Friday, July 31, 2009

Organic food 'no better for health than factory-farmed food' says U.K. government report

Which has outraged the faddists. How nasty of science to debunk superstition!

Organic food is no healthier than other produce, according to the Government’s food watchdog. The largest ever review into the science behind organic food found that it contained no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers. The findings challenge popular assumptions about the organic industry, worth £2 billion in the UK. Consumer groups said that shoppers may now think twice before buying organic.

The report, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, was carried out by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who studied data collected over 50 years.

Organic groups were incensed by the findings. The Soil Association accused the FSA of ignoring up-to-date evidence and pre-empting EU research for political reasons. Lord Melchett, its policy director, said that he had urged the FSA to delay its report. “They have jumped the gun,” he said.

The FSA researchers were led by by a public health nutritionist, Dr Alan Dangour. They found that there was no significant benefit from drinking milk or eating meat, vegetables, fruit, poultry and eggs from organic sources, as opposed to the products of conventional farm systems.

Pro-organic groups criticised the findings of the year-long review, which cost £120,000. They said that the conclusions, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, failed to take into account the impact of pesticides and herbicides. Organic farming bans artificial chemical fertilisers and has stricter animal welfare rules than conventional farming.

Dr Dangour said that, as a nutritionist, he was not qualified to look at pesticides. “There is a possibility that organic food has less pesticide residues, but this was not part of the review,” he said. “Potentially this may be an area for further research.” He added: “A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. “Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced crops and livestock on the basis of nutritional supremacy.”

Among the differences identified by the study was a higher phosphorous content in organic food. Dr Dangour said: “Phosphorus is an important mineral and is available in everything we eat. It is important for public health but the difference in the content between organic and conventional foods was not statistically relevant in terms of health.” He added: “Acidity is also higher in organic produce but acidity is about taste and sensory perception and makes no difference at all for health.”

Nitrogen levels were found to be higher in conventional produce, but this was not surprising given the use of nitrogen as a fertiliser in commercial agriculture. But the levels posed no better or worse impacts on human health, the research said.

A study of 52,000 papers was made, but only 162 scientific papers published between January 1958 and February last year were deemed relevant, of which just 55 met the strict quality criteria for the study, Dr Dangour said.

Twenty-three nutrients were analysed. In 20 categories there were no significant differences between production methods and the nutrient content. The differences detected were most likely to have been due to differences in fertiliser use and ripeness at harvest, and were unlikely to provide any health benefits.

The Soil Association challenged the conclusions that some nutritional differences between organic and conventional food were not important. It said it was particularly concerned that the researchers dismissed higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic food — such as 53.6 higher levels of beta-carotene and 38.4 per cent more flavonoids in organic foods — according to the mean percentage difference of samples analysed. Dr Dangour was adamant that these were not relevant because of the level of standard error in the research — which was 37 per cent for beta-carotene and 10.6 per cent for flavonoids.

The authors said in their conclusion: “No evidence of a difference in content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products was detected for the majority of nutrient assessed in this review, suggesting that organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content.”

Gill Fine, the FSA’s director of consumer choice, said: “This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

In reaching their conclusions, the report's authors were accused of pre-empting a Brussels study being carried out by Carlo Leifert, Professor of Ecological Farming at Newcastle University, which is due to be published this year. [A Professor of ecological farming! Well. He would be an unbiased source to go to wouldn't he? But for all he knows about farming, does he know anything about nutrition?] Professor Leifert told The Times that his research found higher level of antioxidants — which help the body to combat cancer and cardiovascular disease — in organic foods. He said that the FSA did not want to admit that there was anything good in organic food. “The Government is worried they will then have to have a policy to make organic food available to everyone,” he said.


Dumb Food Police Lawsuit of the Day

By Debbie Schlussel. Debbie has some good comments below but even she seems to have been hornswoggled about the evils of hamburgers, red meat etc

Whether or not you agree with it, this claim is not news: that a diet heavy in red meat–specifically processed red meat–can be unhealthy and possibly cancerous. It’s part of why I don’t eat more than a couple of burgers a year (the same with hot dogs).

But the food police–specifically the vegetarian food police–have filed a stupid lawsuit against the nation’s largest purveyors of hot dogs. The plaintiffs call themselves, “The Cancer Project,” but that’s really a fake name for the far left vegan anti-war group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which wants to impose its difficult and abnormal eating habits on the rest of us. This is the same group that wants to stop us from drinking milk.

The gist of their lawsuit is that these meat brands sould be required to use warning labels about cancer on their packaging. But if you don’t know about these claims of cancer, then you haven’t read a paper or magazine in ages, don’t pay attention, and won’t be reading a label on a hot dog or burger package.

Of course, the case will go nowhere. But it will be a complete waste of time and a money drain on the meat product manufacturers. And that’s clearly the goal of this suit. In turn, it will increase the prices of inexpensive meats on consumers. But, hey, that’s the goal of the veggie food police.
“Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.” That’s the label that a vegan advocacy group wants a New Jersey court to order Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National and other food companies to slap on hot dog packages.

FYI, the suit also names, Kraft Foods, Inc. (maker of Oscar Mayer), Sara Lee, Nathan’s Famous, among others.
The nonprofit Cancer Project filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of three New Jersey plaintiffs asking the Essex County Superior Court to compel the companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. “Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,” said Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. “Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information.” . . .

Efforts to put warning labels on hot dog packages are “crazy,” said Josh Urdang, 27, as he stood in line to buy two franks at Pink’s hot dog stand in Hollywood on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t change how many hot dogs I eat. Not at all,” said Urdang, an information technology consultant from Hollywood. His friend Joe Di Lauro, 31, called such a move “overpolicing. . . . At what point do you stop breaking things down? Unless we’re going to put a warning label on every single food and say what’s bad in it.”

Other consumers were skeptical of the Cancer Project’s agenda. “Vegans complaining about hot dogs is like the Amish complaining about gas prices,” said Susan Thatcher of Irvine. . . .

Said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York: “There is speculation that nitrosamines can increase cancer risk when consumed in large amounts and frequently. Occasionally should cause no worry. The stuff people typically have with a hot dog may be a more immediate concern: too many calories from all the fat-laden potato and macaroni salads, sugary drinks and sweet desserts.”

Like I said, this suit will go nowhere. But it’ll be like a mini-Obama stimulus: providing make work for lawyers, clogging the court system, and leading to higher prices at the supermarket and restaurants, like Nation’s Famous, for everybody else.

Whether or not hot dogs and other processed meats are bad for you is not the issue. American freedom is. And that includes the freedom to eat whatever you want–good or bad. We don’t need the state setting our diets. Fight back against the food extremists. Eat a hot dog for dinner, today.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cut size of chocolate bars to fight obesity, says British food watchdog

Some people will never learn. Such cuts tend to cause people to buy TWO amounts of the shrunken food item -- with a total INCREASE in the amounts consumed

Chocolate fans, be warned: your sugary snack is set to get smaller. The Food Standards Agency wants manufacturers to reduce the size of chocolate bars by about a fifth to help to cut calorie intake. It proposes that by 2012 standard-sized bars should be no more than 50g. Currently, Mars bars are 58g and twin Bounty bars are 57g.

Manufacturers have also been asked to sell bite-size bars as single items, of 40g or under, instead of in multi-bar bags. The agency hopes to discourage companies from marketing giant-sized bars and will urge manufacturers to promote lower-calorie treats. The aim is to help consumers to reduce the number of calories and the amount of saturated fat that they eat.

By 2050, 60 per cent of Britons will be obese unless the nation’s diet is improved, according to health chiefs, with the cost to the National Health Service estimated to reach more than £8.4 billion. Officials decided to push for smaller bite-size bars rather than developing healthier recipes because European Union rules restrict sugar and fat reductions in chocolate.

Restrictions on the size of carbonated drinks were also put forward yesterday as part of the consultation with the food industry. It is also proposed that, within six years, fizzy drinks should be sold in smaller containers, with 250ml (8.8 fl.oz) suggested as the norm instead of the current standard 330ml for most brands. Added sugar levels to drinks should be reduced by 4 per cent within three years — the idea being that consumers will be weaned off very sweet drinks without noticing the lower sugar content.

Gill Fine, of the agency, said: “We are not telling people what to eat. We want to make it easier for people to make healthier choices — to choose foods with reduced saturated fat and sugar — or smaller portion sizes.” Saturated fat should be cut by 10 per cent in cakes, biscuits, and pastry. The agency is hoping for voluntary action by the industry but if companies fail to respond, ministers might force their hand by threatening to legislate.

The Food and Drink Federation expressed disappointment at moves to set what are seen as arbitrary targets for specific nutrients in certain foods, rather than encouraging consumers to follow a balanced diet and lifestyle


Meat and three veg is still Australia's favourite meal

This is the British culinary heritage and I grew up on it many years ago so I don't know whether to be pleased or horrified to hear that it is still common. It was pretty boring food but we all survived and Australian now has one of the world's longest life expectancies

FORGET MasterChef, meat and three veg is still Australia's favourite meal. And fine dining is feeling the pinch in the unstable economic climate, the Herald Sun reports. One in five households served chops or steak with salad or vegetables every night, a Westinghouse survey shows. Next in order were a roast, spaghetti bolognaise, stir fry, and fish, while readymade meals rounded out the top 10.

Westinghouse said the survey showed Australians recognised the importance of home-cooked meals. But Melbourne chef Alan Campion said the popularity of simple meals showed the nation had become "time poor". "There is no doubt people are strapped for time and cooking is an effort," Campion said. "However, a perfectly cooked steak, a beautiful baked potato and some other vegies on the side is really not too bad."

Campion, who has published several cook books and runs cooking boot camps, said the popularity of MasterChef will have a huge effect on what the nation eats in the near future because it had fans of every age. "I overheard three teenage boys enthusiastically talking about the show the other day in a cafe. That's not something I'd seen before," he said. "The show will have a continuing effect and hopefully it will help change what people eat."

A survey by American Express found that 83 per cent of Melbourne and Sydney restaurants have noted reduced customer spending in recent months. Most of the 250 restaurant, cafe and bar owners interviewed said the economic climate was proving a major challenge for their businesses.

Upmarket establishments in Melbourne's inner city suburbs had seen a drop in patrons and frequency of customer visits. But cafes and bars were prospering, with almost a third reporting higher profits.


Pay donors to end the shortage of IVF eggs, says British watchdog

Official authoritarianism wilting under the pressure of reality

A longstanding ban on selling sperm and eggs should be reconsidered to address a national shortage of donors, the head of the Government’s fertility watchdog says.

Payments to donors could cut the number of childless couples travelling abroad for treatment, Lisa Jardine, of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, told The Times.

The removal of anonymity for donors in 2005 and strict rules against payments have provoked a crisis in fertility treatment, forcing many couples to wait years for the therapy they need to start a family. A recent study showed that access to eggs and sperm was the main reason why hundreds of British couples became “fertility tourists” each month.

The number of treatment cycles using donated eggs fell by 25 per cent between 2004 and 2006; the number of women using donated sperm fell by 30 per cent. These trends have convinced Professor Jardine that the authority should reconsider its 2006 ruling that donors can get up to £250 in expenses but no direct payments.

Her move will raise concerns about a market in human tissue and exploitation of women as egg donation is invasive and involves an element of risk. In countries that allow payment, such as the United States, Spain and Russia, young women often donate to wipe out debts or to fund university fees.

Professor Jardine said that the law already treated eggs, sperm and embryos differently from other tissues, so there was no danger of setting a precedent for the sale of organs such as kidneys. Payment would also ensure that more women were treated in licensed domestic clinics, rather than in countries with less stringent regulations.

“I’m not saying the decision arrived at before I became chair wasn’t the right one at the time,” she said. “But given the evidence that egg shortage is driving women overseas, I feel a responsibility to look at it again.”

She said the principle that women could be compensated for donating had been established already through egg-sharing schemes, in which women were offered cheaper IVF for agreeing to give away some of their eggs.

The professor also called for a debate on the ethics of sperm and egg donation across generations and within families. She pointed to a case in which a lesbian couple had conceived with eggs donated by one partner, which were fertilised by the other woman’s brother. Each partner had one of the resulting embryos implanted and carried to term.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The old prostate conundrum again

Prostate cancers may grow too slowly to be fatal

A 15-YEAR study of men who had surgery for prostate cancer found only a small percentage died from cancer, adding to evidence that some men might be able to skip radical surgery to treat the often slow-growing tumors. The US study of more than 12,600 men with prostate cancer who had their prostates removed found only 12 per cent died from cancer 15 years later, even though some showed signs of having an aggressive type of cancer. Many more men - 38 per cent - died from causes other than cancer.

The study "shows a remarkably low risk of dying of prostate cancer within 15 years for treated men and supports the concept that men with slow-growing cancers may not need immediate treatment," study author Dr Peter Scardino said.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men worldwide after lung cancer, killing 254,000 men a year globally. Doctors have routinely recommended prostate cancer screening for men over 50 using a blood test for prostate specific antigen, or PSA. The belief was that early diagnosis and aggressive treatment for any cancer is better than standing by and doing nothing.

But many prostate tumors are slow-growing and take years to cause harm. Some studies suggest many men are living with the side-effects of aggressive treatment with surgery and radiation for a cancer that may never have killed them. "Our results demonstrate the low lethality of these cancers after radical prostatectomy," Dr Scardino and colleagues wrote. They said in the United States, fewer than two per cent of men under age 65 opt to forgo prostate surgery in favor of regular testing for their cancers. And 73 per cent of those ultimately have surgery within four years.

But a separate study in the journal Cancer by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that men with early-stage prostate cancer who put off the surgery in favor of regular checkups were not overcome by anxiety. The team sent questionnaires to 150 men to gauge their comfort levels about their treatment decision, as well as levels of depression and anxiety. More than 80 per cent of the 129 men who returned their surveys scored about the same as those in other surveys who decided to undergo treatment for early prostate cancer.

A large, international trial is under way comparing regular checkups versus radical treatment but that study will not be completed for several years.


I am not at all clear on the logic of this. People who had the cancerous tissue removed did not die of cancer. Does that not tell us that the surgery was beneficial?? The issue is obviously metastases but it is not clear how that issue was dealt with. Are we assuming that they ALL had metastases?

Blue food dye may reduce spinal cord damage

A COMMON and safe blue food dye might provide the best treatment available so far for spinal cord injuries. Tests in rats showed the dye, called brilliant blue G, a close relative of the common food dye Blue No 1, crossed into the spinal fluid and helped block inflammation, the University of Rochester Medical Center claimed.

"We have no effective treatment now for patients who have an acute spinal cord injury," Dr Steven Goldman said. "Our hope is that this work will lead to a practical, safe agent that can be given to patients shortly after injury, for the purpose of decreasing the secondary damage that we have to otherwise expect."

When nerve cells in the brain or spine are damaged, they often release a spurt of chemicals that causes nearby cells to die. No one is sure why and stopping this process is key to preventing the damage that continues to build after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

One of the chemicals is ATP. The team looked for something that would interfere with this and found the blue dye, which they called BBG, would do this via the P2X7R receptor or doorway. "We found that IV administration of the P2X7R inhibitor BBG significantly reduced the severity of spinal cord damage without any evident toxicity," they said. "Remarkably, BBG is a derivative of the widely used food additive FD&C Blue No 1.

Currently, US consumers recond a daily intake of more than 16mg per person of the dye. The only known toxicity is in patients with blood infections known as sepsis. Tests in humans are likely still years away, the Rochester team said.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"I've recently read that cranberry juice doesn't help to prevent cystitis after all. Should I stop drinking it now?"

An interesting contrary view to a recent knockback

The answer, in a word, is no. The news story that you are referring to arose when Ocean Spray submitted research to a new EU body, the European Food Safety Authority, in the hope that it would be allowed to make the health claim on its cartons that drinking a certain amount of cranberry juice each day would prevent cystitis. The panel agreed that while research does show this to be the case in laboratory studies, more studies were needed to be sure of the exact “dose” needed in humans.

Professor Stuart Stanton, Emeritus Professor of Urogynaecology at St George’s Hospital in London, who is versed with the EU panel and the research submitted, has been recommending cranberry juice to his patients for more than 20 years. He says that it is necessary for us to appreciate that much of what is recommended in everyday medicine is founded on years of experience and anecdotal findings, as well as clinical research.

In his view, cranberry juice is beneficial in preventing urinary infections and he makes the rather timely point that if women who have read about the panel’s findings suddenly stop drinking it, GPs, who are already overburdened with the demands of swine flu, could see more patients presenting with what had previously been well-controlled urinary infections.

It is also important to remember, however, that cranberry juice is not a medicine. While the latter are man-made and very specific dose-response mechanisms can be determined for them, it is frequently very hard, if not impossible, to achieve the same in food products that contain naturally functional ingredients.

That said, from the work that has already been carried out, scientific thinking suggests that two glasses of cranberry juice, containing 80mg of proanthocyanidins (PACs), is roughly the amount needed for it to “do its job” — ie, to stop cystitis-causing E. coli bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract and setting up infections.

It is thought that the PACs may work by wrapping themselves directly around the E. coli so that the bacteria cannot grab on to receptors in the lining of the bladder and urethra, or that they may block the receptors themselves so that there is no room for the E. coli to dock.

Either way, the result is that the bacteria leave the body without the opportunity to set up infections. This prevents patients from needing constantly to take antibiotics, which is good news, because you do not get the risk of building up antibiotic resistance.

The important point to bear in mind is that PACs in cranberry juice work in helping to prevent infections taking hold, which is why if you are prone to them, it is a good idea to drink some of the juice each day. If the E. coli do get their little “claws” into the lining of your tracts, they bind securely and at this point antibiotics are the only real option.

Test-tube experiments suggest that cranberry juice extracts may also be able to fight salmonella infections. Test-tube work also has found that they appear to prevent the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori from attaching itself to the stomach lining.

The red antioxidant pigments in cranberry juice also seem, again in laboratory tests, to help to stop platelets in blood from clumping together. If this happened in our bodies, this would assist in keeping blood thin and potentially lower the chances of clots forming that can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Other interesting super nutrients present in cranberries include EGCG found also in green tea and linked with possible disease-fighting properties including cancer.

The tart taste of cranberries is down to the PACs, which give them their potential health benefits and are present in nature to stop insects feasting on them. For us to be able to tolerate the taste, sugar or sweeteners need to be added to cranberry juice drinks.


Women are getting more beautiful

FOR the female half of the population, it may bring a satisfied smile. Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors. The researchers have found beautiful women have more children than their plainer counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female. Those daughters, once adult, also tend to be attractive and so repeat the pattern.

Over generations, the scientists argue, this has led to women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing, a “beauty race” that is still on. The findings have emerged from a series of studies of physical attractiveness and its links to reproductive success in humans.

In a study released last week, Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, found beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their plainer counterparts. He used data gathered in America, in which 1,244 women and 997 men were followed through four decades of life. Their attractiveness was assessed from photographs taken during the study, which also collected data on the number of children they had.

This builds on previous work by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who found that good-looking parents were far more likely to conceive daughters. He suggested this was an evolutionary strategy subtly programmed into human DNA. He cited two findings from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a US government-backed study that is monitoring more than 15,000 Americans. The measurements include objective assessments of physical attractiveness.

One finding was that women were generally regarded by both sexes as more aesthetically appealing than men. The other was that the most attractive parents were 26% less likely to have sons. Kanazawa said: “Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons. “If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.”

In men, by contrast, good looks appear to count for little, with handsome men being no more successful than others in terms of numbers of children. This means there has been little pressure for men’s appearance to evolve.

The findings coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution first described the forces that shape all species. Even he, however, might have been surprised by the subtlety of the effects now being detected by researchers looking into human mating. The heritability of attractiveness is widely accepted. When Elizabeth Jagger became a model, her mother, the former model Jerry Hall, said: “It’s in her genes.”

Women may take consolation in the finding that men are subject to other types of evolutionary pressure. Gayle Brewer, a psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Men and women seek different things in their partners. “For women, looks are much less important in a man than his ability to look after her when she is pregnant and nursing, periods when women are vulnerable to predators. Historically this has meant rich men tend to have more wives and many children. So the pressure is on men to be successful.”


Monday, July 27, 2009

Alternatives to IVF

Some of this sounds like quackery but it is undoubtedly true that deciphering the cause of a person's infertility should be the first thing tried before rushing into IVF. And even quackery can have a useful placebo effect

It’s a sad fact of life that one in six couples will have difficulty conceiving. Those praying for a miracle will often try anything, from the estimated 75% who experiment with alternative therapies, to the 1 in 80 women who will eventually give birth to an IVF baby in the UK each year. Now, two leading fertility specialists have decided to bridge the gap between conventional and complementary medicine, and offer an alternative to rushing into IVF. “I estimate that 50% of women on IVF don’t need it,” says Dr Sami David, a doctor involved with the first-ever successful IVF procedure in New York 30 years ago. “They could get pregnant naturally.”

David has turned his back on what has become a multimillion-pound industry with a vested interest in rushing women into assisted conception. “Infertility is a symptom, not a disease,” he says, “yet most fertility doctors are only interested in giving a woman drugs and getting her on a course of expensive, and stressful, IVF as soon as possible. I’m not against IVF — far from it,” he continues. “But it shouldn’t be the first thing we turn to as doctors. Putting a woman on aggressive drugs to stimulate egg production is a waste of time if, in fact, she is failing to get pregnant because her partner has a low sperm count, or she has an infection.”

David claims that most specialists have little interest in doing the necessary detective work to establish why a couple aren’t conceiving. Together with Jill Blakeway, an alternative-health practitioner who moved from the UK to America 20 years ago, he has written The Fertility Plan, a three-month scheme that helps women overcome common blocks to pregnancy. The book offers targeted advice according to five different “types” of people. “The types are loosely based on Chinese medicine, combined with Dr David’s clinical experience,” says Blakeway, who has such a high success rate that The New York Times dubbed her “the fertility goddess”. “I didn’t want to bog people down with the more esoteric aspects of eastern philosophy,” she adds, “so I’ve kept it simple.” The five types are: stuck, pale, waterlogged, dry and tired; there are quizzes and guidelines to help identify your type and what to do in each case. It’s all refreshingly simple.

“IVF is part of our quick-fix society, particularly in New York,” says Blakeway. “We are used to life being convenient, to having stuff delivered on demand, so a woman might think: ‘When the time comes, I can always go for IVF.’ Making babies is a much more mysterious thing — you can’t think like that.” She is also keen to remind women that IVF still has a relatively poor success rate. “At one of the most renowned New York clinics, figures indicate that among women under 35, the success rate is still only 47%.”

In the book, the duo present a range of common factors that can inhibit fertility, but which doctors don’t always raise. “There are issues from hormones being thrown out of balance by yo-yo dieting, to women who exercise too much, which could lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone,” David says. “Or infertility can arise from a diminished flow of blood to the uterus, which can be dramatically helped by acupuncture.”

Another common cause of infertility is bacterial infection, which has prompted David to remark that antibiotics are his favourite fertility drug. “A lot of doctors specialise in scaring the patient,” he says. “They’ll tell a woman of 37 she’s left it too late and her only option is IVF. But they’re measuring everyone by the same yardstick. Every woman has time to take a three- or four-month evaluation of what’s going on with her body.” Blakeway agrees that the emotional rollercoaster of trying to become pregnant can extract a heavy toll on would-be mothers. “The last thing we wanted to do was make women feel stressed out about not getting pregnant. If it’s not happening for you yet, it’s comforting to bear in mind that there is an enormous amount you can do for yourself.”


Update: A medical correspondent says it is ALL quackery above and says that of course doctors do all they can to identify the problem first. That may be so in the USA but it is not so in the UK, where NHS doctors are notoriously slow to order diagnostic tests. So the warning above (which appeared in a British paper) may be timely for some Brits.

Daily pill may cure blood cancer

BLOOD cancer patients could soon take a daily pill to treat the condition which has traditionally given sufferers a survival time of just a few years. Cancer specialists are meeting in Melbourne this weekend to discuss the future direction of treating myeloma - an incurable blood cancer which effects thousands of Australians.

"We are seeing a major advance in the treatment of multiple myeloma,'' Royal Melbourne Hospital oncologist Professor Jeffrey Szer said in a statement. "In the past five years for instance, myeloma patient survival, which has traditionally been three to four years, has been significantly extended with the availability of innovative new medicines.'' One such medicine, Revlimid, will be discussed at the meeting as a possible oral treatment for the condition.

"We are seeing a significant improvement in quality of life and cancer survival rates,'' Prof Szer said. "There are a number of new treatment strategies that clinicians are adopting to enable them to achieve these outcomes.

"Revlimid is an example of an innovative new medicine that has a unique mechanism of action to kill cancer cells and prolong the patient's life. Compelling Revlimid clinical trail data is being discussed at (the) medical symposium this weekend with local and international experts, coinciding with the Leukaemia Foundation's public lecture.''

Some 1500 people are diagnosed with myeloma in Australia each year. The cancer, which develops in the bone marrow, inhibits the production of normal blood cells and causes symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue and infections.


Sunday, July 26, 2009


There seems to be nothing it cannot do. The following email is from Dennis Bray [] via Benny Peiser

First there was shrinking sheep. Now there are shrinking fish. (And the economy has been shrinking for some time ...).

According to Martin Daufresne, Kathrin Lengfellner and Ulrich Sommer: "Our study provides evidence that reduced body size is the third universal ecological response to global warming ...' in short - shrinking."

See also Science News for Kids: Snapshot: Shrinking Fish

The world will become an ugly place if it is discovered that exposure to global warming shrinks haemorrhoids. But on the upside, will global warming be the panacea for the plague of obesity: 'make your body adoring, suck up some global warming'.

Fish oils help prevent blindness in elderly mice

A diet high in omega three oils can lower the risk of developing age related macular degeneration, American research has found.

At least 500,000 people in Britain are affected by macular degeneration, a condition where cells in the back of the eye degrade causing loss of central vision.

A study carried out by experts at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, in America, found that mice fed a diet high in omega three oils had slower progression of the lesions in the eye and some improvement.

Dr Chi Chan, lead author said the team are now working on new treatments that might delay the onset of macular degeneration.

It is though the fish oils work by reducing inflammation levels. Earlier research has found that a diet rich in omega three, found in mackerel and salmon, can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration by a third in humans. Progression of advanced disease was 25 per cent less likely in those eating two portions of oily fish a week, according to the research carried out at Tufts University in Boston, America. [No details but it sounds epidemiological]


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stress in the womb can last a lifetime, say researchers behind new exhibit

The logic below is far from unassailable. What they have is a correlation between cortisol in the amniotic fluid and baby IQ. Maybe (for instance) the cortisol level is dispositional rather than situational -- in which case maybe there is some genetic link between neuroticism and IQ

Visitors can see how their stress levels could affect the heart rate of their unborn baby and find out why pregnant women should reduce their anxiety, at a new exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens today.

The researchers behind the exhibit, from Imperial College London, hope that it will raise families' awareness of the importance of reducing levels of stress and anxiety in expectant mothers. They say that reducing stress during pregnancy could help prevent thousands of children from developing emotional and behavioural problems.

Visitors to the Exhibition will have the chance to play a game that shows how a mother's stress can increase the heart rate of her unborn baby. They will also be able to touch a real placenta, encased safely in plastic. The placenta is crucial for fetal development and it usually protects the unborn baby from the stress hormone cortisol. However, when the mother is stressed, the placenta becomes less protective and the mother's cortisol may have an effect on the fetus.

The Imperial researchers' work has shown that maternal stress and anxiety can alter the development of the baby's brain. This in turn can result in a greater risk of emotional problems such as anxiety or depression, behavioural problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and being considerably slower at learning. Some studies have even suggested that it may increase the likelihood of later violent or criminal behaviour. Their findings have suggested that the effects of stress during pregnancy can last many years, including into adolescence.

Professor Vivette Glover, the lead researcher behind the exhibit from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, said: "We all know that if a mother smokes or drinks a lot of alcohol while pregnant it can affect her fetus. Our work has shown that other more subtle factors, such as her emotional state, can also have long-term effects on her child. We hope our exhibit will demonstrate in a fun way why we all need to look after expectant mothers' emotional wellbeing.

"Our research shows that stress due to the mother's relationship with her partner can be particularly damaging. We want fathers visiting our exhibit to see how they can help with the development of their child even before the birth, by helping their partner to stay happy," added Professor Glover.

The researchers say that the stress hormone cortisol may be one way in which the fetus is affected by the mother's anxiety during pregnancy. Usually the placenta protects the unborn baby from the mother's cortisol, by producing an enzyme that breaks the hormone down. When the mother is very stressed, this enzyme works less well and lets her cortisol through the placenta. By studying the amount of cortisol in the amniotic fluid, the Imperial researchers' latest study suggests that the higher the level of cortisol in the womb, the lower the toddler's cognitive development or "baby IQ" at 18 months.

Kieran O'Donnell from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London said: "We are very excited to have this opportunity to talk with the public about our work. We think that by promoting awareness of this subject we may be able to benefit many families in the future."


Factors behind marriage breakdown

Opposites attract or so the saying goes. But a new study suggests this may not be the key to a long-lasting marriage. Academics from the Australian National University tracked the relationships and characteristics of nearly 2500 couples between 2001 and 2007. They found the factors that increased the likelihood of marriage breakdown included differences in age, desire for children, work, alcohol and smoking.

Divorce was twice as likely for couples in which the husband was nine or more years older than his wife.

And the same risk applied in marriages in which the man was two or more years younger than his wife.

Couples were twice as likely to split if the wife had a much stronger preference for children or for more of them.

Smoking and drinking rates also contributed to relationship breakdown.

Relationships in which one person smoked and the other did not were between 75 and 90 per cent more likely to end than those of non-smoking couples.

It was a similar story if the wife was a heavier drinker than her husband.

People whose parents were divorced were more likely to call it quits, so too were those who had children born before the marriage.

Couples in which both people had been previously married had a 90 per cent higher chance of splitting than those marrying for the first time.

Unemployment and or perceived financial stress of the husband, but not the wife, also played a role.

Factors that were not important included country of birth, religious background and education levels. [Most surprising]

As well as the number and age of children, a woman's employment status and years in paid employment did not play a role.

The "What's love got to do with it?" study estimates that a quarter of relationships will end within six years and 50 per cent by 25 years.

Dr Rebecca Kippen, Professor Bruce Chapman and Dr Peng Yu will present their findings at a Melbourne conference this week.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Drinking milk 'cuts risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by one fifth'

This appears to be a review of epidemiological studies with all their attendant limitations. Maybe middle class kids are given more milk so all we are seeing is a class effect, for instance

Drinking milk could cut your chances of dying from heart disease and stroke, say scientists. Contrary to reports that milk harms health, they claim consumption could reduce the risk of succumbing to chronic illness by as much as a fifth.

Scientists at Reading and Cardiff universities reviewed 324 studies on the effects of milk consumption. They found milk protects against developing most diseases, apart from prostate cancer, and can cut deaths from illnesses by 15 to 20 per cent.

Reading University's Professor Ian Givens said milk had more to offer than just building strong bones and helping growth. 'Our review made it possible to assess whether increased milk consumption provides a survival advantage or not,' he said. 'We believe it does. 'When the numbers of deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke and colo-rectal cancer were taken into account, there is strong evidence of an overall reduction in the risk of dying. 'We found no evidence milk might increase the risk of developing conditions, with the exception of prostate cancer. '

The reviewers say that encouraging greater milk consumption might eventually reduce NHS treatment costs because of lower levels of chronic disease. 'There is an urgent need to understand the mechanisms involved and for focused studies to confirm the epidemiological evidence since this topic has major implications for the agri-food industry' said Professor Givens.


Immune therapy Alzheimer's hope

Elderly cancer patients are not exactly the sort of sample one would wish to generalize from. Some appropriate cautions are expressed below

An immune system therapy given to cancer patients could have the added benefit of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests. A US team found patients who had received antibody treatment had more than 40% less risk of Alzheimer's than people who had not. Writing in Neurology, they said a bigger study was needed to confirm their findings.

UK experts said immunotherapy was an important area of research. So far, scientists have been looking at it as a way of treating people who already have Alzheimer's.

The idea is that immune based therapies affect the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which are characteristic of Alzheimer's, possibly by suppressing the inflammatory response in the brain. People with the disease have lower levels of anti beta-amyloid antibodies, so experts are looking at ways of boosting levels - including immunisation.

But this study investigated whether or not people who had been given the treatment already, for another condition, had some protection. The team from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York looked at the records of 847 people who had been given at least one intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) treatment for cancers, such as leukaemia, or immune system disorders. All were over 65 and had received the treatment between April 2001 and August 2004.

Their records were then compared with those of 847,000 people who had not needed the therapy who were similar Alzheimer's risk factors to the treated group. The records were held by a medical insurance company, and so detailed the illnesses and treatments people had claimed payments for. Patients were followed up to August 2007. It was found that only 2.8% of those treated with IVIg developed Alzheimer's, compared with 4.8% of those not treated.

Dr Howard Fillit, who led the study, said: "IVIg has been used safely for more than 20 years to treat other diseases but is thought to have an indirect effect on Alzheimer's disease by targeting beta-amyloid, or plaques in the brain. "Our study provides evidence that previous IVIg treatments may protect against Alzheimer's disease. "The current Alzheimer's drugs on the market treat the symptoms of the disease. Immunization could treat the underlying cause."

But he added: "These findings do not constitute an endorsement of IVIg treatment for Alzheimer's disease. A large scale clinical trial is underway to determine whether IVIg could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's."

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "This is a really encouraging epidemiological study. "Clinical trials are now underway in this area and we look forward to the results." But he added: "Introducing large amounts of antibodies could cause serious side effects so important questions will need to be answered before this treatment becomes available."


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kids’ lower IQ scores tied to prenatal pollution -- again

This is actually an old claim and as meritless as ever. It just shows that poor and dumber parents live in less desirable and more polluted areas and have dumber kids because IQ is largely inherited genetically. But below we read the usual epidemiological nonsense: Correlation is causation. Logic is obviously not taught in medical schools

Researchers for the first time have linked air-pollution exposure before birth with lower IQ scores in childhood, bolstering evidence that smog may harm the developing brain.

The results are in a study of 249 children of New York City women who wore backpack air monitors for 48 hours during the last few months of pregnancy. They lived in mostly low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They had varying levels of exposure to typical kinds of urban air pollution, mostly from car, bus and truck exhaust.

At age 5, before starting school, the children were given IQ tests. Those exposed to the most pollution before birth scored on average four to five points lower than kids with less exposure.

That's a big enough difference that it could affect children's performance in school, said Frederica Perera, the study's lead author and director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health.

Dr. Michael Msall, a University of Chicago pediatrician not involved in the research, said the study doesn't mean that children living in congested cities "aren't going to learn to read and write and spell."

But it does suggest you don't have to live right next door to a belching factory to face pollution health risks, and that there may be more dangers from typical urban air pollution than previously thought, he said.

While future research is needed to confirm the new results, the findings suggest exposure to air pollution before birth could have the same harmful effects on the developing brain as exposure to lead, said Patrick Breysse, an environmental-health specialist at Johns Hopkins' school of public health.

And along with other environmental harms and disadvantages low-income children are exposed to, it could help explain why they often do worse academically than children from wealthier families, Breysse said. "It's a profound observation," he said. "This paper is going to open a lot of eyes."

The study in the August edition of Pediatrics was released today.


Autism tied to autoimmune diseases in immediate family

It's a very weak link so it is most unlikely to lead anywhere. Autism is far from a unitary phenomenon and a diagnosis of autism can simply mean that communication difficulties are present (along with varied other problems). It is possible that some autoimmune reactions do affect the brain and lead to damage that causes communication difficulties but communication difficulties could arise in various other ways as well.

Danish researchers have found another clue to the mysterious causes of autism, according to a study published online this month in Pediatrics. In a study of children born in Denmark from 1993 to 2004, doctors found that many children with autism or related disorders also had a family history of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, develop when antibodies that normally fight infectious organisms instead attack the body itself.

In the study, doctors examined patterns of disease among children, mothers, fathers and siblings. For the first time, researchers found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children whose mothers have celiac disease, a digestive condition in which people cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Autism spectrum disorders include a range of neurological problems affecting communication and socializing.

The study also confirms the results of many earlier papers, says author Hjördis Atladottir of Denmark's University of Aarhus. For example, doctors found an increased risk of autism in children with a family history of type 1 diabetes and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children whose mothers have rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers say their study leaves many questions unanswered. But they say it's possible babies are affected by their mother's antibodies while in the womb. Their mother's disease also may create an abnormal environment.

Although the study is designed to find associations among diseases, it is not able to prove that autoimmune disorders cause autism, says the University of Washington's Karen Toth, a clinical psychologist who was not involved in the study. But Toth says it's possible that the same genes are involved in autoimmune diseases and autism. Researchers have known for many years that autism can run in families, Toth says. And scientists have found genes that may be involved in autism.

Children may also have an increased risk if they are exposed in the womb to certain drugs — such as thalidomide, valproic acid or cocaine — or to infectious diseases such as rubella, Toth says.

Recent studies also have found that babies born prematurely have higher risks of autism. Children also are at higher risk if their fathers are older than 40 or if children have conditions such as epilepsy or Fragile X syndrome, which causes mental retardation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People with autoimmune diseases shouldn't be alarmed, Atladottir says. The vast majority of people with these conditions do not have children with autism, he says. In the study, only 3,325 of the more than 689,196 children studied were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healthy growth in the womb correlates with smarter kids

Another "correlation is causation" fallacy below. The findings are equally compatible with Terman & Oden's findings of a syndrome of general biological fitness

SUCCESS at school may start in the womb, Australian research has found. Two West Australian studies involving more than 80,000 non-indigenous children show a strong link between healthy growth in the womb and improved reading, writing and numeracy skills by the age of eight.

Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, who led both studies, said the results suggested that improving the health of pregnant women, particularly those living in disadvantaged areas, could optimise their child's education. [Bullsh*t! It more likely indicates that it is all genetic and nothing can be done] "Good fetal growth appears to give children from disadvantaged areas a comparatively better start," Professor Stanley said. [More likely healthier mothers are brighter and also have heathier and brighter children]

"It's easy to blame schools for poor results but it might be more accurate to start asking about the quality and availability of health care. "You don't just have to have good primary school teachers . . . and good public education. "That's important, but it's not going to be as effective unless you have children who are healthy coming into that system. "Investments in health will result in better outcomes in education."

The results of the studies by Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research are published in two journals: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Prof. Stanley said tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy were known to restrict fetal growth. She said ante-natal care from an early stage of pregnancy was also important in giving babies the best possible start in life. "If you do have something like pre-eclampsia, if you get good ante-natal care then you'll optimise your chances for the baby," Prof. Stanley said.

In 2006, 4157 Queensland babies – or 7.3 per cent of those born – were considered low birth weight because they weighed less than 2500g. In the same year, one in five mothers reported smoking during pregnancy, according to Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young's report, The Health of Queenslanders: Prevention of Chronic Disease. "Low birth weight was the cause of 20 per cent of the total disease burden in Queensland in infants aged 0 to 1 year in 2006," the report said.

Prof. Stanley said the findings of her studies should not alarm mothers who had difficult pregnancies.


Injection protects against dirty bomb effects

New medication claimed as a game-changer: 'We made a breakthrough that may save the lives of millions'. A 'minority' might be a better word than 'millions', however

A groundbreaking advance in medicine announced this week promises to dramatically reduce the number of people who would be killed in a nuclear war due to radiation poisoning with simple injections administered within three days of exposure.

Funded by the Pentagon, Professor Andrei Gudkov, chief scientific officer at Cleveland BioLabs, developed the preventative drug – it's not a vaccine – based on research he began in 2003 using protein produced in bacteria found in the intestine to protect cells from radiation, reported Israel's YnetNews.

Cells exposed to large doses of radiation die, scientists have found, when the cell's "suicide mechanism" is activated. The new medication based on intestinal bacteria works by suppressing the mechanism that causes cells to die and allows them to recover.

More than ever before, we need to think about the unthinkable and not depend on government to protect us from harm. Get "Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters" to learn how you can protect your family.

Gudkov's hunch paid off in early mice studies. "We exposed both groups to lethal radioactive radiation," he told YNetNews. "All the mice in the control group died within a short period of time. A few days later, when I approached the cage with the mice that received the protein, I could see that they're OK, that they're alive. They survived. It's hard to describe the joy all of us felt. We realized that finally, after so many years and so many experiments and frustrations, we made a breakthrough that may save the lives of millions."

Those results were published in the journal Science, but the discovery of the injectable medicine is only now being revealed following two tests that showed the drug's effectiveness in protecting monkeys and its safety for humans.

More here


Journal abstract below:

Dyslexia: A New Synergy Between Education and Cognitive Neuroscience

By John D. E. Gabrieli

Reading is essential in modern societies, but many children have dyslexia, a difficulty in learning to read. Dyslexia often arises from impaired phonological awareness, the auditory analysis of spoken language that relates the sounds of language to print. Behavioral remediation, especially at a young age, is effective for many, but not all, children. Neuroimaging in children with dyslexia has revealed reduced engagement of the left temporo-parietal cortex for phonological processing of print, altered white-matter connectivity, and functional plasticity associated with effective intervention. Behavioral and brain measures identify infants and young children at risk for dyslexia, and preventive intervention is often effective. A combination of evidence-based teaching practices and cognitive neuroscience measures could prevent dyslexia from occurring in the majority of children who would otherwise develop dyslexia.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stupid Australian steel manufacturer puts its faith in fad psychology

It sounds as if the company put its employees through a severe variation of the old "encounter groups" therapy. At the time it did that, such therapy had already been largely abandoned because it often did more harm than good. But 13 years later the company is still denying that the procedure damaged one of their empoyees. They have amazing faith in quacks -- to the point where it has cost them lots more in legal bills that it would have cost them to settle the damages claim in the first place! There was even an advance warning that the "course" could harm the employee concerned!

THE FAMILY of a man who has endured a 13-year legal battle with Bluescope Steel over a debilitating pyschiatric injury has begged the company to do what is right and end their "living hell". The case relates to an eight-day leadership retreat that former BlueScope employee Angus Mackinnon attended in August, 1996. The "Steel Leadership Course" featured drum-beating, interrogations and "psychodrama'', The Australian reports.

Dr Mackinnon, a doctor at BlueScope's occupational health and safety department in Wollongong at the time, suffered hallucinations, was found lying unresponsive on the floor at and ended up in a mental hospital within days of the course concluding. He later had to have electro-convulsive therapy and has been hospitalised a number of times. Ever since, Dr Mackinnon has been locked in litigation with the company in a negligence case that has cost $15 million and is likely to cost millions more.

It is probably the longest and most expensive personal injury litigation case that has take place in New South Wales, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. The paper also reports that the costs of the case have run to $15 million. The case could have been settled for $1.3m but Bluescope has held out, spending far more than that on legal fees and recently lodging a bid with the High Court to overturn a judgment where three judges unanimously found in Dr Mackinnon's favour.

"It's just the brutality of it ... the way they went for me in court without any compassion,'' Dr Mackinnon told The Australian of the effect the ongoing litigation was having on him and his family. "They knew the severity of my illness and the impact it was having on me but they didn't stop.''

The Mackinnons have sold their home unit to fund the court case against BlueScope, as well as pay for ongoing medical treatment, and have been forced to live with his wife's parents, sleeping in the same room as their two young children.

The original case took 94 days and Dr Mackinnon lost the trial. But a subsequent appeal saw three NSW Court of Appeal judges unanimously decide in Dr Mackinnon's favour. The judgment was scathing of the trial judge. The treatment of a crucial issue in the case was "so inadequate" that "the matter would have to go back to retrial in any event", the judges said.

Dr Mackinnon's wife, Nandy, has writen to each Bluescope board member individually, telling them of the "living hell'' she and her husband have endured for 13 years after reading the company's claim that its values reflected its motto that "our strength is in choosing what to do is right''. She says she is "perplexed" as to how the company, and its shareholders, could justify the ongoing litigation. The company has never responded.

BlueScope declined to comment but has denied in the courts that it has been negligent or that there was any breach of duty owed to Dr Mackinnon.

The Sydney couple say they are "not asking for the world" - they just want to be able to pay the medical bills and live in their own home.


Benefits of breastfeeding being oversold

NHS claims about benefits of breastfeeding are false and oversold, as there is little evidence that mother’s milk protects babies against illness or allergies, says a leading experts. Michael Kramer, a professor of paediatrics who has advised the World Health Organisation and Unicef, said that much of the evidence used to persuade mothers to breastfeed was either wrong or out of date.

However, mothers who breastfed had a different outlook from those who did not and were more likely to follow advice on all health issues. That meant their families were likely to have a healthier lifestyle and that could in turn explain better outcomes for their children.

The most recent NHS leaflets given to all pregnant women and new mothers said that breastfeeding protects a baby against obesity, allergies, asthma and diabetes. This is repeated by most other public health bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust.

Professor Kramer, based at McGill University, Montreal, has studied evidence on breastfeeding since 1978, and has advised the World Health Organisation, Unicef, and the Cochrane Library on breastfeeding research. Evidence that breastfeeding protects against obesity was flawed, he said. “The evidence it protects against allergies and asthma is also weak. And there is very little evidence that it reduces the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma, bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure. “I don’t favour overselling the evidence, we should not be conveying false information. I think some of the advice promulgated on obesity or allergies is false information.”

Mothers who were more likely to follow medical advice on breastfeeding were also more likely to be part of a family that acted healthily in other ways. So although breastfed babies may have better outcomes, this could easily be because of other factors.

However, he said that some claims were well founded, such as the protective effect on ear infections and gastrointestinal illnesses. “The formula milk industry jump on every piece of equivocal evidence. But the breastfeeding lobby have a way of ignoring the evidence. Both sides are not being very scientific,” he said.

Joan Wolf, an academic who has spent five years researching the medical literature on breastfeeding, said that only the benefits on gastrointestinal illnesses had been conclusively proven. “The evidence we have now is not compelling. It certainly does not justify the rhetoric,” said Ms Wolf, an assistant professor from Texas A&M University. “I’m not sure there should be a public health campaign on infant feeding in the West. “

A Department of Health spokesman defended the advice, saying that it was based on an expert review of the studies. Jacque Gerrard, the Royal College of Midwives’s director for England, said that its advice was based on “the evidence that is out there, endorsed by the Department of Health”. “Breastfeeding is the right way to produce healthy babies,” she said.



That seems a large conclusion to draw from just 5 genomes but for what it is worth, the journal abstract is below

Targeted Retrieval and Analysis of Five Neandertal mtDNA Genomes

By Adrian W. Briggs et. al.

Analysis of Neandertal DNA holds great potential for investigating the population history of this group of hominins, but progress has been limited due to the rarity of samples and damaged state of the DNA. We present a method of targeted ancient DNA sequence retrieval that greatly reduces sample destruction and sequencing demands and use this method to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of five Neandertals from across their geographic range. We find that mtDNA genetic diversity in Neandertals that lived 38,000 to 70,000 years ago was approximately one-third of that in contemporary modern humans. Together with analyses of mtDNA protein evolution, these data suggest that the long-term effective population size of Neandertals was smaller than that of modern humans and extant great apes.


Monday, July 20, 2009

EU inquiry pours doubt on benefit of health foods

Not before time

More than 50 food products and supplements have been exposed by a Europe-wide investigation for making unproven claims about their health benefits. Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Lipton black tea and some probiotic supplements are among the items whose claimed health benefits are scientifically unproven, according to an investigation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Fish oil supplements which purport to improve brain growth in babies and children have come under particular scrutiny, with the agency rejecting most of the benefits claimed by manufacturers.

The initial results of the inquiry suggest that consumers could be wasting millions of pounds each year on products they think will improve their diet and lifestyle. Britons annually spend £320m on vitamin pills and supplements alone. Significantly more is spent on foods, such as breakfast cereals, which claim to offer health benefits.

The EFSA has examined the science behind the health claims made by 66 foods or ingredients. A further 4,000 products are to be inspected. Firms whose claims have already been rejected include Ocean Spray, which had suggested that its cranberry juice could protect women against urinary infections. The agency also rejected an application from Unilever which sought to claim that drinking Lipton black tea makes people more alert.

“We have examined the science put forward by the companies to support their products and in many cases found it did not support the claims they were making,” said an EFSA spokesman.

The agency’s rulings have shocked the food and supplements industries, where the “health benefits” conferred by products is often a cornerstone of marketing. “This is a long overdue revolution in the food industry,” said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London. “Consumers have been bamboozled by unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of foods for too long.”

The EFSA findings are the result of the European Union’s nutrition and health food regulation of 2006 which requires manufacturers to substantiate any health claims. The agency’s uncompromising approach has persuaded some companies, including Nestlé and Unilever, to remove products from the EFSA verification process. One idea is that some companies want a chance to lobby for the rules to be relaxed before submitting amended applications.

Danone, one of the biggest manufacturers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks, is one of the companies to withdraw from the EFSA tests. This year it is on course to sell 480m bottles of Actimel in the UK and 640m pots of Activia which contain microbes that it claims can improve gut health. Such massive sales mean the impact of the EFSA rejecting a health claim could be huge. So far the agency’s scientists have slapped down claims made by similar probiotic products. A Danone spokesman said it would submit new health claims to the EFSA: “These withdrawals in no way put in doubt the soundness of the science behind our applications.”

Although the EFSA rulings have yet to be approved by the European parliament to give them legal weight, manufacturers fear consumers will vote with their feet after a rejection. This is the threat facing omega-3 fish oil producers such as Equazen, whose brands include Eye Q, Mumomega, Cardiozen and Equavision. It submitted several claims to the EFSA, including one suggesting that Mumomega capsules could help the central nervous system development in foetuses and breastfed infants. All the claims were rejected.

On its website Equazen claims: “Everything we do is based on scientific fact.” However, when asked to clarify this last week, a spokesman said: “All Equazen product claims are approved both by our internal regulatory department and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).” The PAGB is the trade body for makers of food supplements and non-prescription medicines rather than a research organisation.

Shane Starling, editor of, the leading food industry journal, said the rulings meant consumers could have more confidence in health claims. “It’s brought turmoil to the food industry, but it is time these claims were scrutinised,” he said.


Daughters take after their mothers and sons take after their fathers

How surprising! And this is supposed to DISPROVE the influence of genetics??

FAT mothers make fat daughters and fat fathers make fat sons, new research reveals. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found the weight of some parents had a significant impact on their children's waistlines. Researchers studied the body mass index of 226 trios – mother, father and child – to calculate how gender affected weight.

By age eight, a child's tendency to become overweight like their same sex parent was becoming entrenched. The same sex correlations between parent and child were universally stronger than the correlations between opposite sexes, the report said.

Childhood obesity today seems to be largely confined to those whose parents of the same sex are obese, and the link does not seem to be genetic. Instead, the authors said, the environmental and possibly behavioural, influence of overweight parents was to blame. The mother acts as a role model for her daughter and the father for his son.

Treating adult obesity could therefore be the best way of tackling childhood obesity, the report concluded. "The clearly defined gender assortative pattern which our research has uncovered is an exciting one because it points towards behavioural factors at work in childhood obesity," study director Terry Wilkin said.


Hey, Kids, Playing in the sand at the beach could kill you

In raising your young kids, don't worry about the tons of sex and violence they are exposed to on TV. Those aren't problems. You know what the real problem is? Sand on the beach. Yeah, that's the ticket. Instill a fear of sand in your kid. Oh, and did I mention that $65K in your tax money paid for the study that issues the alarm and says you shouldn't handle food with dirty hands?
Add playing in the sand to the long list of fun things that may be bad for your health. A new study says you risk getting an upset stomach and diarrhea if you dig into the granular stuff to fill toy pails, build sand castles or bury yourself. You're better off walking along the shore or swimming in the surf.

Is the federal government, which paid $63,500 for the research, throwing a major bummer into the beach-going season? . . . The report's authors said they don't mean to put a damper on summer fun. They just think it's important to caution people about the bird droppings, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants that pollute sand.

"Take care to use a hand sanitizer or wash hands after playing in the sand," said Tim Wade, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who helped write the study. . . .

As part of a larger assessment of water quality at beaches, EPA researchers interviewed more than 27,000 beach-goers in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. There were four sites on the Great Lakes and one each in Mississippi, Alabama and Rhode Island.

Beach-goers were asked about their contact with sand on the day of their visit. Ten to 12 days later, they were contacted by phone to discuss health problems that surfaced since then.

The EPA and the University of North Carolina analyzed the information, and their results appear in the latest edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology. It's being touted as the most comprehensive look at how specific activities involving beach sand might cause sickness.

Less than 10 percent of people who played with sand came down with diarrhea and/or gastrointestinal illness. But that number is still up to 24 percent higher than for folks who didn't. Researchers said the risk of illness was highest for those who were buried in the sand and that children are more likely than adults to fall sick. . . .

"We are hypothesizing . . . that people are coming into contact with fecal contamination in the sand and then transferring that to their hands and then to their mouth," he said.

Heaney said beach-goers should be careful when handling food. "The beach . . . is not a sterile environment," he said.

So, they're hypothesizing, but they have no actual proof that playing in the sand causes any of these illnesses. But, wow, $65,000 spent to give us some real genius advice, which is essentially, "Wash your hands before eating." Einstein stuff.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Role of sun over-emphasised in melanoma skin cancers

But suntanning does give you wrinkles! From what I have seen elsewhere, the advice below is rather confused, however. Fair skin certainly gives you more cancers, but BCCs and SCCs rather than melanomas -- and it is melanomas that are the dangerous ones. Melanomas are actually quite rare among very fair-skinned people, from my reading in the matter. It is people who tan well who get the melanomas

WARNINGS that too much time spent in the sun can lead to the most deadly form of skin cancer have been over-emphasised, a controversial study has claimed. It found that, although sunbathing is a risk factor, the number of moles on a person's skin is the most important indicator of whether they will go on to develop melanoma. The scientists also identified two genes that dictate how many moles someone will have, and their risk of getting skin cancer.

The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, is likely to reopen the debate over whether official health warnings about avoiding the sun are overstated and too general. The study's authors said such warnings would be more useful if they focused on those most at risk – namely anyone with more than 100 moles on their body, redheads and people with fair skin and taught them how to check their moles for changes in shape, size or colour.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, and one of the new study's authors, said: "The number of moles you have is one of the strongest risk factors for melanoma – stronger even than sunshine."

Dr Veronique Bataille, a dermatologist at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, added: "You often read that nearly all melanomas are caused by sunshine, which is not supported by the evidence. "Let's keep sunshine in the picture because it does make you age and causes you wrinkles. But let's move away from scaring people by saying they are going to die because they go in the sun."


The dangerous "Homeopathic" loophole

Homeopathic remedies, except when people rely on them to treat serious conditions, are usually safe as water--which they actually are. But sometimes they contain dangerous ingredients which are released on a unsuspecting public with little or no testing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has caught itself in a trap of precedent and logic that should force it, finally, to regulate homeopathic products. FDA regulations require that drugs and treatments be “scientifically proven safe and effective.” Homeopathic remedies, except when people rely on them to treat serious conditions, are usually safe as water—which they actually are. Some homeopaths claim that shaking and serial dilutions—even to the point that not one molecule of the “active” ingredient remains—create a “memory” of the long-gone ingredient. So far, though, the FDA has ignored the multi-million dollar fraud. After all, what’s the harm?

Well, one harm, according to hundreds of people and dozens of lawsuits, is that some of Matrixx Initiatives’ homeopathic Zicam cold “treatments” cause anosmia—the loss of smell, a sense necessary both to enjoy a summer day and to detect gas leaks, fires and spoiled food.

Rather than the usual homeopathic magic water, some Zicam products contain pharmaceutically significant amounts of zinc, which was shown in the 1930s to cause anosmia when used intranasally. Some Zicam homeopathics also include an unspecified amount of benzalkonium chloride, which “disrupts signaling between molecules, a mechanism that could allow it to have widespread unanticipated effects,” says Peter Montague of Rachel’s Democracy and Health News. The U.S. Material Safety Data Sheet lists it as a hazardous, potentially mutagenic chemical; Canada bars it from products “applied to mucous membranes.”

But the giant regulatory loophole that is homeopathy allowed Matrixx, either by accident or design, to slap on the label “homeopathic,” slip under the regulatory wire and sell 1 billion doses of untested Zicam. Despite Zicam’s decade on the market and numerous lawsuits, the National Center for Homeopathy never condemned the mislabeling.

Under the Obama administration, the FDA requested that Matrixx recall a number of Zicam intranasal products. On June 16, the FDA warned, “Because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for their labeled uses, these products [must undergo] well-controlled clinical investigations … regardless of their homeopathic status [before re-marketing.]”

While there is conflicting evidence that oral zinc shortens colds, it likely does little harm. The FDA, however, found Zicam ineffective, thereby fitting it under the agency’s definition of “health fraud.” It also ruled that Zicam’s moneymaking innovation of delivering the chemical into the nose rendered it unsafe.

The Zicam recall followed an earlier tough (and witty) FDA ruling that if General Mills continued to claim whole-grain Cheerios reduces cholesterol, the cereal would be regulated as a drug. In June, the agency made Bayer withdraw claims that One A Day for Men “supports prostate health.”

In addition to the 130 anosmia reports received by the FDA, Matrixx failed to notify the agency of more than 800 Zicam-related complaints. Furthermore, since Zicam was labeled for use by children, a class of underage victims may have gone unnoticed.

Nonetheless, Matrixx CEO William Helmut called the Zicam recall “a complete surprise.” And it is an expensive one. The zinc-based nasal products comprised 40 percent of Matrixx’s $112-million sales last year. The Scottsdale, Ariz., firm used some of the profits to pay $12 million in 2006 to settle hundreds of lawsuits by Zicam users claiming anosmia, plus $4 to $6 million in annual legal costs. Matrixx is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its handling of the FDA warning and by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing.

Questionable marketing may come naturally to Zicam through its co-founders Robert Steven Davison and Charles B. Hensley. Davidson got his Ph.D. from an unaccredited, now-defunct diploma mill in Spain. Hensley, who holds the Zicam patents, got a warning letter from the FDA about the online sale of an unapproved drug that his current company, PRB Pharmaceuticals, claims treats bird flu and SARS. And the Washington Post reported: “Hensley previously developed a weight-loss remedy that involves sniffing ‘specially developed aromas.’ “

Meanwhile, Zicam users, who can no longer smell a rat, might develop a nose for bullshit and discover that sometimes the only thing worse than homeopathic products that have no effect are the ones that do. 


Unintended use of drug restores hearing

Obama's FDA will now do its best to prevent this use of the drug -- because it is "off label"

It was the honeyed drawl of her professor that first pierced the silence enveloping Edith Garrett for an entire year, since the day she had lost her hearing. But she dismissed it, thinking she was just having a good day. That was until she was woken from her nap later that November afternoon by a racket from a neighbor’s apartment. “I said, ‘What is that?’ My roommates looked at me, and they said: ‘It’s the dog barking downstairs. It’s been there since August when we moved in,’ ’’ Garrett recalled.

Today, Garrett’s hearing is near-perfect in one ear, her rare neurological ailment treated by a drug called Avastin. But the wonder here isn’t simply that her hearing has been restored. The real wonder is how.

Garrett’s recovery, highlighted yesterday by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, represents a powerful tale of scientific discovery that illustrates how millions of dollars in spending and years of research into a drug - in this instance, Avastin, approved to treat late-stage colon, breast, and lung cancers - can yield a treatment for seemingly unrelated diseases.

For rare conditions, finding unintended uses for off-the-shelf drugs is often the best approach - saving time and money - because the potential financial payoff for a new medication is too little to attract interest from big drug companies.

The beneficiary in this case was Garrett. As a 19-year-old college student, she was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2, which causes tumors to sprout inside the brain. Traditionally, as the tumors engulf nerves that regulate hearing, balance, swallowing, and other vital functions, patients are left with two options: surgery and radiation, both with worrisome complications.

Mass. General researchers’ findings on the unexpected value of Avastin, chronicled online yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine, are preliminary. Researchers warn the drug is not a cure for the condition, most often diagnosed when people reach their 20s and estimated to afflict about 12,000 Americans. But it offers a shard of promise for patients often left hopeless by the rarity of their disease. “We really felt we stood on the shoulders of the oncology community,’’ said Dr. Scott Plotkin , director of Mass. General’s Neurofibromatosis Clinic and lead author of the study. “Our goal was to build on the scientific successes to date and not to have to go back to square one.’’

Neurofibromatosis type 2 - known in medical shorthand as NF-2 - typically arrives with quiet stealth. During high school in Atlanta, Garrett experienced bouts of facial paralysis. “I just thought I had a crooked smile,’’ Garrett said.

But then, as she was starting her sophomore year at Rhodes College in Memphis five years ago, she noticed a small, painful protrusion on her shin. Tests ultimately revealed that the bump on her leg was a harbinger of the genetic ailment already spawning tumors inside her brain. One night, prowling the Internet for details, Garrett discovered something that stunned her: Patients with the tumors frequently lose their hearing. “I called and I asked my mom, ‘Am I going to go deaf?’ And she said, ‘We just don’t know.’ ’’

Without realizing it, Garrett had already lost hearing in her right ear. She had begun, unconsciously, compensating for that deficit, something doctors have witnessed in other patients. When she strolled into a classroom, she later realized, she would veer toward desks on the right side - so that her left ear could hear the instructor. When her cellphone jangled, she would always put it to her left ear.

In the language of doctors, the tumors caused by the condition are considered benign, because their cells lack the capacity to rapidly and destructively divide, a key trait of malignant cancers. But the complications that can result from neurofibromatosis are anything but benign. “NF-2 is a disorder that’s like fighting a forest fire,’’ said Dr. Dade Lunsford, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon. “What you try to do is put out the fire that’s burning at that moment. So if there’s a hearing nerve tumor that’s getting bigger and causing pressure on the brain, normally we try to do surgery.’’

But both surgery and radiation can exact a toll. Operations on patients with tumors as large as limes - like those enmeshed with Garrett’s hearing nerves - almost always result in deafness. And while radiation can stop tumors from growing, it can spur scarring and may cause cancer. That is why researchers had long been eager to find some other way to tame the tumors. Traditional chemotherapy seemed unlikely to help because it targets those rapidly dividing cells that aren’t found in benign growths.

Newer drugs, pioneered by Boston scientists, aim at a different pathway, known as angiogenesis. Those medications starve cancerous tumors of the blood they need by disrupting blood vessels spawned by the tumor. But it wasn’t clear - until now - that the benign tumors of neurofibromatosis type 2 patients had the ability to grow those vessel networks.

By using old tissue samples, the Mass. General researchers showed that the tumors are indeed associated with excess blood vessel development. So the scientists decided to give 10 patients Avastin, one of the new class of angiogenesis inhibitors.

Garrett’s hearing declined precipitously in December 2006; before taking the medication, she scored 8 percent on a standard hearing test known as word recognition. Now, she stands at 98 percent in one ear, but still lacks hearing in the other. “You’re lucky as a physician,’’ Plotkin said, “to see a response like this once in your career.’’

Of the 10 patients in the study, the tumors of six shrank by 20 percent or more, with the reduction lasting 11 to 16 months so far. Seven patients had hearing loss prior to treatment, and after taking Avastin, the hearing of six either improved or remained stable. The patients experienced some side effects from the drug, including high blood pressure and liver toxicity, but none was considered severe.

Lunsford, who was not involved in the research, described the findings as “extraordinarily preliminary data,’’ but added that the study “offers a glimmer of hope, and it certainly warrants further exploration.’’

It remains unclear, for example, whether patients would need to take the drug regularly or if they could stop and start. The Boston scientists are looking for financing to expand their research to other centers.

Garrett isn’t taking Avastin at the moment because she underwent surgery in June designed to ease her facial paralysis. Still, she’s well enough that she’s preparing to start a new job. In the fall, she will begin teaching high school math in Atlanta - at a school for hearing-impaired children.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The links between physical attractiveness and grades

The article below from Newsweak is unusually good for them -- even more so because it is written by the often-batty Sharon Begley. Our Sharon does drift off into nuttiness towards the end of the article but I have left that bit out. Taranto has a comment on that bit, though. What puzzles Sharon and many others is WHY attractive and good-natured people get better grades at school. I don't pretend to have all the answers to that but I want to suggest two things that are probably important:

1). As a former teacher, I think I can assert with confidence that there is an undeniable arbitrary element in marking and, as in life in general, one tends to give the benefit of the doubt to people whom one likes for one reason or another. It is for that reason that all schools once graded students solely on the basis of anonymous formal exams marked by markers who did not know the person they were marking. That procedure now seems to be deemed "unfair", however -- for some reason that is not apparent to me.

2). As I occasionally mention, there does seem to be a syndrome of general biological fitness, such that some people seem to hold just about all the good cards. As Terman & Oden discovered decades ago, high-IQ people also tend to be healthier, taller, more long lived, more attractive and less likely to divorce (etc.). So the more attractive people and the people who are more pleasant to others in general are also likely to be the more intelligent ones -- and that alone could explain much of their advantage at school. I know several very bright people, including my own son, who use their intelligence to help them get on well with people. My son has just gained a distinguished degree in Mathematics and you don't get that through personality alone but using your intelligence to think about how you relate to other people and then applying that to make all interactions with others more pleasant is probably one of the more important uses of intelligence. So more intelligent persons will often be more pleasant people socially as well -- and the advantages of that at school and everywhere else are clearly undeniable.

If you survived high school, or hope to, you probably made your peace with the fact that life is unfair: looks can compensate for a lack of brains and conscientiousness. Or to put it more bluntly, teachers give good-looking kids higher grades than homely ones, all other factors being equal, as numerous studies have found. The phenomenon is so well documented in science it even has a name: the attractiveness effect.

Now sociologist Michael T. French of the University of Miami and his colleagues have discovered yet another reason for plain kids with less-than-winning personalities to feel that the deck is stacked against them. In a paper on "Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School", to be published in the August issue of Labour Economics, they find that the three factors in their title indeed affect students' GPA in high school. (Attractiveness, personality and grooming might affect grades in K-8, as well as college, too, but the researchers looked only at high school.)

Physical attractiveness, they conclude, "has a positive and statistically significant impact on GPA for female students," as other studies have found (the effect also exists for males, but not in a statistically significant way—that is, it may be due to chance). But in a departure from past studies, they find that personality and grooming can boost GPA even more than beauty.

"Being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium," they write. "While grooming has the largest effect on GPA for male students, having a very attractive personality is most important for female students." More specifically:

Physical attractiveness alone boosts GPA for both genders. Nevertheless, physical attractiveness was a weaker predictor of grades than grooming (for boys) and personality (for girls). That suggests that teacher bias plays a significant role in what grades students get. Teachers reward some physical and personality types and penalize others.

The findings raise a host of intriguing questions. For instance, how do "beauty premiums" and "plainness penalties" work?(That's economist-speak for the fact that attractive people get paid more than homely ones—not just actors or waiters: good-looking accountants and even engineers generally earn more than plain ones).

In particular, might the extra earnings reflect not a direct effect of beauty (bosses and customers unconsciously think more highly of attractive people, or are inclined to overlook their mistakes, and thus pay them more than their skills and experience justify) but an indirect one: that years of extra attention and rewards from teachers made attractive people more confident, smarter (because they received lots of positive feedback, they studied more) and thus genuinely more capable? For now, all we can say is that attractiveness and a winning personality boost grades when you're young, and may have an enduring effect once you enter the work force.

But there's something else I'm wondering. In this age of DNA, scientists are hunting for genes associated with intelligence. None have yet been found and verified, and two high-profile candidates recently flamed out (though press coverage of the failure to find a link between the genes, called microcephalin and ASPM, and IQ didn't get nearly the attention as the initial claim). But you can be sure such genes will eventually be discovered, and a study will report that people who carry them have a higher IQ than people who do not.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Daily dose of baking soda ‘can keep kidney patients off dialysis’

Hard to believe but great if a proper double-blind study confirms it. I sometimes take the stuff for indigestion so maybe I have been doing myself more good than I thought

Research by British scientists has found that sodium bicarbonate — otherwise known as baking soda — can dramatically slow the progress of the condition. About three million people in Britain suffer from chronic kidney disease, which can lead to complete kidney failure, requiring regular dialysis. Patients commonly suffer from low bicarbonate levels, a condition called metabolic acidosis.

The pilot study conducted at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, was the first controlled test of the treatment in a clinical setting. In the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers studied 134 patients with advanced chronic kidney disease and metabolic acidosis.

One group was randomly allocated a small daily dose of sodium bicarbonate in tablet form in addition to their usual care. Over a period of one year, the kidney function of these patients declined about two thirds more slowly than that of individuals who were not given the tablets. Their rate of decline was little different from what would be expected with normal ageing. Rapid progression of kidney disease occurred in just 9 per cent of patients given baking soda, compared with 45 per cent of the non-treated group.

Patients taking sodium bicarbonate tablets were also less likely to develop end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis, which takes over the function of the kidneys. Although their sodium levels were increased, it did not lead to problems with raised blood pressure.

An estimated 37,800 patients in Britain receive renal replacement therapy, which may involve dialysis or a kidney transplant. The cost of looking after kidney failure patients accounts for 3 per cent of the entire NHS budget. On average, each patient on dialysis costs the NHS £30,000 per year.

Magdi Yaqoob, professor of Renal Medicine at the Royal London, described the results as “amazing”. “This study shows that baking soda can be useful for people with kidney failure ... as long as the dose is regulated and under supervision,” he said. “This cheap and simple strategy also improves patients’ nutritional wellbeing and has the potential to improve quality of life and of course a clinical outcome that can remove the need for dialysis. Baking soda is not classed as a drug so this study has never been tried before.”

The scientists pointed out that their research was limited by not having a “placebo group” of patients receiving a “dummy” treatment. It was also not “blind” - the researchers knew which patients were receiving the baking soda. “Our results will need validation in a multi-centre study,” Professor Yaqoob said.


The pill that could some day reduce body fat by half in a week

Scientists are working on an anti-obesity pill that could reduce the fat stored by overweight people by almost a half in a week. Tests on mice have shown that the drug could decrease body weight by a quarter and their fat content by 42 per cent after seven days. After a month, the weight of the mice had been reduced by 28 per cent and their fat mass by 63 per cent.

But experts warned that it could take a decade for the potential wonder drug to be developed for use by patients. The researchers, whose findings are published online in Nature Chemical Biology, say further research is needed before the drug is tested on humans. But they say the results point to a new approach for the treatment of obesity and adult-onset diabetes.

The drug is an artificial hormone that regulates glucose metabolism. Previous studies have found this substance can suppress appetite or lead to weight loss by increasing the body's calorie usage. Dr Richard DiMarchi and colleagues at Indiana University in the U.S. created the synthetic hormone and carried out the trials on mice. He said: 'Obesity and its associated consequences, including adult-onset diabetes, remain a primary health and economic threat for modern societies.'

At the moment surgical interventions such as gastric bypass remain the only therapeutic options with the potential for a cure. Dr DiMarchi said acute glucagon administration reduces food intake in animals and in humans, and may also promote weight loss. He added: 'Pharmacological treatment of obesity using single agents has limited efficacy or presents risk for serious adverse effects. 'No single agent has proven to be capable of reducing body weight more than 5 to 10 per cent in the obese population. 'Combination therapies using multiple drugs simultaneously may represent the preferred pharmaceutical approach to treat obesity, and there is ample precedent for combination therapy in treatment of chronic diseases. 'Here we present results that prove the principle that single molecules can be designed that are capable of simultaneously activating more than one mechanism to safely normalise body weight.'

Last night, he said it would be ten years before the drug is available and tests needed to be completed on humans. Cambridge University professor of clinical biochemistry Stephen O'Rahilly said: 'It is important that these are demonstrated to be effective and safe in animal models before going forward with trials in humans.'

He added: 'Many promising drugs fall down when tried in humans either because they don't work sufficiently well or because of side effects. 'It is far too early to tell whether this molecule will be one of the exceptions and become a safe and effective treatment for obesity in humans.' But he concluded: 'I hold out considerable hope for the discovery of safe and effective anti-obesity therapies.' Professor O'Rahilly said that patients being treated with the drug could take one pill a day, or an injection.