Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acupuncture has significant impact on mystery illnesses

The good old placebo affect working on what are probably in the main depressive illnesses. The drama of acupuncture should generate strong suggestion effects

Acupuncture has a 'significant' effect on patients with mystery symptoms - and could be added to the list of available treatments for undiagnosed health problems, research shows. One in five patients has symptoms which are undiagnosed by medicine, and the cost of treating them is twice that as of a diagnosed patient.

A team from the University of Exeter examined 80 patients, and investigated the benefit of acupuncture being added to their usual care.

After the first trial of its type, researchers say those who underwent acupuncture showed 'a significant and sustained benefit' and add that the treatment could be safely added to the list of possible therapies.

Of the 80 patients, nearly 60 per cent reported musculoskeletal problems, and in the three months prior to the experiment had accounted for treatment including 44 hospital visits, 52 hospital clinic visits, 106 outpatient clinic visits and 75 visits to non NHS workers.

Half were treated with acupuncture for 26 weeks with the other acting as a control group, reports the British Journal of General Practice.

Those treated with acupuncture had a 'significantly improved' overall wellbeing, reporting further benefits such as new self-awareness about what caused stress in their lives and better diet and exercise. At 26 weeks the control group also underwent acupuncture - and reported the same benefits.

Comments from patients included "the energy is the main thing I have noticed. You know, yeah, it's marvellous!" and "Where I was going out and cutting my grass, now I'm going out and cutting my neighbour's after because he's elderly";

Dr Charlotte Paterson, who managed the trial, said: "Our research indicates that the addition of up to 12 five-element acupuncture consultations to the usual care experienced by the patients in the trial was feasible and acceptable and resulted in improved overall well-being that was sustained for up to a year.

"This is the first trial to investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment to those with unexplained symptoms, and the next development will be to carry out a cost-effectiveness study with a longer follow-up period.

"While further studies are required, this particular study suggests that GPs may recommend a series of five-element acupuncture consultations to patients with unexplained symptoms as a safe and potentially effective intervention."

She added: "Such intervention could not only result in potential resource savings for the NHS, but would also improve the quality of life for a group of patients for whom traditional biomedicine has little in the way of effective diagnosis and treatment."


Happiness comes with a 75th birthday card

There seems in fact to be a mellowing from the 60s on, possibly due to decreasing output of drive hormones such as testosterone

People become less lonely and more happy with their local neighbourhood as they grow older, government research has suggested. The findings challenge the stereotype of old age as a time of isolation and unhappiness. The survey showed that feelings of social isolation were more common among the young.

Based on a survey of 1,867 adults, the report looked at expectations and experiences of later life in Britain. Seventy-two per cent of the over-75s questioned said they never felt lonely, compared with 51 per cent of the 16 to 34 year-olds.

Ten per cent of people aged between 65 and 74 said they were sometimes or often lonely.

Among those aged 50 to 59, the figure was 21 per cent. Researchers suggested that “the peak age for feeling isolated is between 50 and 59, which may relate to children leaving home and, for some people, early retirement”.

Seventy-two per cent of people aged 75 and over also believed their neighbourhood was “definitely” a good place to grow old. Only 58 per cent of those in their 50s gave such a positive answer, and among the youngest, the figure was 36 per cent.

Older people were also more optimistic about their own life expectancy then the young. On average, men over 65 estimated that they would live to be 87, and women in the same group forecast 88. For those aged 16 to 34, average estimates were 79 for men and 80 for women.

As life expectancy rises, ministers are trying to change rules and attitudes around ageing to encourage people to stay economically active for longer.

The survey for the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the average Briton believed “old age” started at around 59, earlier than in most European countries.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Trusting your baby to decide when how much to eat is best

Nice to have some research on an old controversy but, as an epidemiological design, it it not conclusive. Who were the mothers who fed on demand and who fed according to a routine?

Mothers who indulge their babies' demands for food whenever they want it are not spoiling them and are in fact setting them on the right track to a healthy lifestyle, new research suggests.

Researchers have found that mothers should "trust" their baby to decide when and how much they want to eat - and even use feeding to soothe them when they are crying. They found in a study that so called "on demand" feeding led to healthier weights later in the baby's life than traditional "scheduled" feeding where meals are rigidly staggered throughout the day.

Mothers should especially avoid playing games and providing alternative foods to make them eat. However feeding your baby to soothe them was considered fine as long they were not using "coercive methods" to "override" the baby's innate appetite.

"Obesity prevention needs to start very early," said Professor Lynne Daniels, Queensland University Technology in Brisbane, Australia. "Babies have an innate capacity to regulate their intake. We are advising mothers to trust their baby. The parents provide and the baby decides. "The mothers provide the nutrition and the baby decides how much it wants to eat."

There are two camps of thought when it comes to feeding babies.

Traditionally babies were fed to strict timetables - originally every four hours - in the belief that it would get them into a routine early on. But recently many mothers have been advised that feeding on demand was better - meaning they provided food, such as breast and formula milk, if and when the baby wanted it.

In order test what was best, Professor Daniels and her team followed 293 new mothers for the first two years of their babies' lives. Each was interviewed on their parenting style and feeding practices and then their babies weight was measured at 14 months.

"We found that with responsive feeding which is feeding on demand that the babies were more likely to have lower weight status," she said. She said it was too early to come up with the exact benefit but that it was significant.

She said breast feeding appeared to be easier method to feed on demand as it was more convenient and making up a bottle was harder to do every time the baby wanted to feed. "Using coercive methods to make them eat teaches the child to eat for other reasons other than hunger or satiety (fill up), " she said.

The research was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Istanbul.


Skin patch could cure peanut allergy

Sounds good. Peanuts are their own vaccine if given early enough

A revolutionary skin patch that may cure thousands of deadly peanut allergy has been developed by paediatricans. Researchers believe it presents one of the best possible ways of finding an effective treatment for a life threatening reaction to peanuts.

Developed by two leading paediatricians the device releases minute doses of peanut oil under the skin. The aim is to educate the body so it doesnt over-react to peanut exposure.

Human safety trials have started in Europe and the United States and it is hoped that the patch could become become available within 3-4 years.

One of its two French inventors, Dr Pierre-Henri Benhamou, said: We envisage that the patch would be worn daily for several years and would slowly reduce the severity of accidental exposure to peanut.

Around 500,000 children and adults run the daily risk of death from contact with peanuts. It is caused by a faulty immune system which causes danger to the body by over-reacting to what it believes is a threat to the body. Even the minutest amount of peanut can trigger a dangerous reaction known as anaphylactic shock which can trigger inflammation of the airways, causing breathing to stop.

Thousands of people carry injection devices known as Epi-pens that are able to deliver life saving adrenalin should they accidentally ingest peanut. Even so around a dozen children and adults due each year from anaphylactic shock with many more surviving the experience.

Patients with allergy to peanuts are normally so allergic that routine methods used to treat other allergies, such as hay fever, are far too dangerous. These involve minute desensitising injections of the substance causing the allergy to prevent the immune system over-reacting. But doctors believe that even under close medical supervision such an approach would not be safe.

Dr Benhamou, a senior consultant at St Vincent de Paul Hospital in Paris, said: The beauty of the patch is that it is absorbed just under the skin and is taken up by the immune system. But because it doesnt go directly into the bloodstream there is no risk of a severe reaction.

We have carried out a number of small safety trials and now moving to trials that will establish the size of the dose needed and for how long the patch would need to be worn. We would think maybe for three to four years.

Dr Benhamou and his colleague Professor, Christophe Dupont, believe that after about a year of wearing the patch patients may be cured of a severe life threatening reaction to peanut. But it would need to be worn for several more years before a nut allergy sufferer could safely be exposed to peanut

Dr Benhamou said: "At best we are talking about a sufferer eventually being able to eat modest amounts of peanut without a reaction. "But what we want to do most is to eliminate the severe reaction that occurs when people are exposed to the tiniest speck of peanut."

The company has already established that the patch can tackle milk allergy which also affects hundreds of people.

Novelist Polly Williams' son, Jago, four, is among the one child in fifty who is severely allergic to peanuts. He is under the care of one of the top allergy units in the world at St Marys Hospital in Paddington. His mum, from London, carries an Epi-pen at all times. Jago is severely allergic to peanut that even peanut oil on his skin can provoke a bad reaction. A kiss from a relative who had eaten peanuts earlier the same day provoked itching skin, runny eyes and wheezing in the youngster.

Sufferers have been killed by the tiniest of exposure to nut oil that has got into food such as bread.

Professor Gideon Lack of St Mary, one of the UKs leading nut allergy experts, is advising DBV Technologies, the company developing the peanut allergy patch. "It is a clever approach to dealing with the problem and there is a reasonable prospect of success," he said.

"At present thousands of lives are blighted by the daily fear that accidental exposure could prove fatal. It puts an intolerable strain on families. I"t would be fantastic if we reached the stage that previously severely allergic patients could tolerate eating peanut. "But I reckon most parents with allergic children would just settle for knowing that exposure to small amounts of protein would no longer be life threatening."

Professor Lack has been involved in ground-breaking trials to see if early childhood exposure to peanut, could reduce the risk. Evidence from countries like Israel, suggest that toddlers exposed to peanuts in the first few years of life are less likely to become allergic.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Organic" not so safe

A person in Britain has been diagnosed with a lethal strain of E.coli, believed to originate in organic cucumbers.

The bacteria have killed nine people in Germany, with almost 300 people being admitted to hospital. Cases have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The outbreak is believed to have originated in organic cucumbers grown in Spain, although there are suggestions that the bacteria has been found in cucumbers grown in the Netherlands.

The advice now to people travelling to Germany is not to eat cucumbers, raw tomatoes or lettuce.

The British Health Protection Authority has confirmed that three German nationals currently in Britain have fallen ill. One of those cases has been confirmed as having the infection which is causing this outbreak.

A spokeswoman for the HPA said the outbreak in Germany was "very, very serious" and although the bug was infectious, there had been no reports of secondary infection yet in the UK.

Dr Dilys Morgan, head of the gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections department at the HPA, said: "The HPA is actively monitoring the situation very carefully and liaising with the authorities in Germany, the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation as to the cause of the outbreak. E.coli bacteria like these are responsible for the outbreak across Europe.

"We are keeping a close watch for potential cases reported in England and are working with colleagues in the devolved administrations to recommend they do the same. "In addition we are in the process of alerting health professionals to the situation and advising them to urgently investigate potential cases with a travel history to Germany."

In Germany concern is growing. The country's National Disease Control Centre has confirmed 60 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours. A spokesman for the German consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner said: "The European Union internal market has very strong safety rules and we expect all EU states to observe them." He added that, for the moment, "one can only speculate about the causes" of the outbreak.

In Spain, a spokesman for the AESA food safety agency said investigations were also under way. "The Andalusian authorities are investigating to find out where the contamination comes from and when it took place," he said. "This type of bacteria can contaminate at the origin or during handling of the product."

There has been no report of contamination within Spain, AESA said.

Those worse hit by the infection contract HUS, a condition which can have severe effects. British microbiologist Ron Cutler told Sky News: "It contains some very nasty toxins which can go straight to your kidneys and cause kidney failure, and it's very difficult to treat.

"For those who are treated, around 90% of treatments can be successful, but one in 10 of those people could have damaged kidneys in later life."

The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that the offending cucumbers have not been on sale at any outlets in the UK.


Blind 'can develop bat-like sonar'

Blind people can develop 'sonar', learning to navigate like bats by 'seeing' objects from sounds reflected off them, research has found.

Some become so skillful at listening to the returning echoes of clicking noises that they make with their mouths, that they can use their ability to go mountain biking or play ball games.

It is well known that bats using a biological version of sonar, called echolocation, to find their way around at night. That blind humans could do it too was suspected but not known.

Now Canadian researchers have proved that they can. Intriguingly, they do so by using a part of the brain normally involved in processing visual images. They discovered this by carrying out brain scans on two male volunteers, aged 43 and 27, who had both been blind since childhood.

Each was asked to stand outside and try to perceive different objects such as a car, a flag pole and a tree by making clicking noises and then picking up their very faint echoes. Tiny microphones were placed in the volunteers' ears to record the outgoing and incoming sounds.

The men later had these sounds played back to them, while their brain activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. During playback, they were able to identify which object was which from the echoes alone.

The fMRI scans showed that these echoes were being processed by brain regions normally used to process visual information. No echo-related activity was seen in the auditory brain areas, which would be expected to process sound.

The 43-year-old, whose lost his sight earlier, performed better. His eyes were removed at 13 months due to a rare cancer called retinoblastoma.

The same test on sighted people showed no ability to echolocate, and no echo-related activity in their visual brain regions.

Dr Mel Goodale, from the University of Western Ontario, led the study, published in the journal Public Library of Science One.

He said: "It is clear that echolocation enables blind people to do things that are otherwise thought to be impossible without vision, and in this way it can provide blind and vision-impaired people with a high degree of independence in their daily lives."


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Asses' milk helps you lose weight, research finds

If you are a mouse

Cleopatra famously bathed in it as part of her beauty regime. But now a study claims that asses' milk could be a good way to lose weight and protect your heart.

Researchers have found that milk from donkeys, which was still being drunk in Victorian times, contains less fat and is more nutritious than cow's milk.

They also found that it be a natural protection to the heart as it contains omega three and six fatty acids, similar to fish oil, which reduce cholesterol.

As it is also much closer to human milk it could be used in young children who are allergic to normal dairy products.

High levels of calcium that make it good for your bones add to its health giving properties.

The study at the University of Naples, Italy, compared the effect of donkey milk compared to cow's milk in diet and health.

In experiments, they found that the cow's milk and donkey milk provided the same amount of energy but that the latter caused more weight gain as it raised metabolism.

Rodents that were given the donkey milk also showed lower levels of triglycerides, unhealthy fats that affect the heart, and less stress on the metabolic system.

The study, which was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Istanbul, concluded that its "consumption should be encouraged".

Earlier research has shown that it could even be better than semi-skimmed, soya or formula milk, especially in young children as it contains high levels of calcium for bones.

Its make up is very similar to human breast milk and because it is low in proteins it can be used in young children who are allergic to proteins in cows' milk.


Another trot for the "polypill"

All very hopeful but still no double blind studies of vascular disease incidence in humans. The similar "polymeal" concept seems to have petered out

A new 10p-a-day ‘polypill’ containing aspirin and statins halves the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the world’s first international trial of the drug.

A research team found "sizeable reductions" in blood pressure and levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol among those who took the polypill over 12 weeks, compared to those who took a placebo. Separate pills are already prescribed to millions of people worldwide to lower their chances of heart attack and stroke.

But scientists have been looking at the prospect of a combined pill, which they believe will encourage more people to take the medications more reliably.

Eight years ago Prof Sir Nichlas Wald, who demonstrated that passive smoking causes cancer, proposed the polypill in an article in the British Medical Journal.

He wrote that such an easy-to-take pill could significantly reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease, which is Britain's biggest killer, accounting for almost 200,000 deaths a year.

Taking such a preventive pill should be as automatic as "brushing your teeth", he later suggested.

Now the first international polypill study, published last night and part funded by the Wellcome Trust, has suggested it could be extremely effective.

The researchers examined data from 378 people with a raised risk of cardiovascular disease. Half were given the polypill and half the placebo. About a third of the participants were British, a third Dutch and a third Indian.

Specifically, systolic blood pressure was reduced from a pre-trial average of 134 mmHg to 124; while 'bad' LDL cholesterol came down from 3.7 mmol/L to 2.9.

Doctors use mmHg as a standard unit for measuring blood pressure, while mmol/L - millimoles per litre - is used as a measurement unit for very low concentrations of substances in blood.

Cardiologists know that having high blood pressure and cholesterol raises the chances of cardiovascular events, and are able to estimate how much reducing these factors decreases that risk.

The researchers calculated that the polypill would roughly halve the incidence of major cardiovascular events in people with similar risk profiles to the participants.

Writing in the journal Public Library of Science One, they concluded that the benefits to those at a high risk would be even greater: "Overall about one in four high risk people would be predicted to avoid a major event over five years."

Prof Anthony Rodgers of the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, who led the study, said: "The results show a halving in heart disease and stroke can be expected for people taking this polypill long-term. "We are really excited about this - it is a step closer to providing the polypill to patients."

It has long been known that taking aspirin and statins separately reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, but this is one of the first studies examining taking them in a combined pill.

It contains 75mg aspirin, 20mg simvastatin, 10mg lisinopril and 12.5mg hydrochlorothiazide. Aspirin prevents blood getting too 'sticky', which can lead to clots that cause heart attacks; statins lower cholesterol; while the latter two drugs lower blood pressure.

There were fears that the drugs could react in a pill while being stored, and cancel each other out, but the trial proved these were unfounded.

All four drugs are off-patent, meaning any drugs company can manufacture them. Prof Simon Thom, of Imperial College London, said the Indian pharmaceutical firm Dr Reddys had committed to make the polypill "as dirt cheaply as possible".

The cost issue is particularly important in poorer and middle income countries, which are facing growing epidemics of 'lifestyle' diseases due to changing diets and people getting less exercise.

About 17 million people die of cardiovascular disease every year, 80 per cent of them in developing countries.

Prof Thom said in such countries the cost could be just £1.20 a month, with richer countries which were able to shoulder the economic burden paying more. Even so, the cost in Britain could be as low as £3 a month.

The case for the polypill has been given a powerful boost by British-led research, published in The Lancet last winter, showing that regularly taking low-dose aspirin reduces the risk of certain cancers, including bowel cancer, by up to 50 per cent.

Prof Rodgers commented: "These benefits would take several years to 'kick in', but of course one of the hopes with a polypill is it helps people take medicines long-term."

This polypill is likely to be available in India soon. However, the Department of Health is more cautious.

Two years ago Prof Roger Boyle, England's heart disease 'czar', told MPs that he liked the "concept" but there were questions marks over safety. He also said there was a "fine line" between preventive medicine and "medicalising" the population.

Side effects are a big issue. Aspirin is known to aggravate the intestine and can cause internal bleeding, although most cases are minor.

This trial found that about one in 20 people stopped taking the polypill because of side effects, mainly due to such bleeding but also due to light-headedness caused by too low blood pressure.

Prof Rodgers said it was highly unlikely that all middle aged and elderly people would be offered a polypill in the future, but that it could be allocated to those with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

That could feasibly be one in five people over 30, perhaps more.

Prof Thom, who led the UK arm of the trial, said: "We now need to conduct larger trials to test whether these medicines are best provided in the form of a polypill, or as separate medicines, and whether this combination strategy improves patient adherence to cardiovascular medication."

Dr Lorna Layward, from The Stroke Association, said: "Many people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are required to take multiple pills every day in order to reduce their risk.

"Calculating when each pill needs to be taken can often be confusing and so combining the pills into one could make taking the medication much simpler.

"However, it's important to note that this pill might not be suitable for everyone and it may have side effects so every patient should be assessed and treated on an individual basis. It's also extremely early days and a lot more research needs to be carried into this pill to ensure its safety."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We welcome any evidence that contributes to providing the best treatment for people with cardiovascular disease."

He added: "It is also important to remember that changes made to a person's lifestyle such as stopping smoking, eating healthily and taking regular exercise have far reaching health benefits that will not be reaped from medication, including reduction in the risk of developing diabetes and cancer."


Friday, May 27, 2011

Lack of sleep can lead to overweight kids

The fact that -- for once -- parental education and income was controlled for makes this study unusually strong. So it is amusing that diet and exercise were found to have negligible effect

A lack of sleep is more likely to lead to overweight children than a poor diet or lethargic lifestyle, a new long-term study has found.

New Zealand researchers monitored a random sample of almost 250 children, regularly tracking weight, diet, body composition, physical activity and sleep patterns from the ages of three to seven.

They took into account birth weight, parent's education, income, ethnicity and if their mother was smoking while pregnant - all factors known to affect a child's weight.

Previous studies have found poor sleep is linked to heavier children, but this is the first time such a thorough and long assessment had been done, researcher Professor Barry Taylor said.

Almost a quarter of the Dunedin children surveyed were overweight by the time they were seven, Prof Taylor said. "(But) how active you are actually seems to have no effect on whether or not you're overweight at the age of seven," he told AAP. "The food that you ate had some effect, but actually the biggest effect was short sleep."

He said the children slept an average of 11 hours each night and those that got any less shut-eye were more likely to be overweight, even if other factors were controlled. "It's a complicated connection," said Prof Taylor, a pediatrician and academic from the Dunedin School of Medicine.

He said the amount of sleep a person got altered the hormones controlling metabolism and appetite, hence, how much one eats. "We were surprised by how big a factor (sleep was)," Prof Taylor said. "I was expecting the ... percentage of food eaten as vegetables and fruit would be more important and that activity levels ... would be more important."

Evidence suggests the amount of sleep both children and adults get has dropped significantly in the past 30 years, Prof Taylor said, blaming a "modern lifestyle". He said children should generally get about nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, but some will need more.

Trials are now under way to see if teaching families how to deliberately increase their child's sleep can alter growth. "All we can say at this stage is this looks like something that needs to be done," Prof Taylor said.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.


Aspartame in the gun again

Based on specious epidemiological reasoning. There are some very strange aspartame crusaders. I have had run-ins with them before

An artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke is to undergo an urgent EU safety review. Aspartame is ingested every day by millions of people around the world in more than 6,000 well-known brands of food, drink and medicine. However, it has been the subject of a number of studies that appear to show harmful effects on human health.

One recent study linked diet drinks containing aspartame to premature births, while another suggested it could cause cancer.

To date, health watchdogs, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), have ruled out any link to ill-health.

But after several MEPs asked for a new investigation following pressure from European health campaigners, EU Commission officials have now asked the EFSA to bring forward a review that had been planned for 2020.

The concern about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame relates to the fact that they contain methanol, a nerve toxin which can be metabolised in the body to form two more nerve toxins: formic acid and formaldehyde, the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

Earlier this year, experts on Britain’s Committee on Toxicity(CoT) ruled that ‘long-term exposure to methanol consumed through food, including from aspartame, is unlikely to be harmful to health’. The committee pointed out that methanol is also found in fruit and vegetables.

As a result of the experts’ conclusions, the FSA ruled the consumption of aspartame ‘is not of concern at the current levels of use’.

Despite this verdict, the FSA is currently recruiting volunteers for an investigation into anecdotal reports of ill health, including headaches and stomach upsets, associated with aspartame.

The watchdog announced the research project in 2009, however it has had difficulties recruiting volunteers who claim to suffer problems.

EFSA spokesman, Lucia De Luca, said: ‘Aspartame is one of hundreds of flavourings. It is on the market because it has been assessed in the past and considered safe. ‘We have received an official request for a complete re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame. ‘The re-evaluation is scheduled for 2020 but the Commission asked us to do this re-evaluation now in the light of recent events. ‘In the past year, there have been a couple of studies looking at aspartame and concerns expressed by consumer groups and others.’

In July last year, EU-funded research by Danish scientists, which looked at almost 60,000 mothers-to-be, found a correlation between the amount of diet drink consumed and an early birth.

Previously, the Independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans. Both of these have been evaluated by EFSA experts, who have rejected any risk to human health.

Aspartame is manufactured by Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe. The firm said it welcomes the decision to bring forward the safety evaluation. A spokesman said: ‘EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010. In addition, recent allegations about the safety of aspartame made in France and by a handful of MEPs have already been dismissed by EFSA. ‘This review of the extensive body of science on aspartame will provide additional confirmation of the ingredient’s safety.

‘By providing an excellent sweet taste, aspartame makes a useful contribution to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and can help people to avoid overweight and obesity, and their associated diseases.’


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nutty Danes BAN Marmite and Vegemite ... because they have too many vitamins

Australia's Vegemite and Britain's Marmite are very similar products and both are hugely popular in their respective markets. Vegemite or Marmite on toast is one of life's great pleasures for their respective populations. Both are normally regarded as inedible by Americans, however.

Vegemite has long been Australia's national sandwich spread. It is sometimes described as an Australian national icon. Most Australian homes have some in the fridge. I have a big bottle of it myself and enjoy it greatly. And Australians have unusually long lifespans. Which is entirely due to Vegemite, of course!

And Princess Mary of Denmark is an Australian. How will she cope? Will the future Queen of Denmark be deprived of her hereditary food?

They say you either love it or hate it. But it seems that people in Denmark definitely hate Marmite as the country has banned it from its shelves. The sticky brown yeast extract, commonly spread on toast and sandwiches, has built up millions of admirers around the world - and just as many who grimace at the merest thought of the dark paste.

The divisive vegetable spread has been banned in Denmark because it breaks food laws passed in 2004 governing the sale of products fortified with added vitamins. And until now, Marmite had escaped the attention of food chiefs.

It is unclear exactly why the Danish authorities have launched a crackdown on foods with too many vitamins. But Marmite now joins the ranks of Australian alternative Vegemite, Horlicks, Ovaltine and Farley’s Rusks - all products the Danes have an apparent aversion to.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is responsible for the ban which has ex-pat Britons living in the country fearful for their culinary future.

'What am I supposed to put on my toast now?' said British advertising executive Colin Smith, who has lived there for six years. 'I still have a bit left in the cupboard, but it's not going to last long.' He and others fear they will have to subscribe to a black-market trade in the sticky brown stuff, smuggled in from nearby Sweden or Germany where it is still legal.

British foodstuff shops in Copenhagen are worried about the economic impact on their businesses as Marmite has been a staple of their turnover for years.

The ban highlights the absurdity of the EU which states that it is a legal product, but which has no authority over nation states about what can and cannot be sold.

'They don't like it because it's foreign,' Lyndsay Jensen, a Yorkshire-born graphic designer in Copenhagen, told the Guardian. 'But if they want to take my Marmite off me, they'll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands.'

Abigails, a shop in the centre of Copenhagen that specialises in English foodstuffs, has begun a 'Bring Back Marmite' campaign.

'Marmite was one of our best-selling products. Not a day goes by without someone coming in and asking for it,' said Marianne ├śrum, who together with her Scottish partner owns the food store. 'It’s becoming impossible to run a business in this country,' continued ├śrum, herself a Dane. 'The government keeps making things illegal!'

The Danish government had no immediate comment on its decision.


Sex Scares Used to Ban BPA

Alan Caruba

We have documented a massive, global campaign to ban bisphenol-A, BPA, a chemical that has been safely used for more than a half century to protect metal and plastic containers for food and liquid against spoilage and the resulting hazard to health.

Every day, somewhere in the nation and the world, there is a constant repetition of lies regarding BPA They frequently target the fears of mothers of newborn infants, but also alleging a wide variety of other health threats including a healthy sex life for men and women.

In the same fashion that the global warming hoax was spread and maintained by a campaign that asserted that everything from frizzy hair to blizzards was the result of a dramatic warning cycle that was either happening or predicted to happen, the effort to ban BPA uses the same technique.

The campaign is pursued by a coalition of environmental and consumer activist groups that depend on such scare campaigns to maintain funding and secure members who can be relied upon to ignore or reject the science that disputes such campaigns.

In May 2011, the Miami Herald published what read like a news release by the Natural Resources Defense Council that asserted “Bisphenol-A associated with obesity, lower sperm counts, and pre-cancerous changes in the body is found in the bodies of 90 percent of Americans. Now a study shows that you can halve your levels of BPA and other chemicals within three days through a change in diet.”

Three distinct “scares” are captured in this news release, all aimed a fears regarding health, but none of them reflect the fact that trace amounts of BPA is routinely excreted and thus poses no threat. It also fails to reveal that the “studies” always involve administering large amounts of BPA to laboratory mice in a fashion that does not reflect actual exposure.

The ultimate target of the anti-BPA campaign is the widespread use of plastic containers of food and liquids, along with its use to line the insides of metal cans for that purpose.

From its earliest origins, environmentalists have sought to ban chemicals in general even though plastic has transformed and enhanced life around the world. In the U.S., the average life expectancy in the last century rose from thirty-seven in 1900 to the current seventy-eight years!

Earlier this year, the German Society of Toxicology released a review of more than five thousand previous studies of BPA exposure that concluded that BPA “exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.” Researchers concluded that BPA is neither mutagenic nor likely to be a carcinogen.

This, however, has not deterred the constant repetition of lies asserting that BPA is a health threat, nor a variety of efforts, including proposed State bans on the use of BPA. In April 2011, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a 14-page report that included three pages of intensely documented notes, that refuted efforts by the Maryland legislature to ban infant formula and baby food packaging that contains more than 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA.

“In public policy, bad ideas have an unfortunate tendency to spread,” said Dr. Angela Logomasini, PhD. Efforts in Maine, Maryland, and even in Congress to ban BPA portend a host of food-born diseases and even death if such bans continue to be enacted.

The source of these bans is the environmental movement that first came to public notice when they succeeded in getting DDT banned. The result has been a rise in malarial deaths in nations that followed suit and in the swift explosion of the bed bug plague in the U.S.

So vast have been the campaigns against the beneficial chemicals that protect human health that a word was coined to identify the phenomenon—chemophobia. It is an irrational fear of chemicals when, in fact, the human body is a chemical factory, producing chemicals for digestion, hormones, and others, all the while cleaning the body of chemicals it rejects.

Simple common sense suggests that parts-per-billion of any substance cannot possibly pose a risk or threat.

In his book, “The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment”, published by the Cato Institute, author Indur M. Goklany, wrote “In keeping with its origins of technological skepticism, the precautionary principle has also been increasingly invoked as justification, among other things, for international controls, if not outright bans, on various technologies, which—despite substantial benefits to humanity and, in some cases to certain aspects of the environmental—could worsen other aspects of the environment or public health.”

At the heart of environmentalism is the core belief that humans are endangering the Earth by the use of the remarkable technologies that have been developed in the past century.

At the core of the efforts to ban BPA is an agenda to endanger the food supply by banning a chemical that protects it. That is why, by spreading lies about sperm counts, endocrine disruption, and non-existent threats via liquid containers, the ultimate agenda to reduce the worldwide human population is central to the campaign against the use of BPA.

There are no feasible substitutes for BPA. Banning it will guarantee the people will die.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pesticides and the Rosenthal effect

There seems to be a rather sad group of people -- mostly on the political Left, apparently -- who are convinced that anything popular is bad. And they go to some lengths to prove it. Hence we have the unrelenting attacks on things as diverse as McDonald's and cellphones. No compromise by McDonald's ever suffices to blunt the attacks and no amount of evidence showing low levels of electromagnetic radiation to be harmless will ever convince. So the attacks go on. And among academics, the attacks take the form of "research".

And pesticides are one of the unexonerable villains for some people. The fact that an upsurge of pesticide use has coincided with an unprecedented expansion of lifespans doesn't cause a moment's doubt.

But this runs us slap bang into the Rosenthal effect: The fact that with the best will in the world, a researcher's expectations will influence what he finds in his research. It is because of that fact that "double-blind" studies are often conducted -- thus leaving as little room as possible for the reseacher to bias his results, wittingly or unwittingly.

So we come to the research report below. It is a very well-designed piece of research. It is far more "watertight" than most other studies in the field. But at least three of the authors are anti-pesticide activists and there appears to have been no effort to make the study "double-blind". That also makes it worthless in my view.
Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children

By Maryse F. Bouchard et al.


Context: Organophosphate (OP) pesticides are neurotoxic at high doses. Few studies have examined whether chronic exposure at lower levels could adversely impact children’s cognitive development.

Objective: To examine associations between prenatal and postnatal exposure to OP pesticides and cognitive abilities in school-age children.

Methods: We conducted a birth-cohort study (CHAMACOS) among predominantly Latino farmworker families from an agricultural community in California. We assessed exposure to OP pesticides by measuring dialkyl phosphate (DAP) metabolites in urine collected during pregnancy and from children at age 6 months and 1, 2, 3½ and 5 years. We administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV to 329 seven-year old children. Analyses were adjusted for maternal education and intelligence, HOME score, and language of cognitive assessment.

Results: Urinary DAP concentrations measured during the 1st and 2nd half of pregnancy had similar relations to cognitive scores, thus we used the average of concentrations measured during pregnancy in further analyses. Averaged maternal DAP concentrations were associated with poorer scores for Working Memory, Processing Speed, Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, and Full Scale IQ. Children in the highest quintile of maternal DAP concentrations had an average deficit of 7.0 IQ-points compared with those in the lowest quintile. However, children’s urinary DAP concentrations were not consistently associated with cognitive scores.

Conclusions: Prenatal but not postnatal urinary DAP concentrations were associated with poorer intellectual development in 7-year-old children. Maternal urinary DAP concentrations in the present study were higher, but nonetheless within the range of levels measured in the general U.S. population.


What a laugh! The old traffic pollution bandwagon rolls again!

An amazingly naive study below. Some researchers into this topic have absorbed the lesson that they must control for social class variables if they are to be taken seriously but the guys below have just reinvented the wheel.

The study is in a "pay to publish" journal so it's what one has to expect, I guess. The journal concerned is also a government one so that is a second reason for expecting poor quality.

The authors found that people who lived near busy roads were dumber. But only dumb people would live near busy roads!
Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Cognitive Function in a Cohort of Older Men

By Melinda C. Power et al.


Background: Traffic-related particles induce oxidative stress and may exert adverse effects on central nervous system function, which could manifest as cognitive impairment.

Objective: We assessed the association between black carbon (BC), a marker of traffic-related air pollution, and cognition in older men.

Methods: A total of 680 men (mean ± SD, 71 ± 7 years of age) from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study completed a battery of seven cognitive tests at least once between 1996 and 2007. We assessed long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution using a validated spatiotemporal land-use regression model for BC.

Results: The association between BC and cognition was nonlinear, and we log-transformed BC estimates for all analyses [ln(BC)]. In a multivariable-adjusted model, for each doubling in BC on the natural scale, the odds of having a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score ≤ 25 was 1.3 times higher [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1 to 1.6]. In a multivariable-adjusted model for global cognitive function, which combined scores from the remaining six tests, a doubling of BC was associated with a 0.054 SD lower test score (95% CI, –0.103 to –0.006), an effect size similar to that observed with a difference in age of 1.9 years in our data. We found no evidence of heterogeneity by cognitive test. In sensitivity analyses adjusting for past lead exposure, the association with MMSE scores was similar (odds ratio = 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1 to 1.7), but the association with global cognition was somewhat attenuated (–0.038 per doubling in BC; 95% CI, –0.089 to 0.012).

Conclusions: Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.


There was actually something interesting in their data which they promptly "ironed out": The relationship was non-linear. That may suggest that a medium level of proximity to busy roads was beneficial to IQ! They actually did have something interesting to report but were too fixed onto their mental train-tracks to see it! They threw out the baby and kept the afterbirth. And the three leading researchers are from Harvard!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does fat shrink your brain?

Being an epidemiologist sure seems to! Working class people are more likely to be fat and they are dumber anyway. That alone could account for the epidemiological findings.

The gastric bypass study is more interesting but we are not told why some had surgery and some did not. Almost certainly those who had surgery were more distressed and that may have included a greater incidence of sleep apnoea and other things -- such as depression -- that DO impede alertness

Just last month, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden declared the risk of dementia in later life is 71 per cent higher for overweight people, and around four times greater for those who were obese in middle age.

The problem, say scientists, is fat, as it causes the brain to shrink.

‘We know that a fatty diet clogs our arteries and is bad for our heart, and it does exactly the same thing to blood vessels in the brain,’ explains Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at the University of Los Angeles and an expert in this field.

His team found the brains of overweight and obese subjects were, on average, between 4 and 8 per cent smaller than the brains of those who were at a healthy weight. ‘This is because blood can’t get through so easily to the brain — it’s starved of oxygen and the brain cells eventually die, he says.’ This has the effect of prematurely ageing the brain.

The researchers, who examined brain scans of nearly 100 people aged over 70, concluded the brains of overweight people were on average eight years older than those of their healthy counterparts. ‘We based this on the fact that the average person loses 0.5 per cent of their brain a year,’ says Professor Thompson. ‘The overweight people had already lost 4 per cent more than someone of a normal weight, so they were effectively eight years older.’

The news was worse for obese people: ‘They had lost 8 per cent of their brain, so they were 16 years older. It won’t kill you, but there will come a point when it’s noticeable — when about 10 per cent of your brain tissues have died,’ he adds.

And for the obese, there is more bad news: the scans also revealed the areas where the shrinkage was most pronounced were those responsible for reasoning and judgment and the processing of long-term memories.

Whether you’re obese or just overweight, the researchers believe a shrunken brain is less resilient to damage from the abnormal protein clumps in the brain called plaques that kill brain cells and cause Alzheimer’s. ‘It may be that you are building up plaques in the brain and then being obese tips you over the limit into having Alzheimer’s,’ says Professor Thompson.

To support this, other research has shown obese individuals have less grey matter and more white matter than people with healthy BMIs.

‘Obese people, or those who have a binge-eating disorder, may also have differences in the structure of some parts of the brain compared with their thinner counterparts,’ says Dr Goldstone. ‘Some studies have shown subtle differences in how dense and well organised the grey or white matter in the brain of obese people and those who are not.’

But could losing weight or having obesity surgery improve memory and cognitive functioning once again? The evidence emerging suggests it may well do, according to researchers at Kent State University, Ohio.

The memories of 150 overweight people were tested before some of the participants underwent gastric bypass surgery. Around 12 weeks after surgery, those who’d had the operation showed improvements in memory, moving from a score of mildly impaired into the normal range. The improvements were not mirrored in the patients who didn’t have surgery.

Tests included the ability to recall words, problem solving and reaction times.

So what is causing the improvement in these people’s brains? ‘Research has shown that when people gain weight they tend to have more problems learning and recalling new information, problem solving and co-ordination,’ says John Gunstad, associate professor in the department of psychology, who led the research. ‘It’s a really big challenge to work out why, but it’s thought the changes in blood pressure and glucose levels that accompany weight gain might also be to blame.

‘In addition, obese people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea, which affects concentration during waking hours. ‘There are a whole host of possible factors. What we do know is that losing weight seems to enable the brain to function normally again.’


The Facts of Lunch: Federal School Regulations Aren’t The Answer

There is nothing wrong with fighting childhood obesity but fighting it at the federal level with ineffective methods that could cost each school district over $100,000 in budget increases isn’t going to cut it.

Every school district is different and it would be more appropriate to make these decisions at the state and local level so that the best options for each individual district can be provided for those particular students.

Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture mistakenly assume their preliminary new federal rules to make school lunch healthier will naturally result in healthier kids. For many schools, the less tasty meals will be wasted, leaving oversized garbage cans full of costly fruits, veggies and hyper healthy portions the schools paid a pretty penny for.

And by schools, I mean the state taxpayers who have no say in what kind of regulations populate their local school districts. The total cost for the new rules is estimated to reach $6.8 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Not only will the schools be adding more fruits and veggies, they will be adding more expensive products to ensure freshness – an unnecessary extravagance for most districts within this already expensive upgrade.

And the latest proposal? Removing white potatoes – meaning school lunches would absent tater tots and French fries – beloved staples of the school lunch tray for generations. Schools in Texas are even dishing out $2 million to install cameras that will monitor the calorie intake of students. The lunch trays will include bar codes for researching purposes. What a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The House subcommittee on Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing Friday on the USDA’s preliminary regulations, which are an extension of President Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed last year.

The truth is that limiting the amount of nutrient-empty food available to students is a no-cost way to help fight childhood obesity. In a testimony on federal food programs, Heritage’s Robert Rector said:

Changing the composition of foods offered by schools may have positive results on children’s weight and would not impose added costs on the taxpayer.

A great many schools are already adopting this sort of policy. What is needed here is flexibility and experimentation. There is, no need for mandatory national standards, nor for the U.S Congress to assume the role of national “cookie czar,” dictating food policies for local schools. Such a usurpation of power would be unwise and unwarranted.

Instead of the federal government attempting mandate standards for every faceless school district in the country, they should look to state and local education leaders for direction on what policies work in different areas. A school district in southern Texas is not going to need the same things as one in inner city New York. Why doesn’t the federal government make that connection?

America is fighting record debt right now – cutting costs at every available corner. Implementing this kind of unnecessary federal regulation while we are attempting to reconcile our economy is an irresponsible move at the wrong time.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Mama mia! What an absurd piece of reporting about those evil pesticides!

We find below an account of a reasonable piece of research but the authors obviously did not like what they found. I gather that they are from a group of people opposed to pesticide use and they clearly wanted to say that pesticides fry the brains of kids.

But their data does not show that. The Abstract below concentrated on IQ at 12 months. Why? That is an absurdity. There is no way you can get a useful estimate of IQ at 12 months. About 4 years would be the minimum.

And since they had data from children at later ages, the whole thing begins to smell. I therefore read the full research report and discovered that the findings at the oldest age were described as "imprecise". "Imprecise"? That is not a term usually found in statistical reporting. I can only assume that they mean "not statistically significant" In other words, the whole thing is a crock.

And here's the amusing bit: For the white kids in the sample, having lots of pesticides in you made you SMARTER at 12 months!

Why did they bother reporting such sh*t? They have made a mockery of themselves and their cause. Stephanie the Angel is an angel of darkness, it would seem ("Engel" is German/Yiddish for Angel).
Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood

By Stephanie M. Engel et al.


Background: Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides has been shown to negatively impact child neurobehavioral development. Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) is a key enzyme in the metabolism of organophosphates.

Objective: To examine the relationship between biomarkers of organophosphate exposure, PON1, and cognitive development at ages 12 and 24 months, and 6 to 9 years.

Methods: The Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Study enrolled a multiethnic prenatal population in New York City between 1998 and 2002 (n= 404). Third trimester maternal urines were collected and analyzed for organophosphate metabolites (n = 360). Prenatal maternal blood was analyzed for PON1 activity and genotype. Children returned for neurodevelopment assessments at ages 12 months (n = 200), 24 months (n = 276), 6 to 9 (n = 169) years.

Results: Prenatal total dialkylphosphate metabolite level was associated with a decrement in mental development at 12 months among blacks and Hispanics. These associations appeared to be enhanced among children of mothers who carried the PON1 Q192R QQ genotype, which imparts slow catalytic activity for chlorpyrifos oxon. In later childhood, increasing prenatal total dialkyl- and dimethylphosphate metabolites were associated with decrements in perceptual reasoning in the maternal PON1 Q192R QQ genotype, with a monotonic trend consistent with greater decrements with increasing prenatal exposure.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that prenatal exposure to organophosphates negatively impacts cognitive development, particularly perceptual reasoning, with evidence of effects beginning at 12 months and continuing through early childhood. PON1 may be an important susceptibility factor for these deleterious effects.


Rough, Virginia, very rough (Your pesticide conclusions, that is)

The study described below is of unusually high quality, so its negligible findings are all the more impressive for that. The researchers had a good measure of child IQ and even measured maternal IQ: Most unusual. And their measure of maternal pesticide exposure was direct rather than inferential. And they even used standard deviations in subsectioning their data -- a big advance on the rubbishy use of extreme quintiles that one so often encounters in the medical literature.

A simple Pearson product moment coefficient would have been more informative but such statistics tend to expose how little of the variance is explained by the variable of interest so one understands why all but the bold avoid supplying such information (Disclosure: I ALWAYS used Pearsonian correlations in reporting my own research findings).

At the end of the day, however, an IQ difference of 1.4 points is well within the margin of error at age 7 years. I would describe the findings in exactly the opposite way to how the authors describe them. I would say that the study is a strong indication that pesticides have negligible to nil effects on child IQ.

And a maybe amusing bit: The amount of pesticide in her had no effect on the mother's IQ. I quote: "There were no significant interactions between CPF and any covariates". Do you grow out of having pesticide in you?

("Rauh" is German/Yiddish for rough)
7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide

By Virginia Rauh et al.


BACKGROUND: In a longitudinal birth cohort study of inner-city mothers and children (Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health), we have previously reported that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (CPF) was associated with neurodevelopmental problems at child age 3 years.

OBJECTIVE: The goal of the study was to estimate the relationship between prenatal CPF exposure and neurodevelopment among cohort children at age 7 years.

METHODS: In a sample of 265 children, participants in a prospective study of air pollution, we measured prenatal CPF exposure using umbilical cord blood plasma (picograms/gram plasma), and 7-year neurodevelopment using the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC-IV). Linear regression models were used to estimate associations, with covariate selection based on two alternate approaches.

RESULTS: On average, for each standard deviation increase in exposure (4.61 pg/g), Full-Scale IQ declined by 1.4%, and Working Memory declined by 2.8%. Final covariates included maternal educational level, maternal IQ, and quality of the home environment. There were no significant interactions between CPF and any covariates, including the other chemical exposures measured during the prenatal period (environmental tobacco smoke and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

CONCLUSIONS: We report evidence of deficits in Working Memory Index and Full-Scale IQ as a function of prenatal CPF exposure at 7 years of age. These findings are important in light of continued widespread use of CPF in agricultural settings and possible longer-term educational implications of early cognitive deficits.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

LOWERING your salt intake may kill you

In layman's language, that is what the research reported below shows. So most Western governments are trying to kill you. Note that the academic journal below is a very prestigious one and that governments getting it exactly wrong has plenty of precedent -- with the reverse-course on peanut allergy being the most well-known recent example.

Also note that for years I have had in my sidebar a warning about this

Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion

By Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek et al.


Context: Extrapolations from observational studies and short-term intervention trials suggest that population-wide moderation of salt intake might reduce cardiovascular events.

Objective: To assess whether 24-hour urinary sodium excretion predicts blood pressure (BP) and health outcomes.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Prospective population study, involving 3681 participants without cardiovascular disease (CVD) who are members of families that were randomly enrolled in the Flemish Study on Genes, Environment, and Health Outcomes (1985-2004) or in the European Project on Genes in Hypertension (1999-2001). Of 3681 participants without CVD, 2096 were normotensive at baseline and 1499 had BP and sodium excretion measured at baseline and last follow-up (2005-2008).

Main Outcome Measures: Incidence of mortality and morbidity and association between changes in BP and sodium excretion. Multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) express the risk in tertiles of sodium excretion relative to average risk in the whole study population.

Results: Among 3681 participants followed up for a median 7.9 years, CVD deaths decreased across increasing tertiles of 24-hour sodium excretion, from 50 deaths in the low (mean, 107 mmol), 24 in the medium (mean, 168 mmol), and 10 in the high excretion group (mean, 260 mmol; P < .001), resulting in respective death rates of 4.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.5%-4.7%), 1.9% (95% CI, 1.5%-2.3%), and 0.8% (95% CI, 0.5%-1.1%). In multivariable-adjusted analyses, this inverse association retained significance (P = .02): the HR in the low tertile was 1.56 (95% CI, 1.02-2.36; P = .04). Baseline sodium excretion predicted neither total mortality (P = .10) nor fatal combined with nonfatal CVD events (P = .55). Among 2096 participants followed up for 6.5 years, the risk of hypertension did not increase across increasing tertiles (P = .93). Incident hypertension was 187 (27.0%; HR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.87-1.16) in the low, 190 (26.6%; HR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.89-1.16) in the medium, and 175 (25.4%; HR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.86-1.12) in the high sodium excretion group. In 1499 participants followed up for 6.1 years, systolic blood pressure increased by 0.37 mm Hg per year (P < .001), whereas sodium excretion did not change (–0.45 mmol per year, P = .15). However, in multivariable-adjusted analyses, a 100-mmol increase in sodium excretion was associated with 1.71 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure (P.<001) but no change in diastolic BP.

Conclusions: In this population-based cohort, systolic blood pressure, but not diastolic pressure, changes over time aligned with change in sodium excretion, but this association did not translate into a higher risk of hypertension or CVD complications. Lower sodium excretion was associated with higher CVD mortality

JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.574

That 'healthy' bowl of granola has more sugar than coke... and more fat than fries: Busting the diet food myths

Combining rolled oats, brown sugar or honey, dried fruit, and nuts, granola is undoubtedly a delicious breakfast option. But is it a healthy one? Advice from experts is: Make sure you read the box carefully.

‘Most granolas are classified as high sugar, with more than 12.5g of sugar per 100g, much of which has been deliberately added to make it taste more palatable than the granola once found in health food shops,’ says Anna Raymond, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. ‘Health guidelines recommend consuming no more than 90g of sugar in a day. Don’t be fooled by the addition of honey – it’s still a sugar, and no more healthy.’ With this in mind we asked Anna to examine six leading granolas available on the High Street, and give her verdict. The results may come as a surprise...


Ingredients: Oat flakes, sugar, sultanas, rapeseed oil, coconut, hazelnuts, honey, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.

Nutrition (all figures given for 100g without milk unless indicated otherwise): 416 calories, 9.4g protein, 59.5g carbohydrate, (of which 23.8g is sugars), 15.6g fat (of which 4.8g is saturates), 7.6g fibre, 0.006g sodium.

ANNA SAYS: Although this initially looks healthy, it has the highest saturated fat content of them all, which comes from the addition of coconut. A large portion of McDonald’s fries has only 2g of saturated fat and a hamburger just 3g. A bowl of this could contain half your saturated fat for the day.

However, the granola has good fibre content and the addition of seeds makes it healthier and more likely to fill you up compared to a fast-food breakfast.

More here

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Help the Avastin ladies

Background: Avastin is an anti-cancer drug that blocks blood flow to tumors. In 2007, the FDA granted accelerated approval for the use of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. It was clear from the Avastin studies then that while many women would not benefit from the drug, a significant minority could live longer and with less pain.

The FDA asked Avastin researchers to evaluate the drug’s risks and benefits on a larger group of patients with the same standards used to approve the drug in the first place. The study confirmed the 2007 results showing benefit to specific groups of women. But the FDA revoked Avastin’s approval for breast cancer treatment because it didn’t extend life on average.


I hereby urge the President of the United States of America, the Congress of the United States of America and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to act immediately to protect women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), an incurable disease that kills 40,000 women per year.

We the People petition you to grandfather access to the drug Avastin for the current 17,500 patients, as well as protect their private insurance and Medicare coverage for Avastin. Without Avastin, women will die and without keeping their coverage intact through private insurance or Medicare, the drug will be unaffordable for most.

We further insist that you find ways to keep Avastin on the market for all patients who can benefit from its safe usage. We beg you to allow further trials for Avastin following FDA guidelines and to encourage further research to determine genetic markers for women who might benefit from Avastin.

We also implore you to explore ways to improve the FDA's drug approval process without reducing the safety of drugs reaching market. The quicker patients have access to safe drugs, the more they can be helped.

We appeal to you to adopt common-sense approaches to allowing drug companies to donate drugs to people in need on a compassionate use basis. Drug companies are restrained in donating on a compassionate use basis because of uncertainty of corporate and personal liability. This uncertainty must to be removed to help the needy.

We are a civilized society that values life. We also cherish individual freedom and the right of a patient to choose her medical options with her physician. By acting on this, you will confirm our belief that Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is an inalienable right for all, including the seriously ill.

Petition here

Federal Food Police Against Business and Science

Late last month a host of government agencies including the Federal Trade Commission and the Agriculture Department proposed what the media described as "tough'' but "voluntary" new standards for food companies that advertise to children, designed to pressure the businesses into incorporating much lower amounts of fat, sodium and sugar in foods aimed at a young audience.

Barely a week later the Journal of the American Medical Association published new research which suggested that lowering sodium consumption not only doesn't benefit most people, it may actually increase risk of heart attacks for some. The research was apparently so disturbing to government regulators that some felt the need to step out and criticize the results in the media, something that they rarely do.

If you've been following the latest research on diet in the scientific journals, you would understand why the regulators appeared so defensive. Increasingly, some of the basic assumptions about nutrition that have formed the core of the government's recommendations on what Americans should eat are being questioned by studies which suggest the advice is not merely ineffective but may be counterproductive, contributing among other things to the rise in obesity which the White House decries.

Rather than be humbled and made cautious by such research, however, government regulators are simply plowing ahead with a conviction that their ideas about nutrition are correct. Businesses are expected to fall into line, regardless of the implications for their products.

The sodium controversy is a good example of how distorted the arguments have become. The regulators dismissed the new study by suggesting that the results were unusual because the research was flawed. But this was not the first time that a peer-reviewed study had cast doubt on the idea that most of us consume too much sodium. Indeed, more than a decade ago Science Magazine highlighted the controversy with a piece entitled "The (Political) Science of Salt" which noted that, "Three decades of controversy over the putative blood pressure benefits from salt reduction are demonstrating how the demands of good science clash with the pressures of public health policy."

More recently, in a February, 2010, article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Michael Alderman, a leading hypertension expert, reviewed the relevant recent research and found a disturbing lack of consistency in the results of a dozen studies on the relationship of salt to our health, which prompted him to observe in the New York Times that any potential population-wide government requirements or recommendations on sodium reduction would amount to a giant uncontrolled experiment with the U.S. population with potentially unintended consequences.

The legacy of the government's dietary guidelines may turn out to be a disturbing list of unintended consequences, including possibly the current obesity epidemic. Since the 1970s, the government's food recommendations have largely been aimed at cutting our consumption of cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat, to reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke and the conditions that might lead to them, including obesity.

The guidelines, first produced by Sen. George McGovern's Select Subcommittee on Nutrition and Human Needs, were controversial from the start because there was no conclusive evidence at the time that diet was a major contributor to heart disease. But the committee and its scientific advisers proceeded because, they argued, there were no risks in "eating less meat, less fat, less saturated fat...more fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats and cereal products." Over the years this has become a mantra of the public health establishment about diet, namely that even when the research is inconclusive, what could possibly be the harm in consuming less of things like meat and salt?

With the federal bureaucracy behind them, the guidelines became widely accepted even though subsequent research often questioned them. Two of the government's principal studies on diet and heart disease, published in the 1980s, were intended to offer reassurances, but instead produced results that were inconclusive, at best.

The science has only gotten more troubling since then, as researchers have begun to wonder if the obesity epidemic is in some way related to the change in diet prompted by the guidelines. A 2008 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine argued that Americans have actually followed the government's advice, reducing intake of fat and increasing the proportion of our calories from carbohydrates. The result had been a rise in overall calorie intake, leading the authors to wonder if, "the U.S. dietary guidelines recommending fat restriction might have worsened rather than helped the obesity epidemic." They criticized the government for relying on "weak evidentiary support" in the guidelines.

In April of last year Scientific American reviewed the mounting number of studies contradicting the governments point of view in a piece entitled, "Carbs Against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart." And in October of 2010 the journal Nutrition weighed in with a piece by five researchers entitled "In the Face of Contradictory Evidence: Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee," which cited dozens of peer-reviewed studies questioning the science at the foundation of the guidelines.

None of this has deterred the government. The new, 2010 guidelines, for instance, ignored the contrary evidence and recommended significantly lowering salt consumption for everyone over age 50. As in the past, the food regulators seem to have little concern for the unintended consequences of their untested theories. Food companies have argued, for instance, that the sodium goals set by the government are so low that they will make some foods like prepared soups unpalatable to kids. We have no idea what other foods kids will turn to instead.

More than three decades of government involvement in dietary recommendations have led to a situation our grandparents and great-grandparents would have found unthinkable: people turning to government for advice on what to eat. In the interim a whole industry of nutrition writers and diet books has emerged to interpret the Washington diet to us, or contend against it. Not surprisingly, some Americans are confused.

If the federal government unleashed a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences more than three decades ago, it's going to be awfully hard to undo much of what Washington has done. We haven't even begun trying yet.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Another backflip: Eating butter and cheese 'doesn't increase risk of heart attacks'

The last sentence below should be framed and placed above the desk of every epidemiologist

It's great news for cheese and butter fans - scientists have found that eating dairy food doesn't increase your risk of a heart attack. Nutritionists surveyed thousands of middle-aged people and found that even those who ate more than half a kilo of cheese did not seem to suffer from increased risk.

Contrary to earlier beliefs that saturated fat might lead to a heart attack, researchers found that nutrients in dairy products actually counteract the harmful effects.

Researcher Stella Aslibekyan, of Brown University, Rhode Island, where the research was carried out, said: 'Things like milk and cheese are very complex substances. 'We looked at heart attack risk and dairy products in their entirety and then looked at separate components of those dairy products, including fats, and it turns out that the results are null.

Her team doesn't believe the saturated fats in dairy products are harmless, but suggest other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium may protect against heart disease for all but those who ate the most of them in their study.

Their findings, taken from 3,630 Costa Rican men, are published in the Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases journal.

They found the dairy intake of people who had heart attacks was no different to the intake of people who did not.

Looking at how much dairy food they ate, there was no link between consumption and heart attack risk, even among those who consumed as much as 593 grams a day. When the researchers accounted for other factors such as smoking, alcohol and exercise, there was still no difference, statistically.

Dr Ana Baylin said: 'The message is that it is important to look at the net effect of whole foods and dietary patterns and not only isolated nutrients.'


GM food toxins found in the blood of 93% of unborn babies

No evidence of any harm after millions of people have been eating the stuff for years but let's have a shriek, anyway! Food is full of toxins manufactured by plants to kill insects. We eat such naturally occurring insecticides all the time without harm. Bug-killers are generally harmless to us. Bt is also a naturally occurring insecticide, albeit derived from a soil-dwelling bacterium rather than a plant

Toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests are reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies, alarming research has revealed. A landmark study found 93 per cent of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals.

Millions of acres in North and South America are planted with GM corn containing the toxins, which is fed in vast quantities to farm livestock around the world – including Britain. However, it is now clear the toxins designed to kill crop pests are reaching humans and babies in the womb – apparently through food.

It is not known what, if any, harm this causes but there is speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.

To date the industry has always argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut and pass out of the body, thus causing no harm. Food safety authorities in Britain and Europe have accepted these assurances on the basis that GM crops are effectively no different to those produced using conventional methods.

But the latest study appears to blow a hole in these claims and has triggered calls for a ban on imports and a total overhaul of the safety regime for GM crops and food.

Most of the global research which has been used to demonstrate the safety of GM crops has been funded by the industry itself.

The new study was carried out by independent doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, Canada. They took blood samples from 30 pregnant women and 39 other women who were not having a baby. They were looking for residues of the pesticides associated with the cultivation of GM food. These include so-called Bt toxins, which are implanted using GM techniques into corn and some other crops.

Traces of Bt toxin were found in the blood of 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers – 28 out of 30. It was also found in 80 per cent of the umbilical cords – 24 out of 30.

In the non-pregnant group, traces were found in the blood of 69 per cent – 27 out of 39. It is thought the toxin is getting into the human body as a result of eating meat, milk and eggs from farm livestock fed GM corn.

The Canadian team told the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology: ‘This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and non-pregnant women’s blood.’ They said the Bt toxin was ‘clearly detectable and appears to cross the placenta to the foetus’.

Calling for action, the team said: ‘Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the foetus, more studies are needed.’

The director of GM Freeze, an umbrella group for community, consumer and environmental organisations opposed to GM farming, described the research as ‘very significant’. Pete Riley said: ‘This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen. ‘Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.’

The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, questioned the reliability and value of the research.

Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said: ‘The study is based on analysis that has been used in previous feeding studies and has been found to be unreliable.’ He said the toxins found are also used in other farming systems and gardening ‘with no harm to human health’.

Dr Little said: ‘Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.’


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy people die younger than their more reserved peers, study finds

My interpretation of these findings would be that happy people get out and about more -- which exposes them to more dangers than what someone sitting around and moping at home would experience

People who are too happy die younger than their more downbeat peers, claims new research. A study which followed children from the 1920s to old age showed that people who were rated 'highly cheerful' by teachers at school died younger than their more reserved classmates.

This was because people who were too happy were more likely to suffer from mental disorders such as bipolar, making them less fearful and more likely to take risks that increase the chance of having a fatal accident. Being too cheerful - especially at inappropriate times - can also rouse anger in others, increasing the risk of a person coming to harm.

Researchers from a variety of universities worldwide also discovered that trying too hard to be happy often ended up leaving people feeling more depressed than before, as putting an effort into improving their mood often left people feeling cheated. And magazine articles offering tips on how to be happy were also blamed for worsening depression.

One study saw participants asked to read an article offering ways to improve your mood, and follow one of the tips to see how effective it was. Participants then took the advice offered - such as watching an upbeat film - often concentrated too hard on trying to improve their mood rather than letting it lift naturally.

This meant that by the time the film had ended, they often felt angry and cheated by the advice given, putting them in a far worse mood than when they had started watching.

However, results of the study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, revealed that the key to true happiness was much more simple: meaningful relationships with friends and family members.

Study co-author Professor June Gruber, from the department of psychology at Yale University in the United States, said of people who actively tried to be happy: 'When you're doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness.

'The strongest predictor of happiness is not money, or external recognition through success or fame. It's having meaningful social relationships.' She added: 'That means the best way to increase your happiness is to stop worrying about being happy and instead divert your energy to nurturing the social bonds you have with other people. 'If there's one thing you're going to focus on, focus on that. Let all the rest come as it will.'


The Google pharm case

The American pharmaceutical system is a highly controlled apparatus for restricting access to much-needed drugs and violating the rights of those who want to purchase them. This has long been true.

Vast amounts of drugs that people should be permitted to purchase of their own free will are withheld from the market (of course, many others are outlawed). Instead, people who know what they need are forced first to fork over their money to a physician – who then gets overpaid by insurance – then part of the buck is passed to the over-trained checkout clerks at the pharmacy. We are all treated like babies in order to sustain and fund an industry filled with bamboozlers in white coats.

The Internet in its early days (perhaps 1998 to 2008) represented a wonderful alternative to this apparatus. Suppliers all over the world popped up to give us what we wanted, bypassing the whole cage of government regulations and private monopolists who rule them like prison wardens. You know what you need, so just click and buy it!

So the pharmaceutical industry solicited the help of government. Together, they worked to crack down on "counterfeit" medicines – meaning the real thing that bypasses patent restrictions and supplier monopolies. In their view, people must not be allowed to get prescription medications without doctor approval – else an entire fake industry could collapse. So they banded together and instituted a medieval guild system for the digital age.

Over the years, Google has accepted some advertising from some of these so-called rogue elements. In a free market, they would be perfectly legitimate advertisers. Google makes no guarantee of the exact nature of the goods and services of all those who choose to advertise on its network. It has some degree of interest in quality control, of course, but if the customers are buying and happy, what could be the problem?

Well, the medical cartel, of course, and it asked for the Justice Department to intervene. As of this writing, Google is assuming that it is going to be in hot water very soon. Its recent report to stockholders says that it has put half a billion dollars in escrow to deal with the Justice Department investigation. The presumption here is that Google is going to be held liable for permitting ads to run from market-based drug sellers.

There are so many ways that this is wrong that one hardly knows where to begin. But let’s start with pharmaceutical prices, which continue to go through the roof and which are driving forward increased pressure for socialistic forms of cost spreading. Using the Internet, there are tens of thousands of companies that could immediately begin distributing name-brand drugs and also derivative products at a fraction of the price imposed today.

Why not let them? More to the point, why should government resources be devoted to making sure that the price of prescription drugs remains as high as possible? If you thought that the regulators were truly concerned about consumer welfare (ha ha), this action alone should put that idea to rest.

What about the allegation that these are counterfeit drugs being sold? Well, it is seriously doubtful that if any consumer who is buying a prescription medicine from an online source is being defrauded; there is an understanding that the drug in question is most likely generic. Consumers have no problem with this, as the aisles of generics at the drug store suggest. What the government really means by counterfeit is that the generic drug is being introduced prior to the expiration of the patent that inflates prices as much as one hundred times.

We all have stories to share about such things. A cream that is $100 one day is $5 after the drug enters the free market. A nasal spray that is $200 is suddenly $10 after it becomes part of the market. And so on. The term counterfeit should be reserved for fraud; it doesn’t apply to goods that are brought to market before a government-imposed embargo expires.

The same is true of the notion of real and fake pharmacies. Drug dispensaries should be businesses like any other, subject to free entry and exit and governed by the principles of profit and loss. But just as with the medical profession itself, drug stores want to avoid being treated like commercial ventures. Instead, they want to be part of a tight cartel that rules who gets in and who stays out.

The only way to maintain a cartel is through government regulations, and this is what the pharmacy industry has long relied upon, much to the detriment of consumer well being. The attempt to crack down on free-market advertising of prescription drugs is all about protecting an industry from competition, and has nothing at all to do with protecting the consumer.

It is not a coincidence that so much Internet spam comes from companies that purport to be selling drugs that people do not necessarily want to get from their doctor. There are privacy concerns. There’s also a perfectly normal desire to avoid embarrassment. But the government will have none of it: you must confess to a doctor, you must look the drug-store clerk in the eye.

People commonly blame the markets for all this spam, but they really should have been fingering the government for having created the black and grey markets for these drugs in the first place! This is what creates the incentives to dump trillions of unsolicited emails on the world. The spammers knew that their product was valued but without normal markets, they resorted to globalized promotions.

In fact, this is why Congress made spam illegal. The anti-spam law had absolutely nothing to do with keeping your inbox clean. It was all about protecting the medical monopoly against competition.

Finally, there is the very serious matter of the presumed liability held by Google. Maybe there is a precedent somewhere for a magazine or newspaper being held responsible for the claims of its advertisers. But I’m quite sure that there has never been a case where the fees are anywhere near this range. $500 million? This is crazy, and a clear example of government’s looting of deep pockets.

The claim is that Google had disobeyed its own policies of making sure that every drug advertiser had passed through its own internal checks. But those checks were clearly instituted under government pressure, direct or indirect, so how it is an allegation against Google that it didn’t obey them across the board? This is nothing but harassment in order to preserve the privileges of a very powerful cartel.

People imagine that the U.S. has a free market in prescription medicine. This case is a very clear example of how and to what extent this is absolutely untrue. A free market permits anyone to advertise anything through any mutually agreed upon means. Google is being investigated and hounded and fined solely for doing business in a way that benefits society at large. What matters to government is that doing such business harms a favorite client of the state.