Saturday, October 01, 2011

Statins 'lower risk of prostate cancer' and could cut rate of deaths for just 40p a day (?)

Since you have to be unusually robust to tolerate statins, I interpret these findings as showing that unusually robust people get less prostate cancer

Pills taken by millions of men to combat heart disease could also significantly reduce their risk of getting prostate cancer.

Statins, which lower cholesterol, could play a crucial part in cutting the country’s prostate cancer death toll of around 10,000 men a year, two major studies suggest. Costing around just 40p a day, they might be a cheap and effective way of easing the cancer burden on the NHS if the latest findings are confirmed.

The U.S. studies suggest that high cholesterol could be a key factor in the development of the disease and that taking a daily dose of statins has a powerful preventive effect.

In the first, men with high cholesterol levels were found to be 22 per cent more likely than those with low or normal readings to suffer a prostate tumour. They were also 85 per cent more at risk of developing a serious, fast-growing form of the disease, according to researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

‘Statins may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer by lowering cholesterol,’ they told Cancer Causes and Control journal after studying 30,000 men.

In the second study, a team at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, looked at tissue samples from more than 4,000 men who underwent biopsies because doctors suspected they had prostate cancer.

Those taking statins for high cholesterol were nearly 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a tumour and 24 per cent less likely to have an aggressive cancer than men who were not.
What the pills can do

The research also suggested the drugs reduce enlargement of the prostate, the scientists told the Journal of Urology.

These findings could mark a turning point in the debate over whether statins, which are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, have a protective effect against prostate cancer.

British experts said last night that more research is needed. Dr Kate Holmes, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘There is some evidence to suggest men who have a normal or low level of cholesterol are less likely to develop prostate cancer. 'However, practical advice cannot yet be given to men who might hope to use statins to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.’

Dr Maria Tennant, of Cancer Research UK, agreed, adding: ‘It’s certainly an interesting and worthwhile area of research.’

Charity Prostate Action warned the latest data is from retrospective research, where patients are asked to remember what drugs they took. This is less accurate than a prospective study, where patients are monitored as they take part in it. Chief executive Emma Malcolm said the findings should be taken ‘with a pinch of salt’.

Nearly 32,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it – equal to more than one an hour. It is estimated that at least six million people in the UK, mostly over 40, take statins to keep their cholesterol levels under control.


Michael Bloomberg’s new Prohibition Era

New York City’s health-obsessive mayor is tearing up personal freedoms in his war against smoking, fast food and sugary drinks

Prohibition is a hot topic in the States. A three-part documentary TV series about the 1920s’ ‘Noble Experiment’ kicked off on PBS on Sunday and HBO launched the second season of hit drama series Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. But the Prohibition, the eighteenth amendment to the American constitution, is not just making a comeback in the world of television. No, contemporary politicians like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are also doing their best to banish ‘evil drink’.

An all-out ban on alcohol is not on the mayor’s agenda, but he and his close colleague, health commissioner Dr Thomas A Farley, have their sights set on a sweeter target. Soon after endorsing a soda tax last year, the Bloomberg administration submitted a proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bar poor people from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks. It’s all part of the Bloomberg-Farley health-freak duo’s plan to turn New York into a leaner, cleaner and greener place. In other words, their mission is to sanitise the city that is known and loved worldwide for its take-no-BS attitude. So, away with cars, in with bicycles; out with burgers, in with lentil patties. Last week, Bloomberg even told the United Nations General Assembly that governments’ ‘highest duty’ is to make ‘healthy solutions the default social option’.

The mayor wanted to implement the sugary-drink prohibition as a two-year experiment to see how it would affect health problems. He and Farley surmised that keeping poor people away from soda pops would ‘do more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything else being proposed elsewhere in this country — and at little or no cost to taxpayers’.

The proposal was, however, rejected last month by the USDA, which deemed it ‘too large and complex’ to implement and evaluate. As an alternative, a representative of the Agriculture Department suggested that the city could focus on other efforts to encourage consumers to make ‘healthy choices’.

Blooomberg and Farley were disappointed, of course, at the prospect of poor people having the freedom to squander their food stamps on stuff they enjoy. And now two researchers have come to the duo’s defence. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Kelly D Brownell and Dr David S Ludwig suggested that if the federal government won’t allow elected leaders to test their theory that Americans’ health will deteriorate if poor people continue to buy sugary drinks, then it should at least conduct its own study into the matter.

But the soda-pop warriors shouldn’t get too down. After all, the USDA merely said that Bloomberg’s proposal, as it stands, would be impractical and difficult to measure, while essentially supporting the core idea behind it. Namely, the idea that city authorities should concern themselves with what New Yorkers consume, that they should ‘nudge’ people into making the right choices and discourage us from making bad ones, and that it’s up to the likes of Bloomberg and Farley to decide exactly what right and wrong is.

As New York City mayor, Bloomberg has launched wars on everything from tobacco – banning smoking in public places, including parks and beaches – to trans fats and salt. Big-chain restaurants in New York City are also now required to inform customers about calorie counts. And it’s all done for New Yorkers’ own good, of course. The presumption is that we should be reshaped into the image of the fashionably skinny, boringly clean-living, calorie-counting ruler of New York.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, got closer to the mark than the USDA when he said that the soda ban was not only ‘misguided and unworkable’, but was also ‘based on the false assumption that poor people were somehow ignorant or culturally deficient’. Berg sees the attempt to wean food-stamp users off soda as an attempt to ‘micromanage’ the lives of poor people. The snobby presumption here is, indeed, that low-income citizens don’t know what’s good for them or their families and that they, like children receiving pocket money, must have clear rules set for what they should or should not spend their food stamps on.

Bloomberg and his fellow health czars certainly have an unpalatable obsession with the habits of the poor. Back in 2004, for instance, the USDA rejected a request by officials in Minnesota to prevent food stamp recipients from buying junk food. And in the summer of 2008, Bloomberg introduced the Green Cart scheme, offering a special licence for fruit and vegetable vendors to hit the streets with carts loaded with fruit and veg. The scheme targets poorer areas where there is no WholeFoods as far as the eye can see and where the preferred street grub is more likely to drip with fat rather than with smugness.

The soda-ban proposal reeks of shallow snobbery. After all, Bloomberg has not suggested a pilot to see how restricting latte intake among the middle-classes will save lives and money. This even though a wholemilk caffe latte at Starbucks, for instance, contains more calories (200 calories in 12 ounces) than a soda drink (124 to 189 calories). Even using the non-fat milk, a caffe latte still weighs in at 120 calories - and that’s without any added sugar or chocolate sprinkles.

Unfortunately, the rejection of Bloomberg’s proposal deserves at most one cheer as the insidious idea that policymakers have the right, even the duty, to take away small freedoms, to micromanage our habits and steer us in the direction of adopting the lifestyle of the clean-living killjoys at City Hall has received the official thumbs-up.

Whereas the American Constitution is virtually a paean to liberty, the Eighteenth Amendment was about taking away freedom. Today, when policymakers are claiming that elected leaders’ highest duty is to make petty, but severely agency-robbing, decisions about what we eat and how we look, it looks like the moralistic, freedom-quelling spirit of the Prohibition Era is making a comeback.


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