Monday, May 31, 2010

Acupuncture relieves discomfort in mice with a sore paw

And great generalizations are being drawn from that. The original heading on the article below was: "Acupuncture does work as it stimulates a natural pain killer, scientists find". Save us!

How do they measure discomfort in mice with a sore paw anyway? The researchers used a number of methods, suggesting no great confidence in any of them. See the journal article here. As a psychometrician, I would be very interested to see how well the various methods correlated with one-another but I could not find that information. Failure to correlate indicates invalid measures.

There is also no indication that the measurements were done under double-blind conditions -- thus leaving the way wide-open for experimenter expectation effects.

Note that in humans, acupuncture gets results no better than placebo

Acupuncture works by stimulating a natural painkiller in the body that swells arteries and allows more blood to flow through, scientists have discovered. The identification of the chemical adenosine as a central player could also make the ancient Chinese therapy even more effective at relieving pain.

Scientists were able to triple the beneficial effects of simply sticking needles in mice by adding a leukaemia medication that increased their amounts of the molecule.

Dr Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester, New York, said: "Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical. "In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body.

"What we found is that adenosine, a natural pain killer, is released during acupuncture and that adenosine may be the primary way acupuncture reduces pain. "The most important observation is that acupuncture worked almost three times as long if we gave a drug that slow down the removal of adenosine."

Adenosine, which also helps to regulate sleep and keep the heart healthy, becomes active in the skin after an injury to inhibit nerve signals and ease pain.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Nature Neuroscience, performed acupuncture treatments on mice that had discomfort in one paw, giving them each a thirty minute acupuncture treatment near the knee, with very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, much as is done in standard acupuncture treatments with people.

In mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds, while in those engineered not to produce the chemical it had no effect. And when adenosine was turned on in the tissues, discomfort was reduced even without acupuncture.

During and immediately after an acupuncture treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before.

Once the scientists recognised adenosine's role, the team explored the effects of a cancer drug called deoxycoformycin, which makes it harder for the tissue to remove it. The compound boosted the effects of acupuncture treatment dramatically, nearly tripling the accumulation of adenosine in the muscles and more than tripling the length of time the treatment was effective.

Dr Josephine Briggs, director of the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in the US, said: "It is clear that acupuncture may activate a number of different mechanisms. "This carefully performed study identifies adenosine as a new player in the process. It is an interesting contribution to our growing understanding of the complex intervention which is acupuncture."


Women may get vaccine to protect against breast cancer

A vaccine designed to protect against breast cancer is expected to be tested on women within the next two years. It has been tested on mice and results suggest that it could prevent tumours appearing and attack those that are already present. If tests on women show similar results, it could be offered to women around the age of 40, when the risk of developing the disease rises.

Researchers hope that it will kill off up to 70 per cent of breast cancers and save more than 8,000 lives a year in Britain. Vincent Tuohy, an immunologist who developed the vaccine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said: “We truly believe that a preventive breast cancer vaccine will do to breast cancer what the polio vaccine has done to polio. We think that it will provide substantial protection. Our view is that breast cancer is a completely preventable disease.”

Dr Tuohy said that his vaccine made the patient’s immune system attack a specific protein found in most breast cancer cells and the mammary tissues of breastfeeding women. For this reason, it would not be given to women who planned to breastfeed.

“The frequency of women who breastfeed in their early forties and above is very low, so we are looking at vaccinating women against the disease from this stage of life onwards,” Dr Tuohy said.

He said that he hoped to test the vaccine on women in two small clinical trials next year to evaluate its safety and dosage levels. Even if the tests are successful it is unlikely that a vaccine would be available for at least ten years.

The research is reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature Medicine. The vaccine was tested on mice bred to develop breast cancer. Researchers injected six mice with a vaccine made from the protein alpha-lactalbumin and another chemical to boost the immune system’s response to the vaccine. Six other mice were also given a dummy vaccine. After ten months, all mice that received the dummy had developed serious breast tumours. None of the mice given the real vaccine showed any signs of similar tumours.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Britain and kills about 12,000 women every year.

Caitlin Palframan of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “This research could have important implications for how we might prevent breast cancer in the future. However, this is an early stage study, and we look forward to seeing the results of large-scale clinical trials to find out if this vaccine would be safe and effective in humans.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eating Processed Meats May Raise Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes (?)

This is rubbish. You can get anything you want out of a meta-analysis and the fact that the conclusions below were based on only 20 out of 1600 relevant studies certainly facilitates that. Biased selection of what to include is the bane of meta-analyses. I have seen it at work in my own field -- where "awkward" results were ignored.

Furthermore, a meta-anaysis of epidemiological conclusions is just tells you what the usual assumptions are, nothing more. They do have the grace below to admit that they have NOT established cause and effect but then go on to talk as if they have!

I wonder how many of the studies they used controlled for social class? That is the big blind spot in most epidemiology

Another huge blind spot that certainly applies here is the decision to look at just one or two diseases in isolation. Something that increases one sort of disease may decrease the risk of another disease. So overall mortality is what we need to know and that is seldom looked at.

And it would seem likely that the researchers DID have data on many diseases among meat-eaters. Did they just pick out the diseases that suited their demonization of processed meats? Were some other diseases REDUCED among eaters of processed meats?

What a crock!

In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.

This work is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat and processed meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

“Although most dietary guidelines recommend reducing meat consumption, prior individual studies have shown mixed results for relationships between meat consumption and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,” said Renata Micha, a research fellow in the department of epidemiology at HSPH and lead author of the study. “Most prior studies also did not separately consider the health effects of eating unprocessed red versus processed meats.”

The study appears online May 17, 2010, on the website of the journal Circulation.

The researchers, led by Micha and HSPH colleagues Dariush Mozaffarian, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and Sarah Wallace, junior research fellow in the department of epidemiology, systematically reviewed nearly 1,600 studies. Twenty relevant studies were identified, which included a total of 1,218,380 individuals from 10 countries on four continents (North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia).

The researchers defined unprocessed red meat as any unprocessed meat from beef, lamb or pork, excluding poultry. Processed meat was defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives; examples include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats. Vegetable or seafood protein sources were not evaluated in these studies.

The results showed that, on average, each 50 gram (1.8 oz) daily serving of processed meat (about 1-2 slices of deli meats or 1 hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19% higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Too few studies evaluated the relationship between eating meat and risk of stroke to enable the researchers to draw any conclusions.

“Although cause-and-effect cannot be proven by these types of long-term observational studies, all of these studies adjusted for other risk factors, which may have been different between people who were eating more versus less meats,” said Mozaffarian. “Also, the lifestyle factors associated with eating unprocessed red meats and processed meats were similar, but only processed meats were linked to higher risk.”

“When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives,” said Micha. “This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Dietary sodium (salt) is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease. In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote atherosclerosis and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Given the differences in health risks seen with eating processed meats versus unprocessed red meats, these findings suggest that these types of meats should be studied separately in future research for health effects, including cancer, the authors said. For example, higher intake of total meat and processed meat has been associated with higher risk of colorectal cancer, but unprocessed red meat has not been separately evaluated. They also suggest that more research is needed into which factors (especially salt and other preservatives) in meats are most important for health effects.

Current efforts to update the United States government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are often a reference for other countries around the world, make these findings particularly timely, the researchers say. They recommend that dietary and policy efforts should especially focus on reducing intake of processed meat.

“To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating. Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid,” said Micha. “Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk.”

“Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Renata Micha, Sarah K. Wallace, Dariush Mozaffarian, Circulation, online May 17, 2010.


Breakthrough in fight against fatal Ebola as new drug saves 100% of monkeys tested

A gene silencing approach can save monkeys from high doses of the most lethal strain of Ebola virus in what researchers call the most viable route yet to treating the deadly and frightening infection.

They used small interfering RNAs or siRNAs, a new technology being developed by a number of companies, to hold the virus at bay for a week until the immune system could take over. Tests in four rhesus monkeys showed that seven daily injections cured 100 per cent of them.

U.S. government researchers and a small Canadian biotech company, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, worked together to develop the new approach, described in the Lancet medical journal on Thursday.

'The delivery system is the real key,' said Thomas Geisbert of Boston University School of Medicine, who did some of the work while at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Ebola viruses are a family of viruses that can often cause very serious hemorrhagic fevers. They have caused dozens of frightening and deadly outbreaks across Africa and threaten endangered gorilla populations as well as people. There is no treatment and no vaccine against Ebola, which passes via close personal contact.

The siRNAs are stretches of genetic material that can block the action of a specific gene. This particular one attaches to three different areas on the Ebola virus, preventing it from replicating.

Geisbert's team worked with a strain called Zaire that comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and kills up to 90 per cent of those infected.

'We have just had very difficult times developing treatments - antivirals or just any kind of a strategy,' Geisbert said. 'It's been a very tough nut to crack.' The team has announced a number of near-successes, most recently a vaccine that provided partial protection in monkeys in 2006. Geisbert then teamed-up with Ian MacLachlan at Tekmira.

Tests in guinea pigs suggested the siRNAs delivered in lipid particles would work. But to get Ebola to sicken rodents requires changing it substantially from the strain that attacks people and monkeys, Geisbert said.

The treatment holds the virus in check while the immune system gears up to fight it, Geisbert said. 'There is a critical threshold for virus load and if you go over that, you die,' he said. 'This drug is knocking down enough of the virus so it tips the balance.'

Now the company and researchers are seeking U.S. federal funding to continue their work, Geisbert said. For new drugs to treat lethal infections, the Food and Drug Administration requires proof that the treatment does not hurt people and is effective in at least two animal species.

Tekmira has deals with a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer.

Last week a team at the National Institutes of Health reported it had developed a vaccine that protects monkeys against several strains of Ebola.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Strepsils: The big gorilla of head-clearing medications

I have had my fair share of sniffles, colds and flu over the years so in the last 60 years I have consumed a LOT of head-clearing and throat soothing products. And there used to be a lot of different ones. But now there is not. In my local supermarket here in Australia, there are only umpteen variations of Strepsils. And in my local pharmacy, it's much the same, though there is a tiny corner where they stock a few of the "old" medications.

How come? Are Strepsils any better than the others? Not as far as I can see. It all seems to be a triumph of marketing. Strepsils are made by Reckitt Benckiser, a British company headed by Bart Becht, a livewire Dutchman. And, partly by providing so many variations of his product, he seems to have convinced retailers that they meet all consumer needs by stocking and displaying Strepsils exclusively.

I don't like that for a variety of reasons and it is a real wonder to me that the other manufacturers haven't used the anti-monopoly laws to slow down Meneer Becht. Some of the "squeezed out" products below:

The fascinating thing is that all four of the above products are made by Nestle, who are another big gorilla in various fields. One would think that they had deep enough pockets to take on Meneer Becht in the courts. I wonder if the two firms have come to an agreement not to encroach on one-another's territory? Such an agreement would be illegal under trade practices laws in most countries so I guess we may never find out about any such agreement.

I also note that on my Strepsils packet there are NO details of what the pharmaceutical ingredients are. I would have thought that that too would run foul of labelling laws, particularly in a pharmaceutical prouduct. Meneer Becht sure must be a sharp operator.


I note that the alternative prouducts ARE in fact available in my local supermarket -- but in the confectionery department rather than in the medications department. That is still pretty clever as a person with a cold would be much more likely to head for the medications department rather than the confectionery department.

I imagine that Meneer Becht has managed to get privileged placement for his product on the grounds that Strepsils contain an antibacterial agent. But even on the Strepsils packet it admits that the benefit of the agent "has not been clinically established".

So people are maneuvered into buying Strepsils when a cheaper product would be just as good.

Drug offers new hope on brittle bone disease

A cheap six-monthly jab offers hope to thousands of women with the crippling bone disorder osteoporosis. Successful trials of the drug Prolia show it dramatically cuts the number of spine and hip fractures in women, and helps bones to regrow.

The drug, which costs the equivalent of £1 a day, could provide a new option for the one in four women who cannot tolerate existing medication because it causes serious side effects, such as digestive problems. Some 170,000 women a year are unable to take bisphosphonates and instead risk their bones deteriorating without treatment.

The new drug, also known as denosumab, is licensed for use from yesterday, but is still being assessed for NHS use by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

It cuts the risk of suffering a spinal fracture by two-thirds, according to trial data on almost 8,000 post-menopausal women having an injection twice a year. There was a cut of 40 per cent in the risk of a hip fracture and a 20 per cent reduction in the chances of other broken bones.

A National Osteoporosis Society spokesman said: 'The main treatments used for osteoporosis are not suitable for all, so we welcome denosumab as a new option to help prevent unnecessary, disabling fractures.'

'Up to a quarter of patients can not use the most common treatments, bisphosphonates, due to side effects, like digestive problems. 'Denosumab works in a brand new way avoiding some of these side effects and requires only two injections under the skin each year. 'It has the potential to be administered by GPs which means that it could cut down on hospital visits for some.'

The drug, developed by Californian biotechnology company Amgen, can also help men with prostate cancer taking hormonal therapy, which raises the risk of bone loss.

In a separate trial of 1,400 patients, injections over three years resulted in a two-thirds cut in the risk of spinal fracture compared with 'dummy' treatment. There was a 'significant reduction' in the risk after just one year of treatment, and an increase in bone density.

At least 120,000 people a year suffer fractures in the vertebra of the spine and 60,000 others break their hips. At least 5,000 men each year are treated with hormonal therapy for prostate cancer.

Prolia works in a different way to existing medicines as it stimulates patients' immune systems to block a protein called rank ligand, which regulates the activity of cells that break down bone. The drug reduces the activity of these cells throughout the body, increasing bone density and strength.

Professor Juliet Compston, bone medicine and honorary consultant physician at Cambridge University, said as many as two out of three women stop using medication within a year because it is difficult and inconvenient to take. Those on bisphosphonates have to take them on an empty stomach and remain upright for 30 minutes before eating and drinking.

Prof Compston said 'Having an injection once every six months is convenient and should improve adherence to the long-term treatment that is required for osteoporosis.' At £366 a year, the cost is similar to other new treatments but more than bisphosphonates at £27 a year.

Prolia is currently being assessed for NHS use by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which recently brought in severe restrictions for patients needing more expensive treatments.

Dr Bowring said Nice must take into account women who can't take bisphosphonates. She said 'All we want is for patients to have access to a range of treatment options, all of which are cost effective, all of which can help to prevent fractures. 'Fractures due to osteoporosis cause thousands of deaths every year. Many of these fractures can be prevented with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

'Given the immense suffering and huge financial costs caused by hip fractures, which could be prevented by effective treatments, the imperative is to treat individuals with a drug that works.'


Friday, May 28, 2010

What fun! Mediterranean diet 'could raise risk of heart attacks'

Though this study is about blood lipids among people who have already had heart attacks rather than diet as such

It has long been thought that a diet rich in olive oil, nuts and oily fish is good for health because it can reduce bad cholesterol levels. However, a study suggests that some heart attack patients may have genetic mutations that mean the diet increases their risk of suffering further cardiac problems.

It found that those at most risk of suffering subsequent heart attacks had large amounts of the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or 'good' cholesterol', in their blood that destroys unhealthy trans fats in foods such as biscuits and cakes.

They also had more of a protein known as CRP which causes inflammation – suggesting this influences whether good cholesterol protects or endangers individuals.

The findings, published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, could also explain disappointing results from a trial of an experimental drug called torcetrapib designed to increase HDL cholesterol. Manufacturers Pfizer had to halt it in 2006 due to a surprisingly excessive number of unexplained heart attacks and deaths that were linked with higher levels of good cholesterol.

Pathologist Professor James Corsetti, of the University of Rochester, New York, said: "It seems counter-intuitive that increasing good cholesterol – which we've always thought of as protective – leads to negative consequences in some people. "We've confirmed high HDL cholesterol is in fact associated with risk in a certain group of patients."

Out of 767 patients followed for two years, about 20 per cent at high risk of another heart attack also had high levels of HDL and CRP – the first study to find supposedly good cholesterol can harm a subgroup of people.

Co-researcher Prof Charles Sparks said: "The ability to identify patients who will not benefit from efforts to increase HDL cholesterol is important because they can be excluded from trials testing medications that aim to raise HDL cholesterol. "With these patients excluded researchers may find raising HDL cholesterol in the remaining population is effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk." [speculation]

The researchers believe genetics and environmental factors – particularly inflammation – decide what effect good cholesterol has on patients. Given an inflammatory environment a person's unique set of genes determines whether HDL transforms from good to bad in the heart disease process.

In the high-risk subgroup of patients they also identified two genes associated with recurrent heart attacks – CETP which moves cholesterol away from the vascular system and is associated with HDL and p22phox which influences inflammation-related processes and is associated with CRP.

Prof Corsetti said: "Our research is oriented around the ability to better identify patients at high risk. "Identifying these patients and determining what puts them at high risk may be useful in choosing treatments tailored to the specific needs of particular patient subgroups. This gets us another step closer to achieving the goal of personalised medicine."

Despite the outcome of the torcetrapib trial drug companies are continuing to develop drugs to increase HDL cholesterol. Merck recently announced plans to launch a major clinical trial in 2011 to test whether anacetrapib – a chemical cousin of torcetrapib designed to raise good cholesterol – reduces the risk of heart attack and death.


Clean your teeth twice a day to keep a heart attack at bay

The usual epidemiological simple-mindedness. Keen brushers are probably very careful of their health generally and that is just one probable reason why they have less heart disease. Brushing itself is not likely to affect the heart

Those who rarely brush their teeth are more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brush twice a day

Brushing your teeth twice a day could save you from a heart attack.

Scientists say those who fail to keep their teeth clean have a higher chance of suffering heart problems.

It is well established that having gum disease makes you more prone to heart disease, but this is the first time a link has been made with brushing habits.

A study found that those who never or rarely brush their teeth are 70 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brush twice a day.

Previously, researchers have found that poor dental hygiene and bleeding gums can allow up to 700 types of bacteria to get into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of a heart attack regardless of how healthy the person is.

Bacteria entering the bloodstream may activate the immune system, making artery walls inflamed and narrowed, or attach directly to fatty deposits already present in the arteries, causing further narrowing.

In the latest study, researchers from University College London analysed data for more than 11,000 people with an average age of 50 taking part in the Scottish Health Survey.

Participants were asked how often they visited their dentist and how often they brushed their teeth, and medical histories were taken.

Just over six out of ten (62 per cent) visited their dentist every six months while 71 per cent said they brushed their teeth twice a day.

Over the next eight years, there were 555 cases of serious heart problems, of which 170 were fatal, says a report published online in the British Medical Journal.

The experts found that those who never or rarely brushed their teeth were 70 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brushed twice a day.

This held true even when factors likely to influence the results, such as obesity and smoking, were taken into account. Poor oral-hygiene was also linked to low-grade inflammation in the blood.

Researcher Professor Richard Watt said: 'Our results confirmed and further strengthened the suggested association between oral hygiene and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore inflammatory markers were significantly associated with a very simple measure of poor oral health behaviour.

'Future experimental studies will be needed to confirm whether the observed association between oral health behaviour and cardiovascular-disease is in fact causal or merely a risk marker.'

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, said: 'There are several studies linking a wide range of health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and even dementia, to poor oral health.

'However, further research is necessary to confirm whether these findings are just coincidental or have a definite cause and effect.

'Whatever the true position is, we can say with certainty that if people-brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, visit the dentist regularly and restrict sugary snacks to mealtimes, this will go a long way towards keeping their teeth and gums in a healthy state for life.'


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Study: Moderate drinking may protect brain from Alzheimer’s

This is just an epidemiological correlation. Drinking may be causal or it may not. Maybe moderate drinking is more middle class in Spain

Moderate drinking may help protect against the onset of Alzheimer's disease among otherwise healthy people, a new Spanish study suggests.

Women who don't smoke appear to gain the most benefit from alcohol consumption, according to the research team, from the University of Valencia, the Valencia government and the Municipal Institute of Medical Investigation in Barcelona.

"Our results suggest a protective effect of alcohol consumption, mostly in non-smokers, and the need to consider interactions between tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as interactions with gender, when assessing the effects of smoking and/or drinking on the risk of Alzheimer's disease," the study's lead author, Ana M. Garcia, from the University of Valencia's department of preventive medicine and public health, said in a news release.

"Interactive effects of smoking and drinking are supported by the fact that both alcohol and tobacco affect brain neuronal receptors," Garcia explained.

The findings, published in the May issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, are gleaned from a comparative analysis of both the medical background and the smoking and drinking habits among people with Alzheimer's disease stacked up against a group of healthy individuals.

Both groups were similar in age and in gender breakdown.

Smoking appeared to have no impact on Alzheimer's risk, the authors found. However, moderate drinking did seem to reduce risk for the disease, particularly among non-smoking women.


Babies are 'helped by delay in clamping umbilical cord'

Clamping the umbilical cord in newborns should be delayed for a few minutes to allow more vital stem cells to flow from mother to baby, researchers said yesterday. This would allow more blood to be transferred to the child, meaning physiological 'gifts' are handed over in 'nature's first stem cell transplant', it was claimed.

During childbirth, the placenta and umbilical cord start contracting and pumping blood to the newborn. Once the blood has reached an equilibrium, the cord's pulses cease and the blood flow stops.

A research team from the University of South Florida said that in western culture the umbilical cord may be clamped too soon --typically between 30 seconds and a minute after birth.

Dr Paul Sanberg, of the university's Centre of Excellence for Ageing and Brain Repair, said: 'Several clinical studies have shown that delaying clamping the umbilical cord not only allows more blood to be transferred but helps prevent anaemia as well.

'Cord blood also contains many valuable stem cells, making this transfer of stem cells a process that might be considered the original stem cell transplant.'

His co-author, Dr Dong-Hyuk Park, said a review of previous research found that 'in pre-term infants, delaying clamping the cord for at least 30 seconds reduced incidences of haemorrhage, anaemia and decreased the need for blood transfusions.'

The study is published in Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who banned my soda pop?

Milk and fruit juice are equally calorific, if nor more so, but the big brains of the food Fascism movement think that milk and fruit juice are just fine. Quite laughable!

They even think soy products are a good thing. Too bad if little boys start growing tits! Soy dangers summarized here

At least you can get fizzy drinks in low calorie versions. That is what they would be encouraging if they really were aiming at weight reduction. But that's not their motive. Their motive is contempt for ordinary people and the wish to deny them as many liberties as possible. There's certainly no science involved

Soda pop is the new tobacco. First banned in some school boards, soda pop and other sugar-laden drinks are now being legislated away by different levels of government in the next wave of social engineering programs. But if the state starts by substituting soya milk for Gatorade at your local arena, will it end with them telling you, you can't buy Pizza Pops?

The City of Toronto has decided that – on its own property, at least – choice is something its citizens are better off without. Hoping to prod its children into better eating habits, the city is planning to banish pop and energy drinks from vending machines in its community centres and arenas. Canada is not alone. The battle against sugar is being engaged on many levels throughout the United States. On the international level, the World Health Organization was pushing through a global strategy initiative this week.

While few will argue against targeting obesity, the public-health consensus is at odds with those who would rather make up their own minds. “To what extent do you start regulating the lives of people, so as not to hurt themselves?” asks Jack Mintz, the Palmer Chair in Public Policy at the School of Policy Studies at the University of Calgary.

Of course, as Dr. Mintz notes, public-health issues come back to hit the public purse when a country has socialized medicine. To his mind, the state should intervene in the health decisions of individuals only when they threaten the well-being of others. Beyond that, he says, attempting to change citizens' behaviour is a questionable endeavour.

“The question is, a) does the state really know that much better? and b) to what extent do we want to encourage individual responsibility, and people thinking for themselves?”

Nevertheless, the experiment is in play and public-health advocates across the country are watching Toronto's program with great interest.

If all goes according to plan, kids emerging from Toronto's locker rooms will be able to buy only 100-per-cent fruit juice, milk and soy-based products in 2014. (Even bottled water will be history, since the city is about to stop selling it on environmental grounds.) Most striking, though, is the plan's stringency. Toronto's bureaucrats argue that merely offering healthy choices in vending machines isn't enough – because people might make the wrong choice. And the cash-strapped city is prepared to lose tens of thousands of dollars in soft-drink revenues to make sure its good citizens don't.

“We know from our experience with vending machines that people are going to choose the soft drinks, even when you give [healthy] options,” says Brenda Patterson, the City Hall manager who is implementing the proposal. “People left to their own devices may continue to make a choice that is less healthy.”

Gatorade and Twinkies has been in politicians' crosshairs for decades.

Proposals for “fat taxes” on unhealthy products continue to be mooted at home and abroad, though an outcry forced Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to retreat from the idea in 2004. Earlier this month, an Ipsos Descarie poll suggested that 77 per cent of Quebeckers would want a special tax on soft drinks, energy drinks and other sugary beverages.

Commissioned by the Coalition québécoise sur la problématique du poids (Coalition Poids), a group promoting weight-problem awareness, the survey found that 70 per cent of people in the rest of Canada also favour such a tax.

Ontario is rolling out new rules that would all but ban the sale of junk food in the province's schools in 2011. British Columbia did away with junk food in school vending machines in 2008. And the Squamish Nation banned ice-cream trucks from three communities on Vancouver's north shore in 2007.

And while the giant PepsiCo brand has pledged to phase pop out of schools by 2012 – globally! – a battle is brewing in Washington, D.C., over a proposed soft-drinks tax in the country's capital.

According to, a coalition set up by the Washington Beverage Association has called on the industry to sign a petition opposing a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. If passed, the “1-cent-per-ounce” tax will increase prices on juice drinks, flavoured waters, sports drinks and teas.

“What's truly unfortunate is that this tax would be paid by the hard-working families of the district,” the coalition said.

“This is social engineering like you've never seen,” says Justin Sherwood, president of Refreshments Canada, the industry group that represents Coke and Pepsi. Mr. Sherwood says that, starting in 2006, Coke and Pepsi voluntarily withdrew pop from elementary schools and replaced its high-school soda selections with “low- and no-calorie” drinks.

In an earlier letter to the city, Mr. Sherwood mused, “If the City feels so compelled to dramatically limit choices of consumers, where do you go next? Ban butter, ice cream, salad dressings, chocolate bars, pizza, cookies, cream and sugar in coffee, as well as doughnuts consumed on City property?”

“If kids want a pop, they'll cross the street, go to a plaza and buy a pop,” says Rob Ford, a city councillor who is running a populist campaign for mayor....

“Taking a step in the right direction, like Toronto is proposing to do, is a great idea,” says David Lau, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and the president of the Canadian Obesity Network. “We have to bear in mind that, in the obesity epidemic, we shouldn't blame the individuals; we should blame the environment that's causing it.”

Indeed, on the same week that Toronto's city council sat down to consider the bureaucratic details of its drink-vending plan, delegates from the world's nations gathered in Geneva for a meeting of the World Health Organization's top decision-making body. On the agenda: a global plan to fight obesity by restricting the marketing of sugary drinks and fatty, salty foods to children.

If approved, the strategy would attempt to lay down global guidelines for marketing junk food to children, though the extent to which the regulations would be binding – as opposed to recommendations – has yet to be determined....

For Dr. Mintz, the line should be drawn where it comes to people doing harm to each other – not themselves. “I have no problem banning the use of cellphones in cars. The reason isn't the individual. It's the fact that the individual could put risks on other people.”

William Watson, a McGill University economics professor, was more puckish: “To be effective, you'd probably have to ban it totally, and enforce the ban, and police it so you don't get underground movements developing in terms of smuggling these things, or people making them in the basement by buying sugar and adding them to diet drinks.” Moonshine soda pop. You can bet there'd be regulations on that.

More here

New drug reverses even “untreatable” cancers

This seems very good news indeed

Cancer patients may be offered new hope in the form of a harmless virus which can reverse even apparently untreatable forms of the disease when injected into tumours.

Reovirus, which lives in human respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts without causing any symptoms, can help magnify the effects of radiotherapy in treating even the most advanced cancers, laboratory tests have shown.

Tumours shrank or stopped growing in every patient who underwent radiotherapy coupled with a new drug, Reolysin, which contains particles of reovirus.

One patient had a large tumour mass in a salivary gland which was reduced in size enough to be surgically removed after undergoing the treatment. Another who was close to death with a serious form of spreading skin cancer was still alive 17 months later.

A total of 23 patients with a range of solid tumours including lung, bowel, ovarian and skin cancers took part in the clinical trial. All had stopped responding to traditional therapies but were able to get some pain relief from radiation treatment.

The patients were given between two and six injections of Reolysin in escalating doses, combined with low or high dose radiotherapy.

The primary aim was to test whether the treatment was safe, but researchers also measured tumour responses for 14 patients. Tumours either shrank or stopped growing in every case, the scientists reported in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

The side effects of the treatment were mild and typical of patients receiving radiotherapy alone.

Dr Kevin Harrington, the study leader from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: "The absence of any significant side effects in this study is extremely reassuring for future trials in patients receiving radiotherapy with the aim of curing their cancer."

The next step will be to investigate the effects of the treatment in patients with newly-diagnosed cancers that would normally be treated with radiotherapy alone, he said.

Dr Brad Thompson, president and chief executive of Oncolytics Biotech Inc, the Canadian manufacturers of Reolysin, said: "We believe that this study clearly demonstrates that the combination of low dose radiation and Reolysin is well tolerated and that the very high response rate warrants further investigation."


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Handful of pistachios could destroy cholesterol

This is all based on the walking corpse known as free radical theory so the health effects are likely to be the opposite of what is predicted

A handful of pistachio nuts a day can help destroy bad cholesterol, ward off heart disease and prevent cancer, say scientists. The nuts are full of antioxidants that protect cells from damage by harmful chemicals, called 'free radicals'.

The findings published in the Journal of Nutrition follows previous research by the same team that discovered pistachios help destroy bad cholesterol that can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, of Pennsylvania State University, said: "Our previous study showed the benefits of pistachios in lowering lipids and lipoproteins, which are a risk factor for heart disease.

"This new study shows an additional effect of pistachios so now there are multiple health benefits of eating pistachios."

She and colleagues found pistachios are much richer in the main dietary antioxidants lutein, beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol than other nuts.

Beta-carotene turns into vitamin A which prevents cancer and gamma-tocopherol is a common form of vitamin E that wards off heart disease. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables and is important in vision and healthy skin.

It is believed antioxidants also prevent cholesterol from moving into the blood vessel walls and causing inflammation.

When the researchers tested the effects of pistachios on antioxidant levels they found participants had much more antioxidants in their blood and lower cholesterol concentrations when they ate the nuts.

In the experiment, they ate three different diets for a month - a normal cholesterol lowering diet with no nuts and two other similar food regimes with 1.5 ounces and 3 ounces of pistachios respectively.

Prof Kris-Etherton added: "Our results suggest that a heart-healthy diet including pistachios contributes to a decrease in serum oxidized-LDL levels, in part through cholesterol lowering, and also due to an added benefit of the antioxidants in the pistachios."


A stroll in the country could sharpen your mind -- if you are a mouse

Some heroic extrapolations below

Going for long walks in the country isn’t just good for your body – it could also sharpen up your mind. Scientists have discovered that a common ‘friendly’ bacteria found in soil boosts intelligence and speeds up learning time. The same microbe – which is blown around by the wind and inhaled – also appears to act as a natural antidepressant, researchers believe.

The discovery was made during experiments on animals. However, the researchers believe it could give the same boost to mental powers in humans who spend a lot of time outdoors.

The study looked at Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural bacterium found in soil. Scientists believe it may work as an antidepressant because it stimulates the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemical serotonin.

The research team at the Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, fed live bacteria to mice and then placed them in a maze. Their performance was compared with a control group of mice fed on an ordinary diet.

Dr Dorothy Matthews, who led the study, said: ‘We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviours as control mice.’

In a second experiment, the microbes were removed from the diet of mice. The mice ran the maze more slowly than when they were on the microbe-enhanced diet – but were still, on average, faster than the mice on a normal diet.

For the final stage of the study, the mice were tested three weeks after their last meal of microbes. They continued to navigate faster than the mice fed on the ordinary-diet.


Monday, May 24, 2010

FDA pours salt in the Constitution’s wounds

It's bad enough when Congress exercises unconstitutional powers. It's even worse when unelected bureaucrats do it. The FDA has decided, all on its own, that it has the power to reduce the amount of salt in your diet.

Depending on your genetic predisposition and health history, this move could be life threatening to YOU.

The FDA wants you to forget that . . .

* the Constitution gives the federal government no jurisdiction over your nutritional choices

* every person is unique -- many people might benefit from less sodium, while others could be harmed by it (see the sample letter below for examples)'s Write the Laws Act (WTLA) would prevent bureaucratic schemes like this. It would . . .

* Restore the Constitution's separation of powers by requiring Congress to approve all regulation

* Restrict executive branch agencies like the FDA to implementation and enforcement

* Prohibit unaccountable bureaucrats from imposing their social engineering projects on your life

Please send a letter telling your Representative and your Senators to introduce and pass the WTLA. You may borrow from, modify, or copy this letter . . . .
You should be as angry as I am that the FDA is bypassing Congress and imposing a costly salt-reduction program on its own supposed authority.

As a policy, the proposal is dubious at best. Morton Satin of the Salt Institute raised the following issues in USA Today:

* Salt is an essential nutrient.

* When salt is significantly reduced the results are mixed: 30% experience a minor drop in blood pressure, about 20% experience a slight increase, and the rest experience no change at all.

* Women consume much less sodium per day than men do. Mandatory reductions may put women at greater risk of hyponatremia.

* Pregnant women on low-salt diets give birth to low weight babies, who then have a lifelong increased salt appetite.

* Several peer-reviewed publications indicate that congestive heart failure patients placed on low-salt diets die, or are readmitted to hospitals, far more frequently than those not placed on low-salt diets.

* Italians eat much more salt than we do, yet their cardiovascular numbers are nearly the best in the world.

* There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for salt consumption, because all of us are unique.

But the fundamental issue is this:

The FDA has no Constitutional authority to create new laws. Only you people in Congress have this power. As this ridiculous salt-reduction plan proves, transferring lawmaking power to unelected bureaucrats is even more dangerous than giving politicians that power. Congress should . . .

* stop the FDA from implementing this program

* and prevent unelected bureaucracies from imposing rules on me and my neighbors

The best way to accomplish this is to pass the Write the Laws Act. Please introduce this bill.


Doctor behind MMR vaccine scare set to be struck off

This guy has killed or disabled maybe hundreds of kids. He should be burnt at the stake

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who triggered the MMR vaccine scare, is likely to be struck off today as the longest medical misconduct hearing in British history draws to a close. After nearly three years of formal investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC), Dr Wakefield and two other doctors are expected to be found guilty of serious professional misconduct and removed from the medical register.

A fitness to practise panel has already found Dr Wakefield and two former colleagues, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, guilty of a series of charges over “unethical” research that sparked unfounded fears that the vaccine was linked to bowel disease and autism.

But parents were today advised that it was “never too late” to give their children the triple vaccine — to protect against measles, mumps and rubella — as the panel was due to give its final verdicts and possible sanctions.

The doctors, formerly employed at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, North London, first raised concerns over the combined MMR vaccine in 1998, when they published a study of 12 children in The Lancet medical journal.

The fallout from the study — including Tony Blair’s refusal to say whether his infant son had been vaccinated — caused hundreds of thousands of parents to boycott the jab. Immunisation rates fell, leading to a resurgence of potentially deadly measles cases in recent years.

The GMC looked only at how the doctors’ acted during the research, not whether the findings were right or wrong — although they have been rejected by medical experts since publication.

In a preliminary verdict in January, the GMC’s fitness to practise panel said that most of the 149 charges against Dr Wakefield, Dr Walker-Smith and Dr Murch had been found proved and were “sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct”.

Dr Wakefield, 53, had acted irresponsibly and “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children in conducting unnecessary, invasive tests in some cases, the GMC ruled.

His former colleagues also failed in their duties as responsible consultants in carrying out the research that was against the childrens’ best interests and without official permission, the panel said.

After the hearing, Dr Wakefield, who moved to Texas in 2001, said that the findings were “unjust and unfounded”. But weeks later he resigned as executive director at the Thoughtful House Centre for Children in Austin, a clinic that he helped to found in 2005.

The Lancet — which had withdrawn contested parts of the paper in 2004, subsequently retracted the article in full. Dr Wakefield and his colleagues have denied any wrongdoing.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine was 91 per cent before 1998, but by 2003 this had fallen to 79 per cent. Although vaccination rates have improved with 85 per cent of British children now receiving both recommended doses of MMR, in 2008 there were nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales, compared with 57 in 1997.

A spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency said: “We again are reminding parents to remain vigilant against measles and that it’s never too late to get your child immunised with the MMR vaccine. “Although MMR coverage is starting to improve, we cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk.”

The GMC’s fitness to practise panel sat for a total of 216 days since the hearing began in July 2007 — the longest hearing in the regulator’s 150-year history. It was initially expected to conclude within three months.

The costs of the proceedings — involving a panel of three doctors and two lay members, and legal representation for the GMC and the accused — have not been revealed disclosed but are likely to be considerable for the watchdog, which is funded by doctors who pay an annual retention fee of £410.

Later this month, Dr Wakefield is set to publish his book on the hearing, with a forword by Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy model, who has an autistic son.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The GMC has given its conclusions on Dr Wakefield’s fitness to practice. The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries. Thankfully, more parents are having their children vaccinated with MMR and they see it as being as safe as other childhood vaccines.”


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Autism diet 'does not work'

A popular diet thought to help autistic children does not work, a new study shows. Removing gluten and dairy from their diet did not improve the condition in the 22 youngsters tested, researchers found.

The findings by a team at the University of Rochester, New York, are due to be presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.

Dr Susan Hyman, who led the study, said: "It would have been wonderful for children with autism and their families if we found that the diet could really help, but this small study didn't show significant benefits."


Squeezing the joy out of ketchup

Heinz’s decision to change its ketchup recipe after 40 years is a sign of our health-obsessed, killjoy times

I have a friend – hang on, I have two friends – for whom everything tastes of tomato ketchup. Not because they suffer from a weird medical condition, but because they drown every meal they eat in a tsunami of red sauce. For them, thanks to the red stuff, food can always be relied on to taste great – even if it always tastes exactly the same.

When we talk about tomato ketchup, we really mean Heinz Tomato Ketchup. It is far and away the biggest-selling brand, with 60 per cent of the US market. Created in 1876, ketchup is Heinz’s No.1 selling item. According to the Heinz website: ‘Over 650million bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup are sold around the world in more than 140 countries, with annual sales of more than $1.5billion.’

Yet now, Heinz has announced a change to its long-standing recipe, though this particular change will only affect the US version of the ketchup (Heinz tweaks the recipe for different markets). It plans to reduce the sodium content – that is, the amount of salt – in its US ketchup by 15 per cent. A spokesperson for Heinz in the US, Jessica Jackson, told the New York Post that the decision ‘came from the changing needs of our consumers and our commitment to health and wellness’ – which is garbled public-relations speak for ‘the government was leaning on us to do this and we finally gave in’.

As the New York Post article notes, the change to tomato ketchup’s ingredients was not demanded by consumers. The recipe has remain unchanged for 40 years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Heinz is hopeful that ketchup-krazy consumers might not notice the difference. Jackson told the Post: ‘We conducted extensive testing with a broad cross-section of consumers across the country to ensure there wasn’t a distinguishable difference between the current and new recipes.’

However, this is bad news for consumers. As one New York mum told me: ‘I’m apprehensive. My son only eats two vegetables. And Heinz ketchup is one of them. Actually, the other one was smothered in Heinz ketchup so I’m not sure it really counts. On those rare occasions when we have been in a restaurant that does not serve Heinz, he demands to know “what’s wrong with the ketchup?” I’m not exaggerating when I say this could mean the end of vegetables for him.’

Her son is not alone in his love of ketchup. Ketchup gives young fussy eaters the ability to control what their food tastes like at an age when they are practically allergic to trying new foodstuffs.

She added: ‘I’m also puzzled about why they’re doing this now. Why not just bring out lower-sodium ketchup for people who want it? It’s true my son goes through Heinz by the barrel, but who else over the age of five consumes that much? And how many kids have problems with their blood pressure?’

Ketchup is the result of decades of tinkering to produce the perfect sauce. As Malcolm Gladwell noted in 2004, ketchup brings together ‘the five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami’. Umami is the ‘proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother’s milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato’.

A little by accident, a little by design, Henry J Heinz brought together all these tastes to create his ketchup. ‘When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami. Then he dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his ketchup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour, another of the fundamental tastes’, wrote Gladwell. Moreover, as a byproduct of trying to find a way to preserve the sauce better, Heinz ‘also doubled the concentration of sugar – so now ketchup was also sweet – and all along ketchup had been salty and bitter’.

Heinz’s decision was actually taken under pressure. It is the latest example of the authorities deciding that they know best, forcing food manufacturers to change their recipes – to ‘reformulate’ as they say in the trade – in order to fit in with health concerns.

As Mark Sparrow reported on spiked last year, McVitie’s changed the recipe for Digestive biscuits to reduce the amount of saturated fat. ‘What was once the nation’s favourite biscuit has morphed into a rather pathetic, pale imitation of itself. The Digestive that sustained, nourished and comforted a generation through two world wars and played its part in keeping the home fires burning is no more. The callous tick of a ballpoint pen of some joyless Whitehall functionary has managed to finish off the biscuit that even Hitler failed to crush.’ (See It’s a digestive, Jim, but not as we know it.)

This might not be so bad if the tinkering with ingredients really did have a beneficial effect on health. But actually, ketchup is already a surprisingly healthy product. According to the US Department of Agriculture food database, 100g of ketchup contains 97 calories, barely any fat and about one gram of sodium. But it also contains a fair proportion of an adult’s requirements of vitamin C (25 per cent) and vitamin A (about 18 per cent), while providing plenty of lycopene, a natural pigment that has been suggested as a possible protection against cancer (though such claims need to be treated with substantial scepticism).

There is a much-mythologised tale that the US government under President Reagan considered redefining tomato ketchup as a fruit/vegetable. But in terms of its nutritional content, tomato ketchup – which, after all, contains lots of concentrated tomato – stacks up pretty well. To dismiss ketchup as unhealthy is wide of the mark. Pound-for-pound, ketchup contains three times as much vitamin C as apples. So if an ‘apple a day’ is sound advice, why not a squirt of ketchup?

As for reducing sodium content, let’s remember this is a condiment. It’s designed to be used to add a little flavour to food and therefore should be packed with salt, pepper, herbs and spices. And all that salt? It’s almost certainly harmless. Unless you have pre-existing high blood pressure, there is little evidence that cutting salt intake improves health (see Turning salt into Public Enemy No.1).

Still, there’s something entirely appropriate about the way that our political leaders are trying to save us from ourselves. Because the food we’re being forced to eat is, like them, increasingly bland.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Taking Viagra could DOUBLE your risk of hearing loss (?)

The usual incautious causal link. Men who need Viagra are probably in worse health anyway and that could cause their deafness

Men who take Viagra have been warned they may DOUBLE their risk of hearing loss. High doses of the drug have been shown to damage hearing in mice, but until now only a few anecdotal cases had been described in humans.

Now a new U.S study has confirmed the link. The study, based on a national sample of American men over 40, found that slightly more than one in six of those who did not take Viagra-like drugs were deaf or hard of hearing. Among those who took pills for erectile dysfunction, however, almost one in three had hearing loss.

Study author Gerald McGwin from the University of Alabama, said the risk remained high even when accounting for other factors linked to hearing loss. He added that more research is still needed to confirm the findings.

Drug makers already include a 'black box' warning about potential hearing loss on these products. But the new results expand on that concern, said Dr James Saunders, an ear doctor with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

'Before the current paper the focus has always been on sudden hearing loss,' Dr Saunders said. 'This study suggests that maybe there are small incremental changes that occur over time.'

While he noted that the study relied on self-reporting of hearing loss, which has been criticised as inaccurate, he said at this point he would advise patients with hearing loss not to take the drugs.

The findings appear in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

But for men with normal hearing and erectile dysfunction, comparing a potential side effect to a real problem might tip the scale, he added. 'The few times that I've had that conversation with patients it's kind of a difficult decision,' he said.


Giving up bread can make you fat: Gluten IS good for you

Another puzzle for the food freaks

Glamour magazine in the u.S. has declared it this year’s most fashionable health fad. Gwyneth Paltrow, rachel Weisz and Victoria Beckham are among those reported to follow it. With claims that it boosts energy, reduces water retention and helps you lose weight more easily than any other regimen, you can see the appeal of a gluten-free diet.

But experts are warning that cutting out gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — for no medical reason may cause weight gain, fatigue, headaches and a lack of nutrients.

Gluten is present in a wide range of foods, from bread and pasta to gravy and beer. For the half a million Britons with coeliac disease, giving it up is a medical necessity. This is a serious auto-immune condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten, triggering it to attack the lining of the small intestine.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation and bloating as well as mouth ulcers, bad skin, joint pain and depression. It can lead to infertility, miscarriages, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

Coeliac disease is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the intestine or via blood tests. Sufferers must be strict in avoiding gluten.

But this is different from so-called ‘gluten intolerance’, which is linked to IBS, headaches and mood swings. The problem, say experts, is that people are self-diagnosing it. Gluten intolerance was one of the ‘ makebelieve allergies’ highlighted by Portsmouth university researchers in January, in a study that showed a fifth of adults wrongly believe they have a problem with certain foods.

‘Gluten intolerance certainly exists,’ says Tanya Thomas, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic association. ‘But we know that the amount of people who truly have coeliac-like symptoms is a lot less than the number of people who are cutting it out of their diets. a real intolerance to gluten can be diagnosed easily with the tests for coeliac disease and means someone would need to avoid every crumb of gluten in their diet to avoid feeling ill.’


* Anything made from wheat, rye and barley contains gluten. as well as obvious foods such as bread and cakes, this includes certain stock cubes and even beer.

* Naturally gluten-free foods include fresh meat, cheese, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables. n a ‘

* A 'gluten-free’ label is only allowed on foods that have less than 20 parts per million gluten and are suitable for most (but not all) coeliacs as there is always a residual gluten content. under EU law, manufacturers must state clearly on labels if a product contains cereals with gluten.

* Oats contain a protein similar to gluten called avenin and most people with coeliac disease can’t tolerate more than 50g a day. most oats on the market are contaminated with wheat, rye and barley and so are unsuitable for coeliacs.

* Starches, such as maize, potato and buckwheat, are often used to make ‘naturally glutenfree’ foods. However, they do not rise on baking, don’t make great bread and are also low in fibre.

There is a huge problem with under diagnosis of the disease, says the charity Coeliac UK. research shows only ten to 15 per cent of those affected realise the cause of their symptoms.

However, there is no evidence that gluten intolerance is on the increase, says Dr Emma Williams of the British Nutrition Foundation. and yet the market for gluten-free foods has grown by 29 per cent in the past five years. according to market research company mintel, gluten-free is one of the fastest growing food categories. last year, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose all extended their gluten-free ranges.

WilIiams believes people are cutting out gluten because of the internet, self-testing kits available from pharmacies and celebrity fads. For some cutting out gluten is a reason to cut calories, excused by faux-medical reasoning. many people have jumped on the bandwagon because they’ve misinterpreted the benefits experienced by those following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, says dietitian Tanya

Thomas. Those with genuine problems may find bloating diminishes and digestion improves when they cut out gluten. any initial weight loss will occur because people are cutting out a significant part of their regular diet, in this case, starchy foods.

But in the long-term, switching to a gluten-free diet, which involves replacing gluten products with those using flours made from rice, cornmeal and buckwheat, can lead to weight gain. It is not unusual to put on two to three stone.

‘People assume that by cutting out gluten they are going to lose weight. It’s a myth,’ says Thomas.

Furthermore, many gluten-free products contain extra sugar and fat to make them more palatable and can be packed with more salt.

For instance Sainsbury’s glutenfree Jaffa Cakes contained nearly seven times as much salt as the normal version, a Consensus action on Salt and Health (CaSH) survey found last year. many of the other 70 supermarket ‘free from’ products it tested, including ready-meals and muffins, contained significantly more salt (the salt levels of Sainsbury’s Jaffa Cakes have since been modified). and going gluten-free can be expensive — as ‘free from’ foods can cost up to double the price of their standard versions.

Not only will you not lose weight, you will miss out on key nutrients.

Dr Williams says: ‘Wheat forms a staple part of the diet. Since wheat flour — found in a vast array of foods, from mustard to bread — is fortified in the uK, it is a vital source of calcium, iron, B vitamins

and fibre.’ Eliminating a food group can lead to plummeting energy levels and hypoglycaemic headaches caused by a lack of carbohydrate.

‘So many people are needlessly avoiding gluten and spending a small fortune on doing so,’ says Thomas.

‘Not only is it a waste of time and money when there’s no real problem, it can mean your attempts to lose weight and get healthier backfire.’


Friday, May 21, 2010

Statins: The side effects 'are worse than feared'

I have been saying this for years. That they send you blind I did not know, however. Appalling

The side effects of statins can be far worse than previously thought, a study suggests. For the first time, the level of harm posed by the cholesterol-lowering drugs has been quantified by researchers.

They found some users are much more likely to suffer liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage known as myopathy.

For some patients, the risk is eight times higher than among those not taking statins. Overall, the risk of myopathy - which may be irreversible - is six times higher for men on statins and three times higher for women.

The scientists from Nottingham University stressed the benefits of statins in stopping heart disease outweigh the risks for most patients. However, the study will put the brakes on calls for statins to be given to the healthy for prevention, where there are no classic risk factors or symptoms.

Statins are prescribed for six million patients at risk of heart disease, including diabetics and angina sufferers.

Although drug information leaflets warn of side effects, there has been little analysis of the relative risks and benefits. The latest study, in the British Medical Journal, used records of more than two million patients in England and Wales aged 30 to 84. Of these patients, 225,922 were new users of various types of statins.

Their health was analysed from 2002 to 2008 to determine risk by gender, ethnicity and other medical conditions. For example, the risk of myopathy for black male patients was eight times higher than for non- statin users. It was also five times higher for women with type 1 diabetes and double for women with type 2 diabetes.

The results showed statin use was linked to lower risk of oesophageal cancer but increased risk of moderate or serious liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, moderate or serious myopathy and cataracts.

The study estimated the number of extra cases of a certain condition that could be expected for each 10,000 patients treated with statins.

For high-risk women, there would be 271 fewer cases of heart disease and eight fewer cases of oesophageal cancer but 74 more of liver dysfuncpatientstion, 23 more of kidney failure, 307 more of cataracts and 39 more of myopathy. The figures for high-risk men were similar, except for myopathy, with an extra 110 cases. In medium-risk women, there would be 228 fewer cases of heart disease and seven of oesophageal cancer. However, there were 17 extra cases of renal failure, 252 of cataracts, 65 of liver dysfunction and 32 of myopathy.

Figures for medium-risk men were again similar except for a higher risk of myopathy. The higher the dose of a statin, the more at risk a patient was from acute kidney failure and liver dysfunction.

Lead researcher Julia Hippisley-Cox, of Nottingham University, said one of the reasons for the study was the lack of hard evidence about the level of side effects.

She added that the results were being fed into a website - www. - where doctors and could assess an individual's risk of certain side effects. She called for doctors to closely monitor those at higher risk through more frequent checks on liver, kidney, muscle and eye health.

June Davison, of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'For people with, or at high risk of heart disease, the benefits of statins far outweigh this risk. 'The good news is that the researchers found no significant link between the use of statins and risk of Parkinson's disease or many cancers.'


Pupils should be locked in school at lunchtime

Real Fascism -- and based on premises as false as the original Fascism

Pupils should be banned from leaving their schools during their lunch hour to stop them buying unhealthy food from local fast food outlets, a leading watchdog has said.

Too many children are eating burgers, kebabs, pies and chips for their lunch, with many consuming more than their daily recommended levels of salt and fat in one sitting, the report has warned.

The study was undertaken by the London Environmental Health Food Teams on behalf of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, a lobby group which campaigns for lower salt levels in processed and restaurant food.

The researchers took a snapshot of popular menu items bought by secondary schoolchildren from takeaway shops near approximately 45 schools in 16 London Boroughs. Meals chosen by secondary schoolchildren such as burgers, kebabs, pies, fried chicken and other fast food were analysed for their salt, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content and compared with standard school lunches.

The very poor nutrition levels of the food have led to the Schools Food Trust – the body which advices the Government on improving the nutrition of food eaten by pupils – to call for a ban on children leaving schools during their lunch hour.

Rob Rees, the School Food Trust's chairman said: “I think parents will be shocked to realise that their teenagers could be getting more than a day's dose of salt before they even get home from school. Of course teenagers will want to experiment and hang out with their friends. But times have changed – schools are working really hard to give teenagers a lunchtime experience that can rival the high street whilst still being healthy.

"It’s vital that this isn't undermined by nearby junk food outlets – that's why we support stay on site policies and steps to limit access to takeaway food around schools.”

He hailed local initiatives, such as the one in place in Kendal, Cumbria, where the local supermarket, Morrison's has agreed not to sell to school pupils at lunch time, and in Folkestone, Kent where McDonald's had also agreed not to serve children from the local secondary school.

The study found the nutritional content of the food was significantly worse than the burgers, chicken and chips sold by well known fast food chains.

The kebabs, pies, chips and pizzas being sold by the local outlets had particularly high salt and saturated fat content, both of which are linked to heart problems.

Three in every four meals, 54 out of 73, surveyed contained more salt than is permitted under the nutrient-based standards for secondary school lunches, and well over half, 44 out of 73, contained more saturated fat.

One doner kebab and fries contained 1,525 calories nearly two-thirds of the recommended allowance for an adult man, as well as 7.23g of salt and 25.2g of saturated fat, more than the official government recommendation of no more than 20g.

One doner kebab had 48.7g of salt.

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at British Heart Foundation, said: “Takeaway meals like these contain disturbing amounts of saturated fat and youngsters need to have the full picture about what they are eating. The problem is takeaways and restaurants aren't telling us what’s in the food we're buying."


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beetroot boosts stamina, scientists find

This was not a double-blind study of a normal population so could be yet another false start. And note that with a sample size of only 7, nothing the researchers found would have been statistically significant. And what the devil are "knee extension exercises" and how do they relate to anything else? I didn't know knees were extendable.

Brits are quite strange about knees. The reason they wear long pants on even the hottest of days is that they think people might see that their knees are knobbly. Nobody seems to have told them that ALL knees are knobbly.

Beetroot is a staple of the Australian diet. We have it on our hamburgers and in our salads -- but I personally loathe it and never eat it. So Australians generally should be full of stamina? First I've ever heard of it. Full of beer I could believe.

Beetroot juice boosts stamina by making muscles more fuel-efficient, scientists have found. Last year the same researchers reported that the red vegetable juice can increase physical endurance.

The study focused on men aged 19 to 38 cycling on exercise bikes. Drinking half a litre of beetroot juice a day for a week enabled them to cycle 16 per cent longer before getting tired out.

Now the scientists believe they understand how the beetroot boost works.

The new research showed that drinking beetroot juice doubled the amount of nitrate in the blood of volunteers, and reduced the rate at which muscles used their main source of energy.

Beetroot juice helped muscles work more efficiently and lowered their oxygen uptake. The same effect was seen during both low-intensity and high-intensity exercise.

Study leader Professor Andy Jones, from the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences, said: "While our previous research demonstrated the benefits of nitrate-rich beetroot juice on stamina, our latest work indicates that this is consequent to a reduced energy cost of muscle force production.

"Since our first study came out we have seen growing interest in the benefits of drinking beetroot juice in the world of professional sport and I expect this study to attract even more attention from athletes."

The scientists believe nitrate from beetroot juice leads to increased levels of nitric oxide in the body, which affects a range of biological functions including blood flow, hormone levels and cell signalling.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Prof Jones' team studied seven healthy men who were asked to complete a series of knee extension exercises while measuring their exertion levels. At the same time, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner monitored what was going on in the volunteers' muscles.

The test was repeated several times, both after participants had drunk beetroot juice and after they had drunk blackcurrant cordial.

Drinking beetroot, but not blackcurrant, was found to increase blood nitrate levels and reduce muscle usage of adenosine triphosphate, the body's chief energy source. Oxygen uptake by muscles was also lowered.


Moderate drinkers the healthiest

A commendable sophistication about the probable chain of causation below

Those who enjoy a glass or two of wine with their dinner or a brandy before bed are much healthier than others, a study has found. But, before you pour yourself a large one, read on.

Although the research shows moderate drinkers are slimmer, less stressed and have a more positive outlook, alcohol, alas, has nothing to do with it.

Their rude good health is more likely to be thanks to the fact that moderate drinkers also tend to have a healthier diet, exercise more and have a better work-life balance than both teetotallers and heavy drinkers.

The conclusion contradicts the results of numerous other studies which have credited small amounts of alcohol with large health benefits. It will also come as a blow to the millions who tell themselves they are looking after their health when they open a bottle of wine with dinner.

The French researchers subjected almost 150,000 men and women to a series of tests at a Paris hospital. They were also asked about their education, job, amount of exercise they did and how much they drank.

The volunteers were split into four groups - teetotallers, low-level drinkers (who had less than 10 grams of alcohol a day) moderate drinkers (10g-30g a day) and heavy drinkers (more than 30g).

In Britain, 8g of alcohol is classed as one unit. Half a pint of ordinary strength beer counts as one unit, while a standard pub measure of spirits or a small glass of wine equates to one and a half units.

As other studies have shown, those in the low and moderate groups had better general health than those who never drank or drank large amounts. Men who drank moderately tended to suffer less from stress and depression, were slimmer and had a lower risk of heart problems. Female moderate drinkers were also healthier, had smaller waists and lower blood pressure than others.

For both sexes, moderate drinkers were also found to have higher amounts of 'good' cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL), in their blood.

Writing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr Boris Hansel, of the Hospital of Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, said most previous studies had failed to take into account the fact that those who drank ensibly tended to also take care of their health in other ways.

He said this group often had a more educated approach to their health. They may exercise more, eat fruit and vegetables more frequently or take up yoga to cut stress levels. He added: 'These findings suggest that it is not appropriate to promote alcohol consumption as a basis for cardiovascular protection.' However, he did concede that 'pleasure' was the best justification for light drinking.

June Davison, of the British Heart Foundation, said that while small amounts of alcohol may be beneficial, large quantities can cause high blood pressure, strokes and some cancers.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Found: genes that let you live to 100

This study of Dutch nonagenarians supports the conclusions of the study of NYC Jewish centenarians that I referred to on 15th

SCIENTISTS have discovered the “Methuselah” genes whose lucky carriers have a much improved chance of living to 100 even if they indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle.

The genes appear to protect people against the effects of smoking and bad diet and can also delay the onset of age-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease by up to three decades.

No single gene is a guaranteed fountain of youth. Instead, the secret of longevity probably lies in having the right “suite” of genes, according to new studies of centenarians and their families. Such combinations are extremely rare — only one person in 10,000 reaches the age of 100.

The genes found so far each appear to give a little extra protection against the diseases of old age. Centenarians appear to have a high chance of having several such genes embedded in their DNA.

“Long-lived people do not have fewer disease genes or ageing genes,” said Eline Slagboom of Leiden University, who is leading a study into 3,500 Dutch nonagenarians. “Instead they have other genes that stop those disease genes from being switched on. Longevity is strongly genetic and inherited.” [Food freaks eat your heart out]

Slagboom and her colleagues recently published studies showing how the physiology of people in long-lived families differs from normal people. Other studies, showing the genetic causes of those differences, are due for publication soon.

“People who live to a great age metabolise fats and glucose differently, their skin ages more slowly and they have lower prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension,” she said.

“These factors are all under strong genetic control, so we see the same features in the children of very old people.”

The so-called Methuselah genes — named after the biblical patriarch who lived to 969 — are thought to include ADIPOQ, which is found in about 10% of young people but in nearly 30% of people living past 100. The CETP gene and the ApoC3 gene are found in 10% of young people, but in about 20% of centenarians.

The studies show that tiny mutations in the make-up of particular genes can sharply increase a person’s lifespan. Nonetheless, environmental factors such as the decline in infectious diseases are an important factor in the steady rise in the number of centenarians. The human genome contains about 28,000 genes, but they are controlled by a tiny number of so-called regulator genes.

Dr David Gems, a longevity researcher at University College London, believes that treatments to slow ageing will become widespread.

“If we know which genes control longevity then we can find out what proteins they make and then target them with drugs. That makes it possible to slow down ageing. We need to reclassify it as a disease rather than as a benign, natural process,” he said.

“Much of the pain and suffering in the world are caused by ageing. If we can find a way to reduce that, then we are morally obliged to take it.”

An anti-ageing drug which might be taken by millions of people, perhaps from middle age onwards, could be the ultimate blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry.

Michelle Mitchell of Age UK said: “Ageing is a natural part of life. The key is to ensure that we do not simply extend life but extend the years of healthy life so that people can enjoy, not endure, their later years.”


Less invasive approaches to IVF may be better for older women

Coming from a large, Irish family with five siblings Dr Marina Murphy, a research chemist, had never expected fertility problems, despite her age. "My husband Rory and I started trying for a family when I turned 36, but two years later, much to our disappointment, nothing had happened."

A visit to her GP in Streatham, south London, followed by blood tests and an examination, revealed that Marina's ovaries and eggs had aged prematurely.

"I was told I had fewer eggs than expected for a woman of my age and warned the quality could be poor," says Marina. "My fertility was more like that of a woman of 40, and my chances of conceiving naturally were around 10 per cent.

"We always assumed we would have our own family, so it came as shock," she says. "But we knew we wanted to try for a child, in whichever way we could."

The couple were told that IVF offered the best chances of a successful pregnancy, and Marina joined the ranks of more than 36,000 women who undertake IVF each year in Britain. Like many of these women, Marina had to undertake the treatment privately. For while the NHS offers infertile couples aged between 23 and 39 three cycles of IVF, standards of service vary across the country, with many primary care trusts offering fewer cycles.

Success rates are low – 19.2 per cent for women aged 38 to 39, dropping to 11.9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42. This, together with the physical and emotional side effects of the large doses of drugs used in the procedure, makes it an arduous and often devastating experience for couples. Many give up after two or three unsuccessful cycles.

Marina had concerns. "As a chemist, I didn't want to throw myself into IVF. I was concerned about the drugs involved." She decided to explore her options
and contacted dozens of fertility clinics before coming across one that offered alternatives to conventional IVF.

Create Health Clinics in London offered two procedures that sounded promising: "soft" IVF, which uses minimal doses of drugs and "natural-cycle" IVF, in which no drugs at all are used. Compared to the average £5,000 cost of a cycle of standard IVF, soft IVF (£2,500 per cycle) and natural-cycle IVF (£1,500) were also considerably cheaper.

"Soft IVF is far less disruptive to a woman's body than the standard approach,"says Dr Geeta Nargund, consultant gynaecologist and director of Create Health Clinics. "With soft IVF, ovary-stimulating hormones are given to a woman during her natural cycle, whereas the practice with conventional IVF is to induce an artificial menopause and then kick-start an artificial cycle,"

"The drug doses are also far lower – just 30-40 per cent of those used in standard IVF. The aim is to collect around six or seven mature eggs rather than 12 to 14. As a result, there is a greatly reduced risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition in which the ovaries and abdomen can swell and fill with fluid. It can lead to discomfort and nausea and, in severe cases, may prove fatal. It affects up to 2 per cent of women undergoing IVF." explains Dr Nargund.

Marina began her first soft IVF treatment in June 2006. "I was given a 10 per cent chance of success and the first two attempts failed," she says. "Each time, the fertilised egg grew into an embryo but when it was placed back in my uterus, it didn't implant in the womb lining."

Dr Nargund recommended that for her third attempt Marina try natural-cycle IVF. This procedure uses sophisticated scanning techniques to monitor blood flow and the growth of an egg within a woman's natural cycle. Just before ovulation, the egg is collected and fertilised in the laboratory. If it grows into a healthy embryo, it is placed in uterus three to five days later.

Marina's procedure was a success. "To our absolute delight, I became pregnant," she says. "My son Radha is now two-and-a-half."

Dr Nargund, who is president of the International Society for Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction (ISMAAR), which aims to promote safer and lower cost assisted reproduction techniques, believes that soft and natural-cycle IVF are particularly successful in older women and is campaigning for these options to be offered more widely.

There is growing evidence that soft IVF is an effective alternative to standard IVF. Research at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, Netherlands and the University of New Jersey, in the US, found soft IVF and standard IVF had comparable pregnancy rates. In the Utrecht study, published in the Lancet in 2007, both groups achieved a pregnancy rate of 45 per cent.

"The ovaries of women who are nearing the end of their fertility do not respond well to fertility drugs," explains Dr Nargund. "We also know that stimulating the ovaries with higher drug doses is linked to a negative effect on egg quality. That is not what you want when your egg quality and quantity may already be low."

Indeed, scientists at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht found that using lower drug doses and collecting fewer eggs was equally, if not more, effective in producing healthy embryos. Soft IVF produced 39 per cent of healthy embryos compared to just 28 per cent in women given conventional IVF.

"It is generally thought that the more eggs the better, but what you really want is better quality eggs and embryos," says Dr Esther Baart, embryologist at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, who carried out the study.

Bill Ledger, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sheffield and head of the Assisted Conception Unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, says that the benefits of soft IVF are so clear, he hopes it will one day replace high-dose approaches.

"At Sheffield, we've been offering soft IVF for a long time," he says. "It's more attractive to patients who are wary of higher dose drugs and we get comparable results. With the standard protocol, the woman suffers at least a two-week menopause with hot flushes, night sweats and no libido. With mild IVF, that just doesn't happen."

So why, considering the obvious advantages, is natural-cycle IVF not more widely available?

Some clinics are reluctant to offer the treatment because it is high maintenance and less profitable. Working with a woman's natural cycle relies on staff being available six or seven days a week. Another factor is that clinics wishing to remain at the top of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's league tables, do not want to offer natural-cycle IVF which requires more attempts to achieve a pregnancy, thereby achieving lower success rates.

"When you perform IVF, you need six or seven eggs to get a meaningful result,' says Paul Serhall, medical director at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health in London. "But in natural-cycle IVF you get just one egg. A woman has to try it over many more cycles to get pregnant. If you are desperate for a child, that is not what you want."

But even a low success rate can mean a lot to a woman if it is her only chance of having a baby. Jennifer Stringford, a writer from London, turned to natural-cycle IVF after being told by a leading teaching hospital that she would never be able to have her own child.

"I'd just turned 42 when one cycle of conventional IVF was abandoned because I wasn't responding to fertility drugs," she says. Jennifer's consultant ruled out natural-cycle IVF as an option. "I was told it is less successful than conventional IVF, so what chance would I have? My only hope for a child would be through egg donation."

But Jennifer happened to read about natural-cycle IVF. "The consultant told me I had just a 5 per cent chance of a successful pregnancy," she says. "But I got pregnant in August 2009 after four attempts. I thought that was pretty good, for someone who had been told to 'forget it.' "

"As long as a woman has a menstrual cycle and is ovulating, she has a chance of getting pregnant," argues Dr Nargund. "Egg quality declines with a woman's age, so you have to be realistic. But it is vital that she is given the option."

"These approaches are safer for the woman, cheaper, less disruptive and vastly reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy," she says. "It really makes sense to consider them instead of blindly using high doses of fertility drugs."