Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A probiotic drink that reduces irritable bowel symptoms

Note that this occurred among severe IBS sufferers so is no warrant for general use

For the first time in three years, Lynette McMeekin is looking forward to her staff Christmas party.

Previously, the nurse from Newcastle has declined the invitation — bloating and pain caused by her irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) made the idea of socialising unthinkable. ‘It left me feeling so bloated and exhausted that all I could manage was to go to work, do the odd bit of shopping and come home,’ says Lynette, 53, who has an adult son. ‘And I was so bloated that when I was at work I often felt embarrassed even walking across the ward.’

Around one in five people in Britain are affected by IBS, thought to be caused by a sensitive gut.

But Lynette’s symptoms were eased by a new drink containing ‘friendly’ bacteria, suggested to her by a colleague. ‘My attitude was “Not another probiotic!”, but I decided to give it a go,’ says Lynette. After a few months the bloating and discomfort have gone.

The drink she tried has just been the subject of a large British trial — one of the first to show convincingly that probiotics can make a difference to health.

In the study at King’s College London, 186 patients with IBS whose symptoms had not responded to conventional treatments were given the new probiotic in the form of a drink, at a dose of 1ml of drink per kilo of bodyweight. Two-thirds were given the drink every morning before breakfast for three months, while the remainder were given a placebo.

The severity of the symptoms of IBS is normally plotted on a scale up to 500. ‘Before taking part, the average scores for our patients was about 300,’ says gastro-enterologist Professor Ingvar Bjarnason, who led the study at King’s. ‘At the end of the study, those taking the placebo went down to 270. 'However, the average score for those taking the active drink dropped far more, to 220. ‘When you consider that with a score of 150 a patient would have no symptoms, it shows you how significant a reduction this was.

‘It did not work for everyone, but around 60 per cent of those on the active product showed an improvement.’

Professor Bjarnason says he believes the key to the success of his trial lies with the fact that the drink contains four strains of probiotic (many contain only one) and the bacteria used in the drink (called Symprove) were live. Many products consist of freeze-dried bacteria, which means that they are inactive until they mix with fluids in the digestive system, and a proportion will not survive the process.

‘I was really surprised by the results because I went into this trial thinking probiotics are a lot of nonsense,’ says Professor Bjarnason. ‘That is what a lot of doctors think, because there have never been robust trials conducted on them.

‘Probiotics are classed as a food, so trials of them don’t need to be as rigorous as they would be if they were classed as drugs — but we did carry out this one rigorously.’

He says that some patients experienced a relapse of symptoms once they stopped taking the drink. ‘My suspicion is that this treatment would need to be given for three months at a time twice a year, but we don’t know for sure yet,’ he says.

The average person’s gut is home to around 1,000 different types of bacteria. ‘There is a lot of evidence that people with IBS have insufficient quantities of beneficial bacteria in their gut,’ says Peter Whorwell, a professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the University of Manchester.

However, how probiotics might help with IBS is unclear. ‘Previous studies on probiotics have not involved so many people,’ says Professor Whorwell.

‘We generally say that if a treatment can produce a 50-point reduction in the severity of symptom score, then it is worth doing — so having a reduction of 80 points is significant. ‘However, it is impossible to be sure of the full significance of this study until all the study data is published next year.’


Four or more babies cuts risk of mother suffering cardiac disease

Good to see caution below about the exact cause of the correlation. My guess would be that fertility is increased by prior general good health

Having a big family is good for a mother's heart, say scientists. They found women who experience four or more pregnancies are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who never have a baby.

The study of nearly 1,300 post-menopausal women from south California found the key effect was prevention of stroke. Mothers of large families were half as likely to die from the condition.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, said higher levels of pregnancy hormones may have lasting benefits on the blood vessels. They added that women with more children may benefit from greater social support as a result when they get older.

Lead author Marni Jacobs, wrote in the journal Fertility and Sterility said: 'Women in this study had less CVD mortality risk if they had more than four pregnancies.

'The mechanism by which this decreased risk occurs is unknown, however, it may reflect higher fertility in healthier women, the effect of prolonged exposure to higher levels of circulating oestrogen... or the added social support from a larger family.'

The study followed the women between 1984 and 1987 and they were followed up again in 2007.

Professor Donald Peebles, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said it could be that some of the childless women were infertile, which itself could raise the risk of heart disease. 'We know that women who want to get pregnant and cannot are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease because of conditions such as polycystic ovaries,' he told the Daily Telegraph.

It is known that heart disease kills as many men as it does women but the different ways they are affected are not fully understood.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boost your baby's brain power: Scientists say wait two years before having your second child

This is carefully-done work but lacks psychometric sophistication. The authors are economists. The full paper is here. The measure of IQ (the Peabody Individual Achievement Test ) that they used is reasonable but note the following detail: "Nearly 80 percent of the children in our sample took the PIAT for the first time between ages 5 and 7". That is far too young for a stable estimate of ability. The small differences observed in the study could easily wash out as the child grows up.

In fact that is known to happen. The older people are when tested, the greater the influence of their genetic makeup will be. Identical twins reared apart are more similar in adulthood than they are in childhood. In other words, a kid born with a good genetic inheritance but a poor early environment will tend to "catch up" in adulthood

I would therefore hypothesize that if Prof. Buckles retested the "children" concerned now that they are grown up, she would find that any differences would be negligible

Forget expensive educational DVDs and private tutors, the secret to smart children could be as simple as giving birth to them two years apart. Researchers who studied thousands of children found a two-year gap to be optimum in boosting brain power.

Any shorter, and the reading and maths skills of the older child dipped. The effect was strongest between the first and second-born, but siblings in bigger families also benefited.

The theory comes from Kasey Buckles, an economist whose own children are, rather fortunately, just over two years apart in age.

She said it is likely that the difference in academic achievement is linked to the time and resources parents can invest in a child before a younger sibling arrives. However, waiting more than two years did not increase the advantage, the Journal of Human Resources will report.

Siblings with a two-year spacing include Albert Einstein and sister Maja, and Lord Attenborough and younger brother David.

Kasey Buckles, who lead the study told the Sunday Times: 'We believe this is the first time anyone has established a casual benefit to increase the spacing between siblings.'

The study also showed that gaps between children in larger families was also beneficial.

Buckles told the newspaper: 'The two year gap is significant because the early years are the most important in a child's development so dividing your time when the child is one is more harmful than dividing it when the child is already at school.'

The effect was more pronounced in families with lower incomes, as those with more money could spend to compromise for lack of time.


Push to recognise 'pathological internet misuse' as a mental health disorder

This problem seems to be most pronounced in China, where there are "boot camps" to which children are sent to cure their "addiction". But because of the one-child policy, Chinese children are greatly indulged. So what we are seeing is no deficit in the child but a deficit in childrearing. Children who are not given limits from the beginning will tend to behave in self-indulgent ways

DISTRESSED families are flooding psychiatrists with pleas for help for children hooked on the internet. The condition known as "pathological internet misuse" is growing so rapidly among adolescents and young adults that it could soon be formally recognised as a mental health disorder.

International mental health experts are considering including "video game addiction and internet addiction" in the next edition of globally recognised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "to encourage further study".

One Sydney mother said her 13-year-old son was so addicted to computer games he had attended school only intermittently over the past two years and violently resisted attempts to remove him from the screen. "He starts punching holes through the walls, throwing things around and threatening you ... all this has to do with the most addictive game, World of Warcraft," she said. [And the fact that he has been atrociously brought up -- "spoilt", to use a common term]

Parents have told of children as young as 10 being found asleep at their home computer when they are due to leave for school because they have been up much of the night playing video games such as Minecraft.

Australian mental health specialists believe formal recognition of internet addiction will put pressure on governments to make more treatment options available.

Sydney psychiatrist Philip Tam believes internet addiction should be classified as a disorder. Dr Tam, a leader in the field, said a website would be launched this week to help carers, families and counsellors "address the growing and complex problem of internet addiction".

The Network for Internet Investigation and Research in Australia will be run by specialists with a "common passion in assessing, treating, researching and educating the public and professionals" about internet addictions. " ... such conditions are complex in nature and often overlap with common mental health disorders," he said.

Jocelyn Brewer, a member of Philip Tam's expert group, said girls also could "become obsessed with Facebook". "There's a massive divide (between teachers and parents) in expertise about kids' use of technology," she said.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Chinese medicine could double the chances of childless couples conceiving (?)

It is perfectly reasonable to believe that in the course of a very old civilization, herbal discoveries may have been made and passed on which have a genuine therapeutic benefit. After all, to this day a large part of the pharmacopeia is of herbal origin. And there are many places where Chinese herbalists enjoy considerable acceptance. Where I grew up, if you were sick, you went to the doctor. But if you were REALLY sick you went to the Chinese herbalist.

And I myself seem to have had some benefit from it. When I got glandular fever many years ago and the doctors told me that there was nothing they could do for it, my course of action was clear. I promptly went to a Chinese herbalist, took his preparations and was better within a week!

Anecdotes prove nothing of course but I mention that one to show that I was disposed to accept the findings below. I am afraid, however that I have to offer the old Scottish verdict of "Not Proven".

Meta-analyses are very hard to critique unless you either know the relevant literature very well or re-do the whole meta-analysis yourself. And if you do know well the literature that is analysed you can get a considerable shock at how badly such an analysis can be done -- even analyses reported in the most prestigious journals. I comment on one such analysis in my own research field here. The problem is particularly bad where there is a barrow to be pushed and "complementary" medicine is of course a very large barrow indeed.

My suspicions are aroused by the very large discrepancy reported between the effects of Chinese and Western medicine. It is a characteristic of quackery to claim exaggerated benefits and it seems to me that the endless search for new molecules carried out by drug companies would long ago have gone through anything as effective as that with a fine-toothed comb.

So in the end it gets back to what was meta-analysed. It seems to me that the people most likely to have done the sort of study described below would be enthusiasts for alternative therapies and we all know how large the effect of experimenter expectations can be. Just one good double-blind study from someone skeptical of Chinese medicine would be more persuasive.

I include the journal Abstract below

Couples with fertility problems are twice as likely to get pregnant using traditional Chinese medicine as western drugs, say researchers. They found a two-fold improvement in pregnancy rates over just four months of treatment from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

At least six million Britons have consulted a Western or traditional Chinese herbal practitioner in the last two years, according to Ipsos Mori research. Previous research suggests acupuncture may help some childless couples to conceive.

The latest study from researchers at Adelaide University, Australia, reviewed eight clinical trials, 13 other studies and case reports comparing the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with western drugs or IVF treatment.

The review funded by the Australian government included 1,851 women with infertility problems, says a report in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Review of the clinical trials alone found a 3.5 rise in pregnancies over a four-month period among women using TCM compared with western medicine.

Other data covering 616 women within the review showed 50 per cent of women having TCM got pregnant compared with 30 per cent of those receiving IVF treatment.

The overall analysis concluded there was a two-fold increase in the likelihood of getting pregnant in a four-month period for women using TCM compared with orthodox approaches.

The study’s authors said ‘Our meta-analysis suggests traditional Chinese herbal medicine to be more effective in the treatment of female infertility - achieving on average a 60 per cent pregnancy rate over four months compared with 30 per cent achieved with standard western drug treatment.’

The study said the difference appeared to be due to the careful analysis of the menstrual cycle – the period when it is possible for a woman to conceive – by TCM practitioners.

It said ‘Assessment of the quality of the menstrual cycle integral to TCM diagnosis appears to be fundamental to the successful treatment of female infertility.’

Dr Karin Ried (correct) of the university’s school of population health and clinical practice, who led the study, said infertility affects one in six couples and even after investigations 20 per cent of infertility remains ‘unexplained’.

She said TCM recognises many more ‘menstrual disturbances’ than conventional medicine, is far less expensive than IVF treatment and less stressful.

Efficacy of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine in the management of female infertility: A systematic review

By Karin Ried & Keren Stuart

To assess the effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in the management of female infertility and on pregnancy rates compared with Western Medical (WM) treatment.

We searched the Medline and Cochrane databases and Google Scholar until February 2010 for abstracts in English of studies investigating infertility, menstrual health and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We undertook meta-analyses of (non-)randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or cohort studies, and compared clinical pregnancy rates achieved with CHM versus WM drug treatment or in vitro fertilisation (IVF). In addition, we collated common TCM pattern diagnosis in infertility in relation to the quality of the menstrual cycle and associated symptoms.

Eight RCTs, 13 cohort studies, 3 case series and 6 case studies involving 1851 women with infertility were included in the systematic review. Meta-analysis of RCTs suggested a 3.5 greater likelihood of achieving a pregnancy with CHM therapy over a 4-month period compared with WM drug therapy alone (odds ratio = 3.5, 95% CI: 2.3, 5.2, p < 0.0001, n = 1005). Mean (SD) pregnancy rates were 60 ± 12.5% for CHM compared with 32 ± 10% using WM drug therapy. Meta-analysis of selected cohort studies (n = 616 women) suggested a mean clinical pregnancy rate of 50% using CHM compared with IVF (30%) (p < 0.0001).

Our review suggests that management of female infertility with Chinese Herbal Medicine can improve pregnancy rates 2-fold within a 4 month period compared with Western Medical fertility drug therapy or IVF. Assessment of the quality of the menstrual cycle, integral to TCM diagnosis, appears to be fundamental to successful treatment of female infertility.


Daily aspirin is 'not worth the risk' for healthy middle-aged women

Aspirin is a bad bargain for healthy women trying to stave off heart attacks or strokes, according to Dutch researchers.

They said 50 women would need to take the medication for 10 years for just one to be helped - assuming they are all at high risk to begin with.

'There are very few women who actually benefit,' said Dr Jannick Dorresteijn of University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands. 'If you don’t want to treat 49 patients for nothing to benefit one, you shouldn’t treat anyone with aspirin.'

The new study adds to a long-standing controversy over aspirin, one of the world’s most widely used drugs. Common side-effects include irritation of the stomach or bowel, heart burn and nausea.

Doctors agree it’s worth taking for people who’ve already had a heart attack or a stroke, but they are less certain when it comes to so-called primary prevention.

'We all appreciate that the average treatment effect is very small, but that some patients may benefit more than others,' Dr Dorresteijn said.

Today, leading medical groups like the American Heart Association recommend aspirin for people at increased risk for heart problems.

But the Dutch findings, published in the European Heart Journal, suggest many women would still be taking the drug needlessly.

The team analysed data from nearly 28,000 healthy women aged 45 and above who had received either aspirin or dummy pills in an earlier U.S. trial. The women on aspirin generally took a low dose of 100mg every other day.

Overall, aspirin cut the rate of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease from 2.4 per cent to 2.2 per cent.

'Nine out of 10 women experience less than a one-percent risk reduction for cardiovascular disease in the next ten years, so that is a really small treatment effect,' Dr Dorresteijn said.

He added that aspirin comes with side effects, too. For instance, it can cause bleeding ulcers and make people more likely to bruise due to its blood-thinning effects.

And although it’s cheap - at only a few pounds per month of treatment - putting lots of healthy people on the drug would be a big expenditure.

After subtracting the serious side effects from the health gains, the Dutch team found doctors would have to be willing to treat a lot of women to get a net advantage.

'Women older than 65 years of age benefit more than average, but still for those women the benefit was so small that you would need to treat 49 for nothing to prevent one event,' said Dr Dorresteijn. “of course it’s disappointing, because you would like a medication to be effective.'

Earlier this year, two large reviews of previous aspirin trials yielded similarly sobering results. One found a tiny reduction in heart attacks with aspirin and no effect on death rates or strokes. The other showed as many as 1,111 men and women would need to take aspirin daily for the duration of the trials to prevent just one death.

In the UK low-dose aspirin (75mg) is often prescribed after a heart attack, stroke, or coronary bypass operation. It may also be given to patients with high blood pressure and long-term diabetes sufferers.

Dr Michael LeFevre of the U.S Preventive Services Task Force said the latest findings muddied the potential benefit on stroke by including heart attacks in the analysis.

'The central message of this study is really that there are an awful lot of women who are taking aspirin for prevention who should not be taking aspirin,' he said.

Dr. Franz Messerli, who heads the high blood pressure program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, said there are much better ways to curb stroke risk than taking aspirin. 'First and foremost make sure your blood pressure is perfectly well-controlled… because blood pressure is by far the most important risk factor for stroke.'

That can be achieved by changing diet and exercise habits, or by blood pressure medications like diuretics, beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Men should eat plenty of fruit but cut down on red meat to boost fertility, finds sperm study

A possible class effect here too. Working class people are less obedient to diet pronouncements and are also in poorer health generally anyway. So people with "incorrect" diets have lower sperm motility not because of their diet but because they are working class.

Note also that this is a study of severely infertile men (requiring ICSI) so the generalizability to normals is unknown.

For what it is worth, I participated in 10 IVF treatment cycles in my 40s at a time when I was a heavy drinker. And my sperm fertilized all the eggs every time. And that was unassisted fertilization, not the ICSI described below

Cutting down on red meat, coffee and alcohol can boost a man's fertility scientists say. A study has discovered that a poor diet and obesity can lower sperm concentration and affect their ability to swim towards an egg. Specialists are now encouraging a diet high in fruit and grains to increase the chances of successful IVF treatment.

In the past female fertility problems have been linked to obesity as well as smoking and drinking, but it hasn't been clear before now if the same applies to men.

But the latest study of men with partners who were undergoing a type of fertility treatment, has revealed that those who regularly drank alcohol and ate poorly were slowed down on the fertility front.

Lead researcher Edson Borges, from the Fertility-Assisted Fertilization Center in Sao Paolo said: 'The sperm concentration was negatively influenced by body mass index (BMI) and alcohol consumption, and was positively influenced by cereal consumption and the number of meals per day.'

The Brazilian study involved 250 men with partners who were undergoing a type of fertility treatment called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Each participant was asked how often they ate a range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, meat and fish, as well as how much they drank and smoked.

Semen samples were then analysed to assess sperm health and concentration and each couple were monitored during the IVF process.

Eggs were successfully fertilised in about three-quarters of the treatments, and just under forty per cent of women got pregnant during the study.

From the speed of their sperm to their partner's chance of pregnancy, men who drank and had a poor diet were less fertile.

Lynn Westphal, a women's health and fertility specialist at Stanford University hopes that the results, published in the Fertility and Sterility journal, will encourage men to make healthier lifestyle choices.

'We talk about having a healthy lifestyle and trying to eliminate any of these things that are bad for health, but I think most of the emphasis tends to be on making sure the woman is as healthy as possible. 'I think this is really interesting data that lifestyle factors for men, even when you're doing ICSI, are significant.

'This is probably more of a difference than most people would have thought.'


Shoppers ignore health warnings on food and buy whatever they want, study finds

How frustrating to the health Fascists!

Most shoppers ignore nutritional labels labels on food packets and simply buy what they like, a new study claims. The findings are a blow to the UK government, which has pressurised food manufacturers to display calorie, fat and salt content prominently on packaging so that consumers can make healthier choices.

Schemes include the voluntary 'traffic light system,' which rates how healthy food is by using red, orange or green labels.

Researchers from the Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life (FLABEL) investigated 37,000 products in five potentially unhealthy types of food, including biscuits, chilled ready meals and fizzy drinks.

They found Britain had the highest proportion of nutritional information on packaging, with more than 95 per cent including it on the back of packs, and 82 per cent on the front.

However, the research also found that most shoppers understand perfectly well how healthy various foods are with only the bare minimum of nutritional information.

In a further blow to the costly schemes, the authors discovered that people who said they understood or liked the various labelling schemes were happy to ignore them and buy the food they liked best, regardless of how unhealthy it was.

FLABEL advisor Professor Klaus Grunert, from Aarhus University in Denmark called on food companies to put clear information on the front of packs for maximum impact. However, he conceded that even this wouldn't make shoppers to dump the junk, saying: 'Motivation was a major factor affecting the impact of nutrition labels on the choices made by consumers.

'When prompted, consumers were able to identify which products were healthier, but they did not use this information to choose which product they prefer. 'A lack of consumer motivation, therefore, is one factor standing in the way of healthy food choices resulting from nutrition labelling.'


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Well-done steaks 'double prostate cancer risk': Even small amounts of over-cooked meat can be dangerous (?)

Amazing: An agent of the alarmist WCRF actually says something sensible below -- in the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph. She loses it after that, though.

Retrospective self-report is about the weakest data there is but if there is anything in the findings at all, I suspect a social class artifact. Certainly in Australia the people most likely to require their meat to be well-done are the elderly and the working class. The more pretentious you are the rarer you will want your meat.

I remember once going to a very fashionable restaurant in Sydney called Pegrum's and ordering fillet steak done medium. It came out rare and there was much sniffiness when I sent it back to be done medium. I never went there again and they were probably glad of it.

So we are are probably just seeing below the usual poorer health of working class people

An appetite for well-done steaks and burgers could raise the odds of prostate cancer, experts warn. Scrutiny of the eating habits of almost 1,000 men linked over-cooked red meat to the deadliest form of the disease.

Well and very-well done burgers were among the most dangerous meats – doubling the odds of aggressive prostate cancer, even when eaten in small amounts.

Prostate is the most common cancer among British men and the finding suggests that simple changes to diet and cooking routines could help keep it at bay.

The University of California research team recruited 470 men diagnosed with fast-growing and hard-to-treat prostate cancer and a similar number of healthy men and asked them about what they had eaten in the previous year.

They were also asked about their consumption of grilled and barbecued meats, and burgers, liver and some processed meats were linked to higher odds of aggressive prostate cancer.

Further analysis pointed to overcooking at high temperatures as being at the root of the problem. Men who ate grilled or barbecued burgers that were well or very-well done had around twice the odds of aggressive prostate cancer than those who never ate meat or ate it rare or medium-done. The figures for beef, such as steak, were similar.

Previous studies linking red meat to prostate cancer have produced mixed results – but this may be because they did not separate out the most deadly form of the disease and did not focus on overcooking and cooking at high temperatures.

The Department of Health’s scientific advisors said earlier this year that red and processed meat ‘probably’ increases the odds of bowel cancer. They advised eating no more than 70g a day. Over a week, this amounts to three sausages, one small steak, one quarter-pounder and three slices of lamb.

However, a British Nutrition Foundation study claimed that the majority of adults ate ‘healthy amounts’ of red meat and there was an ‘inconclusive’ link to cancer

Dr Rachel Thompson, of the World Cancer Research Fund, said the results could have been skewed by the men mis-remembering what they had eaten, particularly if those with prostate cancer were keen to find something to blame. She added: ‘But looking at cancer overall, there is already a good reason to watch the amount of red and processed meat in your diet.

‘There is very strong evidence that both red and processed meats increase risk of bowel cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK, and this is why we recommend that people limit consumption of red meat to 500g per week, cooked weight, and that they avoid eating processed meat.’


Asthmatics given new hope with new air cleaning machine

The average improvement over placebo does not seem to be great but the machine may benefit some more than others

A purification device that cleans the air while asthma sufferers sleep dramatically reduces their symptons during the day, a study has concluded. Researchers reported the drug-free bedside air filter signficantly reduced patients' symptons such as wheezing and tight chests.

The temperature controlled laminar airflow treatment, called Protexo, filters out airborne triggers such as dust particles and mites, pet hairs and powders that cause irritiation and inflamation of the lungs.

Asthma specialists said the low-cost device led to such an improvement in patients' quality of life, that it should be made be available on the NHS. They say the machine achieved results equivalent to those made by expensive drugs and would lead to less time in hospital meaning its £4000 cost would pay for itself. It is also quiet and easy to use.

"This device makes a significant difference to people's lives, with an effect as big as very expensive treatments, and it helps prevent the triggers of the disease," said Prof John Warner, a consultant paediatrician at St Mary's Hospital and professor of paediatrics at Imperial College London, who led the study.

"Our findings support the importance of focusing exposure control interventions on the breathing zone, and highlight the role of nocturnal exposures in precipitating airway inflammation and symptoms in patients with atopic asthma."

The European study of patients, aged seven to 70, found those who used the device recorded 15 per cent better quality of life scores after a year than those given a dummy machine.

Protexo protects the breathing area of people with asthma from allergenic agents with the help of a flow of slightly cooled air around them at night.

Asthma, usually caused by an allergy to airborne dust, pollen or pollution, affects more than 5.1 million Britons and experts warn the number of sufferers is on the rise.

The main medication currently involves taking two types of inhaled drugs, which either help to reduce the frequency of attacks or instantly open up constricted airways, helping breathing.

The researchers, whose findings are published online in the journal Thorax, said Protexo worked by displacing warmer air containing irritants and allergens such as house dust mite and pet hairs with the slightly colder air.

The aim is to stave off the abnormal immune response that triggers an allergic reaction including the airway narrowing typical of an asthma attack by preventing the sleeper breathing in the irritants and allergens. All of the 281 participants in the study from six countries were non-smokers and had poorly controlled allergic (atopic) asthma. A total of 189 patients slept with the Protexo just above their bed for 12 months with 92 others having a placebo.

A validated score was used to assess quality of life before and after the study period along with assessments of symptom control, lung capacity, airway inflammation and biological indicators of a systemic allergic response.

A steeper fall in nitric oxide - an indicator of inflammation - was seen among those using Protexo and this was particularly noticeable among those with more severe asthma.

Those using the device also had significantly smaller increases in another indicator of persistent and more severe inflammation - a chemical known as IgE (immunoglobulin E).

Annabelle Abrahams, 14, from Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, who has had asthma since she was four, took part in the trial. "I slept badly because I couldn't breathe, doing PE or running around with my friends was difficult and I had asthma attacks if I laughed too much," she said. "My schoolwork suffered because I was tired and off sick a lot."

With the help of the machine, Annabelle now sleeps through the night without coughing. "I've seen a dramatic change and real improvement in my asthma," she said. "I sleep better, have fewer chest infections and enjoy PE and sport."

The impact was greatest among those whose asthma required the most medication yet whose symptoms were the most poorly controlled - a group who "represent a significant area of unmet need," said Prof Warner.

Prof Warner said there were fewer hospital admissions among the group using Protexo. "The reason nocturnal TLA is successful where so many other approaches have failed may be the profound reduction in inhaled aeroallergen exposure, which this treatment achieves," he said.

Despite advances in the treatment of asthma, the condition is still very distressing for a significant proportion of patients.

Previous attempts to filter or purify airflow have not met with a great deal of success.

Prof Warned pointed to other research suggesting night time allergen exposure has the greatest impact on symptom severity, possibly because of changes in circulating hormone levels and immune responsiveness prompted by the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

The machine, which uses the same energy as a lightbulb but is not yet available for private purchase, costs around £2,000 for six months' use.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Are high-achieving parents who met at work behind rise in autistic children?

I think Prof Cohen is on the right track here. For me the key to autism is the mundane fact that autistic people tend to take large hat sizes! That supports the theory that an overdeveloped cortex is the problem. And the cortex is the seat of intelligence so when you get two highly intelligent people together an overdeveloped cortex is an obvious possibility. I married a smart working-class girl so my son is both very bright and very social

Engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism.

Researchers at Cambridge University are working on the first ‘clear test’ of whether the occupation and university choices of high-achieving parents affect the chances of their child developing the condition.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, said there are currently several clues that parents who work in the fields of maths, science and engineering might have a higher risk of having an autistic child.

His team is recruiting parents who are graduates to take part in a survey about their children’s development to test the theory.

Autism, which affects one in every 100 people, inhibits the ability to communicate, recognise emotions and socialise, and can take a mild or severe form.

Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that the trend in recent years for couples to meet at work – as women increasingly take highly-qualified jobs in technical fields once dominated by men – may be behind the tripling in the number of cases since the 1960s.

In California’s Silicon Valley, where there are high rates of partnership between engineers, physicists and mathematicians working in software companies, cases of autism have rocketed.

Previous studies have suggested that the condition is more prevalent among people who are ‘systemisers’ – those who do jobs relating to systems and how they work, such as computer programmes or machines.

One study in 2001 showed mathematicians have higher rates of autism than those in other jobs, and another in 1997 showed that children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be on the autistic spectrum.

Both mothers and fathers of children with autism have been shown to display excellent attention to detail in tests.

People who ‘systemise’ are often obsessed with making sense of complex topics, and can achieve great things, but have difficulty empathising with people.

They can also apply their minds to other careers including music and art. Professor Baron-Cohen has said that being a systemiser may be a symptom of an ‘extreme male brain’ due to high levels of testosterone.

His new study will examine whether two ‘strong systemisers’ have a higher chance of producing autistic children by asking parents to answer questions about their degrees and occupations.

Professor Baron-Cohen said: ‘A clear test of the hypothesis will enable us to test if couples who are both strong systemisers, for example those who studied and worked in STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] and other fields related to systemising, are more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than couples where only one is a strong systemiser, or where neither is.’

Anyone who is a graduate and a parent of a child older than 18 months can take part, even if their partner is not a graduate.

There is no specific known cause for autism. It has genetic factors, but also environmental ones including increased prevalence in premature babies.


A few extra tablets can cause cumulative paracetamol overdose

There is a strange fashion for treating paracetamol (acetaminophen; Tylenol) as "safe". It has long been evident that it is anything but. So it is good to see caution being advised. A popular syrup for sick children in England -- Calpol -- contains it so parents should be particularly careful with it

Taking just a few extra paracetamol tablets a day over time could lead to a dangerous overdose and even death, a new study suggests.

Paracetamol overdoses are the leading cause of acute liver failure in Britain, usually occurring when patients take a vast number of tablets all at once.

But doctors are concerned that patients who take just slightly too many pills on a regular basis could be at even greater risk because their problem is harder to spot.

People who arrive at hospital having taken a single overdose can often be saved because blood tests reveal instantly how much of the drug is in their system, enabling doctors to act fast to save their liver.

But those who innocently exceed the recommended daily dose of eight 500mg tablets on a regular basis to cope with chronic pain may simply report to hospital feeling unwell, and not mention how many pills they have been taking.

Despite having similar levels of liver damage, blood tests might only show small amounts of paracetamol in their system meaning doctors may not spot the life-threatening problem, experts said.

Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that although ingesting less of the drug overall, people taking "staggered overdoses" were about a third more likely to die.

They also had a greater chance of liver and brain problems, and were more likely to need kidney dialysis or assistance with breathing, especially if they had waited at least a day before going to hospital.

Dr Kenneth Simpson of Edinburgh University, who led the study, said: "They haven't taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.

"The problem is that some people were taking regular paracetamol and not appreciating that they should stick to 4g in a day. "They were sometimes taking two preparations, both of which contained paracetamol, such as regular paracetamol as well as headache tablets."

Researchers studied 663 patients admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for severe, paracetamol-induced liver injury and found that a quarter had taken staggered overdoses – meaning two or more doses, more than eight hours apart adding up to an amount above the daily limit.

The average staggered overdose was 48 tablets – slightly lower than the average one-off overdose of 54 tablets – but the staggered doses could have been taken over a period of up to a week.

In some cases patients had taken two large doses within a 24-hour period but in others they had just two or three extra pills a day over the course of four or five days, Dr Simpson explained.

While one third of people taking staggered overdoses had been attempting suicide, about half had simply been self-medicating for conditions like joint and muscular pains or toothache, he added.

The study also showed that patients taking staggered overdoses were older, with an average age of 39, and more likely to have been abusing alcohol.

Dr Neil Kitteringham, from the University of Liverpool’s MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science, said: “Paracetamol overdose is a significant burden to the NHS. "This large study from Edinburgh shows that unintentional overdosing with paracetamol may have more serious consequences than a single overdose taken with suicidal intent."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Long-term study proves statins benefit to some

Those studied were "high risk" individuals. There is therefore no warrant from the findings that statins are of benefit to the general population. Note also the oddity that there was no mortality benefit in women in the original study and the fact that substantial funding (over one hundred million pounds) for the study came from statin drug companies. The academic journal abstract follows the popular summary below

I have looked at the whole article and can see no coverage of possible sex differences. In view of the findings in the original study, that seems extraordinary. It makes one wonder what else they have left out

STATINS safely reduce the risk of cardiovascular illness even years after treatment is stopped, according to a probe into the popular cholesterol-busters published today.

Statins work by blocking a liver enzyme that makes fatty molecules, which line arterial walls and increase the danger of heart disease and strokes.

With worldwide annual sales of more than 20 billion dollars, the drugs have been dubbed "the aspirin of the 21st century" because of their benefit and wide use.

But lingering questions persist about their long-term safety for the heart, liver and cancer risk.

Researchers at the Heart Protection Study Collaborative Group in Oxford looked at 20,536 patients at risk of cardiovascular disease who were randomly allocated 40mg daily of simvastatins or a dummy look-alike over more than five years.

During this period, those who took the statins saw a reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol and a 23 per cent reduction in episodes of vascular ill-health, compared to the placebo group.

The monitoring of the volunteers continued for a further six years after the trial ended.

The benefits persisted throughout this monitoring period among those volunteers who stopped taking the statins, the investigators found.

In addition, there was no emergence of any health hazard among those who had taken, or were continuing to take, the drugs.

A large number of cancers (nearly 3500) developed during this follow-up period, but there was no difference in cancer incidence between the statin and placebo groups.

"The persistence of benefit we observed among participants originally allocated simvastatin during the subsequent six-year post-trial period is remarkable," said one of the investigators, Richard Bulbulia.

"In addition, the reliable evidence of safety, with no excess risk of cancer or other major illnesses during over 11 years follow-up, is very reassuring for doctors who prescribe statins and the increasingly large numbers of patients who take them long-term to reduce their risk of vascular disease."

A previous investigation in November 2010 found that long-term use of statins was less risky than thought for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a common liver ailment.

The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 23 November 2011

Effects on 11-year mortality and morbidity of lowering LDL cholesterol with simvastatin for about 5 years in 20 536 high-risk individuals: a randomised controlled trial


Findings of large randomised trials have shown that lowering LDL cholesterol with statins reduces vascular morbidity and mortality rapidly, but limited evidence exists about the long-term efficacy and safety of statin treatment. The aim of the extended follow-up of the Heart Protection Study (HPS) is to assess long-term efficacy and safety of lowering LDL cholesterol with statins, and here we report cause-specific mortality and major morbidity in the in-trial and post-trial periods.


20 536 patients at high risk of vascular and non-vascular outcomes were allocated either 40 mg simvastatin daily or placebo, using minimised randomisation. Mean in-trial follow-up was 5·3 years (SD 1·2), and post-trial follow-up of surviving patients yielded a mean total duration of 11·0 years (SD 0·6). The primary outcome of the long-term follow-up of HPS was first post-randomisation major vascular event, and analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with ISRCTN, number 48489393.


During the in-trial period, allocation to simvastatin yielded an average reduction in LDL cholesterol of 1·0 mmol/L and a proportional decrease in major vascular events of 23% (95% CI 19—28; p<0·0001), with significant divergence each year after the first. During the post-trial period (when statin use and lipid concentrations were similar in both groups), no further significant reductions were noted in either major vascular events (risk ratio [RR] 0·95 [0·89—1·02]) or vascular mortality (0·98 [0·90—1·07]). During the combined in-trial and post-trial periods, no significant differences were recorded in cancer incidence at all sites (0·98 [0·92—1·05]) or any particular site, or in mortality attributed to cancer (1·01 [0·92—1·11]) or to non-vascular causes (0·96 [0·89—1·03]).


More prolonged LDL-lowering statin treatment produces larger absolute reductions in vascular events. Moreover, even after study treatment stopped in HPS, benefits persisted for at least 5 years without any evidence of emerging hazards. These findings provide further support for the prompt initiation and long-term continuation of statin treatment.


UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Merck & Co, Roche Vitamins.

Regular sex key to happiness in middle age, US study says

Does this just mean that happy couples have more sex?

OLDER married couples who have regular sex are more likely to be happier with their lives than those who do not, according to US research.

Only 40 percent of those who had no sex in the past 12 months said they were "very happy with life in general," compared to 60 percent of those who said they had sex more than once a month.

Almost 80 percent of those who had sex more than once a month also said they were very happy with their marriage, compared to 59 percent who did not, according to the research presented at the Gerontological Society of America's conference in Boston.

"This study will help open the lines of communication and spark interest in developing 'outside the box' approaches to dealing with resolvable issues that limit or prevent older adults from participating in sexual activity," according to Adrienne Jackson, from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Jackson added, "Highlighting the relationship between sex and happiness will help us in developing and organizing specific sexual health interventions for this growing segment of our population."

Some 238 married individuals aged 65 and older took part in the study.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Underweight patients more likely to die than mildly obese patients

This is an old story now but it needs a lot of repetition before it becomes accepted: The healthiest weight is a middling weight

Underweight patients may have more possibilities of mortality within 30 days of general and vascular surgery compared with mildly obese patients, according to a research published online in Archives of Surgery Tuesday.

Researchers at the U.S. National Surgical Quality Improvement Program conducted the research for the years 2005 and 2006, and assessed the contribution of BMI (Body Mass Index) to 189,533 postsurgeries morbidity and mortality by obesity classes.

They found that compared with the middle BMI quintile group, patients with BMI value below 23.1, had greater chances for death. For the highest BMI quintile group, higher mortality rate was also observed.

However, the researchers also found that obesity may as well be associated with increased mortality for some individual types of surgeries.

"These individual types of procedures include procedures with which the general surgeon should have definite experience: colorectal resection, colostomy formation, cholecystectomy, hernia repair, mastectomy, and wound debridement," said George J. Stukenborg, PhD, of the University of Virginia inCharlottesvilleand his colleagues.

Based on a 30 –day morbidity and mortality risk calculation, the sample patients were categorized into BMI quintile ranges. BMI value of less than 23.1 was considered as lowest, values from 26.3 to 29.6 considered as the middle quintile, and above 35.2 considered as the highest.

Factors such as lack of enough data on nonfatal complications and hospital resources, or examining mortality over the 30-day baseline, may cause limitations and inaccuracy to the research and more studies on a wider range of patients in terms of BMI are needed to further confirm the current conclusion, researchers said.


Bowel cancer wonder drug searches out and kills tumours without the side effects

Mouse study only. Let's hope it works on people too

A two-in-one drug that seeks out and destroys tumours while being kind to the rest of the body has been developed by researchers. In tests, it took just minutes to home in on bowel tumours before dramatically shrinking them. In some cases, mice whose cancer was thought to be terminal were cured.

The drugs also act by ‘stealth’, sneaking into cancerous areas without causing damage to the surrounding healthy cells.

In standard cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, drugs attack anywhere in the body, meaning healthy cells as well as cancerous ones are damaged. This indiscriminate attack on the body’s cells leads to side effects including hair loss and nausea.

But using the new technique, normal cells should not be affected, meaning that patients are spared the usual side effects.

Excitingly, the U.S. researchers believe the same technique could be used to combat other cancers, such as those of the breast, prostate, lung and skin. Bowel cancer is Britain’s second biggest cancer killer, after lung cancer, and claims more than 16,000 lives a year.

The Californian researchers began by searching for a compound that targets tumours rather than healthy tissue. They settled on one called IF7, a small protein that seeks out the blood vessels that tumours need to grow and spread around the body. They attached IF7 to a fluorescent probe and injected it into mice with bowel tumours. Within minutes, the tumours lit up.

They then linked IF7 to a powerful cancer drug, gave the two-in-one compound to diseased mice, and watched the tumours shrink.

The results were dramatic, with many treated tumours disappearing completely within a fortnight, even at low doses.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that IF7 targets tumours with ‘unprecedented’ speed.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are babies born in cities too big?

How big is too big? The research below showed that city-born babies are bigger than ones born in the country but the explanation proposed is entirely hypothetical. That city dwellers might be exposed to more pollutants and that this may be reflected in blood concentrations is unsurprising but to say that is what causes bigger babies is just a leap in the dark.

An alternative explanation derives from the repeated finding that city dwellers are smarter -- and high IQ does tend overall to go with tallness -- and babies destined to be tall will often be longer and hence heavier. Low IQ people also tend to have smaller heads, which would also reduce the weight of the country baby

The latest studies indicate that daily exposure to urban pollution can affect us before we are even born — leaving us prone to a lifetime of ill-health.

Scientists have discovered that babies born in cities are bigger and heavier — normally a good sign — than those born in the countryside. But when they compared the placentas of mothers from a busy city and a quiet rural district, they found that the city mums had far higher levels of chemical pollutants called xenoestrogens in their blood — and in that of their unborn babies.

Xenoestrogens are industrial chemicals that affect our bodies in similar ways to the female hormone, oestrogen. They are found in countless man-made pollutants such as petrol fumes, and are more abundant in industrial areas than the countryside.

As well as causing excess foetal growth, they have been linked to problems such as obesity, hyperactivity, early puberty, fertility problems and cancers of the lung, breast and prostate.

The researchers, from the University of Granada, Spain, found that although city mothers were older and weighed less than rural mothers, they still gave birth to larger babies.

Dr Maria Marcos, who led the study, says the toxic xenoestrogens seem to have a significant effect on the development of unborn children.

SOURCE (I have commented on only the first assertion in the source article. It is a great farrago of epidemiological speculation. I may comment on some of the other assertions later)

Genes again

Gene found linked to easily visible differences in kindness

A gene variant that affects empathy, parental sensitivity and sociability is so powerful that strangers watching 20 seconds of silent video can tell apart people who have it, a study has found.

Scientists videotaped 23 romantic couples while one of the partners described a time of suffering in their lives. The other partner's reaction through body language alone was the focus of the study. Groups of strangers viewed the videos and were asked to rate the person on traits such as how kind, trustworthy, and caring they thought the person was.

"Our findings suggest even slight genetic variation may have tangible impact on people's behavior, and that these behavioral differences are quickly noticed by others," said Aleksandr Kogan of the University of Toronto, the study's lead author.

The work built on previous research by Sarina Rodrigues Saturn of Oregon State University and colleagues, who linked a genetic variation to empathy and stress reactivity. Saturn is senior author of the new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers studied genetic variations that affect transmission within the brain and body of a hormone known as oxytocin, which is linked to trust and relationships.

"It was amazing to see how the data aligned so strongly" with the variants, Saturn said. "It makes sense that a gene crucial for social processing would yield these findings; other studies have shown that people are good at judging people at a distance and first impressions really make an impact."

Before recording the videos, the scientists identified the couples' gene types as GG, AG, or AA through tests. The first type marks people with two copies of a gene variant called G; the second, those with one copy of the G and one copy of the A variant; and so forth. According to previous research, GG people tend to act in a more caring way, whereas the other two types tend to have a higher risk of autism and selfreported lower levels of positive emotions, empathy and parental sensitivity. Oxytocin has already been linked with social affiliation and reduction in stress. It is associated with social recognition, pair bonding, dampening negative emotional responses, trust and love.

Out of the 10 people who were marked by the neutral observer as most empathic, six were GG carriers; while of the 10 people who were marked as "least trusted," nine were carriers of the A version of the gene, the researchers reported. These people were viewed as less kind, trustworthy and caring toward their partners.

What's unknown is precisely how the gene affects the behavior. The variant does lead to differences in receptors, or molecular structures, involved in oxytocin transmission.

However the mechanics of it may turn out to work, Saturn believes people can and do overcome their genes. "These are people who just may need to be coaxed out of their shells a little," she said of the "A" carriers. "It may not be that we need to fix people who exhibit less social traits, but that we recognize they are overcoming a genetically influenced trait and that they may need more understanding and encouragement."

Kogan said that many factors ultimately influence kindness and cooperation. "The oxytocin receptor gene is one of those factors but there many other forces in play, both genetic and nongenetic," he said. "How all these pieces fit together to create the coherent whole of an individual who is or is not kind is a great mystery that we are only beginning to scratch."


Monday, November 21, 2011

What’s in my makeup bag? — junk science

The Oregon Environmental Council and the regional government for the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area recently released a survey of young women regarding their personal care product use, entitled What’s in My Makeup Bag? This report suggests that the young women are uninformed about the chemical risks posed by their makeup. But rather than offer women and the public-at-large sound and balanced information about cosmetics and health, the survey authors push misinformation and junk science.

CEI has already debunked most of their points in various publications, with particular detail to the cosmetics industry in our recent paper on cosmetics: The True Story of Cosmetics: Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign. Our report includes information on chemicals that greens never mention. For example, greens never point out how the chemicals they want to eliminate are necessary to prevent the development of dangerous bacteria or other pathogens in consumer products. You can learn more about that in The True Story of Cosmetics.

Take a look at the key chemical “villains” in the What’s in My Makeup Bag? report, and you will see how misguided the activist claims really are:

Claim about Parabens: “They [parabens] can mimic the hormone estrogen, and in animal studies, they have been linked to cancer and shown to interfere with reproduction at high doses.”

Reality Check: So what? Rodents get cancer from lots of things when administered high doses — including carrots, broccoli, and lots of other healthy foods. Rodent studies are of limited value because human metabolic processes differ from that of rodents, and our exposures to parabens are thousands of times lower. Check the chapter, “The True Causes of Cancer,” in our The Environmental Source, and see why you need not fear trace chemicals. As for mimicking hormones, consider the fact that the potency of these chemicals is too low to have any impacts. The CEI study, Nature’s Hormone Factory, demonstrates that we have more to fear from eating peas, which contain far more potent “endocrine mimicking” chemicals — complements of Mother Nature. Of note parabens are chemicals used to ward off the development of dangerous bacteria. For more information on parabens see: The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about Fragrances: “We know that fragrances may contain allergens, sensitizers, neurotoxins and ingredients that interfere with hormones.”

Reality Check: Frankly Scarlett, some people are also allergic or sensitive to flowers or peanuts. That does not mean the rest of us should not experience the joy of a lovely aroma! The simple fact is, everything is life is made of chemicals — some smell good, some don’t. What is wrong with taking the nicer scents from Mother Nature’s inventory and incorporating them into our consumer products? Nothing. There isn’t any compelling evidence that such scents at the low doses found in consumer products have serious adverse human impacts. In addition, the fragrance industry employs a host of privately funded scientific review panels to ensure a high level of product safety, which is detailed in a CEI paper on green chemistry scheduled for release later this week. After all, the goal of business is to gain repeat customers — not to poison them! Watch our website for details about the green chemistry paper. And again, trace exposures to fragrances or other chemicals are unlikely to have any hormonal effects on humans because both the doses and potency are too low. See Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Phthalates: “In animal and human studies, phthalates have been linked with a whole host of health concerns, including birth defects, asthma, early puberty and low sperm counts.”

Reality Check: Greens have been after phthalates for decades despite scant evidence of any problems from use in consumer products, and amidst considerable evidence that these products include many important public health and other benefits. CEI debunked such claims a decade ago, but greens won’t let the issue go despite the paucity of evidence that these chemicals pose any health problems. More recently, a study on PVC safety conducted by the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Directorate-General concluded: “So far, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that DEHP [a category of phthalates] exposure via medical treatments has harmful effects in humans.” Again, see Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is “is known as a probable human carcinogen. It can also cause skin and lung irritation.”

Reality Check: A problem with many governmental cancer classifications is they don’t mean very much. They don’t bother to consider actual risk levels to humans based on exposure and dose. Formaldehyde is a concern for workers exposed to high levels of the substance over long periods of time — exposure that can be managed by proper worker protection practices to bring risks close to zero. But most humans are exposed only to trace levels every day in our food (mushrooms and many food naturally contain formaldehyde) and air (cooking and consumer products release trace amounts). There is no evidence that these trace exposures have any serious adverse public health impacts. Instead, formaldehyde has health benefits in cosmetics where it acts as a preservative, preventing adverse reactions related to spoilage. See the case study in the appendix of The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): “The U.S. National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has classified BHA as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”

Reality Check: Again, if that’s a problem, we also need to stop eating carrots, apples, and more foods because they have the same effect. There are some serious problems associated with the murky science at the National Toxicology program. CEI will be releasing a study in a couple weeks documenting these issues. In the meantime, there’s no need to panic. BHA is a preservative used to ensure products don’t pose health problems related to spoilage.

Claim about Oxybenzone: What’s in My Makeup Bag? says that this chemical “is a potential hormone-disrupting chemical linked with endocrine disruption, cell damage and low birth weight when used by pregnant women.”

Reality Check: Again, if you believe that, don’t ever eat soy or other legumes, which are thousands of times more potent “endocrine mimickers,” as detailed in Nature’s Hormone Factory. The sad reality is, if people follow the advice of the greens on this one, some could die from skin cancer. Oxybenzone is a key ingredient in sunscreens. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, claims about oxybenzone are not only wrong, they could be dangerous if fewer consumers use sunscreen as a result.


The land where pizza is one of your five-a-day vegetables … because it is covered in tomato paste

I have removed some judgmental wording below in favour of more factual language -- JR

A school lunches Bill going before Congress aims to reclassify pizza due to the tomato paste on the dough... this thin coating would be enough for pizza to go towards a daily count of fruit and vegetables.

The move has been derided as a cost-cutting drive so the U.S. government will not have to spend so much on fresh food for school lunches. Subsidised school meals must include a certain amount of vegetables.

A congressional committee is pushing for the move and to keep french fries on school lunch lines in a fightback against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains.

The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.

Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn't be telling children what to eat.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would 'prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.'

School districts had said some of the USDA requirements went too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.

Schools have long taken broad instructions from the government on what they can serve in federally subsidized meals that are served free or at reduced price to low-income children. But some schools have balked at government attempts to tell them exactly what foods they can't serve.

Reacting to that criticism, House Republicans had urged USDA to completely rewrite the standards in their version of the bill passed in June.

The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in their version. Neither version included the language on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains, which was added by House-Senate negotiators on the bill.

The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says.

It would also slow efforts to make pizzas — a longtime standby on school lunch lines — healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium.

'They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,' she said.

A group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill. The group, called Mission: Readiness has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.

'We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,' Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress before the final plan was released. 'It doesn't take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.'

Specifically, the provisions would:

• Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.

• Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

• Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

• Require USDA to define 'whole grains' before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.
Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

'This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,' said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

The school lunch provisions are part of a final House-Senate compromise on a $182 billion measure would fund the day-to-day operations of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week and send it to President Barack Obama.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

High dose vitamin D pills 'can double heart condition risk'

This could just mean that people who feel poorly are more likely to take supplements but I also think it is a worthwhile warning against pill-popping. The likelihood of pill popping doing you any good is negligible and there are many people who have lived to a ripe old age without any pills at all

Taking high doses of vitamin D could more than double the chance of having a type of serious heart complaint, according to results of a large-scale survey.

Those with "excess" levels of the vitamin in their blood were 2.5 times more likely than those with normal levels to have atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of heart flutter common in old age which can lead to stroke. More than a million people in Britain are thought to have AF, the vast majority over 70.

The results, presented this week at a meeting of the American Heart Association, are perhaps most concerning for post-menopausal women, who commonly take supplements of the vitamin with calcium to help fend off osteoporosis.

Vitamin D is essential for bone growth and cellular health. The body naturally manufactures it when the skin is exposed to strong sunlight. However, in winter reserves can drop due to lack of sunlight, so many people take supplements. However, baseline levels vary considerably, both between people and over the seasons, meaning some could unnecessarily be topping up.

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Centre in Utah looked at blood tests from 132,000 of their patients.

They found those with vitamin D levels above 100 nanograms per 100ml, were 2.5 times more likely to have AF as those with normal levels (41-80ng/100ml).

Dr T Jared Bunch, a heart rhythm specialist, said patients should always tell their doctors what vitamins they were taking. He said: "Patients don't think of vitamins and supplements as drugs. But any vitamin or supplement that is touted as 'healing' or 'natural' is a drug and will have effects that are both beneficial and harmful. "Just like any therapy, vitamins need to be taken for the right reasons and at the right doses."

Doctors have increasingly recognised vitamin D's crucial importance to overall health, helping to fend off not only osteoporosis but also multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

They have also realised that many people in Britain now suffer from vitamin D deficiency, due in part to increasingly indoor lifestyles, with GPs seeing more children with rickets.

Doctors now advise that all people over 65 should take regular supplements, as should children up to five, pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who do not get enough sun and people with darker skin.


Cautious mothers give peanut butter parties for kids outside hospital in case of allergic reaction

They are probably doing more good than they know. Kids introduced to peanuts early are less likely to become allergic to them

WORRIED parents are holding "peanut butter parties" in parks near the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide in which they give their children the spread for the first time.

The parties put parents in quick reach of emergency medical help should their child have an anaphylactic reaction.

Christine Dening, of St Peters, said her mothers' group leader had suggested exposing her son Henry, 2, to peanuts near the WCH "just in case".

"That way we could dash to the emergency room if he reacted," Ms Dening said. "(The group leader) also recommended doing it with a group so that we could support each other and help to reduce anxiety."

Although there is no history of allergy in Ms Dening's family, she was concerned about Henry's potential reaction to peanuts. She said she would do things differently with her daughter, Eliza, seven months, because Henry proved to be allergy-free.

"In hindsight, I was more worried about allergies than I needed to be given there are no allergies in the family and the likelihood of an anaphylactic reaction is low," she said. "I'll try Eliza with peanuts at home, although I'll probably still have 000 on my speed dial, just in case."

Gerry Tudorovic said she had considered attending a peanut butter party after hearing about the event through her mothers' group but in the end opted to introduce the food to her son Spencer, 2, at home.

"I wanted to make sure we were in Adelaide and not doing anything just in case," she said. "I was mildly worried, as I have a friend whose child is extremely allergic, but not too worried as my husband and I are not allergic to foods, and I was never too picky about Spencer eating foods which had traces of nuts."

Dietitian Julia Boase, who specialises in paediatrics and allergies, said she was aware of peanut butter parties near the WCH.

"I've even heard of mums driving to the emergency department car park and giving their kids their first peanut butter sandwich there," she said. "There's a bit of a heightened level of parental anxiety out there because allergies are on the rise but parents need to remember that the majority of kids don't have an allergy."

Ms Boase suggested concerned parents followed the advice of the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, which says there is no evidence parents should delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods.

Anaphylaxis Australia vice-president Sandra Vale said the organisation had heard of parents around the country visiting hospitals to let their children try potentially allergenic foods nearby.

"This is especially true if they have an older child that has an allergy," she said. "The waiting list in hospitals for testing is long so this is a safety precaution for these parents. "I think there is an increased need for education, as well as better access to services. "Parents just want peace of mind."

Dr Mike Gold, an allergist at the WCH, said parents should discuss their concerns with their GP, especially if a sibling already had a nut allergy.

"In some infants or children further investigations such as a simple blood test can be performed by a general practitioner to exclude a possible nut allergy," he said.

A WCH spokeswoman said the hospital was not aware of parents holding the "peanut butter parties" near the hospital.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

FDA pulls use of breast cancer drug Avastin because of side effects

Once again, attention seems to be focused entirely on the mean (average) when the variance is just as important. Some women taking it report years of extra life over what was prognosed. Surely all should be allowed to see if they are in that lucky minority

The blockbuster drug Avastin should no longer be used in advanced breast cancer patients because of dangerous side effects. The Food and Drug Administration declared Friday there is no proof that the drug extends the lives of advanced patients.

The ruling by the FDA was long expected, but it was certain to disappoint women who say they've run out of other options as their breast cancer spread through their bodies. Impassioned patients had lobbied furiously to preserve Avastin as a last shot.

'This was a difficult decision,' said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. She added that 'it is clear that women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life-threatening side effects without proof that the use of Avastin will provide a benefit, in terms of delay in tumor growth, that would justify those risks.'

Those risks include severe high blood pressure, massive bleeding, heart attack or heart failure, and perforations in parts of the body such as the stomach and intestines, Ms Hamburg said.

Avastin is the world's best-selling cancer drug, and also is used to treat certain forms of colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. So even though FDA formally revoked its approval of the drug to treat breast cancer, doctors still could prescribe it — but insurers may not pay for it. Including infusion fees, a year's treatment with Avastin can cost $100,000.

Some insurers already had quit covering the drug's use in breast cancer after FDA's advisers twice- once last year and once last summer- urged revoking the approval. But Medicare said Friday that it will keep paying for now.

Medicare 'will monitor the issue and evaluate coverage options as a result of action by the FDA but has no immediate plans to change coverage policies,' said spokesman Don McLeod.

In 2008, the FDA allowed Avastin to be marketed as a treatment for breast cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body and is generally considered incurable.

The approval came under a special program that allows patients access to promising treatments while their makers finish the studies needed for final proof that they really work as promised.

When Avastin manufacturer Genentech did those studies, the data showed only a small effect on patients' tumor growth, not that they were living longer or had a better quality of life and not enough benefit to outweigh such severe side effects, FDA concluded.

Genentech, part of Swiss drug maker Roche Group, had argued that Avastin should remain available while it conducts more research to see if certain groups of patients might benefit from the drug. Ms Hamburg encouraged Genentech do those studies


Credulous woman makes scurrilous accusations against parents who feed kids fast food

She believes official pronouncements -- despite their changeability. The first thing my son learned to say was his McDonald's order and he had negligible health problems and is now a perfectly fit and healthy young man

SOME popular kids' fast food has almost triple the recommended levels of saturated fat and twice the salt. The findings prompted The Biggest Loser trainer Michelle Bridges to liken parents who fed their children excessive fast food to child abusers.

The Herald Sun can reveal that the worse fast-food companies are McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. Some of their children's meals are more than 1000 kilojoules above levels recommended for children to eat in one sitting. Some of their meals have more saturated fat and salt in one serve than children aged four and eight are supposed to eat in an entire day.

The NSW Cancer Council assessed the nutritional composition of 199 children's meals from six fast-food chains: Chicken Treat, Hungry Jack's, KFC, McDonald's, Oporto and Red Rooster. It found the younger the child, the greater the difference between recommended and actual levels. For example, for four-year-olds, the average meal from McDonald's and Hungry Jack's had three times the recommended saturated fat.

All chains except McDonald's had meals with too much sugar, and all chains had meals with almost double the recommended salt levels. Healthier options were meals with water, milk or juice, small amounts of chicken nuggets or wraps.

One in four Australian children and 43 per cent of teenagers eat fast food at least once a week.

Ms Bridges said she was "not anti-fast food" but condemned parents who regularly fed children junk. "When you look at the low nutritional value of what some parents feed kids regularly, it's like child abuse," Ms Bridges said. "It's highly addictive and changes a kid's tastebuds, so that's what they crave instead of healthy food. "Some parents and their kids get takeaway every night - they don't even need to read the drive-through menu, they know it by heart."

Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said the solution was not to criticise parents, but promote fruit, vegetables and salad in such meals. "There also needs to be easy nutrition information at the point of sale and traffic-light labels to make decision-making easier," Ms Chapman said.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's said parents, "often swap in healthier options to suit their children - over a third of every Happy Meal sold includes a healthier choice".


Friday, November 18, 2011

Drinking water does not stop dehydration??????

"Dehydration" MEANS lack of water

Drinking water does not ease dehydration, the European Union has ruled – and anyone who disagrees faces two years in prison.

The decision – after three years of discussions – results from an attempt by two German academics to test EU advertising rules which set down when companies can claim their products reduce the risk of disease. The academics asked for a ruling on a convoluted statement which, in short, claimed that water could reduce dehydration.

Dehydration is defined as a shortage of water in the body – but the European Food Standards Authority decided the statement could not be allowed.

The ruling, announced after a conference of 21 EU-appointed scientists in Parma and which means that bottled water companies cannot claim their product stops people’s bodies drying out, was given final approval this week by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Yesterday, Tory MEP Roger Helmer said: ‘This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it.’

Under British law, advertisers who make health claims that breach EU law can be prosecuted and face two years in jail.

The decision was being hailed as the daftest Brussels edict since the EU sent down laws on how bendy bananas should be. UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said: ‘I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. ‘It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma, where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.’

He added: ‘Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they could get into serious legal bother. ‘This makes the bendy banana law look positively sane.’

This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it. - TORY MEP ROGER HELMER

However the Parma gathering ruled: ‘The panel considers that the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim.’ It declared that shortage of water in the body was just a symptom of dehydration. [Then what is it a symptom of??]

Dr Andreas Hahn and Dr Moritz Hagenmeyer of the Institute for Food Science and Human Nutrition at Hanover Leibniz University said they were unhappy but not surprised. ‘We fear there is something wrong in the state of Europe,’ Professor Hahn said.

He added that the academics had been trying to test the working of EU food and advertising rules. ‘It was free of charge, there was no apparent red tape attached and it gave food business operators, whom we regularly advise, a chance to advertise their products in a new way,’ he added. ‘We thought we should give it a try and see what would happen.

‘But over almost four years, it became clear that the procedure was anything but straightforward. Any company depending on the claim would long have gone out of business.

What is our reaction to the outcome? Let us put it this way: We are neither surprised nor delighted.’ He said: ‘The European Commission is wrong; it should have authorised the claim. That should be more than clear to anyone who has consumed water in the past, and who has not?’


Nanny state disapproval: Manipulating your diet through taxation

Twenty-six states intrude on our nutritional decisions by taxing soda at a higher rate than other groceries, and seventeen states do the same for candy. As if that were not bad enough in “the land of the free,” legislators continue to push for new and heftier taxes in this realm, with new soda taxes pending in fourteen states.

A new report from the Tax Foundation, “Overreaching on Obesity,” (PDF) has compiled data on the status and consequences of state-led taxes on sweets. In doing so, it lays waste to both the moral and economic arguments of these overbearing sin taxes.

Tax proponents claim to be addressing an epidemic of obesity, which increased from 13 percent to 34 percent of the population between 1962 and 2008. But that argument falls flat, because the purported epidemic is nothing of the sort.

As highlighted in the comedic documentary Fat Head (2009) over the last five decades, the U.S. population has aged markedly — with the median age going from 29.5 years in 1960 to 37.2 years in 2010 — and as people age, they tend to gain weight.

An older population, while it may tend to be heavier, does not translate into a less healthy one. In fact, overweight people, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Body Mass Index classifications, actually have longer lifespans than those classified as normal.

The BMI formula for obesity, which considers only height and weight rather than body-fat percentage, is also embarrassingly inaccurate. As Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation notes, the CDC’s BMI classification describes athletes such as Tom Brady as overweight, and actors such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as obese.

In Fat Politics, Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago notes that the CDC is eager for funding, and weight-loss industry leaders, seeking grants and customers, also have a perverse incentive to promote a fallacious trend of epidemic proportions.

Furthermore, impositions that seek to change people’s diets imply ignorance on the part of consumers and exploitation by retailers.

But even if we accept the obesity claims at face value for the sake of argument, an attack on obesity is not a legitimate role of government — at least if we are to retain any respect for individual liberty.

Sin-tax proponents seek to justify their demands with the allegation that obese people swell our hospitals and cause Medicaid and Medicare costs to skyrocket. Shouldn’t they be made to pay for the burden they generate? There are so many problems with this frequently repeated logic that one hardly knows where to start. First, obese or overweight people do not generate medical costs for others. Elected officials impose socialized medicine on a population, and that collectivizes costs and places a moral hazard on unhealthy behavior. One wrong, the imposition of socialized medicine, does not justify another wrong, further violations of our liberty.

Then, when elected officials do intervene with taxes to recoup the costs of socialized medicine, they do so haphazardly and with counterproductive results. (The latest health-care reform also impedes the ability of insurers to use price differentiation.)

Although such taxes may generate revenue, they are fraught with definitional problems. In Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, for example, sweetened beverages with anything less than 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice are subject to the soda tax. On the other hand, Colorado and New Jersey do not classify chocolate bars as candy if they contain flour, so Kit Kat and Twix are exempt.

Regardless of definition, though, experience suggests that people either continue to buy as before or substitute with alternatives that may be even more calorie dense. All the while, the taxes disproportionately burden the poor, because they spend a greater proportion of their income on groceries. These taxes also punish healthy people who happen to consume candy or soda in small amounts.

Insofar as some people may suffer from poor health, it is a matter of personal responsibility. And if you don’t like your tax money going to people whom you believe have been irresponsible, oppose the spending itself; don’t try to control their lives.