the Pill. The women not on the contraceptive were scanned more than once to account for the hormonal fluctuations that occur over the course of a month. Several areas of the brains of women taking the Pill were larger than the brains of those not taking the contraceptive, the journal Brain Research reports.

No matter which brand or formulation of the drug, or how long it had been prescribed for, the results were the same.

The growth occurred in regions that scans showed to already be larger in women compared to men, like those involved in conversation. However, the contraceptive appeared to have little effect on areas more dominant in men, including those associated with spatial skills such as map reading.

Dr Belinda Pletzer, of Salzburg University, said the sex hormones in the Pill were clearly having a 'tremendous effect' on the female brain. She added: 'Larger volumes of a brain area could lead to an improvement of the functions this area is responsible for.

'Looking at the brain areas involved in our study, which are larger in Pill users compared to naturally-cycling women, this could concern several higher order brain functions, especially memory and verbal skills. 'The behavioural changes due to contraceptive use are likely to affect those skills that are already better developed in women compared to men like, for example, memory.'

Just how the Pill could have such an effect is not clear. But one theory is that the oestrogen or progesterone used to stop eggs from being released also strengthens the links between nerve cells in the brain.

Although some areas got bigger, the brain did not increase in overall size, and it is not known whether these parts shrink back to their original dimensions when a woman comes off the Pill.

The oral contraceptive is fertile ground for researchers. A previous study concluded that the Pill, taken by millions who are not yet ready to be mothers, makes women broody. Other research suggested that the hormones in the contraceptive suppress a woman's interest in more masculine men - and make boyish males seem more attractive.


Australia: Big burger causes do-gooder freakout

Looks yummy and seems to have lots of good stuff in it. Don't believe the crap about fat being bad for you. See the sidebar of this blog for the evidence on the matter

A burger branded a heart attack on a plate by dietitians is being billed as Brisbane's latest tourist attraction. The 21 burger - created by chefs at Treasury Casino's Cafe 21 - features 21 ingredients including a 250g meat pattie and a new super-sized bun to "support" its heavy load.

"It's definitely a monster," sous chef Anthony Swanson said. "We really just wanted something that would set us apart from the competition and give people another reason to come here."

He said the burger was easily Brisbane's biggest and would hopefully become something of a tourist attraction. "It's our new signature dish," said Mr Swanson.

But dietitian Nicola Fox said the burger was gluttony at its best. "The meat, salad and bread would be suitable as a meal, certainly not a snack," Ms Fox said. "Brisket, cheese, egg and bacon increase the calories significantly and the mayo, sugar, butter, onion jam and sauces add more calories without providing any nutritional value."

She said adding beer-battered fries and aioli on the side would make the ``ridiculously high-fat, high-calorie meal even more horrendous". "It's scary, a heart attack on a plate."

Mr Swanson said at $17, the burger was more expensive than its fast-food chain competition but "still good value".

The 21 Burger's ingredients: Rangers Valley beef, Wagyu beef brisket, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, mayo, chives, cream chees, bacon, Spanish onion, onion jam, egg, lettuce, tomato, smokey BBQ sauce, white damper roll, bread crumbs, parmesan, sugar, salt, pepper, butter.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now milk is under attack

All the theories floated below have some plausibility but considering how universally milk is consumed in Western countries, it is hard to be believe that clear evidence of any harmfulness has not emerged long ago. If there is any potential harmfulness in milk, I suspect that we adapted to that long before the advent of modern medicine.

In fact it is known that we have. The milk-digesting enzyme (lactase) does not vanish with childhood in populations of Northern European origins, though it usually does in Asia. See here -- where lactase persistence is estimated to have emerged around 5,000 years ago

In Hindu culture, the cow has been a sacred object for thousands of years. In Britain, its milk is rapidly being accorded the same status. When David Cameron disowned a plan to abolish free milk for under-fives, floated by Anne Milton, a junior health minister, it was remarkable not just for the speed of the U-turn, but for how little explanation it seemed to require.

True, the label “milk snatcher” is deadly for a Tory politician, with its echoes of the attacks on Margaret Thatcher after she cut the ration in 1971. Yet there is something stranger at work – the unquestioning idea that milk is good for us. From Winston Churchill’s wartime order to keep the milk flowing, which was formalised under the 1946 School Milk Act, to Gordon Ramsay’s scowling demand on posters currently adorning London’s buses to “Make Mine Milk”, the idea that it is natural, healthy and an essential part of a good diet has been unchallenged.

In fact, there are strong arguments that giving cow’s milk to children is doing more harm than good. All of the nutrients in cow’s milk can be found elsewhere in a balanced diet. Although it is frequently cited as an important source of calcium for growing children, we can absorb only a third of the amount it contains due to the high levels of sodium, phosphorus and protein that are also present. Green vegetables – if children can be persuaded to eat them – are a much more efficient vehicle.

And while milk may be an easier sell to your offspring than Brussels sprouts, of more concern is the increasing evidence that cow’s milk can have negative side-effects, particularly if consumed at an early age. Many children who regularly drink milk – about 7.5 per cent of the child population – suffer from allergies that often go undiagnosed.

Besides the hormones and contaminants that saturate our homogenised milk, there are more than 30 protein types to which our bodies may react, which can manifest as eczema, constipation, drawn-out colds or frequent ear infections. Increasing numbers of paediatricians advocate trying cow’s milk-free diets to tackle such common symptoms. This is before you consider the 5 per cent of Britons – usually from ethnic minorities – who are lactose-intolerant. Once again, many do not recognise their affliction, and needlessly suffer conditions such as cramping and intestinal gas.

There are also suggestions that milk could be linked to diabetes. Finland, for example, has the highest incidence of Type 1 (that is, insulin-dependent) diabetes in the world – and the highest per capita milk consumption. In China and South-East Asia, where little milk is consumed due to the extremely high prevalence of lactose intolerance, this early-onset form of the disease is nearly non-existent.

Professor Outi Vaarala, a scientist at the University of Helsinki, has been studying this link for 20 years. She believes that the body develops antibodies against the presence of bovine insulin, which then shut down human insulin production – something infants are particularly prone to, as the intestinal wall is not sufficiently developed to prevent the cow hormone entering the bloodstream.

A pilot study has supported her hypothesis, but firmer results won’t appear until 2013.

Of course, this is just one of several theories that attempt to explain the apparent link – and although it would explain why infants weaned off breast milk too early seem to suffer higher risks of diabetes, it is more difficult to understand the frequent later development of the condition in young, milk-swilling children. If Prof Vaarala is right, something must have weakened the intestinal wall.

Cow’s milk has also been linked to Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, for the same reason that it is associated with heart disease – the sheer amount of energy in the liquid. Given that milk is designed to double a calf’s birth weight in 47 days – compared with the 180 it takes humans – it is unsurprising that it contains more protein than we require. Even in low-fat milk, there are relatively high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. As the nutritionist Joseph Keon notes in his forthcoming book Whitewash, the fat in semi-skimmed milk could make up 2 per cent of the weight, but 34 per cent of the calories.

Ultimately, the evidence that cow’s milk will harm your health is still inconclusive – although arguably no more so than the dairy industry’s claims for its bone-strengthening, cancer-defeating capabilities. But before we give its producers carte blanche to provide nursery children with 100 pints of the white stuff a year, consider this: no other species in nature regularly consumes another’s milk. Faced with these concerns, we might ask if we really need to do so.


Nastiness a risk factor for heart attack

Whether called nastiness, hostility or some other similar term, this finding has been popping up for 30 years or more and seems well founded. Anger is stressful and a lot of anger can understandably do lasting harm

NASTINESS is not only a social problem; according to new research aggressive and antagonistic people may be at higher risk of heart attack and stroke simply because they are disagreeable.

Researchers at the US National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, discovered that disagreeable people have greater thickening in their carotid arteries compared with likeable people. Thickness of the walls of the carotid artery, which is found in the neck, puts people at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

People who scored in the bottom 10 per cent on agreeable personality traits had about a 40 per cent increased risk for elevated intima-media thickness. The effect is similar to having metabolic syndrome, which is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to new research published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

People who are agreeable tend to be straightforward, trusting and show concern for others, according to researchers. People who are classified as antagonistic tend to be distrustful, self-centered, arrogant and are quick to express anger, according to Angelina Sutin, the lead author of the study.

Thickening of arterial walls is a sign of age, but researchers found young people with antagonistic traits already have thickening in their carotid artery, even after controlling for risk factors such as smoking.

Highly agreeable women had the thinnest arterial walls. Theirs proved to be even thinner than men who had just as many amiable traits. On the other hand, women and men who are equally antagonistic had equally thick walls in their carotid arteries.

Researchers point out that doctors, in assessing other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as weight and cholesterol level, may also want to take into account whether their patients are angry and disagreeable.

“People may learn to control their anger and learn ways to express anger in more socially acceptable ways,” Ms Sutin said.