Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ho Hum! Scientists find link between ADHD and fatty and processed foods

Good to see skepticism about the direction of causation in the second sentence. A great relief from the usual epidemiological dogmatism. I think I need say no more about the other Oddities in the research concerned

A DIET high in takeaway foods, processed meats, soft drink and fat has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in teenagers. But researchers are unsure whether a poor diet leads to ADHD or whether the disorder causes cravings and poor dietary choices.

Researchers from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research examined the dietary patterns of almost 1800 14-year-olds, including 115 diagnosed with ADHD.

They classified the teenagers' diets into either "healthy", encompassing those high in fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and fish, or "Western-style", those dominated by takeaways, processed meats, high-fat dairy products and confectionary.

Nutritionist Wendy Oddy said the researchers found that having the Western-style diet, which tended to be higher in saturated fat, refined sugar and salt, was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis.

Associate Professor Oddy said the findings suggested that those on the Western-style diet had lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids, important for optimal brain function and mental health. "It . . . may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn't provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration, or that a Western diet might contain more colours, flavours and additives that have been linked to an increase in ADHD," she said.

"It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry."

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder among Australian children, with a prevalence of about 5 per cent. The disorder is more common in boys.

The study's findings have been published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Professor Oddy said more research was needed.


Motherly love 'does breed confidence'

It is normal and healthy for mothers to love their children and treat them afectionately. So I suspect that the finding below boils down to a demonstration that normal and healthy mothers have normal and healthy children -- which is not much of a revelation and is as well explained by genetics as anything else. Most personality traits have strong genetic transmissability

Being lavished with affection by your mum as a young child makes you better able to cope with the stresses and strains of adult life, say researchers. Hugs, kisses and expressive declarations of love appear to rub off and foster emotional resilience.

The results are from nearly 500 people, from the US state of Rhode Island, who were studied as children and adults. A secure mother-child bond may be key, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports.

But experts say it is important to know when to stop. Over-mothering can be intrusive and embarrassing, especially as children grow older.

High levels of motherly affection are likely to facilitate secure attachments and bonding, say the study authors, led by Dr Joanna Maselko. This not only lowers distress but may also help a child to develop effective life, social, and coping skills, which will stand them in good stead as adults.

In the study, a psychologist rated the quality of interactions between the mothers and their eight-month-old children during a routine developmental check-up.

The psychologist judged how well the mother responded to her child's emotions and needs, and gave her an "affection score" based on the warmth of the interaction.

Thirty years later, the researchers approached the children, who were now adults, and asked them to take part in a survey about their well-being and emotions. The group was also asked whether they thought their mothers had been affectionate towards them, with responses ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree".

The results revealed that children whose mothers gave them lots of affection handled all types of distress better. In particular, the children of warm mothers were far better at dealing with anxiety than those of emotionally cold mothers.

The researchers said: "It is striking that a brief observation of level of maternal warmth in infancy is associated with distress in adult offspring 30 years later."

They said the findings added to the growing evidence that early childhood helped set the stage for later life experiences, but said the influence of other factors, such as personality, upbringing and schooling, could not be ruled out.


Friday, July 30, 2010

'Miracle' tea is the choice of celebrities but fears on side effects linger

Just the latest placebo: "Although the health benefits have not been scientifically proven..." There's one born every minute

It's been hailed as the miracle tea that can do everything, promising to fight cancer, ward off infections, treat arthritis and even help you lose weight. But don't be put off by the fact it's made from bacteria, and tastes ever so slightly of vinegar.

For Kombucha tea is set to be the latest health food fad to hit Britain when it goes on sale later this year. Celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Halle Berry swear by the product which has already taken America by storm. But despite the craze, health experts warn there is a small risk of side effects with some people experiencing rashes, vomiting and jaundice.

There are also fears that the tea can become toxic if it is stored in ceramic containers that leach chemicals into the liquid.

The product is usually served chilled - similar to iced tea - and sold in bottles from health food stores. But it can also be brewed at home by buying packs of bacteria and yeast, mixing them with sugar, tea bags and water and leaving the liquid for a week to ferment.

Experts claim that the high numbers of bacteria give the immune system an energy boost which helps the body get rid of harmful toxins.

Although the health benefits have not been scientifically proven, many regular drinkers claim to have been cured of ailments including arthritis pain, indigestion, kidney stones, eczema and insomnia.

It has also been credited with helping treat more serious illnesses such as cancer, high blood pressure and even improving failing eyesight.

The tea is thought to boost the body's metabolism which can help weight loss - some people claim to have shed as much 30lb.

But health experts warned that people should be cautious as little is known about the benefits or risks of the tea.

Some people have reported suffering allergic reactions such including rashes, jaundice, stomach upsets and even breathing problems

These may have been caused by the tea becoming toxic when it has been brewed and later stored in a ceramic container.

The liquid is very acidic and this can cause certain chemicals from the ceramic to leach in.

Last year the tea was withdrawn from hundreds of health food stores in America after it was found to contain small amounts of alcohol, which had been produced by the bacteria.
Miracle tea: Kombucha Regulators and retailers are concerned that the ancient and trendy tea may need to be regulated as an alcoholic drink because some bottles have more than 0.5 percent alcohol

Miracle tea: Kombucha Regulators and retailers are concerned that the ancient and trendy tea may need to be regulated as an alcoholic drink because some bottles have more than 0.5 percent alcohol

Dr Emma Williams, of the British Nutrition Foundation said: 'Until more is known about both the health benefits and harmful effects surrounding this type of tea, consumption should be viewed with caution. 'There is little scientific evidence available in the literature to support the beneficial effects of this tea.'

Manufacturers were ordered to ensure drinks contained no more than 0.5 per cent alcohol or issue warning labels on those with higher volumes.

But although it has only recently become trendy, the tea has been drunk for thousands of years and is believed to be first made by the Chinese in 220BC who believed it had magical powers.

Two different brands of Kombucha will go on sale next month priced at around £4.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

But it has already become popular among those brewing it themselves at home. Packs of the special bacteria and yeast can be brought online along with instructions on how to make it.

Alick Bartholomew, director of the Kombucha Tea Network, which advises people how to brew the tea for themselves, said "It is very good for the immune system, mostly because of its probiotic activity in the intestinal tract.

'It is a live product and is very unpredictable - you can't predict what's going to happen.

'There have been more inquiries over the past few months from people wanting to know how to make it.'


Should obese children be put in foster care?

This entire discussion shows how simply being fat is medicalized as a health problem called "obesity". The fact that people of middling weight live longest is never mentioned, let alone discussed for its implications

In some cases, obese children should be removed from their homes, according to a group of child health specialists from England and Ireland.

If parents fail to provide medical treatment for a child with a chronic disease like asthma or epilepsy, government welfare officials can put the young patient in foster care. Should they do the same for children who are obese — and therefore at risk of developing lifelong complications such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes?

In some cases, the answer is yes, according to a group of child health specialists from England and Ireland. "Childhood obesity can be seen as a failure to adequately care for your children by failing to provide a healthy diet and sufficient activity, whether through direct neglect or more subtly through an inability to deny children the pleasures of energy dense fast food and television viewing," the experts write in a paper published online Wednesday by the British Medical Journal.

The question isn't academic. There are sporadic reports in the U.S. of courts removing obese kids from their homes, and it has happened at least 20 times in Britain.

The neglect that leads to obesity may be a sign of other problems in the home. As many as one-third of obese adults say they were sexually abused as children. In addition, one-third report being victims of other kinds of abuse, such as corporal punishment, according to the paper.

With this in mind, pediatricians and other professionals should think about whether obese kids would be better off in the custody of child protective services, the experts write. There are anecdotal reports of dramatic weight loss by kids in foster care, though there are no long-term studies showing that removing obese children from their families results in weight loss. (In fact, one study of 106 British children placed in foster care found that 38 of them became overweight after they joined the foster system.)

Obesity alone isn't sufficient to warrant a call to child welfare officials, according to the experts. Nor is a kid's failure to lose weight after being counseled to do so, they added. Even families that put a lot of effort into helping a child shed extra pounds don't necessarily succeed. But parents who don't at least try to help their kids should be viewed with suspicion, according to the paper.

"Parental behaviors of concern include consistently failing to attend appointments, refusing to engage with various professionals or with weight management initiatives, or actively subverting weight management initiatives," the experts wrote. "Clear objective evidence of this behavior over a sustained period is required."

Researchers should gather hard data on whether children gain or lose weight during time spent in foster care, they wrote. In the meantime, they added, guidelines should be drafted to help professionals decide when to intervene on behalf of obese kids.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Food police

by John Stossel

On my TV show on New Threats to Freedom, I thought I was joking when I used the term “Food Police,” but here they are, caught on tape.

Food faddists who buy raw food and unpasteurized milk are fools. There’s no good evidence that the food is healthier, and they risk their families’ health. The risk is real but small. If buyers of unpasteurized milk get sick, word will get out, and those sellers will be punished. Whole Foods already dropped these products because selling them would have raised their liability costs.

But the LA Times reveals that that’s not good enough for our ever more intrusive government:
"With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.

Then, guns drawn, four officers fanned out across Rawesome Foods in Venice. Skirting past the arugula and peering under crates of zucchini, they found the raid's target inside a walk-in refrigerator: unmarked jugs of raw milk.‘I still can't believe they took our yogurt,’ said Rawesome volunteer Sea J. Jones, a few days after the raid. ‘There's a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they're raiding us because we're selling raw dairy products?’”

At least the reporter interviewed the other side: “How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?”

But they denigrate them as “a faction of foodies.” The editors devote more space to the food nannies’ justification for the raid. As usual, the mainstream media are quick to assume that the bullies ought to act: “Regulators say the rules exist for safety and fairness.”

Safety, I understand, but fairness? The Times says the raid was also “to provide a level playing field for producers.” Sounds like crony capitalism--the established health food nuts using government to shut competition down.

Good lord. When will they ever stop?


Prostate cancer scare is misleading

Comment from Australia

Underbelly actor Daniel Amalm is one of several young Australian celebrities who appear in Prostate Cancer Foundation advertisements to say that prostate cancer can kill men "just like me".

Amalm is 31. The ads urge all men older than 50, and those older than 40 with a family history of the disease, to get tested. Yet, of the 75,433 men who died from prostate cancer between 1968 and 2007, just two were aged 30-34.

Given that no government anywhere in the world, no peak cancer control agency, and no high-level, independent review has ever supported screening, it is important to question the foundation's campaign and consider what it might achieve if it was wildly successful.

The foundation repeatedly emphasises that men need to make informed decisions about being tested. Here's some uncontestable information that you won't find on the Prostate Cancer Foundation's website, nor in its TV ads.

First, prostate cancer is a disease that far more men die with rather than from. We know this because of the many autopsies where men who die suddenly or without having recently seen a doctor are examined for cause of death. At autopsy, 10-20 per cent of men in their 50s and 40-50 per cent in their 70s have prostate cancer but have died from other causes.

Many men who get tested will thus be found to have high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Many will be then have a biopsy and be counselled to have their prostates removed. This will stop them dying from prostate cancer. But autopsies tell us that many of these men would not have died, even if their cancers had never been found. The problem is that there is no reliable way of knowing the benign from the deadly cancers, so over-treatment is rampant.

Second, prostate cancer tends to kill far later in life than other cancers. The average age of death for prostate cancer is 79.8 years; the average age of death for all other male cancers combined is 71.5 – considerably younger.

More than half of men who die from the disease are aged 80 or older (the average age of death for an Australian man in 2007 was 76), so men who die from any cause after that time are already living longer than average; and 82 per cent are aged 70 or more. In 2007, just 2.8 per cent (83 men) who died from prostate cancer were younger than 60, and 10 (0.1 per cent) were in their 40s.

Men with family histories of prostate cancer are at elevated risk. But it follows that most such men will have had fathers, uncles and grandfathers who died from the disease late in life. If these relatives had not died from prostate cancer, many would have died within a few years from other causes because of their advanced age.

What's the problem with men wanting to do all they can to avoid dying young, even if the odds are so low (the chance of a man aged 40-44 dying from prostate cancer in a year is a stratospheric one in 250,000 — worse odds than winning the lottery — while for men older than 85 it is one in 125)?

Thirty years ago, before PSA testing was available, our death rate from prostate cancer was 33.4 per 100,000 men. In 2007 it was 31 per 100,000, a decline of 7.2 per cent. The decline reflects early detection and better treatment. Yet in the same period, the incidence of prostate cancer rose 110 per cent, from 80.8 per 100,000 to 170 per 100,000, thanks to aggressive promotion of PSA testing, often by those who stand to benefit financially by its proliferation.

The third major problem is that widespread testing leads to widespread unnecessary surgery and frequent serious complications. Recent NSW data shows that three years after radical prostatectomy, 77 per cent of men remained impotent and 12 per cent had urinary incontinence, compared to 22 per cent and 1 per cent of similarly aged men who do not have prostate cancer. Many of these men underwent unnecessary surgery and live permanently with the consequences. They tend not to talk publicly about these problems.

Tritely dismissing the daily lives of thousands of unnecessarily impotent and incontinent men by saying "you can't have sex in a coffin" is astonishingly arrogant. All this is why Richard Albin, who discovered prostate-specific-antigen called the promotion of widespread testing "a hugely expensive public health disaster" earlier this year.

In 2009, nine-year results were published from a multination European trial of PSA testing. Dr Peter Bach, from New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, summarised the meaning of the trial for a man being treated after testing positive today: "There is a one in 50 chance that in 2019 or later he will be spared death from a cancer that would otherwise have killed him. And there is a 49 in 50 chance that he will have been treated unnecessarily for a cancer that was never a threat to his life."

Enthusiasts for prostate testing emphasise that the European trial saved lives. It did. But the reduction was from 4.2 to 3.3 deaths per 10,000 person-years.

Telling someone that they have cancer, particularly when the great majority of men thus diagnosed would have never died from it nor had their life in any way affected by the "silent" or indolent cancer inside them, can be deadly serious. A Swedish study found that the risk of suicide after diagnosis of prostate cancer was 7.4 times higher during the first week after diagnosis and 1.6 times higher during the first year after diagnosis.

Some testing enthusiasts promote the idea that untested men are ignorant or in denial. But many men consciously choose to remain ignorant of their PSA status after reading widely for themselves. Indeed, a Victorian study of GPs older than 49 found that 55 per cent had not been tested.

Celebrities have made wonderful contributions to raising public health awareness. But this carries responsibilities to ensure the public is given the full picture. Promoting prostate cancer testing should emphasise enough information to ensure men make fully informed decisions.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Too safe for our own good?

Ban Tofu!

Myths about the risks of various products and activities can themselves be harmful to your health. They include the belief that greater regulation is synonymous with greater safety, and that excess or unnecessary regulation is harmless. Self-promoting, self-styled "consumer activists" perpetuate and feed off those misconceptions.

For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council last month filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration because of the agency's refusal to ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in many consumer products. The regulators' rationale was clear: There is no evidence that the chemical causes harm to human health.

But activists remain unpersuaded - and they fail to grasp that banning or restricting BPA could itself cause significant harm.

For more than 50 years, BPA has been an important additive that helps make the plastics used in everything from soda bottles and plastic storage containers to medical devices and children's toys tough yet flexible. It is also used in the lining of food cans to prevent spoilage that can lead to bacterial contamination and the risk of botulism.

BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals of all time. And regulatory authorities from around the world, including the FDA, have judged BPA to be safe at the very low levels at which it is used, and to which consumers are exposed.

Nevertheless, some environmental activists have long sought a ban on the substance because at very high doses, BPA acts like the hormone estrogen and might theoretically lead to brain, breast or prostate abnormalities. However, a basic tenet of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. This means that mere exposure to a chemical like BPA does not imply harm; one needs to know the dose and length of exposure, what the substance does (if anything) in the body, how it is disposed of and so forth. Virtually any substance can be toxic at high enough levels. [Even water]

Regulatory decisions rely on risk-benefit assessments. There is no doubt that using BPA makes many of the products we use safer, more effective and longer lasting, but activists choose to ignore the health-enhancing benefits that BPA delivers and focus exclusively on potential (and unproven) harm. And in that respect, BPA is far from unique.

Even when repeated testing shows such products to be safe at or above normal exposure levels, activists insist that regulation be based on the so-called "precautionary principle," a belief that governments should implement regulatory measures to prevent or restrict actions that raise even conjectural threats of harm to human health or the environment.

This risk-averse approach is sometimes represented as "erring on the side of safety." As it is typically applied, however, the chaotically worsening outcomes are coming from regulators who fail to take into consideration not only credible, but inevitable, worst case harms that would result from forgoing important products and technologies. This tunnel vision application of the precautionary principle actually makes us less safe.

Nevertheless, radical environmental groups have prevailed upon governments in recent decades to burden various industries with precautionary regulation. It has already laid to waste several industries and distracts consumers and policymakers from known, significant threats to human health and the natural environment, diverting limited public health resources from those genuine and far greater risks. Absent our current highly precautionary approach to nuclear power, for example, we could reduce coal and oil exploration and their attendant damage to human health and the environment.

An egregious application of the precautionary principle is the environmental movement's misguided crusade against so-called "endocrine disrupters" which is based on the premise that certain primarily man-made chemicals mimic or interfere with human hormones (especially estrogens) in the body and thereby cause a range of abnormalities and diseases related to the endocrine system.

Although very high doses of certain environmental contaminants produce harmful effects in laboratory test animals - in some cases involving the endocrine system - humans' actual exposure to these suspected endocrine disrupters is many orders of magnitude lower than the lowest level known to cause any harm. Although they are among the most widely studied substances in history, no consistent, convincing association has been demonstrated between real-world exposures to synthetic chemicals in the environment and increased cancer in hormonally-sensitive human tissues.

Moreover, most human exposure to estrogen-like chemicals is through food. A single one-ounce portion of tofu, for example, contains more than 9,000 times as much of these natural estrogen-like substances as a typical human baby gets from drinking milk out of a polycarbonate bottle - and babies are generally thought to have higher exposures to BPA than adults or other children.

There is no scientific reason to believe that typical exposures to these estrogen-like substances, whether natural or synthetic, pose any danger at all to human health. But the use of endocrine-mimicking chemicals like BPA helps to protect us from myriad risks ranging from food-borne illness to cuts and other injuries that would surely increase if the government were to ban BPA.

History offers compelling reasons to be cautious about technological risks, to be sure. But the challenge for regulators is to balance competing risk scenarios in a way that reduces overall harm to public health and the environment. Caution misapplied can make our lives more dangerous.


The ever-expanding BPA mania

Cash-register receipts from many fast-food outlets, groceries, pharmacies, big-box stores and U.S. post offices contain high levels of the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A.

A study released late today by the Environmental Working Group reported that a laboratory analysis it commissioned found the plastic component BPA on 40 percent of receipts from McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Safeway and other businesses.

BPA is used to coat thermal paper, which reacts with dye to form black print on receipts handled by millions of Americans every day. In laboratory tests, the chemical has been linked to a long list of serious health problems in animals. Several environmental activists, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also have called for removing BPA from canned goods.

"Consumers are being exposed to BPA at the point of sale once they're handed a receipt," senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told AOL News.

These receipts pile up in purses, wallets and shopping bags, coming into contact with food and other items. When handled, the slips of thermal paper can easily contaminate fingers, which then can result in oral or dermal exposure, the physician explained.

Wipe tests conducted by EWG's researchers easily removed BPA from the sample receipts, indicating that the chemical could rub off on the hands of a person handling the paper. The heat-activated paper that was tested contained as much as 3 percent pure BPA by weight, EWG reported.

But is this harmful to humans? The EWG, a national nonprofit organization, is undertaking additional studies to determine whether and to what degree BPA enters the body. However, earlier this month Swiss scientist Sandra Biedermann and her colleagues from the Zurich Official Food Control Authority reported that BPA from register receipts can "enter the skin to such a depth that it can no longer be washed off."

That finding raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the skin's lower layers to enter the bloodstream directly, the EWG says....

The BPA coating on receipt paper is an obvious concern for shoppers, but even more so for the millions of people who staff cash registers and bag groceries at tens of thousands of retailers across the country

The Swiss researchers reported that a person repeatedly touching thermal printer paper for 10 hours a day could be exposed to 42 times the present tolerable daily exposure.

The risk from handling BPA-laden receipts can be significant, Jacob said, and added that eliminating exposure to this ubiquitous yet toxic substance should remain the first priority of U.S. lawmakers.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The aging brain

IQ studies have always shown that IQ peaks in the late teens, flatlines until the mid 30s and then declines. The report below challenges that. But I don't think it is very persuasive. NOBODY has ever said that ability is the only factor in problem solving. Knowledge is usually very important too. All that seems demonstrated below is that knowledge accumulates as we age, which is not exactly controversial

According to the Secret Life Of The Grown-up Brain, by science writer Barbara Strauch, when it comes to the important stuff, our brains actually get better with age.

In fact, she argues that a raft of new studies have found that our brain hits its peak between our 40s and 60s - much later than previously thought.

Furthermore, rather than losing many brain cells as we age, we retain them, and even generate new ones well into middle age. For years it's been assumed that the brain, much like the body, declines with age.

The accepted view is that we gradually lose brain cells - up to 30 per cent of our neurons - as we get older, hence the forgetfulness, lack of focus and mental slowness we associate with senescence.

But the longest, largest study into what happens to people as they age, the Seattle Longitudinal Study, suggests otherwise.

This continuing research has followed 6,000 people since 1956, testing them every seven years. It has found that, on average, participants performed better on cognitive tests in their late 40s and 50s than they had in their 20s.

Specifically, older people did better on tests of vocabulary, spatial orientation skills (imagining what an object would look like if it were rotated 180 degrees), verbal memory (how many words you can remember) and problem solving.

Where they fared less well was number ability (how quickly you can multiply, add, subtract and divide) and perceptual speed - how fast you can push a button when prompted.

However, with more complex tasks such as problem-solving and language, we are at our best at middle age and beyond. In short, researchers are now coming up with scientific proof of what we've all known for years - we do get wiser with age.

Meanwhile, job-related studies have found that middle-aged people out-perform younger ones. In two trials, air traffic controllers and pilots were put simulators to see how they responded to demanding tasks and emergencies. While the younger colleagues were a little bit faster in their reaction times, the experienced professionals did as well or better in actually doing the job at hand — keeping the planes apart.

So what is it about our older brain that is so good? Traditionally, neuroscientists thought that millions of our brain cells died as we aged. Now, new studies show that while we can lose brain connections if they are unused, we keep most of our brain cells for as long as we live.

Furthermore, researchers have found that the amount of myelin increases well into middle age, boosting our brainpower. Myelin is the fatty substance which insulates the brain’s cells (the neurons) and makes the signals between them move faster.

It used to be thought that all our myelin was laid down in our childhood and adolescence, but now we know it goes on much longer. American scientists scanned the brains of 70 men aged 19 to 76, and found that in two crucial areas, the amount of myelin peaked at the age of 50, and in some cases in people’s 60s.

The study found that the amount of myelin increased in the parts of the brain we use the most — the frontal lobes (which control emotion, risk-taking and decision-making) and the temporal lobes (responsible for language, music and mood).

The neuroscientist who led the trial said this increase in myelin can boost our brain’s ability by up to 3,000 per cent, and is ‘the brain biology behind becoming a wise middle-aged adult’.

Scientists have also found that as we age, we start to use both sides of our brains instead of just one — a skill called bilateralisation.

For example, studies in which volunteers learned pairs of words revealed that younger adults used only their right frontal lobes when recalling the two words, while older adults used both the left and right side.

Scientists compare this to lifting a chair with two hands rather than one.

Drawing on these extra brain reserves is why older people can get to the point of an argument faster than a 20-year-old, and why they can analyse situations more accurately and solve problems.

Last month, U.S. scientists also found that the decisions we make when we are older are much better.

Researchers looked at the brain scans of 3,000 Californians between 60 and 100 and found that older people were more rational and wise in their solutions to problems.

This is because their brains are less susceptible to surges of dopamine — a hormone that can lead to impulsive decisions in young people.

Speaking at an international conference in Edinburgh, Professor Dilip Jeste from the University of California said: ‘The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion.

‘Older people are also less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to young people. This, in fact, is what we call wisdom.’

Other good news is that we keep our long-term memory with age. True, as we get older our short-term memory deteriorates. The problem is not that the information has vanished, but that you have trouble retrieving it because we have so much other information stored in our brains — it’s like trying to finding the right book in a huge library.

However, our long-term memories survive. Research by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York looked at the effect of ageing on the brains of rhesus monkeys.

In older monkeys, the brain lost half of message ‘receptors’ responsible for learning new things, but nearly all those associated with long-term memory remained intact.

And even though we may have more responsibilities and stresses, neuroscientists are finding that we are happier with age. A recent U.S. study found older people were much better at controlling and balancing their emotions.

It is thought that when we’re younger we need to focus more on the negative aspects of life in order to learn about the possible dangers in the world, but as we get older we’ve learnt our lessons and are sub-consciously aware that we have less time left in life — and it therefore becomes more important for us to be happy.


Anti-vaccination fanatics in Australia

It was precisely the imperfect takeup of vaccination that caused the death below. Universal vaccination would have made any whooping cough transmission very unlikely. So the fanatics do bear some responsibility for the death reported. In the circumstances, it is no wonder that they were very defensive

When their four-week-old baby daughter Dana died from whooping cough Toni and David McCaffery sought love and healing to ease their grief.

Instead, they say they were subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse at the hands of anti-vaccination campaigners, a group who were yesterday labelled a serious threat to the public's health and safety.

The Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning against the Australian Vaccination Network after it refused to display a disclaimer on its website to inform readers its information should not be taken as medical advice.

Earlier this month the commission investigated the network, run out of Bangalow on the north coast by Meryl Dorey, and found its website presented incorrect and misleading information that was solely anti-vaccination and quoted selectively from research suggesting that vaccination may be dangerous.

Its investigation was sparked by two complaints, one from Toni and David McCaffery, whose four-week-old daughter Dana died from whooping cough last year.

The couple, from Lennox Head, allege they were subjected to months of harassment and abuse by Ms Dorey and anti-vaccination campaigners, accusing them of lying about the cause of their daughter's death. They received anonymous letters and emails that said whooping cough was not fatal and vaccinations were not needed.

Mrs McCaffery, whose daughter was too young to be vaccinated when she caught whooping cough, said Ms Dorey also tried to get her baby's medical records from the hospital without permission. "Instead of love and healing in the weeks after Dana's death, we got ugliness … it has been terrible," she said.

Mrs McCaffery also complained that Ms Dorey had quoted misleading statistics, spread misinformation through seminars and the internet, and gave poor telephone advice.

The second complaint against the network was made by Ken McLeod, a member of a group called Stop the AVN. He said Ms Dorey had claimed that meningococcal disease was harmless and "hardly kills anybody"; that vaccination was being used to spread AIDS in Third World countries; and homeopathy could take the place of vaccination.

His group now wants the state government to apply for a court injunction against the network and have it closed down. The group's website says Ms Dorey believes "vaccines are part of a global conspiracy to implant mind control chips into every man, woman and child and that the 'illuminati' plan a mass cull of humans".

Ms Dorey did not return calls yesterday but issued a statement on her website which said the HCCC's recommendation was "laughable" and she was seeking legal advice.

"Nobody would expect nuclear safety advocates to issue statements on the benefits of nuclear power; Greenpeace to make films on the pleasures of killing and eating whales … Why then should we be expected to make statements we don't believe are factual and that are not supported by the medical literature?

"If the AVN is expected to show both sides of this issue, why aren't the medical community and the government likewise cited for their lack of disclosure on the risks and ineffectiveness of vaccines?"

A spokesman for the HCCC said it could take no further action but it was disappointing the network was refusing to make its position clear.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting a university degree 'can slow down dementia'

More hilarious reasoning. A more parsimonious conclusion would be that those who are capable of getting a university degree (higher IQs etc.) are more resistant to dementia. There is NO proof that actually going to university does anything

Staying on at school and then going to university can help protect against dementia symptoms, according to scientists. They say education acts as a ‘protective layer’ around the brain, helping to slow down the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Even though people who spend longer studying are just as likely to get the illness as someone who leaves school at 16, it will not advance as quickly. This means they will not suffer from symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and mood swings so early on in the disease.

Past research has shown that for every additional year spent studying there is an 11 per cent reduction in the risk of developing the signs of dementia. But this study suggests that education does not actually prevent the disease being triggered in the first place – it only helps sufferers’ brains ‘cope’ with the damage.

Researchers at Cambridge University looked at the brains of 872 people in Europe, donated for research after their deaths, who had all filled in questionnaires about their education.

Just over half – 56 per cent – were suffering from some form of dementia at the time of their death. But the scientists found that disease had progressed far less quickly among those who had spent more time at school or university.

Dr Hanna Keage, a member of the Anglo-Finnish research team, said: ‘Previous research has shown that there is not a one-to-one relationship between being diagnosed with dementia during life and changes seen in the brain at death. ‘One person may show lots of pathology in their brain while another shows very little, yet both may have had dementia. ‘Our study shows that education in early life appears to enable some people to cope with a lot of changes in their brain before showing dementia symptoms.’

The researchers said understanding the mechanisms behind the effect would be of ‘considerable value to society’. Professor Carol Brayne, who led the Cambridge scientists, said: ‘Education is known to be good for population health and equity.

‘This study provides strong support for investment in early life factors which should have an impact on society and the whole life span. This is hugely relevant to policy decisions about the importance of resource allocation between health and education.’ Just over 800,000 people in the UK suffer from a form of dementia, the majority of them elderly.

More than half have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of the disease. Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This is the largest study ever to confirm that hitting the books could help you fight the symptoms of dementia in later life.

'We now need more research to find out why an education can make the brain more “dementia resistant”. ‘Until then the message appears to be: stay in school.’


Jogging is bad for you


For many years, running has seemed the ideal form of exercise. It improves your fitness levels and the health of your heart. It boosts your metabolism and can help you lose weight. It costs nothing - after the initial outlay on a decent pair of trainers - and can be done anywhere. Since jogging became popular in the late Seventies, running has often been promoted as a panacea for a range of health issues.

But is running really all it's cracked up to be? Greg Brookes, a London-based personal trainer with a clientele that ranges from celebrities and City high-fliers to housewives, has come up with a list of seven deadly sins as far as running is concerned.

'Lots of people start running to lose weight and it doesn't always work - and this is why,' says Brookes. His first assertion is that running actually decreases the size of your heart.

'Small muscles use less energy and are more efficient,' he says. 'The heart is a muscle and if you force it to keep working for long periods of time it will naturally shrink to use less energy and become more efficient. 'If you want to increase the size of your heart then you must strength-train your heart, not endurance- train it.'

The next is that running causes injury through repetitive movements - an accusation that will be familiar to many whose knees or ankles have proved unequal to the demands placed on them. 'The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run. You will actually start to hold on to more fat'

'When you run, two-and-a-half times your bodyweight is transmitted through your joints,' says Brookes. 'If that force is repeated over and over, eventually your weakest joint will give out.

'Usually the ankles or the knees are the first to go, generally because of poor hip and core stability. Wearing a brace only exacerbates the problem by moving the strain on to the next weakest joint while maintaining the old injury.'

Contrary to popular belief that any exercise will speed up your metabolism, running can, says Brookes, do the opposite. Long-distance running will often deplete your energy stores and then start breaking down your muscle tissue to use as energy. 'If you want some serious muscle wastage and to reduce your metabolic rate,' says Brookes, 'then keep running.'

He also alleges that far from making your body leaner, running can cause it to gain fat. 'Fat is one of our body's favourite sources of energy,' says Brookes. 'The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run. You will actually start to hold on to more fat.'

Another reason that you won't get leaner is that the body is an amazing machine and will adapt to anything. 'The more time you spend running, the better you become at running and the more efficient you get, the less energy you use and the fewer calories you burn,' says Brookes.

And then there's the vexatious issue of cellulite and running. Standard wisdom holds that lack of proper exercise causes poor lymphatic and blood circulation and poor lymph drainage, which contribute to causing cellulite. But according to Marco Mastrorocco, head coach and gym manager at the Epic kickboxing gym in West London, exercising in the wrong way - for example, by running - can increase your chances of developing cellulite.

'Cellulite is primarily a malfunction of the circulatory system and bad drainage in tissue under the skin,' says Mastrorocco. 'If exercise is sustained for too long - through lots of running - it causes free radicals which in turn damage cells. Our body can cope with over-exertion if it's in quick bursts.'

Carole Caplin of health club Lifesmart is of a similar opinion. 'Most people say cellulite is simply something that you can work off. Unfortunately this isn't the case,' she says. 'Exercise is usually a "good" stress on the body, but hard, impactful exercise like running can compound cellulite, as lymph drainage is already compromised as a result of an accumulation of stress.'

Add to this list the risk of cardiac distress and heart attacks and the indisputable fact that running is pretty boring and time-consuming, and you have a damning list of charges.

All of this raises the question of what we should be doing instead. To Brookes, the answer is simple: high-intensity training. 'Intensity training is like strength training for your heart and lungs,' says Brookes. 'It burns more calories, strengthens your heart and joints and increases your metabolism – and takes about ten minutes.'

Brookes believes that working at a high intensity creates more 'metabolic disturbance' in your body than jogging, which means that although you're not burning as many calories as you would with a long, steady jog in the park, you will be burning more calories over the following 24-hour period. It will also increase your aerobic capacity by constantly challenging the heart.

'There are lots of ways to do intensity training,' says Brookes. 'Warm up for five minutes, then run hard for 30 seconds, then jog or walk for 90 seconds. Repeat between three and eight times. You could use the same pattern on a rowing machine or exercise bike. 'The downside,' he says, 'is that it feels like hell while you're doing it.'


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fad diets could lead to osteoporosis


Non-dairy or wheat free fad diets could be putting young women at risk of developing osteoporosis in later life, experts have warned. Research shows that nearly a third of women are so desperate to lose weight that they are cutting out entire food groups.

The warning comes just weeks after Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she is suffering from osteopenia, a thinning of the bones that can be a forerunner to osteoporosis.

The 37-year-old actress follows a strict diet that is low in cheese, milk butter and other dairy foods that are rich sources of bone-strengthening calcium.

A poll of the eating habits of 4,500 British women found that 30 per cent admitted to avoiding entire types of food when trying to slim for summer. Some 28 per cent of these said they give up cheese and, for 11 per cent, all dairy products are taken off the menu. More than four in ten (41 per cent) cut out bread, which, by law, is fortified with calcium.

More than a quarter of those surveyed (26 per cent) by supplement firm ellactiva said they only look at the fat and calorie content of food labels, ignoring all the other information about their nutritional content.

Failure to build strong bones by the age of 35 raises the risk of osteoporosis in later life. The condition affects three million Britons and is blamed for more than 230,000 broken bones a year, with wrists, spines and hips being most fragile.

The Food Standard Agency says adults should be able to get the 700mg of calcium a day they need from a varied or balanced diet. Good sources other than bread and dairy products include broccoli and cabbage, tofu and nuts. Sardines, pilchards, and other fish where we eat the bones are also rich in the mineral.

A spokesman for the National Osteoporosis Society said: "This latest research highlights the worrying implications that body image can have on bone health. Both calcium and fat play a role in building bone so fad diets that cut these out completely can be damaging.”

"There’s a lot of pressure to be slim, but by trying to stay too thin, bone health can be compromised. "Low fat dairy products are available and many actually contain more calcium that the full fat varieties. For example, skimmed milk has more calcium than full fat."


The wonder of life

A twin girl has become the youngest baby to be born prematurely and survive in Britain, it has been claimed

Amelia Hope Burden was born before the 24-week legal limit for abortion when her mother was just 23 weeks and two days pregnant, the Daily Mail reported. She was born weighing only 1 lb 2oz ten days before her brother Arthur arrived at 1 lb 4oz. He was born in July after Amanda Staplehurst had been pregnant for 24 weeks.

She went to hospital complaining of stomach cramps only to be told that she was in labour. Amelia Hope showed little sign of life but doctors were able to revive her. Under law they are not obliged to do so unless they feel it is in the child’s best interest.

Miss Staplehurst, 30, from Bournemouth, told the Daily Mail: “Doctors said she had just a 10 per cent of chance of survival and we never thought she’d pull through. “Then having delivered Amelia Hope, it was totally bizarre that for ten days I remained pregnant with Arthur. The doctors have told us they’ve never come across a case like it.”

The babies are being kept in incubators but are putting on weight and said to be developing well.

The twins’ survival will give weight to the campaign to have the abortion limit lowered. Some campaigners would like to see it reduced to 20 weeks. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, voted for a cut earlier this year and has said that an upper limit of 20 or 22 weeks would be “sensible”.

The previous British record for surviving premature twins was 24 weeks, the paper reported.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now sitting down is bad for you

This is all just the usual epidemiological nonsense. There is no double-blind support for it. All that it probably shows is that people in poor health sit down more. Big surprise!

RELAXING at home can have deadly consequences for women who sit for more than six hours a day during their leisure time, regardless of how much they exercise, scientists say.

A new study from American Cancer Society researchers found that women in particular who sat for longer than six hours a day during their leisure time - engaged in activities such as watching television, surfing the internet and reading - had higher death rates.

And it did not matter how much daily exercise they did, the risk remained virtually unchanged.

Several studies have already shown there is a link between long sitting times and obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and unhealthy diets. But the latest study - which surveyed 123,216 people for 13 years - found a link between the amount of time people spent sitting and their death rates.

It found that the more leisure time people spent sitting, the higher the risk of death, particularly for women. Women who said they sat for more than six hours a day during their leisure hours were found to be 37 per cent more likely to die during the period of the study, than those who sat for less than three hours a day.

Men who sat for more than six hours were 18 per cent more likely to die than those who sat for less than three.

The results remained virtually unchanged when physical activity was factored in. However, lack of exercise combined with long sitting times was a killer combination. Women who sat more and were less physically active were 94 per cent more likely to die compared with those who sat the least and were the most active. For men the figure was 48 per cent.

Alpa Patel, who led the team of researchers, said long sitting times were shown to have important metabolic consequences influencing things such as cholesterol and resting blood pressure, which were biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

The study concluded that public health messages needed to encourage people to reduce the time they spent sitting as well as promoting them to exercise.

"Because a sizeable fraction of the population spends much of their time sitting, it is beneficial to encourage sedentary individuals to stand up and walk around as well as to reach optimal levels of physical activity," Mr Patel said.


Now swimming pools are bad for you

This seems very confused and is in any case a study in laboratory glassware rather than in real life. They found that swimming pool water was more toxic but instead of blaming people peeing in the pool etc., they blamed the disinfectant used! And they end up recommending chlorine as a disinfectant -- which is the one mostly used anyway!

Swimming pools can give you cancer, because disinfectants in the water react with sunscreen, sweat, and skin to form a toxic cocktail of chemicals, a study has suggested. The disinfectant used to keep pool water free from disease can also react with swimmers' urine and hair to cause conditions including asthma and bladder cancer.

Products like sunscreen and oil are packed with nitrogen So is air. Air is MOSTLY nitrogen!], which reacts with the disinfectant to create toxic chemicals capable of mutating genes. These mutations contribute to birth defects, accelerate the ageing process, cause breathing problems, and even induce cancer after long-term exposure.

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois compared samples of tap water and pool water and found using advanced DNA technology that pool water samples led to more cell damage in humans.

Lead researcher Professor of Genetics Michael Plewa said: "All sources of water possess organic matter that comes from decaying leaves, microbes and other dead life forms.

"In addition to organic matter and disinfectants, pool waters contain sweat, hair, skin, urine, and consumer products such as cosmetics and sunscreens from swimmers. "The study compared different disinfection methods and environmental conditions and our results proved that all disinfected pool samples exhibited more DNA damage than the source tap water.

"Care should be taken in selecting disinfectants to treat recreational pool water. "The data suggest that agents containing the chemical bromine should be avoided as disinfectants of recreational pool water. "The best method to treat pool waters is a combination of UV treatment with chlorine as compared to chlorination alone."

Prof Plewa also said that carbon should be removed before disinfection when pool water is being recycled.

He added: "Swimmers can also help reduce the toxicity of pool water by showering before entering the water. "Pool owners should also remind users about the potential harm caused by urinating in a pool. "These simple steps can greatly reduce the production of toxic disinfection by-products."


Friday, July 23, 2010

The gap that most epidemiologists ignore

This is from Britain but there are similar gaps in Australia and the USA too. Thinking that it can be closed is laughable. Just for starters, illness can make you poor. And there are behavioural differences between the rich and poor which affect health

THE gulf between the health of the rich and the poor is greater now than at any time since the 1920s, a damning report has found.

It cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of Labour's multi-billion pound projects which were designed to close the divide. Instead the gap has steadily increased, the study found.

People living in less affluent areas are twice as likely to die young than the rest of the population and have much lower life expectancy.

The study found that in 2007 for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in middle class or wealthy households, 199 were dying in the poorest - double the rate.

Researchers based at the universities of Sheffield and Bristol concluded that costly government projects to try to reduce the gap have had 'little effect'. 'This is the highest relative inequality recorded since at least 1921,' they said. 'The last time that inequalities were almost as high was in the lead-up to the economic crash of 1929.'

They warn that the gulf will almost certainly widen over the next few years as impoverished households are hardest hit by soaring unemployment rates.

Experts have long linked unemployment to poor health, with increased rates of depression, obesity and suicide - and lower life expectancy.

The study also found for every 100 deaths of people under the age of 75 in middle class households, there were 188 deaths in poorer households.

As soon as Labour came to power in 1997, ministers pledged to 'tackle the root causes of ill-health to create a fairer society' as an utmost priority. They set targets for 2000 promising to close the gap between the rich and the poor by 10 per cent and in the last decade alone an estimated £20billion was pumped into various health projects.

But this latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, has found that the gulf in health has increased at a faster rate over the last two decades than any other time since records began.

The researchers looked at death rates from the Office of National Statistics going back to 1921. The report said: 'Although life expectancy for all people is increasing, the gap between the best and worst districts is continuing to increase. 'The economic crash of 2008 might precede even greater inequalities in mortality.'

Men in Britain can expect to live to 77.9 years and women to 82, according to official statistics. But in poorer areas this decreases to 75.8 for men and 80.4 for women.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said: 'We need to look at the causes of ill-health to really make a difference. Doctors will need to work across sectors to point out the health impacts of policy decisions.'

This latest research echoes the findings of a report by the National Audit Office last month that accused Labour of wasting billions on failed projects trying to counter poverty.


FDA: What’s the alternative?

by John Stossel

Last week, I wrote about a federal agency that most people think is indispensable. In reality, I said, the FDA regulates us to death, literally, by forbidding even dying Americans who can’t be helped by established medical treatments from trying innovative therapies.

But what’s the alternative? Have no oversight? Let any company peddle every dubious medicine to an unsuspecting public? That sounds terrifying. Snake-oil sellers would sell all kinds of harmful stuff. That’s why we created the FDA in the first place.

But wait a second. Snake oil sellers sell it anyway. I’ve done consumer reports on snake-oil sellers for years. Crooks and deluded optimists sell useless baldness remedies, breast enlargers and diet products while the FDA is supposedly in charge. The FDA rarely stopped even the obvious crooks. What it mostly stopped, or delayed, were the serious drug companies’ attempts at genuine innovations.

Without an FDA, how would doctors and patients know which drugs were safe and effective?

The same way we know which computers and restaurants are good — through newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. In a free, open society, competition gets the information out, and that protects consumers better than government command and control.

Why must we give big government so much power? Couldn’t FDA scrutiny be voluntary and advisory? Companies that want government blessing would go through the whole process and, after 10 or 15 years, get the FDA’s seal of approval. Those of us who are cautious would take only FDA-approved drugs.

But if you had a terminal illness, you could try something that might save your life. You could try it without having to wait 15 years — without having to break your country’s laws to import it illegally from Europe — without sneaking into Mexico to experiment in some dubious clinic. If I’m dying, shouldn’t my government allow me the right to try whatever I want?

If FDA scrutiny were voluntary, the government agency would soon have competition. Private groups like Consumer Reports and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) might step in to compete with the FDA. The UL symbol is already on thousands of products. No government force was required. Yet even though UL certification is voluntary, its safety standards are so commonly accepted that most stores won’t carry products without the UL symbol.

With such competition, the FDA might devise a ratings system (”general use,” “medical guidance suggested,” “patients strongly cautioned,” or something like that), and drug packages would carry that information. We’d know that the government was evaluating new drugs, but government wouldn’t stand between lifesaving treatments and us. Most of us, most of the time, would take the government’s advice, but because it would be our choice, we could try new or risky drugs when nothing government-approved was available.

We could try a system where the FDA would review all drugs, but its approval wouldn’t be needed for a drug to be sold. Private organizations might go into competition with the FDA even if its review remained mandatory. If a new drug is going to be “not yet rated” by the government for 15 years, the endorsement of an independent evaluator — even one not quite as strict as the FDA — that can deliver its opinion in three years would be valuable.

Under today’s FDA rule, consumers assume big government takes care of the whole issue, so we become less vigilant. The consumer is encouraged to stay asleep: Don’t ask questions; just take what Big Brother approves. Yet, knowing what we know about the incompetence of government monopolies, there’s little doubt that competing private groups would do the testing better, cheaper and quicker.

Any kind of FDA has its price. If all drugs have to be reviewed — even if they can be sold while under review — the cost in money and energy will keep some drugs off the market. But getting rid of the FDA’s power to forbid us to try something would be a big improvement: It would mean Americans would no longer be forced to wait, and die while their government passes judgment on innovations that could save them.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The osteoporosis folly continues

We know that HRT works well and has minimal side effects but it is TOO popular so all sorts of unlikely alternatives are being tried

A hormone which regulates our internal bodyclock may also help treat osteoporosis. Now a pill form of the hormone, melatonin, is being given to women over 45 as part of a clinical trial to test the benefits.

Osteoporosis is a condition affecting the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile and increasing the risk of fractures. There are around 300,000 osteoporosis-related fractures each a year as a result. The condition affects both women and men of all ages, although it's most commonly associated with postmenopausal women.

Traditional treatment includes drugs called bisphosphonates, which work by blocking the breakdown of bone; strontium ranelate, a drug which stimulates new bone growth, and vitamin D, which makes bones stronger. HRT, which raises levels of oestrogen in the body, has been used, too, but long-term use over a number of years has been shown to increase the risk of stroke.

In the new study at the University of Pittsburgh in the U. S. , researchers are looking at melatonin as an alternative treatment.

Melatonin is a hormone which is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is produced in the hours of darkness and maintains the body's internal 24-hour body clock. It also helps control the timing and release of female reproductive hormones.

Previous studies have pointed to a connection between melatonin and osteoporosis. In one American study, women who worked nightshifts for more than 20 years were more likely to suffer wrist or hip fractures. Night-shift workers have lower night- time melatonin levels, possibly because they're exposed to light at night. (Bright lights in the evening or too little light during the day can disrupt the body's normal melatonin cycle.)

In the new trial in Pittsburgh, which is due to last six months, 20 women aged 45 to 52 will take a synthetic version of the hormone in pill form before bed. They will have their bone density tested before and after the treatment. They will also be monitored to see whether improved hormone levels have an effect on their general well-being.

British experts remain circumspect about the new approach. 'We're always glad to see new research into osteoporosis, and look forward to the results of this initial trial,' says Rob Dawson, of the National Osteoporosis Society. 'However, much more work is needed before any benefits of melatonin can be assessed.

'Melatonin has cropped up in clinical research about bone health, but as yet there have been no proven connections to warrant large trials.'


Another "miracle" drug

Sounds too good to be true. If it's like many other wonder drugs, long-term side-effects will eventually be discovered which will knock it on the head. There are few exceptions to the general rule that the wonder drug of today is the iatrogenic disaster of tomorrow

A four-in-one diet drug that can help a woman drop two dress sizes in six months has been developed by scientists. The jab, which could be available in three years, also lowers blood pressure, raises 'good' cholesterol, and can prevent and even cure diabetes. If that's not enough, it also appears to have a 'feel-good' factor.

Similar in structure to a gut hormone that helps regulate appetite, liraglutide tricks the brain into thinking we are full despite eating 20 per cent less food. Taken for six months, it helped men and women who have struggled with their weight for years shed a stone and a half on average, making it more than twice as good as anything already on the market.

Free of the side-effects that have led some other diet 'wonder drugs' to be banned, it could also cut the need for gastric banding, stomach stapling and other expensive and potentially dangerous operations.

There are, however, likely to be concerns about a drug being used as a 'quick fix' to a problem which can in many cases be tackled with diet and exercise.

Researchers in the UK and abroad tested liraglutide on more than 550 obese men and women. Some of those taking part were given liraglutide daily. Others were given a supply of dummy pills or of orlistat, the 'gold standard' obesity treatment prescribed by GPs around the country.

Those who took liraglutide lost an average of a stone and a half over six months - more than twice as much as those on orlistat, the International Congress on Obesity heard.

When they continued to take the drug for another 18 months, the weight stayed off. However, those on orlistat started to pile the pounds back on.

The benefits of liraglutide, which like insulin comes in an injectable pen, did not end there. Blood pressure dropped to such an extent that patients could throw away the drugs they were taking to keep it under control. There was also an improvement in blood fats, including cholesterol. The body's ability to deal with sugar changed so much that diabetes was staved off in those at risk.

Liraglutide, which is also known as Victoza, can also improve the processing of sugar in those who already have the condition - removing the need for some to inject themselves with insulin.

Professor Mike Lean, of Glasgow University, who treated some of the Britons in the trial, said: 'The weight loss was very striking. 'One of the things we looked at was pre-diabetes, where you have one foot on the slippery slope towards diabetes and heart disease, and it more or less abolished it. 'That doesn't mean that it has gone forever but at least you have turned the clock back.'

He added: 'The drug is very effective and most obese people would like to lose one and a half stone or more. The difficulty is what then? Can people adapt their eating habits and start to become thin people? 'We don't know. But we do know with absolute certainty that when you stop a drug and the effects have gone, people's weight starts going up again.'

Liraglutide is expected to cost around £1,000 a year, or almost £3 a day, making it slightly more expensive than existing drugs.

Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of charity Weight Concern, gave the drug a cautious welcome. He said: 'We are badly in need of safe and effective weight-loss medicines but many have promised great results but have not delivered.

'Obesity is too complex to be solved with a drug. 'Drugs should only ever be used as a support to lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and exercise.'


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LOL! Now milk gives you cancer

Sounds like "The Ghost who Walks" is in big trouble! Seriously, though, the article below does point out that the evidence is conflicting.

There seems to be some group of "anti-milk" fanatics involved. Attention-seekers will always pounce on anything that is popular and denounce it

Milk is often described as nature's most wholesome food. It contains no additives, artificial colourings or preservatives - and is packed with vitamins and minerals. It provides a unique blend of protein, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins, not to mention the calcium required for bones.

But is it really the elixir we believe it to be? Some experts believe that, in some cases, high consumption might not protect against disease - but cause it.

Two new studies - an Italian one published this month, and earlier Canadian research - have linked milk consumption to a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer. The Canadian research, published in The Prostate journal, found that men who drank four 200ml glasses of milk had double the risk of the disease.

Over recent decades, there have been other studies linking milk consumption to rheumatoid arthritis, acne, asthma, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.

One early Nineties study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggested proteins in milk upset the production of insulin, the hormone that stabilises blood sugar, raising the risk of diabetes.

Such findings - along with the fact many people avoid milk because they think it's full of calories (in fact, there are just 132 calories in a 200ml glass of whole milk, 92 in semi-skimmed and 66 in skimmed) - mean we are drinking less milk than ever.

Milk consumption fell 1.3 per cent between 2007 and 2008 to 1.5 litres per person per week, a figure that is 14 per cent lower than ten years ago.

But does milk deserve the bad press? Those against milk claim it contains cow hormones, including insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). The argument is that these encourage growth and may help to feed prostate cancer and perhaps, to a lesser extent, ovarian cancer.

The anti-milk lobby argue that milk is made by cows for calves and that it is perfectly healthy to drink - if you are a calf. They say their arguments are supported by studies showing the early human digestive system was not capable of metabolising milk.

For instance, researchers from University College London have suggested that a few thousand years ago people avoided milk because it led to gastric pain and upset stomachs. This is because Europeans lacked the gene to produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Evolution means 90 per cent of northern Europeans have the gene, but the remaining 10 per cent are lactose intolerant.

Some experts think that for many people, milk remains a problem. In a review of national dietary guidelines, U.S. adults of all ages were recently urged to drink three glasses of milk a day.

However, Professor Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says there's little evidence to justify such recommendations, claiming such measures are 'likely to cause harm to some people'.

Willett says that 'many studies have shown a relation between high milk intake and risk of fatal or metastatic prostate cancer, explained by the fact that a high intake increases blood levels of the IGF-1 growth-promoting hormone'.

It may not even boost bone health in the way we think. 'Prospective studies and randomised trials have consistently shown no relation between milk intake and risk of fractures,' says Professor Willett.

Yet speaking at a British conference last year, one of the world's leading nutrition scientists, Professor Robert Heaney of Creighton University medical school in Nebraska, went as far as suggesting that humans can't be well-nourished without milk and dairy. 'An adequate calcium intake is essential for bone growth in childhood and bone maintenance in the elderly, but we need a diet rich in protein, phosphorous, potassium and vitamin D,' he said.

'Among modern foods, dairy - particularly milk and yoghurt - stand out as having the richest nutrient profile for their energy content. 'It would be almost impossible to construct an adequate diet without three servings a day.'

And there are far more positive than negative studies about milk, says Bridget Benelam, a scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation. She points to a review of evidence published last year in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, which found at least 11 studies have shown a diet rich in dairy increases bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in women.

Despite dairy being a major source of saturated fat - the type of fat known to increase the risk of heart disease - there's no link between milk and heart disease. On the contrary, recent findings suggest that the potassium in milk can help to lower blood pressure.

A report in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also suggests that the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid, found in milk, can help reduce the risk of a heart attack.

And though the strongest negative links are with prostate cancer, this is far from confirmed. Two years ago, a paper from the University of South Carolina found no suggestion that milk increased the risk in 27,000 cases of the disease.

'The negative evidence surrounding milk intake is inconclusive,' says Benelam. 'Milk remains the most easily absorbed and rich source of calcium and other nutrients in the human diet.'


Men with long ring finger 'more likely to get prostate cancer'

This is not particularly surprising. Ring finger length has been known for years to be a marker of masculinity and masculinity-related variables but the good point made below is that such a feature is not useful in predicting cancer or else almost ALL males would be implicated to some degree.

For what it is worth, I have a particularly long ring finger but two separate urological examinations have shown that, despite my age, I have an unusually SMALL prostate -- so am in a very low risk group for prostate cancer

Men with a long ring finger could be three times more likely to develop prostate cancer, according to a report.

A study of hospital patients found those whose ring finger on the right hand was significantly longer than the index finger were more likely to get the disease than those fingers were roughly same length.

A long ring finger is thought to result from higher exposure to the hormone testosterone while in the womb. Previous research has suggested a long ring finger could be beneficial, having been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and increased fertility.

More than 30,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, equivalent to more than one an hour. Bob Monkhouse, the comedian who died from the disease in 2003, has posthumously featured in a fund-raising campaign by the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation that includes a Twitter account for his jokes.

The latest study, carried out at Gachon University Gil Hospital, in Incheon, South Korea, and reported in the Daily Mail, looked at 366 men over the age of 40 who went to a hospital clinic complaining of problems urinating, a symptom which could be a warning sign of cancer.

Blood tests showed that men whose ring fingers were much longer than their index finger, next to the thumb, had almost double the normal levels of prostate specific antigen, a chemical sometimes found in high levels in blood when cancer is present.

Three times as many of these men went on to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

However, Ed Yong, head of health information for Cancer Research UK, told the newspaper that results of the study should be treated with caution. He said: “Finger length ratios have been linked to all sorts of things before with little evidence that measuring these ratios will ever actually be useful.

“For example, this very small study finds an association between finger length ratio and prostate cancer risk, but tells us nothing about whether the ratio can be used to reliably predict that risk.”


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Household cleaners may double risk of breast cancer

More naive "logic". What about asking WHY some women are more concerned about cleaning? How about this? Could it be that they felt in poor health anyway and were doing their best to minimize their risks? The results could therefore simply show that people who feel in poor health really do get more illness.

But the study was a retrospective self report one anyhow so even the authors recognize the limits of that

Household cleaners and air fresheners could be bad for women's health, new research suggests. Women who regularly use household cleaners and air fresheners are at double the risk of developing breast cancer than those who never use the products.

The study of more than 1,500 women found that solid slow-release air fresheners and anti-mould products had the biggest effect. Insect repellents, oven and surface cleaners also produced a slight increase.

"Women who reported the highest combined cleaning product use had a doubled risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest reported use," said Dr Julia Brody, from the Silent Spring Institute in the United States,

"Use of air fresheners and products for mould and mildew control were associated with increased risk."

Tests in laboratories have shown that some cleaning products, air fresheners and insect repellents have chemicals in them that may cause cancer. But any actual link has never been proved.

For the latest study Dr Brody and her team questioned 787 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 721 other women about their cleaning regimes.

They found that overall women who used a combination of cleaning products were up to 110 per cent more likely to have developed breast cancer than those who never touched them.

The biggest effect was with solid air fresheners with those who replaced theirs more than seven times a year twice as likely to have developed beast cancer. Using Mould and mildew removers more than once a week also seemed to double the risk.

Insect repellants, oven cleaners and furniture polish also had a slight increase in the risks.

"To our knowledge, this is the first published report on cleaning product use and risk of breast cancer," said Dr Brody.

The researchers said that although a link appeared to be made between cancer and the cleaning products more research was needed to be certain.

They found that women with breast cancer who believed that chemicals and pollutants contribute "a lot" to the risk of developing the condition were more likely to report high product usage.

Speaking about the potential bias to the study, Dr Brody said: "When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they often think about what happened in the past that might have contributed to the disease. "As a result, it may be that women with breast cancer more accurately recall their past product use or even overestimate it. "Or, it could also be that experience with breast cancer influences beliefs about its causes.

"For example, women diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to believe heredity contributes 'a lot', because most are the first in their family to get the disease."

In order to avoid possible recall bias, the researchers recommend further study of cleaning products and breast cancer using prospective self-reports and measurements in environmental and biological media.

The report was published in BioMed Central's journal Environmental Health.


Autism detected in voice of children

An interesting development -- if replicated

Autism could be detected in children by analysing their voices, according to a new study. Toddlers with the developmental disorder pronouce words differently to their healthy peers which can be picked up by a new automated vocal analysis system created by scientists.

The device called LENA (Language Environment Analysis) could lead to the screening for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for which early intervention is important.

It works by recording a child's speech for a whole day and then feeding the data into a special computer program that compares the noises with those of other youngsters already known to have the condition.

The researchers said early speech of infants with autism - particularly the way they pronounce the syllables of words - are distinct from those of typically developing children.

The system which costs about £130 picked up those with the condition with 86 per cent accuracy, according to the findings published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It also differentiated normal children and those with autism from children with language delay based on the automated vocal analysis.

Early diagnosis and treatment of autism can have a dramatic effect on the development of children. The problem is that it is hard to detect and by the time it is usually detected a lot of damage is already done.

Professor Steven Warren, of Kansas University, said: "This technology could help paediatricians screen children for ASD to determine if a referral to a specialist for a full diagnosis is required and get those children into earlier and more effective treatments."

The researchers analysed 1,486 recordings from 232 children aged between 10 months and four years – more than 3.1 million identified utterances.

They found the most important indicator proved to be the ones targeting the way children pronounce syllables – the ability of children to produce well-formed syllables with rapid movements of the jaw and tongue during vocalisation.

Infants exhibit control of the voice in the first months of life and refine this skill as they acquire language.


Monday, July 19, 2010

IVF children more likely to develop cancer(?)

Another stupid attack on IVF, making mountains out of molehills as usual. 53 out of 26,000 IVF children developed cancer -- or one fifth of one percent! That cannot even be called a molehill -- more like a pimple -- and certainly is no basis for any generalizations.

What I said about IVF just over 2 weeks ago applies here too.

Note also that the type of IVF procedure is not mentioned. There are a variety of methods and what might be true of one might not be true of all. Conceptions resulting from ICSI procedures at least should be studied separately

Children conceived through IVF treatment are 42 per cent more likely to develop cancer in their early years, the largest study of its kind has found.

Concerns have been raised that children born after fertility treatment are at greater risk of complications, congential malformations and infertility problems themselves but this is the first time a significant association with cancer has been found.

The problems are not thought to be linked to the procedure itself rather they are more likely to be a result of the infertility itself or complications that occur around birth such as prematurity and low birth weight which are linked to fertility treatment.

Swedish researchers used records of more than 26,000 children born after IVF treatment and linked them to registers of cancer diagnosis. They found 53 children developed cancer, ranging from a very young age, up to 19-years-old, against an expected number of 38. The team said this meant there was a 42 per cent increased risk of childhood cancer in these children.

The cancers included leukaemia, cancers of the eye and nervous system, solid tumours and six cases of a condition called Langerhans histiocytosis. There is debate over whether this condition is a real cancer or not but even when these cases were excluded the increased risk of cancer was still 34 per cent, the researchers said.

IVF-conceived children were 87 per cent more likely to have received a diagnosis of cancer by the age of three than the general population. After this age the risk of cancer in IVF children reduced.

The study found that seven of the 53 children with cancer also had other problems including malformations and Down’s Syndrome which are known to have a strong link to cancer. The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

Lead author Bengt Källén, of the University of Lund in Sweden, wrote in the journal: “We found a moderately increased risk for cancer in children who were conceived by IVF.

“This is probably not attributable to the IVF procedure itself but could be an effect of confounding from unidentified characteristics of women who undergo IVF or could act via the widely known increased risks for neonatal complication.

“It should be stressed that the individual risk for a child who is born after IVF to develop childhood cancer is low. Additional studies on large populations are needed to permit analysis of such a rare outcome as cancer and notably of specific types.”


Needle free jab developed to beat injection phobia

Sounds hopeful

The fear of injections regularly ranks highly on lists of Britain's worst phobias. Now trypanaphobics can breathe a sigh of relief as scientists have developed a skin patch to administer vaccines without the need for a jab.

Researchers say it could pave the way for ‘mail-order’ inoculations, scientists have said. Instead of one large needle, hundreds of microscopic needles set into a patch dissolve into the skin painlessly. The new system could allow non-medically trained people or even patients themselves to administer vaccines, particularly in the Third World.

The details were released in the journal Nature Medicine.

Studies on mice have shown that the microneedles can deliver vaccine that it as effective as conventional methods.

Researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, in America, are believed to be the first to evaluate whether vaccines delivered using these microneedle systems are as effective as ordinary ones.

Mark Prausnitz, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said: “In this study, we have shown that a dissolving microneedle patch can vaccinate against influenza at least as well, and probably better than, a traditional hypodermic needle.

“The dissolving microneedle patch could open up many new doors for immunisation programs by eliminating the need for trained personnel to carry out the vaccination. "This approach could make a significant impact because it could enable self-administration as well as simplify vaccination programs in schools and assisted living facilities."

Several other needleless methods have been developed to administer drugs, including gels, skin patches, tabs that dissolve under the tongue and powder jets that force medicine through the skin under pressure.

The skin is a particularly route of administration, the team from Emory University School of Medicine said, because it contains lots of cells that are needed to mount an immune response.

Richard Compans, professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine, said: "The skin is a particularly attractive site for immunisation because it contains an abundance of the types of cells that are important in generating immune responses to vaccines."

The researchers used mice to test the microneedle patch, giving one group a flu vaccine with the new patch and another group the same vaccine using a traditional needle injected into muscle.

Three months later both groups were exposed to the flu virus and the mice which had been vaccinated using the patch appeared to have better protection.

Sean Sullivan, the study's lead author from Georgia Tech, said: “We envision people getting the patch in the mail or at a pharmacy and then self administering it at home. "Because the microneedles on the patch dissolve away into the skin, there would be no dangerous sharp needles left over."

The patch costs around the same to produce as conventional needle and syringe systems but could save money in large-scale immunisation programmes due to the reduced staffing needed to administer it.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Being obese at 20 'doubles your risk of dying early'

The old "correlation is causality" fallacy again. Fatter people were probably in the main working class and social class is just about the most reliable health predictor there is. Almost every time it is examined, the poor have worse health -- perhaps in part because bad health keeps you poor!

Men who are obese by the age of 20 have double of the risk of dying prematurely, new research has found.

The findings are particularly worrying for Britain's youngsters who have been labeled the 'junk food generation', with a third of youngsters aged five to 13 already considered obese.

Scientists tracked more than 5,000 military conscripts starting at the age of 20 until up to the age of 80.

They found that at any given age, an obese man was twice as likely to die as a man who was not obese and that being overweight aged 20 had a constant effect on death up to 60 years later.

The study, presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm, also revealed that the chance of dying early increased by 10 per cent for each BMI point above the threshold for a healthy weight.

On average obese participants died eight years earlier than those of normal weight.

Study leader, Esther Zimmermann, of Copenhagen University Hospital, said: 'As the obesity epidemic is still progressing rapidly, especially among children and adolescents, it is important to find out if obesity in early adulthood has lifelong mortality effects.

'It is the first study with such a long follow-up time and thus the first study to investigate the lifelong effect."

In the study, the researchers compared mortality in a sample of 1,930 obese male military conscripts with that in a random sample of 3,601 non-obese male conscripts.

Body mass index (BMI) was measured at the average ages of 20, 35 and 46 years, and the researchers investigated that in relation to death in the next follow-up period.

A total of 1,191 men had died during the follow-up period of up to 60 years. The results were adjusted to eliminate any influence on the findings from year of birth, education and smoking.

'At age 70 years, 70 per cent of the men in the comparison group and half of those in the obese group were still alive and we estimated that from middle age, the obese were likely to die eight years earlier than those in the comparison group,' Dr Zimmermann said.

The researchers said it was unclear whether being obese at age 20 conferred the men's increased death risk or whether the lifelong effect was due to obesity often being a lifelong condition.

Either way the study showed that the majority of obese 20-year-olds struggled to lose weight as they got older.

Dr Zimmermann said: 'More than 70 per cent of the obese young men were still obese at the follow-up examinations, whereas only four per cent of the men in comparison group developed obesity during follow-up.'


Low vitamin D levels 'increases risk of Parkinson's'

The numbers in this study are crazy. The researchers admit that their population as a whole was vitamin D deficient yet when only 50 out of 3,173 people (1.6%) got Parkinson's over a 29 year period, they conclude that Parkinson's is caused by low levels of vitamin D! Words fail me beyond that point

A shortage of vitamin D can increase a person's risk of developing Parkinson's disease later in life, new research suggests. One 30-year study of 3,000 people revealed a three-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson's in those with low blood levels of vitamin D.

A separate investigation found that low vitamin D intake was associated with a 60 per cent greater chance of suffering seriously impaired mental faculties later in life.

Both studies, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, add to growing evidence of the vitamin's importance to health.

Vitamin D is mainly generated by the action of sunlight on the skin. However, as people age their skin becomes less able to produce it. Research suggests that as well as strengthening bones, the vitamin also protects against cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

For the Parkinson's study, researchers in Finland recruited 3,173 men and women aged 50 to 79 who did not have the disease.

Enrollment took place from 1978 to 1980. Participants completed questionnaires and were interviewed about their socio-economic and health backgrounds. They also underwent examinations and provided blood samples for vitamin D analysis. Over a 29-year follow-up period, 50 of the group developed Parkinson's disease.

Those who had the lowest amounts of vitamin D were three times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the highest.
What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is a long-term neurological condition that affects around 120,000 people in the UK. It develops over time and affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements, including walking, talking and writing. It is a more common condition in the over 50s. However, of the 10,000 people diagnosed each year around one in 20 is under the age of 40.

The authors, led by Dr Paul Knekt, from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, wrote: 'Despite the overall low vitamin D levels in the study population, a dose-response relationship was found.

'This study was carried out in Finland, an area with restricted sunlight exposure, and is thus based on a population with a continuously low vitamin D status.

'Accordingly, the mean serum vitamin D level in the present population was about 50 per cent of the suggested optimal level. Our findings are thus consistent with the hypothesis that chronic inadequacy of vitamin D is a risk factor for Parkinson's disease.'

Vitamin D is believed to protect the brain through antioxidant activity, regulating calcium levels, detoxification, and its effect on the immune system and nerves. 'In intervention trials focusing on the effects of vitamin D supplements, the incidence of Parkinson's disease merits follow up,' said the scientists.