Sunday, February 28, 2010

Toward a Hair-Shirt Army?

In the middle of the Marja offensive, General Stanley McChrystal has turned his attention to what seems to me to be a non-problem. He just ordered commercial fast food establishments at American bases in Afghanistan to shut, along with many stores selling non-essential items.

“MWR should never be the distracter that changes the focus of the mission,” General McChrystal stated, using the military acronym for “morale, welfare and recreation”. I’m not sure how the amount of activity I’ve seen at the half dozen fast food outlets at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) could impair readiness – much less the scene at the solitary little Subway at the Salerno Airfield in Khost.

According to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall another item that’s to go is first-run film screenings. The argument is that they will “free up much-needed storage facilities” in Bagram and Kandahar to make room for additional equipment to support the surge troops.

How much space does a film reel take up? Seeing a movie in a public screening room is a communal, social experience; watching on your laptop in your bunk is not. A real screening is a harmless plus in a war zone.

I myself avoid fast food to the point of preferring to go hungry, but banning it strikes me as silly —and culturally fascinating. It’s all about a new monasticism, exemplified by the General himself, who only eats one meal a day. It’s about ideology rather than practicality. And it’s historically at odds with the culture of soldiering, which until well into the 20th century still retained the raffishness of both its aristocratic and its ruffian origins.

My guess is that this new monasticism is another way the American public has outsourced our wars: Our soldiers should be ascetics, with lots less opportunities for fun or relaxation than they used to have, while citizens at home become more and more coddled, unfit, and unwilling to defend their country.

The typical enlisted soldier in the American Army in Afghanistan doesn’t have a cushy life. He lives in a remote combat outpost—and enjoys it. But he also gets homesick. It gets old patrolling a muddy little bazaar where the most exciting thing on offer is off-brand Pakistani chips, and there is nothing like civil society: No art, culture, or sports. Maybe once a month, this 20-year-old man gets to go on a convoy to one of the bigger bases—perhaps Salerno or KAF. Why is McChrystal so keen to deprive him of the pleasure of a Whopper and shake?

I read that significant numbers of soldiers are prescribed anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds, and weird drug abuse like inhaling canned air is apparently rife, so isn’t keeping the harmless little indulgences of life a more reasonable option?

To be fair, Hall promises improvements in gym facilities and more bandwidth for “more affordable (perhaps even free) Internet services.” This is a good step. While gyms at the bases in regional headquarters are excellent, they become much less impressive as you move to more provincial capitals like Qalat or Mehtar Lam. And in a tiny, remote outpost like Nawbahar, Zabul, the gym is outdoors and consists of pretty beat up old equipment. Yet it’s in places like this that a higher level of fitness is needed. Staff officers at KAF aren’t going to be running in full battle gear across a 6,500-feet elevation plateau chasing the Taliban.

Some would go further than I in rewarding our troops. A retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam vet, Charles Krohn, recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that we should bring back the Vietnam-era two-beer-a-day ration as a way of preventing binge drinking. As to readiness issues, he wrote of Vietnam in a private e-mail to me that “the issue was irrelevant when soldiers went to the field: (1) we had enough to carry and (2) field operations were life and death, and we all wanted to load the odds in our favor.”

Afghanistan can be a strange place to be deployed; in many areas, there is no shooting war, but then you drive your Humvee down the road one day and your legs are blown off. The young men and women who volunteer to serve there deserve some consolations. They aren’t to blame for the fact that the generals have not won the war —and taking away their little comforts isn’t a substitute for a strategy.


Medical "experts" proved wrong again

THEY have proved all the doomsayers wrong. It's a quarter of a century since retired Brisbane surgeon Russell Strong attracted fierce controversy, giving two-year-old Rhonda Natera a new liver - and with it, a new life. Ms Natera, Australia's first child liver transplant recipient, is now a healthy 27-year-old, and Professor Strong has since been described by colleagues as "Australia's greatest living surgeon", celebrated around the world.

But the opposition to liver transplants in children could not have been more hostile in the lead-up to Prof Strong operating on Rhonda, who was dying of bilary artresia, in 1985.

The procedure had been successfully performed overseas but one Australian ethicist proclaimed it would result in "stunted" children, incapable of living a normal life, and described the surgery as "bordering on obscenity".

The then editor of the Medical Journal of Australia was also scathing in his opposition. "No doubt the surgeons are really nice people, kind to dogs, cats and their own children – once they take off their masks and leave the supercharged atmosphere of the operating room," he wrote at the time. "But then, away from the laboratory, probably Dr Mengele was kind to children, too. "The medical profession in Western nations must act to curb the extravagant behaviour of its super technologists, whose manual dexterity has far outgrown their vestigial senses of judgment."

But history has proved the critics misguided. Ms Natera is now the mother of two boys, Maleque, 8, and Kyzark, 4, and she lives a "pretty normal life" with partner Presley. "I'm still going fine. I rarely get sick," she said yesterday. "I'm just grateful. Before the donor organ became available I was pretty much on the way out."

In the years after the groundbreaking surgery, Prof Strong earned international acclaim for his advances in the liver transplant field. In 1987 he revolutionised liver transplant surgery in children by cutting an adult liver down to fit inside a dying little girl – an idea initially derided by many of his international colleagues. "I just remember them saying, 'this is a nonsense'," Prof Strong said. "They just laughed at me."

The procedure has since been referred to internationally as "the Brisbane technique" and has saved the lives of thousands of children. "'Now, about 75 per cent of all children's transplants are done by the Brisbane technique around the world and in children less than three years of age, it's over 90 per cent," Prof Strong said.

In 1989 Prof Strong used it to perform the first successful live donor liver transplant, saving the life of a Japanese boy who received a portion of his mother's liver.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

How a happy marriage can cut stroke risk

There may be something in this but it could equally be that healthier men have happier marriages. Basing any conclusions on just 3.6% of your sample seems a bit wacky, though. That 3.6% might have had other things wrong with them other than being dissatisfied with their marriage. Perhaps they were just generally dissatisfied and unhappy etc.

Happily-married men are much less likely to suffer a stroke than their single or unhappily married friends, according to research. Single men and those in unsuccessful marriages were 64 per cent more likely to have a stroke than men in successful marriages. Scientists said having an unhappy marriage or being single was as big a risk to men's chances of having a stroke as suffering from diabetes.

Their research followed 10,059 civil servants and council workers who completed the Israeli Ischaemic Heart Disease Study in 1963. They tracked the men to 1997 to check their cause of death. In 1965, two years after the first study, the participants were asked to rate their marriages as successful or unsuccessful, or to say if they have never married.

Dr Uri Goldbourt, of Tel Aviv University, who carried out the study, said: 'An analysis of the 3.6 per cent of men who had reported dissatisfaction in their marriage found the adjusted risk of a fatal stroke was 64 per cent higher, compared with men who considered their marriages very successful. 'I had not expected that unsuccessful marriage would be of this statistical importance.' Dr Goldbourt said the risk of stroke was just as high for single men as it was for those stuck in dead end marriages.

He reached his conclusions after making statistical adjustments for factors such as social class, obesity, blood pressure, smoking habits and family size, as well as existing diabetes-and heart disease. The study did not look at whether women's chance of suffering strokes was reduced if they had a happy marriage.

Dr Goldbourt admitted his research had several limitations. 'There was a lack of data on nonfatal versus fatal strokes and on participants' medical treatment after the first five years of the initial study,' he said. 'Women also weren't included.'


The Danger of Daily Aspirin

If you're taking a daily aspirin for your heart, you may want to reconsider. For years, many middle-aged people have taken the drug in hopes of reducing the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Americans bought more than 44 million packages of low-dose aspirin marketed for heart protection in the year ended September, up about 12% from 2005, according to research firm IMS Health.

Now, medical experts say some people who are taking aspirin on a regular basis should think about stopping. Public-health officials are scaling back official recommendations for the painkiller to target a narrower group of patients who are at risk of a heart attack or stroke. The concern is that aspirin's side effects, which can include bleeding ulcers, might outweigh the potential benefits when taken by many healthy or older people.

"Not everybody needs to take aspirin," says Sidney Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina who is chairing a new National Institutes of Health effort to compile treatment recommendations on cardiovascular-disease prevention. Physicians are beginning to tailor aspirin recommendations to "groups where the benefits are especially well established," he says.

Doctors generally agree that most patients who have already suffered a heart attack or ischemic stroke, the type caused by a clot or other obstruction blocking an artery to the brain, should take regular low-dose aspirin. But for people without heart disease, the newest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force spell out much more clearly than before when aspirin should be administered.

The guidelines, announced last year, suggest aspirin for certain men 45 to 79 years old with elevated heart-disease risk because of factors like cholesterol levels and smoking. For women, the guidelines don't focus on heart risk. Instead, the task force recommends certain women should take aspirin regularly if they are 55 to 79 and are in danger of having an ischemic stroke, for reasons that could include high blood pressure and diabetes.

The panel urged doctors to factor in conditions that could increase a patient's risk of bleeding from aspirin, which tends to rise with age. The group didn't designate a dose, but suggested that an appropriate amount might be 75 milligrams a day, which is close to the 81mg contained in low-dose, or "baby," aspirin. The task force didn't take a position on aspirin for people who are 80 and older because of a lack of data in this age group.

The task force issued its latest guidelines after reviewing the evidence from a number of studies on aspirin's benefits and risks. The recommendations update the panel's previous guidelines from 2002, which were more broadly written. Those suggested aspirin use for people of any age who were at elevated risk of heart disease.

"We would like doctors to re-look at their patients who are on aspirin and consider recommending stopping it where the chance of harm outweighs the benefit," says Ned Calonge, a Colorado public-health official who serves as the task force's chairman. He notes, however, that in studies of healthy people taking aspirin, the actual rates of bleeding and of prevented heart attacks were very low.

Not all patients accustomed to taking aspirin will want to stop. Maxine Fischer, 55 years old, recently figured out that under the new U.S. guidelines, she wouldn't be encouraged to continue with the drug. Using an online calculator, which factored such data as her age, blood pressure and medical history, she learned she had just a 1% likelihood of a stroke in the next 10 years. Under the guidelines, only women in her age group with at least a 3% or higher stroke risk should take aspirin.

Ms. Fischer, who works as a manager for seniors' lobby AARP in San Diego, has taken aspirin daily for two years after reading it could reduce the risk of stroke. For the moment, she says she'll keep it up, partly because she's more worried about strokes than ulcers. Strokes are "the big scary thing," she says.

Other patients say they would stick with aspirin because of other benefits attributed to the drug; past research has suggested that regular aspirin may reduce the risk of colon cancer, for instance. Virginia Douglas, 64, a retired trade-association executive, takes aspirin a few times a week. In addition to the possibly reduced risk of stroke, Ms. Douglas hopes to avoid colon cancer, which affected her father and grandfather. "There's always a new study with a new recommendation," says Ms. Douglas, of Sacramento, Calif. "You have to do what's best for you."

In a separate analysis, published in medical journal Lancet last May, an international group of scientists reached a broadly similar conclusion as did the U.S. task force—that doctors may have been recommending aspirin too widely. "You really have to have a clear margin of benefit over hazard before you should be treating healthy people," says Colin Baigent, a professor at Oxford University who coordinated the Lancet analysis.

Still, the Lancet authors disagreed with the U.S. panel on some important details, particularly about who should be taking aspirin. The two groups examined evidence largely from the same studies of the drug, although the international team analyzed the data differently. In the end, the international team of scientists, unlike the U.S. officials, concluded that aspirin's effects on men and women were mostly the same.

Another disagreement between the two groups also emerged: The U.S. task force said that age is the biggest factor determining a person's risk of internal bleeding from aspirin. But the international team said other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, also play a significant role. Unfortunately, the scientists noted, the same factors that increase patients' risk of bleeding also increase their risk of developing heart disease. This, in turn, can make it more difficult to calculate whether the benefits of aspirin would outweigh the risks of side effects.

The U.S. task force responded with a letter to the Lancet, defending its finding that men and women's results did appear different. There is a "wealth of evidence that men and women have different cardiovascular disease manifestations and respond differently to aspirin," the letter said. The panel also reiterated its position that bleeding risk is best parsed by age.

Amid the debate, some individual doctors are finding their own position. Rodney Hayward, who codirects a Veterans Affairs research center in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he's not convinced that aspirin's effects on men and women are so different. He says he continues to recommend aspirin for certain patients of both sexes with significant heart risk.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Marks drop as kids fail fitness test

I am pleased to see that age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity, and body size were allowed for: A rare degree of sophistication. Given such controls, the study is some confirmation for the notion of general biological fitness (as shown in the fact that high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer). One would of course expect physical fitness to be part of general biological fitness. Putting the cause the other way around and saying that fitness increased IQ is most unlikely and certainly speculative. All controlled attempts to raise IQ have found it to be most intractable

GETTING students to exercise more might not just address obesity issues, but also improve their grades. A US study found physically fit students scored higher in tests than their less fit peers. Test scores dropped more than one point for each extra minute it took middle and high school students to complete a 1600m run/walk fitness test, according to Dr William J McCarthy and colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles. For optimal brain function "it's good to be both aerobically fit and to have a healthy body shape", Dr McCarthy said.

Dr McCarthy's team compared physical fitness and body weight measures with scores on California's standardised maths, reading, and language tests among 749 fifth-graders, 761 seventh-graders, and 479 ninth-graders who attended schools between 2002 and 2003.

About half of the students were girls, 60 per cent were white, 26 per cent were of Hispanic ethnicity, and about 7 per cent each were African American and Asian/Pacific Islander. Almost 32 per cent of the students were overweight and about 28 per cent were obese, the researchers reported in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The researchers estimated students' aerobic fitness according to their times on a flat track. With a 15-minute maximum allowed time to complete the test, the boys averaged slightly less than 10 minutes, while the girls averaged a little less than 11 minutes.

Mr McCarthy's team found that nearly two-thirds of the students (65 per cent) fell below the state fitness standard for their age and gender. Compared with these students, students who met or exceeded fitness standards had higher average test scores. Allowing for age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity, and body size did not significantly alter this association.

Compared with students of desirable weight, overweight and obese students also scored significantly lower on tests, the researchers found.


Proposed Soda Taxes Fall Flat, Says Black Activist, Calls Demonization of Carbonated Beverages Yet Another Progressive Attack on Liberty

Proposed soda taxes fall flat, according to Deneen Borelli, a fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network, who says the demonization of carbonated beverages is just another example of the progressive attack on liberty. "After the Obama Administration tried to put itself between me and my doctor with its health care plan, the White House - along with Governor David Paterson and Mayor Gavin Newsom - now want to come between me and my can of soda," said Borelli.

"Raising taxes during hard economic times is a horrible idea and it's doomed to failure," added Borelli. "Elected officials should be focused on lowering taxes to getting our economy growing in order to stimulate job growth. Instead you have Mayor Newsom in San Francisco and Governor Paterson in New York using the 'obesity card' to make up for their budget shortfalls. Punishing consumers, beverage companies, bottling companies and small business owners will only add to our economic troubles. These politicians need to put themselves on a spending diet and worry about their bloated budgets and let me worry about my waistline."

Borelli continued: "And then you've got Michelle Obama and the Obama Administration leaning on schools and on the beverage and snack food industries to reform their wicked ways. In spreading their gospel against sugary treats, they will hurt the ability of Paterson and Newsom to reap their sin taxes. It's clear the progressives can't have it both ways despite their ambitions. The only one harmed in the end will be the American consumer."

In New York, Governor David Paterson (D) has reintroduced a $1.28 per gallon tax on sugared sodas - a proposal he first proposed and later abandoned in 2009. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) has announced his intention to introduce legislation to impose a undisclosed fee on retailers selling sugary beverages. By targeting retailers, Newsom bypasses the need to subject the tax to a voter referendum.

At the same time, First Lady Michelle Obama is the public face of the Obama Administration's legislative drive to attack the presence of soda and snacks in schools. On February 9, she announced the "Let's Move" campaign to allegedly "end the American plague of childhood obesity in a single generation." While she asserted the role of the government would be "minor" in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, her husband is creating a federal task force on the issue charged with formulating a "long-term action plan." Additionally, Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on February 8 that he intends to ban candy and soda from schools. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is expected to introduce legislation codifying this ban as part of the reauthorization of school meal programs.

"Social engineering is at the heart of the progressive movement," Borelli continued. "The Obama Administration sought a cap-and-trade emissions policy that would raise energy prices and thus force Americans to use less energy. Then it was government mandates on health issues. Now, it's discriminatory taxes on food and beverages. It seems there is nothing the so-called progressives will not tax and no liberty they will not assault to support their worldview."


Soda Bad, Juice Good?…

by John Stossel

My years of consumer reporting have taught me: often what you think you know… is not so. We’re told that soda is bad, if not evil. It’s loaded with sugar. Sugar makes people fat. Rots their teeth. It provide only empty calories. On the other hand, fruit is good… and therefore fruit juice is good. Give the kids fruit juice instead of soda. Juice ads brag that fruit juice is the “natural” drink.

What the ads don’t tell you is that fruit juice contains as much sugar as Coke and Pepsi: ten teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. glass. The Los Angeles Times explains that fruit juice can be more fattening, and maybe worse for you, than soda: "Ounce per ounce, it contains more calories than soda, though it tends to be consumed in smaller servings. A cup of orange juice has 112 calories, apple juice has 114, and grape juice packs 152, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same amount of Coke has 97 calories, and Pepsi has 100… Making matters worse, the human body is ill-equipped to process the sugar that is concentrated in a glass of juice. When fructose is eaten in a piece of fruit, it enters the body slowly so the liver has time to convert it into chemical energy. But a single glass of apple juice has the fructose of six apples."

I asked Sarah Wally, who speaks for the Juice Products Association, why juice companies have the nerve to promote their products as healthy. Her answer: “We have to look at the nutrient content of 100% juice. And it’s supplying important vitamins and minerals and it’s supplying a full serving of fruit in just a half a cup of fruit juice.”

In fairness, fruit juice does give you some vitamins and nutrients. But just don’t forget that it also gives you 10 teaspoons of sugar.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Doctors Urging for a Safer, Choke-Free Hot Dog‏

Why not safer candy, gum, coins, carrots, grapes, apples, popcorn, peanuts, marshmallows and balloons too? Kids have choked on all of those. And let's ban steaks too. Lots of people choke on steak. Let's all eat ground beef only, with tofu on the side

When 4-year-old Eric Stavros Adler choked to death on a piece of hot dog, his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids' food could be so dangerous. Some food makers including Oscar Mayer have warning labels about choking, but not nearly enough, says Joan Stavros Adler, Eric's mom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. The nation's largest pediatricians group is calling for sweeping changes in the way food is designed and labeled to minimize children's chances for choking.

Choking kills more than 100 U.S. children 14 years or younger each year and thousands more — 15,000 in 2001 — are treated in emergency rooms. Food, including candy and gum, is among the leading culprits, along with items like coins and balloons. Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related.

Surveillance systems lack detailed information about food choking incidents, which are thought to be underreported but remain a significant and under-appreciated problem, said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Smith is lead author of a new policy report from the pediatrics academy that seeks to make choking prevention a priority for government and food makers. The report was released Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors say high-risk foods, including hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes and apples — should be cut into pea-sized pieces for small children to reduce chances of choking. Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn't be given to young children at all.

Federal law requires choking warning labels on certain toys including small balls, balloons and games with small parts. Unless food makers voluntarily put more warning labels on high-risk foods, there should be a similar mandate for food, the pediatrics academy says.

Adler, a Warren, N.J. attorney who pushed for more warning labels after her son died in 2001, says she hopes the academy's efforts will work. Several efforts to pass federal legislation for labels have failed in Congress....

Adler considered herself educated about children's safety. Her son had eaten hot dogs before without any problem. Hot dogs are "almost as American as apple pie," she said. "You really don't know how horrible it can be."


Federal Racketeering Lawsuit Stuns HSUS

You may have missed our New Year’s Eve exposé covering the dismissal of a federal lawsuit pushed by a consortium of animal rights groups that included the deceptive Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The groups alleged that Feld Entertainment (the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) mistreated elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act, but in December a judge tossed out the lawsuit.

Now the plot thickens: The circus is suing HSUS, two HSUS lawyers, and a number of other animal rights organizations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. (The lawsuit is exclusively available at

The original animal rights lawsuit, filed more than nine years ago, was based on information provided by a former Ringling elephant “barn helper” named Tom Rider. After Rider left his circus job, he was paid by animal rights groups to testify about the supposedly “bad” treatment of elephants there. In all, the original lawsuit’s plaintiffs paid Rider more than $190,000 —his sole source of income for years— while the litigation made its way through the court system.

Sound a bit like pay-for-play? As Judge Emmet Sullivan noted in his December ruling that dismissed the animal rights groups’ lawsuit: “The Court finds that Mr. Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony…. [T]he primary purpose [for the payments] is to keep Mr. Rider involved with the litigation…”

Based on Judge Sullivan’s finding, Feld is suing everyone who played a part in this collaborative scheme (hence the “racketeering” aspect). This includes Rider and a nonprofit “Wildlife Advocacy Project” charity that the Washington, DC law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal allegedly used to launder money between their plaintiff clients and Rider.

One of these clients putting up dough to support Rider was the Fund for Animals, which merged with HSUS in 2004.

Feld is leveling bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice, and money laundering charges against HSUS and two of its corporate attorneys, three other animal rights groups, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, and all three of that firm’s named partners. It’s an earth-shattering lawsuit. Today we’re telling the media:
America’s farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, research scientists, fashion designers, and restaurateurs have seen for decades how the animal rights movement can behave like a mobbed-up racket. But it’s still shocking to see the evidence laid out on paper. In a treble-damage lawsuit like this, a jury could actually do the humane thing and finally put HSUS out of business completely.

You can read the full, 135-page lawsuit over at HumaneWatch. It’s worth more than a glance. If these allegations are proven true, HSUS employees might be finding themselves walking the same breadline they’ve tried to put so many others in.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Red wine and dark chocolate cancer killers (?)

This is all just assertion. Where are these findings in the published literature? I know of no double blind studies supporting these alleged therapeutic effects of food in humans. On the Angiogenesis Foundation site, all the reported studies about food are just said to be "suggestive"

Red grapes and dark chocolate join blueberries, garlic, soy, and teas as ingredients that starve cancer while feeding bodies, Angiogenesis Foundation head William Li said at a prestigious TED Conference. "We are rating foods based on their cancer-fighting qualities," Li said. "What we eat is really our chemotherapy three times a day."

The Massachusetts-based foundation is identifying foods containing chemicals that evidently choke-off blood supplies to tumors, starving them to death. Li cited a Harvard Medical School study showing that men who ate cooked tomatoes several times weekly were 30 to 50 percent less likely to have prostate cancer.

"There is a medical revolution happening all around us," Li said. "If we're right, it could impact on consumer education, food service, public health, and even insurance agencies."

About a dozen drugs are already in use to deprive tumors of blood supplies in a treatment tactic called "anti-angiogenesis. The foundation pitted some foods against approved drugs and found that soy, parsley, red grapes, berries and other comestibles were either as effective or more potent in battling cancer cells. Eaten together, the foods were even more effective in fighting cancer.

"We discovered that Mother Nature laced a large number of foods and herbs with anti-angiogenesis features," Li said. "For many people around the world, dietary cancer treatment may be the only solution because not everyone can afford cancer drugs." The foundation also discovered that anti-angiogenesis properties of foods melt away fat, which relies heavily on blood flow to sustain itself.

Tests showed that mice genetically prone to be chubby could be trimmed to average mouse size using the approach. "It got weight down to a set point for normal mice," Li said. "In other words, we can't create supermodel mice."


Having a nap after lunch can increase your intelligence, a new study claims

As I am an inveterate napper, I am not going to argue with this one. It seems a good study anyway

Researchers have found that sleeping for an hour in the afternoon boosts brain power and dramatically increases its ability to learn new facts and tasks. On the other hand, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become and the less able to absorb new information. "Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Professor Matthew Walker, who led the study at the University of California.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Prof Walker said the results support previous research that found “pulling an all-nighter” – or cramming for exams reduced ability to learn new facts by 40 per cent. The reason was due to a shutdown of parts of the brain regions due to sleep deprivation and the filling up of the short term memory that was usually filed and emptied during periods of sleep.

Scientists have long suspected that there is a link between sleep and memory and have suggested that it acts like a sort of filing system, enabling the brain to distinguish between important and useless information.

In the latest study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups – nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain where fact-based memories are first stored. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

At 2 pm, the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 pm, participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.

These findings reinforce the researchers' hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Prof Walker. Prof Walker said that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, the filing cabinet of the mind. "It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail,” said Prof Walker. “It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”

In the latest study, Prof Walker and his team have broken new ground in discovering that this memory-refreshing process occurs when nappers are engaged in a specific stage of sleep.

Electroencephalogram tests, which measure electrical activity in the brain, indicated that this refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2 non-Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known simply as REM.

Previously, the purpose of this stage was unclear, but the new results offer evidence as to why humans spend at least half their sleeping hours in Stage 2, non-REM, Prof Walker said. "I can't imagine Mother Nature would have us spend 50 percent of the night going from one sleep stage to another for no reason," Prof Walker said. "Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need."

Prof Walker and his team will go on to investigate whether the reduction of sleep experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented decrease in our ability to learn as we age. Finding that link may be helpful in understanding such neurodegenerative conditions as Alzheimer's disease, Prof Walker said.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Great Asbestos Hysteria: The BBC, profiteering firms and politicians have exaggerated the dangers

Yesterday saw the launch of yet another scare campaign. As so often before championed by the BBC, it warned us again of the deadly dangers posed by asbestos - this time in Britain's schools.

In the past 30 years, it was claimed on Radio 4's Today programme, 178 teachers have died of asbestos-related diseases - and their numbers are rising all the time. Indeed, according to a new study backed by the teaching unions and cited by the Today programme report, three-quarters of our schools contain asbestos - and almost none of it is being properly 'managed' as the law dictates.

It sounds horrific, as though hundreds of thousands of children and their teachers are being daily put at risk by exposure to a substance as deadly as anthrax. Yet the truth is that this is just the latest in a series of attempts to whip up mass hysteria over the dangers of asbestos in schools, which are, in reality, all but non-existent.

No one would deny that asbestos, which has been used as a heat retardant and binding agent for centuries, can cause serious health problems. The fibres of some types of asbestos have been linked to various forms of cancer. But too often the scare stories are based on fiction, not fact.

A few years ago, for example, much publicity was given to a similar bid to alarm Britain's parents. This one centred on a claim by a Michael Lees, whose teacher wife had supposedly died of an asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. It claimed that 'death-trap classrooms' were 'riddled with asbestos' and had claimed the lives of no fewer than 147 teachers between 1991 and 2000.

When Mr Lees's claim was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive - the Government agency responsible for enforcing asbestos regulation - however, it found his belief that 'the number of deaths of primary school teachers from mesothelioma was disproportionately high' was 'not borne out by the facts'. The death rate among female teachers, it turned out, was no higher than for the rest of the female working population - and was anyway extremely low.

It is true that most older school buildings contain asbestos products of one kind or another, such as asbestos cement roof slates or ceiling tiles. But almost all of these products contain relatively harmless white asbestos, encapsulated in cement or other materials, from which it is virtually impossible to extract even a single dangerous fibre. The dangers from such products are so vanishingly small - as many scientific studies have shown - that, in the cautious words of a report by the HSE itself, they are 'insignificant'. The risks of their causing lung cancer are 'arguably zero'.

This is why the HSE correctly advises school authorities to leave asbestos products in place and intact wherever they are serving a useful purpose - such as minimising the risk of fire or providing effective roofing.

So why these repeated attempts to whip up people's fears over what all the evidence reveals to be a non- existent problem? Part of the problem is that there is money to be made from fuelling asbestos hysteria. First, licensed asbestos removal contractors can all too often charge exorbitant sums for handling and disposing of this 'deadly' material. Second, a new breed of law firm, which specialises in compensation claims and takes a healthy cut from any successful cases, is keen to tout for custom. They will even pay commissions to trade unions, such as those representing teachers, for any potential 'clients' passed on to them.

And both benefit from a general ignorance of what asbestos really is. The word 'asbestos' is, in fact, a non- scientific term used to cover two very different substances. It is now more than 50 years since the iron silicate minerals known as 'blue' and 'brown' asbestos were discovered to be highly dangerous, killing tens of thousands of people in very unpleasant ways. Their use amounted to one of the nastier public health disasters of the 20th century and was a terrible tragedy for all those who suffered. On the back of this, compensation claims - particularly in America - amounted to many billions of dollars.

But the devil got into the story when this justified concern was then used, by sleight of hand, to demonise a quite different mineral: 'white' asbestos, which is used to make more than 90 per cent of all the asbestos products in the world. For ' white' asbestos, as even the HSE has acknowledged, is 500 times less dangerous than the 'blue' form, because its soft magnesium silicate fibres rapidly dissolve in the human lung. And when it is encapsulated in cement, as it most often is, it is virtually impossible for those fibres to escape and be breathed into the lungs at all.

Shamefully, however, our gullible lawmakers have allowed themselves to be talked into confusing the genuinely dangerous forms of asbestos with those that pose no risk - simply because they share the same general name. And this has paved the way for these two commercial rackets.

The new army of specialist asbestos removal contractors, the only professionals now allowed to handle asbestos, certainly have a vested interest in exaggerating the dangers of products which are, in effect, harmless. As does the ' compensation' industry, which makes a fortune from claims.

No one could be more deserving of sympathy than the genuine-victims of asbestos-related diseases, the vast majority of whom were dockyard workers, electricians and plumbers, exposed to the dangerous forms of asbestos in the years before those risks were properly recognised. But this genuine concern has now been used to whip up unjustified alarm over products which are safe, leaving us to face yet another of those damaging and unnecessary 'scares' of which our society has seen too many in recent years.

And make no mistake: it is costing us a fortune. Indeed, many people are so confused that they can be fooled into imagining that a harmless asbestos roof might somehow pose a lethal danger - and duped into paying through the nose to have it replaced.

Even the once sensible HSE has been drawn into supporting the scare machine, so that it was recently forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw a series of commercials claiming that mesothelioma is now killing 4,500 people a year. When John Bridle, the whistleblower who brought this successful complaint against the HSE for ludicrously exaggerating its figures, he did so simply by producing the evidence of the HSE's own published statistics, which showed the figure was closer to 2,000 at the very worst.

The contractors, lawyers and the BBC might want to scaremonger with this latest attempt to frighten us into imagining our children are dying from exposure to the roof on a school classroom - but it's time the truth came out. Or we're going to unnecessarily scare an awful lot of people and be left picking up a very large bill.


SOME IVF children have higher risk of infertility, obesity and diabetes

"In terms of absolute numbers this is not very important". It does seem clear, however, that the more risky ICSI procedure is overused

Britain faces an infertility timebomb because a generation of IVF babies may have inherited their parents' inability to conceive, a leading doctor has warned. More than 260,000 children born from IVF treatment in the UK are at greater risk of health problems than naturally conceived youngsters, a conference heard yesterday. And as the generation of IVF children reaches adulthood, many will discover they too are unable to have babies naturally.

IVF pioneer Dr Andre van Steirteghem also accused clinics of putting patients at unnecessary risk by 'overusing' a technique he invented for male infertility more than two decades ago. 'There are genetic causes of infertility that you can pass on,' said Dr Van Steirteghem. 'It means that the next generation may be infertile as well and this is something all clinics should mention to the patients - that if there is a genetic origin that this genetic origin of infertility may be transmitted to the next generation.'

IVF - or in vitro fertilisation - is one of the fastest and most profitable branches of medicine. Last year, the £500million fertility industry used it to produce more than 13,000 babies. Fertility treatment is so common that one child in every primary school year group is thought to have been conceived in a fertility clinic.

But the growth of IVF may have come at a cost to a small, but significant, minority of children. Studies have shown that test-tube babies are slightly more likely to suffer from birth defects. Because so many are twins and triplets, they are also at greater risk of low birth weight, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure later in life. Doctors fear many IVF babies will also inherit the genetic mutations that caused their mother or father's infertility.

Dr Van Steirteghem, of the Brussels Free University Centre for Reproductive Medicine, said most parents accepted the risk that their children could have fertility problems - and that future doctors would be able to treat them. 'Overall these children do well,' he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego. 'Are there any negative things? Yes. There are a few more problems with these children. In terms of absolute numbers this is not very important.

'If you talk about malformation rate this will go from a background of 3.5 per cent of all births after spontaneous conception to about 4 per cent to 5 per cent and there may be some other problems as well. We have to follow up these children to see what will happen later on. It's important to know.'

The risks of birth defects are higher for babies born using ICSI - or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection - a treatment for infertile men in which an individual sperm is selected and injected directly into an egg. In Britain, it is used in around 43 per cent of fertility treatment cycles, while the rate in some private clinics is 77 per cent. Dr Van Steirteghem, who invented ICSI in the 1980s, called for clinics to cut down on its use. Some studies have shown it leads to slightly lower pregnancy rates, while it costs twice as much as standard IVF.

There are also concerns ICSI uses sperm that would normally be too unfit to fertilise an egg, increasing the risks of genetic defects in the child. 'When you have a method like conventional IVF which is certainly less invasive than ICSI and that can help couples with female factory infertility where the sperm count is normal, I don't see any reason why ICSI should be used,' he said.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recommends that ICSI should be used only when there are problems with a man's sperm or when past attempts at IVF have failed.

The doctor's comments came as Dr Carmen Sapienza of Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia showed that dozens of genes involved in growth, metabolism and obesity behaved differently in IVF babies. But he stressed the risks of birth defects was small and that 90 per cent of children in the IVF group were within the normal range of activity of genes. 'If you look at kids born through assisted reproduction, by and large they are just fine,' he said.

Doctors are unsure whether the fertility treatment is to blame for the increase in health problems - or whether they are inherited problems from an infertile parent.

A spokesman for the HFEA said it was important that long term research was carried out into all forms of assisted reproduction so clinicians and patients had the best information available when making decisions about treatment.


Monday, February 22, 2010

The internet will make you smarter, experts say

The brown-nosed "Baroness" Greenfield won't like this. It's just opinion but so is what she says

An online survey of 895 web users and experts found more than three-quarters believe the internet will make people smarter in the next 10 years. Most of the respondents also said the internet would improve reading and writing by 2020, according to the study, conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life project. "Three out of four experts said our use of the internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the internet has improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge," said study co-author Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center.

But 21 per cent said the internet would have the opposite effect and could even lower the IQs of some who use it a lot. "There are still many people... who are critics of the impact of Google, Wikipedia and other online tools," she said.

The web-based survey gathered opinions from scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers, along with internet users screened by the authors. Of the 895 people surveyed, 371 were considered experts. It was prompted in part by an August 2008 cover story in the Atlantic Monthly by technology writer Nicholas Carr headlined: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Carr suggested in the article that heavy use of the web was chipping away at users' capacity for concentration and deep thinking. Carr, who participated in the survey, told the authors he still agreed with the piece. "What the 'net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence," Carr said. "The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking."

But Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said, "People are already using Google as an adjunct to their own memory." "For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support and Google comes through for me," he said.

The survey also found that 42 per cent of experts believed that anonymous online activity would be "sharply curtailed" by 2020, thanks to tighter security and identification systems, while 55 per cent thought it would still be relatively easy to browse the internet anonymously in 10 years.


Hope for children with peanut allergy as desensitization treatment is tested

Systematic desensitization is an old idea. The disgrace is that it has not been applied sooner

More than 100 British children with severe peanut allergies are to be treated with an experimental desensitising therapy that has had promising early results. The study, in which children are given small daily doses of peanut flour to build tolerance to the potentially deadly allergen, is to begin next month at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge after scientists were awarded a £1 million grant by the National Institute for Health Research.

It follows successful preliminary research, published a year ago, in which 21 of 23 children treated for peanut allergy showed substantial improvements over six months. By the end of their therapy the children could eat up to 12 nuts a day. “The families involved say that it’s changed their lives,” Andrew Clark, a consultant in paediatric allergy who leads the project, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego.

“Before they were checking every food label every time they ate food. They would worry it would cause a reaction or even kill them, but now they can go out and eat curries and Chinese food. “They can eat everyday snacks and treats. For their birthday they can have chocolate cake and chocolates without any fear of reactions. So that's our real motiviation — to try to develop that as a clinical treatment that we could spread to the rest of the country.”

Peanut allergy affects an estimated 2 per cent of British children and is becoming more common. Effects range from mild itching and rashes to breathing difficulties and the severe reaction anaphylaxis.

The experimental treatment involves adding small amounts of peanut flour to yoghurt, but starting with a dose of just 5 milligrams. Over six months it is increased to 800mg a week – the equivalent of five peanuts, or 160 times the dose the children can initially tolerate. “This is going to be the largest trial of its kind in the world and it should give us a definitive idea of whether it works and whether it’s safe,” Dr Clark said. He emphasised that parents should not try the treatment without medical supervision.

“I think in two or three years time we will be in a position where we have a treatment that works but we are still working on a long-term cure. “It’s likely to be a treatment that lasts at last two or three years, and we hope that once that's over we can withdraw the treatment and maintain long-term tolerance, but we need a long-term study to find out.”


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Child obesity: It's the TV food ads, not the TV, study finds

Knowing the usual prejudices of Left-leaning academics, I would be amazed if they found anything else! It's garbage, of course. Poor people are fatter and poor people watch more commercial TV -- hence the finding that commercial TV watching "causes" obesity. Note the patronizing advice about "steering" children to "quality" programs -- with "quality" no doubt being content approved by Leftists. How about "quality" being that which entertains people the most?

To head off obesity in your kids, you don't have to prohibit TV, some scientists are advising. Instead, they say, steer youngsters toward programming without junkfood commercials, such as educational channels or DVDs. That's because a new study indicates the link between TV and childhood obesity has more to do with the number of spots pushing junk food than with the amount of TV watching itself.

University of California Los Angeles researchers gathered data from primary caregivers of 3,563 children, ranging from infants to 12-year-olds, in 1997. Through timeuse diaries, study respondents reported their children's activities, including TV viewing, throughout a full weekday and weekend day. Caregivers were also asked to report the format -- TV programs, DVDs or videos -- and the names of the programs watched. This data was used to classify viewing into either educational or entertainment, and to find out whether it contained advertising or product placement.

A followup was conducted in 2002. The analysis accounted for the amount of physical activity and the children's gender, age, ethnicity, mother's weight status, education and sleep time. Commercial viewing was significantly associated with higher body mass index, a standard measure of obesity, the study found; the effect was stronger for children under seven.

The results suggest "the association between commercial television viewing and obesity does not arise solely or even primarily because heavier children prefer commercial television," said Frederick J. Zimmerman, chair of Health Services at the university's School of Public Health and the study's lead author.

Noncommercial viewing, including DVDs or educational television, had no significant association with obesity, the authors added. The findings, they said, also suggest that steering children away from commercial television may be effective in reducing childhood obesity, given that food is the most-advertised product on children's television and that almost nine in 10 children start watching the tube regularly before age two.

By the time they're five, children have seen an average of more than 4,000 food commercials annually, the researchers noted; and during Saturday morning cartoons, children see an average of one food ad every five minutes, mostly for junk food. "Commercial television pushes children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop," Zimmerman said.

The authors conclude that the availability of high-quality, enjoyable and educational programs for all ages on DVD should make it relatively easy for health educators and care providers to nudge children's viewing toward content that's healthier for mind and body. "Just as there are far better and more nutritious foods than those advertised on television, there are also far better and more interesting shows on television than those supported by advertising," Zimmerman said. "Educational television has come a long way since today's parents were children, and there are now many fantastic shows on commercial-free television and, of course, wonderful content available on DVD."

The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.


Can Chocolate Lower Your Risk of Stroke?

Good to see that the researchers were not dogmatic about the direction of causation

Eating chocolate may lower your risk of having a stroke, according to an analysis of available research that was released February 11 and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto April 10 to April 17, 2010. Another study found that eating chocolate may lower the risk of death after suffering a stroke.

The analysis involved reviewing three studies on chocolate and stroke. "More research is needed to determine whether chocolate truly lowers stroke risk, or whether healthier people are simply more likely to eat chocolate than others," said study author Sarah Sahib, BScCA, with McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Sahib worked alongside Gustavo Saposnik, MD, MSc, where the study was completed at St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which may have a protective effect against stroke, but more research is needed.

The first study found that 44,489 people who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who ate no chocolate. The second study found that 1,169 people who ate 50 grams of chocolate once a week were 46 percent less likely to die following a stroke than people who did not eat chocolate.

The researchers found only one additional relevant study in their search of all the available research. That study found no link between eating chocolate and risk of stroke or death.


Now bananas and mangoes are bad for you (?)

Claim from Australia

EATING too many bananas and mangoes can make you gain weight rather than lose it, a weight loss expert has warned. Queensland Health recommends adults eat at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day, to help prevent heart disease and other health conditions.

But Dr Leon Massage, who operates a private weight loss clinic in Melbourne, has warned not all fruits are good for weight loss, particularly bananas and mangoes, The Cairns Post reports. "The tropical fruits tend to be more high in glycaemic index and more high in their calorie content," Dr Massage said. "So they are healthy, but you have to eat them in moderation."

Dr Massage, who was in Cairns this week to present a workshop on weight loss and nutrition, said dieters often made the mistake of eating larger amounts of fruit than necessary. "People often make the mistake in having large volumes of fruit, which can be a problem on their own," he said.

Cairns Base Hospital dietician Simone Conchin said it was nutritionally important to regularly eat different types of fruit and vegies. But she said people need to stick to eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables and make sure they exercise.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rhubarb crumble - the new cancer-busting superfood?

The usual polyphenol nonsense. Speculation based on observations in laboratory glassware, apparently. No double blind trial in humans. Double blind trials can be SO disappointing to deductions based on observations of events in laboratory glassware

Rhubarb crumble can help fight cancer, claim scientists. Researchers have found that the traditional favourite, like many red vegetables, contains cancer killing chemicals. And baking the plant for 20 minutes - like in a crumble or pie - dramatically increases their concentration. Now it is hoped that extracting the substances from the plant could come up with new drug treatments for cancers such as leukaemia.

The findings showed the chemicals, called polyphenols, could kill or prevent the growth of cancer cells and could be used to develop new, less toxic, treatments for the disease. It could even be used in cases where cancers had proved resistant to other treatments.

The study, by Sheffield Hallam University, is the first time the benefits of British garden rhubarb, specifically a variety grown in south Yorkshire, have been studied. Previous research focused on Oriental medicinal rhubarb, which has been recognised for its health benefits and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Academics now hope to discover the best combination of rhubarb's polyphenols and chemotherapy agents needed to kill leukaemia cells.

Dr Nikki Jordan-Mahy, of Sheffield Hallam University's biomedical research centre, said: "Our research has shown that British rhubarb is a potential source of chemicals that may be used to develop new anti-cancerous drugs. "Rhubarb has been shown to have some very interesting polyphenols that have anti-cancerous properties. Eating a nice crumble will be good for you.

"But if we can extract the polyphenols they may be useful in helping to fight cancer along with chemotherapy. "Current treatments are not effective in all cancers and resistance is a common problem as is toxicity. "Cancer affects one in three individuals in the UK so it's very important to discover novel, less toxic, treatments, which can overcome resistance."

The research, jointly carried out by the Scottish Crop Research Institute, is published in the journal Food Chemistry.


A Stimulus for Food Cops' Appetites

In case you missed it, we noted last week that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (an economic "stimulus" bill passed by Congress last year) includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to decrease the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. New York (home of the self-anointed Big Apple food police) will receive $259,931 to "reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages." And $1,198,785 is earmarked for Colorado to, among other things, reduce soft drink consumption. In other words, the federal government is using taxpayer dollars to tell taxpayers what not to buy. (Clearly, this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind.)

It's hard to see how this part of the "recovery" plan helps regular Americans get healthier. For one, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is not associated with youth weight gain, according to a growing body of academic research. There are also serious doubts about the reliability of contradictory research supposedly proving a "link" between soft drink consumption and obesity. So reducing consumption isn't likely to have positive health effects.

These "recovery" grants may simply be a new food-police approach to the familiar goals of unpopular soft drink taxes- the supposed "solution" to the soda "crisis." Both Colorado and New York are considering similar taxes. (One plan just squeaked through the Centennial State's legislature.) Both have drawn severe criticism-including a protest at an Empire State bottling plant-on the basis that the taxes will cost jobs by shrinking businesses. One estimate puts the job loss at up to 800 in Colorado alone.

Federal government grants could have the same effect on employment if they were to actually succeed in their goal to reduce soft drink consumption. It's hard to see how job loss fits into the feds' plan for economic "stimulus." Maybe the grants are just a way to help diet dictators "recover" from bingeing on heavy-handed naysaying-and stay gainfully employed.


New class of antibiotics could treat drug-resistant infections

The popular article below is rather strange. They tout the antibiotic as useful against a wide range of bacteria, whereas the abstract says the opposite

Scientists have developed a new class of antibiotics that could help to overcome the growing problem of drug-resistant infections in hospitals. The compound, POL7080, could enter clinical trials in the UK this year. A study published today in the journal Science says the new drugs could be effective against infections such as E. coli and helico bacteria. Widespread use of antibiotics has led many bacteria to evolve resistance to multiple versions of drugs.

If the new treatment provs to be effective in people, it will be a major medical advance. According to the scientists behind the study, the last time an entirely novel antibiotic was developed was in 1962. In principle, the antibiotics should be effective for all infections caused by the gram negative group of bacteria, which includes E. Coli, helico bacteria and a variety of urinary tract and digestive infections.

In the study, the drug was optimised to treat a dangerous bacteria, called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that is one of the most common hospital infections and can be life-threatening for patients with pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. The treatment was effective in protecting mice against a lethal P. aeruginosa infection. "This is a very promising candidate for a life-threatening condition with serious drug-resistance problems," said Professor Jeff Errington, director of the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Newcastle.

Conventional antibiotics target infections by entering the bacterial cell and attacking it from within. Penicillin, for instance, works by entering the cell and blocking the action of an enzyme required to strengthen its cell walls. However, widespread use of antibiotics has led many bacteria to evolve resistance to multiple versions of drugs, meaning that some infections are now virtually untreatable. Some bacteria have developed extra-thick membranes, preventing the drugs from penetrating the bacteria, while others have developed "pump" systems in their walls that flush any foreign bodies out of the cell's interior.

The POL7080 drug disables from the outside, a completely new approach that bacteria have had no chance to build up immunity against. It works by attaching itself to a site on the outer membrane of the bacteria that is involved in generating proteins needed to build the outer cell wall. "Our compound blocks the assembly of the outer layer, meaning that the cells can't divide and multiply," said Professor John Robinson, a biological chemist at the University of Zurich, who led the research.

All gram-negative bacteria feature a thick outer membrane of a similar structure meaning that while the drug was optimised for P. aeruginosa it is likely to be effective for other gram-negative infections. Gram-positive-type bacteria, including MRSA and C. Difficile, do not have an outer membrane, making them unlikely targets for the new drug.

P. aeruginosa is the most common cause of infections of burn injuries and is the most frequent coloniser of medical devices such as catheters. It is also the most common cause of death for cystic fibrosis patients and can cause pneumonias and blood infections in individuals with compromised immune systems.

Polyphor, a Swiss biotech company that was involved in the study, is now working to develop the compound into a dosage and form suitable for people. "You have to bear in mind that drug development is where a lot of things fall down. But this work is a very promising first step," said Professor Errington.

A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency said: "The HPA has been warning for some time of the risk from infections which are more difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance, in particular about harder-to-treat infections caused by gram negative bacteria for which there are few antibiotics available."



Peptidomimetic Antibiotics Target Outer-Membrane Biogenesis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

By Nityakalyani Srinivas et al.

Antibiotics with new mechanisms of action are urgently required to combat the growing health threat posed by resistant pathogenic microorganisms. We synthesized a family of peptidomimetic antibiotics based on the antimicrobial peptide protegrin I. Several rounds of optimization gave a lead compound that was active in the nanomolar range against Gram-negative Pseudomonas spp., but was largely inactive against other Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. Biochemical and genetic studies showed that the peptidomimetics had a non–membrane-lytic mechanism of action and identified a homolog of the β-barrel protein LptD (Imp/OstA), which functions in outer-membrane biogenesis, as a cellular target. The peptidomimetic showed potent antimicrobial activity in a mouse septicemia infection model. Drug-resistant strains of Pseudomonas are a serious health problem, so this family of antibiotics may have important therapeutic applications.

Science 19 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5968, pp. 1010 - 1013

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy and enthusiastic people less prone to heart disease, say researchers

The usual confusion of cause and effect. What the findings most parsimoniously imply is that healthy people are happier

People who are typically happy and enthusiastic are less likely to develop heart disease than those of a gloomier disposition, researchers say. An increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke has previously been linked to getting angry or stressed, but a study by American researchers, published in the European Heart Journal, claims to be the first to show an independent link between emotions and coronary heart disease.

The findings suggest that it may be possible to help to prevent heart disease by boosting a person's mood, says the lead researcher, Karina Davidson, of Columbia University, New York. "Everyone should try and inject some fun into their daily routines to counteract any effects of stress on their health, rather than waiting for holidays," she said. "Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun, and that would be analogous to binge drinking. "Essentially, spending some few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health, and may improve your physical health as well."

Over ten years Dr Davidson and colleagues tracked the health of 1,739 adults who participated in a 1995 health survey in Nova Scotia, Canada.Nurses assessed participants' risk of heart disease and measured symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety and their degree of positive emotions, referred to as "positive affect".

Writing in the European Heart Journal, the researchers define positive affect as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. Although these feelings can be transitory or short-lived, they can also represent stable character traits, particularly in adulthood, they add.

The study participants were awarded a score out of five for positive affect, varying from "none" to "extreme" depending on their answers to questions on how they responded to stressful situations or expressed their emotions. After taking account of age, sex and cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers found that, over the ten-year period, people with increased scores for positive affect were less likely to suffer a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or stroke. "Participants with no positive affect were at a 22 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those with a little positive affect, who were themselves at 22 per cent higher risk than those with moderate positive affect," Dr Davidson said. "We also found that if someone who was usually positive had some depressive symptoms at the time of the survey, this did not affect their overall lower risk of heart disease.

She suggested there could be several possible explanations for the link, including typically happy people having longer periods of rest or relaxation, or being able to recover more quickly from stress or anxiety. They may also not spend as much time "re-living" or dwelling on depressing events, "which in turn seems to cause physiological damage," she added.

Dr Davidson said that to improve mood and relaxation, people should devote time daily to a hobby or preferred leisure pursuit. "If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading in. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule.

She added that more studies were needed to confirm the link between mood and physical health: "We desperately need rigorous clinical trials in this area." "If the trials support our findings, then these results will be incredibly important in describing specifically what clinicians and patients could do to improve health."

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said that the charity was funding ongoing research to "unravel the biology" that underlies the link between happiness and health. But she warned that existing risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking should not be discounted. "Today's study used an experimental design that is great for observing trends and associations, but doesn't prove cause and effect or tell us for sure whether changing our mood can definitely reduce our risk of heart disease," she added.

"This research suggested that those who naturally had a `glass half-full' mood seemed to be most protected from disease. But we're not all like that, and we know that improving your mood isn't always easy - so we don't know if it's possible to change our natural levels of positivity. "We would of course recommend that people take time to indulge in healthy activities that can lift their mood, but trying to keep established risk factors under control remains really important."


Now gas stoves are bad for you

This is all just theory

Frying meat on a gas hob may increase your risk of cancer, researchers claim. They found fumes from steak pan-fried on a gas flame contained more cancer-causing particles than those from an electric hob. Scientists believe hotter gas flames release more harmful chemicals from oil in the cooking process and warn that chefs may be particularly at risk.

Their research follows findings that eating overcooked or burnt red meat increases the risk of tumours due to the creation of carcinogenic compounds called acrylamides.

The latest study simulated a typical Western European restaurant kitchen, frying 17 pieces of steak in either margarine or soya bean oil for 15 minutes on gas and electric hobs. Experts then examined the fine and ultra-fine particles in fumes produced by the cooking.

Their findings published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded frying with a gas flame increased the exposure to toxic chemicals called mutagenic aldehydes and heterocyclic amines. These have been judged 'probably carcinogenic' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not yet known what level of exposure to these components is safe, the researchers said.

They believe the higher temperature of gas, compared with electric hobs, leads to more potentially harmful breakdown products from oils. The gas flame may also lead to more ultra-fine particles.

Dangerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been found in cooking fumes from vegetable oils, such as soya bean and rapeseed oils as well as lard. But the authors say levels of PAHs found during this study were below safety thresholds.

The team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, said: 'Exposure to cooking fumes should be reduced as much as possible.' Their article concluded: 'The measured levels of total particles and PAHs for the cooks in our study are far below Norwegian occupational exposure limits.'

Dr Deborah Jarvis, of the National Heart and Lung Institute, said the study could help shed light on previous research that sought to link frying with gas to breathing problems - such as coughs, infections and asthma - but proved inconclusive. She added: 'The health message to the public remains the same - keep your kitchen well-ventilated when cooking, and make sure all your gas appliances are well maintained.'


Miscarriages: A good news story from Britain

A woman who suffered 18 miscarriages has given birth to a healthy baby girl named Raiya, thanks to a pioneering technique of diagnosing and treating multiple miscarriages developed at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Angie Baker (33) had been trying to have a baby for 13 years, but although doctors could not diagnose what was causing it, she repeatedly suffered a miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. But Angie refused to give up hope. She said: "I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. Every time I miscarried I felt more determined. I never felt like giving up. "Even though doctors couldn't tell my why it was happening, I felt sure there was a cure. I just knew I had to persevere."

After years of trying and 17 miscarriages, Angie read about Dr Hassan Shehata, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Trust, who has spent the last ten years researching and helping women who suffer recurrent miscarriages. She got in touch and made an appointment with him.

Dr Shehata had been working with an immunologist at the Trust, Dr Amolak Bansal, to find out why some women's bodies reject their pregnancies. Their work focused on 'natural killer cells', which are found in everyone's white blood cells (which defend your body against infections and foreign bodies).

They found that some women's natural killer cells are so aggressive they attack the pregnancy, which is exactly what was happening to Angie.

Dr Shehata said: "About ten years ago, a doctor in the states proved that there was a link between these natural killer cells and infertility. I became interested in the subject and we began work to further study the link. "After three years of hard work, we mastered it. We knew how to test the function of the natural killer tests to see how aggressive they were and we knew how to treat it. By giving suitable women steroids, we can lower the number of natural killer cells and increase their chances of having a baby."

Speaking about Angie's experience, Dr Shehata added: "Angie is an amazing woman. She is a very strong woman, and had such a great sense of belief. The odds of having so many miscarriages are miniscule, but she was so determined to carry on. I am so happy that she has got her dream - a healthy daughter.

Angie added: "I can't explain how I feel. I have to pinch myself sometimes because I just can't believe it's happened - she's perfect in every way. Being a mum is everything I thought it would be, and I'm just so happy that Dr Shehata could help me. I cannot thank him enough."


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aspirin cuts breast cancer deaths, 30-year study claims

SO: Nurses who took a lot of aspirin got less cancer -- but why? Third factors cannot be ruled out. Perhaps people who use a lot of aspirin are less likely to use illegal drugs -- which can be very harmful. It took me a whole two minutes to think of that alternative explanation. Why can medical researchers not do the same?

WOMEN with breast cancer who take aspirin at least twice a week can more than double their chance of surviving, researchers say. The greatest protection comes from taking the drug two, three, four or five times a week, a study has found. They cut the risk of dying by 71 per cent and the risk of the cancer spreading by 60 per cent. Taking aspirin on six or seven days cut the death risk by 64 per cent, but the risk of spreading fell only 43 per cent.

The findings of the U.S. study provide the most compelling evidence yet of the power of the cheap painkiller, The Daily Mail reports. Previous research has suggested that aspirin can protect against bowel cancer, although results for other cancers, such as breast and prostate, were less clear-cut.

The latest dramatic results came from a 30-year project tracking the health of 238,000 nurses. Lead researcher Dr Michelle Holmes, of Harvard Medical School, said: "This is the first study to find that aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early-stage breast cancer. 'If these findings are confirmed in other clinical trials, taking aspirin may become another simple, low-cost and relatively safe tool to help women with breast cancer live longer, healthier lives.'

Drugs in the same class as aspirin, including ibuprofen and naproxen, also lowered the risks, but paracetamol did not.

Experts warned, however, that aspirin can have serious side effects, including stomach irritation that can lead to ulcers and even fatal bleeding. For some people the risk of harm is greater than potential benefits.

Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are advised not to take aspirin for the first 12 months as it can cause side effects while they undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Researchers are uncertain exactly how aspirin affects tumours but it could be by lowering inflammation. The study found that there were no beneficial effects for people who took aspirin only once a week....

Most of the women in the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were taking aspirin to prevent heart disease. The Harvard team identified 4,000 breast cancer patients between 1976 and 2002 and followed them until their deaths or the end of the study in June 2006. Altogether 341 women died from the cancer.

The Harvard study falls short of the research 'gold standard', however, because the women reported their aspirin use in questionnaires, rather than going through a controlled clinical trial.


"Cholesterol-busting" statins increase diabetes risk

Yet another unhealthy side-effect. How odd that there is no mention below of other common statin side effects -- such as muscle pain, muscle weakening and muscle wasting. See here for more statin skepticism

Cholesterol-busting wonder drugs taken by millions to prevent a heart attack also increase their chances of developing diabetes, according to a new study. A comprehensive review of the available evidence shows that statins raise the risk of becoming diabetic by around 9 per cent.

However, experts warn that the absolute risk of developing the condition remains low and is heavily outweighed by the protection from heart problems provided by the drugs. Around 2.5 million people in Britain currently take the medication every day.

Lauded as a “wonder” drug, statins work by reducing cholesterol levels in the body, a major risk factor for heart attacks. Studies have shown that they can also dramatically reduce the risk of suffering a blood clot and there have even been suggestions that they could be used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

However, researchers who looked at 13 studies involving more than 91,000 patients found that there was also a small increased risk of developing diabetes associated with the drugs. The increased risk mainly affected the over 60s.

However, the authors of the review, from the University of Glasgow, warn that people prescribed statins should not stop taking their medication. They write: “In view of the overwhelming benefit of statins for reduction of cardiovascular events, the small absolute risk for development of diabetes is outweighed by cardiovascular benefit in the short and medium term in individuals for whom statin therapy is recommended."

That view was backed by diabetes and heart charities. Dr Iain Frame, from Diabetes UK, said: "This small increased risk is heavily outweighed by the benefits of statins in those at high risk of heart problems. “This research, therefore, should on no account be taken as a reason for those over 60 at high risk of heart disease to stop taking statins."

The findings, published by The Lancet medical journal, show that 255 patients would have to be treated with statins for four years to result in one extra case of diabetes. In the same group of patients over that time around five deaths or heart attacks would have been prevented and around the same number of strokes.

The authors stress that their findings do not show any biological reason why statins increase the chances of developing of diabetes, although they say it is possible that there is one. They suggest that older people on the drugs be monitored by their doctor for warning signs that they are developing the condition. The increased risks should also be taken into account if doctors are considering prescribing statins to those at a low risk of heart problems.

In Britain only those at high risk of developing heart disease are prescribed the medication. However, some experts have suggested that statins could be included in a so-called polypill, a five-in-one drug which would also include aspirin and three blood pressure-lowering medications and which could be given even to healthy people to help protect them.

More than 2.5 million people in Britain are thought to have diabetes, although experts predict that that could rise to as many as four million by 2050 because of lifestyle factors, including obesity.


Prostate cancer breakthrough drug 'to be available next year'

A prostate cancer 'wonder pill' could be on the market next year. Abiraterone hit the headlines two years ago, with stunning trial results in which it shrank tumours in 80 per cent of men whose cancer had spread throughout their body. The once-a-day drug also eased pain in many and was hailed as the biggest breakthrough in the field for 60 years.

Now further tests have underlined its potential and larger trials are under way. If they are successful, it could be prescribed to men in the advanced stages of the disease as early as next year, giving them the hope of precious extra months with their families.

Abiraterone is a 'home-grown' drug, discovered by scientists funded by Cancer Research UK and working at the Institute for Cancer Research at London's Royal Marsden Hospital. It works by blocking testosterone, including any made by the tumour itself, from fuelling the cancer's growth. In the latest study, it was given in pill form to 47 men in advanced stages of the cancer who had exhausted all other treatment options, including a drug called docetaxel.

Researcher Johann de Bono said: 'Docetaxel is an important drug but it extends life for an average of just two to three months, so there is a desperate need to improve options for late-stage patients. Abiraterone shrank or stabilised tumours for an average of almost six months, which is a very impressive result.'

Levels of PSA, a blood protein used as a measure of tumour growth and spread, fell in 75 per cent of the men, the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports. Any sideeffects were mild and easily treated.

Dr Helen Rippon of the Prostate Cancer Charity, which is also funding research into the drug, said: 'These findings are particularly important as they offer new hope to men who can quickly run out of treatment options once their tumour stops responding.'

Prostate is Britain's most common cancer among men and the second highest killer, after lung cancer. Some 35,000 people a year are diagnosed with it - and 12,000 die. There are two types, aggressive and non-aggressive. Two-thirds of victims have the non-aggressive variety and can often lead a healthy life. But those with the aggressive version usually die within 18 months of diagnosis. Abiraterone can shrink aggressive tumours, although the effect does not last indefinitely.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More evidence that there is a general syndrome of good (or bad) biological function

Mental fitness and physical fitness are linked again. The correlation is far from 100% but seems strong nonetheless. The other side of the report below is that high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer

Babies who are unable to crawl at nine months face falling behind at school and struggle to get on with their classmates, a study has revealed. It found that an inability to reach milestones such as sitting upright or crawling is linked to learning and behaviour problems.

The researchers, who tracked 15,000 children over the first five years of their lives, said a simple screening test before a child reaches their first birthday could prove crucial in preventing youngsters falling behind.

The finding comes from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is looking at 18,818 babies born between 2000 and 2001. The study by the University of London, Institute of Education, has already shown children from poor families are a year behind their wealthier counterparts when they start school. Now it has revealed for the first time in the UK that developmental problems are directly linked to success at school, and can be identified at a young age.

Academics performed a series of simple tests on babies aged nine months to check both their gross and fine motor skills. Youngsters who struggled with tasks such as crawling had a significantly increased risk of falling behind at school when they were five

A motor skill is an action that involves muscles in your body. Gross motor skills are larger movements including crawling and running, while fine motor skills are smaller actions such as picking up an object between the thumb and finger. In tests of gross motor skills, 96 per cent were able to sit up without support, 92 per cent were able to crawl and 69 per cent could stand up if they were holding on to something. Only 4 per cent could take a few steps.

In the assessment of fine motor skills, 99 per cent of children were able to grab an object, 95 per cent could pass a toy from one hand to the other, and 89 per cent could pick up an object using their forefinger and thumb.

The researchers concluded developmental 'delays' affected about 10 per cent of children. Youngsters who struggled with the tasks had a significantly increased risk of falling behind at school when they were five. They were also more likely to demonstrate anti-social behaviour such as refusing to share.

Professor Ingrid Schoon, who led the study, said that all children develop at different rates and some who are struggling to sit or crawl may simply catch up. However, in other cases, the problems can point to a developmental delay that may need specialised help, she added. 'Each child is different,' she said. 'All children have their own developmental pace. If parents are concerned they should go to their GP or health visitor.'


Myths about sugar and water

The idea that sugar causes hyperactivity is a myth. “The research is very clear,” said Cathy Nonas, a dietician at New York’s North General Hospital. “Sugar does not make a child ‘hyperactive.’”

Many studies back her up. In one, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, some kids ate sugared foods while others got foods with artificial sweeteners. Their parents and the researchers didn’t know who was eating sugar and who wasn’t. The researchers monitored the kids for things like irritability and hyperactivity. They found no difference. “There is no such thing as a ’sugar high,’” Nonas said. “And there is no such thing, as ’sugar making you nuts.’ There just isn’t.”

I found that hard to believe. I’ve seen kids go crazy at parties. Isn’t that because the sugar kicks in? Nope. As one parent put it. “They are hyper because they are excited. Because they have freedom. Because there is 20 kids, crowding around each other.” In other words, because it’s a party.

The studies also say that if food has any effect, it could be the caffeine in chocolate and soda that’s giving you the buzz, not the sugar. Still, even older students swear sugar helps them in school.

But the opposite is likely to be true. Said Nonas: “We tell kids, if they want to do well on a test, not to eat sugar. Even though it increases your blood sugar, which is why I think there is some confusion — it drops it down, pretty quickly, so that you have this kind of ‘lull.’” As one man put it, “Once it’s over, you kind of, like, crash.” That’s right: Some research shows that instead of jacking you up, sugar may actually calm you down.

And the mantra of the health and beauty world, “eight by eight,” which means you should drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water every day? Lots of people believe it. Some schools require kids to carry bottled water around with them. But it’s another myth. Dr. Heinz Valtin, professor emeritus of the Dartmouth Medical School, spent his life studying the right balance of water in our bodies, so there’s no evidence that supports the “8 x 8″ idea. “I drink about five or six glasses per day — only one of them is water,” he said.

Much of the fluid we need comes from, of all things, food. “Even a slice of white bread is more than 30 percent water,” he said. “It’s lots of water, 80 to 90 percent in vegetables and fruits.”

Valtin acknowledges that drinking water is not a bad idea. “What’s wrong with the myth is that the recommendation is universal that every last one of us, including, as one article said, couch potatoes, must drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses per day,” he said.

The Institute of Medicine’s food and nutrition board agrees with Valtin. It says drinking eight glasses of water is not necessary, because we get plenty of fluid from our food. When your body does need more fluid, it has a marvelous mechanism for telling you to drink up. It’s called “thirst.”