Monday, September 30, 2013

The vegetarian crusade continues

Most people like meat so that has to be WRONG!

The data below is just correlational.  Maybe middle class people are more susceptible to the vegetable siren song and they live longer anyway

Many people struggle to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but new research suggests that even those who do manage it should be doing more.  The Spanish study revealed that people who eat seven-a-day live, on average, for more than a year longer than those who do not.

The research revealed that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is particularly protective against heart disease.

Researchers at the Andalusian School of Public Health’s Granada Cancer Registry analysed 25,682 deaths among 451,151 people over a 13 year period, Science Daily reports.

They found that people who ate more than 569 grams of fruit and vegetables – seven portions – a day were 10 per cent less likely to die and lived, on average, 1.12 years longer than those who ate less than 249 grams a day.

The study also suggested that for every 200 gram increase in consumption, mortality risk falls by six per cent.

Therefore, the researchers believe that almost three per cent of deaths could be prevented if everyone ate six or seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Previous research has also shown that if everyone ate their recommended daily allowance of fruit and vegetables, the number of people with chronic diseases would fall and the risk of early death would fall by 10 to 25 per cent.

‘There is now sufficient evidence of the beneficial effect of fruit and vegetable consumption in the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases,’ lead author María José Sánchez Pérez told Science Daily.

‘For this reason, one of the most effective preventative measures is promoting their consumption in the population.’

The study also established that people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables are 15 per cent less likely to develop heart disease.

More than four per cent of heart disease-related deaths could also be prevented if everyone ate enough fruit and vegetables.

According to the researchers, raw vegetables are particularly good at reducing mortality risk.

They also found that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables was particularly good at reducing the mortality risk for people who consumed a lot of alcohol, were obese and who smoked.

They believe this is because of the antioxidant content of fruit and vegetables which reduces the oxidative stress caused by drinking alcohol, smoking, and being overweight.


Children who walk to school are calmer and more focused in lessons - and may be less likely to need drugs for ADHD

This is just self-report data in response to a survey by a group with a vested interest in getting the results they did.  Worthless

Walking to school helps children concentrate in lessons better and may even reduce the need for medication for conditions like ADHD, new research suggests.

A survey of more than 2,500 pupils showed that 80 per cent of those who walked to school reported feeling calmer and more able to concentrate when they got there.  They also said they felt healthier and looked better.

The survey was carried out by Henley-based health technology company Intelligent Health, which said that the link between exercise and school performance would also benefit children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The firm's founder William Bird said: 'Physical activity improves brain elasticity, which allows children to learn.  'Exercise also releases endorphins, which make you more relaxed.'

He told the Daily Telegraph that research in America, where children with ADHD are encouraged to play in parks, has shown such a calming effect from exercise that children were 'almost back to normal'.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, whose common symptoms include a short attention span, restlessness, and difficulty controlling behaviour.

Drugs such as Ritalin are prescribed to help control the symptoms and NHS prescriptions for them have doubled in England in the last six years - last year there were 657,000 NHS prescriptions for ADHD drugs, and nearly 5,000 private prescriptions.

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission said the number of prescriptions rose by 11 per cent just from 2011 to 2012, and medications to help sufferers of ADHD are now said to cost the NHS £31m a year.

Mother-of-three Emily Parker, 39, of Hammersmith, takes her children to school on foot, covering a mile each way every day.

She said: 'I started noticing that on the days we did walk to school, rather than drive, the children had much better days.  They behaved better, ate better, and even slept better when they came home.

'Now we do it every day unless the weather is awful - I have no doubt there's a link between exercise and doing better at school.'

Other benefits reported by the children who took part in the survey included making new friends.  However only three in 10 teachers agreed that walking helped children to learn more.

Psychologist Oliver James said: 'I'm all in favour of children walking to school but ADHD is best understood as a form of anxious attachment, not something caused by lack of exercise.'


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Musicians 'have sharper minds': study

I would think that you would mostly have to be of above IQ to play a musical instrument -- so all we are seeing here is effects of higher IQ

PLAYING a musical instrument could help protect against mental decline through age or illness, according to a new study.
Musicians have sharper minds and are able to pick up and correct mistakes quicker than non-musicians, researchers at St Andrews University found.

They measured the behavioural and brain responses of amateur musicians compared with non-musicians when performing simple mental tasks.

The results showed that playing a musical instrument, even at moderate levels, improves a person's ability to detect errors and adjust responses more effectively.

Musicians also responded faster than those with little or no musical training, with no loss in accuracy, the study found.

The research was led by psychologist Ines Jentzsch, a reader in the university's School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

"Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning," she said.

"Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are amongst the first to be affected by ageing, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression.

"The research suggests that musical activity could be used as an effective intervention to slow, stop or even reverse age or illness-related decline in mental functioning."

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, builds on previous work showing the benefits of musical activity on mental and physical well-being.

Pianist Dr Jentzsch said: "Musical activity cannot only immensely enrich our lives but the associated benefits for our physical and mental functioning could be even more far-reaching than proposed in our and previous research."


Want to stay sharp in old age? Have a drink: Alcohol found to improve memory in most elderly people

A glass of wine every day could be the secret to keeping a brighter mind in old age.  Moderate drinking was found to improve memory and learning skills in a long-term study of elderly people.

The research claims that the benefits only begin to emerge after middle age.

However, not everyone will feel the benefits of a daily tipple.

While about 80 per cent of pensioners will do better with a drink, an unlucky 20 per cent will not.

In fact, a regular drink will put this group’s cognitive abilities into reverse because their DNA includes a gene called APOE e4, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Alcohol And Alcoholism, states: ‘Light and moderate alcohol  consumption during late life was associated with greater decline in learning and memory among  APOE e4 carriers.  ‘Whereas light and moderate alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in learning and memory among non-APOE e4 carriers.’

The study said there were ‘several mechanisms’ that may explain the relationship between alcohol and ability to think clearly.

These include alcohol’s anti-inflammatory properties and the fact that moderate consumption has been known to protect against dementia, stroke, coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes.

The study, by the Universities of Kentucky and Maryland, continued: ‘APOE e4 is a widely accepted genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease [and] is also associated with lower cognition among non-demented older adults.’

Paul Green, from the lifestyle company Saga, said: ‘There’s no doubt a tipple or two can take the edge off the ageing process. Our own research shows that the over-50s are sensible drinkers and you don’t get to a certain age in life without knowing your limits.

‘But if more work was done to find out who carries the APOE e4 gene then it could encourage people to better protect their health by reining in how much they consume.’

The study examined 619 US pensioners aged 69 to 92 in Framingham, Massachusetts. They are part of a long-term health-monitoring project which began in 1948.  Their drinking habits and cognitive faculties were tracked from mid-life to the present day.

Researchers found that the effects of alcohol were largely determined by whether or not a person possessed the e4 variant of the APOE gene, which helps regulate cholesterol in the body.

Among the 22 per cent who were found to be carriers, teetotallers fared markedly better in tests charting decline in brain function.

However, for the 78 per cent who did not possess e4, those who enjoyed alcohol showed more resilient learning and memory abilities than those who abstained.

The protective effect was strongest for those who consumed between seven and 14 drinks a week.

A recent Newcastle University study claimed that the safe limits for the elderly should be slashed to avoid alcohol interfering with medication as well as causing falls, depression and dementia.

Last night, Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said: ‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good, as the saying goes, and drinking low to moderate levels of alcohol can often be an important part of social life for older people.

'Everyone reacts differently, but every older person needs to be aware that too much alcohol can both cause and exacerbate health problems.’


Friday, September 27, 2013

Can dieting make you dumber? How calorie-counting and resisting cravings clogs up the brain

Sounds reasonable

Dieting may make you thinner, but new research has found that it may also be detrimental to your mental capacity.

Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan told the New York Times that obsessive calorie-counting and spontaneous cravings 'clog up' a dieter's brain, leaving little room for other thoughts or calculations.

Professor Mullainathan explains that this 'clogging' negatively impacts our ability to carry out various tasks that make up what he calls 'bandwidth' - which includes logical reasoning, problem solving and the absorption of new information.

Studies have found that those who are on a diet have less bandwidth than non-dieters, meaning they are worse at achieving these tasks.

There are other aspects of dieting that affect a person's bandwidth - such as having to determine 'trade-offs', like whether having a cookie means you need to skip the appetizer at dinner.

The article cites one 2005 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that looked at the different ways dieters and non-dieters reacted to eating a chocolate bar.

Researchers found that those subjects who weren't on a diet simply ate the chocolate bar and then moved on to other tasks.

Those who were on a diet, however, reportedly spent the following several minutes thinking about how many calories were in the chocolate bar, and pondering why they ate it in the first place.

Consequently, a diet that requires less thought seems to have a better chance of being successful.

Indeed, the writer cites another study, published in January 2010, which found that people on the Atkins diet - which categorically cuts out specific foods - tend to stick to it longer than people on more complex diets, like Weight Watchers.

'Perceived rule complexity was the strongest factor associated with increased risk of quitting the cognitively demanding weight management program,' says the summary of the study.

'The results emphasize the importance of considering rule complexity to promote long-term weight management.'

Professor Mullainathan and Princeton University professor Eldar Shafir have written about the phenomenon in their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

The authors assert that scarcity in any form - not just food - has a similar effect on the mind, and there is therefore a general need to economize on bandwidth.

'Just as dieters constantly track food, the hyper-busy track each minute and the poor track each dollar,' writes Professor Mullainathan.

For instance, low-income students applying for financial aid for college must complete a dense ten-page booklet, which is especially mentally taxing for this particular set of people.

'A one-page version would not only be simpler but it would also recognize that the poor are short on bandwidth as well as cash,' he writes.


Leftist Hysteria Over Monsanto

The left is in a frenzy over the American agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto and other agribusinesses that tinker with crop genetics. Is there any truth to their scare stories asserting that we’re being poisoned with “Frankenfood,” breeding new strains of superbugs and superpests?

Genetically modified crops, known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms), have been used by American farmers since the mid-1990s in order to increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides. The FDA has approved their use. Today, 70-80 percent of grocery products in the U.S. include genetically engineered ingredients. In contrast, only 5 percent of the food sold in Europe contains GMOs, due to governmental restrictions.

According to opponents of GMOs, “The concern is that genetic modification alters the proteins in foods in ways that researchers do not yet fully understand. Substances that have never existed before in nature are entering our food supply untested.” In addition to ingesting modified food, people are eating livestock that has been fed GMOs. Food sensitivities, allergies and other health problems have been increasing in recent years, and opponents claim it is due to GMOs. Where the science gets murky is whether this correlation is true.

Efforts are being made by the left to pass laws requiring the labeling of GMOs. In Washington state, Initiative 522 would require fruits, vegetables and grain-based products to be labeled, but exempts meat and dairy products from animals fed genetically engineered grains. Monsanto has contributed $4.6 million to defeat I-522, and opponents are outspending proponents by more than three to one. A similar initiative lost in California last year, where opponents including agribusiness and major food manufacturers outspent proponents almost five to one. Initiatives have passed in Connecticut and Maine, and legislation is pending in 20 states.

I-522 opponents cite estimates by the state’s Office of Financial Management computing that the average family’s food bill would rise $490 a year if it passes. The liberal Seattle Times editorialized against the initiative, pointing out that consumers already have the option of buying organic foods, and many companies already choose to self-label. Dan Newhouse, a former director of the Washington Department of Agriculture, says the bill is poorly written, containing confusing and absurd requirements.

The website says labeling genetically modified food would put a stigma on it. “The very act of labeling suggests to consumers there’s something potentially risky about X – if you don’t believe it try giving away bottles of water labeled ‘Contains DiHydrogen Monoxide’ and see what reactions you get.”

There is some scientific approval of GMOs. The American Medical Association has come out against labeling GMOs, declaring, “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.” UCLA professor Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist and a member of the National Academy of Science, asserts, “Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world. We’ve been testing them for 40 years. They’re like the Model T Ford. There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe.” One prominent environmentalist activist, Mark Lynas, recently switched his position on GMOs, coming out in support of them.

The problem with GMOs is there hasn’t been scientific testing done on human subjects - and both sides of the debate are using this to their advantage. Rats given massive doses of GMOs had adverse reactions. Female rats lost their babies at a high rate, gave birth to fewer and smaller babies, and the testicles of male rats changed color. A study of buffaloes in India that were fed GMOs produced similar results. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine warned, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation.”

The problem with studies like these is the dosages of food given the animals is forced and unrealistic. There have been reports of humans becoming sick who live in close proximity to GMO-producing farms. Yet these stories are anecdotal evidence and not rigorous scientific studies.

The most controversial aspect of GMOs involves the modification of crops beyond just hybrids. The latest modification added an actual pesticide component to food. A built-in pesticide was added within the cellular structure of corn, a gene copied from the insect-killing bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. It eliminates the need to spray the corn with pesticides. This prompted concerns about humans ingesting food containing a built-in pesticide.

One study found that this pesticide-enhanced corn is causing problems for some crops in Illinois. Michael Gray, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, observed that rootworms are growing more resistant to the genetically modified corn - despite the fact that the corn was modified to resist the rootworms. Previously, farmers rotated corn crops with soybean crops, since rootworms would not infest the soybeans. Since the modified corn was introduced, rootworms are now being found in the soybean fields too, destroying both kinds of crops. Some farmers are reluctant to reject the modified corn, however, because generally it helps reduce pesticide use.

There is a lawsuit in place currently against Monsanto by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), a group of 73 American organic and conventional family farmers, public advocacy groups and seed businesses. They are accusing Monsanto’s genetically-engineered seed of contaminating neighboring non-GMO farms via wind-borne pollen and insects.

Monsanto spends millions lobbying Congress and the Department of Agriculture. A Monsanto attorney, Michael Taylor, has spent the last few decades revolving between Monsanto and government jobs with the FDA and the USDA, where he directed much of those agencies’ policies on GMOs. To the casual observer, this would appear to be a clear conflict of interest. This is typical of the Obama administration, known for its revolving door between the big banks and Obama’s cabinet.

Republicans better not be in the pockets of big agricultural business. While onerous regulations are not the answer to murky science, sweeping everything under the rug isn’t either. Many of those speaking out in defense of GMOs come directly from the GMO industry, lowering their credibility. Unfortunately, most Republicans have little interest in investigating GMOs, since the hysterical left is leading the opposition to them, straining credibility.

Americans are getting sicker than people in other high-income countries. Until there are rigorous scientific studies performed on human subjects, both sides should tread carefully in this area. Since “you are what you eat,” consumers who believe that GMOs present a threat to their health should put their money where their mouth is and buy food from businesses like Whole Foods which label food or provide organic food. And don’t force everyone else to.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Commonly-prescribed statin may impair memory

Side effects are slowly being admitted

Some commonly prescribed statins can impair memory but others do not, scientists have found.

The most recent review of statins suggests that for three quarters of those taking them, they offer little or no value

Between six and seven million people in the UK take the medicines every day to lower "bad cholesterol" in the blood.

But after starting the treatment, some patients complain that their memory is affected.  Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insisted all manufacturers list in their side effects that statins could affect cognitive function.

Scientists at the University of Bristol tested the effects of two commonly prescribed statins – pravastatin and atorvastatin – on rats.

Pravastatin, with the brand name Pravachol, was found to have adverse effects on working and recognition memory.

However, atorvastatin, with the brand name Lipitor, did not have any effect.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, found adverse effects of pravastatin on memory could be reversed by stopping the medication.

Neil Marrion, professor of neuroscience at Bristol's School of Physiology and Pharmacology and the study's lead author, said: "This finding is novel and likely reflects both the anecdotal reports and FDA advice.

"What is most interesting is that it is not a feature of all statins.  "However, in order to better understand the relationship between statin treatment and cognitive function, further studies are needed."

The research examined adverse effects on memory from prescribed statin medicines, used to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood.

Results showed rat performance for simple learning and memory tasks were impaired when taking pravastatin, but not atorvastatin.

The rats were treated daily with pravastatin or atorvastatin for 18 days.  The rodents were tested in a simple learning task before, during and after treatment, in which they had to learn where to find a food reward.  The rats also performed a task which measured their ability to recognise a previously encountered object, on the last day of treatment and a week after it finished.

Pravastatin tended to impair learning over the last few days of treatment, though this was fully reversed once the rats stopped taking the medicine.

In the novel object discrimination task, object recognition memory was also impaired by pravastatin.

No effects were observed for atorvastatin in either task.


Why going to the gym could make you fat: 'Treats' after a workout mean 25% of us actually GAIN weight

A quarter of gym users gain weight when they start exercising, according to a new study.  The new gym-goers pile on the pounds because they allow themselves a treat after working out.

The survey found that 39 per cent of people burn as little as 300 calories during each visit to the gym making them susceptible to weight gain if they then treat themselves to a high-calorie snack.

The poll found that regular gym sessions gave dieters a 'feeling of complacency' which made it more difficult for them to stick to their recommended daily calorie intake.

Diet firm Forza Supplements polled 1,000 gym users on their diet habits.  It found that 26 per cent of gym users actually put on weight after starting regular exercise.

A further 49 per cent said that their weight had stayed the same while just 27 per cent said that they had lost weight.

The survey revealed that most keep fit fans go the gym between three and four times a week - exercising on average for between 40 minutes and an hour.

Four out of ten users burn between 300 and 500 calories in a session - though a quarter manage only 200 to 300 calories, 10 per cent just 100 to 200 calories and four per cent less than 100 calories.

More than a third of people allow themselves a treat after going to the gym - most typically a chocolate bar such as a Kit Kat - 233 calories for a four finger bar - or a glass of wine - 190 calories.

Another reason why going to the gym can make you fat is that users have far bigger appetites than people who do not exercise.

The poll revealed that 53 per cent said their exercise sessions substantially boosted their appetite.

Many gym users also exercise regularly ahead of a night's partying.

Almost half of fitness fans said they would work-out prior to a big night out to 'compensate' for the calories they would consume later.

And 42 per cent of gym goers felt that by exercising regularly, they had earned the right to deviate from controlled diet plans.

Many celebrities admit to using the gym to earn 'brownie points' prior to a night's partying.

Luisa Zissman, runner-up in The Apprentice, said: ‘Who hasn't had a guilt inspired exercise session?  ‘We all do it - work out furiously in the gym to get “brownie points” ahead of a night on the town.  ‘You know you are going to consume a stack of calories by boozing and drinking - so why not burn off a load beforehand.’

Forza Supplements managing director Lee Smith said the survey showed many dieters struggle to lose weight despite exercising.  He said: ‘Battling the bulge is the toughest thing many of us do.  ‘Lots of people go the gym because they know they have no control over their eating habits.  ‘They figure, “I am going to pig out anyway so I may well do my best to limit the damage”.

‘Many gym goers underestimate the level of exercise the need to do to shift fat.  ‘To lose 1kg of body fat, you need to burn about 8,000 calories - that is around 80 miles of running to cover just 1kg in weight.’


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

‘Marriage improves cancer survival rate by 20% and can be BETTER than chemotherapy when it comes to battling the disease’

This is an old chestnut:  Does marriage make you healthier or are healthier people more likely to marry?  The second is almost certainly true.  But both could be true

Marriage has many benefits when it comes to raising children, buying a house, and having a hand to hold during life's toughest times.  But new research suggests that, for some cancer patients, having a husband or wife could be more beneficial than chemotherapy.

New research from Harvard University shows that, for 10 common kinds of cancer, being married means patients are 20 per cent less likely to die from the disease.

Academics found that people who were married were more likely to get diagnosed early, before tumours could spread, and more likely to have life-saving surgery.

Amazingly in some forms of cancer, including breast and colon, the benefits of being married outweighed the stated benefit of chemotherapy.

The study, of 750,000 people including those with lung and prostate cancer, also found that the effect was larger in men than in women.

Unmarried cancer patients - including those who were widowed - were 17 per cent more likely to have metastatic cancer, which spreads beyond its original site and were 53 per cent less likely to receive the appropriate therapy.

Dr Ayal Aizer, chief resident of the Harvard Radiation Oncology Programme, said: 'Our data suggests that marriage can have a significant health impact for patients with cancer, and this was consistent among every cancer that we reviewed.

'We suspect that social support from spouses is what's driving the striking improvement in survival.

'Spouses often accompany patients on their visits and make sure they understand the recommendations and complete all their treatments.'

However, the finding shouldn't be seen as a downer for singletons as Dr. Paul Nguyen, the study's senior author, said that the findings just showed the importance of strong social support, which could also be provided by family or close friends.

He said: 'We don't just see our study as an affirmation of marriage. 'Rather it should send a message to anyone who has a friend or a loved one with cancer, by being there for that person and helping them navigate their appointments and make it through all their treatments, you can make a real difference to that person's outcome.

'As oncologists, we need to be aware of our patients' available social supports and encourage them to seek and accept support from friends and family during this potentially difficult time.'

While this isn't the first study to identify a positive link between cancer survival rates and marriage, it is the first to link to the 10 most common cancers.

However researchers were unable to say exactly why marriage is so beneficial. One possibility is that patients with a spouse are more likely to undergo health screening which would diagnose cancer at an earlier stage.

Married people are then more likely to follow through with treatments and appointments, while widowed or single people may struggle to keep up with tough medical routines.

Dr. Victor Vogel, the director of breast medical oncology and research at Geisenger Health System, agrees, calling the study 'very proactive.'

He added: 'We need to help our patients find social support throughout their illness.

'If there isn’t a spouse to do that then we have to find other systems and networks to make that happen.'


Retirement age has NO impact on life expectancy...unless you are forced out of work without a choice

It seems reasonable that there should be both positives and negatives in early retirement

Whether you make your millions and retire young or work long into old age, your chance of having a long and healthy retirement will remain the same.

Australian researchers found that the age at which a person retires has no impact on how long they live.

Previous research has suggested that people who retire young lose their social networks and have less mental and physical activity meaning they are more likely to die young.

Other studies have concluded that people who work into old age are more likely to die young because they are subjected to stress for longer.

However, the latest research by the Australian School of Business is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date and it concluded that there is no correlation between retirement age and life expectancy.

‘While it is tempting to link retirement to life expectancy, the reality is that health status is the primary determining factor in when we die,’ said Professor John Piggott, Professor of Economics at the Australian School of Business.

‘Health influences both the timing of retirement and when we die which has sometimes caused confusion in earlier studies.’

However, the researchers did find that there is a strong correlation between being forced out of work, due to company closures or downsizes, and age of death.

Professor Piggott said: ‘When a person’s choice to leave work is removed, this does seem to impact mortality, most probably because of a variety of factors such as depression and loss of social networks.’

For the study, the researchers studied population data from the Norwegian government for the period from 1990 to 2010.

Through the 1990s, a significant number of public and private sector companies in Norway progressively reduced the pension access age from 67 to 62 causing employees to retire earlier than expected.  For the remainder of the population, the national retirement age remained at 67.

When comparing the longevity of individuals that retired early, with those who worked through to 67, the researchers could find no discernible difference.

This led them to conclude that retirement does not impact when we die.

Previous research has shown that people who work for longer are less likely to develop dementia.

Carole Dufoil and her team at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherché Médicale (INSERM) in France discovered that a person who retires at 65 is 15 per cent less likely to develop the condition than someone who retires at 60.

The researchers believe that this is because intellectual stimulation and mental engagement are protective against dementia.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why sweeteners may INCREASE your sugar craving: They tickle the taste buds, but can't fool the brain into producing the pleasure response

More perverse results from dieting

Choosing diet drinks and artificial sweeteners instead of high-calorie treats may increase your craving for sugar, a study has found.

It is because sugar subsitutes tickle the tastebuds, but can’t fool the brain.

The pleasure we get from sweet treats is the result of a chemical called dopamine, which is released in the brain when sugar is consumed and is linked to a feeling of reward.

Artificial sweeteners and other low-calorie options do not cause the same reaction, leaving dieters with their craving – and making them far more likely to binge on sugar later on.

‘[Our discovery] implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high-calorie alternatives in the future,’ said Professor Ivan de Araujo, who led the study at Yale University’s School of Medicine.

Rather than starve yourself of sugar, he said, it is better to consume very small amounts, tricking the brain into producing a pleasure response.

The steady release of dopamine will prevent cravings from building up.

Professor de Araujo added: ‘The results suggest that a “happy medium” could be a solution, combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.’

Scientists suggest the findings may explain why obesity levels have rocketed despite the widespread introduction of diet drinks and snacks.

Professor Ivan de Araujo said: “The consumption of high-calorie beverages is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, even after the introduction of artificial sweeteners to the market.

'We believe that the discovery is important because it shows how physiological states may impact on our choices between sugars and sweeteners.

'Specifically, it implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to ‘relapse’ and choose high calorie alternatives in the future.

'The results suggest that a ‘happy medium’ could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.”

The research was performed in mice, using a combination of behavioural testing involving sweeteners and sugars, whilst measuring chemical responses in brain circuits for reward.

Professor de Araujo said: 'According to the data, when we apply substances that interfere with a critical step of the ‘sugar-to-energy pathway’, the interest of the animals in consuming artificial sweetener decreases significantly, along with important reductions in brain dopamine levels.

'This is verified by the fact that when hungry mice - who thus have low sugar levels - are given a choice between artificial sweeteners and sugars, they are more likely to completely switch their preferences towards sugars even if the artificial sweetener is much sweeter than the sugar solution.'

Further research is planned to identify the associated receptors and pathways in the brain after the study established dopamine cells were critical in sugar or sweetener choice.


Statins increase risk of cataracts, study finds

This is just a correlational study but it fits with many findings of ill-effects from statin use

They have been heralded as the new wonder drug and are used by millions to fight heart disease, but statins could increase the risk of cataracts, a new study has found.

Those taking the low-cost medication could be 27 per cent more likely to develop the condition, which leads to cloudy lenses, the researchers discovered.

Older people are particularly vulnerable as they make up the majority of statin users and cataract patients, the Daily Mail reported.

The medical records of more than 14,000 people, covering a period of more than eight years, were examined by researchers in the US.

Half of the patients had used statins for at least three months and the other half had never taken the drug.

Those who took statins had a 27 per cent increased risk of developing cataracts, which require surgery to prevent blindness, even when other factor such as high blood pressure were accounted for.

The researchers believe that one explanation could be that cholesterol is necessary to maintain healthy cells in the eye and the transparency of the lens.

The authors of the study, published in journal JAMA Ophthalmology, concluded: “The risk for cataract is increased among statin users as compared with non-users. The risk-benefit ratio of statin use, specifically for primary prevention, should be carefully weighed, and further studies are warranted.”

Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, taken by more than eight million Britons.

They are currently prescribed to patients with at least a 20 per cent risk of having a heart attack or stroke within ten years.

A team from Oxford University concluded that the benefits of statins outweigh the side effects after they found they cut by at least a third the risk of heart attacks, strokes and operations to unblock arteries.

All patients in the trials, which involved 175,000 people, had a positive reaction to the drug and even healthy people given statins had lower overall death rates than those who were given a placebo.

The findings have even led to calls for statins to be prescribed to everyone over the age of 50, but the latest research casts doubt on the recommendation.

Earlier research on the link between the drugs and cataracts has provided mixed results.

Around one in three people over 65 develop cataracts, and 341,000 operations were carried out last year on the NHS.

As well as cataracts, statins have been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, constipation, diarrhoea, headaches, loss of appetite and loss of sensation or pain in the nerve endings of the hands and feet.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Products Agency has warned about the risk of sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression and certain lung diseases.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Cup of tea boosts brain cells?

The report below is rather mad in a couple of ways.  For a start, the journal article concerned  -- by Giesbrecht et al. is from nearly 3 years back.  Secondly, the researchers administered L-theanine  and caffeine together.  How do they know that it was not caffeine alone which produced the effects?  All the effects reported would be normal for caffeine

NATURAL ingredients found in a cup of tea can improve brain power and increase alertness, it is claimed. Researchers looked at the effect of key chemicals found in tea on the mental performance of 44 young volunteers.

The effects of these ingredients, an amino acid called L-theanine – which is also found in green tea – and caffeine at levels typically found in a cup of tea, were compared with a dummy treatment.

The active ingredients significantly improved accuracy across a number of switching tasks for those who drank the tea after 20 and 70 minutes, compared with the placebo.

The tea drinkers' alertness was also heightened, the study found.
Tea was also found to reduce tiredness among the volunteers, who were aged under 40, according to the Dutch researchers reporting on their findings in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

'The results suggest the combination helps to focus attention during a demanding cognitive task,' they said.

Previous trials have shown that adding milk to a cup of tea does not affect the drinker's absorption of flavonoids – or antioxidants – or disrupt the health benefits from these.

Tea drinking has already been linked with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and Parkinson's. Other research shows drinking tea on a regular basis for ten or more years may help improve bone density.

Dr Tim Bond, of the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said the latest findings backed a previous study which showed drinking two cups of black tea 'improves the ability to react to stimuli and to focus attention on the task in hand'.

'Taken together, these two studies provide evidence that consumption of black tea improves cognitive function, in particular helping to focus attention during the challenge of a demanding mental task,' he said.

'As a result, all this new data adds to the growing science that drinking tea, preferably four cups of tea a day, is good for our health and well being'.


Ditch the diet! Why carrying a few extra pounds can actually make you live longer

As middle-age approaches, the health risks of being overweight are well-documented.

But a new study has found that those who are classed as 'overweight' in their 50s yet kept this stable, were in the group most likely to survive the next 16 years.

It appears that weight retention is key - this group were deemed to be better off than a normal-wight individual who added weight but kept within their range.

The study, conducted by Ohio State University, did back up the prominent belief that those most at danger are the obese, who continue to pile on the pounds.

The weight categories were set by using people's BMI Index - their height-to-weight ratio that can identify body fat.

Almost 10,000 people were interviewed every two years from 1992 until 2009, with their BMIs recorded, and it concluded that 7.2 per cent of deaths after the age of 51 are due to weight gain among obese people.

In a release from the Ohio State University, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology Hui Zheng said: 'You can learn more about older people’s mortality risk by looking at how their weight is changing than you can by just looking at how much they weigh at any one time.'

Those involved in the study were classified into six different groups, depending on their BMI at the beginning of the study and how it changed over the 16-year period they were surveyed.

While slightly overweight people (BMI of 25 to 29.9) whose weight was steady had the highest survival rate, those who moved from overweight to obese (BMI 30 to 34.9) were close behind.

'This suggests that among overweight people at age 51, small weight gains do not significantly lower the probability of survival,' Zheng added.

Third were normal-weight individuals who add gradual mass, followed in fourth by Class I obese people whose weight was on the rise.

Next to last were those of normal weight who were reducing in size, followed by the most susceptible group who were the most obese, BMI of 35 and over.

So carrying a few extra pounds as we hit the big 5-0 is not such a worry after all.

'It is probably because the older population is more likely to get illnesses and disease, especially cancer, that cause dangerous weight loss,' Zheng added, explaining why being slightly overweight might not be so bad.

'In that case, a small amount of extra weight may provide protection against nutritional and energy deficiencies, metabolic stresses, the development of wasting and frailty, and loss of muscle and bone density caused by chronic diseases.'


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Impaired IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced moderate to severe infantile malnutrition: A 40-year study

After a fair bit of looking I cannot find a good explanation of WHY some Barbadian infants were malnourished.  It seems likely that they came from poorer or less functional families -- so  poverty alone would explain the effects observed. Poor people are dumber on average. Contrary to the conclusions below, the effects may be entirely genetic  -- JR

By Waber DP, Bryce CP, Girard JM, Zichlin M, Fitzmaurice GM, Galler JR.


Objectives: To evaluate IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced an episode of moderate-to-severe infantile malnutrition and a healthy control group, all followed since childhood in the Barbados Nutrition Study.

Methods: IQ and academic skills were assessed in 77 previously malnourished adults (mean age = 38.4 years; 53% male) and 59 controls (mean age = 38.1 years; 54% male). Group comparisons were carried out by multiple regression and logistic regression, adjusted for childhood socioeconomic factors.

Results: The previously malnourished group showed substantial deficits on all outcomes relative to healthy controls (P < 0.0001). IQ scores in the intellectual disability range (< 70) were nine times more prevalent in the previously malnourished group (odds ratio = 9.18; 95% confidence interval = 3.50–24.13). Group differences in IQ of approximately one standard deviation were stable from adolescence through mid-life.

Discussion: Moderate-to-severe malnutrition during infancy is associated with a significantly elevated incidence of impaired IQ in adulthood, even when physical growth is completely rehabilitated. An episode of malnutrition during the first year of life carries risk for significant lifelong functional morbidity.


Older fathers don't have dumber kids

Some recent research below bears on the often asserted "danger" of older fathers

The effect of paternal age on offspring intelligence and personality when controlling for paternal trait level

Ruben C. Arslan et al


Paternal age at conception has been found to predict the number of new genetic mutations. We examined the effect of father’s age at birth on offspring intelligence, head circumference and personality traits. Using the Minnesota Twin Family Study sample we tested paternal age effects while controlling for parents’ trait levels measured with the same precision as offspring’s. From evolutionary genetic considerations we predicted a negative effect of paternal age on offspring intelligence, but not on other traits. Controlling for parental IQ had the effect of turning a positive-zero order association negative. We found paternal age effects on offspring IQ and MPQ Absorption, but they were not robustly significant, nor replicable with additional covariates. No other noteworthy effects were found. Parents’ intelligence and personality correlated with their ages at twin birth, which may have obscured a small negative effect of advanced paternal age (< 1% of variance explained) on intelligence. We discuss future avenues for studies of paternal age effects and suggest that stronger research designs are needed to rule out confounding factors involving birth order and the Flynn effect.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Sugar is 'the most dangerous drug of our time' and should come with smoking-style health warnings, says Dutch health chief

This is just an attention-seeking bureaucrat making baseless assertions.  If he was any sort of serious thinker he would address the question of distinguishing between people liking something and being addicted to it

Sugary foods and drinks should come with a smoking-style health warning, according to a leading Dutch health expert.

Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam's health service, said that sugar is ‘the most dangerous drug of our time’.

The health chief - from a city that has a famously liberal attitude to cannabis - added that sugar is a drug like alcohol and tobacco and that its use should be discouraged.

Writing on a public health website, he said that users should be made aware of the dangers.

He wrote: ‘This may seem exaggerated and far-fetched, but sugar is the most dangerous drug of this time and is easy to obtain.’

He added: ‘Just as with smoking labels, soft drinks and sweet products should come with the warning that sugar is addictive and bad for the health.’

Mr Van der Velpen wrote that more and more people are becoming overweight and that this is increasing healthcare costs at a time when many governments are trying to save money.

He added that obesity could be tackled by encouraging people to take more exercise, but that changing people’s diets would be more effective.

He cites research which suggests that when people are eating fats and proteins they stop when they are full, but that when they are eating sugars they will keep eating until their stomachs hurt.

He believes this is because sugar is addictive and is ‘as hard to give up as smoking’.

As a result, he says sugar should be taxed in the same way alcohol and cigarettes are.

He also suggests that the amount of sugar that can be added to processed food should be regulated.


How a salt jab could be more effective for lower back pain than steroids

An interesting possibility

A saline injection in the spine could be more effective than steroids for treating lower back pain, a new study has revealed.

Spinal pain is a leading cause of disability in the industrialised world and epidural steroid injections - the most common nonsurgical treatment - have been the standard treatment for more than 50 years.

Yet the alternative spinal injection in the space around the spinal cord may provide better relief than steroids which can have adverse side effects.

Steroids raise blood sugar in diabetic back patients, slow the healing of wounds and accelerate bone disease in older women, the Johns Hopkins University study found.

Professor of Anaesthesiology Steven Cohen at the U.S. university said: ‘Just injecting liquid into the epidural space appears to work.  ‘This shows us that most of the relief may not be from the steroid, which everyone worries about.’

The research was prompted when more than 740 people in 20 U.S. states became ill with fungal meningitis and 55 people died after getting epidural injections of contaminated steroids last year.

Although better oversight might reduce that risk, patients can only get a limited number of steroid injections each year, even if their pain returns.

Professor Cohen said it was too soon to recommend that patients stop receiving epidural steroids, but added that their analysis also suggests that smaller steroid doses can be just as beneficial.

Fellow researcher Dr Mark Bicket said larger scale studies were needed to determine whether steroid alternatives can be just as helpful for back pain patients.

He said: ‘Our evidence does support the notion that, for now, reducing the amount of steroids for patients at risk may be advisable.’

The review covered medical records of 3,641 patients from 43 studies conducted in October 2012 and compared epidural steroid injections to other sorts of epidural and intramuscular injections.

Professor Cohen said the new analysis suggested that decades of mixed results of research on epidural steroid injections may have been due to the use of saline or anaesthetic injections as the comparison ‘placebo’ treatment.

He said: ‘It’s likely that those studies were actually comparing two treatments, rather than placebo versus treatment. Researchers may be wasting millions of dollars and precious time on such studies.’

The findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Anaesthesiology.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Babies given Calpol just once a month 'are five times as likely to develop asthma'

This sounds like a plausible alternative to the discredited hygeine hypothesis.  Modern homes are not only cleaner but also more likely to use pharmaceuticals.  Proper caution about the direction of the causal arrow is however expressed below

Children who are given Calpol are far more likely to develop asthma, a major study has found.  Those given the medicine once a month are five times more at risk while even having it just once a year increases the chances by 70 per cent.

Over the past 50 years the number of children developing asthma in Britain has more than doubled but experts are divided over the causes.

Around 1.1 million youngsters now have the condition – in addition to 4.3 million adults – and it leads to 1,400 deaths every year.

Researchers who studied 20,743 children say there is now growing evidence that the increasing rates may be linked to paracetamol – the main ingredient in Calpol.

The drug is the most popular painkiller in Britain and 84 per cent of babies are given it for pain and fever within the first six months of their life.

Although the NHS advises on what doses parents should give children depending on their age, there are no warnings concerning possible health risks.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, academics from the University of A Coruna in northern Spain questioned the parents of 10,371 children aged six and seven and 10,372 aged 13 and 14.

All were asked whether the children had asthma – and if so, how severe – and how often they had been given paracetamol within the previous year and when they were babies.

Those in the younger age group who were given the medicine at least once a month were 5.4 more times likely to have asthma and those given it just once a year were 70 per cent more at risk.

Children who had a dose of the medicine at any time before their first birthday were 60 per cent more at risk, according to the findings published in the European Journal of Public Health.

The study also found that 13 and 14-year-olds were 40 per cent more likely to have asthma if they had taken paracetamol within the previous 12 months.

If they took the drug at least once a month they were 2.5 times more at risk.

The academics say paracetamol may reduce levels of a chemical called glutathione in the lungs and blood, which results in damage to the lung tissue.

A spokesman from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, the drugs’ watchdog, said it was ‘carefully reviewing’ the data and would consider whether to take any action.

Malayka Rahman, research analyst at Asthma UK, said previous studies had suggested there may be a link between giving children paracetamol and an increase in their risk of asthma and other allergic conditions.

‘We would be keen to see more research to establish whether or not there is a causal link as it’s vital to ensure appropriate advice is given to people who are living with the condition,’ she said.

Dr Martin Scurr, the Mail’s medical expert and a GP in London, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions but more work needed to be done.  ‘It could be that children with asthma are more likely to get coughs and colds and then are given Calpol by their mothers,’ he said.

‘At the moment Calpol is the best we have – and it’s all we have so there is no reason to stop using it.’

Parents are advised to give children Calpol up until the age of 12 when they can start taking standard paracetamol tablets.

Calpol is manufactured by Johnson and Johnson and 12 million bottles are sold in the UK every year. No one was available for comment at the firm.


Why speaking a second language can make you brainier: Bilinguals have 'better memories and problem solving abilities'

This could well be so, particularly if both languages were learned from early childhood on.  The brain is highly malleable at that age

People who can switch between two languages seamlessly have a higher level of mental flexibility than monolinguals, research suggests. Researchers believe bilingualism strengthens the brain's executive functions, such as its working memory and ability to multitask and problem solve.

The psychologists think that as fluent bilinguals seem to use both languages at all times but rarely use words unintentionally, they have control of both languages simultaneously.

Judith Kroll, professor of psychology, linguistics and women's studies at Penn State University, said: 'Not only is bilingualism not bad for you, it may be really good.

'When you're switching languages all the time it strengthens your mental muscle and your executive function becomes enhanced.'
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found fluent bilinguals have both languages 'active' at the same time, whether they are consciously using them or not.

Pointing to bilingual people's ability to rarely say a word in the unintended language, the researchers believe they have the ability to control both languages to select the one they want to use without consciously thinking about it.

Linguistic researchers at the university conducted two separate but related experiments to explore bilingualism.

They studied 27 Spanish-English bilinguals reading 512 sentences in alternating languages who were instructed to read the text silently until they came to words written in red at which point they read them out loud as quickly and as accurately as possible.

About half the words written in red were cognates - words that look and sound similar in both languages - and were processed more quickly than other words, according to Jason Gullifer, a graduate student in psychology who was involved with the study.

He said the experiment suggests both languages are active at the same time.

The participants took part in a similar study but this time read the sentences in one language at a time.  The scientists said the results were similar to the first, suggesting the context does not influence word recognition.

Mr Gullifer said: 'The context of the experiment didn't seem to matter. If you look at bilinguals there seems to be some kind of mechanistic control.'


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Heavy coffee drinkers face death risk: study

An honest researcher:  "It could be the coffee, but it could just as easily be things that heavy coffee drinkers do," says The University of Queensland's Dr Carl Lavie.  "We have no way of knowing the cause and effect."

This is not meant to keep you awake at night, but heavy coffee drinkers are at increased risk of death, according to a major study.

For reasons that researchers don't fully understand, a 17-year study of 45,000 people shows those aged under 55 who average more than 28 cups a week are at risk.

It's not that people are dying at a rapid rate. But men who drink more than four cups a day are 56 per cent more likely to die and women have double the chance compared with moderate drinkers, according to the The University of Queensland and the University of South Carolina study.

Cardiovascular disease is not a major factor and people aged older than 55 do not appear to be adversely affected, say the authors of the report published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"It could be the coffee, but it could just as easily be things that heavy coffee drinkers do," says The University of Queensland's Dr Carl Lavie.  "We have no way of knowing the cause and effect."

However, the statistics have been adjusted to remove the impact of smoking.

Close to five per cent of people in the study died during the 17 years.

"It's not as if people are dying like flies because they are drinking coffee. But it is statistically significant," says Dr Lavie.

"We are not trying to scare people, but I do think it makes sense to keep average coffee consumption to two to three cups a day."

This does not mean people should be afraid to occasionally have more than that, he says.

Senior investigator Steven Blair of the University of South Carolina says it is significant the results do not show an association between coffee consumption and people older than 55.

It is also important that death from cardiovascular disease is not a factor, he says.


Healthy lifestyle 'slows cellular ageing'

A very small and unrepresentative sample and an effect of mainly speculative implications

Healthy lifestyle changes such as eating whole foods and practising yoga could reverse the ageing of the body's cells, a new study suggests.

Patients who adopted healthy diets, exercise regimes and "stress management" techniques such as meditation or yoga for five years developed younger-looking chromosomes.

The type of change seen in their chromosomes, the structures which house our genetic code, has previously been linked to a lower risk of age-related disease and greater life expectancy.

The findings, from a pilot study of prostate cancer patients, could equally apply to women and healthy men although larger studies are needed to confirm the results, researchers said.

They studied data on 35 patients who had a non-aggressive form of prostate cancer and had chosen to be regularly assessed by doctors rather than undergoing conventional treatment.

Ten of the men adopted a "lifestyle change intervention" which included eating a plant-based diet of whole foods, moderate exercise, stress management and regular group support classes, while the other 25 made no change to their lifestyle.

The scientists, from the University of California, San Francisco, examined changes in the men's telomeres, structures which sit at the ends of chromosomes like the protective caps on the end of a shoelace.

Telomeres prevent the DNA within our chromosomes from being damaged, but as we grow older they become shorter and cells begin to age and die more rapidly.

Previous studies have linked the shortening of telomeres to a decrease in life expectancy and a greater risk of age-related diseases such as heart disease, vascular dementia, obesity, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

But the new research found that in the group who adopted strict and comprehensive healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle, telomeres lengthened by an average of 10 per cent over five years.

The more positive changes the men made, the greater the increase in telomere length. In contrast, among those who did not alter their way of life, telomeres decreased in length by three per cent on average.

Although it is well known that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise can result in a host of medical befits, the findings published in The Lancet Oncology journal, are the first evidence of such an effect on telomeres.

Prof Dean Ornish, who led the study, said: "The implications of this relatively small pilot study may go beyond men with prostate cancer.

"If validated by large-scale randomised controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases and premature mortality. Our genes, and our telomeres, are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate.”

Dr Lynne Cox, a Biochemistry lecturer at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said the findings "support the calls for adoption of and adherence to healthier lifestyles".

It is "perhaps too soon to judge whether this increase in telomere length will correlate with increased longevity or healthspan", she added.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Will your drinking water poison you?

The addition of fluoride to drinking water has remained controversial so we are greatly indebted to the massive and very thorough literature review below  -- which summarizes the available evidence on the question.  And what it finds is that there is no cause for alarm. 

Scientific studies very rarely find exactly zero differences between two groups.  Zero effect is however recognized if the difference is very small.  SOME differences will arise due to random variations alone.  And the  results below show a tiny difference and hence signify zero real difference between the groups, meaning that no concern about fluoride is warranted.

An important source of random variation in the study is that IQ testing is just not fine-grained enough to recognize true differences of less than one point. And it was a difference of less than half of one point that was found in the work below. Large differences in IQ score are highly diagnostic of many things but tiny differences are simply unreliable as predictors. The authors are clearly not familiar with the psychometrics of IQ research.  IQ tests are not a magic black box.  They have to be used and interpreted with care.

I note that statistical significance was achieved for the results reported.  Statistical significance is only a first condition for work to be taken seriously, however.  It shows that the results are not due to just one source of random variation: small sample size.  Since the sample below was large, that finding is essentially irrelevant

The authors below seem to think that they have found something alarming.  After all the work they did, I suppose they would.  They have lost perspective.  These are resoundingly negative results

The journal abstract:

Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Anna L. Choi


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.


Could the winter vomiting bug be wiped out by brass taps and fittings? Study finds the virus can't survive on copper

Very interesting indeed

The winter vomiting bug could be virtually wiped out by reintroducing brass taps and fittings, according to new research.

A study has found norovirus cannot survive on the metal, offering hope of a cheap and effective way of reducing the 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis it causes each year.

The highly infectious bug costs the National Health Service at least £100 million annually, with up to 3,000 people admitted to hospital each year.

There is no treatment or vaccine, and outbreaks require expensive cleaning, with lost working days when staff are infected adding to the burden.

Its impact is also felt beyond healthcare, with cruise ships and hotels suffering significant damage to their reputation when epidemics occur among guests.

Dr Sarah Warnes, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘The use of antimicrobial surfaces containing copper in clinical and community environments, such as cruise ships and care facilities, could help to reduce the spread of this highly infectious and costly pathogen.’

The virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person to person contact and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning those made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.

A study designed to simulate fingertip touch of surfaces showed norovirus in room temperature was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60 per cent proving particularly effective.

The rate of destruction was initially very rapid and proportional to the copper content. No such effect was found on stainless steel.

Copper alloys have previously been shown to be effective antimicrobial surfaces against a range of bacteria and fungi.

Dr Warnes said: ‘Copper alloys, although they provide a constant killing surface, should always be used in conjunction with regular and efficient cleaning and decontamination regimes using non-chelating reagents that could inhibit the copper ion activity.’

Professor Bill Keevil added: ‘Although the virus was identified over 40 years ago, the lack of methods to assess infectivity has hampered the study of the human pathogen.

‘The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions.  ‘That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection.

‘Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks. What we have found is the metal destroys the genetic material of the norovirus.

‘In the U.S., 100,000 people die each year from hospital acquired infections. In the UK, I believe the figure is about 5,000. If a healthy person gets norovirus they are sick for a couple of days, and then get over it. But for an elderly person, it can be fatal. The figures are frightening.

‘If you build a hospital, a care home or a liner from scratch using copper instead of stainless steel, the cost will be about the same.

‘Brass fittings were used in hospitals forty or fifty years ago, since when we have gone over to stainless steel. During this time hospital acquired infections have soared. Is that a coincidence?’

Earlier research has found copper fittings rapidly kill bugs on hospital wards, succeeding where other infection control measures fail.

In a ten week study at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs.

It is believed the metal 'suffocates' germs, preventing them breathing. It may also stop them from feeding and destroy their DNA.

Lab tests show that the metal kills off the deadly MRSA and C difficile superbugs. It also kills other dangerous germs, including the flu virus and the E coli food poisoning bug.

Although it is usually thought to be an expensive metal, copper is actually a similar price to stainless steel.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Booze doesn't cause depression

This is based on generalizations from a known atypical group so is interesting but not conclusive

There is no truth to the long-held belief that alcohol causes depression, clinical neuroscientists from The University of Western Australia have concluded.

Professor Osvaldo Almeida, of UWA's School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, said that until now everyone had assumed that alcohol caused people to become depressed, particularly if consumed at excessive levels.

"Even one of the diagnoses we have for depressive disorders - Substance Induced Mood Disorder - is a diagnosis where alcohol plays a role," Professor Almeida said.  "However, because of the observational nature of the association between alcohol and depression, and the risk of confounding and bias that comes with observational studies, it is difficult to be entirely certain that the relationship is causal.

"For example, people who drink too much may also smoke, have poor diets and other diseases that could explain the excess number of people with depression among heavy drinkers."

Professor Almeida and fellow researchers with the long-running Health in Men Study (HIMS) decided to search for a causal link via physiological pathways instead: specifically the genetic polymorphism, or mutation, most closely associated with alcohol metabolism.

"We now know that certain genetic variations affect the amount of alcohol people consume," Professor Almeida said. "There is one particular genetic variation that affects the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of alcohol.  This variation produces an enzyme that is up to 80 times less competent at breaking down alcohol.  Consequently, people who carry this variation are much less tolerant to alcohol.  In fact, there is now evidence that alcohol-related disorders are very uncommon in this group.

"Now, if alcohol causes depression, then a genetic variation that reduces alcohol use and alcohol-related disorders, should reduce the risk of depression.  The great advantage of looking at the gene is that this association is not confounded by any other factors - people are born like that."

The researchers analysed the triangular association between the genetic mutation, alcohol and depression in 3873 elderly male participants of the HIMS study, using data collected over three to eight years.

"We found (as expected) that this particular genetic variant was associated with reduced alcohol use, but it had no association with depression whatsoever," Professor Almeida said.

"The conclusion is that alcohol use neither causes nor prevents depression in older men.  Our results also debunk the view that mild to moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of depression."

He said the association observed between alcohol and depression was likely explained by other factors, but not by alcohol itself.

"It doesn't mean alcohol is entirely safe and people can consume it in whatever way they like.  We know that alcohol when consumed in excess does create a lot of health problems - but what we now know is that one of those problems is not depression."

HIMS is a longitudinal study of 12,201 men aged 65-83 when recruited in 1996.  The HIMS research team, largely made up of UWA researchers, has so far published more than 100 papers on a wide range of men's health and ageing issues.

A paper on the study  "The triangular association of ADH1B genetic polymorphism, alcohol consumption and the risk of depression in older men" as published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry


Does anorexia have a genetic link? New theory suggests the disorder may not be purely down to social pressures

Anorexia is clearly an obsessive-compulsive disorder so is highly likely to be strongly genetic.  Pretty heavy speculation below

Anorexia could be caused by a genetic mutation, according to new research.  A study of the DNA of more than 3,000 people found the eating disorder may be caused by mutations that interfere with the processing of cholesterol, disrupting mood and diet.

The findings, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, may lead to the development of drugs to treat the condition.

Sufferers starve themselves because they believe they are fat, and more than one in ten cases are fatal making it the deadliest of psychiatric illnesses. Just 30 per cent of patients make a full recovery.

Although many experts believe the condition is caused by social pressure, there is growing evidence there may also be a genetic link.

Researchers analysed genetic information from more than 1,200 anorexia patients and almost 2,000 healthy controls.

They looked for variants of genes that had already been linked to feeding behaviour or been flagged up in previous studies.

Just a handful of more than 150 genes studied showed signs of a link, but one stand out was the gene EPHX2, which controls an enzyme that regulates the burning of cholesterol.

Professor Nicholas Schork, of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, said: ‘When we saw that, we thought we might be onto something, because nobody else had reported this gene as having a pronounced role in anorexia.’

Anorexia affects up to one in a hundred women but how it develops is still not fully understood.

Professor Schork added: ‘These findings point in a direction probably no one would have considered taking before.’

His researchers followed up with several replication studies, each using a different cohort of anorexia patients and controls, as well as different genetic analysis methods.

The scientists continued to find evidence that certain variants of EPHX2 occur more frequently in people with anorexia.

To help make sense of these findings, they looked at existing data from a large-scale, long-term heart disease study and determined that a subset of the implicated EPHX2 variants have the effect of altering the normal relationship between weight gain and cholesterol levels.

Professor Schork said: ‘We thought with further studies this EPHX2 finding might go away, or appear less compelling, but we just kept finding evidence to suggest it plays a role in anorexia.’

It is not yet clear how EPHX2 variants that cause an abnormal metabolism of cholesterol would help trigger or maintain anorexia.

But Professor Schork noted people with anorexia often have remarkably high cholesterol levels in their blood, despite being severely malnourished.

Moreover, there have been suggestions from other studies weight loss, for example in people with depression, can lead to increases in cholesterol levels.

At the same time, there is evidence cholesterol, a basic building block of cells, particularly in the brain, has a positive association with mood.

It is possible some anorexics for genetic reasons may feel an improved mood, from having higher cholesterol, by not eating.

Professor Schork explained: ‘The hypothesis would be in some anorexics the normal metabolism of cholesterol is disrupted, which could influence their mood as well as their ability to survive despite severe caloric restriction.’

Around 60,000 Britons have anorexia. Nine out of ten sufferers are women, the majority aged 15 to 25.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Garlic can lower blood pressure by 10%... but only if you take it in tablet form

Meta-analyses are hard to evaluate but the effect is in any case very weak  -- and no mortality or morbidity effects appear to have been demonstrated

Twelve weeks of treatment with garlic tablets led to a ‘significant’ cut in blood pressure, slashing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to a review of evidence.

Researchers claim those with hypertension, or high blood pressure, could control their condition better by adding garlic to conventional medication.

The review of 21 studies on humans found supplements of dried garlic containing a guaranteed dose of the active ingredient allicin consistently led to reductions in blood pressure.

But eating the real thing would not have the same effect, says the review. Although allicin is produced when raw garlic is crushed or chewed, much of it is destroyed during cooking.

The tablets also have the significant advantage of not producing the bad breath associated with eating fresh garlic.

The review looked at supplements with a guaranteed allicin yield of 1.8mg per dose.

The earliest authoritative clinical trial to be published in 1990 found taking Kwai brand garlic tablets led to a significant fall in blood pressure of 10 per cent within 12 weeks.

More studies conducted since 1990 have demonstrated significant blood pressure lowering effects from dried garlic releasing allicin at 1.8mg per dose.

Not all garlic preparations release allicin in significant, standardised amounts, says the review by nutritionist Dr Pamela Mason in the journal Complete Nutrition.

A trial comparing garlic oil versus standardised dried garlic failed to show a blood pressure lowering effect with the oil, but blood pressure again fell significantly with dried garlic.

Around 16million Britons have high blood pressure, including the third who do not know they have it. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Garlic is thought to counter high blood pressure because it stimulates production of the chemicals nitric oxide and hydrogen sulphide, which helps relax blood vessels.

Dr Catherine Hood, an independent expert in nutrition and dietetics, said: ‘This review found evidence that garlic, in particular Kwai, can reduce the stickiness of the blood, results in dilatation of the arteries and has antioxidant activity.’

Dr Hood said there was some evidence garlic may also use the same mechanism as drugs called ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure.

The drugs stop the body creating a hormone known as angiotensin II. This has a variety of effects but essentially relaxes blood vessels.

Nutritionist Sarah West said other research suggests allicin helps lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – a common form of fat.

She added: ‘It would be very difficult to get a therapeutic dose from eating raw garlic, it would need 30 cloves at one sitting – and we don’t actually have the evidence that it would work.

‘The allicin content of raw garlic varies enormously and a significant drawback is the odour on the breath – a problem you don’t get with tablets.’


Does being fat cause headaches? Obese people are almost TWICE as likely to suffer migraines than those who are slim

Childishly naiive research.  Poor people are fatter and have worse health.  The finding is simply the usual class effect

Being seriously overweight can nearly double a person’s chances of suffering migraines, a study has found.

The disabling condition affects one in seven adults and costs the UK economy an estimated £2billion a year. Now scientists have found a link with weight.

They discovered that obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraines than those of normal weight.

Episodic migraines affect the vast majority of sufferers, who have the severe headaches for less than 15 days a month. In contrast, those with chronic migraines feel unwell for more than half the days in the month.

The research suggests that weight loss and exercise could help those who suffer from migraines. The findings also indicated the link between the condition and obesity is stronger in those under the age of 50.

‘Previous studies have shown a link between people with chronic migraines and obesity, but the research has been conflicting on whether that link existed for those with less frequent attacks,’ said researcher Dr Barbara Lee Peterlin, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

‘As obesity is a risk factor that can potentially be modified and since some medications can lead to weight gain or loss, this is important for people with migraines and their doctors.’

For the study, 3,862 people with an average age of 47 filled out surveys with information on height, weight and migraines.

A total of 1,044 participants were obese and 188 of the participants had occasional, or episodic, migraine, which is defined as 14 or fewer migraine headaches per month.

Obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraine of any frequency as compared to people of healthy weight.

Dr Peterlin said: ‘These results suggest that doctors should promote healthy lifestyle choices for diet and exercise in people with episodic migraine.

‘More research is needed to evaluate whether weight loss programmes can be helpful in overweight and obese people with episodic migraine.’

The results also showed that the link was stronger in those under 50, when migraine is most prevalent.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Forget hi-tech trainers, stick to plain plimsolls parents told

Parents whose children demand the latest Nike or Adidas trainers may be better off buying old-fashioned plimsolls because they encourage a healthier style of running, researchers claim.

But adults have been warned not to cast aside their hi-tech trainers as their bones are unable to adjust to the sudden increase in impact.

Human feet are designed to land on the front part of the foot when running, but modern trainers with cushioned heels make it virtually impossible to do so.

Instead they force us to land on the heel, which causes a sharper shock than landing on the front foot and puts more strain on joints like the knee.

Once we have grown used to running in trainers it is extremely difficult to alter our technique, even if we change or remove our shoes, and can even raise the risk of injury.

Children should be encouraged to wear shoes with thin, flexible soles such as plimsolls from a young age to help them develop a natural "barefoot" running style, experts said.

Dr Mick Wilkinson, a sports scientist at Northumbria University, told an audience at the British Science Festival in Newcastle: "I would say [to parents] don't go and buy expensive Adidas or Nike big cushioned jobs, just get them a normal plair of flexible, flat shoes.

"Give them basic footwear. Nothing structured, nothing particularly cushioned...there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the human foot is structured to be able to cope with the forces of running on the midfoot or barefoot.

"I think if somebody is going to learn to run from the very first principles, let them learn to run using their natural equipment as much as possible."

Barefoot running has become increasingly popular in America, and is moving to the UK, because studies have shown that we are built to run long distances, absorbing the impact on the front foot.

One in five runners develops injuries linked to landing on their heels, such as stress fractures in their feet and legs, and injury rates have not improved since the 1970s despite new technology being incorporated into shoes, Dr Wilkinson said.

"There's been a suggestion that barefoot running, or particularly the way that barefoot runners run - the technique they adopt - could alter some of the impact forces such that injury risk might be reduced," he said.

But there is no evidence linking barefoot running to reduced injury rates, and shedding your shoes could even raise the risk of harm unless you adopt a change in technique, he added.

"If you do it correctly, there could be some benefits. But people need to realise that barefoot running is a skill, it's a particular way of running associated with a particular style and that style for most people needs to be learned," he said.


Health myth of the juicing craze

It is a trend driven by celebrities and the perceived health benefits of making drinks with entirely natural ingredients. But “juicing” could actually be bad for you, experts have warned.

Drinking smoothies and blended fruit juices can have the unintended consequence of massively increasing the amount of sugar a person consumes, said scientists.

Retailers have reported a boom in the sale of juicers as part of a trend that began in California and grew with the endorsement of celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress, and James Cracknell, the Olympic rower.

Juicing, which is different to blending or pulping, extracts the water and nutrients from a fruit or vegetable while discarding the tough fibre which aids the digestive system.

Barry Popkin, a professor at the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, and Dr George Bray, an American physician, said people were deceiving themselves about their sugar intake by swapping fizzy drinks for juices and smoothies.

For example, one smoothie from Innocent — “pomegranates, blueberries and acai superfood”— contains 34.3g of sugar in a 250ml bottle, while a 500ml bottle of squeezed orange juice sold at Pret a Manger contains 51g of sugar. This compares with 39g of sugar in a 330ml can of Coke.

Prof Popkin said: “Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled. Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat.

“We feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”

Lakeland, the kitchenware retailer, reported last week that sales of juicers had shot up by 4,000 per cent in a week following a Channel 5 documentary in which a man lost six stone by going on a juice-only diet. John Lewis reported that sales had risen by 2,600 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Will Jones, a buyer of small electricals at John Lewis, said: “Juicing is a huge trend for us this year in response to high levels of customer demand for juicers. Customers have been looking for healthy alternatives to help them stay refreshed in the heat and juicing ticks those boxes.”

Prof Popkin and Prof Bray warned almost 10 years ago that high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soft drinks was linked to obesity. Their research was said in part to have led Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to diversify into fruit juices.

In research published as an update, they warn that “smoothies and fruit juice are the new danger”. “To the best of our knowledge every added amount of fructose – be it from fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages or any other beverage, or even from foods with high sugar content – adds equally to our health concerns linked with this food component,” they say.

Coca-Cola bought Innocent smoothies while PepsiCo owns Tropicana, which launched a range of smoothies in 2008. “Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to boost daily fruit intake as each 250ml portion contains the equivalent of 2 fruit portions,” it said at the time.

Prof Popkin suggested that the long-term effects of sugar consumption are the same whether it comes from natural sources such as fruit or in the form of artificial sugars added to soft drinks.

Last week research published by the British Medical Association found that nurses, who ate whole fruit, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, were less likely to get type 2 diabetes, while those who drank fruit juice were at increased risk. Those who swapped fruit juice for whole fruits three times a week cut their risk by 7 per cent.

The British Soft Drinks Association said consumption of sugary soft drinks had fallen by 9 per cent over the past 10 years, but at the same time obesity had increased by 15 per cent. “Obesity is a serious and complex problem requiring concerted action by a wide range of organisations as well as by people themselves. Soft drinks companies recognise the role they have to play,” a spokesman added.