Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anti-BPA packaging laws jeopardize public health

In public policy, bad ideas have an unfortunate tendency to spread. Lawmakers in several states are considering legislation similar to a bill passed last week in Maryland that may actually increase food-borne illnesses.

The Maryland legislation (SB151 and HB4) bans infant formula and baby food packaging that contains more than 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). The standard is so stringent that it essentially bans BPA in these packages—for no good reason. In fact, regulatory bodies around the world have found BPA levels safe up to 3,000 parts per billion.

This anti-BPA legislation is based on environmental activists’ wrongheaded claims that BPA poses an unreasonable risk to human health—specifically to children—but the overwhelming body of research suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, as more of these misguided bans succeed, policymakers are likely to begin targeting BPA use in all types of food packaging, as several bills already introduced in Congress do.

Ironically, these policies threaten to undermine food safety because BPA is used to make resins that line metal cans and other packaging to prevent the development of dangerous pathogens and other contamination. And there are few good alternatives should lawmakers eventually ban BPA. In other words, misguided bans on use of BPA in food packaging could have serious, adverse public health implications.


From breast cancer to obesity, how your genes count more than your lifestyle

A rare nod to reality below

Researchers recently discovered that the age at which a girl starts having periods is mainly influenced by when her mother started menstruating.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research at the University of London discovered there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started. It had been thought that diet, particularly eating a lot of meat, played a greater role than genes.
Scientists found there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started

Scientists found there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started

So what other aspects of a girl’s health are controlled by genetics? Could determining a woman’s health prospects be as simple as checking her mother’s medical records?

We asked leading experts how likely you are to inherit your mother’s body, mind and health.


GENETIC LINK: 70 to 80 per cent risk you’ll inherit them from your mother, says Dr Kate Henry, associate professor of neurology at New York University.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Researchers recently discovered a flawed gene, called tresk, could cause migraines. If this gene doesn’t work properly, environmental factors (such as noise, cheese and caffeine) can more easily trigger pain centres in the brain that cause migraines. When the defective gene in migraine patients was under-active it caused a severe headache.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? ‘Triggers can be unpredictable, but identifying them will help to control your condition,’ says Demelza Burn of Migraine Action.

Many migraine sufferers are sensitive to foods such as chocolate, coffee, cheese, citrus and red wine. Hormones can also play a role — the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can cause migraines.


GENETIC LINK: 3 per cent of UK breast cancer cases are inherited.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? ‘Women who are carriers of the mutated gene BRCA1 or BRCA2 are more likely to inherit the condition,’ says Jackie Harris, a clinical nurse specialist for Breast Cancer Care. ‘If a blood relative — male or female — had breast cancer at an early age, you are more at risk.’

Most women with these mutated genes will develop cancer at a very young age, says Dr Elizabeth Rapley, a cancer geneticist from the Institute of Cancer Research.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Genetic screening is offered to women with a family history of breast cancer (where one or more close blood relatives have had the disease). If you carry the gene, you can be closely monitored.

Some women opt for early mastectomies to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

Hormone replacement therapies and taking the combined contraceptive pill can increase the risk in some women, as can being obese, particularly after the menopause, says Jackie Harris.

Women who drink and smoke excessively also face increased risks. According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is responsible for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in Britain, while even moderate drinking has been shown to raise the risk of breast cancer by 7 per cent for each single unit of alcohol per day, the charity reports.


GENETIC LINK: Up to 50 per cent.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? ‘The ease with which you develop muscle tone and improve fitness is highly inherited,’ says Louise Sutton, head of the Carnegie Centre for Sports Performance at Leeds Metropolitan University. ‘It’s often said that if you want to win an Olympic medal, you should choose your parents well.’

A study in the International Journal Of Obesity found that while we all need physical activity to build muscle, people with ‘muscular genes’ require far less exercise to achieve the same level of fitness.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? The Government’s recommended 30 minutes of activity per day, five days a week, will help to keep you healthy, but won’t improve fitness significantly.

‘You need to do 30-45 minutes of moderate to high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, swimming or cycling, preferably with bursts of speed, on at least three days a week,’ Sutton says. ‘Try to include resistance exercises, such as squats and lunges, plus some stretching.’


GENETIC LINK: 10 per cent risk you’ll inherit it, several studies have found — including one by the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Mental illness — including depression, post-natal depression and bipolar disorder — is known to run in families.

Scientists have isolated a mutant gene, called tryptophan hydroxylase-2, which might play a role in depressive illnesses. It starves the brain of serotonin, the feel-good hormone that regulates moods using chemical messages. A direct genetic link has yet to be proven.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Factors such as fatigue, stress and alcohol intake can increase the risk of developing depression, says Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the charity Depression Alliance. If you do inherit one of the genes linked to depression, there’s no guarantee you will suffer from the illness, O’Neill adds.


Only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers

Only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers

GENETIC LINK: A UK study found people with two copies of a fat version of the gene FTO had a 70 per cent higher risk of obesity than those with no copies.

Another study found only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? People carrying one copy of the fat FTO variant had a 30 per cent increased risk of being obese compared to a person with no copies.

Those carrying two copies of the variant were on average 3kg (6.6lb) heavier than a similar person with no gene copies.

Other studies, including one published in the International Journal Of Obesity in 2009, suggest a strong link between mother and daughter and father and son obesity — but no link across the gender divide.

Genetics affect body shape too.

‘Apple shapes have a stronger genetic link than pear-shaped or thin ones,’ says Louise Sutton.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Calorie and fat-laden diets are partly to blame for rising rates of obesity in children, but so are increased levels of inactivity.

TV and computer time should be rationed to less than two hours a day, recommends Sutton.


GENETIC LINK: If your mother had it, you’re up to 50 per cent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs when — in confusion — the immune system attacks the body causing inflammation, which ruins the joint lining and cartilage.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, says inherited genes don’t directly cause the disease, but can increase your likelihood of developing it.

‘We have only identified some of the genes responsible for rheumatoid arthritis and people often don’t know if they are carrying them,’ Silman says. ‘However, even if they do carry these genes, it’s no guarantee they’ll get the disease.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in people who smoke, eat a lot of red meat or drink a lot of caffeine, Silman says.

‘Viral infections can be a trigger for the disease, but it is less common in people who have a high vitamin C intake from fruit and vegetables.’


GENETIC LINK: 70-85 per cent risk you will have a premature menopause if your mother did.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? One in 20 women begins the menopause before 46 (the average age is 51) and four genes, working together, appear to raise the risk significantly, say researchers at the University of Exeter. Studies on sisters found the age they reached the menopause was 85 per cent down to genes.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Treatment for cancer and surgery on your ovaries can trigger an early menopause. Nothing can prevent it starting, but there is lots you can do to ease the symptoms, from herbal remedies to HRT. All of these should be discussed with your GP.


GENETIC LINK: 3-5 per cent increased risk you will get dementia and an estimated 30-50 per cent greater risk you will suffer early-onset Alzheimer’s if your mother did.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? The Alzheimer’s Society says researchers have identified genes that predispose people to different forms of dementia.

‘In a small number of families — accounting for one in 1,000 cases of Alzheimer’s and mainly those that start in early life — there is a clear inheritance of dementia, due to three genes,’ says Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.

‘However, with late-onset Alzheimer’s, which occurs over the age of 65 and accounts for 99 per cent of cases in Britain, only one gene is known to be influential.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check from age 35 onwards can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 20 per cent, Sutherland says.


GENETIC LINK: Up to 20 per cent greater if your mother had a heart attack or chest pain due to blocked arteries, found several studies.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? A recent Oxford University study found women whose mothers suffered strokes were at a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The study found the inherited vascular disease would affect the coronary artery in the heart and the cerebral artery in the brain.

However, exactly why a mother’s history of stroke plays a role in their daughters’ heart attacks is not known.

Researchers said it was not clear whether genes or environmental factors (i.e. a daughter copying her mother’s unhealthy eating habits) played the larger role.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Lifestyle is important, so maintaining a healthy weight and diet low in saturated fat and salt will help, as will reducing alcohol consumption and not smoking.


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