Saturday, October 31, 2009

Woman dies from drinking too much water

The more this becomes known the better. It is a danger most people are unaware of

THE family of a woman who died while taking part in a radio station water-drinking contest to win a Nintendo Wii has been awarded more than $US16.5 million by a jury in California. A 12-person jury in Sacramento reached the verdict today after deliberating for nearly two weeks. The trial began in early September.

Mother-of-three Jennifer Strange was 28 when she died in 2007 after participating in the "Hold Your Wee For a Wii" contest run by KDND-FM. The contest promised the popular Nintendo video game console to the person who could drink the most water without urinating or vomiting. An autopsy determined that Strange died of water intoxication. No criminal charges were filed in the case, but Strange's family sued the station and its owners for more than $US34 million. Attorneys for the station argued that Strange's death was unforeseeable and that the woman's "contributory negligence" led in part to her death.

Jurors awarded Strange's husband and three children $US16.57m. Under the contest's rules, participants were given eight 225mm bottles of water to drink at 15-minute intervals. The competitor drinking the most water without urinating was to be declared the winner. Strange had complained to work colleagues of a sore head hours after participating in the contest and went home early. She was later found dead.

Water intoxication can occur when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is altered by a rapid intake of water. This can cause brain swelling, seizures, coma or death.


Snoring cure?

Hadi Al-Jassim's team of consultants are the only ones in the country to offer an injection which they say is a genuine alternative to painful surgery. The ear, nose and throat specialist - from Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust near Liverpool - has treated 400 patients at one of his hospitals and with excellent results.

"As everyone knows, snoring can cause major problems for patients and in particular their partners," said Mr Al-Jassim. "In most cases it's the men who snore and their partners suffer sleep deprivation and at the end of the day you have to keep your partner happy - though women do snore as well. "It causes all sorts of problems between partners and leads to marital, social and health problems. "I am delighted with the treatment because, until this, there has been no effective treatment other than surgery."

The treatment - called the snoreplasty - is quick and cheap. It is a two-minute procedure done under local anaesthetic in which sodium tetradecyl is injected into the roof of the mouth. The chemical, a sclerosing agent, is usually used in the treatment of varicose veins. The injection combats snoring by stopping the soft tissue at the back of the mouth from vibrating.

Mr Al-Jassim, who is now giving lectures to other specialists across the country about the jab, added: "Surgical treatment is very painful and takes weeks of recovery time so many patients decide not to do it because they can't get the time off work or their health's not strong enough for surgery. "And in other cases surgery doesn't work. "After the jab, patients can go home straight away and eat about an hour later. "It will help around 70 per cent of sufferers and has made life easier for many patients and their partners. "Even with those people it hasn't cured, they reported sleeping better and waking up feeling fresher. "The jab can be given three times a year but some people find one injection lasts them a year."


Friday, October 30, 2009

Study: One in five children lacks vitamin D

This is pretty surprising. This problem was beaten decades ago by adding vitamin D to butter and margarine. Is that no longer done?

At least 1 in 5 US children ages 1 to 11 don’t get enough vitamin D and could be at risk for a variety of health problems including weak bones, the most recent national analysis suggests.

By a looser measure, almost 90 percent of black children that age and 80 percent of Hispanic children could be vitamin D deficient - “astounding numbers’’ that should serve as a call to action, said Dr. Jonathan Mansbach, lead author of the new analysis and a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston.

The analysis, released online today by the journal Pediatrics, is the first assessment of varying vitamin D levels in children in that age group. The findings add to mounting evidence about vitamin D deficiency in children, teens, and adults - a concern because of recent studies suggesting that the vitamin might help prevent serious diseases, including infections, diabetes, and even some cancers.

Although hard evidence showing that low levels of vitamin D lead to disease or that high levels prevent it is lacking, it is a burgeoning area of research.

Exactly how much vitamin D children and adults should get, and defining when they are deficient, is under debate. Doctors use different definitions, and many are waiting for guidance expected in an Institute of Medicine report on vitamin D due next year. The institute is a government advisory group that sets dietary standards.

The analysis uses data from a 2001-06 government health survey of nearly 3,000 children. They had blood tests measuring vitamin D levels. Using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ cutoff for healthy vitamin D levels, 6.4 million children - about 20 percent of youngsters that age - have blood levels that are too low. Applying a less strict, higher cutoff, two-thirds of children that age, including 90 percent of black kids children and 80 percent of Hispanics, are deficient in vitamin D.


Curry spice 'kills cancer cells'

It has also been claimed as a slimming agent

An extract found in the bright yellow curry spice turmeric can kill off cancer cells, scientists have shown. The chemical - curcumin - has long been thought to have healing powers and is already being tested as a treatment for arthritis and even dementia. Now tests by a team at the Cork Cancer Research Centre show it can destroy gullet cancer cells in the lab.

Cancer experts said the findings in the British Journal of Cancer could help doctors find new treatments. Dr Sharon McKenna and her team found that curcumin started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours. The cells also began to digest themselves, after the curcumin triggered lethal cell death signals. Dr McKenna said: "Scientists have known for a long time that natural compounds have the potential to treat faulty cells that have become cancerous and we suspected that curcumin might have therapeutic value."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is interesting research which opens up the possibility that natural chemicals found in turmeric could be developed into new treatments for oesophageal cancer. "Rates of oesophageal cancer have gone up by more than a half since the 70s and this is thought to be linked to rising rates of obesity, alcohol intake and reflux disease so finding ways to prevent this disease is important too."

Each year around 7,800 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in the UK. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death and accounts for around five percent of all UK cancer deaths.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The peril of palatability

A former FDA chief sounds the alarm about dangerously delicious food. Comment on "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Diet", by David A. Kessler

According to The Washington Post, David Kessler’s research for The End of Overeating included late-night forays into the trash bins behind Chili’s restaurants across California. From the chain’s garbage he retrieved ingredient boxes with nutritional labels that revealed the secret of dishes such as Southwestern Eggrolls and Boneless Shanghai Wings. It turned out they “were bathed in salt, fat and sugars.”

Kessler could have saved considerable time and trouble by paying a Chili’s employee to write down this information for him. Or by visiting the Chili’s website, which provides numbers for the calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and sodium in the company’s food. Or simply by assuming that food promoted as a mouth-watering yet affordable indulgence probably has a lot of fat, salt, and sugar in it. But as The End of Overeating more than amply demonstrates, Kessler is the sort of crusader who spares no effort to uncover the obvious.

Kessler, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s medical school, grabbed headlines as head of the Food and Drug Administration under Bill Clinton by taking on Big Tobacco. In this book he mounts an assault on Big Food, but the results are even feebler than his unsuccessful effort to regulate cigarettes without statutory authority. He combines banal observations, dressed up as scientific insights and revelations of corporate misdeeds, with presumptuous advice that overgeneralizes from his own troubled relationship with food.

Kessler urges readers to eschew pasta, French fries, bacon cheeseburgers, candy, and other “hyperpalatable” foods that he and some people he interviewed for the book have trouble consuming in moderation. Kessler wants us to know he is powerless over chocolate-chip cookies and “those fried dumplings at the San Francisco airport.” Using himself and several similarly voracious acquaintances as models, he argues that “conditioned hypereating” is largely responsible for the “obesity epidemic.” He exhorts its victims to resist the machinations of the food industry, “the manipulator of the consumers’ minds and desires” (in the words of a “high-level food industry executive”).

Kessler fearlessly accuses major restaurant chains of a crime they brag about, relying on unnamed “insiders” to reveal that comestible pushers such as Cinnabon and The Cheesecake Factory deliberately make their food delicious—or, as he breathlessly puts it, “design food specifically to be highly hedonic.” Kessler certainly has the goods on the corporate conspiracy to serve people food they like. “We come up with craveable flavors, and the consumers come back, even days later,” a “research chef at Chili’s” confesses to him. Kessler also reveals that Nabisco lures Oreo eaters through a dastardly combination of sweet white filling and crunchy, bittersweet chocolate wafers, achieving “what’s called dynamic contrast.” Or maybe it’s “what the industry calls ‘dynamic novelty,’” as Kessler claims in another Oreo discussion elsewhere in the book. Either way, it’s so good it must be bad.

Not only do these sneaky bastards create irresistible food; they then turn around and tell people about it. “With its ability to create superstimuli, coupled with its marketing prowess, the industry has cracked the code of conditioned hypereating and learned exactly how to manipulate our eating behavior,” Kessler writes. “It has figured out the programming that gets us to pursue the food it wants to sell.”

If Kessler hadn’t been so distracted by that plateful of chocolate-chip cookies, perhaps he would have noticed the contradiction between his description of how the food industry goes to great lengths to give consumers exactly what they want and his claim that it arbitrarily decides what products it wants to sell, then uses marketing magic to create a demand for them. The only way to deal with such logic-defying nefariousness, he suggests, is to regulate advertising and require restaurants to nag their customers with conspicuous calorie counts. He also encourages readers to “feel angry at the marketing and advertising techniques designed to get you to eat more, at the huge portion sizes served at restaurants, and at the layered and loaded food you encounter everywhere.” It’s all about “reframing seemingly well-meaning acts as hostile ones.” Thinking back on all those times my mother offered me a second helping, I now realize how much she hates me.

Kessler’s discussion of the science behind his theory of conditioned hypereating is at least as enlightening as his economic analysis of the food industry. “Palatable foods arouse our appetite,” one expert tells him. “They act as an incentive to eat.” Once he’s made sure we know what palatable means, Kessler tries to explain why some foods have this quality. It turns out that palatable foods affect neurotransmitter levels, stimulate “the pleasure center,” and activate “the body’s reward system.” Since the same could be said of pretty much everything that people enjoy, this observation is not very illuminating. It falls into the same true-but-dull category as Kessler’s discovery that “people get fat because they eat more than people who are lean.”

Kessler’s neurological reductionism gives him an excuse to talk about rat studies and MRI scans, but it does not have much explanatory power. “The food we ate for comfort has left its mark on the brain, creating a void that will need to be filled the next time we are cued,” he writes. “The result is a spiral of wanting.” Since all experiences leave a “mark on the brain,” what does this really tell us about why some people eat a few potato chips and stop, while others finish the bag and look for more in the cupboard?

It’s not clear what percentage of the population reacts to food the way Kessler and his hypereating friends do. The government says two-thirds of Americans are “overweight,” but that does not mean they routinely engage in the out-of-control gorging that Kessler describes. Then again, Kessler says “overeating is not the sole province of the overweight,” since thin people can scarf down big bowls of ice cream or M&Ms but compensate by exercising more. It does not make much sense to claim that people who burn all the calories they consume are overeating—unless, like Kessler, you’re promoting a trademarked treatment for overeating called Food Rehab™.

According to The Washington Post, “Kessler estimates that about 15 percent of the population is not affected” by conditioned hypereating, meaning 85 percent is. That seems inconsistent not only with everyday experience but with Kessler’s own analysis of questionnaire data from the Reno Diet Heart Study. He says “one-third of the study population scored high” on one or more of three factors—“loss of control over eating,” “lack of feeling satisfied by food,” and “preoccupation with food”—that characterize the syndrome he typifies.

Yet the section of the book where Kessler describes his Food Rehab method seems to be aimed at a general audience, which is like expecting all drinkers to follow the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I don’t offer a one-size-fits-all technique,” Kessler claims, adding that “few foods will be totally out of bounds.” Yet he lays down some pretty categorical-sounding imperatives. “Neither sugar nor refined carbohydrates that behave much like sugar in the body, such as white flours and pasta, belong in the diet in significant amounts,” he writes, calling for “a diet based largely on lean protein and whole grains or legumes, supplemented with fruits and nonstarchy vegetables.” For everyone? Just for hypereaters? Maybe both, because by this point Kessler seems to have convinced himself that his impulsive, gluttonous reaction to tasty food is a universal trait.

But what about those of us who reject Kessler’s ethic of rigidly ordered abstemiousness, which replaces hypereating with hypervigilance? Consider celebrity chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, who supplied a blurb for this book (“disturbing, thought-provoking, and important”) that suggests he hasn’t read it. As anyone who watches No Reservations, Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel, can attest, his attitude toward food is about as far from Kessler’s as it’s possible to get. While Kessler says we should be wary of delicious dishes, Bourdain conspicuously consumes all manner of fatty, salty, calorie-packed food in large quantities without apology (and nevertheless keeps a trim figure). Bourdain’s fans see a man who relishes life and refuses to sacrifice pleasure on the altar of health. Kessler presumably would see a victim of conditioned hypereating who desperately needs a course of Food Rehab™.


How lacking in perspective can you get?

No wonder the guy below is "controversial". He ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies on the subject show no risk. Outside his own field he appears to know nothing more than the layman and it is popular but poorly substantiated beliefs that he echoes

BRAIN cancer surgeon Charlie Teo has urged people to put mobile phones on loudspeaker, move clock radios to the foot of the bed and wait until microwaves have finished beeping before opening them.

The controversial Sydney specialist told a Melbourne fundraiser that although the jury was still out on mobile phones and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, we should not take risks. "Even though the jury's not in, just to err on the side of safety I would try and limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation that you're exposed to," he said. "The American government, for example, recommend that all electrical appliances should be put at the foot of the bed and not the head of the bed.

"Electric blankets should be turned off before you get in bed and definitely wait for those five beeps before you open the microwave. "With the mobile phone I encourage you to put it on loudspeaker and step outside rather than sticking it up to your brain."

Dr Teo, who tackles tumours other surgeons deem inoperable, said some hair dyes, particularly red, could also cause brain cancer in people with a predisposition. "The body needs some genetic predisposition. The hair dye, the mobile phone, they're just catalysts but you probably need some sort of genetic aberration to get the cancer in the first place," he said.

Dr Teo said while breast cancer doubled its cell numbers in weeks or months, the quickest brain cancers took just 16 hours. No age group was immune and the incidence of brain tumours was growing. [Because the population is getting older, mainly] "It's increasing in frequency both in this country and developing countries and it used to be ranked out of the top 10 but it's just joined the top 10 most common cancers," he said.

Recent studies have raised alarm bells about mobile phones. An unreleased World Health Organisation study reportedly found "a significantly increased risk" of some brain tumours related to use of mobile phones for 10 years or more. A Suleyman Demirel University study in Turkey also found wearing a mobile phone on your belt may lead to decreased bone density in an area of the pelvis commonly used for bone grafts.

Dr Teo said there had been some advancements in treating tumours, like microwave therapy and putting chemotherapy directly into a tumour. A healthy diet, meditation and positive thought could also be beneficial. "We believe that they probably boost the immune system," he said.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Organic food tough? Try new organic metal

The breathtaking and insouciant ignorance we all have to live with

When I began to learn about chemistry as a boy at school, I was introduced to the world of the organic and the inorganic. The term "organic", I was told, referred to the presence of carbon and identified livings things such as plants and animals, while "inorganic" described non-living things such as minerals, metals and rocks.

Over the last decade I rode out the non-sequitur of "organic" vegetables with the begrudged understanding that the advertisers were claiming that pesticides had not been used in the production process. But I still winced when people earnestly tried to tell me the advantages of organic eggs and organic milk. It was, and is, impossible to argue against such frustrating nomenclature.

But now a line has to be drawn in the sand, before we enter the linguistic nightmare of the "post-organic". The ultimate misuse of the term came on Saturday morning when I needed to buy some magnesium tablets to keep the leg cramps away - these are one of the joys of cycling later in life. In my local health food shop I discovered a small bottle of Organic Magnesium. "How can magnesium be described as organic?" I asked the woman who so gushingly wanted to assist me. "It's healthy, it's organic!" she gushed. "But magnesium is a mineral and a mineral can't be described as organic … it's like talking about organic steel."

She stared and blinked, like a knowing owl. "The organic label," she explained, trying not to sound condescending, "tells us that no pesticides were used in producing it. This magnesium is completely organic." My mouth opened slowly, quietly and stupidly. "Ah, magnesium doesn't grow on plants, so you don't need pesticides. It's a mineral."

The woman shrugged. She seemed to size me up: pot belly, white beard, I could almost hear her say: "What would you know about health food?"

At this stage I knew I had lost, and began to wonder if there were such a thing as "orgasmic magnesium". Now, that would lead to some interesting discussions. Anyway, I bought that particular bottle of Organic Magnesium, probably out of a sense of personal perversity. Later I recounted the incident to my grey-haired girlfriend and showed her the bottle. She laughed, "You have made a good choice," she said, "look at the fine print: 'organic magnesium is good for preventing PMS'."

Just what I needed: an affront to science and a question over my sense of masculinity. I grimaced and we took off up the highway in our organic car. Organic? Well, no pesticides or chemical fertilisers were used in its production. Therefore, ipso facto, my car is the latest commodity to become truly organic.


Children 'should not be given common painkiller after a vaccine'

Parents should not give their children the common painkiller paracetamol in the hours after they are given a vaccine because it stops the immune system working so well, a new study suggests. Paracetamol, found in Calpol, can reduce the effectiveness of the injections, researchers have found.

As well as a painkiller, the drug is used to prevent fever, which can be a side effect of vaccines, as the body responds to the jab. The team behind the study believe that paracetamol could limit how the immune system responds to the vaccination. The drugs effects could leave children underprotected when they come into contact with dangerous diseases in the future.

The study tested the effectiveness of vaccines for flu, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio if children had been given the painkiller as well. The research found that the children had significantly lower numbers of antibodies, the immune systems response to infection, in those given paracetamol for 24 hours after the jab.

Prof Roman Prymula, from the University of Defence in the Czech Republic, who led the study, said: "To our knowledge, such an effect of paracetamol on post-immunisation immune responses has not been documented before.” Researchers gave the drug to 226 children every six to eight hours for 24 hours after the vaccination. They then compared the findings with those from 223 children who had the same injections but were not given the painkiller.

The research team also analysed 10 previous studies on the effects of paracetamol, which confirmed their findings, which have been published in the Lancet medical journal. Writing in the same journal, Dr Robert Chen, from the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, called for more research to be done on the effect of paracemtol on vaccinations. He said: "Further assessment at the individual level, such as whether or not paracetamol increases the proportion of vaccine non-responders, is warranted. “However, a larger question is the extent to which paracetamol might reduce population protection."

All children in Britain are offered vaccinations against a number of major diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough, bacteria which can cause meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella, also known as German measles. Last year the Government began vaccinating girls aged 12 to 18 against the virus which causes cervical cancer.

A spokesman for Calpol said: "Parents and health care professionals have relied on Calpol (paracetamol) for more than 40 years in the UK. Calpol is indicated for the treatment of mild to moderate pain and for the treatment of fever in children over 3 months. Calpol can also be used from 2 months to treat post-vaccination fever in infants. However, Calpol is not indicated for the prophylaxis (prevention) of fever in children at the time of vaccination.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is salt really the Devil's ingredient?

More fad "science": The British Government wants people to reduce their sodium intake, but studies show that this advice should be taken with a pinch of salt

Salt: is your food full of it? That is the question posed by Jenny Eclair in the Food Standards Agency's recent TV ad for its latest salt awareness campaign. Salt, we are told, pervades every aspect of our diet, from the bowl of cereal we had at breakfast, to the sandwich we ate at lunchtime to the takeaway curry we’re planning tonight.

Too much of the white stuff will raise blood pressure and increase the likelihood of heart disease and strokes. Like its evil twin, saturated fat, it seems logical that our goal should be to cut down on it, but now a growing number of experts claim that salt is not the devil’s ingredient we have been lead to believe it.

This month researchers from the department of nutrition at the University of California found compelling evidence that it may even be difficult to consume too much salt. Professor David McCarron measured salt losses in the urine of almost 20,000 people in 33 countries worldwide and his findings indicated that the complex interplay between our brains and organs naturally regulates salt intake. Reporting in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Professor McCarron said: “It is unrealistic to attempt to regulate sodium consumption through public policy when it appears that our bodies naturally dictate how much sodium we consume to maintain a physiologically set normal range.”

What we do know from other research is that eating less salt will lower blood pressure and cardiovascular risk in people with existing hypertension, but critics argue that for the rest of the population the advice on salt consumption should be taken with, well, a pinch of salt.

While some studies show that people who reduce their daily intake by 1g-2g find that their blood pressure falls, others reveal that huge swings in salt consumption have little effect, with a few showing that blood pressure actually rises.

Among those now questioning the demonisation of our favourite seasoning is Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, who believes the current pressure to restrict salt in the diet as much as possible is unnecessary and potentially risky. “The issue has been blown out of proportion,” Collins says. “Salt reduction is very important for people who already have raised blood pressure, but for most people who don’t have hypertension, there is no real benefit to be had from making huge efforts to cut down. It is certainly is not the dietary outcast it is portrayed to be.”

This a view is shared by Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a past president of the International Society of Hypertension, who has spent years researching the effects of salt on health. “Only one rigorous, randomised clinical trial on salt intake has been reported so far,” Alderman says. “As it turned out, the group that adhered to a lower sodium diet actually suffered significantly more cardiovascular deaths and hospitalisations than did the one assigned to the higher sodium diet.”

Salt — sodium chloride — is an element essential for health. Every cell in the body needs sodium to function — it is required to regulate fluid balance and for nerves and muscles, such as those in the heart, to function well. Too little salt can cause mental confusion, an inability to concentrate and, in extreme cases, the potentially fatal condition hyponatraemia, which leads to body salts becoming dangerously diluted and the brain swelling beyond the skull’s capacity.

Not that salt depletion is a risk for the average Briton. Although intake has fallen as food manufacturers have begun to add less salt to food, the latest figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that the average person still consumes 8.6g of salt a day — that’s 0.9g less than in 2000-01, but, not low enough for the FSA. Its long-term goal is to have everybody cut salt to 6g a day.

In theory, this will prevent strokes and heart attacks by lowering blood pressure. What divides experts is whether mass salt avoidance will make much of a difference to statistics on cardiovascular health. Alderman says that, to date, most of the studies on salt-lowering have been observational, in which the diet habits of different groups are analysed to find any correlation between salt and heart health. Many of them have produced mixed results.

In research conducted at Loyola University in Chicago earlier this year, for instance, Dr Paul Whelton, the president of the university’s health department, followed nearly 3,000 patients for 10-15 years to find out whether the salt they ate had an impact on blood-pressure readings.

After measuring the amount of salt in the urine of his subjects to assess their consumption levels, Whelton found that whether they had used the salt shaker liberally or not did not appear to make any significant difference to their risk of heart disease. What mattered more, Whelton reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was the ratio of salt intake to that of potassium, another dietary mineral (found plentifully in foods such as bananas, avocado, sweet potato and tuna) that is known to balance out the artery-tightening effects of sodium.

An earlier report published in the British Medical Journal in 2002 reviewed the evidence on whether salt avoidance could lower blood pressure and found that, while it was helpful to those on medication for hypertension, there were no clear benefits for anyone else. Similarly, when researchers from Copenhagen University reviewed the available literature for the Cochrane Collaboration in 2003, they concluded “there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake”.

In fact, Alderman says that of nine observational studies looking at a total of more than 100,000 people, four papers found that reduced dietary salt was associated with an increased risk of death and disability from heart attacks. “In one that focused on obese people, more salt was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death,” he says. “But in the remaining four no association was seen.”

However, for those advocating salt cuts — and they remain the majority — the evidence against high-sodium diets is clear. Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St George’s Hospital and chair of the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) dismisses the negative take on salt reduction as “balderdash” claiming that such findings are “usually put out by the food industry” to bolster their own cause. [An ad hominem argument. The man is no scientist] “From the day you are born, your blood pressure starts to go up slowly,” MacGregor says. “Salt is a major factor in that and high-salt diets are the main reason why blood pressure rises with age. And more deaths are linked to raised blood pressure than anything else.”

Precisely how salt raises blood pressure is not entirely clear. It is thought that when salt intake is too high, the kidneys to pass it all into the urine and some ends up in the bloodstream. This then draws more water into the blood, increasing volume and pressure.

MacGregor says that reducing salt to the 6 gram daily levels recommended by the FSA could lead to a 16 per cent reduction in deaths from strokes and a 12 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease. “The evidence that links salt to blood pressure is as strong as that linking cigarette smoking to cancer and heart disease,” he says. “If successful, the reduction to 6 grams a day would have the biggest impact of any public health campaign ever.”

Everybody could do with cutting down. In 2008, MacGregor and his colleagues published a study in the Journal of Human Hypertension, which looked at the salt intakes of 1,658 people aged 7 to 18 in the UK. They found salt to be responsible for raising blood pressure in children.

Once more, though, the findings were disputed. In an accompanying editorial, Professor Alderman questioned the link, pointing out that those who ate more salt merely ate more food. Adjusting for calorie intake, Alderman suggested, wiped out the significance of the relationship.

So where does this leave a nation that is being urged to become more salt-savvy? If we scrutinise food labels for their salt content we may live longer. But we may not.

Collins advises against becoming preoccupied with totting up daily salt scores and says she increasingly encounters people whose serum sodium levels have dipped to a dangerous low. “Extreme dieters and vegetarians seem to be most at risk,” she says. “Salt occurs naturally in many of the foods they avoid such as cheese and meat. Since these people are often also drinking copious amounts of water because they think it’s healthy, they often display early signs of hyponatraemia, all linked to their low salt intake.”

In countries where populations are given free access to salt, people typically consume about 5g-8g a day. “A lot of people could relax about their salt intake. If you don’t have hypertension to begin with, then just trying to eat healthily will ensure you don’t get too much,” Collins says. “Advice to cut back on salt really is the poorest of all the dietary messages around.”


Is DDT bad after all? Boys with urogenital birth defects are 33 percent more common in African villages sprayed with DDT

A .33 difference is insignificant anyway. The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0.".

The journal article is "DDT and urogenital malformations in newborn boys in a malarial area" by Riana Bornman et al.. Excerpt: "Of the newborn boys 10.8% (357) had UGBDs; a multivariate logistic model showed that mothers who lived in villages sprayed with DDT between 1995 and 2003 had a significantly greater chance (33%) of having a baby with a UGBD than mothers whose homes were not sprayed".

That is exceedingly weird. The implication is that even in the unsprayed villages, 8% of the kids had defective plumbing. The findings are clearly not generalizable to anything in the Western world. The MAIN cause of the defects has obviously not been identified. When it is, we might be able to see if and how how it interacts with DDT. Maybe the villages that got more DDT also got more of the problem agent, whatever that might be.

Much farting at the mouth by a self-satisfied and self-righteous Prof. Bornman below. A Professor he/she may be but a scientist he/she is not. Academics customarily eschew personal publicity. Prof. Bornman obviously laps it up

Let me see if I can do a better job of scientific interpretation than Prof. Bornman -- using no more than general knowledge. Male genital deformities could be caused by a heavy load of estrogens but Western sources of estrogens are not likely to be found to any extent in African villages. So it must be phytoestrogens at work. But to get a heavy load of phytoestrogens the villagers must be very successful farmers. And wouldn't successful farmers be more likely to be ready, willing and able to take up modern aids to health -- such as DDT? So the "third factor" (the single underlying cause of both the deformities and the high DDT usage) is prosperity, African style. Whether that explanation is right or not, however, it exposes Prof. Bornman's brain-dead attachment to the logical fallacy that correlation is causation
Women who lived in villages sprayed with DDT to reduce malaria gave birth to 33 per cent more baby boys with urogenital birth defects (UGBD) between 2004 and 2006 than women in unsprayed villages, according to research published online by the UK-based urology journal BJUI. And women who stayed at home in sprayed villages, rather than being a student or working, had 41 per cent more baby boys with UGBDs, such as missing testicles or problems with their urethra or penis.

The authors suggest that this is because they spent more time in homes where domestic DDT-based sprays are still commonly used to kill the mosquitos that cause malaria, even in areas where organised mass spraying no longer takes place.

Researchers led by the University of Pretoria in South Africa studied 3,310 boys born to women from the Limpopo Province, where DDT spraying was carried out in high-risk areas between 1995 and 2003 to control malaria. The study compared boys born to women in the 109 villages that were sprayed, with those born to women from the 97 villages that were not. This showed that 357 of the boys included in the study – just under 11 per cent – had UGBDs. The incidence of UGBDs was significantly higher if the mother came from a sprayed village.

"If women are exposed to DDT, either through their diet or through the environment they live in, this can cause the chemical to build up in their body" explains lead author Professor Riana Bornman from the University's Department of Urology. "DDT can cross the placenta and be present in breast milk and studies have shown that the residual concentration in the baby's umbilical cord are very similar to those in maternal blood.

"It has been estimated that if DDT exposure were to cease completely, it would still take ten to 20 years for an individual who had been exposed to the chemical to be clear of it. Our study was carried out on boys born between 2004 and 2006, five to nine years after official records showed that their mothers had been exposed to spraying. "Records were not kept before 1995 in the Limpopo Province, but it is reasonable to assume that DDT was being used before that date to combat malaria.

"Although most countries have now banned the use of DDT, certain endemic malarial areas still use indoor residual spraying with DDT to decrease the incidence and spread of the disease, which is caused by mosquitoes."

The two-year study included 2,396 boys whose mothers had been exposed to DDT and 914 whose mothers had not. A number of other factors were taken into account to rule out possible causes of the birth defects. These included smoking and drinking, the mother's age, how long she had lived in her village and her race. These all proved statistically insignificant.

The authors believe that their study highlights the importance of educating people in high-risk malaria areas about the dangers of DDT. "The use of DDT has contributed to the success in reducing malarial transmission and malarial deaths in South and Southern Africa" says Professor Bornman. "However, the present findings also strongly suggest that indoor residual spraying with DDT is associated with UGBDs in newborn boys. "With global concerns about the effect of chemicals on health, and the possibility of malaria resurgence and spread as a result of climate change, all authorities should ensure that the general public, including those living under indoor residual spraying conditions, are aware of the possible health risks.

"Educating people living in the DDT-sprayed communities about ways of protecting themselves from undue DDT exposure needs to be carried out as a matter of extreme urgency. "There must be long-term monitoring of possible environmental and human health impacts, particularly in those areas where DDT will be introduced as part of the fight against malaria. "We are now carrying out further research to find out how indoor spraying using DDT-based products affects humans and how this risk can be reduced."


Monday, October 26, 2009

The "Smart Choices" the U.S. Government Wants To Make For You

The short summary: Food makers have combined to work with nutrition experts to develop standards to brand food products in such a way as to communicate that the products comply with the government's dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards. A large number of manufacturers have joined one such program, "Smart Choices" and now the Food and Drug Administration is weighing an intervention. As far as I can tell, parents haven't risen up and demanded that the FDA act. Consumers aren't marching on behalf of new standardized food labeling. There is no Upton Sinclair on the best-seller lists with a "The Jungle" like tome denouncing the cereal manufacturers.

What there is is a new push for nanny-statism that boggles the mind. Read the Times and Post stories closely, and you will see there FDA representatives fairly straining to break out into full "big brother" mode and regulate every food package in America.

"The government is interested in improving nutrition labeling on packages in part," writes the Times, "because of the nation’s obsesity epidemic, which experts say is tied to a diet heavy in processed foods loaded with calories, fats and sugar."

"As a mother of two who frequently finds herself racing down the grocery aisle hoping to grab foods that are healthy for my family, I would welcome the day that I can look on the front of packages and see nutrition information I can trust and use," The Post quotes FDA big boss Margaret Hamburg as saying. "As the commissioner of FDA, I see it as my responsibility, and the responsibility of this administration, to help make that happen."

Think about this proposed new mission for the FDA for a moment, and just how vast it is. If the government is suddenly in charge of the labeling of all food products for children on the theory that the government must prevent obesity, why wouldn't it be involved in the labeling of all food products for all people? And beyond labeling, why not grab the authority to dictate what can and cannot be manufactured in the first place?

The problem isn't just the FDA of course, but also the legions of plaintiffs' lawyers who need a replacement for cigarette and asbestos plaintiffs. Imagine the vista that is opening before them as they consider suits for damages brought against makers of all sorts of food products which can be alleged to have contributed to Dick's and Jane's diabetes developing at age 10 due to chronic obesity. The jury will be presented with the FDA's statements and experts will testify on how the Fruit Loops fairly lept from the shelves into the mouths of children everywhere. Cha-ching.

"This is just one more segment of America being overrun by government regulation under the guise of 'assisting the unwary consumer,'" Liz wrote me in a follow-up e-mail. "If consumers don't start taking responsibility for themselves and the choices they make, and start resisting the intervention, the government and the plaintiffs' bar will be more than happy to make their choices."

The industry --all of it, not just the bigs, right down to every potato chip and ice cream maker and even the producers of soy-- had better step up to shut down the FDA's early efforts to grab control of the marketplace. Every rulemaking has got to be resisted and every bogus lawsuit contested or life without Fruit Loops, and every other food choice freely made, will be a memory within a decade.


Alzheimer's linked to lack of Zzzzs

Sleep deprivation leads to more plaques in genetically susceptible mice. Interesting but far from conclusive

Losing sleep could lead to losing brain cells, a new study suggests. Levels of a protein that forms the hallmark plaques of Alzheimer’s disease increase in the brains of mice and in the spinal fluid of people during wakefulness and fall during sleep, researchers report online September 24 in Science. Mice that didn’t get enough sleep for three weeks also had more plaques in their brains than well-rested mice, the team found.

Scientists already knew that having Alzheimer’s disease was associated with poor sleep, but they had thought that Alzheimer’s disease caused the sleep disruption.

“This is the first experimental study that clearly shows that disrupted sleep may contribute to the disease process,” says Peter Meerlo, a neuroscientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “What makes it exciting for me is that it shows that chronic sleep loss, in the long run, changes the brain in ways that may contribute to disease.” A vicious cycle could result if sleep loss leads to Alzheimer’s disease and the disease leads to more sleep loss, he says.

Researchers led by David Holtzman, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, used a method called microdialysis to measure the levels of a protein known as amyloid-beta in the fluid between brain cells of mice. Amyloid-beta sometimes twists into a sticky form and clumps together, forming such plaques. Scientists don’t yet understand how, but they think that clumping of amyloid-beta eventually leads to the death of neurons and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (SN: 8/16/08, p. 20).

Although levels of amyloid-beta in the brain tissue of the mice didn’t seem to change, Holtzman’s group found that levels of the protein released into brain fluid did rise and fall throughout the day. “We didn’t know it would coordinate with sleep and wakefulness,” Holtzman says. “We just knew the levels fluctuated.”

Levels of the protein increased in mice during the night — when mice are mostly awake — and fell during the day when mice sleep. The longer the mice stayed awake, the more amyloid-beta levels increased, the team found. The team also measured amyloid-beta levels in the cerebral spinal fluid of some healthy young people and found the same pattern observed in the mice — amyloid-beta levels increase when people are awake and fall during sleep.

Giving mice a shot of a hormone called orexin, which promotes wakefulness, also caused amyloid-beta levels to increase. And blocking orexin’s activity led to a decrease in the amount of protein released into the brain fluid. The researchers don’t yet know whether orexin is directly responsible for helping release amyloid-beta into brain fluid or if orexin keeps animals awake, allowing more time for levels of the protein to build up.

For three weeks, Holtzman’s team studied mice that were genetically predisposed to build Alzheimer’s plaques, allowing some of the animals to sleep only four hours a day while others slept normally. Sleep-deprived mice made more plaques than well-rested mice, but a drug that blocks orexin’s action was also able to stop plaque buildup, the researchers discovered.

Studies in people haven’t shown a link between Alzheimer’s disease and chronic sleep loss, but Holtzman speculates that lack of sleep, particularly in mid-life when plaques begin to form, could hasten onset of the disease in genetically susceptible individuals. Drugs that block orexin might also be used as a potential therapy for halting plaque development, he says.

Other researchers aren’t so sure that’s a good idea. “Treating patients chronically with orexin inhibitors is really not an option,” says Masashi Yanagisawa, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. The drugs would likely make patients sleepy unless used at extremely low doses, he says. One such drug is in clinical testing as a treatment for insomnia.

It is also unclear whether orexin or some other aspect of the sleep and wake cycle regulates amyloid-beta levels, researchers say.

“Mechanistically we don’t understand why [sleep] is manipulating amyloid-beta rhythms,” says Sangram Sisodia, a molecular neurobiologist at the University of Chicago, “but we do know it’s doing something good for the brain.… There’s a clear message here about why it is so important to sleep.”


When Government Gets Science Wrong

Advocates of greater government involvement in the health care system are asking the public to put a lot of faith in bureaucrats' ability to decide what "science" tells us is the best way to treat our personal medical problem. Yet the public should be warned: the government doesn't always know best when it comes to making us healthy and sometimes society pays a price for their errors.

Consider what government has done with dietary recommendations related to tuna fish. Mothers who have been pregnant in recent years know that among the list of pregnancy no-no's is eating too much of certain fish. For example, the official guidance for our health department has been that pregnant women should eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna fish per week. Many women (myself included) assumed that meant that, like with alcohol or nicotine, it's safest to eliminate tuna, and fish more generally, from our diets. After all, why take a chance?

Indeed, according to one national poll, nearly nine in ten pregnant women were concerned about mercury in canned tuna. Almost half of all audiences agreed with the statement that "With all the uncertainty about mercury in fish, it's best for pregnant women and nursing mothers to avoid it all together to ensure the safety of their child."

Yet it turns out those of us who were trying to play it safe were actually creating new risks for our developing babies. Fish is the most naturally-rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in the development of the fetal brain and eyes. That's why doctors now actively encourage pregnant women to eat seafood twice a week, but that doesn't make the same impact as the anti-fish alarmism. A peer-reviewed FDA report issued last year warned that 95 percent of American women eat less than the recommended amount of fish. Increasingly independent scientists and government officials are recognizing that the government's guidance to limit seafood to avoid trace amounts of mercury has backfired on this generation of children.

Government also can over-react as a result of fear of dangerous substances. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, for example, created onerous new restrictions on the types of toys that can be made available. As the Manhattan Institute's Walter Olson, detailed in City Journal , the law not only stipulated safety standards for current toymakers, but also applied to products already in existence. As a result, many harmless children's playthings-like books produced before 1985-were made worse than worthless: they were deemed dangerous, and thus were discarded from many stores, thrift shops and libraries. Sadly, the real casualties of this law were kids-particularly kids from families unwilling or incapable of paying the often high-price of new children's books-who lost access to a world of stories and ideas.

Should we really trust the government to apply their logic to determine what medical procedures are most efficient and should be made available to the public? A recent report from the United Kingdom provides a window of what we can expect from such a process. The UK's National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is seeking to limit the use of steroid injections to treat chronic lower back pain, and will instead encourage suffers to try alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.

It's not surprising, really-that's the way that government's "control" health care costs. But what's noteworthy is that some specialists feel politics was behind the decision As the British newspaper, the Telegraph, reports: "specialists are furious that while the group included practitioners of alternative therapies, there was no one with expertise in conventional pain relief medicine to argue against a decision to significantly restrict its use." In other words, because acupuncture reps were on the panel making the decision, they decided to slash the availability of traditional treatment and encourage more people to try "alternative" treatments.

It's not science at its best; it's politics as usual, and it's our future if we allow government to take-over health care.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Can a diet of cheese and dairy help you shed that unwanted fat?

This seems to be a reasonably strong study but I doubt that it will suit the food freaks. Cheese and dairy are popular and everything popular is wrong according to them. Cheese in particular has a lot of fat in it and fat is the original sin to food freaks. They are all still wedded to the counterfactual claim that fat gives you cancer, heart disease etc.

It has long been blamed for causing nightmares. But cheese may also give you a dream figure. A diet packed with cheese and other dairy products helps with weight loss, a study found. Australian slimmers were put on low-calorie diets which included varying amounts of cheese, yoghurt and low-fat milk.

Those who increased their daily servings of dairy products from three to five lost the most weight. They also had lower blood pressure, the least tummy fat and 'significantly improved' their chances of avoiding heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers, from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, said that although dairy products are widely perceived as being fatty, they have a place in the slimmer's shopping basket.

Dieters, however, should still keep an eye on their fat and calorie intake. Cheese and other dairy products are high in protein, which helps us feel full quickly and speeds up the metabolism. Laura Wyness, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said dairy products were a good source of calcium and vitamins, as well as protein. However, she warned that cheeses can be high in salt and advised dieters to check labelling before buying.



There have been lots of brainwaves about how to predict whether you are at risk but we now see that blood pressure, serum cholesterol and smoking/non-smoking are the only useful predictors. The latest findings below. See Sandy Szwarc for commentary

Emerging Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease: A Summary of Systematic Reviews Conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

By Mark Helfand et al.

Background: Traditional risk factors do not explain all of the risk for incident coronary heart disease (CHD) events. Various new or emerging risk factors have the potential to improve global risk assessment for CHD.

Purpose: To summarize the results of 9 systematic reviews of novel risk factors to help the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) evaluate the factors' clinical usefulness.

Data Sources: Results from a MEDLINE search for English-language articles published from 1966 to September 2008, using the Medical Subject Heading terms cohort studies and cardiovascular diseases in combination with terms for each risk factor.

Study Selection: Studies were included if the participants had no baseline cardiovascular disease and the investigators adjusted for at least 6 Framingham risk factors.

Data Extraction: Study quality was evaluated by using USPSTF criteria and overall quality of evidence for each risk factor by using a modified version of the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation framework. Each factor's potential clinical value was evaluated by using a set of criteria that emphasized the importance of the effect of that factor on the reclassification of intermediate-risk persons.

Data Synthesis: 9 systematic reviews were conducted. C-reactive protein (CRP) was the best candidate for use in screening and the most rigorously studied, but evidence that changes in CRP level lead to primary prevention of CHD events is inconclusive. The other evaluated risk factors were coronary artery calcium score as measured by electron-beam computed tomography, lipoprotein(a) level, homocysteine level, leukocyte count, fasting blood glucose, periodontal disease, ankle–brachial index, and carotid intima–media thickness. The availability and validity of the evidence varied considerably across the risk factors in terms of aggregate quality, consistency of findings, and applicability to intermediate-risk persons in the general population. For most risk factors, no studies assessed their usefulness for reclassifying intermediate-risk persons.

Limitations: Because of lack of access to original data, no firm conclusions could be drawn about differences in risk prediction among racial and ethnic groups. The review did not emphasize within-cohort comparisons of multiple risk factors.

Conclusion: The current evidence does not support the routine use of any of the 9 risk factors for further risk stratification of intermediate-risk persons.

Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 151, Issue 7, Pages 496-507

Scientists flip flop on thong issue

I went entirely barefoot until I was 16 and for the last 50 years I have mostly worn thongs. And I am proud of my straight toes and zero foot problems

MOVES are afoot to change the unhealthy image of thongs. Scientists are flip flopping on the issue, now saying the cheap and cheerful footwear could even be better for children than closed-in shoes.

University of Sydney researcher Alex Chard says he's looking forward to challenging the "broad public misconceptions of the health effects of wearing thongs". Mr Chard and his research team are seeking volunteers aged between seven and 13 for a comparison of children's foot motion while they are barefoot and while they are wearing thongs or traditional school shoes.

He says professionals often discourage the wearing of thongs but there's no hard evidence that they are harmful. "Experts are starting to accept that the best shoe should mimic barefoot conditions," Mr Chard said in a statement. "The latest research has found that there is more motion within the arch of the foot than previously thought. "It might be the case that flexible things can actually assist in developing the 16 muscles within each foot, helping Australian children to improve their sporting prowess."

The team from the university's foot and ankle research unit will use computer animation techniques to analyse the way children's feet and legs move while they are running, walking or stepping sideways. The research will be conducted at the university's Lidcombe campus in western Sydney.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ho hum! Here we go again: Traffic pollution may be to blame for miscarriages, say researchers

It's quite amazing how these guys pick out one factor and confidently say THAT is the cause. There is any number of reasons why winter babies might not survive. Illness is greater in winter, for instance. Only the last paragraph below shows some sense

Traffic pollution may be to blame for miscarriages, researchers believe. A study of 400 women having IVF treatment in Brazil found that those who became pregnant in winter, when pollution levels are particularly high, were twice as likely to miscarry in the first eight weeks as those who conceived at other times of the year. The researchers say that the findings may be relevant to other countries, including Britain, where air pollution regularly exceeds the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Paulo Marcelo Perin, from the University of São Paulo, told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Atlanta, Georgia, that miscarriage rates were 20 to 30 per cent in winter months, compared with 10 to 15 per cent in other seasons. Air quality is thought to be worse in winter because increased rain and fog bring down levels of sooty “particulate matter”, known as PM10s and emitted by industry and traffic, to where they can be breathed in by people.

Dr Perin said that women exposed to levels of PM10s only slightly above the recommended safe limit (50 micrograms per cubic metre) had a greater chance of losing a baby. “We saw a significant increase in the miscarriage rates in winter,” he said. “There was a 2.5 fold increase in pregnancy loss [in women] exposed to high levels of pollution. “Our previous studies have shown higher implantation failure rates when women are exposed to pollution. Our latest study found that air pollution significantly decreased the cell population.

“When you have a decrease in cell mass you compromise embryo viability. Because diesel is a major component of air pollution we can assume most of the effect is from diesel.”

A second study by American researchers on 7,500 women undergoing IVF also suggested a decline in fertility due to exposure to nitrogen dioxide, another common air pollutant.

Up to one in six couples in Britain have problems conceiving naturally and more than 37,000 women received fertility treatment in the UK in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available.

Stuart Lavery, the director of the IVF unit at Hammersmith Hospital, in London, said that it was possible that pollution could affect the chances of pregnancy but more studies were needed to confirm the effect. He added: “This is an area that is crying out for good research.”


Patients on anti-obesity drug liraglutide lose a stone in 20 weeks

Long term side-effects would need to be evaluated

Patients given a new anti-obesity drug lost more than a stone in weight in five months — almost twice as much as those taking other treatments — trial results have shown. A study of liraglutide, which is marketed as Victoza and given by injection, suggests that it can promote dramatic weight loss and help obese patients to avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The Europe-wide trial of 564 people with a body mass index between 30 and 40 — normally defined as obese — found that high doses of the drug were much more successful than the anti-obesity pill orlistat or a placebo injection.

The average weight loss of participants given a daily 3mg dose of liraglutide, coupled with an exercise and diet regime, was 15.9lb (7.2kg), compared with 9lb (4.1kg) for those taking three orlistat pills a day. Even smaller doses of 1.2mg, 1.8mg and 2.4mg reduced weight by 10.5lb (4.8kg), 12.1lb (5.5kg) and 13.9lb (6.3kg) respectively. Those given the dummy treatment lost only 6.2lb (2.8kg).

The findings, published online in The Lancet, also showed that a higher proportion of individuals (76 per cent) lost more than 5 per cent of their body weight with 3mg of liraglutide than orlistat (44 per cent) and the placebo (30 per cent). The injection works by intensifying the feeling of being full, and by reducing the speed at which the stomach empties.

During the past 20 years the rate of obesity has risen three-fold, and in some European countries more than 30 per cent of the population is obese. About 50 per cent of all adults in Europe are classified as overweight. Obesity increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis — all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Arne Astrup, of the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his team studied the effect of liraglutide on the weight of obese individuals without type 2 diabetes.

At the start of the study, about a third of patients in each group had pre-diabetes — with higher than normal blood glucose levels but not yet bad enough to qualify as diabetes. A report from Diabetes UK, published this week, suggested that 7 million Britons suffer from pre-diabetes, putting them at 15 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The authors concluded: “Treatment with liraglutide, in addition to an energy-deficit diet and exercise programme, led to a sustained, clinically relevant, dose- dependent weight loss significantly greater than that with placebo and orlistat. “Liraglutide offers a new mode of action for the treatment of obesity and improved efficacy compared with currently available therapies. Its effect on pre-diabetes suggests that it might be important for treating obese pre-diabetic individuals.”

They added that further studies, over longer than five months, were needed to establish the long-term risk-benefit profile for liraglutide. Nausea and vomiting had occurred more often in individuals on liraglutide than in those on the placebo, but adverse reactions were mainly transient and rarely led to the patient stopping treatment.

In an accompanying commentary, George Bray, of the division of clinical obesity and metabolism at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, Louisiana State University, said: “[This] important report shows a dose-related reduction of food intake and bodyweight in overweight and obese individuals treated with liraglutide.” He added that one limitation to the use of drugs such as liraglutide was that they required an injection. “Whether long-term use of an injectable drug is palatable as a treatment for obesity is yet to be established,” he said.


Viral Link to Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex and debilitating disorder that is often linked to immune system dysfunction but whose cause(s) remain mysterious. Lombardi et al. (p. 585, published online 8 October; see the Perspective by Coffin and Stoye) now present a tantalizing new lead. In blood samples from 101 patients with well-documented CFS, over two-thirds (68) contained DNA from a recently described human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV), which possesses sequence similarity to a murine leukemia virus. Cell culture assays confirmed that XMRV derived from CFS patient plasma and from T and B lymphocytes was infectious. Although the correlation with CFS is striking, whether the virus plays a causal role in the disorder remains to be determined. Interestingly, nearly 4% of the 218 healthy donors tested were positive for XMRV, which suggests that this virus—whose pathogenic potential is unknown—may be present in a significant proportion of the general population.


Journal abstract:

Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Vincent C. Lombardi et al.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disease of unknown etiology that is estimated to affect 17 million people worldwide. Studying peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from CFS patients, we identified DNA from a human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV), in 68 of 101 patients (67%) as compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls. Cell culture experiments revealed that patient-derived XMRV is infectious and that both cell-associated and cell-free transmission of the virus are possible. Secondary viral infections were established in uninfected primary lymphocytes and indicator cell lines after their exposure to activated PBMCs, B cells, T cells, or plasma derived from CFS patients. These findings raise the possibility that XMRV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of CFS.

Science 23 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5952, pp. 585 - 589

Friday, October 23, 2009

These busybody ignoramuses will be ignored, fortunately

"Evidence-based", my foot! There is certain to be plenty of epidemiological speculation but I know of NO double blind studies in support of any of the crap below. It is all just the popular "wisdom" of the day, wisdom that can be and often is dangerously wrong. Look at the official backflip over peanuts, where the official advice of the past produced an epidemic of peanut allergies. And I don't suppose I should mention the joint problems (hip and knee) now being suffered by devotees of the '80s jogging craze

CHILDREN should not be forced to clear their plates at meal times under new parenting guidelines released by the Federal Government. The Get Up And Grow guides, available free to every parent and childcare centre, recommends toddlers under two be banned from watching TV or using computers altogether, The Daily Telegraph reports. And children aged between two and five should spend less than an hour a day in front of the television and computer and get at least three hours exercise a day.

The booklet advises parents about correct daily portion sizes of healthy food that should be fed to children, a serve of milk for a child aged under five is just 100ml, a serve of cheese is just 15g and a meat portion should be just 45g. "If your child refuses to eat at any meal or snack do not force them to eat," parents are advised.

The guide provides healthy eating and exercise prescriptions for babies and children aged up to five developed by experts at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. "New parents are bombarded with information and knowing what advice to take can often be difficult and stressful," Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday. "These guidelines are an evidence-based, easy to read resource parents can rely on when raising baby."

Children aged five and under need three meals and two snacks per day and should eat chocolate, fruit juice, soft drinks, flavoured milk and takeaway very rarely. Babies should be exercised and from the age of one should do at least three hours of active play a day. Restraining children for more than one hour at a time in car seats, prams or high chairs is also frowned on because it limits a child's development and learning time.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority said four-month-old babies watch an average of 44 minutes of TV daily, while under-fours spend at least three hours a day in front of the screen. But the new government guidelines state this is too much. "Screen time is not recommended for babies and children less than two years of age, because it may reduce the amount of time they have for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development."


Obese mother's baby taken off her by British do-gooders

More evil fallout from a false gospel. Since obesity is basically genetic, the kid will end up fat anyway

A newborn girl was taken into care because it was feared she would pile on excessive weight in the care of her obese parents. The child was removed from her mother within hours of being born earlier this week and has been placed with a foster family. Her parents, who are both clinically obese, have already had two children taken into care amid concerns about the youngsters' weight. They have been warned they risk losing their remaining four children if they too fail to shed pounds.

Before she became pregnant, the mother weighed 23st. [322 lb.] At that time one of her children, a toddler, weighed 4st and her 13-year-old son weighed 16st. [224lb.]

Social workers in Dundee confirmed they took the baby because of fears the infant's weight would balloon. Her devastated mother, who is 40, discharged herself from hospital on Tuesday, a day after the birth. She and her husband, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were warned last year to bring their children's weight down.

Last night a Dundee council spokesman said the decision to take the girl was given 'careful consideration'. She added: 'It is never taken lightly and always at the forefront is what is the best course of action for the welfare and safety of the child or children.'


Vitamin supplements could do more harm than good

At last the word is getting out

People taking high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements may be doing more harm than good, an expert has warned. Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), said it was difficult to predict the impact vitamin supplements had on the chances of cutting cancer.

While low dose supplements can be a "valuable safety net", high doses could be harmful. Research over the last few years has suggested some vitamins can actually increase the risk of some cancers. Beta carotene for example can increase the risk of lung cancer in those who already smoke.

"Many people think they can reduce their cancer risk by taking supplements, but the evidence does not support this," Prof Wiseman said. "Just because a dietary pattern that provides a relatively high level of a particular nutrient might protect against cancer, it does not mean that taking it in tablet form will have the same effect. "In fact, at high doses the effect of these micronutrients is unpredictable and can be harmful to health.

"Although there are some studies that have shown a reduction in cancer risk from high-dose supplements, others have not, and these supplements have normally only been tested on a select group of people.

"This means we simply do not know enough about what the effect will be for the general population to confidently predict the balance of risks and benefits. Some people may be doing themselves more harm than good.

"There are also studies that show high doses of some supplements can increase risk of some cancers.''

Prof Wiseman said multivitamins would not contain all the good nutrients found in food, such as fibre adding that the best advice was to have a "health, plant-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables".

Prof Wiseman's comments echo similar sentiment from Professor Brian Ratcliffe, a leading nutritionist, who last month said Britain's "worried well" were wasting their money and possibly risking their health by taking supplements.

Prof Ratcliffe said multivitamin and mineral supplements were "completely pointless" for the majority of people with a healthy diet and that topping up on vitamins could potentially be dangerous.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The internet is GOOD for brains

Some actual research upsets all the "expert" prognostications about how bad computers are for you. One hopes that the sycophantic "Baroness" Greenfield learns some proper scientific caution from this. Crawling up the backsides of the powers that be got a smart Jewish girl a British title but at the expense of her scientific integrity

Adults with little Internet experience show changes in their brain activity after just one week online, a new study finds. The results suggest Internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults.

As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, or decay, reductions in cell activity and increases in complex things like deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

Research has shown that mental stimulation similar to the stimulation that occurs in individuals who frequently use the Internet may affect the efficiency of cognitive processing and alter the way the brain encodes new information. "We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function," Dr. Gary Small, study author and professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said in a statement.

The UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Prior to the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.

The participants performed Web searches while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during this activity. This type of scan tracks brain activity by measuring the level of blood flow in the brain during cognitive tasks. While the study involves a small number of people and more research on this topic is needed, small study sizes are typical of fMRI-based research.

After the initial brain scan, subjects went home and conducted Internet searches for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. These practice searches involved using the web to answer questions about various topics by exploring different websites and reading information. Participants then received a second brain scan using the same Internet simulation task, but with different topics.

The first scan of participants with little Internet experience showed brain activity in the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities. The second brain scan of these participants, conducted after the home practice searches, demonstrated activation of these same regions, but there was also activity in the middle frontal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus – areas of the brain known to be important in working memory and decision-making.

Thus, after Internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users. "The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults," Teena D. Moody, the study's first author and UCLA researcher, said in a statement.

When performing an online search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to take away the important points from competing graphics and words is essential, Moody noted.

Previous research by the UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. The new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience, said Small.

Additional studies will be needed to address the impact of the Internet on younger individuals and help identify aspects of online searching that generate the greatest levels of brain activation. The findings were presented Oct. 19 at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, Illinois.


Fat Police Target Government's Own Nutrition Standards

On Thursday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal with the backing of consumer advocate groups announced that he is launching an investigation into the allegedly misleading food labeling program "Smart Choices." The Smart Choices Program allows manufacturers of foods that meet certain nutritional criteria to post on their packaging a green check-mark alongside a calorie and serving count indicator.

While the program's creators say that Smart Choices is intended to help consumers make better nutritional decisions, the Attorney General and many consumer protection advocates are questioning the program's nutritional standards and decrying the program as "deceptive" and "potentially misleading"---namely because a few nutritionally suspect foods like Teddy Grahams, Kraft Cheese crackers and Cocoa Krispies happen to qualify.

Ironically, the program's nutritional standards that Mr. Blumenthal and consumer advocates are questioning are based directly on the USDA's dietary guidelines. For example, calories from fat can't exceed 35% of total calories and sodium content must be less than 480 mg per serving.

Smart Choices is exactly the kind of program that Mr. Blumenthal and consumer advocates should be in favor of since it makes nutritional information more visible to consumers. Lately, government officials have been pressuring the food industry to take a more active role in curbing obesity. Some city and state governments like New York City's have even required fast food restaurants to post nutritional information on menus. Congress has also been threatening the industry with a sugar tax. (To appease Congress, Coca Cola just unveiled a 90-calorie mini can and a plan to highlight calories on the front of nearly all products.)

The Smart Choices Program is doing exactly what government officials say that the food industry should do, but won't do on its own. But now that the industry is taking the initiative to promote healthier choices, the government wants to criminalize the industry for doing it in a marketable and profitable way. The government may want Americans thinner---just as long as the food industry's profits aren't getting fatter.


Regulation Not Worth Its Salt

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration, working with the Institute of Medicine, has been considering a change in the regulatory status of salt. The FDA cannot currently restrict the amount of salt that can be added to processed foods, and the proposed change would allow them to do so.

Advocates of the proposed regulation, like former FDA commissioner David Kessler and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, argue that reducing the sodium in foods would improve people’s health and cut public health spending. Opponents argue that the evidence supporting health benefits of sodium reduction is by no means conclusive, and that attempts to reduce sodium intake could actually be harmful.

But a recent study by University of California, Davis nutritionists concludes that it may not even be possible to reduce salt intake through regulation. The study shows that people are naturally inclined to regulate salt intake to physiologically determined levels by unconsciously selecting foods to meet their needs.

According to the study, measurements collected from over 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide indicate that daily sodium intake is confined to the relatively narrow range of 2,700 to 4,900 mg, with the worldwide average of 3,700 mg. This challenges the widely held belief that daily sodium consumption in the United States, which averages about 3,400 mg, has reached extreme levels.

The study also cites decades of research describing the specific mechanism by which the central nervous system, acting together with several organ systems, controls our appetite for salt.

In one cited study, a group of nearly 600 participants took part in what was to be a 3 year sodium intake intervention, with the goal of reducing daily intake to 1,850 mg. After the first 6 months, researchers noted that participants were unable to reduce sodium intake below about 2,750 mg per day—close to the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified.

Another study had similar findings. In this study, subjects, through intensive dietary counseling, reduced their daily sodium intake to an average of 1,775 mg over 4 weeks. The subjects were then randomized to receive either a 2,300 mg sodium tablet or a placebo, while still receiving counseling.

When taking the placebo, average sodium intake stabilized around 2,750 mg—again very close to the bottom of the identified range. This means that subjects naturally increased their sodium intake when blinded to their treatment. When this group was switched over to receive the 2,300 mg sodium supplement, daily intake rose to only 4,050 mg, far less than the predicted 5,050 mg. This suggests that subjects naturally reduced their dietary sodium intake without consciously intending to do so.

The UC Davis study goes on to cite a number of surveys indicating that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has “varied minimally” over the past 25 years, despite a costly Food Standards Agency campaign to reduce sodium intake in the UK.

The Institute of Medicine says that daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg, and new guidelines to be released in 2010 may set the recommended maximum even lower. Any regulatory action taken by the FDA would presumably aim to reduce intake at least to this 2,300 mg level, even though it is 17 percent lower than the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified, and a full 38 percent lower than the worldwide average.

Given the findings of this study, it seems likely that regulation restricting sodium in foods would be ineffective because people would unconsciously adjust their diets to compensate. As the study puts it, “[sodium intake] is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives”, and attempts to change consumption would “expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals.”


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fathers at birth 'causes longer labour, mental illness'

I am inclined to think the ob/gyn below has a point. It's risky to rely on clinical experience as evidence but it would be a mistake to disregard it willy nilly. I am inclined to think that it should be up to the woman: The father should be present only if the woman definitely wants that

For those fathers who make it through without fainting, the miracle of childbirth is an unforgettable experience. But their presence could actually be harming the mother and child, a leading obstetrician warned yesterday. Michael Odent claims having a husband or partner in the room at the birth increases the likelihood of a Caesarean section, subsequent marriage break-up and even mental illness. He also believes it makes the labour longer and more painful because the woman is distracted by the father's anxiety.

Delivering children would be much simpler if women were left alone in the care of their midwife, he claims.

'The ideal birth environment involves no men in general,' he said yesterday. 'Having been involved for more than 50 years in childbirths in homes and hospitals in France, England and Africa, the best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife.

'In this situation, more often than not, the birth is easier and faster than what happens when there are other people around, especially male figures – husbands and doctors.'

More than 90 per cent of births in the UK have a male partner in attendance, studies show.

But Dr Odent claimed that having males present at the birth makes the mother tense, leading her to produce adrenaline. This slows her production of the hormone oxytocin, which is vital for childbirth, thus extending the length of the labour. 'If she can't release oxytocin she can't have effective contractions, and everything becomes more difficult,' said the French doctor, who runs the Primal Health Research childbirth charity in London. 'Labour becomes longer, more painful and more difficult because the hormonal balance in the woman is disturbed by the environment that's not appropriate because of the presence of the man.'

Sexual attraction between a couple can also disappear after the birth and lead to divorce, he says. Some men even end up suffering from a widely unrecognised male equivalent of postnatal depression. The 'masculinisation of the birth environment' has, Dr Odent argues, contributed to the number of women now having Caesarean sections.

He is due to outline his controversial views at the annual conference of the Royal College of Midwives in Manchester next month. But critics say there is little evidence to support his claims. Duncan Fisher, of the fatherhood advice website Dad Info, said: 'I think he's wrong and is not basing his argument on evidence either that it damages men or their relationships with mothers. 'Of course, not all men are nervous and a lot of women would be even more nervous without their partner there. Mothers want them there because it is not home.'

Mary Newburn, of the National Childbirth Trust, said there were now cultural pressures on men to attend the birth of their child. She added: 'There's such a feeling among women that "you got me into this, I have carried the baby for nine months and now I have to go through labour and birth, so the least you can do is be with me, and if you feel a bit squeamish, then tough". 'I wouldn't go as far Dr Odent in saying that men are always unhelpful in labour. But it's not men's right to be there. 'The most important thing is that the woman feels safe, secure and supported, so if she wants to have a woman around instead, that's fine.'


Teen net addicts at risk of mental health problems

Where's his proof? Epidemiology deals in correlations. It proves nothing. This is just an exercise in speculation motivated by the usual academic contempt for ordinary people

OBSESSIVE use of the internet could create a mental-health epidemic, with up to 10 per cent of adolescents at risk, a Sydney academic warns.

World studies have documented dangerous levels of "internet addiction" – computer use that interferes with daily lives – says Lawrence Lam, a behavioural epidemiologist at the University of Sydney and the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

In Greece and the US, studies found 8 per cent of adolescents could be classified as computer addicts. In China, where Dr Lam helped conducted recent research, the level of addictive computer use was 14 per cent. "I would say in Australia we would be following the same trend," he said.

Dr Lam said researchers were yet to agree on whether to label the problem as an addiction or a mental-health problem but it was expected the condition could be added to the next edition of the key reference book for mental-health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He said people who played online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, were especially prone to the condition, which he defined as an “uncontrollable and damaging use of the internet”.

Dr Lam said boys were 50 per cent more likely to be affected than girls. He advised parents to watch for sharp changes in how often or how long children were online.


Screening test ‘doubles the chance of pregnancy for women on IVF’

A genetic-screening test could more than double the chances of pregnancy for women who undergo fertility treatment, a study suggests. The first trial of its kind has found that two out of three women having in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) became pregnant if their embryos were checked for abnormalities before being implanted in the womb, compared with less than a third where the test was not used.

The technique, known as comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH), checks chromosomes in the developing embryo. Only those embryos with the best chance of becoming a healthy baby are used in fertility treatment. The £2,000 test is available in only a handful of private clinics in Britain. Researchers hope that it will become standard practice to help both NHS and paying patients to start a family.

Dagan Wells, a Senior Fellow in Reproductive Genetics at Oxford University who developed CGH, said that babies had now been born among a group of 115 American women whose embryos had been screened. The results will be presented this week at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference in Atlanta.

The women received IVF treatment at the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine in the US, but cells from the embryos were flown to Dr Wells’s clinic in Oxford for analysis. The results showed that 66 per cent of women fell pregnant if CGH was used to select the best embryos for implantation — more than double the proportion (28 per cent) of women who fell pregnant at the clinic when the test was not used.

Dr Wells described the improvement in pregnancy rates as “astonishing”, and particularly impressive as many of the women were on their “last chance” at conceiving with fertility treatment — they were typically aged 39 with two failed IVF cycles behind them. “We were taken aback by the impact it had on the success rates,” Dr Wells said. “I think it’s at the point now that we can say with great confidence that we are seeing a positive effect of this.”

Up to one in six couples have difficulty conceiving a baby naturally and some 37,000 patients are treated at IVF clinics in Britain each year. During treatment, a woman’s eggs are collected, fertilised in a laboratory with her partner’s or a donor’s sperm and then implanted back into the womb. But many women suffer miscarriages or do not become pregnant at all if the resulting embryos carry an abnormal number of chromosomes. However, until now it has proved difficult to examine all the chromosomes in an embryo, meaning that screening techniques have produced limited success in weeding out those with little chance of leading to a successful pregnancy.

CGH solves the problem by allowing doctors to look at every chromosome in the developing embryo. It could be particularly useful for older women, who are more likely to produce eggs with the abnormalities. It could also be used to maximise the chances of success for younger women and couples paying up to £3,000 for each cycle of IVF treatment, and to check for genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

More than 20 babies have so far been born in the United States as a result of CGH screening, Dr Wells added. Screened embryos so far have a live birth success rate of 80 per cent per cycle of IVF, compared with 60 per cent for women who did not have the test.

Last month fertility specialists in Nottingham used a similar technique — known as “array CGH” — to examine eggs rather than embryos. A couple who had failed with 13 IVF attempts produced a baby.