Monday, March 31, 2014

Eating fruit and vegetables can stop you having a heart attack – but only if you are a WOMAN

The fact that it applied to women only suggests that it is a random result.  It's self-report data only so is weak to start with

Eating fruit and vegetables could stop you having a heart attack - but only if you are a woman.

Young females who eat a healthy diet are less likely to develop clogged arteries from a build up of plaque, which can lead to heart attacks or stroke, compared with those who eat a less balanced diet.

However the same benefit does not apply to men - and scientists don't know why, saying the phenomenon 'warrants further investigation'.

The study, comprised of more than 2,500 people in the U.S, reinforces the importance of developing healthy eating habits early in life.

Previous research was able to find that middle aged adults who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables are less likely to have heart attacks or strokes, but the effect on young adults is less clear.

Women in their 20s who said they ate between eight and nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a 2,000 calorie diet were 40 per cent less likely to develop a build up in their arteries called 'plaque', or coronary artery calcification.

This was when compared with those in their 40s who ate only three or four servings a day, whose chance of developing the build up was much higher.

This trend carried on even after other lifestyle behaviours like smoking, exercise and sugary drink consumption were accounted for.

The study also took into consideration current eating habits, further demonstrating how dietary patterns affect younger people as well.

Dr Michael Miedema, of the Minneapolis Heart Institute, said: 'Several other studies have also suggested a diet high in fruits and vegetables is less protective in men, but we do not have a good biological reason for this lack of association.

'It is an important question because lifestyle behaviours, such as a heart healthy diet, are the foundation of cardiovascular prevention and we need to know what dietary components are most important.'


Can an Atkins-style diet really fight depression? Research suggests low-carb, high-fat foods can drastically improve mental health

Sounds promising

They say you are what eat, and we all know the difference a better diet makes to our complexion and our waistlines. But what about our heads?

An increasing number of scientists are pointing to the Ketogenic diet - similar in nature to the low-carb, high-protein Atkins and Caveman meal plans, which have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder.

'It's a very new field; the first papers only came out a few years ago,' Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia tells The Washington Post.  'But the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health.'

A Ketogenic diet typically restricts the intake of carbs to no more than 50g a day. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 60/35/5 rule in which 60 per cent of calories come from fat, 35 per cent from protein, and five per cent from carbs. Grass-fed meat, fish, dairy, nuts and avocado are top of the list in terms of foods that comply.

Jodi Corbit, a 47-year-old mother from Catonsville, Maryland, had been battling depression for decades before adopting the Ketogenic diet in a bid to lose weight. To her surprise, she not only shifted several pounds, but also her lifelong depression.

'It was like a veil lifted and I could see life more clearly,' she explains. 'It changed everything.'

Dr El-Mallakh, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville, believes there is a 'strong link' between Ketogenic eating and mental health. He authored a book on the subject, Bipolar Depression, and last year published two case studies to support his findings.

One 32-year-old woman from San Fransisco, suffering from bipolar, who declined to be named, tried the Atkins diet three years ago. 'I noticed within a day or two the marked difference in my head,' she recalls. 'It felt clear for the first time in years and years.'

She contacted Dr El-Mallakh in an attempt to spread the word. 'It surprised me how little information was out there, because for me it was life-changing,' she said, adding that she had been symptom-free ever since adopting the diet.

The Ketogenic diet has long been used, as far back as 500 BC in fact, to treat seizures, and widely-published research has shown that it can result in an up to 90 per cent decrease in seizures for patients with epilepsy.

It's also been shown to help with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even cancer. Scientists admit they aren't entirely sure why this is, and it's still more of an association  than a direct cause and effect.

Dr Mallakh has pointed out that many of the drugs proven to help with bipolar depression have anti-seizure properties, which has established a link between the high-fat, low-carb diet and its effects on the brain, if nothing else.

But there are skeptics, particularly when it comes to how the diet may affect the body long term.

Just last month, we reported that nutritionist Dr T Campbell was hitting back against the low-carb craze with his new book, The Low-Carb Fraud.

Ignoring its apparent mental benefits, he argues that the standard American diet is already too high in protein and fat, an imbalance that is merely worsened with this sort of diet. 'Low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets cause high cholesterol - a major indicator of heart disease and cancer risks,' he suggests.

Dr Volek, a dietician and professor at the University of Connecticut disagrees. 'It was nothing short of an epiphany when I changed to a Ketogenic diet 20 years ago,' he told The Examiner. 'There are very few people that a Ketogenic diet could not help.'


Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Organic food does not cut women's cancer risk' - study

The usual finding

Eating pesticide-free organic food does nothing to reduce a woman's risk of developing cancer, according to a study.

Researchers instead found that there was a small increased risk of breast cancer seen in consumers who opted for organic produce.

They asked 600,000 women aged 50 or over whether they ate organic food and monitored their health for nine years.

In total, around 50,000 of the women developed one of 16 of the most common cancers during the study period.

A comparison between 180 women who never ate organic food and 45,000 who "usually" or "always" chose organic found no difference in overall cancer risk.

In fact, they saw a small increased risk of breast cancer in organic consumers. But this result could be due to other factors or pure chance, the scientists said.

A reduction in the risk of the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma was also linked to eating organic, but again scientists said this may not be a genuine association.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at Oxford University, said: "In this large study of middle-aged women in the UK we found no evidence that a woman's overall cancer risk was decreased if she generally ate organic food.

"More research is needed to follow-up our findings of a possible reduction in risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma."

There have been widely-reported concerns that pesticides commonly used in food production might increase cancer risk, but so far the evidence has been inconclusive.

Conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables contain very small pesticide residues.

The new findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer, which is owned by Cancer Research UK.

Dr Claire Knight, the charity's health information manager, said: "This study adds to the evidence that eating organically grown food doesn't lower your overall cancer risk.

"But if you're anxious about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables, it's a good idea to wash them before eating.

"Scientists have estimated that over 9 per cent of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5 per cent are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

"So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables - whether conventionally grown or not - can help reduce your cancer risk."

The latest findings are certain to upset supporters of organic food, who include a number of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have claimed there is a “cocktail effect” of pesticides.

The study’s findings were questioned by Peter Melchett, director of policy at the Soil Association, which campaigns “for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use”.

He said: “We find it strange that a 21 per cent decrease in non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, among women who reported usually or always eating organic food, is being so readily dismissed by Cancer Research UK.

“They seem to have a poor understanding of what pesticides are found in and how pesticides get into food.

“Many modern pesticides are ‘systemic’ which means they are in every part of the plant and can’t be washed away whatever consumers do when they prepare food.”

Mr Melchett said the most-commonly found pesticide in British food, according to government testing, is Monsanto’s in bread because it is sprayed on wheat just before harvest.

“Dr Claire Knight says that if people are anxious about pesticides they should wash food before eating it: we’d be interested to know how she expects consumers to wash loaves of bread,” he said.

The Soil Association claims four out of five households in the UK buy organic foods, for a variety of reasons.

Mr Melchett went on: “These range from the benefits organic brings to wildlife – no system of farming is more bee-friendly – to the fact that organic standards prohibit GM crops and ingredients, harmful hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial food colours and additives.

“People also buy organic to reduce their exposure to pesticides – 320 of which can be routinely used in non-organic farming.”

Mr Melchett also questioned the researchers’ methodology, including what he claimed was the failure to monitor the women’s weight and physical activity regularly during the study.

He added: “It’s widely accepted that studying the relationship between diet and cancer is very challenging, given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate.”


Good news! Scientists say it's HEALTHY to be overweight - but only if you are over 65

An Australian study shows that older people with a higher body mass index live for longer.

Scientists at Deakin University, in Melbourne, found people over the age of 65 who fell into the overweight category of BMI were least likely to die.

They found that the lowest risk of death was among those with a BMI of about 27.5, which is considered overweight according to the World Health Organisation.

They also found that mortality rates were much higher among those with a BMI between 22 and 23 – this is within the normal range.

‘It is time to reassess the healthy weight guidelines for older people,’ lead author Professor Caryl Nowson said.

‘Our results showed that those over the age of 65 with a BMI of between 23 and 33 lived longer, indicating that the ideal body weight for older people is significantly higher than the recommended 18.5 to 25 “normal” healthy weight range.’

The research team reviewed studies published between 1990 and 2013 that reported on BMI and risk of death in people aged 65 years and over.

Collectively these studies followed around 200,000 people over an average of 12 years.

The results showed that people with a ‘normal’ BMI of 21 to 22 were 12 per cent more likely to die.

They also revealed that people with a BMI of 20 to 20.9 were 19 per cent more likely to die and people with a BMI of 33 to 33.9, which is classed as obese, were eight per cent more likely to die.

Professor Nowson suggests that most older people need to get off the weight loss bandwagon.  She said: ‘These findings indicate that, by current standards, being overweight is not associated with an increased risk of dying.

‘Rather, it is those sitting at the lower end of the normal range that need to be monitored, as older people with BMIs less than 23 are at increased risk of dying.’

Advice on ideal body weight should take into account factors other than BMI, Professor Nowson said.

‘Factors such as chronic diseases and the ability to move around need to be considered as there is no real issue with being in the overweight range unless it is preventing people from moving around freely,’ she added.

‘Rather than focussing on weight loss, older people should put their efforts into having a balanced diet, eating when hungry and keeping active.

‘Putting too much emphasis on dietary restrictions also increases the risk malnutrition in this age group. Malnutrition in older people is not well recognised as this can occur even when BMI is in the overweight range.’

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Friday, March 28, 2014

What kills more people than AIDS, diabetes and road injuries?

This is very speculative.  Very WHO.  How do you sort out all causes of deaths worldwide?  Many studies of "illness" caused by pollution just asssume that pollution is the cause

Air pollution killed seven million people in 2012, more people than AIDS, diabetes and road injuries combined.

One in eight deaths worldwide can be attributed to breathing tainted air, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation said in a report on Tuesday, today doubling its previous estimates for pollution fatalities.

The biggest culprit is poor ventilation of indoor heaters and cookers, the agency said.

The WHO revised the number because the deadly effect of air contaminants, which extends beyond respiratory problems to heart attacks, strokes and cancer, are now better understood. Low- and middle-income nations in Asia accounted for more than 70 per cent of deaths related to air contamination in 2012, the report shows.

‘‘Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,’’ Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s department for public health, environmental and social determinants of health, said in a statement. ‘‘The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.’’

Indoor smoke killed about 4.3 million people and outdoor air pollution killed about 3.7 million in 2012, the WHO said.

There’s some overlap between deaths from indoor and outdoor factors, the agency said. The WHO previously estimated two million deaths in 2004 from indoor pollution and 1.3 million in 2008 from outdoor air contamination.

‘‘Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves,’’ Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, women and children’s health, said in the statement.

The new estimates show a stronger link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart ailments, in addition to the known connection with respiratory disease, according to the report.

Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer and increase the risk of bladder cancer, a World Health Organisation agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.

Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as $US300 billion ($329.34 billion) a year, an official has found, report says, calling for a new urbanisation model for the world's second-largest economy.

"As China prepares for the next wave of urbanisation, addressing environmental and resource constraints will become increasingly more urgent because much of China's pollution is concentrated in its cities," said the joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Centre of the State Council, China's cabinet.

High mortality levels and other health problems from China's notorious air pollution are estimated to cost the country from $US100 billion to more than $US300 billion a year, said the report, which was 14 months in the making.

Writing in the Lancet in December, former Chinese health minister Chen Zhu cited studies showing air pollution caused up to 500,000 premature deaths a year in China.

Tuesday's report said the long-term consequences could include birth defects and impaired cognitive functions because young children and infants are severely affected by poor air quality.

China's rapid urbanisation over the last three decades -  a key part of its economic boom - has avoided some common ills such as large-scale slums and unemployment, the report said.

"But strains have begun to emerge in the form of rising inequality, environmental degradation, and the quickening depletion of natural resources," it said.

Much of the new urban land was taken from farmers at prices often no more than 20 per cent of market values, and the amount of available farmland is now close to the minimum level necessary to ensure food security, said the report.

If current trends continue, an additional 34,000 square kilometres - an area about the size of the Netherlands - will be needed to accommodate the growth of cities in the next decade, it added.

China needs to reform the way it expands its cities and curb inefficient urban sprawl, which has sometimes produced ghost towns and wasteful property development, the report said.

On current trends China will spend $US5.3 trillion on urbanisation over the next 15 years - but with more efficient, denser cities the country could save about $US1.4 trillion, or 15 per cent of its gross domestic product last year, World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati told a conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

The report proposed six areas for reform including more efficient land management that better benefits farmers, and adjustments to the "hukou" residence registration system to give migrant workers equal access to basic public services.

It also called on Beijing to step up its law enforcement on pollution.

China's Premier Li Keqiang vowed to "declare war" on pollution at the country's annual legislative gathering this month, and announced new measures to add to a raft of others issued over the past year.


Alzheimer's Disease risk may begin in the womb

If you are a  mouse

A pregnant mother's eating habits may influence her unborn child's chances of developing Alzheimer's, new research has suggested.

Scientists found that offspring of mice fed a high-fat diet were more likely as adults to experience impaired blood flow in the brain, a feature linked to the disease.

When the offspring were also fed a high-fat diet their brains became less able to rid themselves of harmful amyloid protein, which accumulates in sticky tangles in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

More work is needed but the study could have important implications for humans, the researchers believe.

Lead scientist Dr Cheryl Hawkes, from the University of Southampton, said: "Our preliminary findings suggest that mothers' diets during pregnancy may have long-term effects on their children's brains and vascular health.

"We still need to do more work to understand how our findings translate to humans, but we have known for some time that protecting mothers' health during pregnancy can help lower the risk of health problems for their children.

"Our next step will be to investigate how our findings could relate to Alzheimer's disease in people. We hope these results could provide a new lead for research to understand how to prevent the disease."

The research was presented at the Alzheimer's Research UK conference taking place in Oxford this week.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at the charity, which funded the study, said: "It's important to remember that this research is in mice, but these results add to existing evidence suggesting that the risk of Alzheimer's disease in later life is affected by our health earlier in life.

"This study goes one step further by suggesting that what happens in the womb may also be important. We're pleased to have funded this research, which has shed new light on the complex picture of Alzheimer's risk.

"Alzheimer's is a complicated disease and it's likely that our risk is affected by a number of different genetic and environmental factors.

"Research to understand these factors can help equip us to take steps to prevent the disease, but in the meantime, evidence suggests we can lower our risk by eating a healthy, balanced diet, doing regular exercise, not smoking and keeping our blood pressure and weight in check."


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Drink tequila, lose weight? How sugars found in the Mexican spirit have 'tremendous' potential to fight obesity

If you are a mouse

The sugar that gives tequila its kick could also help us stay slim.  Researchers say the plant sugars that are fermented to create the Mexican spirit hold ‘tremendous’ potential in the battle of the bulge.

Tests show the sugars from the cactus-like agave plant (which are not the same as in the more commonly known agave syrup) raise levels of a gut hormone that tells the brain it is time to stop eating.  The hormone also keeps food the stomach for longer, enhancing the feeling of fullness.

If that wasn’t enough, the slightly-sweet tasting sugars known as agavins aren't processed by the body – meaning they can’t make us fat.

The lack of absorption by the body also means they should be free of headaches and other side-effects that artificial sweeteners can cause.

Mice given water laced with agavins ate less and lost more weight than animals given water containing artificial sweeteners.

Their blood glucose levels also fell, suggesting that the sweetener could also be useful for diabetics, said researchers at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.

Mexican researcher Mercedes López said agavins are in a ‘tremendous position for consumption by diabetics and the obese’.   He added: 'We believe agavins have a great potential as a light sweetener.'

Previous research suggests they also strengthen the bones.

Unfortunately, agavins lose their health-boosting properties when processed – meaning drinking tequila won’t have the same effect


'Astonishing' new cancer drug could extend the lives of terminally-ill patients and eliminate their symptoms overnight....with virtually no side effects

A new version of an old strategy.  Looks promising

A new ‘miracle’ pill which could extend the lives of terminally-ill cancer patients and eliminate their symptoms overnight is being trialled by British researchers.

The medicine, which is said to have virtually no side effects, is taken in a single dose every morning and effectively switches off the mechanisms of leukaemia and lymphoma.

Unlike traditional forms of treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it has none of the debilitating side effects such as hair loss, tiredness and sickness.

Cancer patients at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, Devon, were the first in the world to trial the new drug, which is a new class of Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) inhibiting drugs.

They said the breakthrough treatment left them feeling better immediately and has had no side effects to date.

One terminally ill man given just months to live before the trials says he's ‘fighting fit’ - more than a year-and-a-half later.

The world-first project is being led by Professor Simon Rule, a globally-renowned expert in haematology and researcher at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

He says the new pill has the potential to transform the lives of desperately ill patients and eliminate the need for costly, gruelling bouts of chemotherapy.

Professor Rule said: ‘The astonishing thing about these drugs is that they have virtually no side effects, which is unprecedented from my experience. In some patients the effects are immediate.

‘Patients with lots of symptoms, particularly those with lymphoma, will feel better the next day after taking the medication.’

Current cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, intensive chemo-immunotherapy, or stem cell transplants are effective but patients frequently relapse and eventually run out of further options.

The new oral pill works by blocking a protein which causes growth in cancerous cells which in turn caused the infected cells to die and leaves healthy cells unaffected.

The drug was first trialled on David Hodge, 74, from Plymouth, Devon, who has battled chronic lymphocytic leukaemia for 17 years.

Mr Hodge was given months to live because his immune system was so badly damaged and had become resistant to all other treatments.

He spent the first night of the trial in hospital before returning for regular check-ups over the subsequent 20 months.

He said: ‘I think with any new trial or drug, or with chemotherapy there's a little bit of trepidation but I'm a Christian and I prayed about this and I got great peace about it.

‘Even if it proves at this moment to be of little use to me, I trust that with fine tuning it will prove to be significant to those taking the drug later on.

‘It's just like, well it's better than taking paracetamol. I take the medication first thing in the morning at 6 o'clock and then go back to bed for an hour.

‘Afterwards I get up and get on with my day; I'm fighting fit. I've had no problems, no side effects, nothing.’

The next phase of Professor Rule's study will see BTK trialled against standard chemotherapy to see if it can become a viable long-term replacement.

He said: ‘This will completely change the way we manage these diseases. We have access to the next generation of the drug to be part of the next trial phases.

‘This is not a cure for cancer but it will mean we are significantly improving our patients' life expectancy and quality of life; similar to managing a chronic condition.

‘I have yet to come across another class of drugs in my career that has been so successful for leukaemia or lymphoma.

‘I have done a lot of drug trials in my career, this drug and its predecessor, which I was fortunate to be the first person in Europe to use - they are transformational as far as I am concerned.

‘Normally, what you expect with trials like this is that you treat a patient for a period of time and often what happens is the drug doesn't work.

‘The side effects make you stop the trial or the disease doesn't respond for very long. What is very exciting about this drug is the effects are continuing and there are no emerging side effects.

‘The next stage will be chemo-free treatment. We've been talking about it for years and now it might be a reality.

‘This has the very real prospect of changing the management of these difficult forms of cancer.'


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CDC: Higher cancer risk for kids living near busy roads

This is a bit of a nonsense.  Why review only 7 studies?  Did all the others show no effect?  And did they all control for income?  Probably not -- in which case we may be looking at a poverty effect.  The journal article is "Residential Traffic Exposure and Childhood Leukemia"

Young children who are exposed to high levels of vehicle exhaust — such as what they'd encounter living near busy roads in urban areas — appear to have a greater risk of childhood leukemia, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of seven previous studies.

The CDC's systematic review, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says that in the USA an estimated 30%-45% of people in large urban areas live near major roads, "suggesting increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution and risk of adverse health outcomes."

The article says the studies reviewed by the CDC suggest "that childhood leukemia is associated with residential traffic exposure during the postnatal period, but not during the prenatal period."

The review found that children diagnosed with leukemia were "50% more likely to live near busy roads than children without leukemia," said Vickie Boothe, a CDC health scientist and lead author of the Journal article. "While the study found a link, it does not prove that living near a busy road causes leukemia."

The incidence of childhood cancer in the nation has been increasing since 1975, the report says. The most common form of childhood cancer is leukemia, representing about one-third of all cancers among children 14 and younger. The cause is unknown for about 90% of childhood leukemia cases.

The seven previous studies reviewed by the CDC researchers involved just over 8,000 children, said Tegan Boehmer, a CDC epidemiologist and a co-author of the article.

Previous research has demonstrated a connection between residential traffic proximity and such health problems as asthma, cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.

This was the first comprehensive scientific review of studies assessing the association between residential traffic exposure and childhood cancer. The article notes that a 2010 special report by the Health Effects Institute on its review of five childhood cancer studies concluded there was "inadequate and insufficient" evidence to determine causality between exposure to traffic pollution and childhood cancers.

Boothe and Boehmer say further research is needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between traffic and childhood leukemia, and to determine specifics on volume of traffic and distance from it that create a risk.

The study suggests that "precautionary public health messages and interventions designed to reduce population exposure to traffic might be warranted."


Food Fetish on Campus

Colleges and universities are embracing "food studies" primarily as another way of pushing leftist beliefs

In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes one of the characters at the Custom House who is well suited to government work. He is the Inspector, an epicurean so devoid of imagination, feeling, and soul that he is likened to “the beasts of the field.” His mental capacities are limited to the ability to “recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat.” 

I was reminded of that passage as I learned about the latest “studies” endeavor being cooked up on American college campuses: “food studies.”

These days, even in their required classes, students are not likely to get exposure to philosophical concepts like Epicureanism, or to classical authors such as Hawthorne. They’re more apt to take courses that focus on food itself, that tell them essentially, “You are what you eat.”  Food, in other words, carries moral meanings. What you eat and how you eat define you as a moral person, with the new standards of morality aligning with the other lessons of the contemporary campus on race, class, sustainability, animal rights, and gender. 

The latest additions have little to do with legitimate intellectual endeavors like agriculture or nutrition science. Instead, food becomes another lens through which to examine oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism. 

A surprising number of universities have gone in this direction. The New School has an undergraduate program in food studies, while several offer master’s level programs: Chatham University, New York University, Boston University (a graduate certificate); and New Mexico State University (a graduate-level minor). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York offers an interdisciplinary concentration, and Indiana University even a Ph.D. concentration in Anthropology of Food.

Anthropology is one source of this focus on food, and a legitimate one.  At Emory University the Anthropology Department supervises graduates from the School of Public Health and the Department of Nutrition, and offers a specialization in “Food, Nutrition, and Anthropology.”   

At Spelman College, anthropology professor Daryl White has taught a course called “Food and Culture” for twenty years.  It’s particularly popular among International Studies students, says White, because “Food is the universal solvent. You can talk about it when you can’t talk about anything else.” 

Undoubtedly, food plays a role in cross-cultural communication. But the sociologist authors of Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape (the textbook White uses in his current course) present food as significant in a way that goes well beyond cross-cultural communication, as indicated by such chapters as “Eating Authentically” and “The Culinary Other.” They state that “foodies” can appreciate the “peasant cook,” the street vendor, and the master chef. Food studies have become part of the agenda of social justice and multiculturalism, which have come to infiltrate much of the humanities.

Food studies concerns do go beyond food, Professor White acknowledged in an interview in an Atlanta alternative weekly newspaper that ranged into the areas of Southern culture, racism, and Paula Deen. The study of popular culture figures and racism, of course, have long been edging out the traditional subjects on our campuses.

Food studies will now become a minor at Spelman.  It’s an effort White has been spearheading with Kimberley Jackson, who teaches a course on food chemistry, an elective that can fulfill a science requirement for the non-science major. 

The effort for a food studies minor began with nine faculty members applying for and receiving a Mellon grant, White told me. After expected approval at the April curriculum committee meeting, courses should be available in the fall semester in several departments, including economics. A biologist and Chinese language expert will jointly offer a course that explores the development of Chinese cuisine, and the role of lactose intolerance. In the English department a course will investigate food imagery in Toni Morrison’s novels.

You can find the mania over food studies in many states, including North Carolina. At UNC-Chapel Hill, students in the Department of Geography can take “Critical Food Studies,” and others can develop interdisciplinary programs that incorporate courses such as “Food in American Culture” provided through the department of American Studies.

Food studies is also a focus of graduate research in Chapel Hill’s English and Comparative Literature Department. Rachel Norman describes her dissertation on Arab-American literature as “focusing on representations of language and food as practices of oral identity.”  Inger S.B. Brodey, associate professor, lists as among the courses she teaches Asian Food Rituals, cross-listed with Asian Studies.  And Jessica Martel’s dissertation is on "Modernist Form and Imperial Food Politics, 1890-1922.”

Food studies has made its way even down to freshman composition.  Apparently responding to market demand, the textbook publisher Bedford is offering Food Matters with a sample syllabus and recommended “resources” for an entire semester devoted to food studies.  Among the resources are the “documentaries” Forks Over Knives (which advocates a low-fat whole-food, plant-based diet) and Super Size Me (about the evils of the fast food industry), and the books, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser, Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of her year eating locally, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the 1971 bestseller about the environmental impact of meat production, Diet for a Small Planet. 

Perhaps for the freshman who did not realize he was signing up for a “food studies” composition class, the model syllabus begins by asking, “Do you eat breakfast?  Is it from a box, your garden, or the university cafeteria?” with more questions until: “Have you ever thought about where your food comes from?” Disarming the critic who might think these critiques are “overblown,” Holly Bauer, the author, who teaches English at UC San Diego, tells the student that the issue is “contested terrain” to explore and write about.

There is not much “contesting” among the essays in the book, however.  All seem to harp on  political themes relating to food: “Doberge Cake after Katrina,” by Amy Cyrex Sins, and “Equality for Animals,” by Peter Singer, Princeton bioethics professor. Bedford also includes an excerpt from Michelle Obama’s book, American Grown: The Story of One White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid and Food Plate Nutrition Guidelines.

The prompts for essays convey the idea that eating is fraught with ideological choices. Prompt #1 asks, “What is food?  What is the purpose of food?  What determines what we eat?”  Prompt #2 asks, “What does it mean to eat ethically?” and #3 asks, “What is the future of food?” as it notes the contributors’ concerns with climate change, global hunger, and labor injustice. 

Thus, rather than reading examples of exemplary prose and being asked to write about important issues, students are fed a steady stream of polemics and are given loaded topic questions. 

To put the primary focus on food, rather than ideas and writing, is to act in the manner of Hawthorne’s Inspector, I think.  A similar mistake in emphasis is evidenced in “Immanuel Kant, Cuisine, Fine Art,”  a paper to be presented at an upcoming conference by Texas Tech University history student David C. Simpson, who describes himself as “. . . researching my Master’s Thesis on the history of cuisine as fine art.”  Shouldn’t the primary focus be on Kant? 

To be sure, many of the papers at the Food Studies Association conference in Prato, Italy, where Simpson will present, deal with important topics like food chemistry and health, and perhaps political systems (“Mafia and Italian Food Supply Chain”). Another upcoming conference, that of  the Association for the Study of Food and Society, also offers papers on scientific concerns, alongside such things as “Gender, Race, and Ethnicity” and “Art, Media, and Literary Analyses.”

And, finally, the Food Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association will hold several panels at its meeting, mostly on political topics, like “Food, Debt, and the Anti-Capitalist Imagination” and “How the Other Half Eats: Race and Food Reform from the Slaughterhouse to the White House.” 

“Food studies” has become an academic growth area, adding to the deterioration of the humanities, and to the advancement of leftist ideologies. No doubt our universities will be producing many more “scholars” investigating all aspects of food: food and race, food and capitalism, food and gender, etc.  But we will have fewer graduates familiar with literary and philosophical masterpieces.  Fewer will be able to produce good writing—or real food.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Children born to older fathers 'are more likely to be ugly'... but may also live longer

This is just the impressions of two very small groups of people

Older fathers have uglier children, researchers have claimed after linking age to genetic mutations.  The finding comes weeks after leading scientists reported children born to men over the age of 45 run a higher risk of having autism and psychiatric disorders.

With age, sperm-producing cells do not copy a man's DNA as effectively, leading to genetic mutations.

Martin Fielder, an anthropologist at Vienna University, told the Sunday Times: 'Every 16 years the mutation rate doubles. Other researchers found 25 mutations per sperm in a 20-year-old, but at age 40 it is 65 mutations. By 56, it doubles again.

'The effect is very visible - someone born to a father of 22 is already 5-10 per cent more attractive than those with a 40-year-old father and the difference grows with the age gap.'

In contrast, women pass on a maximum of 15 mutations to their baby, regardless of age, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

Surveying a group of six men and six women, researchers showed them each 4,018 photographs of 18-20-year-old men and 4,416 of women the same age, and asked to rate their attractiveness.

Those with older fathers were consistently rated less attractive.

However, the offspring of older men, though less attractive, are likely to outlive their peers with younger fathers, it is claimed.

Professor Lee Smith, a geneticist at Edinburgh University, told the Sunday Times other research found such children have longer telomeres - the caps on the end of chromosomes - which are associated with longer life.

But the mounting research connecting parents' age with autism is cause for concern, experts warn.

Autism is an umbrella term for a range of developmental disorders that have a lifelong effect on someone’s ability to interact socially and communicate.

In the UK, around one in 100 adults is thought to be affected by autism, mostly men, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Researchers said men should be advised about the potential problems in order to help their personal decision-making when it came to having fathering children at older ages.

They warned that advancing paternal age posed a risk of ‘numerous public health and societal problems’.

Among well-known older dads are Simon Cowell, 54, whose son was born earlier this month, and comedian Frank Skinner whose first child was born in 2012 when he was 55.


I've ditched statins for good

As experts clash over proposals that millions more of us take statins to prevent heart disease and stroke, a vascular surgeon explains why he feels better without them

When I had a routine health check-up eight years ago, my cholesterol was so high that the laboratory thought there had been a mistake. I had 9.3 millimoles of cholesterol in every litre of blood — almost twice the recommended maximum.

It was quite a shock. The GP instantly prescribed statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs that are supposed to prevent heart disease and strokes. For eight years, I faithfully popped my 20mg atorvastatin pills, without side effects. Then, one day last May, I stopped. It wasn’t a snap decision; after looking more closely at the research, I’d concluded that statins were not going to save me from a heart attack and that my cholesterol levels were all but irrelevant.

When I informed my GP of my decision three months later, I wasn’t entirely honest. Rather than say I was sceptical about the drugs, I told my doctor I’d quit the statins because they were causing pain in my arm.

He didn’t bat an eyelid. Evidence from the drug industry published this month – evidence I suspect was heavily reliant on data from the drug industry, as Dr James Le Fanu pointed out on these pages last week – may suggest that side effects are uncommon, but previous studies have found that one in five people on statins suffers adverse side effects, from muscle pain and diarrhoea to memory loss and blurred vision.

The GP simply suggested I try another brand of statin. The sooner the better, he said, given that I’d already been off my prescription for three months. “Hang on,” I said. “Could you give me a blood test first?” When the results came back, he was amazed that my total blood cholesterol was lower than when I’d been on statins. After three months without the pills, it was 5.4mmol/l (5.4 millimoles per litre of blood) compared with 5.7 mmol/l a year earlier.

The only major changes I’d made to my lifestyle since coming off statins were eliminating sugar (including alcohol and starchy foods such as bread) and eating more animal fat. Many experts now believe that sugar is emerging as a true villain in the heart-disease story; while after decades of demonisation, saturated fat has been acquitted of causing heart disease by a recent “meta” analysis of 70 studies by Cambridge University.

Typically, I was eating red meat three or four times a week and enjoying butter, full-fat milk and plenty of eggs. You would have thought that after three months on a diet so high in saturated fat, my cholesterol would have shot back up to pre-statin levels — but no, it came down and has stayed down seven months on. Not only that, but my levels of LDL (so-called bad cholesterol) were also lower than when I’d been on statins, and my ratio of HDL (so-called good cholesterol) to LDL was under four for the first time, an excellent sign, according to medical wisdom.

Not that I cared about any of this.

Yes, it was the statins that originally reduced my cholesterol levels so dramatically. But so what? I believe that high cholesterol has been a scapegoat for too long. Yes, it may, in some circumstances, be an indicator of heart disease but there is no evidence of a causal link. In my view, high total blood cholesterol or high LDL levels no more cause heart attacks than paramedics cause car crashes, even though they are present at the scene.

Just lowering cholesterol with drugs without sorting out the dietary and lifestyle factors that actually cause heart disease is nonsensical. Besides, there are plenty of other, more reliable indicators of heart-disease risk. What further astonished my GP was that on these indicators I was now apparently better off in other ways than when I’d been on statins. My blood pressure was down. For the first time in years, I was slimmer, especially around the belly. My triglycerides — a type of blood fat with a causal link to heart disease — were lower than at any time in the preceding eight years. My fasting blood glucose was at the optimum level, whereas a year earlier it had been too high. My total white blood count — a marker of inflammation — was lower.

My blood test for a marker called glycated haemoglobin (A1c), high levels of which are associated with heart disease and overall mortality, were bang on normal. Finally, my level of c-reactive protein (CRP) — a protein that rises in response to inflammation — was extremely low. So, biochemically, I was in excellent shape, better than when I’d been on the statins. “Have you taken up running?” asked my bemused GP.

No, I’d always run. For years, I’d exercised three times a week, eaten plenty of fish, refrained from smoking and tried to keep my stress levels low. The only thing I’d changed was my intake of sugar and animal fat.

That check-up was seven months ago and now, at 58, I’m not on a single tablet. My GP is happy. I feel better than I have in years and, at the same time, deeply concerned about proposals advising even wider use of statins.

Until 2005, statins were prescribed only to those with at least a 30 per cent or greater risk of having a heart attack within 10 years. This was then reduced to a 20 per cent risk. Now, draft NHS guidelines would have them dished out to those with just a 10 per cent risk — in other words, most men over the age of 50 and most women over the age of 60.

I am a vascular surgeon. Before founding a private clinic in Dorset 11 years ago, specialising in varicose veins, I worked in the NHS for 13 years. Back then, I didn’t question medical guidance on cholesterol, and thought statins were a wonder drug. And so they probably are, for men who have heart disease — not necessarily because they lower cholesterol, but because they may cut other risks such as the inflammation-marker CRP. Exercise, weight loss and omega 3 supplements also lower CRP.

But what about other groups — women, the elderly and people like me who have not been diagnosed with heart disease? The evidence that we will benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs is ambiguous at best. The 2011 Hunt 2 study, one of the most recent and largest, followed 52,000 men and women in Norway aged 20-74 with no pre-existing heart disease, for 10 years.

The results for women were crystal clear. The lower a woman’s total cholesterol, the greater her risk of dying, either of heart disease or anything else, including cancer. This reflects findings in previous studies.

For men, high cholesterol was associated with heart disease and death from other causes. But so, too, was low cholesterol — below 5mmol/l. Again, this is only an association, not a causal link. A range of between 5mmol/l and 7mmol/l was the optimum level. Guess what? This is already the national average. In addition, numerous studies have linked high cholesterol levels with increased longevity in the elderly.

As for me, I have not been diagnosed with heart disease, and nobody in my family has had a heart attack. However, all four of my paternal uncles and my sister have diabetes. Research from Canada, published last year in the BMJ, has shown that statins raise the risk of diabetes, so that gives me little faith. The controversy over these drugs was reignited last week when Prof Sir Rory Collins from Oxford University warned that doctors’ hesitancy about prescribing them to those at risk could cost lives.

GPs are, by definition, generalists. They don’t have time to read and analyse data from every paper on every medical condition. Even so, in a recent survey by Pulse magazine, six in 10 GPs opposed the draft proposal to lower the risk level at which patients are prescribed statins. And 55 per cent said they would not take statins themselves or recommend them to a relative, based on the proposed new guidelines.

If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what does.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Vitamin D May Lower Cholesterol

Trivial results

Many observational studies have suggested that vitamin D may have benefits for heart health. Now a randomized trial has found that vitamin D appears to reduce levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

Researchers randomly assigned 576 postmenopausal women to either a daily dose of 400 units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium, or a placebo. They followed them for three years.

By the end of the study, published in Menopause, the vitamin D group had significantly higher serum levels of vitamin D, and a small but notable drop in LDL.

The researchers controlled for initial vitamin D level, smoking, alcohol consumption and more than 20 other variables. They acknowledge that their sample was relatively small and that no conclusions about the effect of vitamin D on cardiovascular health should be drawn from their findings. Still, they say, their randomized, double-blind design and the use of blood tests for vitamin D levels give the study considerable strength.

“We don’t have enough here to say that we’ve figured it all out,” said the lead author, Dr. Peter F. Schnatz, a professor of internal medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The change in LDL, he said, “is significant, and in the right direction, but maybe not enough to say that we’re going to prevent people from getting heart disease.


Why dark chocolate really IS good for you: Stomach microbes turn cocoa into a natural drug that reduces blood pressure

Study in laboratory glassware only

Love dark chocolate?  Now you can eat it with much less guilt because scientists have discovered why it is so good for us.

Previous studies have found daily consumption of dark chocolate reduces blood pressure and is good for the heart.

Now scientists have discovered why this happens - and its down to how our guts ferment the fibre in cocoa beans.

Researcher Maria Moore, from Louisiana State University said: 'We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones.

'The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate.

'When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.'

This naturally forming anti-inflammatory enters the bloodstream and helps protest the heart and arteries from damage.

Bad gut bacteria, such as Clostridia and some strains of Escherichia coli (E.coli) trigger inflammation, leading to bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

The team tested three types of cocoa powder, the raw ingredient used to make chocolate, in an artificial digestive tract consisting of a series of modified test tubes.

Cocoa contains so-called antioxidant polyphenol compounds, such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fibre.

Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but are readily processed by the friendly bacteria in the colon.

'In our study we found that the fibre is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolised to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed,' said Dr John Finley, who led the Louisiana team.

'These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity. When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.'

The findings were presented at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in Texas.

Combining cocoa with prebiotics - indigestible food ingredients that stimulate bacterial growth - is likely to enhance the process with beneficial results, said Dr Finley.

'When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and out-competes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,' he added.

Prebiotics are found in foods such as raw garlic, raw wheat bran, and cooked whole wheat flour, and are especially abundant in raw chicory root. They can also be obtained from widely available supplements.

Combining dark chocolate with fruits such as pomegranates or acai may also boost its benefits, said Dr Finley


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Middle-class parents should stop panicking about the internet and let their children explore, says leading psychologist

'Moral panic' about the internet among middle class parents is stunting children's development, a leading psychologist has warned.

Professor Tanya Byron believes that unless parents let their children explore and make mistakes - both in the real-world and online - they will never become 'digitally responsible'.

However, she added that managing these risks, and guiding children through them, is ultimately the responsibility of the adults in their lives, both at home and school.

Speaking at a teacher conference in Birmingham, Professor Byron expressed concerns about the ‘moral panic’ that surrounds young people and the web.

She said: ‘The moral panic is unhelpful. Awareness without life experience can sometimes be challenging – so it’s our responsibility to bridge that gap.’

‘We need to accept that kids are going to take risks online so that we can guide them, just as our parents did when we were allowed to ride our bikes.’

Two-thirds of parents in a recent Co-operative Childcare survey said their children spent significantly less time outside than the parents did.

Eight in ten said their own favourite activities as children involved being outdoors, but only half their children lead the same active life.

British adults said they loved playing ball games, skipping and other traditional outdoor activities.  But their children prefer to get their kicks from a screen, by playing computer games, surfing the internet or watching TV.

Professor Byron continued that because of the internet, children are already ‘incredibly aware’, but many adults are so ‘illiterate when it comes to understanding technology’ that its creating an environment of fear.

She added there’s a ‘perverse irony’ - especially among the middle classes - where parents are not letting their children go out and play, or walk to school alone, but are giving them numerous gadgets, and access to the internet.

They then have access to a global community, and in some cases more dangers, risks and harmful images than they would on the streets, but parents aren’t talking to them about any of it in advance.

‘We need to empower them and focus on making them emotionally resilient digitally as well as being emotionally resilient offline


Government war on big food?

Will big food companies be the next target of extortion by government do-gooders?  Despite the precedent of the Big Tobacco settlement, Politico writes that such a scenario is unlikely, given the lack of a “smoking gun” to prove deliberate manipulation of the food market, i.e., doctoring or withholding nutritional data for profits.

But don’t be too sure.  The kookery percolating one day in college classrooms or left-wing think tanks becomes tomorrow’s norm.  Leftists are bold, cunning and, above all, patient.  Unlike (some) all-or-nothing conservatives, leftists will gladly advance their agendas incrementally.

Politico previously reported that a law firm in Chicago approached sixteen state attorneys general, proposing that they try to recover a portion of their growing obesity-related Medicaid expenses from — you guessed it — private food companies.  Reports vary as to specific targets but consider that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg targeted large soda cups, salty foods and trans-fats (Oreos, for instance — that’s you, Nabisco).

Bloomberg, of course, came to embody the very essence of the Nanny State, actually a very misleading description of government overreach.  Nannies, traditionally,  are kind, nurturing and care for small children.  Big government, when shaking down private entities, more resembles a bully, hence, what I propose as its new description, the Bully State.

The motives of a war on Big Food are so patently obvious that just repeating them seems trite.  Still, for anyone completely unaware, government, under the guise of such noble intentions as protecting your health, could well transfer billions of dollars from the private sector to public coffers.  The settlement against Big Tobacco in 1990′s gave the federal and state governments almost $250 billion to spend on smoking prevention programs.  According to some sources, more than 90% of that money went to programs unrelated to smoking prevention.  And that doesn’t even account for the unknown amount of dollars lining the pockets of lawyers (never factor out the lawyers when dissecting the latest Bully State scheme).  A war on just a few big food companies would certainly spike prices up dramatically.

Still, Politico is right in that such a blatant move is unlikely, given that food, unlike cigarettes, is a necessity.  An all-out war will proceed as it already has, stealthily, with a tax on trans-fats here, a lawsuit there, a ban on Happy Meals in this municipality, a stigma against salty snacks in another. . .  In short, incrementally.

Granted, even in a free society, our actions do impact others.  Bad health choices by some can raise costs and premiums for our neighbors.  Still, a rational society weighs the pros and cons and realizes that the benefits of a free, competitive system far outweigh the constraints imposed by the Bully State.  People will invariably make poor food choices:  an extra donut, a Big Mac instead of a salad, etc., but it is the very decadence of food that often brings the greatest joy.  Certainly there are limits to breaking rules (both food-wise and otherwise) and that is where the weight of public opinion and advisement, as opposed to government force, can prompt wiser decision-making.

In short, when consumed moderately, junk food, far from the public pariah as it is portrayed, brings incalculable joy to the world.  Chocolate and potato chips may not extend the years of our lives but just the anticipation of a quick bite can enhance the quality.  It is not an extra inch to the average waistline that we need to fear, it is a bully state that strong-arms private businesses, and taxes, monitors and regulates our most pleasurable moments.  If we are not vigilant, one day giddy decadence will morph into criminal activity.  Call it not a war on Big Food but a war on pleasure.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Saturated fat 'ISN'T bad for your heart': Major study questions decades of dietary advice

Guidelines urging people to avoid ‘unhealthy’ fat to stave off heart disease are wrong, according to a major study.

After decades of advice on the harm done by saturated fat such as butter, scientists have found no evidence of a link with heart problems.

A ‘mega’ study which analysed a huge amount of existing data also said so-called healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil, had no general effect on the risk of heart disease.

In contrast, a dairy fat called margaric acid ‘significantly reduced’ risk, while two kinds of saturated fat found in palm oil and animal products had only a ‘weak link’ with heart disease.

Two types of omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish – EPA and DHA – and the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid were linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But omega-3 and omega-6 supplements appeared to have no benefit.

This study comes in the wake of growing controversy over the relative importance of sugar and fat in the diet.

Fats have long been blamed for obesity and heart disease, but some scientists now say there is evidence that fat may have been unfairly demonised and sugar is really to blame.

Lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, from Cambridge University, said: ‘These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines.

‘Cardiovascular disease, in which the principal manifestation is coronary heart disease, remains the single leading cause of death and disability worldwide. In 2008, more than 17million people died from a cardiovascular cause globally.

‘With so many affected, it is critical to have appropriate prevention guidelines which are informed by the best available scientific evidence.’

The team, whose results appear in the journal Annals Of Internal Medicine, conducted a ‘meta-analysis’ of data from 72 studies involving 600,000 participants in 18 countries.

The technique can reveal trends that may be masked in individual small studies but become obvious when they are amalgamated.

A key finding was that total saturated fat, whether measured in the diet or the bloodstream, showed no association with heart disease.

The study fails to ‘yield clearly supportive evidence for ... guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of saturated fats’.

Almost four decades ago advice began to emerge from scientific and medical bodies to cut back on saturated fats found in cream, butter and less lean meat. Last year, however, London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra told the British Medical Journal it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease, which was based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies.

He said yesterday: ‘This huge and important study provides even more evidence that our focus purely on saturated fat as the number one dietary villain in causing heart disease has been misplaced when we should be focusing on food groups.

‘Our over-consumption of processed food is what is driving much of the increasing burden of chronic disease currently plaguing the Western world.  ‘Poor diet is responsible  for more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and  smoking combined.

‘Furthermore, nutritional supplements have no proven benefit for the vast majority of people. It’s better for the body to gain essential nutrients from just eating real food.’

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation which co-funded the study, said: ‘This analysis of existing data suggests there isn’t enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

‘But large-scale clinical studies are needed, as these researchers recommend, before making a conclusive judgment.’

The industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service said that while the study showed only a modest protective effect of omega-3 fats, the trials involving omega-3 supplements nearly all involved non-healthy participants, which was likely to give misleading results.


W.H. pastry chef quits: ‘I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs’

Michelle Obama may have pushed the White House pastry chef a bit too far with her constant requests to replace fatty foods like cream and butter with lower-calorie options: He’s quit, calling the decision “bittersweet,” various media reported.

Bill Yosses, who was hired in 2007 under the George Bush administration, has announced he’s leaving his position in June and heading to the private sector in New York to teach people some healthy eating tactics, The New York Times reported.

While he admits part of his healthy eating influence came right from Mrs. Obama — who’s known for pushing her “Let’s Move” exercise and nutrition program around the nation — he also said that he’s not fully prepared to give up old-timey type ingredients that she’s deemed a threat, the New York Post reported.

“[She’s] definitely an inspiring boss,” he said, to The New York Times. “She has done [her campaign] with humor and good will, without preaching, just the way you would hope.”

But, he added, to the paper: “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs.”

Mr. Yosses, 60, said he was forced by Mrs. Obama and her healthy eating cohorts to replace “the usual blitzkrieg” of butter, cream and other like ingredients with fruit purees, honey or agave, the New York Post reported.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Millions of healthy Britons are set to be prescribed them, but why do many GPs say they won't take statins?

As Dr Chand says, the litmus test is if you get better by stopping the pills.  Many do. It shows that the pills are the cause of the problems, not just a coincidence

He’d been a GP for a quarter of a century and had written ‘tens of thousands of statin prescriptions’.  Then two years ago, Dr Kailash Chand, too, started taking the cholesterol-lowering pills to protect his heart.

As Dr Chand, who is the deputy chairman of the British Medical Association  — the doctors’ union — explains: ‘I was in my late 50s and I’m Asian, so I ticked various boxes for being at raised risk of heart disease. It seemed the sensible thing to do.’

Within two weeks, however, Dr Chand, who is now 60, began experiencing pains in his back and legs unlike anything he’d suffered before.  ‘Mostly it was a dull ache,’ he says, ‘but for a couple of days a week the pain was crippling and I had to take painkillers.’

This went on for two years and — bad news for his heart — forced Dr Chand to give up badminton, his favourite form of exercise.

Initially, Dr Chand had assumed the pain was something that would pass.  In fact, it worsened, and the bouts became more frequent. He also began to have problems sleeping and started to wonder about possible causes.

‘I didn’t even consider statins,’ he says. ‘I was wondering instead about things like too much travelling or bad posture when sitting.  'I did various checks, like a liver function test, X-rays and an MRI scan. All came back clear.

‘So last year I thought it was worth seeing what would happen if I stopped taking the drug.  'Within two to three weeks my back and legs began to feel a lot better and my sleep improved.

‘For me that was the litmus test that showed that the statin was the cause of the problem.’

Dr Chand is certainly not alone. Muscle pain is the most frequently reported statin side-effect and while estimates of the numbers affected adversely by statins vary, according to one eminent U.S. cardiologist, 20 per cent of healthy men on the drugs say they have significant side-effects.

With seven million Britons taking statins, that could mean up to 1.5 million are being affected.

Yet according to a study published last week, Dr Chand and all the others are almost certainly mistaken.

A major analysis of 29 trials of statins by researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, London, concluded that the drugs are practically free from side-effects.

When people say they are suffering symptoms such as muscle pains, insomnia, fatigue or gut problems caused by statins, claim the scientists, they are making a false link.

Just because twinges and aches appear shortly after you’ve started on a statin prescription doesn’t mean the drug caused it. (Other known side-effects of statins, such as memory problems, blurred vision, ringing in the ears and skin problems, were not included in this review.)

Dr Chand, for one, is far from convinced by these new findings: ‘I know the difference between twinges and a new sensation that is quite specific and doesn’t go away.’


Do Moms Who Work Less Have Healthier Babies?

Pregnant women and their newborns tend to be healthier when the economy is worse, a new study shows. Why? Probably less stress

Imagine you lived in Barcelona and lost your job, like thousands of Spaniards did each year of the most recent recession. And also, imagine you were pregnant. Would you sit around the house, anxiously sending out job applications and stress-snacking on churros? Or would you take long walks in the Mediterranean sun and stop at farmers' markets along the way?

Spanish moms, it seems, often choose the latter.

Libertad González, an associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, recently examined the health of registered newborns in Spain from 1981 to 2010, and she cross-referenced the data with the unemployment rate in each of the country's provinces at the time. With each 10 percent increase in unemployment, she found, the neonatal death rate dropped by 7 percent, and the percent of babies with low birth weights decreased by 3 percent.

The reason? During recessions, mothers consistently reported being in better health, and they exhibited healthier behaviors: “They smoke and drink less, exercise and sleep more, and weigh less,” Gonzalez wrote.

Her findings mesh with past research in the U.S. showing that health improves during periods of low economic growth. A 2004 study of American babies, for example, also found that those born in periods of high unemployment had fewer birth defects, were more likely to weigh a healthy amount, and were less likely to die.

Research by Chris Ruhm, a public policy professor at the University of Virginia, has shown that people tend to exercise less during economic upswings, and they tend to eat out more—and restaurant meals are usually higher in fat and calories. In Cuba, for example, a period of pronounced, years-long austerity led to a steep drop in obesity and cardiovascular disease because people walked and biked more as public transportation was scaled back.

People who work less also have more time on their hands, so they sleep more and feel less stressed, Ruhm said. And there are fewer cars on the roads, so the air is cleaner and there are fewer car accidents.

“Interestingly, there’s evidence that short-term reductions in income are actually good for you,” he told me.

But how could this be? Wouldn't job loss also cause people to scale back on gym memberships and kale salads? Well, yes. And this is one of those counterintuitive trends that becomes more intuitive once you hear all the caveats.

“When times are bad, people are healthier but not happier."
These studies evaluate overall unemployment and GDP, not job loss at the individual level. That is to say, they only suggest that health improves as the economy overall slows down. So, much of this might have to do with hourly employees working less overtime and spending more of their free time on cooking and jogging. Or it could be that families are feeling pinched and eating out less, rather than becoming totally destitute.

The key here are temporary dips in income. Long-term unemployment, which has skyrocketed in Spain and other parts of Europe, is still terrible for mental and physical health. In fact, it could be that we'll see the reverse of the Spanish results playing out if the women aren't able to return to the workforce and provide stable homes for their kids.

There also might be some self-selection going on. People generally have fewer babies during recessions, so the couples who do procreate in lean times might already be comfortable enough to ensure that their offspring flourish, no matter what. (This factor didn’t explain the healthier babies in the Spanish sample, however.)

And since there are fewer babies being born, it could be that hospitals—especially publicly funded ones like Spain’s—are less busy during economic slumps and can provide better care for each baby as a result.

There’s also one very important downside to recessions—a gradual deterioration in mental health, and an attendant rise in suicides. “When times are bad, people are healthier but not happier,” Ruhm said.

So it could be that this and similar studies are not really an argument for pregnant women to leave the workforce, but simply to scale back their hours. Or to keep their jobs the same, but to live life more like a marginally employed Spanish woman—sleeping enough, walking a lot, and slurping up plenty of gazpacho.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fatness and health among diabetics

The interpretation of weight among diabetics is greatly distorted by the "war" on obesity.  Because diabetes is a nasty condition, researchers are determined to find that obesity causes diabetes, whereas the evidence is at least as good the other way around:  Diabetes causes obesity.  That most fatties don't have diabetes should be sufficient to ignite skepticism in the matter.

The fact that diet can control diabetes does not show that gluttonly causes diabetes.  Just because I put bandaids on scratches, does that mean that bandaids cause scratches?

So I can't see that a population of diabetics tells us much about non-diabetics.  Diabetics are sui generis.

So the study below is not of general interest but is of course interesting to those concerned about diabetes.  There is a popular article here for those who find the journal abstract heavy going.

The results are not nearly as clearcut as some would have it.  The authors are to be praised for the attention they have paid to confounders but that attempt has not clarified the findings.  The difference between smokers and non-smokers is clearly important but the difference in outcome for the two groups is sufficient to be puzzling.  Why do the two groups differ so much? Any answer to that would be speculative so I am inclined to focus on the non-smokers only.  That at least removes an important confounder  -- though the possibility that non-smokers are in important ways more robust from the beginning cannot be excluded.

And the relationship we see there is only weakly linear.  Lifespans for the first four caegories of weight are essentially identical.  It is only among the two fattest categories that there is some elevation of risk.  And, for what it is worth, the skinniest category did have some (slight) elevation of risk  -- echoing findings among non-diabetics.

But in any case no causal inferences should be drawn from this correlational study.  It could be, for instance, that the fatties who die younger do so not because they are fatter but because they have a more severe form of diabetes.  So the conclusion that people should eat less to extend life remains essentially "not proven".

Body-Mass Index and Mortality among Adults with Incident Type 2 Diabetes

By Deirdre K. Tobias et al.


The relation between body weight and mortality among persons with type 2 diabetes remains unresolved, with some studies suggesting decreased mortality among overweight or obese persons as compared with normal-weight persons (an “obesity paradox”).

We studied participants with incident diabetes from the Nurses' Health Study (8970 participants) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (2457 participants) who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the time of a diagnosis of diabetes. Body weight shortly before diagnosis and height were used to calculate the body-mass index (BMI, the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters). Multivariable Cox models were used to estimate the hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for mortality across BMI categories.

There were 3083 deaths during a mean period of 15.8 years of follow-up. A J-shaped association was observed across BMI categories (18.5 to 22.4, 22.5 to 24.9 [reference], 25.0 to 27.4, 27.5 to 29.9, 30.0 to 34.9, and ≥35.0) for all-cause mortality (hazard ratio, 1.29 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.05 to 1.59]; 1.00; 1.12 [95% CI, 0.98 to 1.29]; 1.09 [95% CI, 0.94 to 1.26]; 1.24 [95% CI, 1.08 to 1.42]; and 1.33 [95% CI, 1.14 to 1.55], respectively). This relationship was linear among participants who had never smoked (hazard ratios across BMI categories: 1.12, 1.00, 1.16, 1.21, 1.36, and 1.56, respectively) but was nonlinear among participants who had ever smoked (hazard ratios across BMI categories: 1.32, 1.00, 1.09, 1.04, 1.14, and 1.21) (P=0.04 for interaction). A direct linear trend was observed among participants younger than 65 years of age at the time of a diabetes diagnosis but not among those 65 years of age or older at the time of diagnosis (P<0.001 for interaction).

We observed a J-shaped association between BMI and mortality among all participants and among those who had ever smoked and a direct linear relationship among those who had never smoked. We found no evidence of lower mortality among patients with diabetes who were overweight or obese at diagnosis, as compared with their normal-weight counterparts, or of an obesity paradox.

N Engl J Med 2014; 370:233-244

A fat old age?

If you are a mouse

CARBS have come in from the cold, with a new study showing that a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet can help you live longer.

The downside is it will also make you fat.

Sydney University research to be released today found that mice fed a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet had a longer lifespan and better cardiometabolic health - despite being overweight.

While the study found that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet resulted in reduced body fat and food intake, it also led to a shorter lifespan and poor cardiometabolic health.

Darwin health and safety worker Maurice Moore, 58, eats half a loaf of bread every day. "I don't eat it all in the one sitting; I usually have a banana wrapped in bread, asparagus wrapped in bread and peanut butter and strawberry jam on bread," he said.

"I just did a medical for work and scored 96/100, all I needed to pass was 44/100." Mr Moore said he has "never taken a (sick) day off work in (his) life".  "I had a cold in 2011 but that was it," he said.

The study, which could lead to new drugs to control appetite and increase lifespan, compared the effects of 25 different diets in mice.  And it confirmed the fat-reducing effects of low-protein diets.

"The reason most diets fail is because the body's protein target is so potent," co-author Professor David Le Couteur said.

Once the mice in the study satisfied their need for protein, they started to reduce their food intake.

The authors suggest that a diet that consists of 15-20 per cent high-quality protein, low in fat and high in good-quality carbohydrate will deliver the best metabolic health and longest life.

The research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, also suggests that lifespan could be extended by manipulating the ratio of macronutrients in the diet.

"This research has enormous implications for how much food we eat, our body fat, our heart and metabolic health, and ultimately the duration of our lives," said Professor Steve Simpson. "We have shown calories aren't all the same. We need to look at where they come from and how they interact."


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Doctor’s Diary: Statins and their side effects

By James Le Fanu

The assertion last week by researchers at London’s Imperial College that statins have virtually no side effects is so contrary to the experience of legions of Daily Telegraph readers over the past few years, it is only reasonable to inquire how they came to this conclusion.

Dr Judith Finegold and her colleagues trawled through the published findings of the 29 drug company-sponsored statin trials and discovered that the number of “serious adverse events” to be similar among those taking the drug as among those on placebo.

I have not discussed Dr Finegold’s findings with her or her team. I do, however, take general issue with the findings of drug companies’ statin trials for various reasons.

First, the companies have a repertoire of strategies for ensuring the participants in their trials have a reduced risk of side effects. This includes excluding those more likely to experience them (such as the elderly) and those unable to tolerate statins, and “under-ascertainment” – that is, not inquiring too closely for the side effects they might cause.

Next, their findings are contradicted by independent surveys that find that muscular aches and pains are a hundred times more frequent than those reported in the clinical trials, while a series of further problems are not even mentioned – decreased energy, exertional fatigue, depression, memory loss, insomnia, reduced libido, etc, etc. It is only to be expected that the drug companies should be reticent about such matters. And it is certainly of interest, as I read via the, that the arrangements between Big Pharma and academic institutions specifically exclude access to the original data on which the claims for the safety of statins are based.

This latest study does not make me a convert to their wider use.


Living near glut of takeaways doubles changes of obesity

It may come as no surprise but people who live and work alongside dozens of takeaways are more likely to be obese  -- which proves that takeaways locate themselves where the customers are.

Living near to a large number of takeaways almost doubles the chance of being obese, a study has shown.

People who were exposed to 49 or more fast food outlets near their home, office or commuting route were found to eat around 40g of extra fat a week and have a higher Body Mass Index.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council have called on local authorities to limit the number of takeaways in a given area to help combat the obesity epidemic.

Dr Thomas Burgoine, lead author of the study from the UK's centre for diet and activity research, based in the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "Our study provides new evidence that there is some kind of relationship between the number of takeaway food outlets we encounter, our consumption of these foods, and how much we weigh.

“The foods we eat away from home tend to be less healthy than the meals we prepare ourselves, so it is important to consider how exposure to food outlets selling these high calorie foods in our day-to-day environments might be influencing consumption.

“Taking steps to restrict takeaway outlets in our towns and cities, particularly around workplaces, may be one way of positively influencing our diet and health."

The research, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is the first UK study to combine data from home, work and commuting and involved 5,442 adults from Cambridgeshire aged 29 to 62.

On average, people were exposed to 32 takeaway outlets - nine each in their local neighbourhood and on their commute, and 14 within a mile of work. There were around 48 per cent more takeaway outlets and fast food joints near work compared to home, the study found.

Researchers examined how much takeaway food people ate using questionnaires for foods such as pizza, burgers, fried food (such as fried chicken) and chips.

They also measured people's Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of their weight.

The results showed that people exposed to the highest number of takeaways were 80 per cent more likely to be obese and 20 per cent more likely to have a higher BMI than those with the lowest number of encounters. They also ate more of these types of foods.

The researchers said: "Compared with people least exposed to takeaway food outlets, we estimate those most exposed consumed an additional 5.7g per day of takeaway food, which would constitute a 15 per cent higher consumption than those least exposed.

"In a week, this translates into an additional 39.9g of takeaway food. This weekly amount constitutes more than half a small serving of McDonald's french fries (typically 71g per serving)."

Over the past decade, consumption of food outside the home has increased by 29 per cent, while at the same time, the number of takeaway food outlets has increased dramatically, the researchers said. This, they argued, could be contributing to rising levels of overweight and obesity.

Tracy Parker, heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped fund the study, said: "We already know that people are spending more than ever on takeaways and food eaten away from home, and that these foods are often less healthy than the meals we make ourselves.

" While this study can't prove someone's local environment can cause them to become obese, it's vital we have the tools to make healthy choices when eating takeaways or food in a restaurant.”


Monday, March 17, 2014

Growing evidence that autism is linked to pollution

The journal article is:  Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability" .  What they in fact found was a correlation between the rate of congenital malformations of the reproductive system and autism.  They claimed that the rate of congenital malformations of the reproductive system is a surrogate for environmental exposure  to pollution.  That is drawing a long bow indeed.  Pollution may be one cause of malformations but it is not even clear that it is the main cause.  So the data may tell us nothing about pollution.  Crazy

Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indicator for parental exposure to environmental toxins.

Several studies have already shown a link between air pollution and autism, but this latest study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together.

'Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,' study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago.

The report looked at birth defects associated with parental exposure to pollution and found a 1% increase in the defects corresponded to a 283% increase in autism.

Although the findings are still being analyzed, researchers say they offer support for the theory that environmental pollutants, in addition to genetics, play a role in the development of autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder that interferes with social and communication skills.

It covers a 'spectrum' of conditions that may be mild or very severe, requiring round-the-clock care.

The scientists found a clear link between being pregnant somewhere with high levels of pollution and having an autistic child.

The findings published this week in the PLOS Computational Biology Journal were culled from health records of over 100 million Americans in an effort to shift research from almost exclusively genetic to include environmental factors.

Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticizers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things,’ said study author Andrey Rzhetsky.

‘Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development,’ the University of Chicago professor of genetic medicine and human genetics continued. ‘It’s not really well known why, but it’s an experimental observation.’

The defects were especially noticeable in boys’ reproductive systems, Rzhetsky noted.

Women with the highest levels of exposure to these substances were about 50 per cent more likely to have a child who develops autism.

Most pollutants were more strongly associated with autism in boys than in girls.  Boys are in any case much more likely to have the disorder.

Air pollutants contain many toxins that are known to affect neurological function and fetal development.

One in 88 children suffers from autism, and diagnoses in boys greatly outnumber those in girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No clear cause has been established for the disorder.

‘The environment may play a very significant role in autism, and we should be paying more attention to it,’ said Rzhetsky. ‘We should definitely take into account environmental factors.’


Canine anti-inflammatory points way to 'superbug' killer

Very hopeful

Compounds similar to anti-inflammatory drugs used by veterinarians to treat dogs may be able to fight the drug-resistant "superbugs" that challenge human health, say Australian researchers.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act on bacteria in a way that is fundamentally different from current antibiotics and stop bacterial DNA from replicating, says Associate Professor Aaron Oakley of the University of Wollongong, who led the research.

Excitingly today his team reports in Chemistry & Biology that some NSAIDs have a weak antibiotic effect against the notorious drug-resistant "golden staph" infection that is a major problem in post-operative care.

Oakley says the "serendipitous" find highlights the importance of a protein called the 'sliding clamp' as a possible target for a whole new class of antibiotics.

It's a vital protein for all bacteria and, when it is disabled, bacteria are unable replicate or repair their DNA and so can't reproduce, Oakley says.

The clamp acts as a "mobile workstation", tethering molecules that need to interact with the DNA as it replicates.

"The sliding clamp protein is doughnut shaped," he says. "Its job is literally to slide along the DNA. It's elegantly simple - think of a ring on a piece of string."

A special binding site on the sliding clamp can grasp a range of different molecules that need to interact with the 'string' of DNA during replication.

'Holy Grail'

Finding a drug that could interrupt this process was a "Holy Grail" for Oakley who had homed in on a chemical family called carbazoles as possible good blockers of the sliding clamp site.

As part of the drug discovery process, scientists routinely search databases of chemical structures to find structures similar to ones that are already known to give a good effect - in the hope of finding something even better.

A search like this found that carprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug given by vets to dogs, was another member of the carbazole family.

And a literature search showed there had been reports that carprofen had a weak antibiotic effect - but nobody knew how it was acting.

Oakley's team went on to show carprofen did indeed act as a weak antibiotic and using X-ray crystallography they could see the carprofen molecule sits snugly in the binding site of the sliding clamp protein.

He believes it is quite likely that other carbazoles will have stronger antibiotic effects than carprofen, and his team is now investigating these.

Desperate need

Oakley wondered whether other inflammatory drugs such as aspirin also had antibiotic effects.

"We ended up testing about 20 other NSAIDs," he says. "Some didn't work, and some did."

Some of the NSAIDs tested had activity against the infamous golden staph bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus.

"It's a notorious bug," says Oakley, "that has acquired resistance to a lot of different antibiotics and it occurs a lot in post-operative infections. There's a desperate need for new antibiotics due to resistance to the existing compounds."

But the two most commonly used NSAIDs in human medicine - aspirin and ibuprofen - have quite different chemical structures from carprofen and did not show antibiotic activity.

"It's a nice study and it's an important area of research," says Professor Andrew Abell of the University of Adelaide, who was not involved in the work.

"The mechanism of action is totally different to existing antibiotics, so the bugs haven't had a chance to build up resistance to these [compounds].

"I think this highlights that you can't dictate research. This is an observation they made almost in a serendipitous way. You can't plan it. You've got to have your wits about you ... to exploit an observation like this when it comes along."