Monday, September 10, 2012

Drinkers in soft water areas at higher risk of liver disease, warns  surgeon

In the absence of a journal reference, the report below is hard to evaluate   -- but given that a previous large and well-controlled study ("Magnesium in drinking water supplies and mortality from acute myocardial infarction in north west England") showed NO protective effect of magnesium, the speculations and proposals  below would seem incautious

People who live in areas with soft water are more likely to develop  alcoholic liver disease (ALD) than those elsewhere, according to one of the world’s most eminent specialists.

Professor Roger Williams wants the Government to medicate the water supply to combat the effects after his research revealed the danger.

A paper co-authored by Prof Williams, who helped carry out the  UK’s first liver transplant in 1968 and was George Best’s surgeon, found those living in soft-water areas may be more at risk because of lower levels of magnesium. The mineral can help to protect the liver from alcohol.

It is the first time a link between water softness and the disease has been established.

The study examined hospital admissions in 28 English regions between 2003 and 2006.

The six areas with soft water – Lancashire, Birmingham, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, the South West and County Durham – had rates of alcoholic liver disease 21 per cent above the national average.

But the 13 areas with hard water – including South London, Essex, Shropshire and Staffordshire – had rates 13 per cent below the average.

The research may also explain why rates of the disease in Scotland are almost double those in England, despite average alcohol consumption being approximately the same. Most water is soft north of the border.

While the call to add protective magnesium to the water supply will be controversial, there is increasing concern at a deteriorating health  situation.

Liver-disease deaths in England as a whole have risen to record levels. Prof Williams, director of the Institute of Hepatology, said: ‘We have never understood why some people will consume large amounts of alcohol and be unscathed while others drink more moderately and develop ALD.

‘These results suggest for the first time that the water supply may be a significant factor in explaining this anomaly. Perhaps we should supplement the water supply with magnesium.’

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust charity, said: ‘Treating the water supply would be controversial but, if explained properly to the population, I think most people would say, “If it’s protecting the health of my liver then what’s the problem?” ’

However, campaigners who have opposed adding fluoride to the water supply are likely to oppose any proposed new measure.

John Graham, spokesman for the National Pure Water Association, said: ‘This sounds like nonsense. Why would we want to dose all of the water and all of the population for a tiny number of people who have a problem with alcohol?

‘Recommending supplements for those at risk seems much more sensible.’

The content of drinking water is affected by local geology and the minerals that seep into it.


Evolution could explain the placebo effect: Human immune system has developed on-off mechanism to save energy

The explanation below does not seem to acknowledge the power of suggestion generally

Scientists have discovered a possible evolutionary explanation for the placebo effect with new evidence suggesting the immune system has an on-off switch to save energy.

People who suffer from a weak infection often recover whether they take a medicinal drug or a simple sugar pill - which suggests humans can heal themselves.

But this has begged the question why people need to wait for the placebo before the recovery process from an infection begins.

According to the New Scientist, researchers have now found that something similar to the placebo effect occurs in animals, after studying Siberian hamsters.

If lights above the hamsters laboratory cages mimicked winter, they found the hamsters would not fight the infection.   However, if the lighting was changed to replicate summer conditions, the hamsters mounted a full immune response.

Similar to this, people who think they are taking medicine to treat an illness, but are actually receiving a placebo, can see a response from their immune system twice that than people who take no pills.  The evidence shows that intervention causes a mental response which kicks the immune system into action.

According to Peter Trimmer, a biologist at the University of Bristol, there is an explanation for this.

He suggests that the immune system uses up lots of energy when it is in action. So an animal's energy reserves could be severely depleted if the immune system launches a long response to an illness.

If the infection is not likely to causes death, it could be better to wait and see that fighting the illness will not put the animal in other dangers.

Evidence from a computer model designed by Mr Trimmer and his colleagues now supports this evidence.

It found those animals which live in more challenging environments were food was harder to find, they lived longer if they put up with infections rather than launch a response from their immune system.

However, for those animals living in much more favourable conditions, it was better for them to launch a response from their immune systems so they return to health quicker.

This is because in better conditions they have more access to food which provides energy to sustain an immune response.


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