Thursday, June 30, 2011

Diet drinks make you FATTER

The effect reported seems to be an unusually large one and may therefore be of interest but the evidence is epidemiological so is not decisive. It could well be people who are prone to overeating anyhow who use such drinks heavily

They are the calorie-free way of having a sweet treat, but diet drinks could still make you fat, scientists have warned. A ten-year study of almost 500 men and women linked low-calorie soft drinks with bulging waistlines – even when taken in small quantities.

Those who downed two or more diet fizzy drinks a day saw their waistbands expand at five times the rate of those who never touched the stuff, a diabetes conference heard.

The results were so dramatic that the American researchers advise that people ditch their diet drinks and use water to quench their thirst instead. Those who cannot bear to give up the sugar rush may be better off drinking normal full-sugar fizzy drinks.

Professor Helen Hazuda, of the University of Texas’s health science centre, said diet sodas and artificial sweeteners may foster a sweet tooth, distort appetite and even damage key brain cells. As a result, treating them as healthy alternatives may be ‘ill advised’. The professor, who no longer drinks diet colas and lemonades, said: ‘They may be free of calories but not of consequences.’

Professor Hazuda tracked the health and habits of 474 adults for an average of nine and a half years. She then compared the growth in waistline of those who consumed diet drinks with the others, including some who only buy regular fizzy drinks.

Overall, those who favoured diet drinks saw their waists expand 70 per cent faster. But ‘frequent users’ – defined as those who drink two or more cans a day – saw a 500 per cent greater increase in girth, the American Diabetes Association conference heard.

Significantly, the results still stood even when other factors such as exercise, social class, education and smoking were taken into account.

With pot bellies being blamed for ills from heart disease to diabetes and cancer, the researchers said: ‘These results suggest that amidst the national drive to reduce chronic consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, policies that would promote the consumption of diet soft drinks may have unintended deleterious side-effects.’

A second study, involving some of the same researchers and carried out on mice, linked sweetener aspartame with the sort of damage in the pancreas that can occur early in diabetes.

The researchers said they think that artificial sweeteners may distort appetite, leaving us craving extra-sweet and unhealthy treats. They may also damage brain cells involved in feelings of fullness, while the lack of real sugar could also stop us from feeling full.

Sharon Fowler, who was involved in both pieces of research, said: ‘Artificial sweeteners could have the effect of triggering appetite but unlike regular sugars they don’t deliver something that will squelch the appetite.’

Professor Hazuda said that her study was the fourth large-scale piece of research to link diet drinks with ill health. She added: ‘I think prudence would dictate drinking water.’


Cancer patients prescribed chewing gum to aid recovery from surgery

An unpublished study!

Doctors at a leading London hospital are advising bowel cancer patients to chew sugar-free gum after their operations, in order to get their digestive systems back to normal so they can get better faster.

Studies have found that patients undergoing surgery likely to affect their bowel function were fit enough to go home as much as two days earlier than other patients if they chewed gum.

Chewing gum has helped new mothers recovering from caesarean sections, as well as patients undergoing stomach surgery, who can suffer from painful cramps until digestion returns to normal, research has found.

Now surgeons at University College London Hospital are asking patients booked for bowel cancer surgery to bring supplies of sugar-free gum with them, to be chewed three times a day, for an hour, after their operation.

Consultant colorectal surgeon Alastair Windsor said the trial is part of a programme to find new ways to help patients recover from treatment. He said many patients undergoing many types of surgery likely to affect their digestive system could benefit from bringing gum to hospital - but advised them to ask their own doctor first.

Mr Windsor said: "One of the things that delays people recovering from surgery is that they get what is called an ileas - where the bowel goes to sleep. "It seems that chewing gum can stimulate the saliva, which starts enzyme production in the pancreas, and that then stimulates gastro-intestinal activity."

The trial, which began six months ago, has yet to publish results, but the surgeon said so far patients were responding well to it. He said: "Patients seem to like it and in particular to like the fact they are doing something to aid the recovery. We don't yet know how far it is speeding up their recovery, but there doesn't seem to be a downside to it."

The surgeon added: "If I was a patient going into hospital for surgery, I would say talk to your medical team first, but from all the research done, it seems that chewing gum is something that can help patients and for most people, it is certainly unlikely to do any harm."

Different studies from across the world have shown faster recovery when patients are asked to chew gum, but it is not known whether the act works as a placebo, improving patients' sense of well-being, and reducing stress - which could in itself improve bowel function - or whether the impact is physical.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another attack on BPA

Journal article here. The critical factor in such studies is the level of exposure. A basic principle of toxicology is that the toxicity is in the dose. And humans get very tiny exposures to BPA through packaging -- just a few molecules at a time. So the key factor in this study is whether or not the mice were given even tinier does (given that mice are much much smaller than humans). It seems hard to imagine. The authors state that the dose they administered was "likely to provide circulating serum concentrations close to those observed for humans" but this does not seem to have been tested and the sampling used to assess normal human levels was not mentioned. On the whole, it seems likely that the mice were given a much heavier dose than humans would normally receive.

One also notes that many other studies have shown no ill effects and if you do enough studies (and this field is an obsessional one) you will get some apparently significant effects by chance alone

UPDATE: Just a very quick note made without re-reading the article. The reported effects were not "ex hypothesi". In fact the original hypotheses were comprehensively disconfirmed. The authors apparently then went on a data dredging spree, examining a very large number of possible differences. Under those circumstances some significant contrasts are likely to be found by chance alone. That is of course very poor science -- with the results being suitable for hypothesis generation but unable to justify any firm findings

A gender-bending chemical found in food packaging may reduce a man's ability to attract a female, researchers warn. A study from the University of Missouri found male mice who were exposed to bisphenol A as babies became demasculanised and 'behaved more like females.'

Study author associate professor Cheryl Rosenfeld, said the chemical had suppressed the early production of testosterone, which the females could sense. 'The BPA-exposed deer mice in our study look normal; there is nothing obviously wrong with them. Yet, they are clearly different,' she said. 'Females do not want to mate with BPA-exposed male deer mice, and BPA-exposed males perform worse on spatial navigation tasks that assess their ability to find female partners in the wild. '

The research could have implications on how BPA affects human development and behaviour. 'These findings presumably have broad implications to other species, including humans, where there are also innate differences between males and females in cognitive and behavioral patterns,' Rosenfeld said.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is used to harden plastics, is one of the world’s most widely manufactured chemicals and can be found in dozens of everyday items including baby bottles, CD cases and food and drink packaging. Because the chemical mimics oestrogen, many scientists believe it interferes with the way hormones are processed by the body.

Although several animal studies have shown it to be safe, others have linked Bisphenol A to breast cancer, liver damage, obesity, diabetes and fertility problems.

In the study, female deer mice were fed BPA-supplemented diets two weeks prior to breeding and throughout lactation.

The mothers were given a dosage equivalent to what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers a non-toxic dose and safe for mothers to ingest. At weaning the deer mice offspring were placed on a non-supplemented BPA diet and their behavior tested when they matured into adults.

Male deer mice exposed to BPA were less desirable to female deer mice, who literally turned their noses up at them. This meant the females did not consider them genetically suitable mates.

'We can use this evolutionary approach to the study of BPA to determine to best way to assess differences in the risks to boys and girls to early exposure to this chemical,' said David Geary MU Curators' Professor of Psychological Sciences.


Television creates 'perfect storm' of childhood obesity

This is a "policy statement", not science. There have been many gravely mistaken policies in medical science

Television creates a "perfect storm" of childhood obesity, paediatricians warn today. The mixture of long-hours sitting doing nothing in front of the box, exposed to advertising for unhealthy products, means today's children both get too little exercise and end up consuming foods which make them put on weight.

The caution comes from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), in a policy statement about children, obesity and television.

It advises parents to limit their time their children spend watching non-educational programmes to two hours per day, and take the television screeens and computers out of their sons' and daughters' bedrooms.

Commenting on the statement, the lead author, Dr Victor Strasburger, said: "We’ve created a perfect storm for childhood obesity – media, advertising, and inactivity. "American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy – too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep."

Although the warning was about American children, it could almost as easily apply to British ones as well. Studies show that British children watch on average almost as much as their American counterparts.

Dr Strasburger said children saw £5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food."

The policy statement is published in Monday's edition of the AAP's journal, Pediatrics.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can mothers 'eating for two' put babies at risk from eating disorders and a low IQ?

A super-duper scare cooked up for the obesity war. But it's just the usual epidemiological nonsense. They have shown that fat women have less healthy babies -- but why? Could it be that obesity is greatest among lower class mothers and they are less healthy anyway? Social class is a PERVASIVE predictor of health outcomes. When will epidemiologists develop some honesty about what is going on? I'm not holding my breath

Pregnant women who ‘eat for two’ could be damaging their babies’ IQs, research shows. They may also put them at risk of developing behavioural problems, eating disorders and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.

Doctors have long known that obese pregnant women are more likely to suffer blood clots, but the long-term effects of a mother’s overeating on her child’s health are not well understood.

Now a review of existing research has found evidence that obese women or those who put on excessive amounts of weight when pregnant could be harming their children’s development.

Scientists from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, looked at a dozen studies. Research in the U.S. found that children of obese mothers tended to have IQ scores five points lower than the results of those whose mothers were a normal weight.

Swedish studies showed children were more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if their mothers were obese.

And work on Australian teenagers suggested a child’s chance of having an eating disorder increased by 11 per cent for each point their mother’s body mass index increased during pregnancy.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Obesity Review, believe hormonal and chemical changes may explain the results.


SKINNY gene raises risk of heart disease and diabetes

They may be the envy of their fuller-figured friends, but slim people shouldn’t feel too self satisfied. Being trim doesn’t guarantee they are healthy.

Researchers have found a so-called ‘lean gene’ that helps them keep weight off but also raises their odds of developing diabetes and heart disease. The link is particularly strong in men, meaning those with washboard stomachs may not be quite as healthy as they think.

Scientists compared the genetic codes of more than 75,000 people with the ratio of fat to muscle in their bodies. This revealed an extremely common gene called IRS1 to be linked to leanness.

But while we are used to hearing about the many health benefits of being thin, IRS1 seemed to buck the trend. Those with the gene had higher levels of dangerous blood fats and found it harder to process sugar.

This put them at a 20 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes – the form that develops in middle-age and is often blamed on obesity.

As the gene is only linked to lower levels of fat stored just below the skin, known as subcutaneous fat, it may be that people who have IRS1 stash theirs elsewhere. If fat is wrapped around the heart, liver or other organs it could lead to life-threatening conditions.

The study, reported in the journal Nature Genetics, involved teams at 72 institutions in ten countries.

Lead scientist Dr Ruth Loos, of the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, said: ‘People, particularly men, with a specific form of the gene are more likely to be lean and to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 'In simple terms, it is not only overweight individuals who can be predisposed for these diseases, and lean individuals shouldn’t make assumptions that they are healthy based on their appearance.’

She suggested that the effects may be more pronounced in men because they store less fat than women, and could be more sensitive to changes in its distribution.

Professor Nick Wareham, the unit’s director, added: ‘The research will provide new insights into why not all lean people are healthy and, conversely, why not all overweight people are at risk of metabolic diseases.’

Professor Jeremy Pearson, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘These results reinforce the idea that it is not just how fat you are, but where you lay down fat that’s particularly important for heart risk. ‘Fat stored internally is worse for you than fat stored under the skin.’


Monday, June 27, 2011

Banning BPA Will Kill People

Alan Caruba

The lies being told about Bisphenol-A, BPA, via the print and broadcast media, and via the Internet are a destructive tsunami intended to ban its use. If successful, people will die.

In previous parts of this series on BPA, I have identified environmental organizations and public relations firms that have worked as sponsors and/or purveyors of systematic falsehoods about BPA.

The inescapable conclusion is that there is an intricate matrix of comparable groups behind a global fraud that reeks of the same pathology and methodology as the disgraced and debunked “global warming” hoax. But the results of a successful BPA hoax could have deadly consequences.

BPA has been in use for more than a half century and as such, it is among the most tested substances in use today. It is used to line the insides of metal containers and to make shatterproof safety plastics. Unlike what the junk science merchants would have us believe, BPA is not a carcinogen, it is not mutagenic and it’s not an ‘endocrine disruptor.’

Stated simply, BPA improves human health and safety.

Dr. Angela Logomasini, PhD, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, authored the report “Anti-BPA Packaging Laws Jeopardize Public health,” and concluded, in reference to efforts at the state level to restrict BPA, that “these policies threaten to undermine food safety because BPA is used to make resins that line metal cans and other packaging to prevent the development of dangerous pathogens and other contamination.”

The safety characteristics provided by BPA in making shatterproof plastic are no less valuable. Consider this simple and common scenario: a new mother trying to care for her infant while literally juggling a telephone, a cooking utensil and a glass baby bottle. This is actually one of the reasons that bottles made of hardened, shatterproof plastic became so popular so quickly; they were safe to use and spared mothers the risk of shards of shattered glass in homes with infants and toddlers.

We take for granted that we eat all manner of food packaged in cans as well as food and drink in plastic bottles. Imagine if you could not be sure that it was safe to eat or drink? Imagine if you had to fear the contents of a metal can of soup every time it was opened? Or feared what might happen if you drank soda from a plastic bottle?

Banning the use of BPA would put the contents of billions of cans and bottles at risk of contamination, a function that BPA protects against every day and everywhere around the planet. The risk of a BPA ban is clear; there are no alternatives to BPA that have a similarly tested safety profile.

Thousands of studies have been conducted on BPA and not a single one of them has ever shown any harm to human health from BPA in normal consumer use.

This truth was illustrated in an April article by author Jon Entine who reported “A comprehensive review by the German Society of Toxicology of thousands of studies on BPA concluded, ‘(BPA) exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.’” During June 2011 in Europe more people died from eating organic vegetables than ever exhibited so much as a symptom of illness due to BPA over the past half century.

While activists clamor for bans on BPA, they’re largely mute when asked what the alternative might be. A report in noted that Dr. John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, stated “There is a great deal of research underway at this time, but the fact remains there is no readily available alternative to BPA for all the types of metal food and beverage packaging currently in use.” The likelihood of finding a substitute is literally “years away.”

Opponents of BPA seek to intimidate and marginalize credible researchers by condemning their ‘links’ to industry – accusations that are as specious as the non-existent ‘links’ of BPA to physical ailments – yet Rost’s safety concerns were underscored in a May 12 opinion piece in the New York Times which stated what scientists have been saying all along; “Swapping out BPA-free bottles, teething rings and sippy cups for substitutes whose dangers are unknown isn’t keeping our children safe."

Banning BPA would not only constitute a health threat, it would have a catastrophic economic impact on the provision of all food and drink packaged in metal or plastic containers. The assault on BPA is an assault on the vast bulk of humanity that depends on safe, protected containers.

The anti-BPA propaganda, all of which use the vague phrases that BPA “may” pose this threat, “might” pose that threat, “could” have some effect, “has been linked”, is baseless. It plays to the fears of those also read and hear an endless range of specious claims about chemicals of every description. That fear has a name, chemophobia.

Just as the anti-PBA propaganda continues, so do the alleged “studies” that link it to “possible”, “potential” hazards. Time and again, they prove to be an insult to the scientific method.

The sensible consumer knows that mere “exposure” does not constitute a threat or hazard. Every day we are “exposed” to all manner of things we safely eat and drink simply because the exposure is so small—parts per billion—as to constitute no hazard and because the body naturally excretes substances such as BPA on a daily basis.

This pernicious assault on the use of Bisphenol-A must be stopped.


Australian scientists in snakebite ointment breakthrough

Rubbing snakebites with an ointment that slows the functioning of lymph glands could boost survival times by 50 per cent, according to new research by Australian scientists.

In experiments on humans and mice, researchers showed a class of compounds called nitric oxide donors delays the entry of toxins from potentially deadly snakebites into the blood stream.

Nitric oxide (NO), a molecule involved in regulation of blood pressure and the control of brain activity, has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients who suffer acute strokes.

The new finding is of more than academic interest: every year, 100,000 people worldwide die from snakebites, and another 400,000 must amputate limbs that have been injected with poison.

It has long been known that many snake venoms contain large molecules that transit the human body's lymphatic system before entering the bloodstream.

Separately, scientists have also established that nitric oxide slows down a pumping mechanism within the lymphatic system, a part of the body's immune system that carries a clear fluid - called lymph - toward the heart.

Dirk van Helden, a researcher at the University of Newcastle, put these two facts together to suggest a possible treatment for snakebites.

"We hypothesised that a nitric-oxide-releasing agent applied topically would slow lymphatic transit time and entry of the venom into the circulation, delaying onset of toxicity," he and his colleagues wrote in the study.

To test their theory, the researchers injected a venom-like substance into one foot of 15 volunteers, and measured the time it took for the toxin substitute to reach lymph nodes in the groin.

The experiment was later repeated, except this time the drug-laced ointment was spread around the puncture within one minute of the injection.

The transit time dropped from an average of 13 minutes to 54 minutes, four times slower. Further experiments using real toxins in rats yielded roughly the same results.

Finally, the researchers compared the survival time in rats injected with venom that were treated with the ointment against those that were not, and found the nitric oxide rats kept breathing 50 per cent longer.

"These results point to a new method of snakebite first aid that may also be useful for bites to the torso or head," the researchers concluded.

Currently, the most common treatment is to immobilise the patient and restrict blood flow as much as possible until medical assistance is available.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Being married can boost your chances of beating cancer, say scientists

All that this proves, I suspect, is that people in poor health are less likely to get married. Good to see that the authors have thought of that

A study by Penn State College of Medicine and Brigham Young University in the U.S. revealed that sufferers who were married had a 14 per cent lower risk of death. The bonus of having a spouse was shown to be equally beneficial to men and women.

The survey also noted that married patients with the condition were more likely to be diagnosed early in the disease's development and often opted for more aggressive forms of treatment.

Scientists are unsure how a marriage license can help sufferers, but speculate that spouses act as an important informal caregiver and supporter, boosting how the disease is managed.

'Controlling for the stage that the cancer was detected is key. Without that, it's hard to know whether the analysis is just picking up a diagnosis effect,' Sven Wilson, a study co-author and professor at Brigham Young University, said.

'Having a spouse helps you kind of pinpoint problems and get them treated more quickly. You can think of a spouse as kind of an informal nurse or caregiver.'

The study did not look at whether the married people were already healthier than single people. According to the report, healthy people may be more likely to get or stay married.


Hormone link in cold cure

A CURE for the common cold is one step closer following an important discovery by researchers at the University of Queensland. And the secret to getting rid of those nasty bugs could be in female hormones.

Scientists at the UQ School of Medicine at Princess Alexandra Hospital have made an important discovery about how the immune system reacts to rhinoviruses the most common type of virus to cause colds.

"What turned up unexpectedly was this big gender difference," team leader Professor John Upham said. "Women make a much stronger immune response to the virus than men do, but only below the age of 50. "Over that age, the difference between men and women goes away which suggests it is not a gender thing but a hormonal thing."

The differences disappear after menopause, so the virus is probably regulated by sex hormones - oestrogen or progesterone. Prof Upham said the results were crucially important for finding new ways of combating rhinoviruses.

"While these viruses are just a nuisance in healthy people, they can make people with asthma or other chronic lung diseases very unwell and (see them) end up in hospital," Prof Upham said.

As yet, the researchers haven't identified exactly which hormone it is but that will be essential in the development of a vaccine.

"That vaccine will specifically target people with asthma because they are the ones who end up in hospital," he said.

"Knowing the difference between men and women is really important as we examine people with asthma. "We can now work out why women with asthma don't receive the beneficial effects of the hormones."

The research was funded by the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and the National Health and Medical Research Council.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Obama's Food Police in Staggering Crackdown on Market to Kids

Tony the Tiger, some NASCAR drivers and cookie-selling Girl Scouts will be out of a job unless grocery manufacturers agree to reinvent a vast array of their products to satisfy the Obama administration’s food police.

Either retool the recipes to contain certain levels of sugar, sodium and fats, or no more advertising and marketing to tots and teenagers, say several federal regulatory agencies. The same goes for restaurants.

It’s not just the usual suspected foods that are being targeted, such a thin mint cookies sold by scouts or M&Ms and Snickers, which sponsor cars in the Sprint Cup, but pretty much everything on a restaurant menu.

Although the intent of the guidelines is to combat childhood obesity, foods that are low in calories, fat, and some considered healthy foods, are also targets, including hot breakfast cereals such as oatmeal, pretzels, popcorn, nuts, yogurt, wheat bread, bagels, diet drinks, fruit juice, tea, bottled water, milk and sherbet.

Food industries are in an uproar over the proposal written by the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The most disturbing aspect of this interagency working group is, after it imposes multibillions of dollars in restrictions on the food industry, there is no evidence of any impact on the scourge of childhood obesity,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.

The “Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulation Efforts” says it is voluntary, but industry officials say the intent is clear: Do it, or else.

“When regulators strongly suggest a course of action, it’s treated as a rule, not a suggestion,” said Scott Faber, vice president of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Industry tends to heed these suggestions from our regulators, and this administration has made it clear they are willing to regulate if we don’t implement their proposal.”

It’s not just the food industry that will be impacted. Hundreds of television shows that depend on the advertising revenue, such as the Nickelodeon Channel, ESPN, and programs including "American Idol" will be affected, critics of the proposal say—at a cost of $5.8 trillion in marketing expenditures that support up to 20 million American jobs.

If the food is not reformulated, no more ads or promotions on TV, radio, in print, on websites, as well as other digital advertising such as e-mail and text messaging, packaging, and point-of-purchase displays and other in-store marketing tools; product placement in movies, videos, video games, contests, sweepstakes, character licensing and toy branding; sponsorship of events including sport teams and individual athletes; and, philanthropic activity tied to branding opportunities. That includes softball teams that are sponsored by food companies and school reading programs sponsored by restaurants.

“The Interagency working group recommends that the food industry, through voluntary self-regulatory efforts, make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and adolescents ages 2 to 17 years,” the proposal says.

“By the year 2016, all food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children should meet two basic nutrition principles. Such foods should be formulated to … make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet and minimize the content of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health and weight.”

The foods most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents fall into 10 categories: “breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts, and restaurant foods.”

Beth Johnson, a dietician for Food Directions in Maryland, said many of the foods targeted in this proposal are the same foods approved by the federal government for the WIC nutrition program for women, infants and children. “This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to do anything to help with obesity. These are decisions I want to make for my kids. These should not be government decisions.”


Lithium - a new weapon in the fight against Parkinson's?

In mice

Lithium "profoundly prevents" brain damage due to Parkinson's disease, according to early-stage tests of the commonly-used medicine. The research, which follows studies indicating that it slows the progress of Alzheimer's, suggests lithium could be a cheap therapy to combat a range of brain disorders common in the elderly.

Scientists at the Buck Institute for Ageing in San Francisco made the finding in a study of mice. They hope to conduct their first trials in humans soon.

Compounds of lithium - itself a soft alkali metal - have been used for over 50 years to treat mania and mood swings. But its effect on a range of neuro-degenerative diseases is only starting to be appreciated. Earlier this year a small-scale study of people with mild cognitive impairment -trouble with memory and thinking - found it delayed the onset of full-blown Alzheimer's.

Psychiatrists believe it slows the formation of amyloid plaques and brain cell tangles thought to cause the disease.

The American researchers think lithium works in a similar way to prevent Parkinson's, which is caused because specific brain nerve cells die. They said their study - the first in animals - showed it stopped the build up of toxic proteins and cell death.

Prof Julie Andersen, of the Buck Institute, said trials in people to determine the correct dosage could start soon. "The fact that lithium's safety profile in humans is well understood greatly reduces trial risk and lowers a significant hurdle to getting it into the clinic," she said.

The mice were fed lithium at low doses, she added, suggesting that it could be effective in Parkinson's patients at "subclinical levels", which would avoid known side-effects of high doses including kidney problems. The study is published today (FRI) in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.

Lithium is also a cheap 'generic' drug, meaning its use could be expanded with minimal cost to the NHS. About 120,000 people in Britain have Parkinson's, which causes tremors, muscle stiffness and slow movement. At the moment there is no cure, although there are a range of treatments to reduce symptoms.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Could a 2-month low-calorie diet defeat diabetes? Trial patients were able to throw away tablets

A very tiny study but promising

The form of diabetes that blights the lives of millions of middle-aged Britons could be wiped out by cutting calories severely for just two months, research suggests. After a small-scale trial, diabetics who consumed just 600 calories a day – the amount many people would eat at lunch alone – were able to throw away their tablets.

Eighteen months on, some are still free of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and usually occurs in middle age.

The Newcastle University researchers described the result as remarkable and said it proves that the condition that affects 2.5million Britons need not be a life sentence. It also paves the way for new treatments for those who cannot stick to the drastic diet.

Professor Roy Taylor, the study’s lead author, said: ‘This is a radical change in our understanding of type 2 diabetes. ‘While it has long been believed that the disease will steadily get worse, we have shown that we can reverse it.’

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin – a hormone key in the conversion of sugar into energy – and the insulin that is made does not work properly.

The condition is often controlled initially with a stringent diet and exercise regime. But many sufferers see their health worsen and eventually need tablets or insulin injections.

Diabetics are more likely to develop heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and nerve and circulatory damage, which at its worst can lead to amputations. Reversing the condition could therefore improve long-term health and quality of life.

The researchers put 11 men and women with type 2 diabetes on a diet of 600 calories a day for eight weeks. After just a week, some of their blood sugar readings had returned to normal, the journal Diabetologia reports.

After two months, fat levels in the pancreas had returned to normal and the organ was able to pump out insulin without any problems. Some patients no longer needed tablets to control high blood pressure.

The researchers believe that a strict diet melts away fat clogging up the pancreas, allowing it to operate normally.

Three months after the end of the diet, seven of the 11 men and women were still diabetes-free. Now, 18 months on, four of the five that have been in touch with the researchers still have no signs of diabetes.

Dr Iain Frame, of Diabetes UK, which funded the study, warned that no one should go on such a drastic diet without speaking to his or her doctor.


Fatal cocktail of common drugs putting elderly at risk

It's no news to hear that the elderly take pills by the shovelful but it is interesting to see evidence of harm from that. Being epidemiological however, the evidence can be taken only as a straw in the wind. That people who take more pills might be less healthy is not exactly a surprise

Hundreds of thousands of older people are being put at increased risk of death or developing dementia by taking combinations of common medicines to treat routine illnesses, according to a new study.

Well-known brands of hay fever tablets, painkillers and sleeping pills pose a previously unknown threat to people’s health when taken together, British scientists claim. Many are available over the counter at pharmacies as well as being prescribed by GPs, nurses and chemists.

Today the scientists behind the study call for doctors to recognise how dangerous these drug combinations can be and to prescribe harmless alternatives instead. [Like what?]

Researchers from the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent identified 80 widely used medications that, when used in combination, were found to increase the risk of serious health problems.

The drugs, including common allergy treatments Piriton and Zantac, as well as Seroxat, an anti-depressant, are thought to be used by half of the 10 million over-65s in Britain. Many of the drugs, when taken in combination, were found to more than treble an elderly patient’s chance of dying within two years.

Common bladder medications, heart drugs, eye drops and asthma treatments were also among those found to pose a risk.

All the drugs work by blocking a key chemical in the nervous system called acetylcholine.

The researchers placed each of the drugs into one of three groups based on how effectively they blocked acetylcholine. The more effective the drug was in blocking the chemical, the more dangerous it was in high doses.

The most dangerous included the antihistamines chlorphenamine (used in the brand Piriton) and promethazine (used in Phenergan), the anti-depressant paroxetine (used in Seroxat) and the incontinence drug oxybutynin (used in Ditropan).

The heartburn drug ranitidine (used in Zantac), beta blocker Atenolol, the painkiller codeine and some eye drops were among the drugs in the mildest category.

Low-risk drugs were graded one point while high-risk drugs were graded three. The study found that patients who took a combination of drugs that added up to four points or more — such as a high-risk antihistamine combined with low-risk eye drops — had a 20 per cent chance of dying within two years, compared with just seven per cent for over-65s who did not take anything.

The risk of dying increased by a further 25 per cent for each additional point accumulated, the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, concluded.

The scientists suggest that the combination of treatments could also exacerbate dementia. In patients showing early signs of mental impairment high doses could “tip them over” into a more confused state, they said.

Previous research has shown that acetylcholine-blocking drugs could have a harmful impact on the brain.

But the new study, which looked at data collected over 20 years, is the first to examine the cumulative effect of the medications. It shows for the first time that mixing drugs has a significant impact on a patient’s chance of death.

The study also identified the risk in a far greater range of drugs than had previously been documented, meaning that GPs may have been prescribing pills to patients without knowing the potentially deadly side-effects of combining medication. Ian Maidment, one of the researchers and a pharmacist at Kent University, said: “What is really the problem is the additive effect. It is the cumulative burden which is very damaging.

“It is not just the obvious medicines, it is things like heart drugs and antihistamines, and lots of doctors and nurses and pharmacists may not be aware that these medicines have this problem.”

Researchers examined the medication records of more than 13,000 people aged 65 or older over two decades and found 48 per cent were using at least one of the drugs on the list.

Dr Chris Fox, of the University of East Anglia, said: “In the future doctors may use this tool to reduce their patient’s score below four and that’s fine, but above that is the danger area.”

The risk, the scientists said, was that patients, particularly those with dementia, may be regularly taking over-the-counter drugs that their doctor is unaware of, or which they do not really need, bringing their dosage up to a dangerous level.

Mr Maidment added: “With dementia, these drugs are particularly risky in the early stages, which we call mild cognitive impairment, where the brain is just at a tipping point. This extra insult can tip people over or worsen dementia.”

All medications, including those that are available over the counter, should be reviewed regularly by expert clinicians to prevent potential risks, he added.

Dr Fox said “hundreds of thousands” of elderly people in Britain could be putting themselves at risk from the drugs but that more research was needed to explain the exact cause.

Instead of stopping their medication or rushing to the doctor, patients should seek their doctor’s advice at their next routine appointment, he said.

Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Further investigation needs to establish exactly how and why (these) drugs are increasing mortality, which might offer clues to safer drug design.”

Dr Tim Chico, an honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said: “All drugs have possible side-effects, but the results of this study should not lead anyone to stop current medications without discussing this with their doctor first … it is important to balance the proven benefits against the risk of side-effects.”

The report said that an increase in the use of medication in recent years meant the number of people affected could be even higher than estimated.

A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said: “Our priority is to ensure that patients are taking acceptably safe medicines. All medicines have side-effects — no effective medicine is without risk.

“It is important for people taking anticholinergic medicines not to stop taking them. If they have any questions or concerns then they should contact their doctor in the first instance.”


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sugar doesn't make you fat

FOOD scientists claim that new federal draft dietary guidelines reflect nutritional "dogma" and perpetuate the "myth" that sugar is as dangerous as fats and salt.

"Sugar has been unfairly demonised in the national dietary guidelines," said consultant dietitian Bill Shrapnel, deputy chairman of the Sydney University Nutrition Research Foundation. Along with Sydney University nutritionist Jennie Brand-Miller, Mr Shrapnel is highly critical of the newly released draft Australian Dietary Guidelines prepared by a National Health & Medical Research Council working group.

A list of the key recommendations, but without their scientific justification, was posted recently on the NH&MRC website and discussed by the council last week.

Reflecting existing guidelines, the draft document recommends people limit their intake of foods and drinks containing fats, salt, alcohol and sugar.

"Unlike saturated fats, trans fats, salt and alcohol, sugar doesn't actually do any direct harm to the human body," said Professor Brand-Miller, author of The Low GI Diet and recipient this month of an Order of Australia.

Mr Shrapnel and Professor Brand-Miller argue a sweet touch at the end of a meal isn't a dietary sin. Sydney restaurateur Lucio Galletto couldn't agree more. "A beautiful dessert with different types of sugar makes you feel good. Sugar is not why you get fat."

Professor Brand-Miller says he's correct. Studies show that Australians are eating less sugar, but gaining more weight.


"Alternative" therapies can be very dangerous

A self-help guru has been found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide after a deadly "sweat lodge" ceremony resulted in the death of three participants.

Jurors reached their verdict with remarkable swiftness: they took less than 10 hours to convict James Arthur Ray on Wednesday following a four-month trial.

The eight men and four women were given the option of convicting Ray of manslaughter, but decided on the lesser charge instead. He faces a maximum of nearly 12 years in prison.

More than 50 people participated in the October 2009 sweat lodge that was meant to be the highlight of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" seminar near Sedona.

Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony aimed at providing spiritual cleansing. Eighteen people were taken to hospitalised, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or toxins. Ray's lawyers have maintained they were a tragic accident. Prosecutors argued Ray recklessly caused the fatalities.

Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life.

He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be "hellacious" and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying, but would do so only metaphorically.

"The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you'll ever experience is the fear of what? Death," Ray said in the recording. "You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it's OK to die."

Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour sweat lodge ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people vomiting and others dragging "lifeless" and "barely breathing" participants outside. Volunteers performed CPR.

More than 20 people were transported to hospitals. Kirby Brown, 38, and James Shore, 40, died upon arrival. Liz Neuman, 49, slipped into a coma and died more than a week later.

In court on Wednesday, members of Neuman's family and a friend of Brown held hands and smiled when the verdict was read. "Justice was served in there," Neuman's ex-husband, Randy Neuman, said later.

Ray quickly left the courtroom with his parents and brother after the hearing.

Sweat lodges typically are used by American Indians to rid the body of toxins by pouring water over heated rocks in the structure.

Ray became a self-help superstar by using his charismatic personality and convincing people his words would lead them to spiritual and financial wealth. He used free talks to recruit people to expensive seminars like the Sedona retreat that led to the sweat lodge tragedy. Participants paid up to $US10,000 ($9500) for the five-day program intended to push people beyond their physical and emotional limits.

Ray's popularity soared after appearing in the 2006 Rhonda Byrne documentary The Secret, and Ray promoted it on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

But his multimillion-dollar self-help empire was thrown into turmoil with the sweat lodge deaths. Ray ended his seminars shortly after but has continued to offer advice throughout his trial via the internet and social networking sites.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Facebook users have more friends

This will be nasty news to "Baroness" Greenfield, the smart Jewish girl who brown-nosed her way to a peerage by pandering to elite prejudices. She condemns the way ordinary people make "too much" use of TV and computers while selling computer software herself

Facebook, it turns out, isn't just a waste of time. People who use it have more close friends, get more social support and report being more politically engaged than those who don't, according to a new national study on Americans and social networks.

The report comes as Facebook, Twitter and even the buttoned-up, career-oriented LinkedIn continue to engrain themselves in our daily lives and change the way we interact with friends, co-workers and long-lost high school buddies.

Released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the report also found that Facebook users are more trusting than their non-networked counterparts.

When accounting for all other factors - such as age, education level or race - Facebook users were 43 percent more likely than other Internet users to say that "most people can be trusted." Compared with people who don't use the Internet at all, Facebook users were three times more trusting.

The reason for this is not entirely clear. One possible explanation: People on social networks are more willing to trust others because they interact with a larger number of people in a more diverse setting, said Keith Hampton, the main author of the study and a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

When all else is equal, people who use Facebook also have 9 percent more close ties in their overall social network than other Internet users. This backs an earlier report from Pew that, contrary to studies done earlier in the decade, the Internet is not linked to social isolation. Rather, it can lead to larger, more diverse social networks.

Social-networking users also scored high in political engagement. Because LinkedIn users (older, male and more educated) fall into a demographic category that's more politically active than the general population, they were most likely to vote or attend political rallies. But after adjusting for those characteristics, Facebook users, especially those who use the site multiple times a day, turned out to be more politically involved than those who don't use it.

Overall, the average American has a little more than two close confidants, 2.16 to be exact, according to the report. This is up from an average of 1.93 close ties that Americans reported having in 2008. There are also fewer lonely people: 9 percent of respondents said they had no one with whom they could discuss important matters. That's down from 12 percent in 2008.

The report didn't try to dig into cause and effect, so it's not clear whether the widening use of social networks is causing less loneliness. But it did find that people who use the Internet are less socially isolated than those who don't. Those on social networks, even less so - just 5 percent said they had no one to talk to about important stuff.

The researchers also got numbers to back up what's in the mind of many Facebook users past a certain age: Yes, all your old high school classmates really are coming out of the woodwork and "friending" you. The average Facebook user has 56 friends on the site from high school. That's far more than any other social group, including extended family, co-workers or college classmates.

Facebook's settings let users add the high school they attended to their profile, along with the year they graduated. Other users can then search for their classmates and add them as friends for a virtual reunion.

"It's really reshaping how people maintain their networks," Hampton said. In the past, when people went to college or got jobs and moved away from their home towns, they left those relationships behind, too. This was especially true in the 1960s, when women not in the work force would move to the suburbs with their husbands and face a great deal of isolation, Hampton said.

Now, with social networks, these ties are persistent. "Persistent and pervasive," Hampton said. "They stay with you forever."

The survey was conducted among 2,255 adults from Oct. 20 to Nov. 28, 2010. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points for the full sample.


High doses of statins could increase risk of diabetes

More epidemiological naivety. All we see here is that ill health can be general. People with high blood pressure (etc.) are more likely to get diabetes too

High doses of cholesterol-lowering pills can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers warn. They have found that patients taking intensive courses of statins were 12 per cent more likely to get the disease.

But experts pointed out that that the risk was far outweighed by the substantial benefits – the pills were shown to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks by 16 per cent.

More than seven million people in Britain now take statins - as many as one in three adults over the age of 40. It is not known exactly how many are on high doses of more than 80 miligrams a day, but it is likely to only be a small proportion most at risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow looked at five previous studies involving 32,700 patients. They were either on high doses of 80 mg or moderate doses of 20mg to 40 mg.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found there were 149 extra cases of type 2 diabetes recorded amongst the patients on high dose statins, representing a 12 per cent risk.

The authors concluded: 'Our findings suggest that clinicians should be vigilant for the development of diabetes in patients receiving intensive statin therapy.'

Statins are extremely effective in lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in the blood that clogs up arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Last night experts urged people not to stop taking the pills on the basis on this evidence. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Nobody should stop taking their prescribed statins because of the evidence shown in this research.

'Statins play a vital role in protecting the hearts of many, many people and the benefits still far outweigh any risks associated with diabetes. 'The increased risk occurred predominantly in those taking a high dose of these drugs, whereas most people are on low or moderate doses. 'Always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your medication. Don’t simply stop taking it.'

Experts also pointed out that patients on statins may have been at higher risk of diabetes in the first place if they were overweight.

Libby Dowling, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK said: 'This analysis of previous studies has found that high doses of statins increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, yet at the same time reduce the risk of heart disease.

'What we don’t know from this research is whether the people being prescribed the high-dose statins were overweight as having a large waist puts you at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes anyway.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fat and happy Australians have long lives

The traditional Australian diet of meat pies, sausage rolls etc. could hardly be more "incorrect". It's full of fat. But Australian life expectancy is high anyway. Time for a redefinition of "healthy" food?

THE number of people dying early because of chronic health problems is falling, boosting the life expectancy of Australians, a new government report has found.

The report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today, has for the first time come up with 42 indicators linked to chronic illness.

It found the number of people aged under 75 dying from chronic illness - like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness - had dropped by almost 20 per cent in the decade-long study period ending in 2007.

This has contributed to gains in the life expectancy of Australians, with males born between 2006 and 2008 expected to live to 79.2 years - an increase of three-and-a-half years since about a decade earlier.

Females born between 2006 and 2008 would live for 83.7 years - an rise of 2.3 years since 10 years earlier, according to the report, entitled Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants. [In Greece, home of the fabled "Mediterranean" diet, the life expectancy for males is 77.36 years and for females 82.65 --LOWER than Australia]

Chronic diseases are usually long-lasting, persistent and may be associated with disability, the AIHW says.

"The indicators were developed as a first step to consistent reporting, which will, over time, be able to provide information about progress with preventing and managing chronic disease in Australia," said Ilona Brockway of the AIHW's Population Health Unit.

Researchers reported a mixed bag of results when it came to risk factors associated with chronic disease, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and inactivity.

"On the positive side, daily smoking continues to decrease, with less than 18 per cent of Australian adults now smoking daily, compared with over 24 per cent in 1991," Mrs Brockway said.

"On the other hand, almost a quarter of Australian children are currently overweight or obese. "For adults, the figure is around 60 per cent, and the trend has been increasing. "Excess weight is associated with many chronic conditions, so the increase shown in these statistics is of concern."


Food debate: Stick to persuasion

If you were to believe the mythology du jour, McDonald’s is nearing the final phase of its diabolical plan to capture the hearts and minds of you and your children. That goofy-looking clown (smiles on the outside, atherosclerosis inside) is throwing a desperate hail-Mary pass to his bulbous purple sidekick, hoping to score one for trans fat. And McDonald’s isn’t alone: The entire French-fry-industrial complex is working its shadowy marketing magic, cunningly seducing us out of a responsible diet. Giga-gallons of irresistible soda, laced with high fructose corn syrup, are washing down scads of industrial corn-fed meat tainted with the sweat of exploited labor.

Luckily for you an intrepid band of investigative journalists has “lifted the veil” on all this disgusting manipulation, demonstrating the perverse nature of our Fast Food Nation. Obesity, type-II diabetes, maybe even adolescent acne will be safely regulated away by a new breed of urban intellectuals vigilantly managing the food system. Schools will serve nothing but organic, all-local cafeteria fare. Whataburger will submit its marketing schemes to a nutrition board to determine if it is subliminally alluring. Prices for “good” food will be made “affordable” through a judicious system of health-care subsidies.

Organic Broccoli in Every Pot

According to Eric Schlosser of Food Inc. fame, “The American people are becoming really, really unhealthy and this is an issue we can’t just leave to individuals deciding to bicycle instead of drive their car. We need governments worldwide to be taking action to reverse the problem.”

We need government action to “reverse the problem”? Why didn’t we think of that? How shrewd. When Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first large-scale farm subsidy programs, government reversed the problem of “unbalanced production.” When government helped convert hundreds of millions of tons of ammunition-grade ammonium nitrate into the first large-scale corn fertilizer programs, they did a bang-up job reversing the problem of excess wartime capacity. When the government encouraged corn production through artificial stimulation of the ethanol market, it helped develop a sub-industry of distiller grain-feed to be processed by ever-larger herds of cattle in ever-larger feedlots.

Yes, our corn-based food system is largely a result of really cheap corn paid for at taxpayer expense. The health fallout from this ridiculous system must now be “solved” by the same kind of government tampering that gave it to us? I’m missing something.

Power to the People

Look, I get it. A diet of Big Macs and Cherry Coke isn’t pretty. I would probably agree with Schlosser about what constitutes a healthy diet. I like a meal of fresh and locally procured produce as much as any food activist. In fact I’ve taken my food consciousness a step further and spend most of my time and energy growing healthy food for conscientious consumers. The happy meals they make of it are a far cry from the drive-thru option, and I’m glad for that.

The difference is that I’m not attempting to foist my views of food morality through regulation. While I happen to share the tastes of the elites who know what is good for the rest of us, I draw the line at imposing it on others. I too would like to see schools serving better food and have done my small part to help it happen. I too would like to see sustainably raised products become more affordable and have been trimming costs to make them more accessible.

But before we congratulate ourselves too primly, I’d like to point out that the despicable eating habits of the pathetic “individuals” vilified by Schlosser have already moved far ahead of him.

Fast-Food Overhaul

I first got wind of this fact during a weak moment at Wendy’s. Like responsible parents everywhere, we avoid fast food for the most part. Everyone has his limits, however, especially when the natives in the back seat get restless. We pulled in, trying to hide our “Grassfed Beef” emblazoned door panels. Not only do the iconic pigtails offer a rather remarkable salad (spinach leaves, cranberries, mandarin oranges and bleu cheese), but the crafty buggers even gave the kids educational flash cards and puzzles. As our brood plowed through a package of freshly cut apples, I couldn’t help but wonder what Wendy’s was up to. Nothing good, you can be sure.

Subway (you know, Jared and his huge pants) is now the world’s most commonplace food joint, outstripping even the megalithic McDonald’s. Burger King, the troublemaker known for pumping the infectious aroma of flame-broiled burgers into public spaces, is now offering its latest fare on a ciabatta bun. Ciabatta? That’s so chic even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it. How are those cretins on the street to relate?

The Way Forward

I have to credit Schlosser and his gang. The work they have done in educating the eating public is wide-ranging and important. So why not leave it there? Why sully it with blatant attempts to push it into the realm of “governments worldwide”? Michael Pollan, a somewhat more muted activist, says it well:

"I really have a lot of faith — and I know that it’s considered naive by some people on the left — that consumers can change things. I have seen too many cases of what happens when consumers decide to inflect their buying decisions with their moral and political values. It brings about change."

Indeed it does. The vibrant social debate over what makes for good food and where to get it is an excellent one to have. But let’s keep it (and the choices people make) out in the open, not behind the counter of the State. The unintended consequences of State dabbling are usually too hard to swallow.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Certain inborn personality traits and having a good social network lead to long life -- not diet and exercise

The Terman study was of high IQ children so the results may not generalize very much

We’re always being told the secret of eternal youth lies in working less, banishing stress, pushing ourselves through a brutal daily exercise regime and being relentlessly cheerful. But fascinating new research from the U.S. has turned that thinking on its head.

By studying death certificates of 1,500 boys and girls who took part in a landmark research project in the 1920s, researchers have identified personality traits and lifestyle choices that really ensure a long life — and those that don’t.

Psychologists Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie Martin traced what happened to the children who took part in Dr Lewis Terman’s 1921 study. They interviewed those still alive, and catalogued the lives and health of those who had died.

Although many passed away in their 60s, others lived well into old age. To their surprise, Dr Friedman and Dr Martin found that the longer-lived among them did not find the secret to health in broccoli, vitamins and jogging. They were more likely to share patterns of living; their personalities, careers and social lives having a real relevance to long-term health.

Having a large social network, engaging in physical activities that naturally draw you in (rather than feeling obliged go to the gym), giving back to your community, enjoying your career and nurturing a happy marriage or close friendships can do more than add years to your life.

‘Our society spends a fortune on fad diets, drugs and short-term remedies, but there is often disappointingly little effect on our longevity,’ says Dr Friedman. ‘Standard medical advice often backfires, leaving us overweight and overstressed as we struggle to follow specific edicts.’


This is the best predictor of longevity. If you’re careful with money, thoughtful and detail-oriented, you are more likely to live a longer life. Conscientious people tend to be sensible, less likely to smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs or drive too fast, and they follow doctors’ orders.

The research shows that conscientious people are biologically predisposed to be healthier and enjoy a longer life, possibly because they have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains, including the neurotransmitter serotonin (those with low levels tend to be much more impulsive).

The study found conscientious people also tend to live longer because they seem to be naturally drawn into healthier and happier situations and relationships — marriages, friendships and work.
If you’re not conscientious, you’re not necessarily doomed, but you’re not likely to change your lifestyle rapidly. Those who started out ‘unconscientious’ but entered positions requiring maturity and growth — and so increased their levels of prudence and persistence — closed much of the gap on naturally conscientious people.

More here

The prostate cancer vaccine that targets tumours with an '80 per cent success rate'

Rodent study only so far but if the vaccine is fully developed and results replicated, this would be very good news indeed

A vaccine that destroys advanced prostate cancers while leaving healthy tissue untouched has been developed by scientists. In laboratory tests, the gene therapy jab successfully wiped out 80 per cent of cancers without causing serious side effects.

The British researchers behind its creation said it was a 'completely new approach' and predicted that it could start trials on people within a few years.

Although the jab has been tested on prostate tumours, they believe it could work on a range of other deadly cancers including breast, lung and pancreatic cancer.

Unlike a conventional vaccine which is given to prevent infection with a virus or bacteria, the new treatment is used after someone has contracted cancer.

Prof Alan Melcher, from the University of Leeds, who co-led the research, said clinical trials could be underway within 'a few years' and that the same technique could work for a host of cancers. ‘So far it looks safe and if it continues to look safe there’s nothing we wouldn’t rule out,’ he said.

Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system to recognise antigens - distinctive proteins that are found on surfaces of cells. Most vaccines are designed to teach the body to seek out and destroy viruses or bacteria. However, scientists are also developing vaccines that provoke an immune response to cancer cells.

The new cancer jab is a form of gene therapy. Researchers first created a library of thousands of randomly-selected snippets of genetic code taken from a healthy prostate and then inserted them into a virus. The modified virus was then cultured in a laboratory and then injected into the bloodstream of a mouse with prostate cancer. When the mouse’s immune system was exposed to the modified virus, it produced an array of antibodies – each one geared up to recognise a different antigen on the surface of a prostate cancer cell, the researchers report in Nature Medicine.

Professor Richard Vile, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who took part in the study said: 'Nobody really knows how many antigens the immune system can really see on tumour cells. ‘By expressing all of these proteins in highly immunogenic viruses, we increased their visibility to the immune system. 'The immune system now thinks it is being invaded by the viruses, which are expressing cancer-related antigens that should be eliminated.’

Progress has already been made towards developing a similar vaccine treatment for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Past attempts at gene therapy cancer vaccines often used just one gene from a tumour cell to stimulate the immune system. But finding the right gene has proved difficult. And using two or more genes has raised fears that the immune response would be too strong for the patient to handle.

The researchers used two versions of the vaccine – one based on human prostate tissue, the other using mouse tissue. Both worked, although the human version was more effective.

Injecting the vaccine into the blood, rather than the tumour itself, appeared to prevent the immune system going into 'overdrive' and attacking healthy tissue.

Prof Peter Johnson, of the charity Cancer Research UK, which funded the Leeds team, said: 'Although the vaccine didn’t trigger the immune system to overreact and cause serious side effects in mice, it will need to be further developed and tested in humans before we can tell whether this technique could one day be used to treat cancer patients.'

‘Although we are hopeful that the results of this study could help to form the basis of a new cancer vaccine in future, it is important to remember that the researchers have only investigated the potential of their vaccine in mice. ‘Further research looking at its effect in men is needed before we can be sure of the usefulness of this vaccine. We look forward to the outcome.'


Sunday, June 19, 2011

US researchers find excessive TV viewers are at higher risk of death, diabetes

Another rubbishy meta-analysis. No systematic control for social class, in other words. All they have found is that middle class people watch less TV and middle class people are healthier generally

PEOPLE who watch excessive amounts of television are at higher risk of diabetes, heart problems and early death, a comprehensive review has concluded.

US researchers analysed a range of studies published in the past 40 years and found too much television really can kill you. The results of the meta-analysis performed by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health are published in the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than two hours per day of TV-watching increased the risk of type two diabetes and heart disease, while more than three hours a day boosted a person's risk of dying prematurely.

Each two-hour increment in viewing per day was linked to a 20 per cent higher risk for type two diabetes; a 15 per cent increased risk for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease; and a 13 per cent higher risk for all-cause mortality. "While the associations between time spent viewing TV and risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease were linear, the risk of all-cause mortality appeared to increase with TV viewing duration of greater than three hours per day," the study said.

The habit of plunking oneself down in front of the television and watching for hours makes up about five hours of daily activity on average in the United States, but is also a prevalent practice around the world.

In Europe, people spend about 40 per cent of their daily free time, or three hours, in front of the tube, and in Australia the average is 50 per cent of daily free time or four hours, the study said.

"The message is simple. Cutting back on TV watching can significantly reduce risk of type two diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality," said senior author Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard.

"We should not only promote increasing physical activity levels but also reduce sedentary behaviours, especially prolonged TV watching."


Cellphones are unlikely to cause cancer because brain tumours are not clustered within the radiation range emitted from most devices

The debate over exactly how dangerous mobile phones are to users took a fresh twist today with the publication of a fresh report. Researchers from the University of Tampere in Finland have directly contradicted recent findings from the World Health Organisation.

The Finnish report says mobile phones are unlikely to cause cancer because brain tumours are not clustered within the radiation range emitted from most devices, a new report finds.

However the WHO warned for the first time that mobile phones may cause cancer and have urged users to limit their use. The warning came following Interphone's research from 13 countries that found that even just using a phone for 15 minutes a day could substantially increase the risk of a brain tumour. And that according to their researchers they say it could take 15 to 20 years for primary cancers to develop.

Researchers in Finland however contradicted that report and found people who spent the most time on mobiles were no more likely to experience tumours located within five centimetres of the phone, where '90 percent of the radiation' is emitted.

Their results back up an earlier study at the University of Manchester who found that there has been no change in the rates of the disease - despite 70 million phones being used in the UK.

Today's findings from the University of Tampere in Finland were revealed as the World Health Organization announced that, upon review of available scientific evidence, mobile phones should be classified as 'possibly carcinogenic.'

Study author Dr Suvi Larjavaara said although the results may be reassuring, they are certainly not conclusive. She said cancer could take a long time to develop and only five per cent of the people included in the study had been using mobile phones for at least 10 years.

Larjavaara acknowledged that these latest findings contradict the WHO's latest announcement, which placed mobile in the same cancer risk category as coffee and chloroform.

Last year, a study including 13,000 mobile users over 10 years found no clear answer on whether the handsets cause brain tumors. However, another study from last February suggested that using a mobile phone can change brain cell activity.

Use of mobile phones has increased hugely since their introduction in the mid-1980s. About five billion mobile phones are currently in use worldwide.

One issue that arises when studying the risks of phone use is that people often don't recall how much time they spend on the phone.

Larjavaara and colleagues decided to look at the location of tumours, reasoning that an excess of tumours close to the phones would implicate the devices. Ninety per cent of the radiation released from phones is absorbed by the brain tissue located within five centimetres of the handset.

Researchers mapped the exact location of 888 brain tumors diagnosed between 2000 and 2004 relative to where people would hold their mobile while talking. They found no correlation between the two. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

However, another scientist who has also performed studies on long-term mobile phone users advised caution about the results. Dr Elisabeth Cardis from the CREAL-Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said the definition of exposure 'is overly simplistic, in my opinion.'

She said previous studies have found that the most exposed area is generally located around the ear. 'I expect there is substantial misclassification of exposure in the analyses published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and hence it is not possible to draw conclusions about the presence or absence of a risk,' she concluded.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cheap blood pressure drug 'slashes breast cancer risk'

This is a fairly convincing study but one still has to ask WHY were some women using beta blockers while most were not? Was it that most were middle class and hence more vigilant about their health?

A drug used to treat high blood pressure costing less than 5p a day could cut the risk of women dying from breast cancer. Researchers found the beta blocker propranolol, a drug developed 40 years ago, cut the chances of dying by up to 81 per cent.

Women using it in the year before falling ill were 76 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer than those not using it. The breakthrough could lead to the drug being investigated for both the treatment of breast cancer and prevention of recurrence.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, support the results from a smaller study last year by scientists from Nottingham University. That showed a 71 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths among women already using beta blockers for high blood pressure.

Propranolol was developed in the 1960s to treat high blood pressure, angina, heart failure, anxiety and even migraine. There is growing evidence that the effect of beta blockers on stress hormones could also have major benefits in cancer.

Laboratory studies suggest the drugs prevent stress hormones reaching their target which, in cancer cells, prevents the hormones from stimulating and activating them.

The latest study at Trinity College, Dublin, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the U.S., looked at more than 5,000 women in Ireland diagnosed with breast cancer between 2001 and 2006.

Altogether 70 women were taking propranolol for conditions such as high blood pressure before their diagnosis and 525 were on another type of beta blocker, atenolol.

When they compared survival rates with another 4,738 breast cancer patients who had not been taking the drugs, they found propranolol users were 81 per cent less likely to have died from their condition after five years than non-users.

Mortality rates among women on atenolol were similar to those not taking blood pressure medication. Researchers believe this may be because propranolol acts on two types of receptors on the surface of cells but atenolol only acts on one.

The researchers said: 'The results suggest that the use of propranolol is associated with less advanced disease at diagnosis and lower breast cancer-specific mortality.'

They said women using propranolol in the year before a breast cancer diagnosis were significantly less likely to have an advanced tumour that had spread to other parts the body.

They added that the 'most notable result' was the finding that propranolol users had a significantly lower risk of dying of breast cancer.

The team acknowledged the number of propranolol patients in the study was low and said: 'We cannot exclude the possibility that the results were due to chance.'

It is estimated that two million Britons take beta blockers, which are prescription-only drugs. However, in recent years newer drugs such as ACE inhibitors have been used to control high blood pressure.

Although beta blockers are long-established and cheap because they are available as generics, they can have side-effects such as dizziness, sleeping problems and may raise the risk of type two diabetes.

Doctors would be unlikely to prescribe them for treatment of breast cancer but the hope is that new drugs could exploit the newly discovered anti-cancer mechanism.

Experts at the University of California Los Angeles said future breast cancer treatment trials should collect data on beta blocker use because it could be a 'critical target' for future treatment and prevention of recurrence.

Cancer Research UK stressed bigger trials were needed before beta blockers could be considered as an anti-cancer treatment.

Around 48,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


Olive oil could lower stroke risk

Some reasonable reservations about the implications below and again we also have to assk WHO were the big olive-oil users. Were they more affluent people? The rich have better health and live longer anyway

Consuming olive oil could almost halve the risk of stroke in older people, scientists have found. Researchers at the University of Bordeaux looked at the medical records of almost 8000 people aged 65 and over living in three French cities.

All participants had no history of stroke, and were monitored for five years, according to the paper published in US medical journal, Neurology, this week.

Olive oil use was categorised into "no use", "moderate use" - which meant it was used in cooking or as dressing with bread - and "intensive use" - which meant it was used in every way.

Researchers recorded 148 strokes, and, examined diet, exercise, body mass index and other stroke risk factors of all participants.

They found those who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as a dressing lower their risk of stroke by 41 per cent, compared to those who never used the product.

Australian dietitian, Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, said this is the first time the effect of oil on stroke had been reported.

While the size and length of the study gives it strength, Professor Itsiopoulos, head of dietetics at La Trobe University, admitted the finding were limited. "It is difficult to attribute the outcomes just to olive oil because it's very difficult to measure accurately what the olive oil intake of a person is," she told AAP.

In an editorial that ran alongside the report, Professor Nikolaos Scarmeas, from Columbia University, says it is hard to say what elements of olive oil are proactive in stroke prevention. He admitted the effect of olive oil could be indirect because it's used to make healthy foods taste better.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A "healthy" recipe from the NYT

The man was well until his wife baked him a “healthy recipe” from the NYTimes “Healthy recipe section: Fava bean and artichoke stew.

He soon became pale and jaundiced, and it took awhile for the ER doc to figure out why the man was sick. He had an acute hemolytic crisis, where his red blood cells burst, leaving him anemic, and soon he became jaundiced as the liver attempted to remove all the lose Hemoglobin from his system, and then his kidneys shut down…

The cause? A case of “Favism”: the man suffered from G6PD deficiency, a common blood problem that can lead to the blood cells bursting if you take certain common medicines, including some anti-malaria medicines, Sulfa drugs, Furadantin, some pain killers or…eat fava beans.

That is why this problem is often called “Favism”.

Indeed, the problem with fava beans had been noticed as far back as the days of Pythgoras, whose followers avoided the beans and even the pollen from the flowering plants, which sounds like superstition except that several of the articles mention the pollen problem. Reportedly the beans contain two problem chemicals:

The compounds vicine and isouramil, abundant in fava beans, are hypothesized to be the causative agents of the hemolytic response (Beutler, 1994).

The hemolysis is usually mild, and often discovered when you do a workup why a person is anemic.

Acute hemolytic crises can be dangerous (theoretically you could die if enough hemoglobin is released that it clogs up the kidneys and causes renal failure) and can also be caused by infection.

Most cases in the US are in blacks, but others who get it include Italians and Arabs. (there is also an Asian version of the disease).

More here

FAS: the gestation of a dubious idea

It is moralism, not evidence, that underpins the advice that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol

A new scheme, announced on Sunday, that will ‘train midwives to give pregnant women advice on the dangers of alcohol’ has provoked controversy because the drinks firm Diageo, whose brands include Smirnoff and Guinness, is reportedly stumping up £4million to fund it. But it is the content of the scheme, not the organisation that is funding it, that should be provoking comment.

UK public health minister Anne Milton has claimed the scheme is ‘a great example of how business can work with NHS staff to provide women with valuable information’. But some doctors have raised ethical objections to the involvement of the drinks industry in the scheme. Vivienne Nathanson, long-time advocate of complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy and head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, has so far been the main voice of criticism arguing that there is a conflict of interest, ‘because it’s in the interest of the drinks industry for people to continue to drink and it’s in the interests of health for people to drink much less, and certainly not to drink in pregnancy or to drink really minimally’.

In reality, however, the scheme does not throw up any conflicts of interest. In general pregnant women are not heavy drinkers; promoting alcohol abstinence for this group is not going to dent sales. What it will do is to remove any doubt about Diageo’s willingness to embrace the state-approved mantra of ‘responsible drinking’. After all, what better way for Diageo to demonstrate its commitment to ‘responsible drinking’ than to make a great show of protecting the defenceless unborn baby, and ‘empowering women’ with information about having a healthy pregnancy? Diageo can be entirely relied upon to be ‘on message’.

Besides, arguments over the origin of the funding miss the point. What should really be at the centre of the debate are the ideas and claims about alcohol and pregnancy that midwives are going to be educating women about. The real scandal is that the Liberal-Conservative government now overtly authorises the ‘abstinence is the only true way’ message, and is funding an organisation called the National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NoFAS UK) to train midwives to promote that idea. It raises important questions about the nature of health policy and the obsession with intervening in the ‘early years’ of a child’s life – which now seems to include pregnancy, too.

NoFAS UK is the London-based affiliate of a North American lobbying organisation, NoFAS, established in 2003. Hitherto its activities have included an annual ‘pregnant pause’ where people involved with NoFAS UK (including men with balloons up their jumpers pretending to be pregnant) stand perfectly still at London’s Victoria train station for nine minutes, at nine minutes past nine on 9 September, to show passers-by that ‘women only need to pause from drinking alcohol for nine months in pregnancy to ensure that their babies will be born without the alcohol-related brain damage known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)’. NoFAS’s website also features its ‘alcohol and egg’ video, in which someone breaks an egg into a glass, pours in vodka and invites the viewer to see the egg ‘cook’. These offerings may seem strange, but NoFAS now seems to be taken seriously enough to train the nation’s midwives.

The core belief of the organisation is that alcohol is a dangerous substance, and that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. In promoting this outlook, NoFAS is involved in what sociologists call moral entrepreneurship. The organisation’s aim is to foster high levels of concern about a hitherto unrecognised problem and ensure that the ‘wrong’ of drinking anything at all in pregnancy is taken seriously. As sociologists have noted, one distinctive feature of today’s moral entrepreneurs is that they increasingly present their claims in medical or scientific terms. In turn, the solution to problems becomes new codes of conduct for behaviour, apparently sanctioned by the authority of medical science.

In her informative book on the development of FAS as a social problem in the US, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Diagnosis of Moral Disorder, Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong points to the rise of what she calls medical entrepreneurs, individuals with a powerful sense of mission regarding their assessment of ‘the evidence’ who seek to ‘impress their… vision on the rest of society’.

A particular understanding of the relation between alcohol consumption and fetal development emerged in the US. Those who originally coined the term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the early 1970s (a term used to describe a rarely occurring set of distinct problems found in babies born to some alcoholic women) engaged in ‘subtle broadening of the problem’ from the outset. They commented, for example, that no case of FAS had ever ‘been reported in a human being with a negative maternal history of ethanol use’. In other words, the knowledge that consumption of high levels of alcohol in pregnancy was associated with developmental problems in the fetus was taken to mean that FAS could only be avoided for sure if no alcohol is consumed. This point has been made in another way by historian Janet Golden, who explains that abstinence advocates shifted the definition of the problem that needed to be addressed away from maternal alcoholism (a serious problem for individuals requiring careful treatment and specialist intervention) to consumption of alcohol as a substance (a general behaviour to which the response is public health campaigns promoting abstinence for all).

British medical entrepreneurs around this issue have a similarly broad attitude to evidence about FAS. For example, the psychiatrist Raja Mukherjee, routinely a key speaker at NoFAS’s training events, justified abstinence advocacy in a 2005 commentary subtitled ‘abstinence from alcohol is the only safe message in pregnancy’. His case for abstinence was made through reference to ‘emerging evidence’ of an ‘inconclusive nature’ (studies on rat brains, observational studies of children’s behaviour and unpublished evidence). Thus in a departure from conventional justifications for policy, it was the inconclusive nature of the evidence – what is unknown rather that what is known - that formed the basis for the argument for policy change.

Following this logic, NoFAS promotes the notion of alcohol harm as a ‘spectrum’ (called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD), with varying amounts of harm caused by different levels of alcohol consumption. According to advocates of FASD as a concept, alcohol causes a variety of problems including intellectual, memory, mood and attention disorders. It is also argued that often FASD goes ‘undiagnosed’, or is misdiagnosed, ‘for example as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)’, or that autism and ADHD are in fact symptoms of FASD. Further, we are told that FASD, when undiagnosed, can lead to ‘secondary disabilities’ that can include loneliness, school expulsions, addictions, chronic unemployment, promiscuity, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, criminality, prison, homelessness, depression and suicide.

The starting point is a presumption that any alcohol is damaging. It follows that when we consider problems children have, we should work backwards to maternal alcohol-consumption as the cause. Hence if a child of any age has problems and the mother drank at all during pregnancy, the suggestion is that there is likely to be a causal connection.

In the US, the medical entrepreneurs’ idea that alcohol consumption explains pretty much everything that ‘goes wrong’ with children gained traction with policymakers very rapidly. The US was the first country where alcohol abstinence advocacy became the official approach (in 1981). For some years, this was widely considered an ‘American’ view. For example, a Guardian article in 1991 notes: ‘The case for abstinence is not based on evidence. It is based on the logic of better safe than sorry. It is tempting, especially for an expectant mother, to say that any risk, however small or theoretical, is too great. But that is absurd. Everything about light drinking during pregnancy makes it the kind of theoretical risk that Americans are unlikely to evaluate sensibly. Doctors are innately cautious and made more so by lawyers hovering overhead with malpractice lawsuits.’

By 2007, however, the English Department of Health (DH) decided to advise women to abstain from alcohol in pregnancy. As was noted at the time, the DH did so in contradiction to the findings of its own review of studies on the subject, which found no evidence linking ‘low to moderate’ levels of alcohol consumption with the sorts of problems that feature in descriptions of FASD.

There is no question that 2007 marked a turning point in official approaches to this issue. As was argued on spiked at the time, there was an official admission that there was ‘no new evidence’ to explain the revised advice and that the chief merit of the new policy was that it was ‘clear and unambiguous’ rather than truthful.

Not commented on at the time, however, was the fact that ‘evidence’ as defined by NoFAS was already incorporated into official thinking and cited in the new advice: ‘The National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome [NoFAS] estimates for the UK as a whole that there are more than 6,000 children born each year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder [FASD].’ No account of the origin of the statistic ‘more than 6,000 children born each year with FASD’ can be found on the NoFAS website. According to the NHS Information Centre, the figure was generated by extrapolating estimates of the incidence of FASD for ‘Western countries’ and combining these with the official estimate of 700,000 live births in Britain each year. In other words, it is a ‘guesstimate’ of the incidence of a condition whose existence itself is questionable.

Armstrong’s analysis suggests that whether or not medical entrepreneurs achieve their goals depends on whether their vision resonates with already-existing policy concerns. US studies argue that wider cultural conditions in that country explain why FAS expanded and why the case for abstinence made sense to policymakers from the early 1980s onwards.

The same is true for Britain more recently. An approach that has no basis in conventional understandings of evidence has taken root, from the mid-2000s onwards, in the context of an official view that the way to solve any and all social problems is to ‘intervene early’. Educating pregnant women about their behaviour has emerged as the ultimate exemplar of the belief that the way to ‘get to the causes of problems’ is to change the way parents raise their child (and to go further by extending programmes to modify parenting practices backwards to the womb).

It would be a real pity if the debate about the new training scheme for midwives stays stuck in its current groove about who should fund this drive to monitor and modify behaviour in pregnancy and parenting. Other questions entirely need to be raised about where we will end up if this evidence-lite, early-intervention policy is continued.