Monday, October 31, 2011

Daily dose of statins could cut risk of breast cancer by 30%

I knew this would be an epidemiological rather than an experimental finding as soon as I saw the heading. Although they are downplayed below, very troubling side-effects are common with statins. So it is only the unusually healthy who can tolerate them. And the unusually healthy are unusually healthy in other ways too. What the finding below again shows, therefore, is that good health has some generality

A daily dose of drugs designed to lower cholesterol could also slash the risk of breast cancer recurring, say researchers.

They found that women who had developed a breast tumour were nearly 30 per cent less likely to suffer a relapse if they took a type of statin called simvastatin.

Millions take statins to combat heart disease by lowering cholesterol, but research has suggested that high cholesterol could also be a key factor in the development of breast cancer.

The latest findings raise the possibility that the pills, at around 40p a day, could be a cheap and effective way of helping to prevent breast cancer returning, if future large-scale investigations confirm the results.

A team of U.S. and Danish researchers, led by Dr Thomas Ahern from Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at nearly 19,000 Danish women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 and 2003.

The women were tracked for nearly seven years to see if they suffered a recurrence. Researchers also found out whether they had taken statins and, if so, which type.

Those on simvastatin were 30 per cent less likely to see their tumour return than those who had taken no form of statin.

It belongs to a class of drugs known as lipophilic statins, which means they dissolve easily in fat.

But women who took another class, known as hydrophilic statins, saw little or no reduction in cancer risk. Hydrophilic drugs, such as pravastatin, dissolve better in water.

In a report on their findings, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers said the results are promising enough to warrant a large clinical trial to see if statins could be routinely used to treat breast cancer.

‘In the interim, doctors prescribing statins to breast cancer survivors should favour simvastatin over other types,’ they said.

All statins attack the enzyme that produces low density lipoproteins or ‘bad cholesterol’ which can form fatty deposits in the arteries. But they are classed as either water or fat soluble depending on how they are absorbed by the body.

Fat-soluble statins enter cell membranes more easily. Scientists think statins that are more fat soluble may for some reason have a more powerful effect in terms of keeping cancer at bay.

Simvastatin is available as a generic drug or under the brand names Ranzolont, Simvador and Zocor as tablets.

It is one of the cheapest statins and is available in low doses from pharmacies without a prescription.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends doctors prescribe statins to those whose chance of having a ‘cardiovascular event’ – such as a heart attack – in the next ten years is 20 per cent or higher.

Although the drugs are effective and generally safe, they can cause side-effects ranging from mild symptoms – such as headaches, pins and needles and nausea – to a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis, where muscles become sore and inflamed.

The research is the latest in a long line of studies to suggest statins may have powerful cancer-fighting properties.

In September, research revealed that men with suspected prostate cancer who had been taking statins before they had their biopsy were nearly 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a tumour and 24 per cent less likely to have an aggressive cancer.

Around 48,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, equal to more than 130 a day.


We're going to have to abolish drug licencing you know

Yes, I do mean health type drugs, not fun type ones, for the latter a system of licensing would be a tremendous step forward from the current position. But for health type drugs we really are going to have to abandon drug licensing. Or at he very least, our current system of licensing them.

The reason is that currently we've a system which, however bad it is, however many people it kills by keeping new drugs off the market through the expense of getting a license, is aimed solely and purely at mass market drugs. If, as we move to more personalised medicine, we stop having mass market drugs then we cannot have a drug licensing system which is set up only for those mass market drugs that no longer exist.
If each drug takes $1 billion to reach the market and 10 million people use it over its patent protected lifetime, then each patient contributes, on average, $100 to the development of that drug. If we keep shrinking the denominator, then the economics become more difficult. Taken to the extreme of personalized medicine, with one specific drug for each person, we cannot expect that one person to cover the $1 billion development cost. Even if the development cost drops to $1 million per new drug, the economics won't work.

I think the average development cost would need to drop to $10,000 per drug to be reasonable. To reach this price, we would need to exclude the FDA completely--allow drugs to be marketed without prior FDA approval--or allow the FDA to approve the process of drug development instead of each specific drug.

And there are drug treatments out there which are tantamount to a new drug or each person: cancer treatments that study the DNA of the cancer, the specific immune system and which then turbocharge one to attack the other as an example.

Even where we retreat from such extremes we already know that different drugs have different effects on different parts of the population even when being used to treat the same disease. Those of West African derivation can react quite differently, as a group, to a drug than those of northern European, or East African, or Australasian genetic heritage as can each group from the other. We're finding certain gene combinations which mean that certain drugs will or will not work in sub-groups of such larger collectives as well. All in all, we're finding that ever more drugs have ever smaller target populations, to say nothing of those drugs we've developing, or would like to, to treat complaints that only strike a few people.

We therefore have to reduce the cost of a license for each and every drug: which means abandoning out current methods of licensing drugs. We simply cannot continue to use methods solely appropriate for mass market drugs when we're not in fact trying to develop mass market drugs.

All of which is rather alarming really. For you could, I am sure, talk to any individual who works in or with the drug licensing authorities and easily gain agreement with the basic thesis above. But there's nothing quote so conservative as a bureaucracy when acting collectively, however reasonable or intelligent the component parts of it.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Probiotic yoghurts help your gut to break down carbs?

No change in the bacterial population but they produce different enzymes? Hard to believe. And the sample of only SEVEN twin pairs is ludicrously small

After wolfing down a pizza you may want to finish with a probiotic yoghurt, after researchers found they help the body to break down carbohydrates.

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine wanted to look at what impact, if any, live bacteria in popular yoghurts have on digestion.

They performed studies on mice as well as identical female twins using a yoghurt that had five strains of live bacteria.

The team found eating the yoghurt twice a day for seven weeks did not alter the mix of microbes in the intestines of the women or the mice.

However, when they took a closer look at the mice they found there were significant changes in some of the bacterial enzymes involved in metabolising carbohydrates.

Many of the key changes noted in the highly controlled laboratory environment were also found in the seven pairs of twins.

Study author Dr Jeffrey Gordon, said: 'Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, and the way they are broken down by gut microbes is an important part of digestive health.

'A number of carbohydrates are quite complex and can only be digested by enzymes made by gut microbes. 'We found that when the mice were given the bacterial strains found in the yogurt, at doses comparable to those consumed by humans, they could more efficiently break down certain classes of carbohydrates.'

Our guts contain millions of bacteria known collectively as the microbiota.

This complex system works to break down certain nutrients that our bodies could not otherwise digest, prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, produces nutrients such as vitamin K and biotin as well as hormones to tell our bodies when to store fat.

The research, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, could help scientists analyse the many health claims made by makers of probiotic yoghurts.

'This is a proof of principle. We have developed an approach to test the health effects of probiotics that focuses on how those microbes influence the dynamic operations of our gut microbial communities,' Dr Gordon said.

He added that their long-term goal was to develop ways to improve the nutritional value of the foods we eat.


Kellogg's adds vitamin D to cereal to fight rickets

It is a tremendous condemnation of British public health precautions that this is happening. During WWII they started adding vitamin D to butter and margarine. What happened to that?

Kellogg's is to add vitamin D to all its children's cereals in a bid to fight the rise of rickets among young people. The breakfast cereal producer will add the ingredient to cereals including Coco Pops and Rice Krispies, as part of a healthy eating drive to "help avoid" the bone-softening condition among younsters.

A survey by Kellogg's found that 82 per cent of paediatric dietitians have seen a rise in rickets among young people in the past five years, with nearly half of them treating cases in the past year.

The number of children under 10 admitted to hospital with rickets jumped by 140 per cent over the eight years between 2001 and 2008, it found.

The food giant will add vitamin D to most of its cereals, particularly those targeted at children, by the end of 2012. Corn Flakes and Ricicles already contain the vitamin, but it will be added to Rice Krispies by March next year and will be in Frosties by September.

Scientists have linked the causes of rickets, which can cause weak bones and bowed legs, to a lack of vitamin D.

The chemical is normally absorbed into the body through sunlight, but it can also be ingested through eggs, oily fish and fortified breakfast cereals. As more children spend time indoors watching television and playing computer games, their exposure to the sun is vastly reduced, meaning that they need an alternative source of the vitamin.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to illnesses including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis.

Rickets was thought to have died out in the 1930s, but 20 per cent of young children still show symptoms of the condition, a study by researchers at Southampton University found.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the university, said Kellogg's move to include vitamin D in its children's cereals was "a good idea".

Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball, European nutrition director at Kellogg's, added: "Healthcare professionals would like to see the introduction of a recommended daily intake [of vitamin D], so we are clear on how much vitamin D children need to avoid these health issues."

The cereal producer's decision has also been praised by health experts, who said the move was "fantastic." "We used to get enough vitamin D from sunlight but we are not getting as much," Jacqui Lowdon, of the British Dietetic Association, told the Daily Mirror. "Children are not playing outdoors as much as they used to and also people are slapping on suncream a lot more. "So if we can get vitamin D into food children like to eat, that’s fantastic."


Saturday, October 29, 2011

More evidence that coffee cuts skin cancer

As a conference paper not yet peer-reviewed or published, this is very hard to evaluate. But the fact that only one type of cancer benefits smacks of a data dredging result

MORE evidence that coffee, particularly among female drinkers, has a positive effect against the most common form of skin cancer worldwide has been released.

Women who drank more than three cups per day of caffeinated coffee saw a 20 percent lower risk of getting basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a slow-growing form of cancer, than those who drank less than a cup per month.

Men who drank the same amount saw a nine percent lower risk, said the research presented at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research in Boston.

"Given the nearly one million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact," said researcher Fengju Song, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC."

The data was derived from the Nurses' Health Study (Brigham and Women's Hospital) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (Harvard School of Public Health).

The nurses study followed 72,921 participants from June 1984 to June 2008. The health professionals study tracked 39,976 participants from June 1986 to June 2008.

Basal cell carcinoma was the most frequently diagnosed skin cancer in the groups, totalling 22,786 cases.

The benefits of coffee drinking were not seen against the next two most prevalent types - squamous cell carcinoma (1953 cases) or melanoma (741 cases).

Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma form of skin cancer, and is the most common cancer in the United States. Seventy-five percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, according to the American Cancer Society.

It is most common in people with light hair and green or blue eyes, and can manifest itself as a skin sore that bleeds and doesn't heal, though it rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Previous studies have shown coffee drinkers tend to have fewer incidences of breast, uterine, prostate and colon cancers, but the beneficial effects are not seen in people who drink decaffeinated coffee.


Drinking alcohol ‘improves your chances of surviving a heart attack’


Women who like to have a daily drink, be it a glass of white or a rum and coke, can enjoy it knowing it is helping their hearts, researchers say. A study from Harvard Medical School, found women who drank anything from a few beverages a month to more than three a week lived longer than women who remained tee-total.

The findings, which focused on more than 1,000 women and were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, add to mounting evidence that alcohol can boost heart health.

'One thing that was interesting was that we didn't see differences among different beverage types,' said study leader Joshua Rosenbloom. 'The most recent evidence suggests that it's the alcohol itself that's beneficial.'

The team found women had a similarly reduced risk of dying within the follow up period whether they drank wine, beer or spirits.

One drink a day is a really good target, assuming that a person can be disciplined about that,' commented Dr James O'Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Missouri.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,200 women hospitalised for a heart attack. They asked questions about how many alcoholic drinks the women usually consumed, along with other health and lifestyle questions.

After at least 10 years of follow up, the team found that 44 out of every 100 women who had abstained from alcohol had died. This compared to 25 out of every 100 light drinkers and 18 out of every 100 heavy drinkers.

This meant drinkers had a 35 percent lower chance of dying following a heart attack compared to those who didn't touch alcohol.

In an earlier study including men and women, Dr O'Keefe found that people who continued to drink moderately after having a heart attack had better health than those who abstained.

'You don't need to assume that people need to stop drinking once they develop heart disease,' he said. 'The problem is that alcohol is a slippery slope, and while we know that a little bit is good for us, a lot of it is really bad.'


Friday, October 28, 2011

Aspirin every day can cut cancer risk by 60%: British scientists find first proof of preventative effect

If you've got a genetic defect called Lynch syndrome

Taking aspirin regularly can cut the long-term risk of cancer, according to the first major study of its kind. British researchers found it can reduce the risk by 60 per cent in people with a family history of the disease.

The landmark research covering 16 countries is the first proof that the painkiller has a preventive action that is likely to benefit anyone using it every day.

Millions who take low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease will gain from its anti-cancer properties, while healthy people may follow the example of increasing numbers of doctors who take it for insurance.

In the study of 861 patients with Lynch syndrome, a genetic fault leading to bowel and other cancers at an early age, half were given two aspirins a day, 600 mg in total, for two years.

The remainder were given placebo, or dummy, pills, says a report published online in The Lancet medical journal.

Initially, the researchers found no change in cancer rates between the groups. But when they followed up the study after five years, they detected a significant difference.

By 2010 a total of 19 new bowel cancers had been identified among those given aspirin and 34 among the placebo group - a cut of 44 per cent among those taking the drug.

When researchers focused on the 60 per cent of patients who they were certain had conscientiously taken aspirin for at least two years they found an even more striking result. Just ten cancers were discovered in the aspirin group compared with 23 in the placebo group, a cut of 63 per cent.

Rates of other cancers linked to Lynch syndrome were almost halved by taking aspirin.

Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University, who led the research, said: ‘What we have finally shown is that aspirin has a major preventive effect on cancer but it doesn’t become apparent until years later.’

The study is being hailed as the last piece of the jigsaw after years spent trying to prove that aspirin has a direct effect in stopping tumours. A big step forward came last year with a study which showed that low-dose aspirin cuts overall death rates by a third after five years’ use.

However, it used records to look at the incidental benefits for patients taking it to stave off further heart attacks and strokes. The latest trial actually set out to prove that cancer could be prevented in people taking it for no other reason.

Experts say healthy middle-aged people who start taking aspirin around the age of 45 or 50 for 20 to 30 years could expect to reap the most benefit because cancer rates rise with age.

There is widespread concern that side-effects such as stomach bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke outweigh any advantage among healthy people.

Sir John, who takes aspirin every day, estimates there are 30,000 people with Lynch syndrome in the UK who might benefit from aspirin treatment. He said: ‘If we put them all on two aspirins a day now, in the next 30 years or so we would prevent 10,000 cancers. On the other hand, this would cause around 1,000 ulcers.

‘If we can prevent 10,000 cancers in return for 1,000 ulcers and 100 strokes, in most people’s minds that’s a good deal, especially if you’ve grown up in a family with three, four, five, six people who have had cancer. ‘On the other hand, if you’re just in the general population and you don’t have cancer in your family, then that’s going to be a much finer balance.’

Further research will take place, he said, to discover the ideal dose of aspirin.

Professor Chris Paraskeva, Cancer Research UK’s bowel cancer expert at the University of Bristol, said: ‘This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of aspirin, and aspirin-like drugs, in the fight against cancer.’


The horrors of Halloween advice

Why is the US health-and-safety brigade scaring kids about everything from inflammable costumes to poisonous treats?

Americans are really into Halloween. For weeks now, stoops, window sills and shop fronts here in New York have been decorated with cob-web, red and orange lights, ghost figures and jack-o-lanterns. Adults and children alike are busy planning their outfits for the annual parades, costume parties and trick-or-treating on 31 October.

The medieval roots of the door-to-door candy-collection tradition have all but been forgotten. These days Halloween is just an excuse to dress up as zombies, witches, vampires and other scary figures and to have a silly, cosy and fun time. But some are apparently taking the mischievous tradition of scaring the bejesus out of one another a tad too seriously.

ABC News warns that ‘while this is a time for little ones to have fun, parents shouldn’t let the kids’ enthusiasm drown out common sense. There are many hazards associated with Halloween.’ Face paint can trigger allergies, costumes can get caught in car doors or catch fire, masks can slip over the eyes, young children can choke on treats, cut their fingers off while carving pumpkins or be kidnapped by strangers.

Scary, indeed. In America, Halloween is apparently a highlight not just for candy-crazy, fun-loving kids, but also for every health-and-safety-obsessed organisation in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise parents to ensure their children go trick-or-treating in groups or with a trusted adult, that they carry flashlights and that they walk, not run, between houses. Adults should limit the amount of treats kids eat and check them for choking hazards before the kids start gorging them. Kids should only be allowed factory-wrapped candies and should avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers. Their costumes should be flame-resistant and, to be on the even safer side, kids should not walk near lit candles.

The National Fire Protection Association says each house should have two clearly marked exits in case of an emergency. Battery-powered or electric candles are preferable, but if you do insist on lighting candles, they should be kept at least one foot away from decorations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes small children should never carve pumpkins. ‘Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.’ Trick-or-treaters should stay on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, they should ‘walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic’.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns of the hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. There is apparently no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. ‘Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea.’

The US Food and Drug Administration says ‘partygoers and partythrowers’ should avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurised or otherwise processed. Before bobbing apples, a traditional Halloween game, thoroughly rinse the apples under cool, running water to reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on them. ‘As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.’

The American Red Cross has published 13 (nearly) rhyming tips for a safe Halloween. For example, ‘If you visit a house where a stranger resides, accept treats at the door and, please, don’t go inside.’

Why are these organisations so scared of Halloween? Or, rather, why are they so scared of letting parents use their common sense, of allowing people just to let loose and to have some respite from the worries, rule-making and diet-watching that are already part of their and their children’s everyday life? Whenever the public sees an opportunity to relax and have fun, health-and-safety obsessives see an opportunity to scare them back into submission. It’s not necessarily sinister, though, it’s just their creepy, intuitive reaction to stop people from experiencing fun overload.

Sure, all these dangers are a possibility – decorations can catch fire, apples could be covered in bacteria and masks may temporarily obscure kids’ vision. But pointing out the obvious, over and over, and exaggerating the risks behind these things won’t make people feel safer. It just helps turn what is a harmless holiday into a nightmarish, control-freakish night of health-and-safety horror.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not your fault! Hormones linked to weight

ANY dieter knows that it's hard to keep off weight you've lost. Now an Australian study has found that even a year after dieters have shed a good chunk of weight quickly, their hormones are still crying out, "Eat! Eat! Eat!"

The findings suggest that dieters who have regained weight are not just slipping back into old habits, but are struggling against a persistent biological urge.

"People who regain weight should not be harsh on themselves, as eating is our most basic instinct," Joseph Proietto from the University of Melbourne says. He's the author of the study published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Weight regain is a common problem for dieters. To study what drives it, Mr Proietto and his colleagues enrolled 50 overweight or obese patients in a 10-week diet program in Australia.

They wanted to see what would happen in people who lost at least 10 per cent of their body weight. Ultimately, only 34 people lost that much and stuck with the study long enough for analysis.

The program was intense. On average, the participants lost almost 13.6kg during the 10 weeks, faster than the standard advice of losing half to kilo a week. They took in 500 to 550 calories a day, using a meal replacement called Optifast plus vegetables for eight weeks. Then for two weeks they were gradually reintroduced to ordinary foods.

Despite counseling and written advice about how to maintain their new weights, they gained an average of 5.4kg back over the next year. So they were still at lower weights than when they started.

The scientists checked the blood levels of nine hormones that influence appetite. The key finding came from comparing the hormone levels from before the weight-loss program to one year after it was over. Six hormones were still out of whack in a direction that would boost hunger.

The dieters also rated themselves as feeling hungrier after meals at the one-year mark, compared to what they reported before the diet program began.

Experts not connected to the study said the persistent effect on hormone levels was not surprising, and that it probably had nothing to do with the speed of the weight loss.

People who lose less than 10 per cent of body weight would probably show the same thing, though to a lesser degree, said Dr George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A key message of the study is that "it's better not to gain weight than to try to lose it", Dr Bray said.

Why would a dieter's body rebel against weight loss? It's an evolutionary holdover from earlier times, when weight loss could threaten survival and reproduction, says Dr Rudolph Leibel, an obesity expert at Columbia University in New York.

So "it's not surprising at all" that our bodies would fight back for at least a year, he said. "This is probably a more or less permanent response".

People who lose significant weight not only gain bigger appetite but also burn fewer calories than normal, creating "a perfect storm for weight regain", Dr Leibel said.

He said avoiding weight regain appears to be a fundamentally different problem from losing weight in the first place, and that researchers should pay more attention to it.

The study was supported by the Australian Government, medical professional groups and a private foundation. Mr Proietto served on a medical advisory board of Nestle, maker of Optifast, until last year.


Mrs Obama accused of gluttony

She does not practice what she preaches

MICHELLE OBAMA is now furious with Southern cooking queen PAULA DEEN for crowing that the first lady, a healthy-eat­ing advocate who’s waging a war against childhood obesity, pigs out on fattening foods.

While plugging her new book, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” the feisty TV chef took a pot shot at Michelle for gorging herself on greasy french fries, fatty hot chicken wings and sug­ary deep-fried Snickers bars!

“Michelle’s spitting mad,” a source told The ENQUIRER. “She thinks Paula is trying to smear her and her family just as the 2012 presidential election race swings into gear.”

The trouble first be­gan before Barack Obama was even elected president in 2008, when Michelle made a guest appearance on Deen’s popular “Paula’s Party” show and revealed that fried shrimp was her family’s favorite meal.

Then in an interview af­ter filming the program, Paula quipped that Michelle would be serving high-fat, greasy and sugary foods in the White House if Obama won the elec­tion!

Now Paula is rehashing those at­tacks on Michelle in an attempt to plug her latest cookbook and offset Michelle’s new book about eating healthy, noted the source.

“She’s no different than the rest of us,” Paula said about Michelle in a new interview. Paula added: “She probably ate more than any other guest I ever had on the show! She kept eating even dur­ing commercials. Know what (the Obamas’) favorite foods are? Hot wings. Y’know – those kinds of foods that aren’t necessarily top-of-the-list healthy foods.”

“Michelle now deeply regrets ever being on Paula’s show,” added the source. “There are a lot of digs she would have been able to brush off, but portray­ing her as a high-calorie gorger during her crusade for healthy eating is crossing the line.”


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just one can of fizzy drink a day may make teenagers behave more aggressively

Some unusual humility (in red) below. High fizzy drink consumption may simply indicate high self-indulgence generally

Just one can of fizzy drink a day is linked to more aggressive behaviour by teenagers, claim researchers. A new study found youngsters were significantly more likely to be violent and carry weapons if they regularly consumed fizzy soft drinks.

The study showed those having more than five cans of non-diet carbonated drinks a week were more likely to get involved in violent assaults.

The US researchers are uncertain if the link is causal, but have not ruled this out.

It is possible that unknown factors causing aggression in youngsters also influence their dietary habits – which is why they opt for fizzy drinks – but previous research suggests poor nutrition may be a cause of antisocial behaviour.

The latest findings, reported online in the journal Injury Prevention (must credit), come from a survey of 1,878 teenagers aged 14 to 18 from 22 state schools in Boston.

They were asked how many cans of non-diet fizzy soft drinks they had consumed over the past week. Up to four cans was considered ‘low’, and five or more was classified as ‘high’.

Just under one in three pupils fell into the ‘high’ category, some drinking more than two or three cans a day.

The scientists then investigated any potential links to violent behaviour. Youngsters were asked if they had been violent towards their peers, a brother or sister, or a partner, and whether they had carried a gun or knife in the past year.
PUGH cartoon on fizzy drinks

Overall, frequent soft drink consumption was associated with a 9 per cent to 15 per cent increased likelihood of engaging in aggressive behaviour.

Violence and weapon-carrying was in any event common among the teenagers, who largely represented ethnic minorities from poor backgrounds. Of the group, 50 per cent were black or multi-racial, 33 per cent Hispanic, 9 per cent white and 8 per cent Asian.

However, rates of violent behaviour increased in a ‘dose response’ as students consumed more fizzy drinks, the researchers found.

Just over 23 per cent of teenagers drinking one or no cans a week had carried a gun or knife, rising to just under 43 per cent of those drinking 14 or more cans.

For the same increase in fizzy drink consumption, the proportion of those who had shown violence to a dating partner rose from 15 per cent to 27 per cent.

Rates of violence towards peers rose from 35 per cent to more than 58 per cent, and towards siblings from 25 per cent to more than 43 per cent.

The researchers, led by Dr Sara Solnick from the University of Vermont, said ‘There was a significant and strong association between soft drinks and violence.

‘There may be a direct cause-and-effect relationship, perhaps due to the sugar or caffeine content of soft drinks, or there may be other factors, unaccounted for in our analyses, that cause both high soft drink consumption and aggression.’

More speculation HERE

Fish could cut risk of dementia as it boosts blood flow to the brain

Wow! They found that fish oil did NOT affect mental performance but still think it MAY be a good thing! Nothing can shake the Omega-3 religion

Eating fish may boost blood flow to the brain which could stave off dementia in later life, researchers have discovered.

The health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish, have long been suspected, and the findings of two studies into its effects on young people suggest that it can improve reaction times in 18-35 year olds as well as reducing levels of mental fatigue after they perform tough tasks.

Although the results suggest that, contrary to popular belief, taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements may not have an impact on the mental performance of young adults, the researchers at Northumbria University say the increased blood flow to the brain it caused could be important for older people.

Lead researcher Dr Philippa Jackson said: ‘These findings could have implications for mental function later on in life. The evidence suggests that regularly eating oily fish may prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and increased blood flow to the brain may be a mechanism by which this occurs.

'If we can pinpoint both the behavioural and brain blood flow effects of this fatty acid in older healthy people, then the benefits for those with mental degenerative conditions associated with normal ageing could be that much greater.'

Researchers now plan to conduct a study on omega-3 use in people aged 50-70.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bringing on birth the 30s way 'is safer': Trial finds fewer side effects than with modern practices

A method of inducing labour that dates back to the 1930s has been found to work as well as modern treatments but with fewer side effects.

Researchers tested a mechanical catheter against a hormone gel to determine which was better at starting labour in women whose pregnancies were overdue.

Both were similarly successful in helping women to have natural births rather than surgical deliveries.

But the catheter method led to fewer complications, less distress for the baby and lower infection rates in mothers, says a report published in The Lancet.

Scientists compared the gel, containing prostaglandin E2 – the most widely-used way of bringing on labour – with the Foley catheter – invented in the 1930s by an American surgeon – where a balloon is inserted into the womb and then pumped up with a saline solution to imitate the onset of labour.

The trial was conducted at 12 hospitals in the Netherlands, and involved 824 women, half of whom were induced with the catheter and the rest with the gel.

Caesarean rates were similar in both groups, totalling 23 per cent for the Foley catheter versus 20 per cent for those using the gels.

But using the catheter reduced the number of operative deliveries caused by foetal distress, and led to significantly fewer babies being admitted to the neo-natal ward for special care – just 12 per cent compared with 20 per cent for those using gels.

There were just five cases of infection during labour among women in the Foley catheter group compared with 14 in the gel group.

Kitty Bloemenkamp, from Leiden University, said fewer side effects and less pain suggested ‘Foley catheters would be a woman’s preferential choice of labour induction’.

Patrick O’Brien, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘It’s reassuring that this research shows both methods are equally effective. 'Women shouldn’t think they’re being offered an old-fashioned technique that’s inferior to more modern treatment.’


Obesity police vs. Tony the Tiger

Remember Hoodrat? He was the seven-year old who stole his grandmother's car for a joyride back in 2008. I don't know how many underage kids are stealing cars, but it's doubtful Hoodrat is an isolated case. Should the government step in to regulate automotive advertising to avert copycat offenses?

Of course not. But something similar is being proposed in Washington.

Regulatory agencies have formed a working group on obesity, and are proposing significant changes in how foodstuffs are marketed, targeted, advertised, and sold. The working group is comprised of representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission.

The interagency request for comments is subtitled "Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts." Their argument goes something like this: "Reduce sugar, salt, and fats in foods marketed to kids or cease marketing to them." In other words, eliminate Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam, sports figures, and other characters pimping for foods deemed fattening and unhealthy or significantly change your products. Voila! No more fat kids!

Would this mean no more adorable polar bears in Coca-Cola commercials? No more Santa Claus and his sleigh-bells appearing in fast-food and candy ads?

In fact, many of the foods already accepted by the Womens, Infants, and Children program come under fire by the interagency group as too fattening. Oatmeal? Heck, even noted diabetic and kindly grandfather icon Wilford Brimley promotes that stuff.

Could it be that the advertising of food blamed for obesity in Hoodrat's generation is also the same medium responsible for prompting the pudgy young gangsta to swipe his granny's car? If so, shouldn't the advertising of vehicles be closely monitored as well?

To answer that last question - yes, but only monitored by the industry that took it upon itself several years ago to pull a Guy Ritchie-directed commercial that featured youngsters behind the wheel of a high-flying Corvette. It was a cool ad. Cute and expensive, too. But it only aired during the 2005 Super Bowl, and was yanked after viewer complaints convinced GM's marketing gurus the negative fallout was too great to continue airing it.

One wishes a similar campaign had been waged against that creepy Burger King mascot long before the fast-food chain put him out to pasture earlier this year. But, in fact, our nation's fast-food restaurants have been offering healthier menu selections for years.

And yet the forces of government presumably must battle the rising tide of blubber in our school-age children, blaming advertising for promoting unhealthy caloric intake and inactive lifestyles. This begs the question: Do overweight teachers and school administrators also promote obesity by making it appear as normative? What about fat parents? Should government regulators - pardon the pun - weigh-in on these fronts as well?

Where does a well-intentioned government stop its incursions into every nook and cranny of the body politic? Even Gov. Snyder is waging war against obesity.

I'm all for promoting healthy eating and robust living, but perhaps instead of government mandating a choice between substituting ingredients and altering advertising, perhaps they should allow the industry and the broadcasters airing their commercials to resurrect the old Schoolhouse Rock animated shorts. I'm already trying to find a word that rhymes with "orange."


Monday, October 24, 2011

The freedom to buy and sell raw milk

The August 3, 2011, shakedown of the Rawesome food cooperative in Venice, California, in spite of the tragic outcome, has produced one positive result. The ruthless raid on the part of miscellaneous government agencies has sparked a wave of unprecedented discord over the question, How can government dictate what we choose to eat when we each have unique standards for good nutrition?

This federalista blitzkrieg came at a time when raw milk alarmism had reached an all-time high. The folks who wish to banish raw milk can't leave the issue alone, and instead they have ramped up a cacophonous crusade against one of nature's glories. Day after day, articles and news bits appear in the mainstream media, full of fear mongering and panic-producing propaganda in regard to the safety of raw milk.

A July 2011 article on has some interesting survey results on comparative raw-milk regulations on a state-by-state basis. To summarize, 30 states allow consumers to transact with raw-milk producers while 20 states prohibit that act of freedom. And don't forget that federal laws prevent the sale of any raw milk over state lines. The federal government's response to the good white stuff moving over state lines is to send in armed soldiers in full battle gear to seize and destroy.

Thirteen mini-regimes across the United States allow the sale of raw milk on the farm where it was produced, while four of those thirteen allow only "incidental occurrences," with that being defined as "occasional sales, not as a regular course of business; no advertising." Surely, the feds can interpret "occasional" and "regular" and "advertising" in a whole host of capricious ways. After all, it is the use of arbitrary laws with a host of potential interpretations that enables the feds to conduct their criminal operations that consist of seizing product and regulating small producers out of business.

Four of those 13 states only allow raw goat milk while Kentucky and Rhode Island — now get this — require a prescription from a physician! Of course, you can interpret that to mean raw milk must be medicinal (ask moms who remedy their child's allergies with raw milk), but then again, there's no such thing as a Big Milk Pharma that exists as a corporate arm of the state to keep its products available for the masses. Lastly, 11 states allow raw milk to be sold in retail stores outside of the farm.

Several of the states that allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption have various twists and turns in their laws that make it very difficult to get the milk from the farm to the consumer. This essentially limits, or in some cases prevents, the sale of the product. However, imaginative entrepreneurs whose businesses are stifled by the government's despotic decrees have conceived the idea of herd shares, and this allows folks to jump through aboveboard hoops to buy a "piece" of a herd and get their raw milk. Though this is a costly administrative burden for both buyer and seller, any time that people can conjure up visionary ways to skirt the laws of the regime, freedom has taken a small step forward.

It is important to note that Rawesome was a private, voluntary cooperative of consenting members who took responsibility for any potential risks. Rawesome members even signed waivers before becoming a food-club member. With all of the agencies involved (USDA, FDA, LA County Sheriff, CDC) over a period of a year, this jihad came at great expense to taxpayers. The LA Weekly described it this way:
The official word from the DA's office is that Stewart, Palmer & Bloch were arrested on criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged illegal production and sale of unpasteurized goat milk, goat cheese, yogurt and kefir. The arrests are the result of a yearlong sting. The 13-count complaint alleges that an undercover agent received goat milk, stored in a cooler in the back of Healthy Family Farms van, in the parking lot of a grocery store. While it's legal to manufacture and sell unpasteurized dairy products in California, licenses and permits are required. Rawesome may have violated regulations by selling raw dairy products to non-members.

Here is a link to the 21-page complaint.Download PDF Among the many charges against owner James Stewart is one that immediately stood out: entering into private leasing arrangements with consumers. This charge is still fuzzy, and I am sure the feds can produce a whole book of crimes.

In a recent edition of the Atlantic, an article was published that does a solid job of covering the Rawesome food-club raid and its aftermath. The Atlantic writer, Ari LeVaux, compares the Rawesome raid by federal and local agencies to the contamination of 36 million pounds of Cargill ground turkey (one tally is 77 known ill people, 1 dead). Rawesome was raided, trashed, and shut down, and meanwhile, Cargill executives were analyzing the costs of a recall vs. the potential for negative publicity from the tainted meat so they could voluntarily decide whether or not to recall the product.

LeVaux went on to say that food freedom in America is vanishing. A quote from the end of the article states the following: "This is the state of food freedom in America today: It's being sacrificed in the name of food safety." But this is not about safety. These raids that are hostile to food choice are about

* seizing power, which benefits federal and local governments and provides justification for their continued growth through the looting of taxpayers;

* eliminating the competition for the rent-seeking corporate state, meaning the big business–big government alliance;

* displaying the omnipotent power of the enforcement state (militarized police and federal/state agencies); and

* affirming rejection of any individual's right to self-ownership, and thus making the case that we are subjects to be ruled, including our behaviors and personal lifestyle choices.

The apostles of safety — assorted lawyers, corporate interests, meddlesome consumers, and other misguided safety advocates — have joined the government's campaign against raw milk to promote their own special interests and opinions. There is no tyranny of good intentions here.

More here

Alcohol Myths Persist Beyond Prohibition

In a recent article for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, I make the case that many elements of Prohibition did not fade away after the repeal of the 18th Amendment. In his October 13 opinion piece for The Detroit News, former police chief Jerry Oliver proves my point by digging up an old alcohol myth — one that was used to force Prohibition on the nation. In short, Mr. Oliver expresses the belief that producers of alcohol only seek to have customers consume as much alcohol as possible, thereby making it necessary for the government to intervene in the name of “moderation.”
Historically, it was unscrupulous alcohol producers selling directly to consumers or in cahoots with bars to sell only their products, sometimes at artificially low prices, that fostered an environment for abusive alcohol consumption. It was these excesses that helped trigger the Prohibition backlash.

…Today, most states require producers to sell to state-licensed distributors who in turn sell to local retailers. Exceptions abound where specific states allow direct-to-consumer shipments from wineries…

Critics of this time-tested approach argue the system is antiquated, citing its roots to the last days of Prohibition. That’s like arguing the Constitution is antiquated because it was written in the 1700s.

While Chief Jerry Oliver is correct that Prohibition was a backlash against Americans’ increasing alcohol use (or at least the perception of increasing use) there is no evidence that the system of direct sales or “unscrupulous” producers were the cause of increased consumption. His claim that “tied houses” (saloons owned or operated by alcohol producers) caused people to drink more is the same old myth used by the Temperance movement to push Prohibition on the country. However, we now have a large body of historical evidence that seems to debunk this presumption. Using cirrhosis of the liver as a proxy, historians have found that drinking sharply decreased in the decade preceding Prohibition — even though tied houses still abounded. While incidences of cirrhosis declined further at the start of Prohibition, they rose again toward its end.

This myth of “unscrupulous” producers has been used to maintain the mandatory three-tier system that forces alcohol producers, like brewers, to rely on a middlemen — wholesalers — to get their products into bars, restaurants, and stores. The only real reason not to shift to a voluntary system is to protect the profits of middlemen, who wield considerable political power. A voluntary distribution system would allow small producers to skip the middleman and cut costs, resulting in lower prices for consumers.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Children need calories, not nagging TV Chefs and BMI targets

Last week came the news that being too thin can be just as damaging as being too fat when it comes to women trying to get pregnant.

Experts in Chicago analysed data from 2,362 cycles of IVF involving women under the age of 40. For women who were underweight – with a body mass index (BMI) of between 14 and 18 – the chance of delivering a healthy baby was 34 per cent. It was significantly higher (50 per cent) in healthy or slightly overweight women (with a BMI of 19 to 28), and was 45 per cent in very overweight and obese women (BMI of 29 to 43).

To be honest, I don't understand why they thought this research was worth funding. I am always shocked when the likes of Victoria Beckham or superstylist Rachel Zoe manage to get pregnant.

My first thought is always: How is that even possible? If these superhumanly thin famous women employed any high-tech trickery, I doubt they would tell us. So there is this big myth that being thin doesn't compromise your life in any way, it merely makes it marvellous.

Look at the contestants on The X Factor. The first thing they are subjected to is a fitness regime, viz the charmingly chubby Craig Colton, forced to run on the treadmill when surely he should be honing his songwriting skills, or learning how to decode the small print on all those recording contracts.

I wish they had kept curvaceous Scot Jade, who would have encouraged a million teenage girls to chuck away their calorie-counters and toxic chocolate-covered 'diet' bars. She was passed over in favour of young women who either look like hookers or nymphs.

Why is it so difficult for underweight women to conceive? When you starve your body, it shuts down all but essential services. Hormone production is one of the first to go. Your body believes you are under assault and that times are hard (for the eating-disorder sufferer both assumptions are correct) and so it doesn't believe bringing another mouth into the world is very wise. Without enough fat, women stop producing oestrogen, which in turn ripens and releases eggs.

I would have laughed had it not been so tragic when my gynaecologist told me I still have the eggs of an 18-year-old. That was the age I both started (briefly) and then stopped (more or less for ever) menstruating. These eggs are not viable, of course, merely sort of in aspic, a relic of the life I could have had, if only I'd eaten.

I don't want to go on about anorexia, the causes or the cures. Instead, I want to talk about the responsibility of having children. Now, even though I complain when small infants shriek unmuffled during my spa days atop Harrods, there were points in my life when I did try to get pregnant.

I lied to my then boyfriend about being on the Pill; I actually stole my husband's sperm, even when our divorce was clearly on the cards (I won't go into the gory details, but if there is anyone out there reading this who has a son, please tell him not to underestimate the duplicity of women).

If I'd had a child, it is more than likely I would have passed on to her or him my issues with food and body image. I was in a hotel on Friday morning having breakfast. A couple of tables away, a gay couple were sat with their daughter, who was about five or six. She was wearing a tracksuit and she was, it has to be said, a little on the chubby side.

She kept getting up and browsing the elaborate, sumptuous buffet (it was the Four Seasons, after all). She came back nursing a tall glass of orange juice. 'Do you know how many calories are in that juice?' asked one of the men. 'Didn't we talk about diluting?'

And I saw her future mapped out for her. Never again will food just be something enjoyable; it will come with a figure: the number of calories, as well as her own. Which should shrink at all costs. Food will occupy her thoughts as she goes to sleep and when she wakes up. She will know, in fine detail, what she ate yesterday. She will plan what she will eat tomorrow.

Most often, she will fail to hit her target. But if she is the steely, self-disciplined type, she might succeed, and so have a lifetime of denial to look forward to. And loneliness. Until she shrivels like a prune, desiccated and defeated, or yo-yos in size ever more violently.

Forget the Government's BMI targets. Forget too Jamie Oliver's bid to get kids eating more healthily. Kids need calories. Don't make food an issue. Make it an irrelevance. And if you can't, then don't make kids.


The breastfeeding wars go on

The decision about how to feed a new baby is often unnecessarily fraught.

Last year, when supermodel Gisele Bundchen made her infamous comment that there should be a "worldwide law" that mothers breastfeed for six months, I was one of those who jumped up and down with outrage. Bundchen retracted her statement, but it was too late. Women hated her.

I don't want to be told what to do, let alone with my body. The right to choose must be protected and "breastfeeding bullies", as they are often called, do no one favours. What I wasn't prepared for, then, was the sheer weight of anti-breastfeeding myths I've found since I became a parent this year. And now I realise these sentiments found their way into my psyche long before I even thought about starting a family.

My reservations were largely informed by comments about pain, pushy midwives, "saggy" breasts, and the more "liberated" modern choice to skip breastfeeding altogether. I worried I would be embarrassed in public. I mistrusted my body's ability to do it at all. On some level I expected to fail, and feared being made to feel guilty by some nosey "Breast is Best" advocate.

Instead, what I found surprised me. Breastfeeding, when it works, is as enjoyable for mums as for babies, and while nursing is natural, it is also learned. The most basic reason for this is that we don't see breastfeeding. We don't watch babies regularly attach to nipples and suckle every day the way people in more traditional cultures do.

We have made breastfeeding all but invisible and taboo. As Germaine Greer has written, in our culture breasts are viewed as sexual organs, not as a source of nutrition.

There was something of a furore in 2008 when Angelina Jolie appeared on a magazine cover breastfeeding. Similarly, a photograph of Miranda Kerr breastfeeding her son caused mixed reactions of praise and disapproval, while provocative photographs of her in lingerie and swimwear don't cause a whiff of controversy.

Breastfeeding has become a battleground. A mention on my Twitter account of public breastfeeding earned me the comment, "Many folk are made uncomfortable by it. Think of others." On the US TV drama Game of Thrones, breastfeeding was used as a metaphor for perversion and madness when a mentally unstable queen breastfed her son of age seven or eight while addressing her court. One of the more popular gross-out skits on comedy show Little Britain concerned an adult man who still breastfeeds on his wedding day.

In a 2009 article in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin called the breast-is-best movement an "upper-class parents' jingle" and suggested breastfeeding is "an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down".

No wonder we are confused. Between the breast-is-best push and its backlash, we are giving women seriously conflicting messages. Sometimes infant formula is necessary. But when women choose not to breastfeed let's make sure they are informed about exactly what they are choosing.

What I didn't expect, after some tough moments in the early days that nearly saw me quit, was that I would benefit so much from nursing. I am yet to find a stress relief quite so instant and gratifying. Six to eight times a day my shoulders relax, my hormones do wonderful things for me and that happy drug hits. When my daughter is unsettled, I need only attach her to my bosom to see that tiny fist relax.

According to UNICEF, breastfed children have 15 per cent fewer GP consultations in the first six months and at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. The benefits don't stop there: medical experts report that breastfeeding has the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under five in the developing world; and people who were breastfed have lower mean blood pressure and lower total cholesterol, and perform better in intelligence tests. If a pill did all that, we'd race out in droves to buy it.

Every parent does the best they can and things don't always work out the way we desire. But with more supportive workplaces for nursing mothers, more breastfeeding-friendly communities and better support in the first crucial days, most obstacles are avoidable and better outcomes for mothers and babies possible.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pregnancy via IVF could make women 50% more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia complication (?)

Many women who need to use IVF may have other health problems so that alone could account for such things as pre-eclampsia. Saying that IVF CAUSES pre-eclampsia is just the usual epidemiological hubris. Some reasonable comments in the last 3 grafs below

Mothers who have IVF are almost 50 per cent more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy than those who conceive naturally, researchers say.

A study in the U.S. found that pregnant women who have had fertility treatment are at greater risk of the condition, which can be lethal to mother and child.

One of the most common causes of premature birth in the UK, pre-eclampsia affects 70,000 British women every year. It is characterised by high blood pressure and can lead to convulsions, blood clots, liver damage and kidney failure. Mothers who suffer from the condition are usually prescribed drugs to lower their blood pressure and told to stay in bed.

Doctors hope such a treatment will reduce the stress on the baby and give it a chance to thrive before the birth, which usually involves a Caesarean section.

Melinda Messenger, the television presenter, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the singer, both had emergency surgery after pre-eclampsia diagnoses. They both delivered healthy sons, but many families are not so fortunate: pre-eclampsia claims the lives of up to 1,000 babies and ten mothers a year.

There were 42 per cent more cases in women who had conceived using IVF, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual conference heard. Researchers could not be certain why, but said the process of growing the embryo in the lab first might cause 'subtle changes' in the development of the placenta.

The placenta is the organ which provides a baby with oxygen and nourishment as it grows in the womb. Problems with the placenta can trigger further abnormalities in the mother's body during pregnancy, then the baby's, leading to pre-eclampsia.

Charles Kingsland, of the British Fertility Society, said age could also be a factor in the development of the condition.

He said that women who have IVF are often older than those who conceive naturally and may already have medical problems which increase their risk of developing it.

He urged women having IVF not to worry but added: 'We need to be aware that in this group of patients, who may be older, who may have difficulty in getting pregnant, that it doesn’t follow that just because you have got pregnant that everything else is going to be easy.'


Can aromatherapy oils poison you? How tiny particles 'may damage liver and kidneys'

This should put a rocket up the "alternative" people

They are meant to soothe aches and pains, relieve stress and induce a sense of relaxation. But aromatherapy oils may in fact do more harm than good, according to scientists. They have claimed that the extracts – used in baths, massages or burned in rooms – react with the air to produce tiny irritant particles.

Researchers found that when the so-called essential oils were used in relaxation spas for massages, the concentration of these potentially harmful particles increased tenfold.

The scientists said that certain chemicals in the oils, called volatile organic compounds, mix with the air to form secondary organic aerosols. These particles irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and are also known to cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver and kidneys.

This study only examined the size and number of these particles released when people had massages in spas. However other research has shown they are also produced by burning essential oils in the home or office – although not to the same extent.

Essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus and peppermint are extracted from plants and trees. The oils are thought to have a number of health benefits, including improving the skin, boosting the immune system and helping with sleep.

But the scientists from the Chia-Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Tainan, Taiwan, warn that the negative effects ‘cannot be neglected’.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Engineering Science, measured the volumes of certain secondary organic aerosols when oils were rubbed in during massages in two spas in Taiwan. Oils which generated the highest number of aerosols were lavender, tea tree, peppermint, lemon and eucalyptus.

The scientists concluded: ‘As aromatherapy, used by the general public and some health institutes, has become one of the most popular complementary therapies, its impact on indoor air quality and health effects cannot be neglected.

‘Volatile organic compound degradation caused by the reaction of these compounds with ozone present in the air can produce small, ultrafine by-products called secondary organic aerosols which may cause eye and airway irritation.’

They added: ‘We compared secondary organic aerosol levels associated for the various fragrant and herbal essential oils tested and conclude that the layout and ventilation within a particular spa may affect the level of indoor air pollutants produced during massage with aromatherapy.’

In 2007, another group of scientists also from Taiwan showed that burning tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus oils in the office also produced large numbers of these harmful particles.

Aromatherapy oils have also been found to worsen breathing problems in those with lung disease and to increase symptoms of asthma. And nurses have reported that they can cause skin burning and rashes – often because people put far too much into their baths or on to their skin.

Britons spend around £126million on aromatherapy products and herbal medicines every year. Sceptics argue that many of the perceived benefits of the oils are caused by a placebo effect – and people just convince themselves they feel calmer and more relaxed. They also say there is little scientific evidence that they can relieve pains, cure wounds or boost immunity.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Mobile phones 'DON'T raise risk of brain cancer,' says largest study of the subject so far

But nothing will convince the people-hating fanatics, of course. Anything popular is bad

Using a mobile phone does not increase the risk of brain cancer, claim scientists.

Research into cancer rates of one of the largest groups of mobile phone users ever studied found no difference compared with people who did not use them.

It is the second major study this year to rule out any change in rates of the disease - despite more than 70 million mobile phones being used in the UK.

The latest Danish study investigated data on more than 358,000 mobile users over 18 years, thought to be the longest follow-up so far. But campaigners insisted the research was 'seriously flawed' and would falsely reassure mobile phone users.

Researchers led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen found cancer rates in the central nervous system were almost the same in both long-term mobile phone users and non-users.

They studied the whole Danish population aged over 30 and born in Denmark after 1925 by gathering information on subscribers to mobile phones from the Danish phone network operators and from the Danish Cancer Register.

They analysed data of 10,729 central nervous system tumours between 1990 and 2007, says a report in (the online site of the British Medical Journal).

When the figures were restricted to people with the longest use of mobile phones – 13 years or more – the cancer rates were almost the same as that among non-subscribers.

The researchers said they observed no overall increased risk for tumours of the central nervous system or for all cancers combined in mobile phone users.

There have been fears that cancer could be triggered by the brain's exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile handsets held to the ear. But the researchers said they observed no overall increased risk for tumours of the central nervous system or for all cancers combined in mobile phone users.

The authors said: 'The extended follow-up allowed us to investigate effects in people who had used mobile phones for 10 years or more, and this long-term use was not associated with higher risks of cancer.

'However, as a small to moderate increase in risk for subgroups of heavy users or after even longer induction periods than 10-15 years cannot be ruled out, further studies with large study populations, where the potential for misclassification of exposure and selection bias is minimised, are warranted.'

Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Director of Medical Physics at Royal Berkshire Hospital, and Fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, said: 'This study is very large in terms of the number of people involved, is large in terms of the number of usage of the phones and also has a random nature being based on the purchase of a telephone contract rather than being a sub-group.

'The findings clearly reveal that there is no additional overall risk of developing a cancer in the brain although there does seem to be some minor, and not statistically significant, variations in the type of cancer. 'This paper supports most other reports which do not find any detrimental effects of phone use under normal exposures.'

Earlier this year Manchester University researchers found no statistically significant change in rates of newly diagnosed brain cancers in England between 1998 and 2007, saying it was unlikely 'we are on the forefront of a brain cancer epidemic'.

But other scientists disagree, saying the Danish study excluded business users and included as non-users people who began using mobiles later on.

Denis Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects, Bristol University said the study was 'worthless', and the researchers themselves admitted non-users may have been misclassified which would bias the findings. He said: 'This seriously flawed study misleads the public and decision makers about the safety of mobile phone use.'

Vicky Fobel, director of MobileWise, a charity advising on mobile phone and health, said: 'All this shows that this study and the press release promoting its findings are misleading the public by implying that phone users have the all clear.

'The study only looked at short-term use of mobile phones and by mis-analysing the data has massively underestimated the risks. All the other studies that have looked at the long-term risks have found a link between phone use and brain tumours.

'This study gives false reassurance and distracts us from the important job of helping the public, especially children, to cut the risk from mobiles.'


Being too skinny damages fertility more than obesity

Being too thin is worse than being too fat when trying for a baby, women have been warned. A study found that skinny women are less likely to become pregnant than those who are overweight – including those classed as dangerously obese.

The researcher, fertility specialist Richard Sherbahn, said that the amount of attention being paid to the health risks of being overweight meant that the perils of being underweight are being largely ignored.

The problem is being exacerbated by the ‘size zero’ culture in girls and young women striving to emulate the painfully thin look of models and other celebrities.

Dr Sherbahn, of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, crunched the figures on almost 2,500 sessions of IVF carried out at his clinic over an eight-year period.

The women were divided into three groups by weight – very thin, normal and obese. The normal weight group included some women who would be classed as overweight in the UK. Some 50 per cent of those in the normal weight group had babies. This compared with 45 per cent of those in the obese group, which included women classed as dangerously obese, and just 34 per cent of those classed as very thin.

The women classed as very thin had a BMI, or body mass index of 14 to 18. A woman who is 5ft 4in tall and weighs 7stone will have a BMI of 17. One who is 5ft 10ins tall and weighs 9 stone will have a BMI of 18.

Dr Sherbahn said that while some other studies had hinted that being skinny may be worse for fertility than being fat, he was ‘surprised’ at the size of the effect. It is known that being very thin can make it difficult to get pregnant naturally, due to a drop in the female sex hormone oestrogen. But women undergoing IVF are given hormones, so this couldn’t be the reason for the results.

The women in all three groups produced similar numbers of eggs, so the problems for the very thin later must have occurred at a later stage in the process, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

One possibility is that the embryos found it more difficult to implant in the wombs of the very thin women because they were undernourished. Dr Sherbahn said: ‘It could be in evolutionary terms that if people were too thin that maybe food wasn’t readily available and maybe it wasn’t the best time to reproduce and maybe the uterus wasn’t at its best.’

He added that women are likely unaware that it can be more damaging for their fertility to be too thin rather than too fat.

‘I am no expert on the sociological side of it but I have a teenage daughter and it seems that girls idolise models who are anorexic-looking. ‘It seems that the ideal body structure for young women is this overly-skinny physique and women don’t understand that there is any concern about that.’

He said that women trying to get pregnant – naturally or with fertility treatment – should try to get as close to their ideal eight as possible.

In Britain, hospital trusts can refuse to fund IVF for women who are underweight.

Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and member of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘For some people, getting pregnant is very easy but for others it is difficult and it is important to look at your bodyweight. ‘There is no doubt that if it is appropriate for your height, you have a higher chance of conceiving.’


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fat taxed enough already

Easy on the cheddar, chubby! Don't even think about eating those fries, fatty! Do I even have to mention the profiteroles, porky? Are these merely playground taunts? Worringly, they increasingly echo the voice of governments worldwide.

Owing to the rise of so called 'fat taxes', authorities are taking an ever-more active part in what their citizens digest (and what comes out of their wallets, of course). In the last few months alone, Hungary, France and Denmark have all implemented their own 'fat tax'. And whilst, as it stands, no gendarme will be confiscating your next banana-split, authorities, in their paternalistic wisdom, are increasingly frowning upon foods deemed undesirable.

Take Denmark, for example: a range of fatty foods, including even milk and butter, will be subjected to a tax if their saturated fat content is above 2.3%. The price of a pack of butter, for example, will increase by 45% due to the tax. Therefore, so it is thought, those selfish souls who indulge themselves on fatty foods will buy tofu and lentils instead: hey presto, obesity problem solved!

Things are never so simple, of course. The tax has already been received by many Danish firms as a 'bureaucratic nightmare', piling on additional costs to firms in an already tough period. Once more, any tax such as this is going to be inherently regressive; those least able to afford any price increases will be hit the hardest. But what does it matter? The French 'fat tax' is expected to raise an estimated €120,000,000 p.a.. A nice little earner.

Nor are we immune to such government meddling here in Perfidious Albion. Having successfully tackled all our other social, political and economic dilemmas, David Cameron is allegedly so enamoured by the idea of a 'fat tax' that he is toying with the idea of implementing one of our very own, as too are Finland and Romania.

Most are in agreement that obesity is a society-wide problem. The more rotund we become, the more our healthcare costs increase. So what's the solution? Surely not pricing poor people out of the market for fatty foods. We must seek a solution other than 'more taxes' – the default position of any government. Perhaps our BMIs could be helped by making it easier for people to help out at sport clubs without undergoing a raft of CRB checks, or by reforming our health system which currently permits the cost of atrocious health habits to be picked up by someone else.

Sadly the precedent has already been set. When we already allow the government to dictate what we may and may not consume in the form of innumerable drugs, letting them control what we eat is a logical advancement. And it will all be done for our 'own good'.

And nor is this merely a European phenomenon: the world over governments are beguiled with the notion of controlling our bodies. In New York, for example, it is now compulsory to display the calorific content of foods, presumably because people use to think that a bucket of KFC was a healthy snack. How long is it till cars are plastered with images of car-crash victims? After all, cars are dangers, didn't you know?

Along with this, Chicago's new mayor has implemented a mandatory 'wellness programme', in which one can only presume that those unworthy enough to be a few pounds overweight are scolded by their organic-mung-bean-fed superiors.

Can't we be left alone to comfort-eat in peace? Lord knows we need it, considering how grim the new is nowadays. If only someone would implement a tax on bad ideas produced by government.


The MALE biological clock: After 41 your chances of becoming a father 'declines rapidly'

This sounds reasonable but note that IVF to some extent ameliorates the problem. I became an IVF father at 44

It is not just women that have to worry about their biological clock. Male fertility declines with age – with even a year making a difference, researchers have warned.

They say that after the age of 41, a man’s odds of fathering a child decline rapidly. And after 45, those who haven’t started a family and want one should start doing something about it.

But with the likes of Des O’Connor having his fifth child at 72, and Rod Stewart becoming father for the eighth time at the age of 66, other experts said the finding should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The warning comes from a study of IVF patients in which the man’s sperm fertilised an egg from a donor.

In the context of the study, the use of donor eggs allowed the researchers to separate out the effect of the man’s age from that of the woman’s. The donor eggs all came from young, healthy women and so any differences in pregnancy rate must be due to the sperm.

And the difference was clear, with fertility declining by up to seven per cent with each extra year on a man’s age between 41 and 45. After that, it declined even more rapidly.

The average age of the men whose partners got treatment through IVF was 41. But the average age of those in which the IVF was unsuccessful was 45, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

The chances of pregnancy fell from 60 per cent at the age of 41 to just 35 per cent for the 45-year-olds.

Researcher Paula Fettback, of the Huntington Medicina Reproductiva clinic in Brazil, said: ‘Age counts. ‘Men have a biological clock too. It is not the same as for women but they can’ t wait forever to have children. ‘They have to think about having children, especially after 45.’

A second study presented at the conference backed up the warning. There, fertility plummeted in male mice from a year old – equivalent to middle-age in people. Fewer eggs were fertilised and fewer embryos grew long enough to be used in IVF.

Pregnancies took longer to occur and when they did, the miscarriage rate rocketed from zero using sperm from young animals, to over 60 per cent.

The researchers, from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, said they believed there would be ‘some parallel’ with men. ‘We found an abrupt reproductive deterioration in mid-life, equivalent to humans in their 40s.’

Other studies have found that children of older fathers also run an increased risk of heart defects, autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy, and are almost twice as likely to die before adulthood.

While men constantly make fresh sperm, the ‘machinery’ that makes it can slow down and become defective over time. In addition, genetic errors may creep into sperm as men get older.

But other experts said advised would-be fathers not to worry.
IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can't with eggs. Dr Richard Sherbahn, of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, said that while it is likely that male fertility does decline, any difference is likely to be just a few per cent over decades.

He added that IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can’t with eggs.

Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and member of the British Fertility Society, questioned the quality of the study and added that the quality of a woman’s eggs is far more important.

He advised men who want to stay in good reproductive shape to eat healthily, not smoke, drink only in moderation, keep active and avoid hot baths, as sperm likes cool temperatures. He added: ‘There are a lot of advantages to being a young father. First and foremost, you’ve got energy. But being an older father also confers certain advantages – stability, wisdom, maybe a bit of financial security but you don’t have the energy. ‘I wouldn’t go rushing off to procreate on the basis that tomorrow my fertility might drop.’


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paleo-Style Meals

Karen De Coster is an accountant of some sort who seems to have lots of hatreds. She offers dietary advice below without reference to a single scientific study of what she recommends. Her advice is however on its face ludicrous. She is an advocate of the "caveman' diet.

I had to laugh when I read what she says about a normal Western diet. These are the effects of a normal diet that she lists: "obesity, diabetes, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, cancer, ambiguous mental disorders (such as depression and anxiety), and dubious behavioral disorders". She left out the most important one: An unprecedentedly long lifespan!

The caveman diet may well be a good way of controlling weight. Almost any consistently-followed dietary discipline probably is. But the other claims are just an expression of the common elitist hatred of everything that normal people enjoy

The term "living like a caveman" is plastered all over the mainstream news these days, drawing in folks who are curious about this new "caveman diet." The media has become inordinately curious as to how so many people can overcome burdensome weight problems and scores of health issues by adopting an eating plan that is essentially a rejection of modern food convenience and a return to sanity through personal responsibility.

The paleo or "primal" lifestyle is receiving an abundance of attention because enquiring minds want to know more about it. The main thrust behind the paleo or primal lifestyle is that we humans are hunter-gatherers, and our genes are partial to the real food just like our ancestors. We have not evolved to adapt to the heavily processed, high-carbohydrate, grain-loaded, industrial oils-based garbage diet of the modern era. Those of us who reject this conventional diet negatively refer to it as the Standard American Diet (SAD). The effects of this food have been devastating on all of human health, and not only in America. Everywhere the SAD is embraced, people are suffering all of the same afflictions associated with modern western civilization: obesity, diabetes, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, cancer, ambiguous mental disorders (such as depression and anxiety), and dubious behavioral disorders.

Mark Sisson’s newest book, 21-Day Total Body Transformation, is not a gimmicky guide for daft dieting and short-term sculpting. Instead, it’s a book on how to live real – eating real food, employing real movement, and adapting to your modern life through the application of evolutionary principles. The book not only challenges the Standard American Diet, but it also rejects the overly-stressful and time-consuming exercise patterns that have become common practice for folks who struggle to lose weight through fitness.

Both movement and food are crucial elements in transforming your health, and Sisson places a high emphasis on diet because years of disinformation, from the scientific community as well as the government-media establishment, have confused an issue that is actually very straightforward once you come to understand some of the basic concepts.

Don’t let the book’s title mislead you – the 21-day transformation is not about going from out-of-shape to svelte in three weeks so you cram yourself into those undersized clothes hanging in your closet. Instead, Sisson describes the book as a 21-day adventure, or transformation, to eliminate old habits and replace them with new ones. He calls it a transformation "that will last for the rest of your life." This transformation is best described as a move from the Standard American Diet and futile chronic exercise to primal, evolutionary-based practices that take the most advantageous conventions from our ancestors and reshape them for modern life. Sisson calls this "dialing in your eating, exercise, sleep, and play for the rest of your life."

This book is a follow-up to Sisson’s mega-selling 2009 release, Primal Blueprint, for which Mark received many accolades for the book’s originality and precise message. For many folks, however, adopting new habits, after a lifetime of established routines, presents them with a thorny challenge without a blueprint to guide their action plan. This book serves that purpose.

Sisson lays out the framework by introducing eight key concepts that form the core of the transition from one who engages prevailing practices to a freethinking and empowered individual. Adherence to these concepts will serve to reform the reader’s habits and establish some new ways of thinking that supplants conventional wisdom. The eight key concepts are, in summary: (1) reprogramming your genes through choices (2) discovering optimal gene expression, or finding your own perfect recipe for health (3) transitioning from a carbohydrate-based metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism (4) controlling body composition through food quality (5) understanding why grains are unnecessary (6) unraveling the lies and myths about fat (7) knowing the role of exercise in weight management, and (8) maximizing fitness with minimal time.....

Eating right – real, whole foods – is so simple, yet so misunderstood, and most people don’t have a clue where to start. Fighting through the food demons and exercise mythology is not always a clear path at a time when there is so much conflicting information being cranked out from second-rate sources and so-called "health experts" are ramming conventional nonsense down the collective throat of the disoriented populace.

More fanaticism here

Simple liquorice pill that takes the misery out of the menopause

"The numbers involved in the study were too small to be sure the liquorice had any effect"

It probably brings back happy childhood memories. But liquorice could also help take some of the misery out of the menopause. A pill containing the sweet root cuts the number of hot flushes women experience by up to 80 per cent, as well as helping to keep bones strong, researchers say. And there are no side-effects to boot.

The pill produced ‘remarkable’ results when taken daily by women who were close to or going through ‘the change’, the scientists insist. This is thought to be because plant chemicals in liquorice have a similar effect to the female sex hormone oestrogen, levels of which plummet around the menopause.

A U.S. fertility conference heard that in future, liquorice-based supplements could provide women who cannot or will not take traditional, oestrogen-based hormone replacement therapy with an effective alternative.

The oestrogen in the pills, patches and implants used by up to one million British women can cause headaches, dizziness, stomach cramps and nausea. In addition, fears that HRT raises the risk of breast cancer and heart problems have refused to go away.

The researchers, from the University of Southern California, gave supplies of liquorice extract called licogen or a placebo pill to 51 women who were going through or who were close to the menopause. The volunteers, who had an average age of 51, took a pill once a day for a year. They also kept diaries to note their symptoms.

It took eight months for the women to see any improvement. But within a year, most of those taking the liquorice found that the number of hot flushes and night sweats they had each day fell by 80 per cent – or from an average of ten to just two.

And instead of waking an average of four times, their sleep was disturbed just once or twice, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

Hot flushes and night sweats affect most women in the years leading up to and after their last period. Most women are bothered by them for four years, but they can disturb sleep, zap energy, cause embarrassment and reduce quality of life for up to 20 years.

Researcher Donna Shoupe said: ‘Women really felt it worked and made a difference.’

The liquorice also seemed to slow the thinning of bones that comes with age.

Unfortunately, eating it as a sweet rather than as a concentrated supplement is unlikely to do much.

The researchers were funded by a liquorice company but carried out the study independently. They added that HRT should still be a woman’s first choice.

David Sturdee, president-elect of the International Menopause Society, said the numbers involved in the study were too small to be sure the liquorice had any effect.

But he added: ‘Anything that we can get that is non-hormonal and would be useful as an alternative to HRT… must be welcomed.’


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

By Tom Chivers

Dr Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University and the author of the Science Digestive blog, has kindly written the following guest post in response to yet another ill-thought-through rant from Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institute and prominent critic of video games and the internet. It's a good thing Dr Burnett did so, because if I'd done it, it would probably have been a very short post: "Please stop talking, Baroness Greenfield. Please." Anyway, here he is:
Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institution, has once again been holding forth about the potential damage that video games and other technological entertainments are wreaking on the brains of young people.

As a doctor of behavioural neuroscience who teaches via an online course, I have a special interest in how our brains are influenced by behaviour and technology, so the Baroness’s pronouncements were of particular fascination to me. But her view, that electronic media can damage our brains, is almost the exact opposite of my own. While some of her claims have an element of truth to them, it's aggravating to see a well-known public intellectual misuse basic facts to support outlandish and harmful conclusions. I’ll take a look at a few of them in turn.

* She says technology which plays strongly on the senses – like video games – can “blow the mind" by temporarily or permanently deactivating certain nerve connections in the brain.

First things first: 'Mind' in scientific terms has no universally accepted definition, so the majority of behavioural and neurological studies simply ignore it as a factor altogether. But pedantry aside, the temporary or permanent deactivation of nerve connections in the brain is implied to be a negative consequence of excessive computer game playing, as opposed to a perfectly normal and actually quite essential occurrence in a typical, healthy brain. A great deal of the brain's connections are actually used for deactivating other connections and processes. One of the brain's most powerful neurotransmitters (the chemicals used by neurones to communicate with each other) is gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is inhibitory, meaning it stops activity in other cells. And it's really good at this.

The constant deactivating of parts of the brain is vital to our functioning as normal cognitive beings. There can be times when too much of the brain is active at once, and these are seldom good things, as anyone who's had a seizure or violent hallucination will probably attest. You could argue that Baroness Greenfield is referring to specific, damaging connections, but I can only be as precise in my comments as she is being in hers. Areas of the brain being shut down or deactivated is as normal a part of development as losing your milk teeth.

* "If you play computer games to the exclusion of other things this will create a new environment that will have new effects … every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

The problem here is that this effect is not specific to video games. Anything you do excessively will create a new environment that your brain will eventually adapt to. If you are a keen fisherman you will spend a great deal of time staring at a large volume of water while holding an elaborate stick. Does this have long-term effect on your brain structure? Most likely, yes. Is it seriously damaging? Not as far as anyone is aware.

And yes, every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug. And every hour you spend on a train is not spent on a horse. What of it? Every hour spent doing something is an hour not spent doing something else. You may feel that climbing trees is a more 'positive' activity than video games, but that's purely a subjective view. It's undoubtedly an enjoyable pastime, but I think most people would agree though that you have significantly less chance of falling and breaking your neck while playing on an X-Box.

* She goes on to claim (the article is paraphrasing): “Screen technologies cause high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more screen-based activity.”

Again, yes. This is a largely accurate statement. But it's annoying how people (scientists in particular) will use long-winded, verbose methods of describing something in order confuse people, and attribute a meaning to it which suits their arguments. In this case, the phrase "high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more … activity" is more commonly known as 'fun' or 'enjoyment'. This same effect can be seen in football fans or pretty much anyone who has a persistent hobby. The long-term damaging effects of these aren't being questioned, so what sets video games part as a negative? The intense visual stimuli? The interactive nature of them? The requirement for concentration? The competitive element? All of these factors apply to any sport you want to name.

* The average child will spend almost 2,000 hours in front of a screen between their tenth and eleventh birthdays.

I don't know where this figure comes from, as no references were provided. But even if it is right, what of it? Welcome to 21st century Western society. Everything has a screen now. I currently own about seven. It's where we get our information from. A while ago, it was books. Some people would spend a lot of time reading books, which are rectangular, information-rich objects that could cause intense arousal and engage many brain regions. But people who condemn books aren't usually respected for it.

To be clear: there are undoubtedly things to criticise about video games. They can be needlessly violent, they can be unrewarding: perhaps it is unwise to subject children to such graphic themes, perhaps they do teach children unrealistic or dubious things. But each of these criticisms can be levelled at any entertainment format. The use of electronic media is an undeniable fact of life now, and is changing the way we see the world. In many ways, it's encouraging that so many children become adept at computer-based activities from such a young age; it'll give them more of a chance of making it in an increasingly technical society.

Baroness Greenfield clearly has her reasons for disliking computer games and other electronic entertainments, and I'm sure they're noble ones. But this does not justify the use of junk science, or the public airing of overblown conclusions based on little or no evidence. With every unsubstantiated claim, Baroness Greenfield distances herself further from the scientific community that once had such respect for her.


The establishment has been very indulgent to the loud-mouthed Jewish girl with her hunger for attention but her dumping from the Royal Institution and now this rebuke in the Telegraph would seem to indicate that she has finally gone too far. Her pronouncements were always designed to pander to elite prejudices and were always poorly founded in science. See here and here

3-in-1 test that 'virtually guarantees IVF success' could be available within months

A three-in-one test that could almost guarantee the chance of having a baby could be available within months. By allowing only the best eggs or embryos to be selected for IVF, the Oxford University test is expected to slash the odds of miscarriage and greatly boost the chances of a woman having a healthy baby. This would cut the financial and emotional costs of trying time after time to start a family.

IVF costs between £3,000 and £15,000 a course, but success is far from guaranteed. Just one in four of the 40,000 women who have it each year have a baby.

The test's inventor, Dagan Wells, said: 'It offers the possibility of enhancing success rates of IVF, allowing couples to more rapidly get to the point of having a child and avoids the heartbreak of miscarriage and termination of pregnancies affected by serious disorders.'

The new technique builds on an existing test called array comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) which counts the number of chromosomes in an egg or embryo.

Healthy eggs should have 23 chromosomes and embryos 46, but many have more or less than this, greatly increasing the risk of miscarriage and of having a child with a condition such as Down's syndrome.

Up to three-quarters of miscarriages are thought to be due to embryos having the wrong number of chromosomes, with eggs from older women particularly likely to be defective.

'Astonishing' results released two years ago revealed array CGH to more than double a woman’s odds of getting pregnant.

Now, the technique’s pioneer Dr Wells is trying to make it even better by bolting on two other checks. He told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference that one involves counting the number of mitochondria – the tiny ‘batteries’ inside cells that turn the food we eat into energy.

The other involves checking structures called telomeres. These are tiny biological clocks that cap the ends of chromosomes, protecting them from damage, much like the caps on the ends of shoelaces prevent fraying.

Studies suggest that short or fraying telomeres can make the difference between ‘life or death’ for an embryo.

Dr Wells said testing for three defects rather than one could take the IVF success rate from the 80 per cent or so of array CGH to approaching 100 per cent. ‘We hope to fill in that gap and get closer to getting a successful pregnancy from every IVF cycle.’

He added that his test won’t help women whose pregnancies fail because of problems with the womb. But this is not a major cause of IVF failure and other researchers are working on ways of getting round it.

Dr Wells plans to make it available to around 15 British IVF clinics within weeks. However, initially, only the chromosome data will be used when deciding which embryos to use in IVF.

After around six months, he will look at the telomere and mitochondria data taken from the embryos at the time and see whether it also helped predict the women’s odds of becoming pregnant.

If so, he plans to make the full three-in-one test available to British clinics. It will only be available privately initially and is expected to add around £2,000 to the cost of IVF, the same as array CGH.

The British Fertility Society has previously cautioned against the use of array CGH until there is large-scale data on how well it works.