Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chicago adults could be forced to give up energy drinks

Are adults responsible enough to choose whether or not to consume energy drinks? Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke doesn’t seem to think so. He introduced a proposal recently to prohibit sales of highly caffeinated energy drinks to anyone in Chicago, regardless of their age. Lawmakers in Chicago and elsewhere have sought similar bans only for minors and young adults. Burke’s proposal shocked many and has some asking, who has the right to tell adults what they can or can’t drink?

Burke’s ban proposal, perhaps an exercise in one-upmanship, follows a similar idea floated by Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas last month to ban energy drink sales to those under age 21. Cardenas called his proposal a conversation starter intended to bring attention to the alleged dangers posed by energy drinks. Burke seems to be engaging in that conversation, but taking it to an undesirable conclusion.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released data on adverse event reports since 2004 for three of the most popular energy drinks on the market. The reports, filed by consumers or their doctors, detail some serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems, including convulsions, heart attacks, and death after consuming energy drinks. Some of the reports are of mild events like sneezing, throat irritation, and crying. What none of these reports show is evidence linking any of the users’ health problems to the consumption of energy drinks. According to the FDA’s own statement, the reports do not prove that the drinks were the cause of or even related to the health events.

Yet, that didn’t stop some Chicago Aldermen from proposing knee-jerk bans in the city, nor did it stop Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) from calling for a ban on the sale of energy drinks nationwide. While these lawmakers may believe the drinks are harmful, there is no real evidence to support their belief.

Even if there were some connection between energy drinks and health problems, one one would expect to see many more than the 145 adverse events reported to the FDA, 18 of which were deaths (one of those was a suicide), considering the millions of cans sold in the U.S. every year.

Moreover, while there have been recent reports of a spike in energy drink-related hospitalizations, those numbers are more likely a result of increasing media attention and the likelihood of people consuming energy drinks at the time of their hospitalization being counted toward the total. The increasing popularity of mixing energy drinks with alcohol is bound to lead to a greater number of hospitalizations in which energy drink consumption is involved, regardless of the drinks’ inherent qualities or actual role in the patient’s hospitalization. Meanwhile, reports about the supposed dangers of energy drinks may prompt patients and doctors to report their use more than in previous years.

Even if there were a genuine increase in the number of hospitalizations related to energy drink consumption, it does not demonstrate the drinks’ inherent dangerousness, given that the number of energy-drink related hospitalizations is small in comparison to the millions of drinks sold in the U.S. every year.

As noted, Alderman Cardenas has said that his proposal was intended to inspire a “conversation” over the regulation of energy drinks. While we can’t know what the motivations of these lawmakers are, (perhaps they are interested in eliciting funds from drink makers) it’s clear that they will not be satisfied with a calm and fact-based discussion of the issue.

Whatever the motives of the bureaucrats, lawmakers, and self-styled “public health” advocates who call to ban or restrict certain products, their proposals are bad policy in every context. In effect, they are saying that adults are not smart or responsible enough to make their own decisions over whether and how to consume certain products. Any product can be dangerous depending on each individual’s health status and how much they consume. Ultimately, it should be up to each individual person to determine what is best for him or herself. If energy drinks pose any danger to health, allowing government officials to make our choices for us is a far greater threat to liberty.


Ratty "scientist" calls for caffeine to be a regulated substance

That coffee sure is bad gear

Noting the rise of caffeine-related deaths in recent years, the editor-in-chief of Journal of Caffeine Research has condemned the “regulatory vacuum” in the United States.

Jack E. James, a professor at Reykjavik University in Iceland and the National University of Ireland, argued in an editorial published Monday that researchers and lawmakers alike need to take a look at caffeine-related deaths and near-deaths.

“In 1911, acting on authority vested by the recently enacted Food and Drug Act, agents in the United States seized quantities of Coca-Cola syrup because they considered the caffeine content to be a significant threat to public health,” he wrote. “Following lengthy legal proceedings, Coca-Cola agreed to decrease the caffeine content of the drink, and further legal action ceased.”

“Armed with improved knowledge of caffeine toxicity and faced with extensive evidence of substantial harm to public health, today’s authorities appear more perplexed and less decisive than their counterparts of more than a century earlier,” James continued. “In light of current international befuddlement and inaction, legislators, policy makers, and regulators of today confront a stark question — how many caffeine-related fatalities and near-misses must there be before we regulate?”

Energy drinks in particular have received attention in recent years for their high caffeine content. The Food and Drug Administration has opened an investigation of deaths that may be linked to consumption of 5-hour Energy and Monster, two popular energy drinks. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has reported that energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled over four years, rising from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011.

James said the high caffeine content of energy drinks and the fatalities were not a “mere coincidence.” The established lethal dose of caffeine is quite high at 10 grams, but the common stimulant can be fatal at lower doses under certain circumstances. Anecdotal reports suggest those with heart conditions are particularly vulnerable.

“Risk of fatal and non-fatal harm due to caffeine poisoning is increased by several characteristics of the drug and the circumstances surrounding its use, including its generally unregulated availability to children and adults alike,” James wrote.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NYT has orgasm over latest Mediterranean diet study -- but orgasm fades half way through the article (justifiably)

The NYT article is here and the NEJM article is here.  The title in the NEJM is "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet" by Estruch et al.  I would normally reproduce one of the articles concerned but I don't think either is worth reading, unless for amusement

I feel sorry for Estruch et al.  They really put a big effort into their study but their findings must be disappointing to them. But they made the best of a bad job and managed to get a report into NEJM.  That NEJM published it reflects badly on NEJM, though.

To cut immediately to the most spectacular failure.  As the NYT admits, the existing evidence for benefit from a Mediterranean diet is mainly that a Mediterranean diet reduces heart disease.  That is the big marching song of the diet.  So guess what?  Estruch et al. found that (I quote): "In fully adjusted analyses, we found significant results for the combined cardiovascular end point and for stroke, but not for myocardial infarction alone."  BONG!  End of story.  The diet does NOT reduce heart attacks.  The study found exactly the opposite to what Estruch et al. and the NYT wanted.

I don't know if I should go on about other hilarity in the study. Sampling is the great weakness of most medical research and so it was here too.  The group studied here were elderly Spaniards with health problems.  I could find no mention of sampling in the article so we do not know if the results are even generalizable to all  elderly Spaniards with health problems, let alone generalizable to anyone else.

And quite bizarre was the control group used:  A similar group on a low-fat diet!  The authors report that compliance was poor in the low fat diet but some effect of that regimen can surely not be ruled out.

And the logic of calling the low-fatters the normals is bizarre.  It grieves me that I have to mention it but in Spain, a Mediterranean diet is normal.  Though the prevalence of a more "American" diet among the young (not in the current "sample") must be acknowledged.  So the (marginally) higher death-rate among the low-fatters, shows that low-fatters die younger than normals.  Fat is good for you!   GAACK! Another nasty one for the food freaks.

I could go on (weak correlations etc.) but enough is enough.  This is already one of the most amusingly misreported pieces of research I have seen.  I dare NEJM to offer me the chance of putting up a full and sober  critique of their ridiculous publication.  I have had many critiques published in  academic journals in my time so would be eminently qualified.

Dubious soya products

Soya was marketed as a wonder food, the Orient’s remedy for the West’s health problems.

However, the health virtues attributed to soya were soon challenged by researchers.

In 2006, for example, an American Heart Association review of a decade-long study of soya’s supposed benefits cast doubt on the ‘heart healthy’ claims and concluded that soya did not reduce hot flushes in women or help prevent cancer.

A study at Massachusetts General Hospital’s infertility clinic in 2008, where men were asked to consume various soya products, including tofu, veggie burgers, soya milk and protein shakes, found ‘higher intake of soya foods is associated with lower sperm concentration’.

The jury is out on the long-term health impact of eating soya, but there are reasons to be wary.

Soya beans contain naturally occurring toxins. These include phytic acid, which reduces our ability to absorb essential minerals, such as iron and zinc, and might therefore cause mineral deficiencies, and trypsin inhibitors, which impair the body’s capacity to digest protein.

These toxins are also found in other foods, such as chickpeas and wheat, but at lower levels.

Processing soya is designed to substantially reduce or remove these toxins, but traces may remain.

Soya also contains isoflavones — potent plant compounds that mimic the female hormone, oestrogen.

In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific panel dismissed claims made by the soya industry that isoflavones helped hair growth, eased menopause symptoms, supported heart health and protected cells against oxidative damage.

It concluded a cause-and-effect relationship between consumption of soya products and health benefits ‘had not been established’.

Meanwhile, there have been suggestions that, far from being protective, eating too much soya protein can be harmful because of its hormonal effect.

In 2003, the UK government’s Committee on Toxicity identified three groups where evidence suggested there might be a potential risk from consuming large amounts of soya: babies fed on soya-based formula, people with an under-active thyroid and women diagnosed with breast cancer.

But the industrial nature of soya protein manufacture also raises concerns.

While some soya foods, such as tofu, miso, soya milk and yoghurt, are lightly processed, pure soya proteins — the sort you might find in a veggie sausage or vegan cheese — are commonly extracted by washing soya flour in acid in aluminium tanks.

This raises the possibility that aluminium, which is bad for the brain and nervous system, can leach into the product.

Another potential concern is the chemical solvent hexane — a component in glue and cement — is used to extract the oil from soya beans. It is known to poison the human nervous system.

Through repeated exposure, people can develop neurological problems similar to those experienced by solvent abusers.

The soya industry claims only trace residues of hexane find their way into the finished product.

Processing also frees up glutamic acid from the soya, a substance that can trigger allergic reactions.

Soya is one of the eight most common food allergens, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A further issue with many soya products is not the soya itself, but what is added to it.

As soya protein is pale, odourless and almost taste-free, many manufacturers rely on sweeteners, artificial flavourings, salt and colourings to make their products more appealing.

Soya protein is almost taste-free, so many veggie products need a host of sweeteners, artificial flavourings, salt and colourings to make them appealing.

For instance, this is the ingredients list for Tesco’s meat-free burgers: water, textured soya protein (12 per cent), egg white, onion, vegetable oil, textured wheat protein (3.5 per cent), flavouring, onion puree, soya protein concentrate (2 per cent), dried egg white, stabiliser (methyl cellulose), pea protein, potato starch, yeast extract, garlic powder, onion powder, barley malt extract.

So the irony is that in trying to avoid meat, vegetarians may be buying products with as many additives and industrialised ingredients as are found in cheap, processed meats

But can soya really be so bad when Asian populations have been eating it for centuries, with no apparent problem?

It’s true that popular ingredients such as soy sauce and miso feature prominently in oriental cuisine.

But the soya in these products, when traditionally prepared, has been fermented, using time- honoured methods.

These involve soaking the beans, adding natural bacteria to encourage fermentation and a lengthy ageing process.

All this helps neutralise toxins in the beans.

So traditionally made, fermented soya foods are a different animal from modern soya proteins, which are produced using a fast-track chemical method.

Asian cultures also include soya in their diets in a different way from those in the West. Asian people don’t drink pints of soya milk each day as we do (think of all those soya lattes you hear people ordering in coffee shops).

Nor do they rely on soya as their main protein source.

In China, a vegetable dish containing a small amount of tofu would be just one element in a meal that featured meat or fish, and lots of veg.

We are far from fully understanding the impact of modern soya protein consumption.

As this ingredient has been in our diet for only three decades, there is no track record of safe use.

But while we await the answer, it may be wise to be cautious.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bloomberg's ban prohibits 2-liter soda with your pizza and some nightclub mixers

Take a big gulp, New York: Hizzoner is about to give you a pop.

Nanny Bloomberg unleashes his ban on large sodas on March 12 — and there are some nasty surprises lurking for hardworking families.

Say goodbye to that 2-liter bottle of Coke with your pizza delivery, pitchers of soft drinks at your kid’s birthday party and some bottle-service mixers at your favorite nightclub.

They’d violate Mayor Bloomberg’s new rules, which prohibit eateries from serving or selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Bloomberg’s soda smackdown follows his attacks on salt, sugar, trans fat, smoking and even baby formula.

The city Health Department last week began sending brochures to businesses that would be affected by the latest ban, including restaurants, bars and any “food service” establishment subject to letter grades.

And merchants were shocked to see the broad sweep of the new rules.

“It’s not fair. If you’re gonna tell me what to do, it’s no good,” said Steve DiMaggio of Caruso’s in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. “It’s gonna cost a lot more.”

And consumers, especially families, will soon see how the rules will affect their wallets — forcing them to pay higher unit prices for smaller bottles.

Typically, a pizzeria charges $3 for a 2-liter bottle of Coke. But under the ban, customers would have to buy six 12-ounce cans at a total cost of $7.50 to get an equivalent amount of soda.

“I really feel bad for the customers,” said Lupe Balbuena of World Pie in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Domino’s on First Avenue and 74th Street on the Upper East Side is doing away with its most popular drink sizes: the 20-ounce and 2-liter bottles.

“We’re getting in 16-ounce bottles — and that’s all we’re going to sell,” a worker said.

He said the smaller bottles will generate more revenue for the restaurant but cost consumers more.  It will also trash more plastic into the environment.

Deliveryman Philippe Daniba said he had brought countless 2-liter bottles of soda to customers over his 19 years at the restaurant. The ban, he said, “doesn’t make sense.”

Industry-group officials agreed.  “It’s ludicrous,” said Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “It’s a sealed bottle of soda you can buy in the supermarket. Why can’t they deliver what you can get in the supermarket?”

Families will get pinched at kid-friendly party places, which will have to chuck their plastic pitchers because most hold 60 ounces — even though such containers are clearly intended for more than one person.

Changes will be made at the Frames bowling alley in Times Square, where 26-ounce pitchers are served at kids’ parties, said manager Ayman Kamel.

“We’re going to try to get creative,” he said, noting drinks with 100 percent juice are exempt from the ban.

“We’re figuring out a way to have freshly squeezed juice for the birthday parties. We might have to raise the price about a dollar or so.”

Dallas BBQ at 1265 Third Ave. will retire its 60-ounce pitchers and 20-ounce glasses, manager Daisy Reyes said.  “We have to buy new glasses,” she said. “We’re in the process.”

And if you’re looking for a night of bottle service at a Manhattan hot spot, be warned: Spending $300 on a bottle of vodka no longer entitles you to a full complement of mixers.

If you get bottle service at a city nightclub or restaurant, you cannot also get a carafe of cranberry juice like the one hostess Maggie is serving up here at Le Souk Harem in the West Village. Tonic water and other beverages are also limited, even though they are only used as mixers.

The carafes in which mixers are typically served hold 32 ounces, and the most common mixers — sodas, cranberry juice and tonic water — will be limited. Only water and 100 percent juice will be unlimited.

“Oh, my God. Seriously?” said Lamia Sunti, owner of the swanky West Village club Le Souk Harem. “It’s not like one person is going to be drinking the whole carafe. It’s silly.”

The rules are hard to unravel.

Alcoholic drinks and diet sodas are not subject to the ban, nor are fruit smoothies if they don’t have added sweetener, or coffee drinks and milkshakes if made with 50 percent milk.

But what about drinks with small amounts of added sugar? Vendors must determine if the beverages have more than 3.125 calories per ounce.

But they should double-check their math: Violations cost $200 each.


Gene Therapy Cures Diabetes In Only One Shot -- but you have to be  a dog

Five lucky diabetic beagles have been cured of their canine type 1 diabetes using gene therapy, according to research published in the February issue of Diabetes.

Researchers from Barcelona's Universitat Autonoma previously found the therapy effective in treating mice, but this is the first time gene therapy - when a patient's DNA is supplemented or changed to treat a disease - has proven successful in curing diabetes in large animals. Gene therapy encodes a functional gene to replace a mutated one, or inserts DNA that produces a therapeutic protein to treat a disease.

In this case, the dogs were injected with two extra genes that together form a "glucose sensor" that can regulate glucose uptake and reduce excessive glucose levels in the blood.

Four years later, the dogs that received both genes had no symptoms of diabetes and stabilized glucose levels. They recovered a normal body weight and didn't exhibit any secondary complications.

Both genes seem to be necessary for the treatment to work, though, as dogs that received only one of the genes stayed diabetic.

It's not uncommon for dogs to develop type 1 diabetes, in which a lack of insulin leads to an increase in glucose levels. While the canine version of the disease has similar effects to its human counterpart, this experiment may not exactly mirror how the treatment might work in humans - according to New Scientist, the dogs' pancreatic cells were destroyed by a chemical, whereas in humans with type 1 diabetes, pancreatic cells are killed by the body's immune system.

After further dog testing, the researchers hope to study how the treatment affects humans. And hopefully the post-diabetic pups get a sweet treat in reward.


Monday, February 25, 2013

The cure for arthritis? Fish oil AND aspirin, if you are a mouse

Fish oil and aspirin could be the key to beating a host of devastating chronic diseases, according to new research.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston found that the two work together to combat the inflammation responsible for a host of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

Both aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids from fish are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on their own, but the research shows that when taken together they can control the overactive immune responses associated with long-term illnesses.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and foreign bodies.

When something harmful or irritating affects a part of the body, there is a biological response to try to remove it, and the symptoms of inflammation show that the body is trying to heal itself.

But if the person suffering has a high-fat diet, too much body fat or is a smoker, for example, the may not be a break from the irritants, so the immune system can lose control, increasing risk of disease.

Long-term, inflammation can become chronic which can then damage heart valves and brain cells, causing strokes and promoting resistance to insulin, which leads to diabetes.

It is also associated with the development of cancer.

Aspirin is used by millions of people to keep heart attacks and strokes at bay. The drug is used to thin the blood, which reduces the risk of clots.

It works by helping to trigger the production of molecules called resolvins that are made naturally by the body from omega-3 fatty acids.

These resolvins 'resolve', the inflammation that underlies the health conditions which blight the lives of millions.

Omega-3 is found in oily fish, particularly salmon and sardines, as well as chicken, nuts, kale and spinach as well as vegetable oils.

One resolvin called D3 was found to have an especially long-lasting anti-inflammatory effect.

The researchers said: 'In this report, we found that one resolvin, termed D3 and from omega-3 fatty acid, persists longer at sites of inflammation than either resolvin D1 or resolvin D2 in the nat­ural resolution of inflammation in mice.

'This finding suggests that this late resolution phase resolvin D3 might display unique properties in fighting uncontrolled inflammation.'

The researchers also confirmed that aspirin triggered the production of a longer-acting form of resolvin D3 through a different pathway.

The team were able to produce a pure form of both resolvin D3 and aspirin-triggered resolvin D3.

When administered to human cells, both of these showed highly potent anti-inflammatory actions.

The research was published in the journal Chemistry & Biology.


How vitamin pills 'can raise risk of cataracts' as hidden danger of everyday supplements is revealed

Again.  But correlational data only

Taking vitamin pills in high doses can significantly increase the risk of cataracts, a study has shown.

Scientists found consuming large amounts of vitamin C made individuals 20 per cent more likely to develop the condition – which is a leading cause of blindness.

And regularly popping high-dose vitamin E tablets increased the chance of cataracts  forming by 60 per cent.

The dangers are even greater for the elderly, with those over 65 nearly doubling their chances of damaging their vision if they took the supplements every day.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm monitored 31,000 volunteers aged between 45 and 79. Nearly 3,000 of them went on to need treatment for their eyes.

The Swedish team discovered a strong link between those that developed cataracts and those who took high doses of vitamin C and E.

Eating a healthy vitamin-rich diet did not increase a patient’s chance of getting the condition.

It was originally thought the two vitamins would protect against cataracts because they are powerful antioxidants.  It was supposed that they would fight the process of oxidation, which destroys cells in much the same way as rust rots a car. However, it is now believed that, in large quantities, vitamin C may actually cause oxidation by upsetting  the natural balance of proteins in the eye.

The human body does not make or store vitamin C, and gets its supply from fruit and vegetables. It only needs 40mg a day to keep cells healthy and promote healing. Vitamin E helps maintain the structure of cells and is found in foods such as nuts, seeds and cereals.

A man needs just 4mg a day and a woman should have 3mg.  But tablets containing up to a hundred times this amount are also available in UK health food shops.

At high street chain Holland and Barrett a jar of 250 capsules can be bought for £8.99. Each pill contains 1,000mg of vitamin C.

Researchers stressed the dangers will only arise if the vitamins are taken in very large amounts. These were defined as 1,000mg a day of vitamin C and 100mg of vitamin E.

In a report on their findings, they said: ‘Our results further underscore the need to consider use of unregulated supplements with caution.’

However Professor Yit Yang, from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: ‘It is not possible to establish from this study that vitamin C caused cataracts, as there may be other factors which were not accounted for.

‘In 2010, a randomised control trial designed to investigate  specifically for causative effect  of high-dose vitamin C did not find one.’

At the moment, nearly a quarter of adults in the UK regularly take antioxidant supplements or multivitamins.

They are relied on to help ward off a huge range of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Red wine  may  prevent HEARING LOSS 

Resveratrol is a gigantic fad but mostly seems to work in rodents  -- and usually using gigantic doses at that. And even in mice it doesn't prolong life.  In humans see, for instance,  Eric Sijbrands, of Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, who led a series of studies which failed to replicate the findings of heart benefits from taking resveratrol.  Resveratrol is poorly absorbed by the human body.  The pharmaceutical company Sirtris halted the last of its clinical trials of resveratrol in 2010

It has long been touted as the tipple with a host of health benefits, said to protect against conditions such as heart disease and dementia.  Now scientists say red wine may also protect against hearing loss, too.

It's thought that the chemical resveratrol, found in red grapes and red wine, is the reason why.

This is the same compound that has been linked with other positive health benefits such as preventing cancer and heart disease.

In a study conducted at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, healthy rats were less likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss when given resveratrol before being exposed to loud noise for a long period of time.

Study leader Dr Michael Seidman said: 'Our latest study focuses on resveratrol and its effect on the body's response to injury - something that is believed to be the cause of many health problems including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, ageing and hearing loss.

'Resveratrol is a very powerful chemical that seems to protect against the body's inflammatory process, as it relates to ageing, cognition [brain function] and hearing loss.'

Hearing loss affects half of people over the age of 60, but many begin to suffer problems in their 40s or 50s.

It usually sets in with the death of tiny 'hair' cells in the inner ear as a result of ageing.

The study found that resveratrol reduced noise-induced hearing loss in rats exposed to potentially deafening sounds.

Dr Seidman said: 'We've shown that by giving animals resveratrol, we can reduce the amount of hearing and cognitive decline.'

The study is published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.


Just say don’t: Doctors question routine tests & treatments

 Now there are 135.  That's how many medical tests, treatments and other procedures - many used for decades - physicians have now identified as almost always unnecessary and often harmful, and which doctors and patients should therefore avoid or at least seriously question.

The lists of procedures, released on Thursday by the professional societies of 17 medical specialties ranging from neurology and ophthalmology to thoracic surgery, are part of a campaign called Choosing Wisely. Organized by the American Board of Internal Medicine's foundation, it aims to get doctors to stop performing useless procedures and spread the word to patients that some don't help and might hurt.

"Americans' view of healthcare is that more is better," said Dr Glenn Stream, a family physician in Spokane, Washington, and board chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, which has identified 10 unnecessary procedures. "But there are a lot of things that are done frequently but don't contribute to people's health and may be harmful."

In a particular case, even a procedure that provides no benefit to the vast majority of people might be appropriate. That's why the physicians emphasize that they are only advising against routine use of the usually unnecessary tests and therapies.

For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics says physicians "should question" CT scans for kids' minor head injuries or abdominal pains, which usually don't improve diagnoses and raise the risk of cancer. But if doctors suspect something unusual, a scan may be in order.

For the most part, the medical specialty groups did not consider cost when they made their lists. If their advice is followed, however, it would save billions of dollars a year in wasteful spending, said Dr John Santa, director of Consumer Reports' Health Ratings Center and a partner in Choosing Wisely.

One large medical group with 300,000 patients, Santa said, calculated that following the Choosing Wisely advice on just two procedures, superfluous EKGs (electrocardiograms) and bone-density scans, would reduce its billings by $1 million a year. Nationally, that translates into some $1 billion in savings.

The medical specialty groups each came up with five procedures to "question," but most of the items begin with an emphatic "don't." The targeted procedures range from the common to the esoteric.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Coffee is good/bad for you

The two studies below offer an amusing dilemma, it seems to me.  One hopes that nobody takes either of them very seriously

Coffee linked to birth of smaller babies: Mothers-to-be who drink more than two mugs a day increase risk

Mothers-to-be who have two or more mugs of coffee a day risk having an underweight baby, research suggests

Coffee may also make pregnancy last longer - but only by a matter of hours.

The observations come from researchers who studied detailed records of almost 60,000 pregnancies from a ten-year period in Norway.

The records included information about how often the women had foods or drinks containing caffeine, from tea and coffee to chocolate sandwich spread and bars of chocolate.

Comparing this with details of their baby revealed a clear link with caffeine and birth weight, with 200 to 300mg a day raising the odds of the child being classed as small for the length of the pregnancy by up to 62 per cent.

A mug of instant coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine, and a mug of filter coffee, around 140mg of caffeine.

However, some drinks sold in high street coffee shops contain as much as 300mg per cup.

In Britain, as in Scandinavia, pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 200mg a day.

Coffee, specifically, was found to be linked with increasing the length of pregnancy, with a daily mug of instant coffee lengthening the time the baby is in the womb by eight hours.

Unlike some previous studies, the research did not make a link between caffeine and premature birth.

Researcher Dr Verena Sengpiel, of the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden, said that caffeine may hurt the growth of the unborn baby by slowing the vital passage of nutrients from mother to baby via the placenta.

Writing in the journal BMC Medicine, she added that coffee may make increase the length of pregnancy by a matter of hours by interfering with the chemical signals that occur around the onset of labour.

Dr Euan Paul, of the British Coffee Association, said: ‘The UK Food Standards Agency carefully analysed and thoroughly reviewed the effects of caffeine during pregnancy and currently recommends that pregnant women moderate consumption to an upper safe limit of 200mg / day - two to three cups of coffee.

‘Switching to decaf during pregnancy is also an option for those who wish to continue drinking coffee.

‘We welcome more research into this important area so that the associations found in this study can be further explored.’

Annette Briley, consultant midwife for the baby charity Tommy’s, said: ‘Being born small can lead to catch-up growth and this in turn can lead to obesity, diabetes and certain cancers in adult life.

‘While women do need to be mindful and remember that caffeine is found in tea, chocolate, other sweets and soft drinks - as well as coffee - we would suggest further research into the effects of coffee is required.

‘Additional care should however be taken when buying coffee in retail outlets as the caffeine content varies between many companies. If women are worried, they should seek advice from their GP or Tommy’s midwives for the best advice.’

In 2011, Glasgow University researchers warned that pregnant women could unwittingly be putting their the health of their unborn baby at risk by drinking coffee from high street cafes.

Their analysis of espressos from 20 coffee shops found huge variations in the amount of caffeine, with the strongest having more than six times as much as the weakest.

Drinks from four cafes had more than the 200mg daily limit recommended for pregnancy and one coffee contained more than 300mg.


Three cups of coffee a day in middle age could add YEARS to your life

Drinking coffee can add years to your life, scientists have discovered.

A study of almost half a million older people showed that the risk of death decreased the more cups they consumed.

Too much caffeine used to be considered unhealthy, but the study found that the more coffee consumed, the less likely people were to die from heart and respiratory disease, stroke, injuries, accidents, diabetes and even infections.

Enjoying coffee in middle age could have significant health benefits and increase lifespan

Enjoying coffee in middle age has been shown to offer significant health benefits

Dr Neal Freedman, of the National Cancer Institute in the United States - where the research was done - said drinking two or three cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of an early death by 10 to 15 per cent.

But he added that drinking more than two to three cups were of little benefit, because those who drank more - up to six cups -  did not seem to reap any more benefits.

The participants, aged 50 to 71, were followed for 12 years and revealed a clear trend.

Dr Freedman said the main obstacle to coffee drinkers who wanted to increase their longevity was smoking.

'In our study, the participants who drank coffee were far more likely to smoke cigarettes, which is a very strong risk factor for death,' he said.

He added that coffee drinking is associated with many behaviours linked to poor health such as drinking too much alcohol, excessive red meat consumption and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

'All of those risk factors are usually associated with increased risk of death, which they were in our study too,' he added.

The research did not discover how coffee reduced mortality and Dr Freedman and his colleagues have called for more studies to identify the chemicals in caffeine that may stave off certain conditions.

'Coffee could be [working by] affecting blood pressure,' he said.'It is possible that different compounds in the coffee are important, too.'

Dr Freedman added that it was difficult to ascertain whether normal coffee was any more beneficial than the decaffeinated variety.

The study was published in the Journal of Caffeine Research.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Milk and sugary foods DO increase the risk of acne, say researchers who looked at 50 years of research

No search of the journal site brings up an article that resembles the story below but there appears to be  no new data here:  Just a conviction that the standard studies are wrong

It's been a subject of debate for decades, but it seems diet really does have an impact on a person's complexion.

A landmark overview of research carried out over the past 50 years has found that eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) and drinking milk not only aggravated acne but in some cases triggered it, too.

Millions of teens - and increasingly adults - are affected by the often painful skin condition which causes the skin to develop unsightly spots on the face, neck, chest and back.

Acne is caused by a combination of the skin producing too much sebum and a build-up of dead skin cells which clogs the pores and leads to a localised infection or spot.

It is thought that excess sebum production is caused by hormonal fluctuations, which explains why around 80 per cent of teenagers experience bouts of acne throughout adolescence.

While there is no danger from the spots themselves, severe acne can scar as well as lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

Since the late 19th century, research has linked diet to acne, with chocolate, sugar and fat singled out as the main culprits.

But studies carried out from the 1960s onwards have disassociated diet from the development of the condition.

Dr Jennifer Burris from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University, said: 'This change (in attitude) occurred largely because of the  two important studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne.

'More recently, dermatologists and registered dieticians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment.'

Milk is thought to affect acne because of the hormones it contains. A 2007 study carried out by Harvard School of Public Health found that there was a clear link between those who drank milk regularly and suffered with acne.

Interestingly, those who drank skimmed milk suffered with the worst breakouts, with a 44 per cent  increase in the likelihood of developing blemishes. It is thought that processing the milk increases the levels of hormones in the drink.

The authors of the latest overview - published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - say that dermatologists and dieticians should work together to design and conduct quality research to help the millions of acne sufferers.

'This research is necessary to fully understand the underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne,' added Dr Burris.

'The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne. At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counselling.'


Eating chips more than once a week raises the risk of prostate cancer by a third

Probably just a social class effect

Men who eat fried foods more than once a week may increase their risk of prostate cancer by a third.

New research suggests that junk food staples such as chips, fried chicken, battered fish and doughnuts may play a significant role in the formation of aggressive and life-threatening forms of the disease.

Although previous studies have suggested poor diet can affect a man's chances of getting prostate cancer, this is the first to indicate that deep-fried convenience foods in particular pose such a big danger.

Results published in the journal The Prostate found snacking on deep fried foods at least once a week appeared to increase the risk of cancer by between 30 and 37 per cent compared to men who claimed to eat them less than once a month.

Nearly 40,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it - the equivalent of more than one an hour.

The risks increase with age, with men over 50 more likely to develop a tumour, and there is a strong genetic element to it.

As with some other types of cancer, diet is thought to be a key factor in the development of the disease.

Last year, for example, a study found a diet rich in oily fish could slash a man's chances of dying from prostate cancer by up to 40 per cent, possibly because fish oil contains anti-cancer properties which slow the growth of malignant cells.

Previous studies have shown that eating foods cooked at a very high heat, such as grilled meats, could raise the risk of a tumour.

But given the level of consumption of deep fried take away foods in the UK, the latest findings suggest these are a much bigger threat to male health.

The market for fast-foods and takeaways in the UK is thought to be worth over £9 billion and is growing at an average of five per cent a year.

Experts at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle analysed data from two studies involving a total of 1,549 men diagnosed with prostate cancer and another 1,492 men of similar age and profile who were in good health.

All the participants, who were aged from 35 to 74, completed detailed questionnaires on their eating habits.

The researchers then made allowances for other factors that could influence the men's chances of getting prostate cancer, such as their weight, age, whether they had a family history of the disease and their racial background - as disease rates are higher among Afro-Caribbean communities.

They were then able to calculate the extent to which eating chips, chicken or doughnuts at least once a week affected cancer risk.

'This is the first study to look at the association between intake of deep-fried foods and risk of prostate cancer,' said Dr Janet Stanford, who led the research.

'The link appeared to be limited to the highest level of consumption - defined in our study as more than once a week.

'This suggests that regular consumption of deep-fried foods confers a particular risk for developing prostate cancer.'

The exact reason why favourites like chips and fried chicken might exacerbate cancer risk remains unclear.

One theory is that when cooking oil is heated to the kind of temperatures needed for deep frying, potentially carcinogenic compounds can form in the food.

One is called acrylamide, often found in chips or French fries. Others include two groups of chemicals called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can form in meat cooked at high temperatures.

Deep-fried foods are also very high in potentially harmful compounds called advanced glycation endproducts.

These have been linked with causing inflammation and cancer-like degradation of cells in the body.

A chicken breast deep fried for 20 minutes contains nine times the amount of these materials as a chicken breast boiled for an hour.

Cancer Research UK said it was too early to say for certain if there is a link between deep fried foods and prostate cancer.

Oliver Childs, senior science communication officer, said: 'It's clear that a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre and low in red meat and salt is better for overall health than one packed full of greasy fast food.

'But from this study alone, we can't be certain if there's a link between fried food and prostate cancer.'

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK said: 'Although this study does indicate a small association between eating deep fried food regularly and increased prostate cancer risk, the results relied on asking men to recall how often they had eaten these foods in the previous three to five years.'


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hilarious:  Fluoride reduces your IQ

Journal abstract below.  They found an effect due to fluoride of less than one IQ point  -- which is well within the error of measurement.  The fluoride freaks never give up.  That the toxicity is in the dose is beyond their comprehension

"Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"

By Anna L. Choi et al.


Background: Although fluoride may cause neurotoxicity in animal models and acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults, very little is known of its effects on children’s neurodevelopment.

Objective: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies to investigate the effects of increased fluoride exposure and delayed neurobehavioral development.

Methods: We searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, Water Resources Abstracts, and TOXNET databases through 2011 for eligible studies. We also searched the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) database, because many studies on fluoride neurotoxicity have been published in Chinese journals only. In total, we identified 27 eligible epidemiological studies with high and reference exposures, end points of IQ scores, or related cognitive function measures with means and variances for the two exposure groups. Using random-effects models, we estimated the standardized mean difference between exposed and reference groups across all studies. We conducted sensitivity analyses restricted to studies using the same outcome assessment and having drinking-water fluoride as the only exposure. We performed the Cochran test for heterogeneity between studies, Begg’s funnel plot, and Egger test to assess publication bias, and conducted meta-regressions to explore sources of variation in mean differences among the studies.

Results: The standardized weighted mean difference in IQ score between exposed and reference populations was –0.45 (95% confidence interval: –0.56, –0.35) using a random-effects model. Thus, children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas. Subgroup and sensitivity analyses also indicated inverse associations, although the substantial heterogeneity did not appear to decrease.

Conclusions: The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment. Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment.



The patients prescribed up to 25 different drugs a day with devastating results

This is alarmingly common.  When people go into hospital, they usually take their normal medications with them.  So when I went into hospital last year at age 68, my medications should have come with me.  Excerpt there weren't any.  I practice skepticism as well as preach it. A nurse who looked into my medication cupboard said it was the only empty one she had ever seen.  The hospital was a top private one so nearly all the patients were older people

Jean Smith felt as if a thick fog had descended on her brain as once again she found herself having to re-read sentences three times so she understood what they meant.

‘Even when I talked I struggled to find the right words,’ recalls Jean, a 63-year-old former civil servant, who lives in Liverpool with her husband, Kenneth, 58, a factory supervisor.

‘I told Kenneth the same things over and I never knew what the day was.  'I just couldn’t think clearly and was worried I was beginning to lose it.’

She was also sleeping more than usual.

In fact, Jean’s brain was absolutely fine — the real problem was the dozens of medications she’d been prescribed by her GP.

Jean was on a cocktail of more than 25 pills, patches and creams a day, from an anti- hypertensive drug for high blood pressure to painkillers for arthritis.

The prescriptions had increased during a 15-year period.

‘The effects built up gradually as my prescriptions escalated. I felt I was under a chemical cosh,’ recalls Jean.

‘To be fair, my GP is pretty good at checking up on how I get on with new drugs — the problem is like most people I just wasn’t aware that some of the symptoms I had were actually side-effects  of drugs.’

But last November, after Jean experienced dizzy spells and sudden low blood pressure, her doctors and GP decided to reduce her drugs down to just nine.

‘They were unsure whether my symptoms were linked to a new medical condition or were a symptom of drug interactions. It actually turned out to be a combination of both.’

For although the bad news was that Jean had another problem — an autoimmune condition affecting her adrenal glands — coming off some of her drugs actually cured her memory problems.

‘I can think clearly again and I’m not forgetting things,’ she says happily. ‘I don’t feel like I’m drugged up to the eyeballs any more.’

Jean is one of a growing number of patients in the UK on a daily cocktail of drugs to treat medical conditions, prevent others and increasingly, to deal with the side-effects of prescribed medication (in other words, the drugs they are given for their genuine ailments in turn create symptoms).

The annual number of prescriptions per head of population has increased from 11.9 in 2001 to 18.3 per person in 2011.

Most of this increase has been in prescribing for the elderly. Almost half the over-65s have three chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. It’s quite common for this age group to be taking eight to 12 different types of medication daily.

Taking lots of different prescription pills and medicines — known as polypharmacy — is a major issue for this age group, says Dr Chris Fox, consultant old age psychiatrist at  the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia.

Experts warn the problem is partly due to prescribers being too quick to medicate — without always checking what other medication the patient is already on. As we shall see, GPs are also effectively incentivised to put patients on pills.

Elderly patients often don’t know why they are on so many drugs, says Dr Trisha McNair, specialist in medicine for the elderly at Milford Hospital, Surrey: ‘One GP friend of mine says she had a patient who kept all her pills on a huge glass bowl on the kitchen table and just took a random handful when she  was passing.’

Dr McNair says she often sees patients who are on between 12 and 20 different types of medication, including pills, sprays and creams.

The problem with polypharmacy is that the more drugs you take, the more likely you are to experience side-effects that are then misinterpreted by the healthcare practitioner as a symptom of disease that needs treating with additional medicine, explains Dr Fox.

‘Many older people on beta-blockers for blood pressure, for example, will report depression.’

This could be because depression is a known side-effect of beta-blockers.

But some patients may not need the beta-blockers at all — the problem is the drug then slows down their heart too much and it is this that makes them tired and depressed.

‘This may lead to them being prescribed anti-depressants they don’t need.

'Others who are on statins might suffer from muscle pain and this may mean they need painkillers, which may then have more side-effects, including gastric problems, which then necessitate more drugs.

‘A lot of these drugs do prevent illness, it’s true, but there is often a price to pay in terms of side-effects.’

It’s not just that the drugs can cause side-effects — there’s also the problem of them interacting with each other.

‘A big part of our workload is sorting out whether these patients’ symptoms are an illness or a result of drug interactions,’ says Dr McNair.

This task is not helped by the fact that drugs are not tested on patients who are on multiple pills for different conditions, adds Dr Fox.

‘I was always taught that if you take more than three drugs at a time you can expect interactions — but these days it’s not unusual for the over-65s to be on five or more different drugs for three or more chronic health conditions. No one really knows what the cumulative effects of this are yet.

‘Although GPs use computerised prescribing systems that should flag up drug interactions, they may also write paper prescriptions on home visits and not have access to this, so the system is not infallible,’ says  Dr Fox.

The elderly are more at risk of drug side-effects because their metabolism is slower, meaning drugs build up in their systems, he adds.

Dr Fox recently published research that suggested commonly prescribed anticholinergic drugs — used for treating movement disorders, incontinence and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — are associated with cognitive decline in the elderly and an increased risk of death.

An estimated 20 to 50 per cent of all over-65s are being prescribed at least one anti-cholinergic drug, and while the effects of some are small, their cumulative effects may cause significant mental deterioration in older people who already have some cognitive problems, warns Ian Maidment, a senior lecturer at Aston University’s School of Pharmacy and joint author of the study.

‘Doctors can definitely do more harm than good by prescribing too many drugs — GPs are ideally placed to take a holistic view of the patient’s overall health, but they are hard-pressed.

‘And sometimes the patient is under four or five different specialists and it can be hard for GPs to find out why a patient has been prescribed a particular drug, so they tend to leave them on it.’

‘We need more research into poly-pharmacy to see what the effects are. It requires a co-ordinated response from community pharmacists, patients and their carers too.’

There is an added problem with patients self-medicating with over-the-counter drugs and herbal  remedies, says Dr Fox.

Tackling polypharmacy can make a significant difference, as Jean Smith discovered.

Her experience is borne out by an Israeli study in 2010 that found that when the elderly patients in a nursing home were taken off some of their medication (under supervision), 88 per cent reported improvements in their overall health.

Fifty-six of the 70 participants reported improvements in their cognitive health.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MS: Lawmakers say no to local food regulation

No one's trying to take away supertanker-sized soda drinks in Mississippi, but state lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to make sure they never do.

House Bill 1182 would prohibit counties and cities from creating food regulations such as requiring nutritional labeling at restaurants, banning junk foods and keeping toys out of meals.

Food regulations that promote healthful eating have gained traction in cities like New York. There, Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced regulations capping soda sizes and requiring chain restaurants to display calorie information on menus.

Rep. Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, said during a House debate Wednesday that he doesn't want municipalities making food regulations "willy nilly."

"If you want to go eat 20 Big Macs, you can eat 20 Big Macs," Holloway said.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, opposed the bill, saying local governments should have the freedom to try new approaches to fight obesity.

"Given that Mississippi is the fattest and most unhealthy state in the USA, I don't think we should take a tool away from them if they should choose to use it," Scott said.

Heather McTeer Toney, former mayor of Greenville, told The Associated Press that the bill takes away communities' ability to tackle health problems.

"This is not indicative of what the people of Mississippi want," she said in a phone interview.

At a Chick-fil-A in downtown Jackson on Wednesday, customer Shelton Gates said he likes nutrition labeling on menus.

"I would agree with it being mandatory," Gates said. "I don't think it would hurt to know to make sure I don't stray too far off course."

Rita Kelly, a homemaker from Natchez also eating at the restaurant, said she would appreciate the labeling but wouldn't support local governments regulating soft drink sizes.

"I drink water so it wouldn't be a problem for me, but I don't think it would be right to do that," Kelly said.

The bill would still allow the state to impose new regulations. But given the hearty reception House members gave to a speech by Rep. Jerry Turner, that doesn't seem likely the near future.

"This is all about free enterprise, the state of Mississippi and people being able to make a choice in their own life," said Turner, R-Baldwyn.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a similar measure, Senate Bill 2687, to prevent local laws requiring food labeling.

The two chambers will exchange bills and must agree on a single version before anything could go to the governor.


Shoppers who buy organic food are LESS likely to be helpful to other people, study claims

Self-obsession is not exactly surprising in this group but this is student data only

Buying organic foods may make you less likely to show kindness to others, researchers claim.

This is because using organic products makes people feel more secure about themselves, weakening the urge to act unselfishly, says US psychologist Dr Kendall Eskine.

It also makes them judge immoral behaviour more harshly, his team reports in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

But comfort foods can lead to us being more social and making kinder moral judgments.

The study, at Loyola University in New Orleans, used 62 students in three groups.

One was given pictures of organic produce, another images of ice cream, cookies, chocolate and brownies, and a control group pictures of porridge, rice, mustard and beans.

They were then all asked their views on six moral transgressions ranging from a politician taking bribes to a student stealing books from a library.

When they thought the study had finished, the students were told that a professor in another department was looking for volunteers willing to spare 30 minutes without any reward.

The students who were exposed to organic fruit and vegetables agreed to spare an average 13 minutes to help the professor.

The study found that people who were exposed to organic food were willing to set aside an average 13 minutes to help others compared with 25 minutes from those who viewed comfort food such as chocolate

However, the students who saw the comfort food were happy to set aside 25 minutes compared with 20 minutes from those in the third group, which looked at oatmeal and rice.

Dr Kendall Eskine and colleagues, who wrote the paper 'Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals?' in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, said that people were more willing to help after eating something sweet.

In contrast, those that taste something disgusting had tougher moral judgments.

The psychologists wrote: 'The possibility is that those who simply purchase organic products will be less likely to engage in other meaningful acts of environmental protection.

'Although organic products are indubitably environmentally sound and ethical choices, perhaps milder, more subtle advertisements could help promote the beneficial qualities of these products without inadvertently inducing moral licensing in its consumers.'


Monday, February 18, 2013

The usual suspects do some publicity whoring over sugary drinks

"Consumer group" would be more accurately be called an "anti-Consumer group"

Soda and other sugary drinks have unsafe levels of high-fructose corn syrup or other added sugars, a consumer group says, and it's urging the government to determine a safe level to reduce Americans' "dangerously high sugar consumption."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition today with the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to identify a safe level for added sugars in beverages.

The petition is supported by a letter signed by 41 nutrition scientists and physicians and the public health departments of 10 major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle.

A diet high in high-fructose corn syrup and added sugars is linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gout and tooth decay, says CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson. About two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the USA are overweight or obese.

On average, people are downing 18 to 23 teaspoons of added sugars a day — about 300 to 400 calories, he says. There are about 355 calories in 22 teaspoons. Every teaspoon has about 16 calories.

"Sugary beverages provide almost half the sugars we consume," Jacobson says. A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda has about 16 teaspoons of sugar from high-fructose corn syrup, he says.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugars a day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for women.

Added sugars come in the form of table sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (in soda), maple syrup, dextrose, honey and molasses. Added sugars make their way into lots of processed foods and beverages, from soda, sweet tea and lemonade to energy drinks and sports drinks.

The FDA classifies high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and other added sugars as "generally recognized as safe," Jacobson says. "But at these levels they are being used, these ingredients are not safe. They are harmful. The FDA has an obligation to review the safe consumption of sugars and set safe levels."

Although the petition did not propose a specific safe level, and there are "no magic numbers" for that, Jacobson says several health agencies have identified 2 to 3 teaspoons (10 grams) of added sugars as the safe limit in a healthier drink.

"We're not asking for a ban. We are not saying they are a poison," he says.

Beverage companies can use natural non-caloric sweeteners and sweetness enhancers instead, Jacobson says.

Not so fast, others say. "If we start blaming one component of the diet for something as complicated as obesity, I think that's a slippery slope," says James Rippe, a cardiologist who studies nutrition and fitness. He has researched high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose with grants from companies and organizations that use or make both.

"It's emotionally attractive to blame added sugars for obesity, but if we go in this direction, it will prevent us from looking at the total diet to solve obesity. Even if we made drastic cuts in the amount of added sugars in our diet, I believe people would find other ways of over-consuming calories."

J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in a statement: "As we continue to debate the root causes of our nation's obesity issue, we need to rely on science and facts, not look for quick fixes that draw focus away from developing real solutions to a complex problem. All foods can fit into a healthy diet if consumed in moderation combined with physical activity."

The American Beverage Association, an industry group, said in a statement that "Everyone has a role to play in reducing obesity levels — a fact completely ignored in this petition. This is why the beverage industry has worked to increase options and information for consumers. Today, about 45% of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have zero calories, and the overall average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23% since 1998."

Plus, the group adds: "Americans are consuming 37% fewer calories from sugar in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than in 2000."

The consumer group's petition also says the FDA should encourage the food industry to voluntarily reduce added sugars in baked goods, breakfast cereals and frozen desserts. The group wants a separate line for "added sugars" on the Nutrition Facts label on products.

The consumer group is also calling for an education campaign. "Consumers should and could be doing a lot more for their own health," Jacobson says. "They should look for foods lower in sugar; drink water instead of soda and not eat a one-pound serving of cake."

Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who signed the letter of support for the petition, says that "setting standards and limits on added sugar levels would make a significant impact on the health of Americans, 40% of whom consume at least 400 calories a day of added sugar from beverages."

Walter Willett, head of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, adds, "Reducing sugar won't solve all our health problems, but decreasing intake, especially in the form of soda, is one of the most important steps we can take to reverse the epidemics of obesity and diabetes."

Tamara Ward, a spokeswoman for the FDA, says when a petition is filed, the agency reviews it and responds directly to the petitioner.


Pouring granulated sugar on wounds 'can heal them faster than antibiotics'

Certainly interesting

Too much sugar may be bad for the waistline, but it could help doctors heal the sick.

New research shows folk medicine from Africa may hold the key to treating wounds that defy modern medicine.

A study found granulated sugar poured directly into bed sores, leg ulcers and even amputations promotes healing when antibiotics and other treatments have failed.

The study is headed by Moses Murandu, a senior lecturer in adult nursing at Wolverhampton University, who grew up in Zimbabwe where his father used sugar to heal wounds and reduce pain when he was a child.

Sugar draws water from the wound into a dressing - bacteria needs water to survive - which allows accelerates the healing process, or kick starts it where progress has stalled.

When Mr Murandu moved to the UK he realised that sugar was not recognised as a traditional medicine that had something to offer.

One of the patients receiving treatment as part of the research is Alan Bayliss, from Birmingham, who was being treated at Moseley Hall Hospital’s amputee rehabilitation ward.

He underwent an above the knee amputation on his right leg due to an ulcer at the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital Birmingham in January 2013, and as part of the surgery a vein was removed from his left leg.

For his post-surgery rehabilitation, Mr Bayliss was moved to Moseley Hall Hospital where standard dressings were used but the left leg cavity wound was not healing effectively.

Nurses contacted Mr Murandu and Mr Bayliss was given the sugar treatment and within two weeks the wound had drastically reduced in size.

Mr Bayliss, a 62-year-old electrical engineer, said ‘It has been revolutionary. The actual wound was very deep - it was almost as big as my finger

‘When Moses first did the dressing he almost used the whole pot of sugar, but two weeks later he only needed to use 4 or 5 teaspoons.

‘I am very pleased indeed. I feel that it has speeded up my recovery a lot, and it has been a positive step forward.

'I was a little sceptical at first but once I saw the sugar in operation and how much it was drawing the wound out, I was impressed.’

Staff Nurse Jonathan Janneman said: ‘One of the main benefits has been the morale of the patient. He could see the cavity in his leg as well as having been unwell and through operations.

‘But the sugar has given something to hold on to. It is amazing that something as simple as sugar has given him a morale boost - the psychological benefit is up there with the physical benefits.

'The patient is ecstatic with the results.’ Mr Murandu is undertaking a trial at three West Midlands hospitals - Moseley Hall, the QE Hospital and Manor Hospital in Walsall - into using the sugar paste.

So far 35 patients receiving treatment have seen their condition improve, with no adverse effects reported, compared with 16 patients who did not have the treatment.

The treatment works because bacteria need water to grow, so applying sugar to a wound draws the water away and starves the bacteria of water. This prevents the bacteria from multiplying and they die.

Mr Murandu said pure sugar was used which had to go through infection control procedures.

He said ‘In Africa we would get the sugar from the supermarket, here it has to go through our aseptic services department.

‘The only problem we have is asking people to be prepared not to get the treatment - they have already been on standard treatment of antibiotics and modern dressings which hasn’t worked.’

Mr Murandu, who has won an innovation award for his research, said: ‘It is very pleasing for me to see the results, especially now that the nurses are able to take over and administer the treatment after I have made the initial assessment, and also that the patients are experiencing the benefits.

‘I believe in the sugar and the nurses and doctors who see the effects are beginning to believe in it too. I’d like to thank the University and the School of Health and Wellbeing for their support and also the patients for taking part.’


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Circumcision reduces sexual pleasure

It makes sense but it is subjective data only.  No actual measurements performed

Men who are circumcised are in for some bad news - it puts them at a disadvantage in the bedroom, according to experts.

A study found those who've had their foreskin removed as children or adults experience less intense sexual pleasure and orgasm than their peers.

'We're not saying less sexual activity or satisfaction, but sensitivity,' senior author Dr Piet Hoebeke, from Ghent University Hospital, said.

The practice is common in the U.S, with three-quarters of men having the procedure for non-religious reasons. However, it is rare in the UK, with a rate of just six per cent, according to World Health Organisation figures.

Some religions, such as Judaism and Islam, consider circumcision part of religious practice.

British doctors say that although it can reduce the risk of some types of infection the risks associated with routine circumcision outweigh any potential benefits.

The latest study surveyed 1,369 men over the age of 18, who responded to leaflets handed out in train stations across Belgium.

The men were asked whether they were circumcised, and were then asked to rate how sensitive their penis was, how intense their orgasms were and whether they experience any pain or numbness when they are aroused.

Overall, 310 men who took the survey were circumcised, and 1,059 were not. Each rated how sensitive their penis was on a scale from 0 to five, with higher numbers being the most sensitive.

For example, uncircumcised men reported an average sensitivity score of 3.72 when they or their partner stroked the head of their manhood  compared to 3.31 amongst circumcised men.

'It's a significant difference,' Hoebeke said.  Uncircumcised men also reported more intense orgasms.

One possible explanation for any potential difference in sensitivity is that a man's foreskin may protect his penis's head from rubbing against underwear and clothing. It's possible, the researchers write, that friction makes the head of the penis thicker, drier and ultimately less sensitive.

The researchers also found circumcised men were more likely to report more pain and numbness during arousal than uncircumcised men, which Dr Hoebeke said is likely due to scar tissue.

'I'm amazed that people report pain during sexual pleasure… that was unexpected,' he told Reuters Health.

However, Dr Aaron Tobin from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study, said: 'The medical evidence and the benefits of male circumcision are abundantly clear.'

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks, but stops short of recommending universal circumcision.


Pregnant women who take folic acid could reduce their child's risk of autism by 40%

Correlations only.  It could be that mothers who took folates were more middle class and so had healthier children

Women who take folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy may reduce their child’s risk of autism by 40 per cent, a study found.

But mothers-to-be should start taking them four weeks before conceiving and eight weeks afterwards to get the full benefit for their unborn child.

The timing of taking prenatal supplements is critical, scientists warn.

Folic acid - Vitamin B9 - is required for DNA synthesis and repairs. It’s naturally occurring form, folate, is found in leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, beans, eggs, yeast, and liver.

Folic acid is known to protect against spina bifida and other neural tube defects in children but the latest research, which looks at more than 85,000 babies born in Norway between 2002 and 2008, shows that it may offer protection against Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Epidemiologist Pel Surin of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said: 'We examined the rate of autism spectrum disorders in children born to mothers who did or did not take folic acid during pregnancy.

'There was a dramatic reduction in the risk of autistic disorder in children born to mothers who took folic acid supplements.'

Since 1998 the Norwegian health authorities recommended that all women planning to become pregnant take a daily supplement of folic acid from one month before the start of pregnancy.

Scientists looked at the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study and its sub-study of autism, the Autism Birth Cohort Study in which 85,176 babies born between 2002 and 2008 participated.

In the study, published Journal of the American Medical Association, expectant mother’s dietary habits were recorded and families were regularly surveyed for three to 10 years to measure the development of autism spectrum disorders.

A total of 270 cases of autism spectrum disorders were identified in the study population - 114 autistic disorder; 56 Asperger syndrome; and 100 atypical or unspecified autism, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

The study found mothers who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40 per cent reduced risk of having children with autistic disorder compared with mothers who did not take the supplement.

The reduction in risk for autistic disorder - the most severe form - was observed in those who took folic acid from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy.

No reduction in risk was observed for atypical or unspecified autism while for Asperger syndrome the number of children was too low to obtain sufficient evidence.

The study found the use of folic acid in early pregnancy increased substantially from 2002, 43 per cent, to 2008, 85 per cent, among women who participated in the Norwegian research.

However, many women began taking folic acid later than recommended, and only half started before the beginning of pregnancy

The researchers also analysed whether the risk of autistic disorder was influenced by the use of other dietary supplements, such as cod liver oil and omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins and minerals, but found not link.

In recent years, researchers have started to investigate whether folic acid has other beneficial effects on the development of the foetus’ brain and spinal cord.

A study of language development in the Norwegian cohort published in 2011 showed that children whose mothers took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had only half the risk of severe language delay at age three years compared with other children.

A separate 2011 study from the University of California demonstrated a lower risk of autism spectrum disorders in children of mothers who had used prenatal vitamin supplements during pregnancy.

Prenatal vitamin supplements contain folic acid in combination with other vitamins and minerals.

Professor of Epidemiology Ezra Susser at Columbia University added: 'Our findings extend earlier work on the significance of folate in brain development and raise the possibility of an important and inexpensive public health intervention for reducing the burden of autism spectrum disorders.'


Friday, February 15, 2013

Cutting salt could save 20,000 lives each year in UK

This is just assertion (no new data) that ignores a lot of evidence (See sidebar)

Reducing the amount of salt in our diets could save nearly 20,000 lives in the UK every year, according to researchers.

Doctors say deaths from heart disease would fall dramatically if consumers paid attention to food labels.

Yet most Britons have no idea how much salt they consume or what the maximum recommended levels are.

The recommended maximum daily intake for adults is 6g in the UK, although just last month the World Health Organisation revised this down to 5g.

Yet according to figures from the British Heart Foundation, men consume around 9.7g a day, while women have 7.7g.

Now researchers at three universities, including Harvard Medical School, have revealed the dramatic effect reducing salt could have on death rates by using computer models.

They estimated that reducing salt intake to 6g (or 2,300mg of sodium) would save 500,000 to 850,000 lives in the U.S over the next decade.

'No matter how we look at it, the story is the same – there will be huge benefits in reducing sodium,' said study author Dr Pam Coxson, from UCSF.

The British consumer group Consensus Action on Salt & Health said reducing the UK's daily intake to 6g could save around 17,500 deaths from heart attacks and strokes a year.

British GP Ian Campbell, medical director of charity Weight Concern, told Mail Online: 'Salt is a big problem in the UK too. It's a silent killer. Over time consuming too much of it increases the risk of high blood blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

'About 80 per cent of our salt intake comes from processed foods, so it can be difficult to avoid.

'Many people are unaware of where salt is hidden, such as bread, soups, ready meals, even breakfast cereals and mayonnaise.

'The Government approach has been to encourage food manufacturers to modify the amount of salt in their products. There has been a reduction but it is taking too long. The Food Standards Agency should consider setting mandatory maximum levels for salt.'

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, added: 'Eating too much salt may raise your blood pressure and having high blood pressure increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease.

'The Government has worked with the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in our food and make labels clearer. But there is still work to be done by everyone because the majority of Brits are still consuming more salt than they should be.'


Protect your bones and wreck your heart?

More doubts about supplements  -- but the evidence is correlational only

Women with high calcium levels are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease than those with ‘normal’ levels, scientists warn.

New research adds to evidence that calcium supplements could be doing more harm than good in people with adequate intakes by overloading the body.

Hundreds of thousands of women over 50 take supplements for preventing osteoporosis, or thinning bones.

But the latest research shows women with calcium intakes at least double the recommended level are at high risk of death from all causes, particularly cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden studied 61,443 Swedish women aged 50 and over for an average of 19 years, including their calcium intake from diet and supplements.

Average intake among those with lowest levels was 572mg per day (the equivalent of five slices of cheese), rising to 2,137mg per day among those consuming most.

Results showed that over the 19 years, 11,944 women (17 per cent) died: 3,862 of these (32 per cent) died from cardiovascular disease, 1932 (16 per cent) from heart disease and 1100 (8 per cent) from stroke.

The highest rates of all-cause, cardiovascular and heart disease were observed among those with a dietary calcium intake higher than 1400mg per day.

In addition, researchers observed higher death rates among women with an intake below 600mg per day.

Women whose daily calcium exceeded 1400mg and also used supplements had a higher death rate than those not taking supplements - the risk was double compared with a daily intake of 600-999mg.

The Food Standards Agency recommends adults have 700mg of calcium a day, which should come from dietary sources including milk, cheese and green, leafy vegetables.

Researchers claim the way supplements increase the levels of calcium circulating in the blood appears to have a ‘flooding’ effect which might be harmful.

Dietary calcium taken in small amounts is absorbed slowly, and efforts should be made to boost intake in people eating too little, they say.

There have been conflicting results from past research, with some studies finding high calcium intakes increase the risk of heart death among men and women while others have failed to show a link.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Drinking three cups of tea a day can keep you mentally alert in old age

Cripes!  Britain  must  be full of alert oldies!  Just more correlational nonsense below

It's the national drink that millions of us turn to when we need a pick-me-up.  But tea does far more than just help to wake us up. Scientists say the traditional cuppa can keep the mind sharp into old age.

And the benefits of drinking as little as one to three cups a day in staving off mental decline are especially pronounced among women.

In one study, of almost 1,500 men and women in Singapore, drinking more than four cups a day cut the odds of memory failing by three-quarters.

Even just one to three cups of Ceylon tea a day had an effect, cutting the odds of cognitive decline by 43 per cent.

It is thought compounds in tea may protect against the poisons that ravage the brain in Alzheimer’s.

Possibilities include theanine, a plant chemical found only in tea and in mushrooms.

Experts in the US analysed several studies on the effect of caffeinated drinks on memory and mental alertness. The thousands of men and women who took part logged how often they drank tea or coffee and did a memory test that is used in the initial stages of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.

Up to ten years later, they resat the test and any fall in score was noted.

The brain stayed sharper in those who drank tea in all the studies that included the drink, the journal Advances in Nutrition reports.

A study which tracked 4,000 Americans for almost eight years suggested tea to be of particular benefit to women.

The University of California researchers who reviewed the studies said the weaker results for coffee mean caffeine is unlikely to be responsible for the cognitive benefits.

Britons drink 165 million cups of tea every day  – making it more than twice as popular as coffee.

Jessica Smith of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘There is building evidence linking a cuppa and a reduction in cognitive decline.

‘However, we are a long way from being able to say for sure a regular brew will reduce your risk of developing dementia.

‘The best way to reduce your risk is to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and not smoke.’


Peer Review failure: Science and Nature journals reject papers because they “have to be wrong”

Mouse studies discredited

The peer review system has decayed to the point where the culture of the two “top” science journals virtually  guarantees they will reject the most important research done today. It is the exact opposite of what we need to further human knowledge the fastest. Science and Nature are prestigious journals, yet they are now so conservative about ideas that challenge dominant assumptions, that they reject ground-breaking papers because those papers challenge the dominant meme, not because the evidence or the reasoning is suspect or weak.

Watts Up drew my attention to an extraordinary paper showing that billions of dollars of medical research may have been wasted because researchers assumed mice were the same as men. Dr Ronald W. Davis from Stanford comments: ““They are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.” He found that 150 drugs were tested that in hindsight, were guaranteed to fail in humans.

People didn’t understand that mice have a very different response to sepsis (which is any overwhelming blood-borne bacterial infection). Sepsis kills around 200,000 people in the US each year and costs an estimated $17 billion a year. Mice are already resistant to huge numbers of bacteria in their blood whereas humans overreact, our capillaries leak, our organs run short of blood, mass organ failure ensues, and we can die. While mice may have an answer to deadly sepsis (how do they resist it?) we weren’t looking for that in our experiments, we were testing drugs on mice that were never going to help us. Now we understand why.

The editors must be kicking themselves now. But what a classic case study of the way the peer-review-establishment responds to a contentious idea. Here was information that could potentially save lives that was dismissed and delayed for the most unscientific of reasons.

     "The study’s investigators tried for more than a year to publish their paper, which showed that there was no relationship between the genetic responses of mice and those of humans. They submitted it to the publications Science and Nature, hoping to reach a wide audience. It was rejected from both."

The data was described as persuasive, robust, and stunning. Yet both prestigious journals tossed the drafts out. The best excuse they can give is that they reject lots of papers. Oh, well that’s ok then…

    "Science and Nature said it was their policy not to comment on the fate of a rejected paper, or whether it had even been submitted to them. But, Ginger Pinholster of Science said, the journal accepts only about 7 percent of the nearly 13,000 papers submitted each year, so it is not uncommon for a paper to make the rounds."

    Still, Dr. Davis said, reviewers did not point out scientific errors. Instead, he said, “the most common response was, ‘It has to be wrong. I don’t know why it is wrong, but it has to be wrong.’ ”

If you do revolutionary work, send it somewhere else

My advice to scientists with groundbreaking results is not to even submit papers to Nature or Science any more. If the information you have is important and will ruffle feathers (and what groundbreaking research doesn’t?) why delay it? There are plenty of alternatives:

    "The investigators turned to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a member of the academy, Dr. Davis could suggest reviewers for his paper, and he proposed researchers who he thought would give the work a fair hearing. “If they don’t like it, I want to know why,” he said. They recommended publication, and the editorial board of the journal, which independently assesses papers, agreed."

The clues were there all along — mice often live in filthy conditions and eat food that would make us sick:

    "Yet there was always one major clue that mice might not really mimic humans in this regard: it is very hard to kill a mouse with a bacterial infection. Mice need a million times more bacteria in their blood than what would kill a person."

    “Mice can eat garbage and food that is lying around and is rotten,” Dr. Davis said. “Humans can’t do that. We are too sensitive.”

If researchers had questioned their assumptions twenty years ago, how many lives might have been saved? Perhaps it would only have made a few years difference — because genetic techniques were used (and they were so basic 20 years ago) and the study took ten years in any case. But for twenty years money and brain-power were used to study drugs that were never going to work. Imagine what else we could have learnt?

It’s a reminder that the wrong assumptions can kill despite years of hard work, good intentions and honest research. What is science if is not constantly testing the base assumptions? It’s a faith-based-project.

Anyone who claims peer-reviewed research is rigorous has some kind of delusional faith that humans aren’t human.

Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inflammatory diseases

By  Junhee Seok et al.


A cornerstone of modern biomedical research is the use of mouse models to explore basic pathophysiological mechanisms, evaluate new therapeutic approaches, and make go or no-go decisions to carry new drug candidates forward into clinical trials. Systematic studies evaluating how well murine models mimic human inflammatory diseases are nonexistent. Here, we show that, although acute inflammatory stresses from different etiologies result in highly similar genomic responses in humans, the responses in corresponding mouse models correlate poorly with the human conditions and also, one another. Among genes changed significantly in humans, the murine orthologs are close to random in matching their human counterparts (e.g., R2 between 0.0 and 0.1). In addition to improvements in the current animal model systems, our study supports higher priority for translational medical research to focus on the more complex human conditions rather than relying on mouse models to study human inflammatory diseases.