Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Big Fat Lies about Britain's obesity epidemic

I am not totally persuaded by all the arguments of the writer below. Total calorie intake seems to me the only dietary determinant of weight. But she certainly makes a good case that British government hectoring has been counterproductive. ANY attempt at dieting seems more likely to increase weight long-term rather than reduce it. All the successful dieters I know have eventually "fallen off the wagon" and ended up fatter than ever

We are all getting fatter. We know this because the Government tells us all the time, in every report, health warning and advertising campaign it issues. For the past 30 years we've been told to eat less and exercise more, to cut back on calories and on saturated fat and, on the whole, we're doing it. Our calorific intake between the years 1974 and 2004 decreased by 20 per cent. We are eating about 20 per cent more fruit and vegetables than in the Seventies. We are doing approximately 25 per cent more exercise than we were in 1997.

But are our waist lines shrinking? No. So what is really behind this obesity epidemic? I'll tell you.

We're following Government advice on how and what to eat, but that advice is so wrong it is actually making us fatter. The endless message of 'eat less, do more' has never been proven using proper clinical trials. And we've only started to get really fat since governments started promoting the current low-fat health messages, back in the early Nineties.

I'm a lawyer by training and I became convinced that the rise in obesity must be partly due to bad guidance. So I set out to look at the research studies on which government advice is based. What I found has shocked me. The Government's Food Standards Agency (FSA), among others, is pumping out a template of a balanced diet that is based on flawed science that I believe is responsible for thousands of people developing health problems.

The co-defendant in the dock with the Government is starch. While we've all been brainwashed into thinking that fat is the killer we must avoid and food manufacturers bring out more and more profitable 'low-fat' versions of foods, starch - in the shape of pasta, bread, cereals, potatoes and rice - has been quietly adding on the pounds, while we are being told that it's good for us.

The problem, I believe, is threefold. First, we are being given dietary advice that is completely out of keeping with our current lifestyles. In a world where we sit at computers instead of toiling in the fields, we simply don't need the sort of high-energy, starchy foods we are told to eat, and certainly not in the proportions we are advised. The central issue is that starch is converted to glucose very quickly, which then triggers the release of the hormone insulin. Insulin triggers the storage of excess glucose into fat, which is stored mainly around our middles.

If you constantly produce too much insulin, your body goes into a permanent fat-storage mode. This means people who are overweight get into a cycle of weight gain. The starchy foods that we are encouraged to eat at almost every meal - such as rice, bread or pasta - also contain very few of the essential nutrients we need for a healthy, balanced diet. Because they're nutrient poor, manufacturers have to enrich them with added vitamins and minerals.

The second problem is that the Government vendetta against fats, because of their apparent link to heart disease, is based on highly debatable studies.

And third, although exercise is undoubtedly good for us all, there is growing evidence that shows sweating away in the gym won't actually make you any slimmer.

And to add insult to injury, it's hard to get any research money to counter these arguments, because most research is funded by the very food conglomerates that stand to benefit most from these lies.

So, the first big fat lie we are fed is that we should eat less. The FSA itself says we should not eat as much, and eat fewer calories. But while calorie-counting tells us how much energy there is in food, it doesn't distinguish between the effect those foods will have on our insulin response - which dictates how much fat we store in the body. The FSA tells us that we should base our meals on starchy foods, and this message is repeated by the NHS and British Diabetic Association.

The FSA says: 'Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes, are a really important part of a healthy diet. Starchy foods should make up about a third of the food we eat. 'They are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. 'Most of us should eat more starchy foods - try to include at least one starchy food with each of your main meals. 'Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain less than half the calories of fat.'

But does starch or starchy food give us a significant amount of those important nutrients, which are defined as essential? No, it does not. Starch does not contain any significant amounts of amino-acids or fatty-acids, which are an important part of a healthy diet. And most starches, in their natural state, are low in vitamins and minerals. So the food manufacturer (not nature) adds vitamins and minerals to the food concerned. In fact, what the Government is actually doing with 'fortification' - that's adding vitamins - is giving the general population vitamin and mineral tablets in a different form.

The Government also states that starch is 'a good source of energy'. Starch is not just a good source, it's a very efficient source of energy. Unlike protein, which turns to energy slowly and requires energy to break it down, starch turns to energy quickly and efficiently. This is fantastic if you intend to run a marathon, but how many of us are doing that?

By the Government's own logic, the obesity problem is to do with an imbalance between the amount of energy that we consume and the amount of energy we expend. It is quite illogical to want to encourage a nation that is already getting fatter due to excess energy intake to eat more starch. Remember, the Government confirms its belief in calorie-counting: 'Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain less than half the calories of fat.'

But recent studies have shown that there are serious issues with the measurement of calories as a means of weight loss. In fact, a higher-calorie diet that is low in starch has been shown to improve weight loss, mainly because of the impact of insulin on fat storage. Most experts agree it's the hormone insulin which makes the body store fat. Over time, people can start to overproduce insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance and eventually Type 2 diabetes. The foods that trigger insulin are primarily starch and sugar.

People who over-produce insulin are more than likely to gain fat, particularly around the tummy - hence the rise of the 'muffin top' in the past ten years. Surely it must follow that overeating starch is, in part, causing the obesity crisis?

Another big fat lie we are fed is that we should eat less fat. Low-fat yoghurts, skimmed milk and cheese, virtually fat-free desserts - the supermarket shelves are full of these 'healthy' low-fat alternatives (although many are actually high in sugar) as we all absorb the Government's message to cut back on saturated fat. The simple message is: saturated fats are high in calories and are making us fat. Saturated fats cause heart disease. And most people believe that the fear of saturated fat is based on robust science - why else would the Government be putting out this advice?

Let's look at the scientific evidence. When studies have been done with high saturated fat levels combined with low levels of starch and sugar, the subjects not only lost weight faster than the low-calorie, low-fat option but - perhaps more interestingly - the cholesterol profile of the subjects on the high-fat diet was better.

Which leads us to question the link between saturated fats and heart disease. Since the Fifties, there has been an unrelenting wave of studies trying to prove this connection. By the Eighties, we had a consensus of opinion that the connection between saturated fats and heart disease was sufficiently compelling to start issuing dietary guidelines. At this stage, there had not been any major clinical trials clearly pointing the finger at saturated fat.

However, in 1984, the Lipid Research Clinics Study was published. This was a study looking at cholesterol-lowering drugs and the incidence of heart attacks. While it showed some benefits from cholesterol-lowering drugs, the assumption made by the researchers was that if you eat a diet low in cholesterol, that would have the same effect as taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. This conclusion prompted various agencies in the U.S. to start a campaign to lower the amount of saturated fats in our diet. At no time did this study look at the effect of saturated fats on heart attacks or heart disease. So, on the basis of a study looking at drugs lowering cholesterol, we ended up with a message to eat less saturated fat.

This plea for sanity over the advice on fats is not a lone cry. Several very influential experts such as Dr Laura Corr, consultant cardiologist at Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London, and Dr Michael Oliver, from the National Heart and Lung Institute, have asked those in power to stop propagating an unproven message.

Where does the FSA find such certainty among the pile of published science which is not conclusive in its findings? In fact, there are some statistics showing quite the contrary, especially when mixed with a low- starch and low-sugar diet. One report looked at 27 individual studies into the link between fats and heart disease and no link could be found. The largest study on lifestyle factors and heart disease was published in The Lancet medical journal in 2004 and it did not list saturated fat as a factor.

We really need more clinical studies looking at saturated fat in our diet with and without the effect of starch and sugar. But, unfortunately, the world of health is now so obsessed with the fear of saturated fats it won't even let us carry out trials. Back in 2004, I asked a well-known research body in the UK to carry out a clinical trial into saturated fats combined with a high and a low-starch diet. But I was turned away with the explanation they would not get ethical approval and they claimed no one wanted to know more about saturated fats anyway.

And the other lie we are fed: exercise more. There is no doubt that exercise is an excellent tool for weight maintenance and is fantastic for our general health. But what is really misleading is the idea that exercise will significantly help you to lose weight. I attended the European Obesity Conference in 2006, at which Sir Neville Rigby, the former director of policy on the International Obesity Taskforce, referred to several major European studies showing categorically that exercise had no significant impact on the weight of the participants.

Since the conference, one of the studies that has added fuel to the doubters' fire is the Early Bird Study in Plymouth. This lost its Government financial backing because it showed that exercise made no difference to the weight or weight loss of children.

In a significant study carried out by the World Health Organisation into the obesity problem in the U.S., it was concluded that exercise is not a factor of any influence.

The UK Government has suggested that to stop further weight-gain and help reduce weight, people need to do about 60 to 90 minutes of light exercise a day. The average person with children and a job will, realistically, struggle to fit in this amount of exercise every day or even every week. A little bit here and there is not enough to make any real difference to weight loss, especially if you are on a starch-rich diet.

So the Government's advice to eat a starch-rich, low-fat diet and to exercise more is based on inconclusive science, while the evidence we see all around us is that we are getting fatter following this advice. It's time for a wholesale review of the way in which we eat.


Energy drinks a 'serious' heart risk

The "energy" derives from stimulants, not any improvement to physiological function -- and the result seems to be a fairly clearcut zero-sum game. The "highs" are paid for by subsequent "lows"

JUST one energy drink can cause "serious heart conditions", a world-first study has found. The report, according to Adelaide Now, has prompted Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender to warn people to limit their consumption of energy drinks to one a day until further urgent research into long-term consumption of the drinks is complete.

The study by the University of Adelaide, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Cardiovascular Research Centre were published during the week in the prestigious American Journal of Medicine. It found "common energy drinks do trigger significant changes, including a rise in blood pressure, increased stickiness of blood and decreased blood vessel function".

Report author and Physiology Senior Research Officer Dr Scott Willoughby said: "These measures could potentially lead to serious heart conditions in otherwise fit and healthy individuals."

Energy drinks are designed to increase stamina and improve physical performance. The revelations would lead to further research into the relationship between the popular drinks - which have been linked anecdotally with sudden cardiac deaths - and heart disease, Dr Willoughby said. "Given the prolific use of these drinks within the young population, further research . . . is urgently needed," he said. Energy drinks sales in Australia are worth $550 million annually.

Main ingredients are caffeine and taurine while some new drinks contain opium poppy seed extract or ephedrine.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Over 70 and Overweight May Add Years to Life


Despite the warnings that being overweight will kill you, a new Australian study finds that overweight adults over the age of 70 are less likely to die over a 10-year period than their normal-weight peers.

The study, published Jan. 28 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, conflicts with research that suggests that being overweight contributes to a long list of health problems, including heart disease.

"Our study suggests that those people who survive to age 70 in reasonable health have a different set of risks and benefits associated with the amount of body fat to younger people," lead researcher Leon Flicker, of the University of Western Australia, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Flicker and colleagues looked at a decade's worth of data regarding the health of more than 9,200 Australians aged 70 to 75 in 1996 when the study began. Australia is ranked as the third most obese country in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom, the study authors noted.

The study defined overweight and obesity levels based on body mass index, a measurement that takes weight and height into account. The four weight categories used in the study included underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese.

Those who were overweight -- a step below obese -- faced a 13 percent lower risk of death compared with those who were normal weight. But there was no benefit found for those who were obese, the study authors noted.

The researchers also found that being sedentary doubled the risk of death for women and raised it by one-quarter for men. According to the study authors, it may be time to reevaluate the system that determines who is overweight and obese.


Ridiculing the obese is the new gay bashing

British society has become far more enlightened over sexuality and race. Now we reserve our contempt for the underclass

My son begged me to switch the show off. “It’s too cruel,” he said. But that seemed to be the point of Fat Families. “You make me feel sick,” said the smug presenter as the obese couple looked forlornly at their takeaway supper. Later they were stripped naked — she weeping, he head bowed — while the camera boggled obscenely at their bodies. I hope they were well paid, this good-hearted pair, who clearly loved their kids and each other. What price to be paraded as an object of hatred and disgust.

A public health message? No, this was the All-New Fat & White Minstrel Show. The obese are the last group — should you feel enraged today by a parking penalty or Blair — at which you can vent your fury with legal and social impunity. A friend mentioned, en passant, chastising a man for letting his dog pee copiously over her doorstep. “P*** off, you fat bitch,” was his automatic response. I was aghast, she was nonplussed: as a largish lady she dealt with this (and worse) every day.

This week the British Social Attitudes survey revealed our greater toleration of homosexuality: only a third of us now think gay love is wrong. Which still seems mighty high to me, yet only 20 years ago this figure was double. Gay men are still violently assaulted, name-calling is too infrequently challenged in schools, but these days homophobia is rarely given full vent in the national media. And if it is — as with Jan Moir’s article — a powerful and righteous lobby will unleash all hell.

But sometimes it feels as if the anger and intolerance upon our angry, always up-for-a-fight island, is just being funnelled to other targets: the fat, the poor, the white trash, the chavs and pikeys, the underclass on the fringes of society who we loathe almost as much as we fear.

Outsiders are always easiest to hate. When gay culture was confined to the margins, it was simple to caricature and condemn. After all, it was unlikely you’d meet anyone to disprove your view. The great progress of the past decade was gay relationships ceasing to be subject to saucy speculation but becoming normal, banal even. The once-separate straight and gay worlds have meshed. When my lovely lesbian sister-in-law had a baby with a gay man, I’d wondered how to explain this scenario to my elderly northern parents, so sheltered were their lives. I was stupid to worry.

Love and babies, the warmth of real human contact, breaks down suspicion of The Other. After one hilarious Christmas karaoke night my eightysomething mother reflected simply: “Well, I’d never met any gays before. But they all seem very nice.” And when I was interviewing the American writer David Sedaris recently he marvelled at how parents bring 14-year-old sons along to his book signings: “Meet Doug,” they might say. “He’s gay.” Sedaris’s own tortured, confused and utterly closeted teenage self would have marvelled at this casually acknowledged truth.

At this time when our respect for the political process has never been lower, few will acknowledge the wonder when government does something right. The creation of civil partnerships in 2005 not only dignified and formalised gay relationships but acted as a catalyst for further change. Moreover, it signalled that the British culture war was over. Run up the flag: the forces of tolerance had won.

It was a long, bitter conflict, fought all through the Thatcher years, when it was the ugly, snarling, bullying tap-room bigotry more than any economic policies that made many loathe our Government. This was not so much a clash of policies, but about what constitutes full humanity. Peter Lilley was getting belly laughs with his conference ditty against single mums; disgust against homosexuality led to the creation of Clause 28, banning discussion of same sex relationships in school for fear that predatory gays would stalk our kids.

That the Tory party is run now by social liberals sometimes boggles the mind. Can people change that easily? Only seven years ago David Cameron voted to keep Clause 28, but now he has apologised, declared his intent to reward not only marriage in the tax system but civil partnerships too.

And Baroness Warsi who, when I asked her why she sent out anti-gay literature when she was standing in Dewsbury in the 2005 election, said: “I have learnt, read more; my views have matured since then.” Maybe they have. Even Elton John’s arch tormentor, the former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie, claims these days to be a friend of the gays.

Or maybe Cameron realises that laissez faire morality is so deeply entrenched that there is no point in fighting it. And besides, why go against the grain when you can go with the flow? While our social attitudes have grown more liberal, our economic views have hardened into conservatism: only a bare majority now believe it is the Government’s job to secure employment for all or to ensure the unemployed have a decent standard of living.

Indeed, as racism and homophobia have become ever more verboten, there has been a corresponding growth in intolerance for the poor, a disgust at their lifestyle, an ugly, lazy disdain for those who live in council estates, who have scary dogs and babies too young, a licensed mocking of their yeah-but-no-but speech and culture. I grow tired of arguing with well-brought-up children of liberal parents that “chav” is a disgusting, reductive label, that the kids who live in the flats behind our house are not — apart from the amount of stuff they own — so different from them. How depressing that even 12-year-olds see society set into two separately entrenched tribes.

But it is fine now to believe that the underclass only has itself to blame for its educational failures, and laziness keeps families on the dole. And there they are, paraded on those circuses of disgust: Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle. Or on that whole new TV genre, the obesity freak show: Fat Families, The World’s Fattest Man, Too Fat Too Young ... All feign concern when their only object is to poke ridicule at the stupid chavs unable to stop shoving kebabs into their face even when it’s killing them.

Obesity is, above all, a mark of poverty: a handy melding of our social and bodily disgust, No, these days we may not bash so many poofs. But there is still plenty of sport to be had watching a 20st woman in a wedding dress that will never fit, weeping her heart out with shame.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Fall of ‘dishonest’ doctor who started MMR scare

Note that the crap was published in "Lancet" -- another reason not to trust that once-fine journal

The doctor who sparked a worldwide panic over the MMR vaccine could be struck off after being found guilty yesterday of a series of misconduct charges related to his “unethical” research. Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 claimed an unfounded link between the vaccination and autism, “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children, subjecting them to unnecessary, invasive tests, a hearing found.

The General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that he abused his position of trust as he researched a possible link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism in children. It found that Wakefield and two colleagues acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in carrying out research on children against their best interests and without official permission.

The GMC ruled that Wakefield, who was working at the Royal Free Hospital in London as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or qualifications to oversee the study, which involved children undergoing colonoscopies, lumbar punctures, barium meals and brain scans. He was also found to have brought the medical profession into disrepute after taking blood samples from youngsters at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5 and failing to disclose vital conflicts of interest.

He received £50,000 to carry out the research on behalf of solicitors acting for parents who believed that their children had been harmed by MMR, but could not account for how at least half this money had been spent. He also did not declare any conflict of interest to The Lancet medical journal, which published the research.

The GMC found the charges against Wakefield, and the professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch were “sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct”.

But as he delivered the verdicts, Dr Surendra Kumar, the panel’s chairman, was repeatedly heckled by distraught parents who support Wakefield and his former colleagues. One woman shouted: "These doctors have not failed our children. You are outrageous." She called the panel of experts "b******s" and accused the GMC of being a "kangaroo court". All three doctors deny any wrongdoing.

The study prompted a massive drop in the number of children being vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. Uptake of the MMR vaccine was 91 per cent before 1998, but by 2003 this had fallen to 79 per cent. In 2008 there were nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales — compared with 57 in 1997 — and nearly a dozen deaths had been officially linked to the illness. Subsequent studies involving millions of children found no evidence of a link between MMR and autism.

The hearing sat for 148 days over a two-and-a-half year period, at a cost to the GMC, funded by doctors, of more than £1 million. It is the longest running medical misconduct case in the Council’s 147 year history.

Before yesterday’s hearing, 12 organisations, including the Medical Research Council, the British Medical Association and Faculty of Public Health, released a joint statement reaffirming their confidence in the jab. “The undersigned believe that the MMR triple vaccine protects the health of children,” they said. “A large body of scientific evidence shows no link between the vaccine and autism.”


Simple blood test 'could help predict rheumatoid arthritis years before symptoms appear'

A simple blood test could help predict if someone is developing a crippling form of arthritis years before symptoms appear, scientists believe. The breakthrough could allow patients to be treated earlier, helping to prevent some of the painful diseases most devastating effects.

More than 600,000 people in Britain are thought to suffer from the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the joints. It can leave sufferers disabled and in agony.

Studies have shown that patients who receive early treatment are likely to be more active and have less chance of having to have had a joint replaced than other sufferers.

Researchers from University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, believe that they have now developed a way to help predict that a patient will develop the disease, even before they start to feel pain. “These findings present the opportunity for better predicting the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and, therefore, possibly preventing disease progression,” the team write in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Diagnosis of the illness can be difficult as symptoms can typically start off mild. In the early stages the disease can also mimic other illnesses, including lupus and osteoarthritis, the other form of arthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the joints.

Scientists have found higher levels of certain proteins, part of a group called cytokines and secreted by immune system cells, in the blood several years before patient’s symptoms develop. These proteins are known to be heightened when patients suffer from the full-blown disease and treatments which tackle them have been effective, but scientists said that it was significant that there were raised years before patients developed any pain. The team analysed blood samples from 86 patients, which were taken before their symptoms developed. They compared these with samples taken from 256 people who did not have the disease.

A spokesman for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society said: “We welcome the publication of this study, which adds to the growing body of evidence that people who go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis could be identified before symptoms develop. “This is important because early diagnosis and treatment we know from other research is hugely beneficial in stopping people going on to suffer disability or need a joint replaced.”

However, Prof Alan Silman, from Arthritis Research Campaign, said: “This is of great scientific interest as it sheds more light on the early development of rheumatoid arthritis, but the practical significance is probably quite limited as doctors would not want to intervene in the absence of any symptoms.”


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heh! Eating too many "superfoods" can harm health

For years they have been hailed for their apparently age-defying effects on the body. From sweet potatoes to blueberries, from lentils to broccoli, the health conscious couldn't get enough of so-called superfoods. But now it seems you really can have too much of a good thing.

Scientists say the delicate balance of nutrients required by the body could be affected by stuffing it full of the antioxidants contained in the foods. Nutritionists claim these antioxidants can lengthen your life by cutting the risk of heart disease and cancer. They have even linked them to better sex. But researchers say too much of the superfoods could mean there are not enough 'pro-oxidants' - usually considered the evil twin of antioxidants - in the body. While the antioxidants slow down the damage to muscles and other organs by the process known as oxidisation, the pro-oxidants speed it up. But too many antioxidants can tilt the balance and make it harder for the elderly to breathe and stop them from doing the exercise that could help them stay fit.

The researchers, from Kansas State University in the U.S. tested animals with different doses of antioxidants. Those that were given too much showed impaired muscle function, reported the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Researcher Steven Copp said: 'I think what a lot of people don't realise is that the antioxidant and pro-oxidant balance is really delicate. 'One of the things we've seen in our research is that you can't just give a larger dose of antioxidants and presume that there will be some sort of beneficial effect. In fact, you can actually make a problem worse.'

Nutrionists claim that antioxidants can slow down and even reverse some of the effects of ageing - which is why foods like blueberries have been hailed for their benefits on dementia victims. But some of these changes are not good for an ageing body as it stops some of ways in which blood cells flow by taking out the chemicals known as vasodilators which help open blood vessels. This makes older people get out of breath more quickly, for instance, which in turn prevents them from exercise and keeping fit.

Mr Copp said: 'If you have a person trying to recover from a heart attack and you put them in cardiac rehab, when they walk on a treadmill they might say it's difficult. 'Their muscles get sore and stiff. We try to understand why the blood cells aren't flowing properly and why they can't get oxygen to the muscles, as happens in healthy individuals. 'We're now learning that if antioxidant therapy takes away hydrogen peroxide - or other naturally occurring vasodilators - you impair the body's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscle so that it doesn't work properly.

'It's really a cautionary note that before we start recommending people get more antioxidants, we need to understand more about how they function in physiological systems and circumstances like exercise.'


Uphill battle to conceive after 35

Lots of women turn a blind eye to this so it cannot be stressed enough

THE speed at which female fertility declines has been highlighted by the first study to track a woman's supply of eggs from conception to the menopause. The average 30-year-old will have just 12 per cent - barely an eighth - of her eggs left, the research shows. By her 40th birthday the situation is even more bleak, with just 3 per cent of the two million or so eggs she was born with remaining.

Only about 450 of the two million eggs will fully mature over a woman's lifetime. Many others will start to mature before dying off. The more eggs the woman has, the greater the odds of one maturing enough to allow her to become pregnant.

Researcher Dr Tom Kelsey, of St Andrews University, said there were "women waiting for the next promotion or waiting to meet Mr Right". "Women often do not realise how seriously their ovarian reserve declines after the age of 35," he said. "Every year that goes by you are losing a big proportion of your ovarian reserve. A lot of people get to their menopause in their mid or late 40s."

The rapid decline of a woman's store of eggs - and fertility - was known before, but this study is the first to trace its entire path, from before birth through to the end of child-bearing years. Working with Edinburgh University experts, Dr Kelsey counted the number of eggs in the ovaries of 325 women of a variety of ages. The information was then fed into a computer program which worked out how the supply declined with time.

The analysis, which is reported in the journal PLoS ONE, also showed that until the age of 25 lifestyle factors such as smoking or alcohol have little effect on a woman's fertility. But after this point the way a woman looks after her body has a marked effect on fertility.

He said unlocking the workings of female biological clocks could help doctors better advise young cancer patients on how to preserve their fertility.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Celling fear: The cell phone scare that refuses to die

Since there is now some evidence that cellphone emissions HELP prevent Alzheimer's, this is typical of the stupidity and arrogance of people who think they know it all -- evidence regardless. Ignorance is almost always destructive and this is prime ignorance

Soon would-be cell phone buyers in Maine might be checking out the latest models, only to find a jarring red box on each unit with the image of a brain next to a phone. On it, the alarming words: WARNING, THIS DEVICE EMITS ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION; EXPOSURE TO WHICH MAY CAUSE BRAIN CANCER. USERS, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN AND PREGNANT WOMEN, SHOULD KEEP THIS DEVICE AWAY FROM THE HEAD AND BODY.

The above notice would be mandated by Maine’s Children’s Wireless Protection Act, which was recently introduced as emergency legislation following a unanimous vote by the state’s legislative council. Does this mean science shows that cell phones really are harmful? On the contrary. The real problem comes from misinformation from activists and a policy called “the precautionary principle” that could be devastating if it makes inroads into public policy.

Unfortunately, the Maine legislature is not the only government body considering such a hysterical action. This month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a resolution already approved unanimously by a commission as well as by the mayor. Among other things, it requires radiofrequency emission levels for each phone to be displayed as large as the price and asks for “warning labels [to] be placed on all cell phone packaging regarding exposure to radiation, especially for children.”

The idea, says San Francisco Toxics Reduction Program Manager Debbie Raphael, is that since the city cannot require manufacturers to redesign phones, requiring a label presumably warning of health risks will influence them to redesign their products. However, there is no call to require the same labels on other radiofrequency emitting devices, such as televisions and personal computers.


Nanny state can't save us from ourselves

If we choose to accept any risks from (say) getting fat, what right has the government got to tell us not to do that? Comment below from Australia

This month Manly Council erected a surfboard-shaped sign at its most famous beach to instruct board-riders how to behave in the surf. Two years ago the council installed a $26,000 safety fence at the notorious "jump rock", where the young and young-at-heart plunge into the ocean below. This year it pledged to have rangers patrol the area, intent on catching thrill-seekers in the act. But their efforts haven't stopped the kids from jumping, and the fence has simply turned out to be an expensive ratepayer-funded diving platform.

That parents, teachers, doctors, priests, and other assorted experts claim to know best about the potential risks and dangers we face - both individually and as a community - is nothing new. But the expectation that government should legislate to protect us from these risks and dangers is.

This poses some fundamental questions about citizens' relationship with government. Protecting our physical security - for example from threats of war, violence and other types of crime - is at the core of what governments do. But how far does the definition of security extend?

Does it extend to protecting us from diseases, from addictions, or from other risky behaviours? How far should government go in telling us what we can and can't do for our own good? And what happens when, after weighing up the risks and benefits, we decide we don't want to be protected?

There are increasing calls for more regulation of junk food, and ideas such as a junk food tax are frequently floated in the media. The scientific evidence is pretty clear - a diet of ice-cream and chips will probably make you fat and in turn lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease. Your chances of living a long and healthy life diminish.

But what if you cherish the ability to sit down to a nightly Big Mac and Coke more than the prospect of living to 90? Sure, it's self-destructive and short-sighted, but a look around any shopping centre food court will confirm that it's a decision plenty of people make. So should it be the role of legislators to tell them not to?

What happens when, in an effort to protect our health and safety, rules and regulations trample on other things we value?

The stern-faced, beach-ball popping fun police at the cricket have become the stuff of infamy. But the public reaction to their unbending rules suggests many people are willing to risk getting covered in warm beer if it means they get to enjoy the Mexican wave.

Not all legislative efforts to protect us pose a problem. But for rules and regulations to be effective - and legitimate - they must be ones that people want to follow. They should reflect the community's values, not try to shape them. We happily submit to airport security measures, wear seatbelts, and drive on the left side of the road because there is a community consensus that following these rules is beneficial for us individually and as a group.

But risks to our safety, security and health involve trade-offs. While one person will gladly jump out of a plane with a parachute attached, another will decide it's just not worth the risk. When it comes to questions of health, safety and security, individuals will make widely differing decisions.

It's little wonder then that so many efforts to control the public's "risky" behaviour fail so miserably. Despite a long-standing prohibition on drugs, survey data show that nearly 40 per cent of people 14 years and over have tried illicit drugs at least once in their life, with about 15 per cent saying they have consumed them in the past year. The alcopops tax was designed to curb binge drinking among teenagers. The actual effect was not to cut their alcohol intake but to increase their consumption of hard liquor such as vodka. And authorities' unsuccessful attempts to regulate away alcohol-fuelled violence suggest they haven't learnt anything since the days of the six o'clock swill.

When a law is widely ignored or deplored by enough members of the community, we have to ask whether the problem lies with the people ignoring the law or the law itself.

Arguments for or against the nanny state rarely get to the heart of the issue. When, if ever, is it appropriate for government to protect us from ourselves? And when trade-offs between, say, security and enjoyment need to be made, who should decide?


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australians love their meat pies

And if they are so bad for you, how come Australians have one of the world's longest life-expectancies? -- longer than any of the much-praised Mediterranean countries, in fact. It shows how little the food faddists know. (Americans think of a pie as a dessert but the most popular pies in Australia -- as mentioned below -- contain ground or diced beef, including beef fat -- baked in an oven. I myself am a meat pie devotee -- JR)

Early results of an exclusive Courier-Mail online poll found the meat pie was a clear front-runner as Australia's national dish with 29 per cent of votes. But a typical meat pie is packed with 2000mg of sodium, nearly half the recommended daily dose of salt, and contains both high-fat protein and high-fat carbohydrates.

In a close second – nearly as popular and as unhealthy – was a snag in bread [hot dog], with 21 per cent of votes. The barbecue favourite contains up to 1200 kilojoules and would take an hour of aerobics to burn off.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Julie Gilbert said Australia's favourite dishes reflected the fact we're the fattest. "While these foods might be uniquely Australian, they are no longer considered treats and have become part of our everyday eating and that's the problem," she said.

Sunshine Coast pest controller Mark Hayman, 28, said the old slogan "football, meat pies, kangaroos and holden cars" proved why the humble pie was quintessentially Australian. The pie-loving tradesman said he tried not to eat his favoured national dish too often, because he knew it was hardly the healthiest lunch. "I do have mates who go for a surf and then hoe into a meat pie," he said. "They usually buy two and they don't care at all that they're not good for you."

Mr Hayman said the meat pie was a typical "tradie's smoko". "All tradesmen have their favourite places to get a pie, so if you want to get a good pie, speak to a tradie."

The Courier-Mail's online poll found roast lamb was the third most popular dish with 14 per cent of the votes, while pavlova and steak were the top choice for 6 per cent of readers. Salt and pepper squid captured just 4 per cent of the vote. Fish and chips scored 3 per cent, prawns 7 per cent and lamingtons attracted 5 per cent, while spaghetti bolognese was preferred by just 1 per cent.


Eye test that spots Alzheimer's 20 years before symptoms

A test that can detect Alzheimer's up to 20 years before any symptoms show is being developed by British scientists. The simple and inexpensive eye test could be part of routine examinations by high street opticians in as little as three years, allowing those in middle age to be screened. Dementia experts said it had the power to revolutionise the treatment of Alzheimer's by making it possible for drugs to be given in the earliest stages.

The technique, being pioneered at University College London, could also speed up the development of medication capable of stopping the disease in its tracks, preventing people from ever showing symptoms.

Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Trust, said: 'These findings have the potential to transform the way we diagnose Alzheimer's, greatly enhancing efforts to develop new treatments.' Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia blight the lives of 700,000 Britons and their families, and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation. There is no cure and existing drugs do not work for everyone.

Current diagnosis is based on memory tests, and expensive brain scans are also sometimes used. However decisive proof of the disease usually comes from examination of the patient's brain after death.

The eye test would provide a quick, easy, cheap and highly-accurate diagnosis. It exploits the fact that the light-sensitive cells in the retina at the back of the eye are a direct extension of the brain. Using eye drops which highlight diseased cells, the UCL researchers showed for the first time in a living eye that the amount of damage to cells in the retina directly corresponds with brain cell death. They have also pinpointed the pattern of retinal cell death characteristic of Alzheimer's. So far their diagnosis has been right every time.

With research showing that cells start to die ten to 20 years before the symptoms of Alzheimer's become evident, it could allow people to be screened in middle age for signs of the disease. However, some may not want to know their fate so far in advance. There is also the fear that insurance companies could increase premiums for those who test positive while still young.

The experiments, reported in the journal Cell Death & Disease, have been on animals but the team are poised to start the first human trials. Researcher Professor Francesca Cordeiro said: 'The equipment used for this research is essentially the same as is used in clinics and hospitals worldwide. 'It is also inexpensive and non-invasive, which makes us fairly confident that we can progress quickly to its use in patients. 'It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to a high street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain.'

The technique could also improve the diagnosis of other conditions, including glaucoma and Parkinson's disease. In the short term, an early diagnosis would give patients and their families much more time to prepare for the future. In the longer term, it would allow new drugs that stop the disease in their tracks to reach their full potential. Professor Cordeiro said: 'If you give the treatment early enough, you can stop the disease progressing, full stop.'

Dr Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer's Society, cautioned that the test was still experimental but added: 'This research is very exciting. If we can delay the onset of dementia by five years, we can halve the number of people who will die from the disease.'


Monday, January 25, 2010

Junk food tax is junk policy

Junk food tax, fast-food tax, fat tax, soda tax, candy tax-by any name, the only thing these taxes succeed in making slimmer is your pocketbook. That's something Washingtonians may discover if the legislature succeeds in passing a new tax on "unhealthy" food.

A CBS poll published Jan. 8 showed that although most Americans want to be healthier and lose weight, 60 percent oppose taxing so-called junk foods. Unfortunately, the public's opposition has not stopped some policymakers and special interests from implementing taxes to discourage people from eating foods the "experts" deem unhealthy.

Starting in March, Romania will become the first country to place a nationwide tax on any food or beverage the government claims is unhealthy. In the United States, 33 states currently tax soft drinks, and 15 tax candy at a higher rate than other products. Cities are considering similar taxes.

One reason for the public opposition to these taxes is that the money is all too often diverted from its stated purposes to pay for unassociated increases in government spending. These taxes are nothing more than yet another attempt by government officials to grab more money from taxpayers, under the pretense of enhancing public health.

A study by the Mercatus Center explains, "Taxes on sugar-sweetened soft drinks do not necessarily advance the overall public interest, may be regressive in nature, and hardly ever work as intended."

Regardless of whether you believe government should force people to eat what contemporary experts say is healthiest, we can all agree that any government actions in this regard should actually work. If they don't, they shouldn't be implemented. Yet even health-oriented advocates of such taxes readily admit fat taxes will have few if any health benefits unless set extremely high, which creates a whole host of new problems. Although some people might quit drinking or eating these newly taxed products, they'll probably just begin consuming an alternative calorie-filled product that isn't taxed as highly.

Thus the 2007 study Cheap Donuts and Expensive Broccoli: The Effect of Relative Prices on Obesity found, "the sensitivity of individuals to relative food prices is too small for fat taxes to have much of an effect, at least in reasonable ranges of tax rates. For example, a 100 percent tax on unhealthful foods would reduce average BMI by less than 1 percent, according to our results."

Singling out certain products as sinful and placing draconian taxes on them is an ineffective health policy and even worse tax policy. The definition of what is healthy tends to be arbitrary and creates absurd anomalies: Illinois taxes a Twix bar as food while taxing yogurt-covered fruit as candy. These taxes also unduly punish low- and moderate-income people, as they consume higher quantities of these products in relation to their overall income.

Local, state and federal officials should focus on trimming their own budgetary belts instead of taking more money from citizens who eat the occasional cheeseburger or drink an occasional soda.


Government lifestyle mandates are poisonous to liberty

THERE are increasing calls to regulate and tax many supposedly harmful lifestyle products, such as fatty foods, soft drinks and even video games, under the guise of public health imperatives. It is relevant to scrutinise the ethics of the principles used to justify what amount to public health-inspired government lifestyle mandates.

The first point to make is that previous public health campaigns for things such as clean air and water differ fundamentally from those currently being discussed. The key difference is that no one chose to drink water that contained faeces; on the other hand, alcohol, hamburgers and even cigarettes bring utility as well as harm. What value is an exciting night out with friends, or the experiences gained from episodes of heavy alcohol consumption, or simply the experience of feeling relaxed for an evening? It is illegitimate to present a one-sided equation of harm unbalanced by utility. What is a harmful outcome to some might be an optimal balance to others.

The next issue relates to who should make the decision about whether something represents an overall net positive or negative for the individual. A central committee? No; in order to balance the infinite considerations in making such harm-benefit calculations, our society is built on deferment to the fundamental ethical principle of autonomy.

In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of academics attempted to justify a public health-inspired tax on soft drinks. Within medical academe the ideological pendulum seems to be returning towards that of paternalism (the informed doctor taking responsibility for the uninformed citizen). Thus the authors argued that people couldn't make a free choice to purchase a soft drink because most of the population doesn't have the capacity to understand what it is doing.

This necessitates the extraordinary premise that people have no realisation that consuming junk food in excess might be bad for their health. People know that too much junk food or booze or too much smoking is bad for them. Some people make irresponsible choices.

If just one side of the equation (all the harmful outcomes) indicates that people can't make sensible choices, then, by definition, we have branded large swaths of our community as lacking the capacity to make the basic autonomous lifestyle choices expected of adults. Is an average person able to consent to open-heart surgery but not to purchase a soft drink?

Admittedly it's hard to argue that preventing a drunken thug being violent or a morbidly obese person from having a heart attack isn't worth a few cents extra in taxation per drink or hamburger.

But it is a bedrock legal and societal principle that we consider differently those who cause harm to others and those who make choices that harm themselves. Crucially, there is a real possibility that taking action against harmful consumption under a public health imperative may end up causing more overall harm.

The public health view tends to promulgate a culture of abrogation of personal responsibility. "I drove when I was drunk because of my alcohol disease; society failed me." Thus, even if increased regulation does not cause a major impediment to people's freedom, failure to address the relevant complex societal, philosophical and ideological questions may prohibit a more effective resolution to the problem.

Admittedly, many lifestyle indulgences increase costs to the health system. But as every act or behaviour can ultimately be related to health, this argument can be used to regulate every decision we make. In a third-party payer system, there is an irreconcilable conflict between healthcare costs and liberty. More and more you are likely to see well-meaning ideological lobby groups (as well as mercenary rent-seekers) justify restrictions of free choice and association on the basis of "healthcare costs".

Forcing a citizen to undertake an action against their will for the "greater good" of healthcare-cost reduction is a wholly unethical position. No person can be ethically compelled to participate in a health program against their will. The lack of the ability to opt out of paying the alcopops tax reinforces the political nature of the tax.

Public health advocates often point to the detainment of reckless carriers of infectious disease as an example of the ethical basis of depriving someone of their liberty for the greater good. However, in these cases society detains the individual at fault. We don't put a lockdown on the rest of the community as well.

There are existing methods to deal with lifestyle-related harm. Harm involving violence must be addressed through the criminal system; failure to punish the individual while lamenting the violence as a public health issue may lead to devastating emotional distress to the victim.

Harm that reduces an individual's success in life must be seen as tolerable in order to preserve freedom. Harm that increases healthcare costs needs to be addressed by targeting with increased charges those who use the increased healthcare services.

Finally, the actual objective data to demonstrate the likely marginal reduction in harm to society from implementing lifestyle taxes is sparse and far from conclusive.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Butter now in the gun

I have been expecting this for ages. Apparently overlooked is the fact that butter is an important source of many nutrients. The case for that is made here. It is probably a bit overstated but does show that butter should not lightly be demonized

Butter should be banned to protect the nation's health, according to a leading heart surgeon. Shyam Kolvekar says only radical action can save growing numbers of young adults from heart attacks and clogged arteries. Warning of the dangers of other foods high in saturated fat, he advises people to eat less red meat, take low-fat milk and switch to olive and sunflower oil. Saturated fat is blamed for a third of the 200,000 premature deaths from heart disease a year. [But that is an unsubstantiated theory]

Adults are eating an average of 800 grams of it a month - 20 per cent more than the recommended limit. Hitting the recommended level could save 3,500 lives a year.

Mr Kolvekar, a consultant at University College London Hospitals, said: 'By banning butter and replacing it with a healthy spread the average daily sat-fat intake would be reduced by eight grams. 'This would save thousands of lives each year and help to protect them from cardiovascular disease - the UK's biggest killer. 'When a patient comes to me, they have established coronary heart disease. We are the last resort. 'The frustrating thing is that often the need for heart surgery could have been prevented by following a healthier, lower sat-fat diet.'

Historically, heart bypass operations were needed by patients near retirement age, but those in their thirties now appear regularly on operating lists, Mr Kolvekar said. However, his views sparked a fierce backlash from the farming industry and TV chefs.

A spokesman for Jamie Oliver, who has championed improved nutrition in schools, said: 'He is completely against a ban on butter. He uses butter in his recipes, for example for roasting potatoes in his Christmas programme. 'He doesn't like the whole kind of food police, we must ban everything, point of view. Butter can be eaten in moderation.' David Halhead, who has a dairy farm in Lancashire, said: 'There is far more evidence out there that dairy products are good for you. Milk and butter are full of important minerals.

'The public get fed up with various people firing off theories that have no facts behind them. We are going back to the nanny state. 'There are a hell of a lot of things that are likely to kill you before butter. I eat butter and milk every day and I am still here.'

Mr Kolvekar's comments were issued by KTB, a public relations company that works for Unilever, the maker of Flora margarine. However, a KTB spokesman said there were no financial ties between the consultant and Unilever and he was not receiving any payment. 'These are his views,' added the spokesman.

The surgeon timed his comments to coincide with the Food Standards Agency's campaign to promote the virtues of low-fat milk. Dr Clair Baynton, the FSA's head of nutrition, said: 'One per cent fat milk still gives us all the nutritional benefits, including calcium, protein, minerals and vitamins but with half the fat of semi. 'Something that simple but beneficial has got to be worth trying.' ˜

Mars UK announced yesterday it is to cut saturated fat levels in Mars bars, Snickers, Topic, Milky Way and Flyte products by the use of sunflower oil.


High-Fat Diet Ends Epileptic Seizures For Boy

A lot of people don't realize that we need cholesterol for brain function. It is a scandal that such a well-documented diet is not tried more quickly more often. The fat phobia has a lot to answer for. Note that the high fat diet did NOT elevate serum cholesterol, contrary to the usual superstition

A trip to the doctor is all good news these days for 4-year-old Max Irvine. Just a year ago, however, Max was enduring more than 100 seizures a day. Even a barrage of tests at the famed Mayo Clinic's Epilepsy Laboratory revealed no clear medical explanation. Epilepsy was consuming every waking hour of Max's life. "It got to the point where he couldn't walk or talk or function, or even eat hardly," said Max's father Troy Irvine.

Medications control epilepsy for 75 percent of children, but not for Max. His family watched helplessly as the light disappeared from his eyes. Max's playful nature vanished. Priceless intellectual developmental time was being lost.

Finally, Mayo Clinic Pediatric Neurologist Elaine Wirrell, an epilepsy specialist, proposed trading all of Max's meds for a radical change in diet. The Ketogenic Diet is very low in carbohydrates and super high in fats. Max's initial diet meal plan contained 80 percent fat. "I just remember having tears and thinking how can I be giving my child so much fat," said Max's mother, Kristine Irvine. "The majority of his meal was bacon and butter, or oil and maybe one strawberry. It was very hard to adjust to that." Butter as an entree. Bacon as a main course. Flavored Canola oil as a beverage. Dr. Wirrell said the strict diet is worth a try for nearly any child who does not respond to medication. "Over half of them have a meaningful reduction of seizures and nearly a third of them become seizure free on the diet," she said.

Exactly why the diet works is unknown. Wirrell said research suggests it stabilizes brain cells and alters neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that allow cells to signal each other. The Ketogenic Diet has actually been around since the 1920s. It was first described at the Mayo Clinic, in fact.

An obvious question the Irvines had was whether the cholesterol would create a new problem for Max's health. "We monitor the children very carefully," Wirrell said. "We monitor their blood for cholesterol problems. And in truth very few children actually end up with cholesterol or lipid problems on the diet."

Max's remarkable improvement is documented on his EEG, an electroencephalogram. The previous lightning storm of misfiring electrical activity has now calmed. Max is taking no epilepsy medications and is seizure-free.

Wirrell said many children are able to come off the diet after getting better and their epilepsy does not necessarily return. Max's brain is thought to have recovered enough that he is being gradually transitioned to normal meals.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

NY Soft Drink Tax: Second Verse, As Bad As The First

Empire State Governor David Paterson wasn’t bluffing when he said last fall that he wanted to bring his widely panned soft-drink tax proposal back from the grave. You might remember that in December 2008, he proposed an 18 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks, energy drinks, and soda to try to close a budget shortfall. By February, however, his proposal had lost its fizz. His new plan, announced yesterday, is a penny-per-ounce tax—so if a 20-ounce sports drink costs a dollar, it would amount to a 20 percent tax on soft drinks.

While food cop Kelly Brownell giddily called the first proposal “bold reform” and has since been throwing his weight around trying to get a penny-per-ounce fee on sugary drinks, taxpayers haven’t been so gung-ho. A Quinnipiac University poll found that only 37 percent of New Yorkers supported taxes on their sugary drinks. And those numbers likely haven’t gone anywhere but south. A (national) poll released in September by the Opinion Research Corporation found that two-thirds of Americans oppose such a tax. There’s good reason: People rightfully realize that paternalistic politicians have no business creating special fees to engineer what we put in our mouths.

As we’re telling the media today, Paterson’s soft drink tax sequel earns a review as flat as the original:
The tax code should not be a tool of social engineering against New Yorkers who choose to make food and drink choices that paternalistic officials like Governor Paterson don’t approve of. New York state is home to the Big Apple, not Big Brother.

There is no single cause of obesity, therefore singling out sugary drinks makes no sense. Paterson’s latest proposal only serves to fatten the wallets of Albany politicians, not trim New Yorkers’ waistlines.


“Chef” Pollan’s Daily Special: Lousy Advice

Self-styled food guru Michael Pollan’s latest rant against modern farming, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, lists 64 rules for healthy eating. Pollan says they are meant to be taken as “Food Don’ts” -- for the sake of our health and the environment. And as usual, America’s “foodies” are going ga-ga over someone whose claim to fame is repeatedly lecturing others to “Eat Food.” So let’s take a close look at what this journalism professor has to offer in his latest diatribe on what you eat.

Pollan admits he ignores nutrition science, which he derides as inexact. But perhaps the real reason he avoids citing actual research is because he knows it doesn’t support his pseudo-scientific beliefs.

Take Rule #22, “Eat mostly plants.” Pollan claims vegetarians are “notably healthier” and live longer than meat-eaters. Yet, a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that vegetarians died of strokes and cancers of the colon, breast and prostate at the same rate as omnivores. The mortality rate, the Oxford team wrote, “appears to be similar in vegetarians and comparable non-vegetarians.” In other words, vegetarians don’t live longer than meat-eaters – though life may seem interminably long if you spend most of your time choking down Tofurky and soy-cheese lettuce wraps.

Pollan blows it again with Rule #27, which holds that meat from “wild” free-range animals eating grass is more nutritious than from grain-fed animals raised in feedlots. Before you drop half your paycheck on “artisanal” porkchops, know this: Free-range meat carries health risks that slow-food advocates like Pollan won’t tell you about.

A study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease found significantly higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs when compared with pigs raised on larger farms. Pigs raised in the roof-covered, environmentally-controlled surroundings of the much-maligned Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are actually less conducive to disease. And pigs that spend time outdoors are more likely to come into contact with disease-carrying animals.

And if you don’t eat for your health, how about the health of Planet Earth? Pollan’s advice may actually lead to greater environmental damage. The CAFOs that he demonizes use less land to raise more animals than the free-range method. Grass-fed cows, for instance, can require up to 10 acres of pasture per head. If today’s cattlemen exclusively used 1950s technology, they would need an additional 165 million acres of land – roughly the size of Texas -- to produce the same amount of beef. And since niche-market cows don’t grow as big as their more conventional counterparts, a wholesale backpedal to old-school farming would increase levels of animal-waste pollution by nearly 30 percent.

Is this the environmental outcome Pollan seeks?

Maybe it’s not fair to criticize Pollan for his scientific illiteracy. After all, he gives himself an out in his final Rule #64, “Break the Rules Once in a While.” If there’s a sequel, we think it should begin with Rule #65: Break most of Pollan’s rules most of the time.


Friday, January 22, 2010

As-salt on science in NYC

On Monday, city officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it -- that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America -- is a myth, and this "solution" wouldn't work, anyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on salt, the science tells us that this is not a public-health problem.

Nutritionists at the University of California/Davis just published the first and only study to address salt intake and public policy. They found that people are naturally inclined to regulate salt intake to physiologically determined levels by unconsciously selecting foods to meet their needs -- and even the most extreme interventions don't do much.

The UC Davis study (published in the October issue of The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology) looked at data from more than 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide. It determined that daily sodium intake ranges only from 2,700 milligrams to 4,900 mg, with the worldwide average of 3,700 mg.

It also determined that the average American consumes about 3,400 mg a day -- disproving the claim spread by advocates such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest that US salt consumption is out of control.

In other words, Farley's trying to fight a problem that doesn't exist. Worse, his new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn't exceed 1,500 mg -- which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range the UC Davis study identified, and a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average.

The researchers also cite decades of research describing the specific mechanism by which the central nervous system, acting together with several organ systems, controls our appetite for salt. One of the studies they cite involved hundreds of participants in what was to be a three-year sodium-intake intervention, with the goal of reducing daily intake to 1,850 mg.

But after six months, researchers noted that participants were simply unable to cut sodium intake below about 2,750 mg a day -- close to the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified.

Another study had used intensive dietary counseling to get participants to cut daily sodium intake to an average of 1,775 mg over four weeks. After that, the subjects, while still receiving counseling, were randomly split into two groups -- one getting a sodium tablet, the other a placebo.

Those who got the placebo still raised their intake by nearly 1,000 mg, while those on the sodium tablet actually cut their dietary-sodium consumption to compensate.

These people didn't know how much sodium they were getting -- they unconsciously changed their diets to match what their bodies "knew" they needed.

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has "varied minimally" over the last 25 years, despite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overall, the researchers found, salt intake "is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives," and attempts to change it would "expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals."

The New York guidelines are voluntary -- for now. But the city's ban on trans fats started that way, too. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action -- it may classify it as a "food additive," subject to regulation, sometime this year.

But this campaign isn't about public health -- it's about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activists, when science clearly shows that there's neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake. All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York's last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief), while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers -- literally.


Blueberries proclaimed as wonders again

No control group apparently. Probably just a placebo effect

A pint of blueberry juice a day could help reduce memory loss. Research has shown that the fruit helps sharpen recall, even after memory has started to fail. Pensioners fared up to 40 per cent better on memory tests after drinking a pint of the juice a day for just 12 weeks, the study found.

Researchers in the U.S. set a group of 16 pensioners a series of memory tests and then asked them to drink up to a pint of blueberry juice daily. When their memories were tested again three months later they showed up to a 40 per cent improvement in a word-association task. They were 33 per cent better at memorising lists, and fared better overall than pensioners who drank grape juice, the study, published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found.

The University of Cincinnati researchers attribute the improvements to compounds in the fruit called anthocyanins, which are thought to make it easier for messages to transmit in the brain. Researcher Robert Krikorian called for more research, adding: 'Blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration.'


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Babies fed porridge 'protected from asthma'

As I was fed on porridge from infancy on and right throughout my childhood, I would like to believe this but it is just the usual epidemiological speculation. It sounds like a data dredging result in fact. If you examine enough relationships, you will get some that appear significant by chance alone. The researchers do seem to be saying that porridge is better than mothers' milk, which is a bit weird

Babies fed porridge from an early age may be protected against asthma, according to new research. A study by Finnish scientists suggests that the earlier infants are introduced to porridge, or other foods made from oats, the less likely they are to develop the condition. Their research shows the risk of asthma later in childhood is reduced by almost two-thirds in babies first fed oats before they reach five months of age, compared to those introduced to them later.

Scientists who carried out the study believe early exposure to oats may be crucial in helping to ward off the disease. But the findings conflict with Department of Health infant feeding guidelines, which recommend breastfeeding for six months before introducing solid foods.

At least 1.1 million children in the UK suffer with asthma and the condition kills around 40 youngsters a year. According to Asthma UK, Britain has the highest rates in the world of severe wheeze in young teenagers.

Research has focused on how diet and environment early in life might affect a childs chances of developing the disease. A team of scientists from Finland studied almost 1,300 children whose parents took part in a diet and lifestyle study between 1996 and 2000. They wanted to see if certain foods either raised the risk of asthma and hay fever, or reduced them. Each family recorded infant feeding patterns from an early age and the children were then followed up for at least five years.

The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed babies fed porridge in their first few months of life were 64 per cent less likely to have chest problems as a toddler than those who did not eat it or started later. The same team also found babies fed fish at an early age had much lower rates of hay fever by the time they were five years old.

In a report on their findings, the researchers said: "Oats are a commonly used cereal in Finland, as porridge and bread. Animal and cell experiments suggest oats may affect the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties. "The same is true for fish. Our findings imply that delaying the introduction of oats in infancy may increase the risk of asthma by the age of five in some children."

Porridge has enjoyed something of a revival as a health food in recent years. Some studies suggest a medium-sized bowl each morning can reduce cholesterol by about ten per cent.


It’s not breast-milk that makes babies brainier. It’s clever mothers

Wow! I almost feel that someone has been listening to me

Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever, not because of the nutritional benefits of breast milk, a study suggests. Previous trials have shown that infants fed on formula milk tend to have lower intelligence and the IQ difference has frequently been put down to a deficit of an omega 3 fatty acid, known as DHA, that is normally found in lower concentrations in formula milk.

However, scientists at the Univerisity of Southampton, found no evidence of a link between intelligence and breastfeeding once the mother’s social class and IQ were taken into account.

Dr Catharine Gale, from the University’s MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, who led the study said: “This study helps to dispel some of the myths surrounding DHA. We do know that there are clear health benefits to breast feeding but DHA, which is naturally present in breast milk and added into some formulas, is not the secret ingredient that will turn your child into an Einstein.”

The link between DHA and intelligence was first proposed after studies showing that when animals were deprived of DHA during infancy they showed abnormal neuronal development. However, trials in babies have given conflicting results.

"There’s been a quite inconsistent picture on the link between breastfeeding and intelligence,” said co-author Sian Robinson. According to Dr Robinson, breastfed children have tended to score more highly on intelligence tests since the earliest studies in the 1920s, but they also tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. In the UK 76 per cent of mothers breastfeed initially, but only about 50 per cent continue to breastfeed beyond six weeks.

The researchers analysed data from 241 children and their mothers in the UK, dividing the babies into three groups — breastfed, those fed with formulas fortified with MHA and those fed unfortified formulas.

A detailed history of the babies’ feeding routines was kept and a variety of IQ tests were carried out at the age of four including measures of verbal abilities and attention span. IQ tests at the age of four are strongly predictive of social and professional attainments later in life. In addition, the mothers took an IQ test and gave details of their social class and the baby’s weight at birth.

The breastfed babies performed significantly better than those given unfortified milk. But once the impact of social class and inherited IQ were taken in to account, breastfeeding appeared to have no affect on intelligence.

Since the babies given fortified milk were fed with a number of brands, with a range of concentrations of MHA, the researchers also looked for a direct correlation between total MHA intake and IQ at the age of four, but again found no link. “Factors in the home, such as the mother’s intelligence and what mental stimulation children receive, were the most important influences on their IQ,” said Dr Gale.

However, the researchers said that other health benefits from breastfeeding remain compelling and they support the NHS recommendation to breastfeed babies up until the age of six months. “We’d absolutely stand by that guidance,” said Dr Robinson.

Dr Michael Kramer, a paediatrician at McGill University in Montreal, said that there was a growing consensus that purported links between DHA and IQ had been overplayed. “Some people would still argue that there’s a link, but it’s in the face of very convincing evidence to the contrary,” he said.

However, he said that the latest research did not definitively rule out there being a small effect of breastfeeding on cognitive development. “The physical act itself can encourage emotional bonding between the mother and baby, which could foster healthy development. It could also be that breastfeeding takes longer so those mothers talk to their children more,” he said. [He's good at speculation]


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Diabetes caused by genes and not by overeating? How pesky!

Diet undoubtedly has a role in controlling the effects of diabetes once you've got it but that is a long way from saying that diet causes diabetes. Yet that is the constant claim. I have looked at the "evidence" for that claim previously

One of the largest genetic studies ever undertaken has discovered nine new genes linked to type 2 diabetes, opening a door to new understanding and possible treatment. Scientists from 174 research centres around the world, who studied the genes and blood glucose level of more than 120,000 volunteers, were able to identify a set of genes that control the body’s response to glucose in the blood.

It is hoped the discovery could lead to new treatments for diabetes, which affects more than 220 million people worldwide. Ninety per cent of those have type 2 diabetes, also known as late-onset diabetes because it typically develops later in life. It occurs when the tissues of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, needed to regulate glucose. Sufferers may control the disease with diet and exercise but often have to take drugs and in more serious cases have to inject insulin.

Jim Wilson, a geneticist from Edinburgh University who heads the Scottish cohort study, said: “This is an incredibly important finding. The discovery of these new genes influencing blood-sugar levels is the first step on the important journey to developing new therapies for diabetes. “It opens up a whole new area of research to find which proteins are ‘druggable’. Genetics is like a can-opener: it allows us to get inside and understand what’s going on.”

The hope is that in five to ten years scientists will be able to pinpoint which individuals are genetically susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, and that there will be a drug available which can prevent its onset. “What we have found may not contribute to personalised medicine becoming a reality today, but it will contribute to it happening tomorrow,” Dr Wilson said.

The work, published today by Nature Genetics and the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, involved an unprecedented degree of collaboration. The 122,743 research subjects came from 50 population studies, in the US, Canada, Iceland and Europe, including Scotland, England, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. The work, called MAGIC (Meta-Analyses of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium), is the largest association study published to date. The Scottish research focused upon the ORCADES (Orkney Complex Disease Study) cohort, involving up to 2,000 healthy volunteers from Orkney. The work was funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government and the Royal Society.

The nine new genes include those that influence blood sugar levels and also the first gene influencing levels of insulin. A subset of the genes was associated with diabetes itself.

Dr Wilson said the biological pathways that the genes highlighted were those involved in the control of blood sugar and might point to novel drug targets for glycaemic control. The pathways included not only glucose transport and sensing and pancreatic cell development, but also circadian rhythms and fatty acid metabolism.

To find out which genes are involved in glucose control, the team studied the genes of 50,000 healthy volunteers, also measuring glucose. It then sought to replicate the findings in approximately 75,000 more people.


The fish oil religion again

An ancient religion indeed. And there is no doubt that it can prevent some vitamin deficiencies, which is valuable. But the report below is all theory. There is a lot we don't know about telomeres yet

Fish oils may hold the key to longer and healthier life, claim researchers. They say omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may have a direct effect on extending the lifespan of cells. Their study is the first to link the oils - either from fish or supplements - with the body's ability to resist premature ageing. The 'elixir of life' discovery was made in heart disease patients, who are already advised to increase their fish intake to ward off repeat heart attacks.

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, looked at the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on 608 outpatients with heart disease. They found higher levels of omega-3 slowed down damage to DNA contained in telomeres - tiny 'caps' on the ends of chromosomes which help protect against inflammation and other ageing processes. Having longer telomeres is a sign of being biologically younger and also of being healthier. As people age, their telomeres get shorter and they become more susceptible to certain illnesses. Scientists believe this process is at the heart of many age-related diseases, and may even place a final limit on human lifespan.

Nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, speaking on behalf of the Health Supplements Information Service, said: 'If this link between high omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced ageing is confirmed in other studies, this has important implications for intakes of omega 3 fatty acids.'

At the start of the study, measurements were taken of the length of telomeres in the patients' white blood cells. The tests were carried out again after five years, and showed a clear link with omega-3 intake, says a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Patients consuming the least omega-3 had the fastest rate of telomere shortening while those in the top 25 per cent of consumption levels had the slowest rate.

Lead researcher Dr Ramin Farzaneh-Far said animal research has shown that rodents live a third longer when given a diet enriched with fish-derived omega-3. He said the latest study demonstrated 'a potentially novel pathway for the anti-ageing effects of omega-3 fatty acids'.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines or trout - and fish oil supplements - as well as soya beans, rapeseed oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. White fish is also a healthy food although it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids. But, said Dr Ruxton, Britons fail to consume recommended minimum levels of two fish portions each week, one of which must be oily.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stress really CAN cause heart attacks, say researchers

The journal article "Salivary cortisol responses to mental stress are associated with coronary artery calcification in healthy men and women" is here. It showed that people who got anxious (as measured by cortisol secretion) about doing a silly task had more signs of coronary artery problems -- but that anxiety in general (as measured by cortisol secretion) was not related to coronary artery problems. Figure that one out! I think that "more research is needed" is all that we can politely say

Getting stressed really is bad for your heart, according to new research. For years, stress has been linked to heart attacks and other heart complaints but with very little medical evidence to back it up. Now a major trial by doctors at University College London has proved for the first time that people who get stressed are also likely to have heart disease.

The study involved 514 men and women, with an average age of 62. None had signs of heart disease. Each underwent stress tests and then levels of cortisol - a chemical produced by the body at times of stress and which causes arteries to narrow - were measured. Their arteries were also scanned for any signs of furring and narrowing. Those people who were stressed by the tests were twice as likely to have furred arteries as those who remained calm, the study in the European Heart Journal found.

Cardiologist Professor Avijit Lahiri said: 'This study shows a clear-cut relationship between stress and silent coronary artery disease. This is the first clear proof.'


Benefits of breast screening 'are a myth'

Once again, medical "wisdom" is revealed as folly when properly tested

Thousands of women who attend routine breast screening checks are wrongly told that they have life-threatening cancer and undergo unnecessary treatment each year, researchers claim today.

An independent scientific review of the NHS breast screening programme accuses the Government of providing misleading propaganda to persuade women of the benefits of screening, without mentioning the drawbacks. Ministers, health charities and the majority of doctors encourage women to have regular mammograms in middle age on the basis of estimates that the checks save 1,400 lives each year.

However, the review by the Nordic Cochrane Centre, in Copenhagen, disputes the value of the checks, saying that there is “no convincing evidence” that screening has saved so many lives. Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the researchers say that improvements in breast cancer survival are more to do with improvements in treatment, rather than detection through screening. They add that many healthy women who attend screenings may have had benign conditions “overdiagnosed” by doctors and endured gruelling surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, doctors warned that continuing disputes over the value of breast screening could cause confusion among women and could lead to dangerous diseases being missed. All women aged 50 to 70 are offered breast cancer screening in Britain. More than 1.7 million women take up the invitation every year. As well as detecting tumours developing in the breast, mammography also identifies women who have ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — precancerous lesions contained in the milk ducts, which may develop into cancer. Up to half of women who receive a diagnosis of DCIS never go on to develop breast cancer but, as it is not possible to predict who will, all women with abnormalities are treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Professor Peter G√łtzsche, the lead author of the Cochrane review, said that more than 21,000 women aged 50 to 69 had breast cancer diagnosed in Britain in 2007. He added that one in three of the cancers diagnosed among the screened age group could be “unnecessary” diagnoses of benign DCIS. “Each year 7,000 women in the UK receive an unnecessary breast cancer diagnosis and unnecessary breast cancer treatment because of overdiagnosis in the NHS breast screening programme,” he said.

The Department of Health agreed to review the information leaflets that it publishes on breast screening after a previous study from the Cochrane researchers and a letter from 23 health professionals to The Times criticised their biased nature. The latest review directly criticises the official annual review of the breast screening programme, published by the Department of Health in 2008. “The review exaggerates the benefit, omits the harms, and looks like propaganda aimed at persuasion,” it says. “We arrive at a different conclusion than those who wrote the annual review. There is no convincing evidence that [screening] has saved lives.”

Julietta Patnick, the director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, rejected Professor G√łtzsche’s conclusions. “Numerous independent studies have shown breast cancer screening reduces mortality,” she said. “A report from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that there is a 35 per cent reduction in mortality from breast cancer among regularly screened women aged 50 to 69 years.” [I'll trust a Cochrane review over the corrupt WHO any time]


Monday, January 18, 2010

Blonde women born to be warrior princesses?

There is no sign of this study that I can find in any recent edition of PNAS so I assume that the report below is based on an excerpt from an August 2009 study.

The research is psychologically naive. It purports to show that blondes are more prone to anger but the measures used seem to be the ones given here. They are one-way worded so you can get a high score just by agreeing with everything put to you. So the results may well simply show that blondes tend to agree with any statement put to them -- the "dumb blonde" theory. For background on the folly of using questionnaires where all the statements are worded in the same direction, see here

It really is a case of blonde ambition. Women with fair hair are more aggressive and determined to get their own way than brunettes or redheads, according to a study by the University of California. Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way — the so-called “princess effect”. Even those who dye their hair blonde quickly take on these attributes, experts found.

The study could cast fresh light on the ability of Joanna Lumley, the actress and former model, to pummel ministers into giving all Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK. It may also help to explain the success of the lead character in Legally Blonde, the hit West End musical based on a film starring Reese Witherspoon, who forces her way to the top of law school despite being perceived as ditzy.

The findings about aggression are contained in research by the University of California, Santa Barbara, to discover whether women who are judged more attractive than others are also more likely to lose their tempers to get what they want. “We expected blondes to feel more entitled than other young women — this is southern California, the natural habitat of the privileged blonde,” said Aaron Sell, who led the study which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “What we did not expect to find was how much more warlike they are than their peers on campus.” The researchers believe this is a useful measure of how far women are prepared to fight for their own interests.

The study, which examined links between confidence and aggression, involved 156 female undergraduates. It showed that blondes were more likely to be treated better than other women and were more willing to “go to war”. However, they were less likely than brunettes or redheads to get into a fight themselves — possibly to ensure they preserved their looks.

The research did confirm one theory: when male students were asked to rate the attractiveness of their female counterparts, blondes gained the highest scores.

Sell suspects that blondes exist in a “bubble” where they have been treated better than other people for so long they do not realise that men, in particular, are more deferential towards them than other women. “They may not even realise they are treated like a princess,” Sell said.

His research indicated that the more “special” people feel, judged by physical strength for men and looks for women, the more likely they are to get angry to reach social goals. “I become more battling when I’m blonde,” said Vanessa Feltz, the broadcaster, who admits to dying her hair. “You’re noticed more.”

While more than 85% of the world’s population have black hair and brown eyes, Europe has been varied since the first blondes emerged 11,000 years ago because of a genetic mutation. There is even a “blond line” running from Suffolk to Liverpool. If you live south of the line you are 20%-49% likely to have fair hair; above it the odds leap to 50%-79% because of Scandinavian genes.

“Blondes are more confident in their abilities, although the results do not necessarily support their confidence,” said Catherine Salmon, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Redlands, California. “Maybe responding to their own stereotypes, brunettes tend to work harder and expect less special treatment. Women who go blonde quickly get used to the privileges of blondeness — usually male attentiveness.”

However, some blondes dispute the research. “As I’ve been every colour of hair under the sun and I’m not sure that my temperament has changed with my hair colour, I can’t verify this as true,” said the actress Emilia Fox, the star of Silent Witness. “My ambition comes from enjoying working hard, rather than being blonde.”



An emailed comment from Prof. Sell follows:

"Please distinguish between the research itself and journalists' interpretations of such research. The word "blonde" does not appear anywhere in my paper (you correctly cite my 2009 paper in PNAS) which had nothing to do with hair. The words attributed to me in the piece you are commenting on are inaccurate. I've never referred to blondes as "princesses" for example."

Dairy rabbits!

SCIENTISTS are creating herds of dairy rabbits to exploit the medical benefits of their milk. The first commercial milking of rabbits, using specially adapted eight-teat machines, is already taking place at a farm in Holland.

The rabbits have been genetically modified to include a human gene, which means their milk contains a protein called C1 inhibitor. C1 helps control inflammation in the body, and a lack of it can be highly damaging.

The milk protein is intended to prevent the rejection of transplant organs and tissue damage in survivors of strokes and heart attacks, as well as helping car crash victims who have suffered traumatic bruising to internal organs.

C1 can be harvested from human blood and other animal sources, but is expensive to obtain and carries the risk of contamination and infection with viruses such as Aids or CJD, the human version of “mad cow disease”. Such issues do not arise with milk from the high-tech rabbit farm.

The milk could also help to treat the hereditary immune disorder angioedema. The condition, partly caused by a lack of C1, affects 2,000 people in Britain. So far 200 patients have taken part in trials for Rhucin, a treatment derived from the rabbit milk. It is awaiting approval from European drug regulators and will be launched in the UK later this year.

Hilary Longhurst, an immunologist at Barts hospital in London, said: “I am really excited. This therapy will transform the lives of sufferers.”

Further farms are expected to open to meet demand. Sijmen de Vries, the chief executive of Pharming, the biotech company behind the project, said: “There is a great unmet need for this product. We have the capacity to produce it cheaply in unlimited quantities.” A contented New Zealand white rabbit can produce 140ml a day. “The rabbits are highly productive and reproductive,” added de Vries.