Friday, September 30, 2011

Eating just THREE eggs a week 'increases chance of men getting prostate cancer'

This is probably just data dredging. See the last paragraph below

Eating three eggs a week could significantly increase a man’s chances of dying from prostate cancer, researchers have warned. Experts in the U.S. claimed that men who consume more than two and a half on a weekly basis were up to 81 per cent more likely to be killed by the disease.

They suggested the damage may be done by the large amounts of cholesterol or choline – a nutrient that help cells to function properly – that are found in eggs.

The average Briton consumes an estimated 182 eggs a year – roughly three and a half per week. Until recently, the British Heart Foundation recommended eating no more than three a week because of fears that they raised the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It dropped the recommendation in 2007 after evidence emerged that very little of the cholesterol contained in eggs enters the bloodstream.

The latest study, conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, investigated the role of eggs in prostate cancer following the discovery last year that men diagnosed with low-grade tumours appeared to be more likely to be killed by them if they had an egg-rich diet.

The team examined the eating habits of 27,000 men over a 14-year period. They found no significant links between the amount of meat eaten and tumours – but a higher number of cancer deaths were evident among those who admitted consuming lots of eggs.

In a report on their findings, the researchers revealed: ‘Men who consumed 2.5 eggs or more a week had an 81 per cent increased risk of lethal prostate cancer compared to men who consumed less than half an egg a week. 'Although additional studies are needed, caution in egg intake may be warranted for adult men.’

However, Sarah Williams, health information officer at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: ‘There is a small amount of previous research on the link between eating eggs and the risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer, but the results have been contradictory and it’s still not clear whether there is a real effect.’


Bee sting vaccine on the NHS

A very welcome development

A 'vaccine' that protects people vulnerable to severe reactions from bee and wasps stings is to be made available on the NHS. People who have already suffered a serious reaction to a bee or wasp sting will be able to ask their GP for the 'vaccine'

About one in 200 people suffer from anaphylaxis when stung by a wasp or bee.

Every year between two and nine people die after going into anaphylatic shock - the most extreme form of anaphylaxis - as a result of being stung. Contrary to popular belief, wasp stings actually cause twice as many deaths due to anaphylaxis as bee stings.

Now the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which decides on whether treatments can be prescribed on the NHS in England and Wales, has indicated it will approve a product called Pharmalgen.

Given in a series of injections, this works by gradually introducing higher doses of the allergens in bee and wasp venom. Over time, this desensitises a person by gently stimulating their immune system. Treatment is carried out in two phases: the initial phase and the maintenance phase, which lasts three years.

Anaphylactic reactions are when the immune system responds inappropriately to an allergen, releasing large quantities of chemicals called histamines, that cause blood capillaries to dilate and blood pressure to drop. In extreme cases airways can collapse and the heart can fail.

In draft guidance that is highly likely to be confirmed early next year, Nice announced it was recommending Pharmalgen for people who had experienced "a severe systemic reaction to bee or wasp venom".

Nice also recommended it for those who had experienced a "moderate systemic reaction" and were also at "a high risk of future stings", had a raised level of a blood serum known to indicate anaphylaxis, or were "anxious about future stings".

Professor Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at Nice said: "The reactions that some people experience to stings from bees and wasps can be distressing, frightening and sometimes life-threatening.

"People who have had a serious reaction to a sting can often experience extreme anxiety about possible future stings, and this can affect their daily lives. "So we are pleased to be able to recommend Pharmalgen as an effective, preventative treatment in preliminary recommendations issued today."

Pharmalgen is the first preventative medicine for bee and wasp stings that Nice has recommended for approval.

Anaphylaxis can be effectively controlled by quickly administering adrenaline by injection. This constricts blood vessels, relaxes muscles in the lungs to aid breathing, stimlulates the heart to beat properly and stops facial swelling.

However, sometimes it cannot be given quickly enough. Last October farmer John Croall, 52, died after being stung while herding sheep in a remote field near Balkeerie, Angus. Ambulance crews were unable to reach him soon enough and the father-of-three died after suffering anaphylactic shock.

Moira Austin, of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, welcomed Nice's decision to approve it. She said: “The Anaphylaxis Campaign has been participating as a patient/carer consultee in the Pharmalgen appraisal, representing those living with severe allergy to bee or wasp venom.

"We have spoken with many individuals who have been successfully treated with Pharmalgen and who have, as a result, experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. "We are delighted with the appraisal committee’s preliminary recommendations and look forward to their final recommendations.“

There could be some eyebrows raised about the cost of providing the treatment. Nice usually sets a ceiling of £30,000 per 'quality adjusted life year' (QALY) that a medication brings.

Its appraisal committee modelled the cost at £13,800 per QALY, but this was based on a course of Pharmalgen remaining effective for 20 years, for which members admitted there was no evidence.

The committee also said the cost assumption was highly sensitive to the number of stings a person might receive: the fewer, the less cost-effective it was.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stripping the “fat” from rights

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan wants doctors to track the body mass index (BMI) of children through a database that currently tracks immunizations and then to report the collected data to the state. (BMI is the ratio between a person’s weight and the square of his height; it is viewed as an indication of whether that person’s weight is healthy.)

Confusion exists on whether the reporting is required: Snyder calls it “voluntary,” but one of his spokeswomen told the Associated Press that BMI monitoring will become “part of every child’s medical care” in Michigan. So far, all sources agree that the reporting will be anonymous; it will not identify the children. Some parents and privacy advocates are not reassured, however. Too many government programs have promised anonymity but have later been used to take action against specific people.

What action could the state take? “Failure to thrive” is the latest emerging category of child abuse or neglect. Over recent years, child-protective services have started to remove extremely obese children from homes, even loving ones, and to place them in foster care. In less-extreme cases, social workers mandate diets and exercise routines with the implicit (or explicit) threat of criminal charges and loss of custody hanging over parents who do not comply.

As happens with many controversial policies, the state kidnapping of obese children began with extreme cases that elicited little public objection. A headline in the Albany, New York, Examiner (July 21, 2009) read, “Mother loses custody & is charged with criminal neglect for allowing son to become morbidly obese.” The news item opened:
Jerri Gray, a 49 year old mother ... was arrested in June on a criminal neglect charge because her son weighed 555 pounds by the time he was fourteen years old. Her son was taken away from her and put into foster care.... What has happened to Jerri Gray is rare but not new. In 2007 New York State charged the parents of a young adolescent named Brittany T. with neglect for allowing her to reach the weight of 261 pounds, although Brittany’s parents were charged with a misdemeanor, while Jerri Gray has been charged with felonies that could result in significant prison time.... [The] court required Brittany’s parents to purchase a gym membership and take her there several times a week. The court also ordered nutritional counseling and cooking classes for the family.

At least three factors are causing government to extend its reach ever further into kitchens and across dinner tables. First, there has been a general expansion and acceptance of the Nanny State through which the government assumes the role of a parent with willful, ignorant children; “unhealthy” food is the new nicotine in terms of its current focus. Second, with Barack Obama’s health-care bill, a person’s health problems cease to be a personal matter and, instead, become a strain on a scarce public resource (medical care) and a drain on the public purse; in other words, your obesity becomes my problem. The third is the invocation of a powerful political tactic — the need to protect children against abuse.

Obesity as child abuse hops the big pond

As with many politically correct trends, the equating of obesity with child abuse seems to have taken root first in the UK. In his article “The onward march of the Obesity Orwellians,” Rob Lyons, the author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder explained:
In 2004, the parents of a nine-year-old girl in Derbyshire were threatened with having her removed due to her weight. In 2007, Newcastle social services made a similar threat in relation to an eight-year-old boy, Connor McCreaddie. In 2008, UK council bosses declared that very fat children should be monitored and taken away from their parents if necessary. It should be blindingly obvious to medics and social workers that children simply cannot become as fat as these children without some significant genetic predisposition towards piling on the pounds. The drastic act of taking a child from his or her parents should only ever happen when there is clear evidence of serious neglect or abuse. Yet in the cases of many of these fat children, there is little or no evidence of any such neglect or abuse. Instead, obesity itself is taken to be sufficient basis for extreme state action.

In the UK, the slippery slope began with the government-sponsored weighing of children and with a campaign to improve their eating habits. Then doctors and public agencies provided alarming statistics on childhood obesity that created widespread panic. Then officials blamed parents for child abuse or neglect; public-health spokesman David Rogers declared that “parents who allow their children to eat too much could be as guilty of neglect as those who did not feed their children at all.” The “solution” of massive government intervention into the home was not far behind. On September 5, 2011, a headline in the UK Daily Mail proclaimed, “Parents of seven told: Your children are too fat, so you will never see them again.” The news item explained,
Four obese children are on the brink of being permanently removed from their family by social workers after their parents failed to bring their weight under control.

In the first case of its kind, their mother and father now face what they call the “unbearable” likelihood of never seeing them again.

Their three daughters, aged 11, seven and one, and five-year-old son, will either be “fostered without contact” or adopted.

Either way, the family’s only hope of being reunited will be if the children attempt to track down their parents when they become adults.

In a bitter irony, the children came to the attention of social workers because their parents asked for assistance with an unrelated problem.

The war on obesity and “unhealthy” food

The Michigan Care Improvement Registry of children’s BMI being created by Governor Snyder is a small aspect of America’s raging War on Childhood Obesity and on “unhealthy” food. Declared most loudly by Michele Obama, the war is being pushed forward by the considerable muscle of her husband. For example, as Karen De Coster colorfully explained (September 18), “Unknown to many, Benito Obamalini’s budget included a 5-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, except that the FDA obtained a $50M boost, and that is just the beginning for the fed’s stepped-up enforcement of its Food Tyranny Act.”

On health grounds, the government is ratcheting up restriction and regulation of the foodstuffs people are permitted to eat. Limit salt. No trans fats. Avoid fast food. No sodas or raw milk! Put calorie counts on every menu. Butter is bad. No candy machines in public schools.

Along with weighing children, there is an aggressive campaign to impose “healthy” eating habits. Entire bureaucracies are being created around the idea of feeding school children vegetables and snatching away their sodas. A recent commentary in WorldNetDaily listed a mere handful of the new federal “guidelines” for public-school cafeterias that will be piled onto old ones this year: “Local School Wellness Policy Implementation, Review of Local Policies on Meal Charges and Provision of Alternate Meals, Procurement and Processing of Food Service Products and Commodities, Professional Standards for School Food Service, etc.”

Despite those efforts, or because of them, a flood of statistics have been announcing a near-panic scenario. TV broadcasters warn that two million children in America are obese. In a 2009 report on California, more than 38 percent of children in some counties are classified as “obese” or “overweight,” the percentages falling into each category being roughly equal. Other reports put states such as Mississippi as high as 44.4 percent. Meanwhile the Child Welfare League of America stated, “Today [2008], according to researchers, almost 66% of adults and 14% to 19% of children and adolescents are considered overweight; approximately 33% of adults and 11% of children are obese.”

The numbers seem high, perhaps because the term “obesity” has been redefined in past years to include a far larger population. The data serve a political function. Just as unemployment and inflation data are calculated in innovative ways to minimize social problems that the government has largely caused, so, too, figures on other problems may be exaggerated in order to allow government to rush in as “the cure.”

More here

Woman unwittingly destroys her liver and dies from a paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdose

This is widely recommended as a "safe" painkiller but it is not. There have been many incidents like the one below. Aspirin is out of favour these days but it is much less likely to be fatal. Many medications contain paracetamol so if you are taking several medications you can very easily exceed the safe dose

A young mother died after overdosing on Lemsip and paracetamol to treat a cold, an inquest has heard. Tragic Donna Bishop, 25, downed a daily cocktail of over-the-counter medication when she fell ill two weeks before Christmas last year.

The pretty mum-of-one was diagnosed with a chest infection by her GP on New Year’s Eve, But she continued to self-medicate and swallowed pills washed down with hot Lemsip drinks and cough medicine. Her health rapidly deteriorated and she died in hospital on January 4 from liver failure caused by a paracetamol overdose.

The inquest at Worcestershire Coroner’s Court in Stourport-on-Severn heard how Donna had travelled to Scotland before Christmas to visit her friend Siobhan Dunn.

She had been suffering from a cold for two weeks before her death and Miss Dunn said Donna was taking ‘high’ amounts of over-the-counter drugs and she had been sick several times. This would lead her to take more medication in the belief she needed a top-up dose after vomiting.

After travelling back to her home in Warndon Villages, Worcester, on December 31 she saw her GP who prescribed antibiotics.

On January 2 she went to Worcestershire Royal Hospital complaining of mouth ulcers and having difficulty in swallowing. A doctor prescribed co-codamol and a throat spray but the next day her sister Kerrie Bishop visited her and found her forgetful, with a yellow jaundiced complexion and unsteady on her feet.

At 2.30am on January 4, she was admitted to hospital and given a bed on the gynaecological ward. Staff said she was ‘fidgety’ and suffering hallucinations.

According to nurse practitioner Andrew Eggleton, Donna denied taking paracetamol but she died later that day. A pathologist report concluded her death was due to liver failure caused by a paracetamol overdose.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Painkiller heart alert: Don't stop taking pills, but do talk to your GP, British scientists urge

For once they mention the absolute risk and admit that it is tiny

A painkiller taken by millions can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke by 40 per cent, a study has found. Researchers say that while there is no need for patients to panic, diclofenac should be restricted to prescription only.

In completely healthy patients, a 40 per cent raised chance of heart problems is not at all significant. But for those who already have a high risk of a heart attack or stroke, taking the painkiller could present serious problems.

Last night the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that patients should not stop taking the drug, but should consult their doctor if they have fears over its safety.

Last year almost 17million prescriptions were written by GPs in England for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, for conditions such as arthritis, back pain, gout, headaches and fever. Of these, diclofenac was the most commonly prescribed and given to 6million patients. It can also be bought over the counter under the brand name Voltarol Pain-Eze for around £6. It is at lower strength but still carries a 22 per cent higher risk.

Dr Patricia McGettigan of Hull York Medical School, who led the landmark review of studies looking at nearly 3million people, said: ‘Diclofenac on prescription was associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk of 40 per cent.

‘People take it because it’s effective, but it’s very important for patients and doctors to know the risks associated with these drugs for high-risk patients. ‘It is now available over the counter, and our study suggests there is a case for looking at that again and making it prescription-only as well as strengthening advice to doctors and patients about how it should be used.

‘There is a very clear increase in risk as the dose goes up, which says to people who perhaps can’t get out of bed due to arthritis and take diclofenac, take a different drug instead and you might be at a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. ‘We have reviewed all the previous studies and are confident that the results are robust enough to inform clinical and regulatory decisions.’

This is the first study to measure the relative risks of different drugs, and it found that ibuprofen and naproxen had the lowest risk of cardiovascular problems.

Many patients were transferred to diclofenac from Vioxx, the painkiller which was withdrawn by manufacturer Merck in 2004 after it was linked to heart attacks and strokes.

Patients will often be at minimal risk. For a young woman, the risk of having a heart attack will be around 0.1 per cent and a 40 per cent rise is still just 0.14 per cent. However for a pensioner who has already had one heart attack, a 40 per cent increase could be significant.

Doreen Maddock of the British Heart Foundation said: ‘The potential risks for heart patients taking certain painkillers have been known for some time and these findings shouldn’t be ignored. But scientists and drug regulators will need to delve deeper before we draw any firm conclusions.

‘As with any medicine there are benefits and potential risks to taking painkillers. If you’re already taking these types of drugs and are worried, don’t simply give up on your medication. You should always speak to your doctor first because the benefits may well outweigh the risks for you.’

A spokesman for the MHRA said: ‘Our priority is to ensure that the benefits of medication outweigh the risks. NSAID treatment is associated with a small increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. The risk is higher with long-term treatment.

‘Clear warnings about the risk of gastro-intestinal and heart problems, along with information about those patient groups in which NSAIDs either should not be used, such as those with severe heart failure, or only used with caution, are contained in the product information including the patient information leaflet that accompanies the medicine.

‘To minimise the risk of side effects, all NSAIDs should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period necessary to control symptoms. ‘People should not stop taking their NSAID medicine, but if they have any questions or concerns about their treatment they should speak to their doctor. ‘The MHRA keeps the safety of NSAIDs under close review and any new data will be carefully evaluated.’

A spokesman for Novartis, which makes Voltarol, said: ‘In our view, this analysis, in the context of the vast clinical experience worldwide, does not change the favourable benefit-to-risk assessment for diclofenac when used as directed. ‘Novartis is confident about the safety profile of diclofenac products.’


Good news for fathers: Having children reduces a man's risk of heart disease by 20%

I think this just means that healthier men are more likely to have children -- and possibly for social rather than medical reasons

It may come as a surprise to father's continually woken by their offspring in the early hours of the morning, but having children could mean they have healthier hearts.

A decade-long study of 135,000 men found that those who remained child-free had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who 'sowed their oats.'

U.S researchers said it raised the possibility that infertility may be a potential early warning sign of future heart trouble.

'There is emerging evidence to suggest that infertility may be a window into a man's later health,' said study leader Dr Michael Eisenberg of Stanford University in California.

He said men who are infertile have a higher risk of certain cancers, and his team wanted to look for other signs that infertility might be playing a role later in a man's life.

The researchers, reporting in the journal Human Reproduction, followed more than 130,000 men who were retired and over 50 for a decade.

They restricted the list to men who were either married or had been married because they wanted to compare males who had the intent and the opportunity to have children.

Men with previous underlying diseases, such as stroke, heart disease or some related condition were excluded. Hence, the men in their list started off in relatively good health.

Over the course of the 10-year follow up period, some 10 percent of the men died, and one out of every five of these deaths was from heart disease.

When looking at the parental status of these men, childless participants in the study had about a 17 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those who were fathers.

Dr Eisenberg said it was not possible to determine whether men in the study simply chose not to have children or whether the men's partners were infertile.

But excluding unmarried men offered an approximation of male infertility, and the link to heart disease raises important questions that merit further research. 'My belief it there is a biologic reason,' he said.

The researchers stress that the study does not suggest being childless causes heart problems, but since infertility affects a man's health at a much younger age, understanding this link could help doctors identify heart problems earlier, when there is more time to intervene.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

British doctors failing 500,000 cancer patients by not spotting medical problems caused by treatment

Doctors are failing cancer patients 'far too often' by not spotting other medical problems caused by their treatment, according to a leading expert on the disease.

Professor Jane Maher, the medical director of Macmillan Cancer Support, said she feared 500,000 people's symptoms for conditions including osteoporosis and heart disease are being missed by GPs.

She said that their lack of knowledge about the long-term side-effects of cancer drugs and a lack of communication with hospitals were to blame.

'GPs and oncologists are failing cancer patients far too often,' Prof Maher told The Guardian. 'By not sharing vital information and recording clearly on the patients' medical records they are putting a significant number of cancer patients at risk of having their work, health, relationships and home lives unnecessarily spoiled by long-term side-effects of their treatment.'

The National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI) estimates that up to a quarter of those diagnosed with cancer go on experience a consequence of their treatment which affects their health or quality of life.

Prof Maher added: 'Based on the NCSI work looking into consequences of cancer treatment, I fear that up to 500,000 people's symptoms are being missed by GPs.

'GPs need to recognise that people who have had cancer may have health problems related to their treatment, and GPs are the best people to pick these up. But that doesn't happen nearly enough at the moment.'

The medical expert said doctors needed to ensure that cancer survivors' medical records included more detail about their disease and type of treatment. 'At the moment GPs aren't recording whether someone has had chemotherapy or radiotherapy,' she said.

'That's partly because they don't get enough information from hospitals, but also because they don't realise why it's important for them to do that.'

Professor Sir Mike Richards, the Government's national cancer director, said it was essential that GPs and oncologists worked together to ensure patients get the best possible care.

The fact that cancer survival rates are improving year on year with a growing number of long-term survivors made it more important, he added.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said doctors needed help with the issue.

Admitting that GPs were generally unaware of the risks associated with specific treatments, she said: 'If Prof Maher and the NHS tell us exactly what cancer someone has had, and what treatment, and what the possible risks are of that, and in a way that's easy to understand, we will do things better.'


Drug that 'shrinks children's brain tumours by 50%' is launched as once-a-day pill

Good to hear that some "orphan" drugs are in fact getting through the system

A drug that can shrink brain tumours by up to 50 per cent in children with a rare disease has been launched in the UK. NHS doctors will be able to apply for funding from health trusts for Votubia (everolimus) for children with growing non-malignant brain tumours associated with a condition called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).

The once-a-day pill offers an alternative to surgery and could provide a lifeline for up to 1,600 youngsters in the UK with the tumours.

The drug, which has been granted orphan drug status for rare diseases, has been shown to shrink subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA) tumours associated with TSC. TSC is a genetic disorder which leads to non-malignant tumours forming in organs, most commonly the brain and kidneys.

Brain tumours occur in up to 20 per cent of patients with TSC, causing physical and mental disability.

Chris Kingswood, head of research at the Tuberous Sclerosis Association, said: 'For a long time there has been a desperate need for a useful alternative licensed treatment to invasive brain surgery.

'Everolimus is the first licensed product we can offer patients to attack the cause of their debilitating condition; it works by blocking a protein that acts as an important regulator of tumour cell growth.

'The way it works in the signalling pathway can be simply likened to blocking a receiver so it cannot process signals from the aerial on an analogue radio, so that the signals can no longer transmit to drive in this case tumour cell growth.'

Dr Finbar O'Callaghan, consultant in paediatric neurology at the University of Bristol, said: 'SEGA is a serious complication in TSC, accounting for much of the increased mortality seen in this condition.

'Until now, brain surgery has been the only option for treatment and the availability of a pharmacological therapy is a major milestone and provides a treatment option in those cases where surgery is difficult or not possible.'


Monday, September 26, 2011

Medical optimism gone mad

A London hospital’s trial of a prostate cancer drug has been stopped early because it was so successful doctors felt it would be "unethical" to deny the treatment to other patients.

But that is absurd. As Ioannides and others now often point out, the early results of a research project are often not typical and the effect observed in the research below was actually quite small in absolute terms. It is only the relative results that look good and even the .3 they report below is dismally short of the 2.0 that the Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384) is the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an effect.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:

"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."

So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data not just a hasty first bite at it

Medics halted tests of the life-extending drug because it would have been “unethical” not to offer the treatment to all 922 cancer sufferers taking part in the trial.

Patients who were given the drug found that it eased pain and caused only minor side effects.

The new drug accurately targets tumours using alpha radiation, which doctors conducting the study said is the most effective form of radiation to eliminate cancer because it limits damage to surrounding tissue. Dr Chris Parker, lead researcher on the project at the Royal Marsden Hospital, said: “It’s more damaging. It takes one, two, three hits to kill a cancer cell compared with thousands of hits for beta particles.”

The drug, Radium-223 Chloride – known as Alpharadin TM – will also do less damage to surrounding tissue because it accurately targets calls, the doctors said. Speaking at an international gathering of cancer experts, Dr Parker, a consultant clinical oncologist, said: “They have such a tiny range, a few millionths of a metre. So we can be sure that the damage is being done where it should be.”

Patients taking the drug has a 30 per cent lower rate of death compared top patients taking a placebo pill. “It would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo,” Dr. Parker said.

Radium-223 has “a completely different safety profile” to chemotherapy, he added.

The trial’s results were presented this week at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm.

The researchers, who have pointed out the urgent need for an effective treatment for prostate cancer, will now submit their findings for approval by regulators.

Prof Gillies McKenna, Cancer Research UK’s radiotherapy expert said: “This appears to be an important study using a highly targeted form of radiation to treat prostate cancer that has spread to the bones.

“This research looks very promising and could be an important addition to approaches available to treat secondary tumours – and should be investigated further.”


The cancer risk in your 'healthy' glass of fruit juice which has so much sugar it could bring on tumours

You can't win!

It's supposed to be the healthy way to start the day. But a glass of juice might not be as beneficial as you think – and could even be harmful. Scientists claim fruit juice contains so much sugar it actually increases the risk of certain cancers, rather than preventing them.

In fact, by the time the drink has been processed and packaged, many of the ingredients in fruit that protect against tumours have been lost, they say.

Australian researchers had sought to establish how effective different fruits, vegetables and juices were at preventing the development of bowel cancer. They examined the diets of 2,200 adults, who filled in a questionnaire detailing their daily eating habits. The team then tracked the participants for two years to see how many of them developed the disease.

Unsurprisingly they found that eating apples, sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli on a daily basis all reduced the likelihood.

However, those who consumed lots of fruit juice had a higher risk.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that those drinking more than three glasses a day were more likely to develop rectal cancer, a form of bowel cancer.

Scientists believe the high sugar content in juice may trigger certain tumours.

The Perth team also said that many things found in fruit which help protect against bowel cancer – including fibre, vitamin C and chemicals known as antioxidants – are lost during the juice’s processing.

For years, Department of Health guidelines have advised the public to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, which can include a glass of juice.

But British researchers claimed earlier this year that fruit juice contains too much sugar to be counted as one of the five. The scientists, of Bangor University, Wales, said people would be better off eating prunes or other dried fruit, as even freshly-squeezed juice contains as much as five teaspoons of sugar per glass.

However, other experts suggest that people shouldn’t shun fruit juice completely, as it is still healthier than other drinks.

Nell Barrie, of Cancer Research UK, said of the latest research: ‘This isn’t a large study, and it doesn’t give us clear answers about whether different fruits and vegetables affect the risk of cancer in parts of the bowel.

‘It’s very tricky to tease apart the effects of a person’s diet on their risk of bowel cancer, but reliable evidence shows that eating lots of red and processed meats increases the risk, while eating plenty of high-fibre foods can reduce the risk.

‘Many fruits and vegetables are a good source of fibre, and eating a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables could reduce the risk of other types of cancer as well – so it’s a good idea to get plenty of them in your diet.’


Sunday, September 25, 2011

That evil coffee (?)

Not good for the young?? This sounds like kneejerk Puritanism. Where is the evidence of harm from coffee? When I was growing up kids in Australia were quite normally given a cup of tea with their evening meal and tea is also a caffeinated beverage. I have never heard of any harm from the practice

STUDENTS as young as 12 are being served coffee by a full-time barista employed by one of Sydney's top private schools. Presbyterian Ladies' College Sydney has opened the "Cyber Cafe" as part of extensive library renovations.

The cafe has outraged nutritionists who are concerned there are no restrictions on how many coffees students from the school in Croydon can purchase in a day.

Coffees cost $3 each (50c extra for soy or syrup flavour). Year 11 and 12 students are free to use the coffee shop all day, while Years 7-10 students can only buy before and after school and during recess and lunch.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said the cafe should be restricted to Year 11 and 12 students as younger children should not be encouraged to consume caffeine. "It is too early to be introducing them to coffee," she said. "This is going to need a close watch because it is easy for girls to drink lots of coffee to keep them going instead of eating."

A barista at the cafe told The Sunday Telegraph the students drink a lot of coffee. She said they also add sweet syrups, including caramel and vanilla, which masks the taste.

The cafe makes between 10kg and 15kg of coffee per week, which equates to about 2100 cups, according to owner of coffee academy Barista Basics David Gee. "Say the coffees are $3, they'd be making about $5000 per week just in coffee sales,'' he said.

The school's director of information services Joanna Taylor said the caf is "a very popular space''. "I don't know how much coffee they drink but the reality is, in the morning, even before the caf, the girls come walking up the street holding their coffees.''


Australia: Natural medicine offers risks not relief

HEALTH authorities have failed to keep up with an explosion in natural therapists as lives are put at risk from untested, unproven and potentially dangerous services.

More than 200,000 practitioners work in unregistered health fields Australia-wide and complementary medicines generate almost $2 billion a year, but little can be done when treatments go wrong.

In a damning assessment of consumer-protection measures, Queensland's health watchdog admits it is powerless to respond to the misconduct of alternative healers and other unregistered practitioners.

"The status quo does not sufficiently protect consumers from (the) risk of harm from unregistered health practitioners," the Health Quality and Complaints Commission says in a confidential paper obtained by The Sunday Mail.

Naturopathy, faith and spiritual healing, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and massage are among the unregulated fields in Queensland, with the medical community warning of a health "time bomb".

"This is a public health issue waiting to explode," said UQ School of Population Health researcher Jon Wardle, who has found there are now more alternative medical practitioners than doctors in some areas.

"For half the healthcare sector to be non-regulated is completely inappropriate it is the black market of health."

The Australian Traditional Medicine Society says the industry is "overall very safe" but supports reforms to protect consumers.

Figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show there have been 119 complaints about alternative practitioners to the state's health watchdog in the past three years. Allegations of assault, rough and painful treatment, illegal practices, medication errors and inappropriate treatment are among the complaints.

However, the complaints commission is unable to discipline offenders and can only forward cases to other agencies for action under general consumer and criminal laws.

The state lags a long way behind NSW, where a health complaints commissioner can ban unregistered practitioners who breach a statutory code of conduct. There are no similar prohibition powers in Queensland.

An acupuncturist who caused a collapsed lung was among nine people banned in NSW since 2008.

Doctors' group the AMA says it is aware of dangerous practices, including practitioners claiming to be able to change DNA. "These practitioners sometimes lead patients to believe almost magical things can be done," Queensland AMA president Dr Richard Kidd said.

A further 80 complaints were made about complementary medicines and therapies to Queensland's Office of Fair Trading since 2008.

A huge question mark hangs over the safety of complementary medicines, with a scathing report this month revealing that nine out of 10 products were not meeting regulatory standards.

The Auditor-General's report found the 10,000 complementary medicines registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration did not have to be tested for safety nor efficacy.

A TGA spokeswoman last week said there were 276 adverse drug reaction reports relating to complementary medicines, or 2 per cent of all reports.

Grave concerns about the policing of alternative operators this year prompted the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to launch a review of regulation. The body, due to report to health ministers in November, consulted with representative associations and found there were at least 200,000 practitioners.

Queensland's Health Quality Complaints Commission sent a "private and confidential" submission to the advisory council backing a national code of conduct and banning powers.

The present system allowed repeat offenders to "continue providing health services that harm the public", chief executive Cheryl Herbert wrote.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why 'good' sugar is the secret to a slim figure (?)

The popular article below is a fanciful elaboration of the academic original. I therefore append the academic original. The earth shattering finding of the academic original was that when you are low on nutrients you feel hungry -- and that the brain has got something to do with that

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables helps people resist the temptation of waist-expanding treats, scientists have found.

When our supplies of glucose - found in carbohydrates - drop we begin to lose our ability to control desire, while our urge to eat increases. The lack of glucose – which is used to power the brain – makes us helpless against the urge to reach for high-calorie foods, researchers said.

Obese people are particularly vulnerable, with even the slightest drop in glucose prompting irresistible cravings for carbohydrates, from which we get most of our sugar.

These can be "good" carbs, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, brown rice and pasta and wholemeal bread, or "bad" varieties which include white bread and sugar, fizzy drinks, cakes, crisps and other packet snacks.

Making sure the brain's glucose levels do not drop could be the secret to staying slim, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggested.

Eating less and often could lower the chance of succumbing to the temptation of high-calorie foods, particularly for obese people, the researchers said.

Prof Rajita Sinha, of Yale University in America, said: "The key seems to be eating healthy foods that maintain glucose levels.

Volunteers were given injections of glucose and their brains were scanned while they were shown pictures of high and low calorie foods, as well as other objects.

When glucose levels were lower, two areas of the brain which regulate pleasure prompted the desire to eat while the prefrontal cortex – which gives us self-control – lost its ability to control the impulses.

Circulating glucose levels modulate neural control of desire for high-calorie foods in humans

By Kathleen A. Page et al.


Obesity is a worldwide epidemic resulting in part from the ubiquity of high-calorie foods and food images. Whether obese and nonobese individuals regulate their desire to consume high-calorie foods differently is not clear. We set out to investigate the hypothesis that circulating levels of glucose, the primary fuel source for the brain, influence brain regions that regulate the motivation to consume high-calorie foods. Using functional MRI (fMRI) combined with a stepped hyperinsulinemic euglycemic-hypoglycemic clamp and behavioral measures of interest in food, we have shown here that mild hypoglycemia preferentially activates limbic-striatal brain regions in response to food cues to produce a greater desire for high-calorie foods. In contrast, euglycemia preferentially activated the medial prefrontal cortex and resulted in less interest in food stimuli. Indeed, higher circulating glucose levels predicted greater medial prefrontal cortex activation, and this response was absent in obese subjects. These findings demonstrate that circulating glucose modulates neural stimulatory and inhibitory control over food motivation and suggest that this glucose-linked restraining influence is lost in obesity. Strategies that temper postprandial reductions in glucose levels might reduce the risk of overeating, particularly in environments inundated with visual cues of high-calorie foods.

J Clin Invest. doi:10.1172/JCI57873. 2011

Diet police mug the very hungry caterpillar

ONE Sunday morning the warm sun came up and -- pop! -- out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. He started to look for some food. He ate through an apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries and five oranges.

Readers of the classic children's book know what happens next. Still hungry, the caterpillar gorges on one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

But it seems the grub of today has different -- and healthier -- tastes. In a rendition of the Eric Carle tale performed by Flemington Primary School prep students in Melbourne, the caterpillar spends his Saturday munching through a bowl of cereal, a cheese-and-tomato sandwich on brown bread, a glass of low-fat milk, a slice of (unspecified) cheese, a bowl of spaghetti, steamed broccoli, a piece of chicken, a piece of fish and a tub of low-fat yoghurt.

Curiously, he still ends up with a stomach-ache.

But instead of cleansing his system with a nice green leaf, as Carle wrote, he washes it away with a big bowl of vegetable soup. "After that he felt much better," the kids recited.

All this good living duly produces a glorious butterfly. But that is not where the revised story ends. Once he gets his wings, the butterfly signs up for "PMP", which stands for the Perceptual Motor Program, a fancy prep way of saying exercise class.

Carle might wonder about the reinvention of his most famous book, which has been translated into 55 languages and has sold 33 million copies since it was first published in 1969.

The author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now 82, divides his time between the Florida Keys and the hills of North Carolina, and is a regular blogger. The Weekend Australian emailed him to ask his thoughts on the "improvements" made by Flemington prep, but he has not yet replied.

No doubt he would have had a chuckle to observe the kids' accompanying artwork. Mostly, they were pictures of lollipops.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Popular weight-loss drug under review over liver failure fears

This is ridiculous. 38 million take the drug with no harm to themselves but when just 4 people become ill it is the fault of the drug???

The most popular weight-loss drug in Britain is under investigation over fears it may be linked to liver failure. The European Medicines Agency said there had been four suspected cases of “serious liver toxicity” linked to the medicine in recent years, one of which was fatal.

Although a small number of cases considering 38 million dieters across Europe have been given the pills by doctors to lose weight, the regulator said it was now looking at what evidence there is linking the drug to liver damage. It will then decide whether or not the licences for medicines containing orlistat need to be changed or even revoked.

Orlistat, available since 1998, stops the intestines absorbing fat so it is excreted instead. It is available in an over-the-counter 60mg form, known as Alli, and a prescription-only 120mg dose, marketed as Xenical.

Official figures show that orlistat accounted for 74 per cent of the 1.45million weight-loss drugs prescribed in England in 2009, which cost £46.8m.

Two other anti-obesity pills, known as rimonabant (Acomplia) and sibutramine (Reductil), worked by altering how patients think about food but have been suspended from sale in recent years, leaving Xenical the main option for GPs to prescribe.

A Europe-wide review took place in 2009 of a possible link between orlistat and “serious hepatic reactions”, meaning liver damage, but found “insufficient evidence”. But the EMA, which licenses drugs across the continent, announced on Thursday it was looking again at the drug.

“The European Medicines Agency has started a review of orlistat-containing anti-obesity medicines, to determine whether the very rare cases of hepatic injury have an impact on their benefit-risk profile and conditions of use," it said in a statement.

“The review includes the centrally authorised prescription-only medicine Xenical (orlistat 120 mg) and the centrally authorised over-the-counter-medicine Alli (orlistat 60 mg), as well as a number of medicines containing orlistat that have either already or are in the process of being authorised at national level.”

It said the “vast majority” of reports of liver damage were not serious, and severe injuries have only been reported “very rarely”. Between August 2009 and January this year, the EMA said it had heard of 21 suspected cases of liver damage linked to the prescription-only dose of orlistat.

Four of these were severe, with one proving fatal and another requiring a liver transplant. Between 1997 and 2011 there were 21 cases where a link could have been present, out of 38m people taking the drug.

Between May 2007 and January this year there were a further nine reports of “suspected severe liver injury” linked to the lower-dose drug, but not all were conclusive and must be seen “in the context of cumulative usage in 11 million patients”.

The EMA concluded: “The Committee is now reviewing all relevant data on the risk of hepatotoxicity of orlistat-containing medicines and will issue an opinion on whether or not the marketing authorisations for these medicines should be revoked, suspended or changed.”

Roche, the pharmaceutical giant that makes Xenical, said it was the most tested diet drug there is and had been in 100 different clinical trials. But a spokesman said it would investigate any patient safety concerns.


Zinc is good for the memory... but too much could 'trigger epilepsy'

Zinc may play a key role in memory - but too much of the mineral in the brain could trigger epileptic seizures, research suggests.

A new study has found that zinc is critical to communication between neurons in the hippocampus, the brain's learning and memory centre.

Scientists used a chemical that binds to zinc to remove it from circulation in the brain's of mutant mice. Without the mineral, communication between neurons was impaired.

Lead researcher Dr James McNamara, from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, US, said: 'We discovered that zinc is essential to control the efficiency between two critical populations of nerve cells in the hippocampus. This addresses a long-standing controversy in the field.'

The findings were published online in the journal Neuron.

More than 50 years ago, scientists learned that high levels of zinc were contained in specialised compartments in nerve cells called vesicles.

These package the transmitter chemicals that enable nerves to communicate.

However, evidence that zinc actually played a role in cell signalling was lacking.

Over-communication by the brain cells highlighted in the study was known to occur in epilepsy, pointing to a link between zinc and the condition.

Dr McNamara said people taking zinc supplements should exercise caution.

'Carefully controlling zinc's regulation of communication between these nerve cells is critical to both formation of memories and perhaps to occurrence of epileptic seizures,' he added.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Exposed: The health drinks that don't live up to the hype

Comment from Britain

Claims that health drinks help slimming, boost digestion and lubricate joints have been rejected by consumer experts.

Britons spend more than £700million a year on ‘functional’ drinks and food. But research by Which?, published today, suggests that using these products to treat ailments is often a waste of money.

The consumer group said the slimming drink Aspire claims ‘you can burn over 200 calories a can’. The firm’s website boasts that Aspire, which contains several stimulants, ‘raises your body’s metabolism and suppresses appetite’.

Which? tracked down research which found that those who drank it did indeed burn off an average of 209 calories over a three-hour period. But this was only 27 calories more than someone who had consumed a drink making no calorie-burning claims. Twenty-seven calories is the equivalent of one bite of a chocolate digestive biscuit. Aspire costs £1.69 for 250ml.

The consumer group was also critical of NeuroTrim, a drink which promises weight loss support. Ingredients include a fibre gel the company calls LuraLean. In August, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that a website claim that the drink was ‘designed to promote weight loss’ was misleading.

The orange cordial ActivJuice for Joints, which costs £7.39 for 500ml, contains glucosamine. It claims this will ‘help maintain healthy joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments’. But Which? pointed to a finding by the European Food Safety Authority, which has decided there is ‘not enough evidence’ to back up such claims.

A host of probiotic yoghurt drinks, such as Actimel and Yakult, have in the past made claims that they can help boost digestion and the beneficial bacteria that exist in the gut. But Which? said the EFSA has rejected general claims linking prebiotics and probiotics to improved digestive health. The brands have submitted new evidence to justify their claims, but have had to change their marketing claims in the meantime.

Which? said that some health drinks do offer genuine benefits, particularly those designed to reduce cholesterol levels.


Brittle bone drug offers new hope that it could hold arthritis at bay

Rodent evidence only so far

A drug used to strengthen brittle bones could help to hold arthritis at bay. There is currently no cure for arthritis – which causes inflammation of the joints and bones –and treatments are aimed at simply easing the pain it causes.

However, the osteoporosis drug teriparatide thickened damaged knee joints by almost a third in laboratory tests. This has raised hopes it could also be used to treat osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis.

It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage that helps our joints take the strain of bending, lifting, gripping and kneeling, and affects about six million Britons.

Existing drugs simply ease pain of bone rubbing on bone. They do nothing to slow the course of the condition and some raise the odds of heart attacks and strokes.

Hip or knee replacement surgery can improve quality of life in patients but it is a complicated and lengthy process and is not successful in every case. In addition, the artificial joints usually only last for ten to 15 years, meaning some patients have to be operated on over and over again.

In the study, teriparatide was given daily to mice with arthritic knees. After a month, cartilage in the knee joints of the treated mice was 32 per cent thicker than in other animals, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports. In addition, the production of genes and molecules associated with the degeneration of cartilage was suppressed.

The research raises hopes the drug could eventually be used to combat arthritis in humans.

The scientists, from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York State, compared the health of arthritis patients who were taking teriparatide for osteoporosis, with that of another group who weren’t taking the drug. Those taking teriparatide, which has the brand name Forsteo in Europe and Forteo in the U.S., said they found it easier to move the damaged joint.

The researchers said that further studies, including proper trials of those with arthritis, could lead to the drug being approved to treat arthritis as well as osteoporosis.

Osteoarthritis is more common in women than in men and usually occurs in the over-50s, although it can also affect younger people. The condition mostly occurs in the knees, hips and hands.However, almost any joint can become stiff, swollen and painful.

Study co-author Dr Michael Zuscik said: ‘We believe that a potential alternative to this cycle of pain and reduced quality of life has gone unnoticed for the past decade.’

The safety of long-term use of the drug would also have to be assessed. Concerns that it raises the odds of bone cancer mean that use in osteoporosis is limited to two years in total.

Professor Phil Conaghan, of Arthritis Research UK, said: ‘We welcome anything that helps to treat osteoarthritis and that reduces the pain and suffering of the six million people in the UK that are affected by this debilitating condition.

‘However, we need to sound a big note of caution, as animal models of osteoarthritis are not like humans with osteoarthritis, and many agents that have worked and looked very promising in animals have not worked in human trials.’


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walking through traffic fumes 'can raise risk of heart attack for six hours' (?)

This is a very ambitious study, correlating the TIME of heart attacks with the known level of pollution in the air at the time. Journal article here.

It seems unlikely that epidemiological data can answer the question asked. A firm conclusion would depend on the time of each person's heart attack being known and accurately given in official records -- a very dubious assumption. On the other side of the correlation, the air quality data is taken from the UK National Air Quality Archive. Is that archive specific enough to record what exposure EACH PERSON had to pollution? Surely not. Just being indoors versus outdoors could have a large effect.

The only cautious conclusion we could draw from the results reported is that they are a random walk

Higher levels of air pollution can increase the risk of having a heart attack for up to six hours after exposure, warn UK researchers. Even moderate levels of pollution from traffic carry an extra risk, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal.

The findings come from a detailed analysis of almost 80,000 heart attack cases and the level of pollution to which they were exposed.

Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months, probably by affecting the heart and lungs.

In the latest study Krishnan Bhaskaran, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues found rising air pollution was linked to a rise in heart attacks up to six hours after exposure. However, there was no increased risk after the six-hour period, with the number of heart attacks then falling to a lower level than expected.

The researchers reviewed 79,288 heart attack cases from 2003 to 2006 and exposure, by the hour, to pollution levels. They used the UK National Air Quality Archive to investigate the levels of specific pollutants in the atmosphere. These included pollutant particles (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone. Higher levels of PM10 – tiny toxic particles - and NO2 are well-known markers of traffic related pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes, said Dr Bhaskaran.

National air pollution warnings on weather reports alert people to changes using bands ranging from low, to moderate, to high, to very high. People who are sensitive to air pollution are advised to spend less time outdoors during high and very high episodes of air pollution, and not to exercise, along with those suffering asthma and heart disease.

Dr Bhaskaran estimated there would be an extra five per cent risk of a heart attack caused by a change in air pollution from ‘low’ to ‘moderate’ in the following six hours. The risk would increase further during ‘high’ and ‘very high’ episodes but they are uncommon in Britain, he added.

Dr Bhaskaran said the data suggested that after the first six hour period following pollution peaks, the number of heart attacks was lower than expected. Some people who were going to have a heart attack in that later period may have simply had their heart attack brought forward by a few hours as result of the pollution exposure, he said.

‘We know from many studies that there are more deaths when pollution levels are higher, but whether heart attacks make a major contribution to this is not clear.

‘Although we found a short period of increased risk of heart attacks in the few hours after air pollution peaks, the risk was small and had little net impact on the overall number of heart attacks’ he added.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, said: ‘This large-scale study shows conclusively that your risk of having a heart attack goes up temporarily, for around six hours, after breathing in higher levels of vehicle exhaust.

‘We know that pollution can have a major effect on your heart health, possibly because it can "thicken" the blood to make it more likely to clot, putting you at higher risk of a heart attack.

‘Our advice to patients remains the same – if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, try to avoid spending long periods outside in areas where there are likely to be high traffic pollution levels, such as on or near busy roads.’

The study looked at heart attacks in England and Wales.


Electric-shock therapy lifted me from the hell of depression

There is a strong body of thought that the good attention that medical staff give to the patient while conducting the electroshock procedure is the curative influence -- a type of placebo effect. The fact that a series of treatments is needed before any progress is seen supports that view

Life for Tania Gergel could not have been more thrilling. Captivated by academic study, she quickly became one of the highest-achieving students on her Classics degree course at Bristol University, finding time to play percussion with several bands and orchestras, too. Tania, then 19, also met and fell in love with Matthew, a maths student, now her husband.

Then tragedy struck: the couple just returned from their first holiday together when Tania was told that her best friend, Ali, had been killed in a car accident. ‘It was a terrible shock — as though a screen suddenly came down between me and the rest of the world,’ recalls Tania, now 38, from North London. ‘After the funeral, when I went back to university, I felt detached from everyone. My mind had started racing and I couldn’t sleep.’

Within a month, Tania had stopped studying altogether. ‘I remember sitting in a common room waiting for a lecture. It felt like everything was swimming around me and I had to get out of the building.’

Tania was experiencing depression, specifically an episode of bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression. According to the NHS, around 500,000 Britons have been diagnosed as bipolar, although recent studies suggest the true incidence may be more than five million. Sufferers typically swing between two phases — manic and depressive.

During the manic phase they may experience feelings of euphoria, talk at extreme speed and go for days without food or sleep. The depressive phase is characterised by severe low mood, a loss of sense of purpose and, at its most extreme, thoughts of suicide.

Several weeks after her friend’s death, Tania sought help from her GP who prescribed tricyclic anti-depressants — the standard treatment at that time. ‘It was a shock to be diagnosed with depression,’ she recalls. ‘When the doctor prescribed medication, I realised something was very wrong with me.

‘I’ve since learned that my grandmother had been hospitalised twice for psychiatric depression: she had heard voices.’ (There is strong evidence for a genetic vulnerability to developing the illness.)

However, after five months of taking anti-depressants, Tania was forced to acknowledge they were having no effect. ‘The depression got worse. I was getting two hours’ sleep at night, if that, invariably with sleeping pills involved. ‘I gave my pills to Matthew to look after as I felt I couldn’t trust myself any more not to take them all as an overdose.’

Eventually, Tania went as a voluntary inpatient to a private psychiatric hospital in London, where she stayed for two months. But despite being given every type of major antidepressant, nothing seemed to help and Tania and her family became desperate.

Then, by chance, Tania met a friend of a friend who was a psychiatrist at London’s Charter Nightingale Hospital (now Capio Nightingale). ‘He said it was clear the drugs weren’t working and suggested I come off all the pills and have electroconvulsive treatment.’

Many will recoil at the thought of electroconvulsive treatment (ECT), which was famously depicted in the 1975 Jack Nicholson film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But it is considered an effective treatment for severe depression which is resistant to medication and talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

About 20 per cent of all depression sufferers fall into this category, of which more than half would benefit from ECT, says Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, consultant psychiatrist at the Royal College Of Psychiatrists in London.

The treatment involves sending an electric current through the brain, under general anaesthetic, to cause a fit. Although it is not exactly known how it works, one theory is that the fit triggers certain brain chemicals, including the ‘feel-good’ chemical, serotonin, which is thought to be depleted in patients with severe depression.

The treatment was first introduced around 70 years ago but it fell out of favour following the introduction of antidepressant medication in the Fifties and Sixties.

In the past, ECT has been used indiscriminately, at times under duress and without general anaesthetic. As a result, it remains the most controversial treatment in modern psychiatry.

Indeed earlier this year the British Psychological Society called for it to be banned, describing the treatment as ‘inhumane and degrading’, and having only a short-term effect on people with manic depression.

However, many clinical studies show ECT is significantly more effective than antidepressants in inducing a speedy remission for severe treatment-resistant depression, says Dr Hallstrom. ‘It can cure a particular bout of depression — although it does not prevent relapses,’ he says.

Indeed, it is even recommended by the National Institute For Health And Clinical Excellence (Nice).

In 2008 Nice published guidelines on the management of bipolar disorder, which recommended ECT ‘to achieve rapid and short-term improvement of severe symptoms after an adequate trial of other treatment options has proven ineffective and/or when the condition is considered to be potentially life-threatening’.

Tania’s brother, then a practising psychiatrist, had himself carried out ECT many times and told her he had seen it have remarkable results. ‘He was very much in favour,’ she says. ‘You know your own brother has your best interests at heart.’

‘It wasn’t what people may think — being restrained in some sort of straitjacket. It was all very civilised. You go under a general anaesthetic for a few minutes and that’s really all you know.’

Dr Hallstrom says patients see an improvement after six twice-weekly treatments. Tania started to feel things changing after five. ‘It was a very sudden thing. I just woke up one day and thought: “I feel like something’s lifted.” Suddenly you’re released from internal torment.’

Six months after completing her course of ECT, Tania returned to her studies and got a First.

The treatment is not risk-free — half of those who undergo it experience side-effects, such as confusion and disorientation, after each treatment. ‘But this tends to fade after a few days,’ says Dr Hallstrom.

A trial is under way in Australia on a new form of ECT, which involves running an electric current through the brain for less time, and has been shown to have less of an effect on memory.

Tania had some memory loss in the period during which she received ECT, ‘but nothing really substantial’ she says. Indeed, after university she went on to gain a Masters and eventually a PhD in Classics, and fulfilled her dream of teaching.

For 11 years, she remained off medication and had no contact with any psychiatrist. Tania and Matthew married and had a daughter who is now seven.

ECT does not cure the problem for good, though, as Tania discovered. When her daughter was two, she became pregnant again. But then she miscarried, plunging her into a severe depression.

‘Within three weeks I was in hospital. My consultant psychiatrist suggested I try ECT again. It worked and after six treatments, all of a sudden I didn’t feel suicidal any more.’

Dr Hallstrom believes more people suffering with severe, medication-resistant depression should be given the option of ECT.‘It can be a lifesaver,’ he says.

Tania can only agree. ‘ECT won’t cure you, but it will get you out of the crisis state,’ she says. ‘Hands down I owe my life to ECT.’


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Does cholesterol hold the key to a vaccine against Aids? Scientists find way to stop HIV damaging the immune system

Sad if this is seen as further demonization of cholesterol. It in fact demonstrates the importance of cholesterol

Scientists have found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system and say their discovery may offer a new approach to developing a vaccine against Aids.

Researchers from the United States and Europe working in laboratories on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) found it is unable to damage the immune system if cholesterol is removed from the virus's membrane.

"It's like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognise it and attack it," said Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London, who led the study. The team now plans to investigate how to use this way of inactivating the virus and possibly develop it into a vaccine.

Usually when a person becomes infected with HIV, the body's innate immune response puts up an immediate defence. But some researchers believe HIV causes the innate immune system to overreact. This weakens the immune system's next line of defence, known as the adaptive immune response.

For this study -- published yesterday in the journal Blood -- Boasso's team removed cholesterol from the membrane around the virus and found that this stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. This in turn led to a stronger adaptive response, orchestrated by a type of immune cells called T cells.

Aids kills around 1.8 million people a year worldwide. An estimated 2.6 million people caught HIV in 2009, and 33.3 million people are living with the virus.

Major producers of current HIV drugs include Gilead Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

Scientists from companies, non-profits and governments around the world have been trying for many years to make a vaccine against HIV but have so far had only limited success.

A 2009 study in Thailand involving 16,000 volunteers showed for the first time that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection in a small number of people, but since the efficacy was only around 30 per cent, researchers were forced back to the drawing board.

An American team working on an experimental HIV vaccine said in May that it helped monkeys with a form of the Aids virus control the infection for more than a year, suggesting it may lead to a vaccine for people.

HIV is spread in many ways -- during sex, on needles shared by drug users, in breast milk and in blood - so there is no single easy way to prevent infection.

The virus also mutates quickly and can hide from the immune system, and attacks the very cells sent to battle it. "HIV is very sneaky," Boasso said in a statement. "It evades the host's defences by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. ‘It's like revving your car in first gear for too long -- eventually the engine blows out.

He said this may be why developing a vaccine has proven so tricky. "Most vaccines prime the adaptive response to recognise the invader, but it's hard for this to work if the virus triggers other mechanisms that weaken the adaptive response."

HIV takes its membrane from the cell that it infects, the researchers explained in their study. This membrane contains cholesterol, which helps keep it fluid and enables it to interact with particular types of cell.

Normally, a subset of immune cells called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) recognize HIV quickly and react by producing signaling molecules called interferons. These signals activate various processes which are initially helpful, but which damage the immune system if switched on for too long.

Working with scientists Johns Hopkins University, the University of Milan and Innsbruck University, Boasso's team found that if cholesterol is removed from HIV's envelope, it can no longer activate pDCs. As a result, T cells, which orchestrate the adaptive response, can fight the virus more effectively.


An antibiotic found in liver of sharks 'could revolutionise human medicine'

And it's a cholesterol type molecule!

An antibiotic found in sharks could be used as drug to treat human viruses and revolutionise medicine, new research has found.

The compound, found in the liver of the predator, could be used as a new type of drug to treat a broad spectrum of diseases from dengue and yellow fever to hepatitis B, C and D.

The antibiotic, squalamine, is already known to be safe for use in humans as an antiviral agent.

Dr Michael Zasloff, from Georgetown University who led the study, said: ‘To realise that squalamine potentially has broad antiviral properties is immensely exciting, especially since we already know so much from ongoing studies about its behaviour in people.’

They found that in both lab and animal experiments squalamine produced antiviral activity against the human pathogens found in the diseases such as some forms of hepatitis which cannot currently be treated.

Along with offering medical advances this discovery may solve the mystery of how sharks with primitive immune systems can so effectively fight viruses that plague all living creatures.

Dr Zasloff said: ‘I believe squalamine is one of a family of related compounds that protects sharks and some other “primitive” ocean vertebrates, such as the sea lamprey, from viruses. ‘Squalamine appears to protect against viruses that attack the liver and blood tissues, and other similar compounds that we know exist in the shark likely protect against respiratory viral infections, and so on.

‘We may be able to harness the shark's novel immune system to turn all of these antiviral compounds into agents that protect humans against a wide variety of viruses. ‘That would be revolutionary. While many antibacterial agents exist, doctors have few antiviral drugs to help their patients, and few of those are broadly active.’

Dr Zasloff discovered squalamine in 1993 and it has already been used in clinical trials to treat cancer and several eye disorders.

‘I was interested in sharks because of their seemingly primitive but effective immune system. No one could explain why the shark was so hardy,’ he said. When he started to ‘play’ with the compound he found that it inhibited the growth of rapidly growing blood vessels, such as those found in tumour growth and certain retinal diseases.

Since 1995 it has been synthesised in the laboratory rather than taking any natural shark tissue.

Dr Zasloff remained interested in how the natural cholesterol type molecule, which has a net positive electrical charge, acted as an immune agent in sharks.

When it enters cells, and it can only access certain cells including those in blood vessels, capillaries and the liver, squalamine ‘kicks off’ positively-charged proteins that are bound to the negatively charged surface of the cells inner membrane.

Some of these displaced proteins are used by viruses to replicate and without the protein a virus's life cycle is disrupted, the microbe is rendered inert and the cell containing it is destroyed.

This means that squalamine seems to be designed to fight certain viral infections, Dr Zasloff claimed. He said: ‘To me, the key to squalamine is that once in the body it times its action to match the life cycle of most viruses. ‘Most viruses take hours to complete their life cycle, the same time period that squalamine renders tissues and organs viral resistant after administration. ‘In addition, it acts fast to stop viral replication, clearing the body of these predators within hours.

‘Furthermore, because squalamine acts by making the host's tissues less receptive for infection, rather than by targeting a specific viral protein, the emergence of viral resistance would not be anticipated.’

In tissue culture studies squalamine was shown to inhibit the infection of human blood vessel cells by the dengue virus and human liver cells infected with hepatitis B and D, which can cause liver failure and cancer.

In animal studies, scientists from across the USA discovered that squalamine controlled infections of yellow fever, Eastern equine encephalitis virus, and murine cytomegalovirus, and in some cases cured the animals.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition online yesterday.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Two cups of coffee every day 'may cut stroke risk'

The original journal article is much more tentative than the popular report below. And with good reason. The comparision was with people who drink NO coffee! Who are those guys? Alcoholics? Tea drinkers? Mormons? People too poor to buy coffee? Without knowing that the results are meaningless. The conclusion of the journal abstract is the maximum you could realistically say: "Findings from this meta-analysis indicate that moderate coffee consumption may be weakly inversely associated with risk of stroke"

Just two cups of coffee a day can significantly reduce the risk of stroke, research shows.

Experts have previously been divided over the drink, with some suggesting the beverage is a dangerous stimulant, and others that it could save lives. But a comprehensive analysis of the health benefits of coffee has confirmed it can have a powerful preventative effect against one of Britain’s biggest killers.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, pooled results of earlier studies to find a definitive answer. They gathered statistics from eight studies surveying nearly half-a-million people, carried out from the mid 1960s to 2011.

The results, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed those drinking two cups a day were 14 per cent less likely to suffer a clot on the brain, while drinking three to four cups a day reduced the dangers by 17 per cent.

But consuming more than that does not necessarily boost protection, the study showed. Caffeine addicts drinking six or more cups daily see a reduction in risk of just 7 per cent.

The researchers said antioxidants in coffee may protect blood vessels in the brain from damage caused by lipoprotein, dubbed the ‘bad’ cholesterol. But they stressed there are still lingering concerns that it can increase blood pressure.

The scientists said: ‘Coffee is a complex mixture of substances that may have both beneficial and harmful effects.’


Nanny state health targets take the taste out of the traditional British fry-up

The traditional British fry-up is under threat from government health targets, industry experts warned yesterday. Butchers and retailers say a drive to cut salt levels will make breakfasts with bacon and sausages less appetising.

More than 60 food firms and supermarkets have to cut salt levels by next year to meet targets set by the Government.

At least 80 per cent of sausages are thought to exceed the threshold, which allows 1.13g of salt per 100g. The sausage maker Richmond’s products, for example, typically contain around 2.2g per 100g, while Tesco’s own-brand bangers contain 1.5g per 100g.

For bacon, which will be limited to 2.88g of salt per 100g, most supermarkets’ own brands exceed the threshold with up to 3.6g.

Ministers want to reduce our salt intake to 6g a day from 8.6g in 2008, the last year for which figures are available. They say eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, contributing to thousands of premature deaths every year from heart disease and strokes.

But Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, of the British Retail Consortium, said it was ‘pointless’ to keep reducing salt in products if it meant shoppers just added it at the table. She said: ‘If salt is reduced further there’s a danger that products will no longer taste the way consumers want them to.’

The BRC and the Food and Drink Federation have drawn up a list of eight products for which it is proving difficult to reduce salt without losing flavour. As well as bacon and sausages, they include bread, cheese, cakes and pastries, pesto and other sauces, and canned fish.

So far 62 retailers, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Asda, have agreed to comply with the Government’s targets on salt reduction.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Shy' children at risk of being diagnosed with mental disorder

Children who are merely shy or sad are at risk of being diagnosed with mental disorders and given powerful drugs. Psychologists say that new guidelines being developed in America will lead more young people seeing their common problems regarded as illnesses that must be treated, rather than just being given support.

They fear that pupils who are quiet at school could be diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder” while those who become withdrawn after suffering a bereavement are classified as having a “depressive disorder”.

Children who just talk back to adults or lose their temper regularly could be diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder”.

As a result, those found to have these increasingly broad mental disorders could be prescribed powerful medication such as Prozac or Ritalin to control or alter their behaviour.

Now the pressure is increasing for a national review of the use of such drugs on schoolchildren as well as more research into their long-term effects, following a vote at the TUC Congress on Wednesday.

Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, told delegates: “Behaviours develop over a long period of time, often with a range of complex causes; we can’t ‘cure’ the behaviours we don’t like with a quick fix of medicine. They usually require careful management by all the adults around the child.

“In 2013 we’re expecting new criteria for the definition of mental illness to be adopted here in the UK. These criteria will lead to many more children being diagnosed as mentally ill, based on reports of their behaviours.

“A shy child could be diagnosed with social anxiety; a sad or temporarily withdrawn child could be diagnosed with depression.

“These are conditions which are also likely to be treated with medication – and under these circumstances, Congress, we will be putting potent drugs into children with little or no understanding of what it will lead to.

“In a society that wants quick results using drugs to improve behaviour is very tempting. But there can be other ways of improving children’s behaviour which typically involve time and energy from people.”

Research has found that children under the age of six are being prescribed the drug Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, prompting calls for the Department of Health to investigate the scale of the problem and the potential long-term damage it may be causing.

Recent figures show 650,000 children aged between eight and 13 are on the pscyhotropic drug, up from just 9,000 two decades ago, while others are taking Prozac for depression or anxiety.

Fears are growing that the number of children diagnosed with mental disorders and prescribed drugs will increase still further after 2013, when a new “bible” of the psychiatric profession is published.

Known as DSM-5, the book widens the diagnostic criteria for many supposed conditions including social anxiety disorder, better known as shyness, and will likely be adopted by the health authorities in Britain after appearing first in the US.

The proposed new definition for social anxiety disorder states that it is marked by “fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (e.g., having a conversation), being observed (e.g., eating or drinking), or performing in front of others (e.g., giving a speech)”.

In children this fear could be expressed by “crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking or refusal to speak in social situations”.

Young people will be deemed as having oppositional defiant disorder if they display symptoms including losing their temper, arguing with adults, deliberately annoying people or being “spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past six months” to people other than their brothers or sisters.

The British Psychological Society has also raised concerns about the proposed revisions to the DSM.

It does not dispute that some children have emotional and behavioural problems but says that patients and the public are “negatively affected” by the continued “medicalisation” of natural and normal responses to their experiences, and that classifying such problems as “illnesses” ignores their wider causes.

Prof Peter Kinderman, chairman of the society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, said: “We’re not certain that a diagnosis and a medical response is the best way to help these kids.

“Absolutely understand and help, not necessarily diagnose and treat.”


A 10p vitamin B pill a day from middle age may ward off Alzheimer's

This looks very encouraging but the very high doses used raise serious concerns about damaging side-effects

Taking one vitamin B pill a day from middle age could protect your memory as you grow older – and even ward off Alzheimer’s, British researchers say. The supplement, which costs just 10p, is described as the ‘first glimmer of hope’ in the battle to find a drug that slows or stops the development of the disease.

Pensioners who took high doses of the vitamin once a day for two years did 70 per cent better on a simple memory test than those who did not. The Oxford University scientists say the pill prevents the memory lapses that can be a precursor to dementia. They also found it cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss by up to 500 per cent.

They say people should consider taking high-dose vitamin B from middle age – but only after seeking their doctor’s advice.

Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia blight the lives of more than 800,000 Britons. That number is expected to double within a generation, as the population ages.

In landmark research published last year, Dr Celeste de Jager and her colleagues, who are also behind this study, showed that high doses of vitamin B cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss. The latest results, presented at the British Science Festival in Bradford, show that it also helps stop memory from failing.

In the trial, 270 pensioners with mild cognitive impairment – the slight memory lapses that can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s – were asked to take a vitamin B tablet once a day for a year, or given a dummy pill to take instead.

The tablets contained extremely high amounts of vitamins B6, 9 and 12. For instance, the dose of B12 was up to 300 times higher than could be obtained by eating foods rich in the vitamin, such as bananas, wholegrains and meat.

The pill reduced the shrinkage of the brain, which happens naturally with age, by 30 per cent on average – but it halved it in those with the highest levels of a chemical called homocysteine in their bloodstream. In one case, it was cut five-fold.

Homocysteine is a natural compound that builds up in the body as we age and, at high levels, is linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Vitamin B breaks it down. In the study, those with higher than average levels of homocysteine who took vitamin B performed almost 70 per cent better on a memory test than those who took the placebo pill.

It specifically bolsters episodic memory, the type needed to remember things such as shopping lists – and one of the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s.

In addition, those with the very highest levels of homocysteine who took vitamin B were less likely to have progressed towards Alzheimer’s, and in some cases, their memory lapses disappeared entirely after the two years.

Researcher Professor David Smith termed the effects ‘striking’. But while the team said those in middle age could benefit from the treatment, they stressed they must speak to their doctor.

High-dose vitamins may trigger cancer and are known to fuel existing cancers. They may also react with medicines including arthritis and psoriasis drugs.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Statins and Pregnancy

Stephanie Seneff

You may not be old enough to remember the disaster incurred by the widespread practice in Europe in the 1950's of treating depression with the then newly discovered drug Thalidomide. When you take a Lipitor tablet you are taking a drug that, like Thalidomide, is labeled "Class X" with respect to its potential harm to the fetus, and is even worse than Thalidomide in terms of the kind of damage it can do to your unborn child. A woman who is in the childbearing age group should never be advised to take a statin drug. While there are warnings associated with the ads and on the labels claiming that you should "stop taking Lipitor" should you become pregnant, the drug companies seem intent on hushing up the fact that these drugs are toxic to the developing fetus.

Clearly it would be unethical to conduct a controlled experiment that intentionally exposes a pregnant woman to statins, and therefore such controlled studies have not been done. However, in one of the few available retrospective studies of statins and pregnancy, researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that statin use during the first trimester of pregnancy led to severe central nervous system defects as well as limb deformities. Twenty out of 52 women who had been exposed to statins during the first trimester had babies with severe deformities, which is nearly a 40% rate of severe birth defects.

"Of the 20 babies born with malformations, five had severe central nervous system defects, and five had malformed limbs. One baby had both, according to Muenke. There were also two cases of a very rare birth defect called holoprosencephaly, which occurs when the brain fails to divide properly." (Statins and Birth Defects) .

Doctors in Liverpool have even had the audacity to propose that statins be prescribed to pregnant women, an idea that these authors find wildly disturbing: (Statins during Pregnancy) . There seems to be a general lack of awareness, even among doctors, of the degree of harm these drugs can inflict on the developing fetus.

Great Britain now has the dubious distinction of being the only country where you can buy statin drugs over the counter (NonPrescription Statins) . This means that any naive young woman thinking she can self-treat high cholesterol may end up with a severely malformed baby, and chances are she won't even realize it's due to the drug.


Fat is good for you: Mothers who eat low-fat yoghurt during pregnancy 'more likely to have asthmatic children

This is certainly a good laugh so I won't speculate on the causal chain

Mothers-to-be who eat low-fat yoghurt are more likely to have children with asthma, a study found. The analysis of the habits of tens of thousands of pregnant women also linked low-fat yoghurt with the development of hay fever.

The researchers, from the respected Harvard School of Public Health in the US, said that it may be missing fats that protect against allergies. Previous research has linked low-fat dairy products with difficulty in becoming pregnant.

In the latest study, more than 60,000 women were quizzed on their eating habits while pregnant. The health of the babies they had was then tracked until the age of seven. The results credited milk with helping ward off asthma. However, low-fat, but not full-fat, yoghurt, seems to do the opposite.

Children whose mothers ate low-fat yoghurt while carrying them were 60 per cent more likely to have developed asthma by the age of seven than those who weren’t exposed to the food in the womb.

And their odds of hay fever were three times higher than those of other children, the European Respirator Society’s annual conference heard.

The increased risk only applies to low-fat yoghurt that contains fruit but the researchers are unable to explain why this is. They say that full-fat dairy products may contain fats that help programme the unborn baby’s immune system away from allergies. It may also be the case that low-fat yoghurt with fruit contains ingredients that raise the risk of asthma and hay fever.

Or simply that women who eat this kind of yoghurt are unhealthy in other ways.

The previous research, also from Harvard, revealed that eating low-fat dairy products can greatly increase the risk of infertility. Even small amounts of everyday foods and drinks can reduce a woman’s possibility of becoming mother, with just a pint of semi-skimmed or skimmed milk or two pots of yoghurt a day almost doubling the risk of anovulatory infertility - a very common condition in which a woman stops ovulating.

However, eating full fat dairy products has the opposite effect, with a bowl of ice cream a day being enough to boost the chances of motherhood.