Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rubbished! Stars who peddle 'silly science' to cure our ailments

Their day jobs involve looking glamorous and posing for the cameras – and perhaps they should stick to them. When celebrities turn their attention to solving our health problems, a report suggests, their contribution is, at best, questionable.

Tamara Ecclestone, Suzi Quatro, Gwyneth Paltrow and even the Duchess of Cambridge and her little sister Pippa are among those named and shamed for peddling what the report calls ‘silly science’.

The organisation Sense about Science highlighted Miss Quatro’s claim that her sore throats were cured by a ‘colon cleansing’ powder. The American singer-songwriter said: ‘I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleaner powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference.’

But Dr Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist, said: ‘Sore throats do not come from your colon; they are caused by viruses that come in through your nose and mouth. The colon...certainly is not the cause of all illnesses.’

Pippa Middleton was abruptly corrected after crediting her glossy hair to rinsing it in cold water. Miss Middleton, 28, claimed: ‘It closes the pores and gives it a lift and shine... it really works.’ Sense about Science pointed out that hair does not have pores, and its smoothness is unaffected by water, hot or cold.

Her sister Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, featured in the report for saying that spending more time with horses had made her less allergic to them. Dr Pamela Ewen, of the allergy department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, conceded that, in cases of mild allergy, Kate might be right. But she added: ‘If the allergy is more severe, re-exposure usually makes it worse.’

Heiress Miss Ecclestone came under fire for saying acupuncture stopped her getting ill. She said: ‘I have acupuncture to boost my immune system every month or so.’ Professor Peter Lachmann, an immunologist at Cambridge University, said: ‘There are ways to enhance different types of immune response – though acupuncture is not one of them.’

Gwyneth Paltrow, who has previously made comments about shampoo causing cancer and is a fan of a bizarre Chinese medicine treatment called ‘cupping’, was also on the hitlist for claiming that a ‘detox diet’ helped her liver and gave her ‘mental clarity’.

Simon Cowell also featured for saying that he found vitamin injections ‘calming’. And Snooki Polizzi, star of U.S. reality TV show Jersey Shore, claimed whale sperm was what made the sea salty.

Tracey Brown, of Sense about Science, said: ‘It’s tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse.’

The charity did congratulate one celebrity for making a helpful contribution. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was praised for her comments in the Daily Mail about the link between a poor diet and osteoporosis. The duchess said: ‘What particularly concerns me is the rise of osteoporosis in young people and its link with eating disorders.’

Sian Porter, of the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘It is very important to strengthen bones in the first 30 years of life to “stockpile” calcium and other minerals. Her Royal Highness is clearly well informed. ‘Unfortunately this is not the case with many celebrities who give advice.’


Study warns against pet cats

Tempted by the playful antics of that adorable kitten in the pet shop? If you've never had a cat before you may want to think again, especially if you have other allergies, researchers warn.

And if you do acquire a feline, keep it out of your bedroom.

While having a cat as a child may protect against future allergies, getting one in adulthood nearly doubles the chances of developing an immune reaction to it - the first step towards wheezing, sneezing and itchy eyes, a European study found.

The same study, which covered thousands of adults and was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that people with other allergies were at extra high risk of reacting to a new feline in the house.

"Our data support that acquiring a cat in adulthood nearly doubles the risk of developing cat sensitisation," wrote Mario Olivieri, from the University Hospital of Verona in Italy. "Hence, cat avoidance should be considered in adults, especially in those sensitised to other allergens and reporting a history of allergic diseases."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 6000 adult Europeans twice over nine years, taking blood samples. None of the participants had antibodies to cats in their blood to start with, meaning they were not sensitised to the animal's dander.

Sensitisation can be measured in a skin prick test. It does not necessarily lead to symptoms, but in many cases it is the harbinger of full-blown allergies.

About three per cent of people who did not have a cat at either time of the survey became sensitised over the course of the study, compared to five per cent of those who acquired a cat during those nine years.

Four in 10 of the newly sensitised also said they experienced allergy symptoms around animals, four times the rate seen among people without antibodies against cats.

It also turned out that only people who let their pet into the bedroom became sensitised.

"If you are an adult with asthma and/or allergies, you should think twice about getting a cat and particularly, if you do so, letting it into your bedroom," said Andy Nish of the Allergy and Asthma Care Centre in Gainesville, Georgia, who wasn't involved in the study.

The researchers did find, however, that people who had had a cat in childhood had a much smaller risk against becoming sensitised to it than those who were new cat owners.

"We thought that having a cat in early childhood may be protective against the development of cat allergy in childhood, but this study seems to indicate that protection extends into adulthood," Nish told Reuters Health in an email.

Noting that he always recommends keeping cats out of the bedroom, he added: "It is remarkable that none who did not allow the cat in the bedroom became sensitised."

For people who have a cat and have become allergic, he recommended finding a new home for the pet, followed by keeping the cat outdoors at all times. "If it comes in even occasionally, its dander will remain in the house for months. If the cat needs to be indoors, at least keep it out of your bedroom, consider a HEPA filter for your bedroom, and consider washing the cat at least once a week," he added.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Can coffee prevent cancer?

Here we go again! Refreshing to see a bit of humility this time, however (in red)

There's good news on the horizon for coffee lovers, with research suggesting that it can reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer by up to 25 per cent.

Originating in the lining of the uterus, endometrial cancer is the most common invasive gynaecological cancer in Australia and affects one in 69 women under the age of 75. According to statistics gathered by Cancer Australia, six women were diagnosed with the disease each day in 2010 and it's responsible for an estimated 69 deaths in the country each year.

In the US, where the research was conducted, the National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 46,000 new cases of the cancer would be seen in 2011 and 8000 people would die of the disease.

High levels of oestrogen and insulin are associated with an increased risk of the disease but researchers involved in the Nurses' Health Study from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered that high-coffee-consuming women have lower levels of these hormones, compared with those who drink little or no coffee.

"This is an observational study – coffee intake is self-selected, not randomised – so our study cannot prove causal relationship between coffee and endometrial cancer risk, but we found an inverse association between coffee and endometrial cancer risk," reported study author Youjin Je, doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Four or more cups of coffee may contribute to lower risk of endometrial cancer by lowering levels of oestrogen and insulin which are related to endometrial carcinogenesis due to increased cell proliferation and reduced cell death."

To obtain their results researchers followed 67,470 women aged 34 to 59 from 1980 to 2006 and asked that they report every four years how frequently, on average, they consumed coffee over the previous year. They then calculated cumulative average coffee intake to represent long-term consumption patterns for the individual subjects and found that those consuming four cups per day on average were 25 per cent less likely to develop the cancer.

And it's not just the caffeine that helps decrease the risk, with participants who drank two or more cups of decaffeinated coffee per day seeing a 22 per cent decrease. Though Je points out that the data is less stable due to the low incidence of frequent use of decaf coffee and that both the caffeine and coffee itself is thought to work together to produce maximum benefits.

"We found an inverse association with two or more cups of decaf per day, although the link was less robust, and we did not find any association with caffeine containing tea consumption," she said. "Thus, the benefit of coffee is likely linked to several bioactive compounds in coffee that act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and regulate insulin. Caffeine also seems to be partly responsible for the risk reduction by increasing oestrogen metabolism."

But before you run down to the coffee cart to order a full-cream double shot with two sugars be warned that a high intake of sugars and fats can counteract the proposed benefits of consumption.

"Based on scientific evidence, substantial amounts of sugar or cream can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, which is related to increased risk of endometrial cancer," said Je. "Thus, women who typically added lots of sugar and cream to coffee may not have any benefits from coffee drinking against endometrial cancer."

Though consuming four cups of coffee each day is not advised for pregnant women, those controlling their blood pressure or with a sensitivity to caffeinated beverages, scientists say that it is perfectly safe for the rest of the population.

In addition to the reduced risk of endometrial cancer laboratory testing has found that coffee has strong antioxidant properties that protect cells, protein and DNA against oxidative damage by directly neutralising reactive oxidants or by modulating gene expression contributing to oxidative stress. Which, in layman's terms, means that coffee has the potential to prevent a number of chronic diseases.

Research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cirrhosis of the liver, depression in women and other cancers – including aggressive prostate cancer. However, the aforementioned groups who need to monitor or reduce their caffeine intake aren't entirely out of the loop with study authors recommending they drink decaf to get at least some of the benefits of coffee components.

"It's not at the stage where we would recommend women who don't drink coffee to start drinking," said Je. "More large prospective studies should be done to further clarify the role of coffee among different subgroups. But, yes, women consuming coffee should feel reassurance that coffee in general is not a harmful substance, and may even offer some health benefits."


Cut-price test that 'can dramatically boost IVF chances' will be available in 18 months

A cut-price test that could dramatically increase the chances of having a healthy baby through IVF could be available within 18 months.

Oxford University researchers say their test could ‘revolutionise’ the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and may be just as effective.

It may be cheap enough for use by the Health Service. And, unlike existing tests, it does not involve the potentially risky step of taking a sample of cells from the egg or fledgling embryo, making it safer and more ethically acceptable.

Instead, it works by analysing a ‘cloud’ of cells that nurture and feed the egg. These are normally thrown away in IVF treatment but fertility doctors Dagan Wells and Elpida Fragouli believe they hold important clues to the health of the egg.

Keeping and analysing these cells could help clinics select the best eggs for fertility treatment. It should also spare would-be parents the emotional and financial heartache of going through repeated unsuccessful IVF treatments.

Analysing these ‘cloud’, or cumulous, cells is also likely to be much cheaper at £1,000 or less compared with the £2,000 cost of other techniques, bringing the technology within range of many more couples.

Despite IVF’s reputation as an insurance policy, the treatment works in less than a quarter of cases, and many of the failures are because of problems with the eggs’ chromosomes.

There are already several ways of checking the chromosomes, but they require a small sample from the egg or embryo and so are not completely without risk to the unborn child.
Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

The cumulous cells, however, can be studied without harming the egg. These cells grow and mature with the egg and so any problems that damage the egg, such as a poor blood supply, should also show up in the cells.

The doctors have carried out a small-scale study that has shown that certain genes being over or under-active in the cumulous cells is a sign of abnormal eggs.

Calculations suggest that using the technique to pick out the healthiest eggs would boost a woman’s odds of having a baby. Existing tests can double or triple the odds of IVF success, and it is hoped the new test will be just as good.

Dr Wells said: ‘The number of patients we looked at is very small. This is very much a work in progress, but there is good reason for optimism at this point.’

A larger-scale study is planned, and if that goes well the technique could be trialled on women for the first time in the summer of 2012. If it proves to be safe and effective, it could be in widespread use early in 2013.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hating your mother means you're twice as likely to grow up fat

It's difficult evaluating a study that is not yet online but this could easily be a social class effect. The underclass often have poor relationships with their children and also tend to be fat and have fat children. That could be controlled for by partialling out parental weight from the correlations but who knows if that was done? There is an extensive summary of the study here and no controls are mentioned. More magic knowledge of the causal chain apparently. The title of the journal article is: "Quality of early maternal-child relationship and risk of adolescent obesity"

Children who have a poor emotional relationship with their mother are more than twice as likely to become obese, research claims.

A study found toddlers who struggle with their mothers are at higher risk of being grossly overweight by the time they are 15. Those who had the worst emotional relationship were almost two-and-half times more likely to be obese at 15 than those with a strong bond. Meanwhile, only 13 per cent who had close bonds in their formative years became obese.

U.S. researchers studied nearly 1,000 toddlers and their mothers at play then rated how strong the bond was between mother and child.

The participants were then assessed for obesity at 15. The prevalence of obesity in adolescence was 26.1 per cent among children with the poorest early maternal-child relationships according to the research, which will appear in the online Journal of Paediatrics next month.

Ohio State University epidemiology professor Sarah Anderson said eating comfort food throughout childhood could be linked to youngsters not being given the right tools to deal with stress.

She said: ‘It is possible childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children’s food intake and activity.

‘We need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships because that could have an impact on child health.

'A well-regulated stress response could influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.’


A CDC Recommendation Could Save Children’s Lives

Meningococcal meningitis: This is a dreaded disease that can be lethal within hours of the onset of symptoms. For those who survive, it can have very serious consequences such as blindness, deafness, and even amputation of arms and legs.

Fortunately, in April 2011 the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for this disease for children aged 9 months through 23 months. A vaccine for use in older children was previously approved.

However, for the age group of 9 months to 23 months, the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that only children with certain risk factors receive the vaccination. These include children with immune deficiencies, those traveling to countries in which the disease is epidemic, and those in a defined risk group during a community or institutional outbreak.

Although rare, the disease is endemic in the United Sates and springs up without warning. Those who are not vaccinated when it initially presents in a community will be the first to contract it. This is analogous to the situation with airplane passengers. Airline accidents or high-turbulence incidents are rare, but when they do occur, those passengers not properly restrained are at highest risk of injury or even death.

In such cases, it’s essential to measure any potential inconvenience against the likely risks. The side effect of taking this vaccine is some skin irritation, but vaccination is the only way to prevent this type of meningitis. In the past, when vaccines received approval from the FDA indicating they were safe and efficacious, the CDC would review them and ultimately add them to its recommended vaccine list. The CDC is moving much more slowly on this vaccine, and there is fear it will be recommended only for the high-risk children when indeed all unvaccinated children are at risk.

If the vaccination is not placed on the recommended list, pediatricians are unlikely to recommend it to parents, and many won’t even notify them of its existence. Thus parents won’t even have the option of choosing it for their child.

The CDC should give parents the choice of whether to immunize their children aged 9 months through 23 months against meningococcal meningitis. Placing it on the recommended list is the only way to do that.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parents Should Heed Ben Franklin’s Vaccination Story

New data indicate increasing conflict between parental rights advocates and vaccination experts. To avoid the return of preventable disease, both sides would be wise to begin a more open and educational dialogue with each other.

According to a study published recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a significant number of parents are ignoring the advice of vaccine experts. The study calculated 13 percent of U.S. parents are following an alternative vaccination schedule. This is not just a matter of temporary delays in immunization: 53 percent of these parents refused some vaccines entirely, and 17 percent refused to vaccinate their children at all.

Even among those parents who kept to the recommended vaccine schedule, 28 percent told researchers they believe an alternate schedule that spaces out vaccines is safer.

A new analysis by the Associated Press found this is having a marked effect on young children’s vaccination status. After surveying eight different state elementary school systems, AP found one in every 20 public school kindergarteners did not have the vaccinations required by law to attend school.

Politicians such as presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) have not helped matters. She engaged in severe scaremongering regarding the Gardisil vaccine against the human papillomavirus when she suggested, in claims repeated on national television, that a woman’s child had “suffered mental retardation” as a result of the vaccination.

The failure to vaccinate can have serious consequences. In Europe, preventable diseases have been making a comeback in recent years, with major outbreaks of mumps and measles in the wake of fraudulent reports of connections between vaccines and autism. Here in the U.S., we may be seeing the beginning of the same trend. Last year brought the largest outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century, resulting in the deaths of ten infants.

In refusing to vaccinate because of scare stories, parents are making a foolish choice. But it should be their choice. Parents have the right to opt their children out of vaccinations as they see fit. It is their child, after all, not the government’s.

But when this happens, it must be understood as an act of self-segregation. Parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated must understand they are deciding to teach their children at home or in schools that will allow unvaccinated children to enroll. The rest of the community should not have to bear the risk of a rise in preventable disease.

The role of government in the matter should be to ensure people aren’t allowed to impose their choices on others, which means if we’re going to have public schools and children are required to attend, we can’t allow them to admit unvaccinated children.

All parents would do well to consider the words of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote movingly on the topic, from personal experience:

“In 1736, I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox,” Franklin wrote. “I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it, my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

As Franklin acknowledges, the choice here belongs to the parents, and it ought to. But every choice has consequences, and those with knowledge of the risks and rewards must educate and inform parents of what the consequences of refusing vaccination can be for their child and their neighbors’ children as well.


Taking multi-vitamin pills 'does nothing for our health'

New research shows that taking supplements can actually harm you

They are a daily essential for millions of Britons hoping to ward off ill-health. But despite the millions of pounds spent on vitamin pills, they do nothing for our health, according to a major study.

Researchers spent more than six years following 8,000 people and found that those taking supplements were just as likely to have developed cancer or heart disease as those who took an identical-looking dummy pill.

And when they were questioned on how healthy they felt, there was hardly any difference between the two groups.

Experts said the study – one of the most extensive carried out into vitamin pills – suggested that millions of consumers may be wasting their money on supplements.

Many users fall into the category of the ‘worried well’ – healthy adults who believe the pills will insure them against deadly illnesses – according to Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London. She said: ‘It’s the worried well who are taking these pills to try and protect themselves against Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes. ‘But they are wasting their money. This was a large study following people up for a long period of time assessing everything from their mobility and blood pressure to whether they were happy or felt pain.’

Multi-vitamin supplements have become increasingly popular as a quick and easy way of topping up the body’s nutrient levels. But a series of studies have indicated that, for some people, they could actually be harmful.

Two studies published last year suggested supplements could raise the risk of cancer.

One found pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc increased the risk of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, four-fold. The other discovered women on a daily multi-vitamin pill increased their risk of breast cancer by up to 20 per cent.

While the evidence that vitamins can do harm is still limited, the latest study seems to confirm that many people are at the very least taking them unnecessarily.

A team of French researchers, led by experts at Nancy University, tracked 8,112 volunteers who took either a placebo capsule, or one containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc, every day for just over six years.

They assessed the state of their health at the beginning and end of the trial, taking a quality of life survey designed to measure everything from mobility and pain to vitality and mental health.

When researchers analysed how many in each group had gone on to develop serious illnesses over the years, they found little difference. In the supplement group, 30.5 per cent of patients had suffered a major health ‘event’, such as cancer or heart disease. In the placebo group, the rate was 30.4 per cent.

There were 120 cases of cancer in those taking vitamins, compared to 139 in the placebo group, and 65 heart disease cases, against 57 among the dummy pill users.

In a report on their findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers said: ‘The perception that supplementation improves general well-being is not supported by this trial.’

Miss Collins said the results of the study ‘reinforce the idea that if you’re worried about your health and start taking multi-vitamins, you will still be worried about it six years later’.

But the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by supplements manufacturers, said the finding that vitamins had no impact on how people perceived their health was ‘to be expected’.

Spokeswoman Dr Carrie Ruxton said: ‘The role of vitamin supplements is to prevent deficiencies and make sure people are receiving their recommended levels.

‘They won’t have a measurable impact on how you feel on a day-to-day basis but what they are doing is topping up your recommended levels to the right amount. They are not meant to be a magic bullet.’


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pizzas, French fries a security risk?

Are pizzas and french fries in school lunch programs a security risk?

When Congress decided to override the Obama Agriculture Department's school lunch standards back in November by keeping pizza and french fries on the menu they were only doing what they always do, the bidding of lobbyists representing food companies, the salt industry and potato growers.

The government dietary dictate was, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, needed to reduce childhood obesity.

People like some conservatives and all libertarians weren't outraged over this, instead reinforcing the point that government has no business telling children what to eat.

Some people, the usual ruling class authoritarians, were outraged. These included the bureaucrats at the USDA, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, and Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, among many other professional social engineers.

An AP article on the issue did not record any comments from First Busybody Michelle Obama, who has little better to do than romp around the world on hundred-thousand-dollar junkets and nag people about what to feed their children.

But unexpected outrage came from a gaggle of retired generals calling themselves Mission: Readiness. Seems they advocate healthier school lunches because "obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service."

In short, the fact that kids are too fat to fight is a security risk. "Children are our most valuable natural resource," declared Herbert Hoover. To the ruling class, children are valuable natural resources like oil, gas, coal, timber, ore, and our tax money.


Woman left a virtual recluse by Tourette's syndrome 'cured' by electrodes implanted in brain

A woman with Tourette's syndrome who suffered such terrible spasms she became a virtual recluse, has been given her life back following pioneering surgery. Jayne Bargent, 55, said she has been effectively cured of the uncontrollable and violent tics that left her unable to read, cook or walk in a straight line.

She had suffered from Tourette's syndrome since childhood but over the past few years medication taken to treat the condition had started to make it worse.

Doctors at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Bloomsbury implanted two tiny electrodes into her brain which were then connected up to a pacemaker battery in her chest.

The battery delivers mild electrical pulses via the electrodes to parts of the brain which control movement. The procedure, known as deep brain stimulation, or DBS, has already proved effective for other movement disorders including Parkinson's.

It is not known exactly how the stimulation works but it is thought to harmonise the electrical circuitry in the brain.

Within an hour of the electrodes being switched on this week, Ms Bargent, from Hampshire, was showing dramatic improvement. Doctors said she would continue to get better over the coming weeks.

She said: 'It's amazing - I just don't feel like the same person. This is going to give me my life back. I've had three years of getting gradually worse and they press a few little buttons and everything improves dramatically.

'We had stopped socialising. I wouldn't eat in front of anyone because the food would fall out of my mouth. I couldn't even lie on the bed to relax if I was having a bad day because I would still be twitching and have pain in my neck. I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life that way. 'But now I'll be able to phone people, go for walks and start riding again. It's going to totally change my life.'

Her partner Mark Trick said: 'I'm astounded by the difference in Jayne. I cannot thank the hospital enough.'

The hospital and the UCL Institute of Neurology are carrying out the UK's first trial to evaluate the impact of DBS on Tourette's, which occurs mainly in childhood. Only a small percentage of sufferers shout inappropriate comments. Most, like Ms Bargent, suffer from involuntary movements.

The trial is taking place at the Unit of Functional Neurosurgery which is backed by the Parkinson's Appeal, the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation and the Monument Trust.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Going to church is good for you: Services lower blood pressure, research finds

This is in line with other reports of longer and healthier lives among the religiously committed, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons particularly

Going to church at Christmas may have been good for the soul, but scientists have discovered that it may also be good for the body. Researchers found that attending services lowers blood pressure – and the more often you go the lower it becomes.

Previous studies in the U.S. suggested the link, but as 40 per cent of Americans regularly go to church its health benefits were treated as a coincidence. So the Norwegian researchers, who had just four per cent of churchgoers among their 120,000 participants, were surprised to see they too had lower blood pressure.

Torgeir Sorensen, from the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Centre at Sykehuset Innlandet said: ‘We found that the more often the participants went to church the lower their blood pressure.

‘Previous research from the United States has shown that there is a possible link between people who attend church and blood pressure. ‘About 40 per cent of the U.S. population goes to church on a weekly basis, while the corresponding figure in Nord-Trondelag County, where the research was carried out, is 4 per cent. 'For that reason, we did not expect to find any correlation between going to church and blood pressure in Nord-Trondelag.

'Our findings, however, are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States, so we were really surprised.’

The early results mean that it will now be studied further to determine the extent that religious beliefs can affect general health, and if other religions have the same effect.

Mr Sorensen added: 'The study of the relationship between religion and health has rarely focused on other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. 'It is therefore difficult to say anything about whether or not this same association can be found in these communities.’

Professor Jostein Holmen from the Faculty of Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and one of the authors of the study, said: ‘The research into lifestyle and health issues mainly comes from the United States, while information from Europe is very limited.

‘Earlier studies have shown a positive correlation between humour and good health, and participation in different cultural activities and good health. ‘It would appear that the data we have been recording about religious beliefs is actually relevant to your health. 'The fact that churchgoers have lower blood pressure encourages us to continue to study this issue. 'We’re just in the start-up phase of an exciting research area.’

However, the type of study which was carried out means that some other explanations may emerge from further research.

He said: ‘Since this is a cross-sectional study, it is not possible to say whether it was a health condition that affected the participants’ religious activity, or whether it was the religious activity that affected the state of participants’ health.

‘A cross-sectional study says something about a group of people at a given time, but can say nothing about causation. 'In order to determine what causes the effect, we need new studies that look at the same people at different times.’

The research was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine.


Overconfident doctors visit mayhem on innocent parents

Taking your child to hospital can leave you open to being accused of causing their injuries

Parents nowadays are inundated with so much well-meaning advice from so many sources, it seems almost impertinent to proffer any more. But they do need to be aware of how to combat the hazards, when taking their children to hospital, of being accused of having caused their injuries.

Six years ago in this column, I described the case of a young couple, Mary and Andrew, who took their four-week-old son, Josh, to hospital after noting while changing his nappy that there was something “funny” about the upper part of his leg. This was duly X-rayed, revealing not just a fractured femur but several more around the growing ends of his bones, or metaphyseal fractures.

The police were summoned and the couple taken to the local station, where they were locked in separate cells and charged with assault and grievous bodily harm. Their son’s injuries, they learnt, were apparently “characteristic” of being deliberately inflicted by violent shaking and wrenching and twisting of the limbs.

Josh, however, was clearly not a battered baby in any commonsensical understanding of the term, being well cared for by affectionate parents and without the slightest hint of the sort of circumstantial evidence – bruising, pain and swelling of the limbs – that might reasonably be expected were these fractures caused by excess physical force.

The pattern of injuries is much more suggestive of some unknown, undiagnosed or overlooked disturbance of bone development in the early weeks of life. But the parents’ protestations of innocence naught availeth against the medical experts and, as with so many others similarly accused, they were convicted and their son taken into foster care.

And so it has gone on, causing more grief and suffering than can be imagined to all concerned – until a landmark trial at the Old Bailey earlier this month involving another young couple, Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas, who were accused of murdering their four-month-old son Jayden. Concerned he was not well, they had initially taken him to casualty at London’s University College Hospital where they were told he had flu, then to their GP three days later, who could find nothing seriously amiss but advised they take him back to hospital – which they duly did.

Soon after, he had a prolonged seizure before lapsing into a coma. Further investigations revealed a fracture of the skull, a number of several metaphyseal fractures, and swelling and bleeding on the surface of the brain. His condition deteriorated further and he was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he died two days later.

The parents were duly charged with having deliberately caused these fatal injuries in the short period between taking him to their GP and then on to hospital for the second time. The implausibility of this scenario, and the suspicion that there might be something else to account for his injuries, was heightened with the surprise finding of the autopsy that he had rickets, the widespread softening of the bones due to vitamin D deficiency.

The trial opened at the beginning of October and ran for six weeks, with 60 medical and professional witnesses giving evidence. The jury heard of the good moral standing of the couple, the lack of circumstantial evidence of neglect, how lack of oxygen during his seizure could have damaged the brain – and, most significantly, how recent research in the United States has confirmed that vitamin D deficiency can indeed result in those “characteristically abusive” metaphyseal fractures.

The case collapsed and, with the charges withdrawn, the couple walked free. No medical experts are going to admit they might have been wrong, for to do so would be to concede that they had been instrumental in so many other miscarriages of justice in the past. But it would be good to think that the outcome at the Old Bailey might finally signal the end of these wrongful accusations – a cheery note on which to close the year.


Fuller coverage of the Wray case here.

An earlier similar case here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Food in Scotland should be laced with vitamin D to stave off MS, experts say

I am surprised that this is not done already. Vitamin D supplementation in butter etc. practically eradicated rickets in the 1940s. Any supplementation should however be clearly identified on the label so that those wishing to avoid the supplement can do so. There are some dangers in high doses of vitamin D

Scotland's food supply should be laced with vitamin D in a bid to cut the high rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the sun-deprived region, experts have said. Scotland has some of the highest MS levels in the world and many experts believe vitamin D deficiency is a contributing factor.

Vitamin D deficiency is caused by a lack of sunlight and for half of the year no one living in Scotland gets enough UBV rays from the the sun on their skin to make adequate levels of the vitamin D, it has been reported.

In addition, many do not eat enough of the foods that contain it, such as oily fish, which has led to international health experts calling for the food supply in the Scotland to be fortified with the vitamin.

Oxford academic Professor George Ebers says the evidence of the link between MS and vitamin D deficiency is so strong it warrants fortifying food with it, the Guardian reported.

Professor Ebers, from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, and his team this month published their findings of a genetic link between MS and an uncommon inability for the body to produce vitamin D.

He told The Guardian: 'Now the question is, can we finally persuade the public health authorities that they should supplement the population?'

There have long been theories that high numbers of people with MS live in areas deprived of sunshine - while low levels of those in countries with year-round sunshine. However, the authors of this new report claim it offers strong scientific evidence. About 10,000 people in Scotland have MS.

Scotland's chief medical officer said this sort of change would only be considered after 'broader scientific consensus'.

Sir Harry Burns told The Guardian: 'It is important to remember that dietary supplements can have harmful as well as positive consequences and recommendations need to be made on the basis of evidential benefit in well conducted randomised studies in large populations. 'Mass medication of the Scottish population without such evidence would be considered irresponsible by the public health community.'

The MS Society in Scotland is championing a campaign launched by a 13-year-old boy whose mother had the disease diagnosed. Shine on Scotland is teenager Ryan McLaughlin's response to vitamin D deficiency. His mother, Kirsten McLaughlin, is very ill in hospital with MS. The campaign has seen Ryan meet with Government officials to appeal for vitamin D-fortified food.

The youngsters father, Alan, revealed that the campaign had persuaded Kellogg's to add the vitamin to cereals.


Viagra touted as life-saving heart treatment - after scientists find it makes heart muscles LESS stiff

Viagra helps ailing hearts to recover in a surprising way - by making them less stiff, scientists have learned.

The drug was first developed as a heart disease treatment - it's more well-known use was simply a lucky side-effect. But now it seems that it might help heart patients after all.

The impotency drug causes too-rigid heart chamber walls to become more elastic.

The drug was initially developed as a heart treatment - but was thought not to work. Now it's surprising 'relaxing' effect might say lives, say scientists

The research explains how Viagra might benefit patients with diastolic heart failure. People with the condition have abnormally inflexible ventricles, the heart's major pumping chambers, that do not fill sufficiently with blood.

This leads to blood ‘backing up’ in the lungs and breathing difficulties. Scientists found that Viagra activates an enzyme that causes a protein in heart muscle cells to relax. The effect was seen in dogs with diastolic heart failure within minutes of the drug being administered.

Study leader Professor Wolfgang Linke, from the Ruhr Universitat Bochum in Germany, said: ‘We have developed a therapy in an animal model that, for the first time, also raises hopes for the successful treatment of patients.’

Viagra has a similar effect on blood vessels, which is why it was originally developed as a treatment for high blood pressure and heart disease. The drug's active ingredient, sildenafil, inhibits an enzyme involved in the mechanism that regulates blood flow. However, the enzyme is slightly different in different parts of the body.

The British scientists behind Viagra found to their initial disappointment that it was not a great help to patients with high blood pressure. But it had a miraculous effect on men with erectile dysfunction.

The drug successfully suppressed the enzyme phosphodiesterase in the penis, increasing blood flow to the organ.

Prof Linke's team found that it worked on the same enzyme in heart cells. This had the effect of causing a cardiac muscle protein called titin to become more elastic. ‘The titin molecules are similar to rubber bands,’ said the professor. ‘They contribute decisively to the stiffness of cardiac walls.’

The research is published today in the journal Circulation.

Almost half of emergency patients admitted to hospital with heart failure have a diastolic condition. Diastolic heart failure affects the ‘diastole’ half of the cardiac cycle, when the heart's chambers have finished contracting and are re-filling with blood.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

How the Mediterranean diet can add 3 years to your life... even if you don't start until you're 70 (?)

A load of old cobblers in the article below. Difficult to know where to start but I was amused to read in the journal abstract (also below) that they got their results by using "a refined version of the modified Mediterranean diet index". First you modify your index then you refine it to get the results you want, apparently.

I was however impressed that they went to great trouble to validate their diet questionnaire. Validation is routine in psychology but rare in medicine. None of the validation methods used would have distinguished Mediterranean from non-Mediterranean diets, however. The authors themselves admit the fallibility of their methods by excluding some "implausible" diet claims from their analysis. One wonders if some bias might have crept into that process.

Anyway, as usual, the results are explicable by social class. Middle class Swedes are more likely to say they eat the "correct" foods (whether they do or not) than working class ones are. And middle class people have better health anyway.

I note also that the failed but indestructible antioxidant theory is invoked.

And finally, how do they explain the fact that a traditional Australian diet is about as "incorrect" as you can get yet Australians live longer than Greeks? There are an amazing number of nonageneraians tottering around Australia who grew up on very fatty food accompanied by a few vegetables that had been boiled to death.

The traditional diet favoured in Greece, Spain and Italy provides a great health boost no matter when you switch. No one doubts that following a Mediterranean diet is the healthy option.

But researchers have calculated the regime could add an extra three years to your life. They say it is a rich source of chemicals called anti-oxidants that fight cancer, heart disease and can slow the ageing process.

Scientists who studied the eating habits of 1,200 over-70s found that those following a Mediterranean-style diet tended to live for two or three years longer. They examined surveys which had been carried out by all the adults on their eating habits.

This contained details of how much fruit, vegetables, cereals, meat and fish they ate as well as how much alcohol they drank.

Elderly men and women have been recruited for the rolling research programme since the 1970s. Those taking part were contacted by researchers every few years to find out about their general health.

The team from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg found participants whose eating habits followed a Mediterranean style diet were 20 per cent more likely to be alive eight years later. They calculated that on average these individuals lived for between two and three years longer than those who had a different eating regime.

The diet was inspired by traditional eating habits of Greece and Southern Italy, hence its name.

Does the Mediterranean diet predict longevity in the elderly? A Swedish perspective

By Gianluca Tognon et al.


Dietary pattern analysis represents a useful improvement in the investigation of diet and health relationships. Particularly, the Mediterranean diet pattern has been associated with reduced mortality risk in several studies involving both younger and elderly population groups. In this research, relationships between dietary macronutrient composition, as well as the Mediterranean diet, and total mortality were assessed in 1,037 seventy-year-old subjects (540 females) information. Diet macronutrient composition was not associated with mortality, while a refined version of the modified Mediterranean diet index showed a significant inverse association (HR=0.93, 95% CI: 0.89; 0.98). As expected, inactive subjects, smokers and those with a higher waist circumference had a higher mortality, while a reduced risk characterized married and more educated people. Sensitivity analyses (which confirmed our results) consisted of: exclusion of one food group at a time in the Mediterranean diet index, exclusion of early deaths, censoring at fixed follow-up time, adjusting for activities of daily living and main cardiovascular risk factors including weight/waist circumference changes at follow up. In conclusion, we can reasonably state that a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet pattern, especially by consuming wholegrain cereals, foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, and a limited amount of alcohol, predicts increased longevity in the elderly.

Age (Dordr). 2011 September; 33(3): 439–450.

Michelle Obama's Unsavory School Lunch Flop

The road to gastric hell is paved with first lady Michelle Obama's Nanny State intentions. Don't take my word for it. School kids in Los Angeles have blown the whistle on the east wing chef-in-chief's healthy lunch diktats. Get your Pepto Bismol ready. The taste of government waste is indigestion-inducing.

According to a weekend report by the Los Angeles Times, the city's "trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop." In response to the public hectoring and financial inducement of Mrs. Obama's federally subsidized anti-obesity campaign, the district dropped chicken nuggets, corn dogs and flavored milk from the menu for "beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads."

Sounds delectable in theory. But in practice, the initiative has been what L.A. Unified's food services director Dennis Barrett plainly concludes is a "disaster." While the Obama administration has showered the nation's second-largest school district with nutrition awards, thousands of students voted with their upset tummies and abandoned the program. A forbidden-food black market -- stoked not just by students, but also by teachers -- is now thriving. Moreover, "(p)rincipals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away."

This despite a massive increase in spending on nutritional improvements -- from $2 million to $20 million alone in the last five years on fresh produce.

This despite a nearly half-billion-dollar budget shortfall and 3,000 layoffs earlier this year.

Earlier this spring, L.A. school officials acknowledged that the sprawling district is left with a whopping 21,000 uneaten meals a day, in part because the federal school lunch program "sometimes requires more food to be served than a child wants to eat." The leftovers will now be donated to nonprofit agencies. But after the recipients hear about students' reports of moldy noodles, undercooked meat and hard rice, one wonders how much of the "free" food will go down the hatch -- or down the drain. Ahhh, savor the flavor of one-size-fits-all mandates.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging our children to eat healthier, of course. There's nothing wrong with well-run, locally based and parent-driven efforts. But as I've noted before, the federal foodie cops care much less about students' waistlines than they do about boosting government and public union payrolls.

In a little-noticed announcement several months ago, Obama health officials declared their intention to use school lunch applications to boost government health care rolls. Never mind the privacy concerns of parents.

Big Government programs "for the children" are never about the children. If they were, you wouldn't see Chicago public school officials banning students from bringing home-packed meals made by their own parents. In April, The Chicago Tribune reported that "unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria." The bottom line? Banning homemade lunches means a fatter payday for the school and its food provider.

Remember: The unwritten mantra driving Mrs. Obama's federal school lunch meddling and expansion is: "Cede the children, feed the state." And the biggest beneficiaries of her efforts over the past three years have been her husband's deep-pocketed pals at the Service Employees International Union. There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more at all costs.

In L.A., the district's cafeteria fund is $20 million in the hole thanks to political finagling by SEIU Local 99. The union's left-wing allies on the school board and in the mayor's office pressured the district to adopt reckless fiscal policies awarding gold-plated health benefits to part-time cafeteria workers in the name of "social justice." As one school board member who opposed the budget-busting entitlements said: "Everyone in this country deserves health benefits. But it was a very expensive proposal. And it wasn't done at the bargaining table, which is where health benefits are usually negotiated. And no one had any idea where the money was going to come from."

Early next year, Mrs. Obama will use the "success" of her child nutrition campaign to hawk a new tome and lobby for more money and power in concert with her husband's re-election campaign. It's a recipe for more half-baked progressivism served with a side order of bitter arugula.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Breastfeeding children 'cuts risk of obesity and diabetes in later life'

Ho hum! This mystical epidemiological knowledge never stops.

I have no doubt that breast feeding is a generally good thing but saying which of the effects described below is due to breast feeding is impossible. There are strong social class effects on breastfeeding, with lower class mothers less likely to do it. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order".

So, in theory, ALL of the differences below could simply be a reflection of the fact that lower class people have generally poorer health and that high IQ people have generally better health

Note further that the study had NO data on whether breastfeeding children cuts the risk of obesity and diabetes in later life. That is just their theory. As the article below says, it is what the authors "believe"

Breastfeeding could help to prevent children developing diabetes and becoming obese later in life, scientists believe. New research shows that breastfed babies follow a different growth pattern to those who drink formula milk, which is likely to have future health benefits.

Breast milk lowers levels of the growth hormone IGF-1 and insulin in the blood, which slows the rate of growth even after the child has started on solid foods. Slower weight gain is known to encourage healthier eating patterns. By contrast, formula milk may increase the production of fat cells, which encourages weight gain throughout childhood.

The findings from LIFE – the Faculty of Life Sciences at Copenhagen University in Denmark – also suggest that the longer the period of breastfeeding, the lower a child’s weight at the age of 18 months.

The results come from analysis of a wider study of diet and wellbeing following 330 children at nine, 18 and 36 months. Anja Lykke Madsen, a member of the research team, said: ‘We can see that breastfeeding has a significant, measurable effect on the important growth regulators in the blood, IGF-I and insulin. The more times the child was breastfed, the lower the hormone levels.

‘This suggests that the child has a slightly lower risk of becoming overweight later in childhood.’ Research shows that breast milk protects babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma, eczema, and allergies, and appears to bring general health advantages in later life. 'The longer the children were breastfed, the lower their weight at 18 months. It’s as simple as that'

More here

Meet the extreme breast-feeders

One uses her nanny as a wet-nurse. Another took drugs to fool her body into producing milk. How the 'breast is best' mantra can become an obsession

Sarah Hastings came across a problem familiar to many new mothers when her daughter was six months old. Desperate as she was to persuade her baby Zoe to take a bottle instead of being breast-fed so she could get back to work, the little girl refused to do so.

What might not be so familiar to other mothers was 46-year-old Sarah’s solution — having another woman suckle her child instead.

Her nanny Mary, who was still breast-feeding her own 18-month-old daughter at the time, was only too happy to step into the breach. ‘With this solution it meant I could get back to work with much less worry and guilt,’ says Sarah, a professional singer married to Martin, a 50-year-old school chaplain.

‘People are astonished when I tell them my child-minder also breast-fed Zoe — but why is that considered so very odd? In previous centuries, wet nursing was very common indeed, especially among the upper classes.’

It may sound strange but in what experts are now calling ‘extreme breast-feeding’, many mothers are going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their babies get the best possible start in life.

Take Cass Fisher, from Epsom, Surrey. Having adopted a ten-month-old girl from India — who until then had spent her entire life feeding from a bottle in a foster home — she was determined to breast-feed her new daughter.

So, months before the adoption had even gone through, she used an electric breast pump four times a day to kick-start milk production. She took herbal supplements known to boost lactation and later, a high dose of a drug called domperidone, which is sometimes given to mothers of newborns because it increases the levels of the breast-feeding hormone prolactin and stimulates lactation.

Then, when her daughter finally arrived, she bought a ‘milk supplementer’ to wean the child from bottle to breast. This £20 contraption is essentially a bottle with an attached tube. It can be filled with either formula or expressed milk by the mother who places the tube over her nipple so that when the baby sucks, it receives milk from both the breast and the bottle.

All this required hours of patience and a fierce determination but Cass, who’s in her mid 40s, insists it was worth it. ‘The benefits are so obvious,’ she stresses. ‘I see my daughter becoming more attached to me and feeling more safe and secure and I know that breast-feeding is a big part of that. It’s a lovely, enjoyable thing for us to share that I never thought I would be able to do with an adopted child.’

Though Cass can only be commended for her perseverance, her decision to trick nature to such a degree is clearly controversial. There are concerns in some quarters about the long-term health risks of tampering with hormone levels, particularly as studies show that some breast cancers are fed by hormones.

‘A woman who has not gone through the hormonal changes of pregnancy is forcing the body to do something it is not prepared for,’ warns Dr Marilyn Glenville, who specialises in natural alternatives to hormone treatments. ‘I always think there could be a consequence to doing something against nature and nobody has done this for long enough to monitor the long-term effects on the mother or baby.’

Breast-feeding counsellor Clare Byam-Cook, meanwhile, is concerned that women are putting themselves under intolerable emotional pressure to nurse a baby against all the odds. Though a passionate advocate for breast-feeding, she is deeply troubled that some are prepared to go to what she describes as ‘extraordinary lengths’ to do it.

‘Women are being brain-washed into thinking that breast-feeding is the only way they will bond with their babies and guarantee their perfect health,’ she says. ‘They feel they must go to these extraordinary lengths — even if it is to the detriment of their baby’s happiness and wellbeing. ‘There’s an entire industry today based around creating breast milk which is not naturally present, and putting even more pressure on women.’

Clare has noticed a rise in adoptive mothers who feel compelled to breast-feed. ‘A few years ago two sisters from London asked me to help them breast-feed their babies, which they had each adopted from America,’ she says.

‘I was astonished to find they were older women in their 50s. They had filled themselves up with hormones and artificial supplements to try to stimulate their milk production but their milk supply was still inadequate and their babies looked miserable and underweight. ‘It was awful watching them desperate to breast-feed and seeing their tiny babies crying and pulling away as they were forced to suck on an empty breast — it must have been torture for all of them.

‘Eventually I suggested they gave the babies a bottle of formula milk, which they immediately gulped down and then fell into a contented sleep for the first time in their young lives.’

Lynn Adams was diagnosed with a condition called mammary hypoplasia after her daughter Mailey, now three, was born. It meant she couldn’t produce enough of her own milk to feed her daughter who, after ten days, was so dehydrated she had to be treated in hospital.

Most mothers would have given up but not 34-year-old Lynn, from Chatham, Kent. She spent £90 on a lactation consultant, and was then prescribed domperidone by her GP to boost her milk supply.

She also used a milk supplementer system while nursing to boost the baby’s consumption.

Occupational therapist Lynn used expressed milk with Mailey, her first child, and, while she found it fiddly and rather time consuming, relished the opportunity it gave her.

‘To me, there is so much more to breast-feeding than just the milk,’ she says. ‘You establish such a close bond and there are so many health benefits to the baby.’

While Lynn, who also used the same method after giving birth to her six-month-old son Robin, is delighted with the results, Clare Byam-Cook is not convinced it would work for everyone.

‘I think that many of the artificial devices are tiring and stressful for a new mother and frequently don’t solve the problem,’ she warns. ‘I cannot see how it can be good for you to fill yourself up with artificial hormones to boost a naturally low milk supply. ‘If breast-feeding isn’t working, I’d much rather women bottle-fed their babies and were relaxed and happy.’

The sad fact is, thought, that for many, turning to a bottle goes hand in hand with a crushing sense of guilt.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why a mushroom omelette could cut pancreatic cancer risk - selenium and nickel-rich diet has a protective effect

The results sound like what one expects of data dredging to me. Not to be taken seriously at this stage. The journal article is here but I can see no mention of how well the patients and controls were matched on (say) social class -- which renders interpretation speculative. I imagine that there are class differences in diet in Spain as elsewhere

High levels of the trace elements selenium and nickel may help cut the risk of deadly pancreatic cancer, according to new research. The elements, which are found in certain foods, appear to offer a protective effect against the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage and kills 80 per cent of people in under a year. Only five per cent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.

The latest study, published in the journal Gut, focused on patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common form of the disease. Researchers found high levels of selenium and nickel could lower the risk whereas high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium could boost the chances of developing the disease.

Nickel influences the amount of iron the body can absorb from food and is thought to be important in making red blood cells.
Good food sources include lentils, oats and nuts.

Selenium plays an important role in immune system function and reproduction and also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues. Good food sources include Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
According to the Department of Health, people should be able to get enough of these elements from their diet.

In today's research, experts assessed 12 trace element levels in the toenails of 118 patients with pancreatic cancer and compared them with 399 hospital patients without cancer.

Levels of certain trace elements were found to be significantly higher or lower among the cancer patients than among those in the comparison group.

Patients with the highest levels of arsenic and cadmium in their nails were between two and 3.5 times more likely to have pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest levels. And those with the highest levels of lead were more than six times as likely to have the disease.

But those with the highest levels of nickel and selenium were between 33 per cent and 95 per cent less likely to have the disease compared with those with the lowest levels.

Foods rich in nickel include asparagus, beans, mushrooms, pears, peas and tea. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs and oily fish like tuna and sardines.

Tobacco contains cadmium, an element that has previously been associated with pancreatic cancer. Studies have also linked arsenic to pancreatic cancer. Overall, smoking is thought to account for around a third of all cases of pancreatic cancer.

The experts, from the US and Spain, said the findings may have an impact on clinical practice in future.

Selenium intake could be tested in clinical trials as a preventative measure for people at high risk of pancreatic cancer, they said. They added: 'Our results support an increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with higher levels of cadmium, arsenic and lead, as well as an inverse association with higher levels of selenium and nickel.

'These novel findings, if replicated in independent studies, would point to an important role of trace elements in pancreatic carcinogenesis.'

Alex Ford, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: 'With 7,600 people being newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, Pancreatic Cancer UK welcomes the publication of these findings, which show that these trace elements might play an important role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

'We hope that the results will encourage the research community to further investigate the role of these and other trace elements with a view to testing whether they could be used in some way to help prevent the development of pancreatic cancer in people who have a high risk of developing the disease.'

Professor Alan Boobis, from the department of medicine at Imperial College London, said: 'Whilst this paper raises some interesting hypotheses regarding the role of trace metals in pancreatic cancer, it is too early to determine where the concern lies.'

He said the results would need to be confirmed again in other studies. 'The decrease in risk from nickel is unexpected and again points to the need for additional information.'


A happier menopause: Hormone pill could ease hot flushes AND it gives your sex life a boost

But there is some indication that taking it may give you cancer!

A hormone pill may help women through the menopause and give their sex lives a boost, claim researchers. Doctors are calling for tests to determine whether it could eventually become an alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal problems.

The call comes after a study showed for the first time that low doses of DHEA, a hormone created in the body, can improve women's sexual satisfaction. It can also ease symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.

Levels of the hormone in the body peak around the age of 25 and extra supplies have to come in the form of tablets, patches or injections used under medical supervision.

Dr John Stevenson, consultant metabolic physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and chairman of the charity Women's Health Concern, said: 'These are interesting findings and we now need a bigger study. 'There is a demand for alternatives to HRT caused by safety fears which have since been overturned.

'But it's not possible yet to know whether DHEA is as safe as HRT or carries more risks, which is why we need larger trials.'

Italian researchers carried out the latest study with 48 women suffering from menopausal symptoms. Of these, 12 took only vitamin D and calcium to improve their bone strength because they did not want HRT.

The remaining 36 were split into a group of 12 taking DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and two others given standard HRT containing oestrogen and progesterone, or the synthetic steroid tibolone, also known as Livial.

The women's menopausal symptoms and sexual interest and activity were then measured using standard questionnaires.

After 12 months, all women receiving hormone-replacement supplements showed improvements in menopausal symptoms, while those taking vitamin D and calcium did not show any significant improvement.

At the start of the trial, all groups had similar levels of sexual activity. After a year, women taking calcium and vitamin D had a McCoy score – measuring aspects of sexuality likely to be affected by changing sex-hormone levels – of 34.9, while those using DHEA reached 48.6.

The higher score indicates that women on DHEA had a statistically significant elevation in sexual interest and activity. The results for women using HRT were similar.

Sexual activity was also higher with tibolone, but this was not statistically significant, says a report in Climacteric, the journal of the International Menopause Society.

Study leader Professor Andrea Genazzani, of the University of Pisa, said: 'This is a small study, a proof of concept. What we need to do now is to look at a larger study, to confirm these initial results are valid.'


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why coffee is GOOD for you and natural sea salt is a waste of money: New book unravels diet and nutrition myths

This book is a step in the right direction but still has a way to go. For instance, it is not the sodium content that is at issue in table salt. It is whether the salt is iodized or not. Sea salt should contain some iodides but mined salt may not. Iodine deficiency can cause serious health problems.

In some countries however (such as Australia) ALL salt sold in the supermarkets is sea salt so people there who make a point of buying salt specifically labelled as sea salt are wasting their money

Any salt can however be iodized by government decree and I gather that most Western countries do that. So that is another reason why buying "sea salt" is pointless

You've bought the 'super-food' a├žai berries, thrown away the 'less healthy' table salt and for years have steered away from 'harmful' MSG.

But your efforts may be in vain. A new book unpicks the veracity of a host of popular food beliefs, delivering verdicts on a swathe of commonly held nutrition myths - and the results are surprising.

Coffee is good for you, by Robert J Davis PhD, aims to deliver an unbiased take on the hard-to-navigate, and constantly growing, ocean of scientific data that is used to sell us our daily bread every day.

Out in January, it is a foray into the ever-vocal, big budget world of diet and nutrition claims, providing a crash-course in how to decipher confusing research.

The constant bombardment of new information - often completely contradictory to that preceding it - means that most of us are none the wiser when it comes to the everyday foods in our lives. As Davis puts it: 'Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion.'

But the health writer, self-styled 'umpire' in the book, is sanguine about the thousands of (often corporately funded) scientific studies in the field, and rather than focusing on isolated findings, has taken into account a wealth of data and statistics, testing each claim on his own 'truth-scale.'

The results, which aim to be the unbiased 'bottom line,' are certainly food for thought.

Take coffee, the inspiration of the book's title. Often associated with an increased risk of heart disease and pancreatic cancer, coffee is also at the mercy of caffeine's bad press. Davis writes that not only do coffee drinkers have no greater risks of heart attacks or strokes, but they 'appear to have a slightly lower risk' than coffee abstainers.

Add to this his evidence that overall, research shows that coffee does not increase the risk of cancer, instead lowering its odds in some cases and the outlook for coffee drinkers is far from all bad.

Just make sure to avoid the blended, sugary, milky hot drinks at some coffee chains - the extra calories from those drinks, he says, are likely to cause more health issues than the coffee itself.

The founder and lecturer at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health explains why it is untrue that carbs make you gain weight - news to many thousands of bread and pasta-shunning women - but also goes on to unravel why it is not true that eating carbohydrates will help you to lose weight.

It may also surprise some that organic foods are not necessarily better for you, or that MSG is in fact not harmful. And, for those who have been happily sprinkling expensive sea salt flakes onto their dishes, ordinary table salt contains the same amount of harmful sodium.

The best way to approach restaurant menus, grocery shopping and, of course, coffee shops, is, Davis says, to embrace ambiguity. Avoid fads and fixations and ignore health claim ads on foods - unlike coffee, nutrition answers are 'not black or white.'

Most of all, he says, enjoy food and drink. 'While following sound nutrition advice is important for your good health, it need not spoil your dinner.'


Ultraviolet rays could prevent chickenpox

And give people skin cancer instead!

ULTRAVIOLET rays could help prevent the spread of the common childhood disease chickenpox.

New research suggests people in temperate zones are more at risk of catching the disease. It is hoped the research will lead to new ways of preventing chickenpox and its more severe relative, shingles.

Dr Phil Rice, a virologist at the University of London, found chickenpox was much less common in places with high UV ray levels.

UV light is known to deactivate some viruses, and Dr Rice believes his findings show UV rays could deactivate the varicella-zoster virus - responsible for chickenpox and shingles - on the skin before it transmits to another person.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'You're bordering on obese': What active 7-year-old girl was told by British busybodies

She is a budding gymnast and table tennis player who often comes home with bruises on her knees after rough-and-tumble games with her friends. So Libbie Boardman’s parents were shocked to be told that their active, healthy seven-year-old had been classified as ‘borderline obese’.

She and her classmates had their height and weight measured by NHS staff to calculate their body mass index as part of a scheme aimed at cracking down on childhood obesity. But several parents have reacted with outrage at the results, saying they are clearly misleading – and could result in their children developing eating disorders.

Libbie’s father, Paul Boardman, said: ‘I do not know how they can be saying that she is overweight. ‘You just have to look at her to think, “Where the heck have they got that from?”’

For adults, BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. The calculation for children begins the same way, but the result is then compared with those of others of the same age and sex to calculate the child’s ‘centile’ – or position relative to others on a scale of one to 100.

Libbie, who is 4ft 2in tall and weighs 5st 5lb, was described as being at the top end of the overweight category by NHS Bolton, bordering on clinically obese. She has a BMI ‘centile’ of 97 – meaning she is in the top 3 per cent. Between 91 and 97 is classed as overweight, and 98 and above is clinically obese.

Her parents were sent the results in a letter, along with a booklet of healthy eating tips.

They took her to her GP, who said the numbers were right but that there was nothing to worry about as Libbie was perfectly healthy.

Mr Boardman, 43, said: ‘She has been saying things like she does not want any tea. ‘But I said “Don’t be silly”. She doesn’t have junk food, just the odd treat now and again. She is active and is what I would describe as a rough-and-tumble type.’

Critics have pointed out that crude interpretation of BMI figures ignores differences in build.

Mr Boardman, a window cleaner who also has a 13-year-old daughter, Sophie, with his office manager wife Louise, said the scheme should be scrapped. ‘If they are going to do it, they need to tailor it to the individual,’ said Mr Boardman, of Farnworth, Greater Manchester.

There are understood to have been at least four complaints about the scheme from parents of children at Highfield Primary School in Farnworth, which Libbie attends.

The initiative was launched in a bid to tackle the high obesity rate in parts of Bolton, where one in three youngsters are overweight when they reach the age of 11.

NHS Bolton said BMI had been found to be the most appropriate way to judge a child’s weight and took into account their age and sex. But a spokesman admitted: ‘A few children might show up as underweight or overweight when they are actually perfectly healthy.’


Finnish officials mull taking children into care over low-carb diet

If there is clear evidence of harm to the children this could be justified but not otherwise. Eslimos live on a similar diet with no evidence of harm

Finnish officials have told a family of low-carbohydrate enthusiasts that their children would be taken into care if they failed to heed nutrition advice, provincial paper Iisalmen Sanomat reported Sunday.

Ursula Schwab, a clinical nutrition specialist at the University of East Finland, said at least one family had received such an ultimatum after parents ignored healthcare staff's warnings about the dangers of an imbalanced diet for children.

"If a child's growth slows down because of a poor diet, one must send a wakeup call to parents," Schwab told the Finnish News Agency. "Should this prove ineffective, the child must be moved to a place where he receives enough nutrition."

Schwab added that she knew of parents who had put toddlers on so-called low-carb diets. "A strict low-carb diet is very fatty, and it suppresses hunger. If you down eggs and bacon for breakfast it will take hours before you can even imagine eating again."

"A growing child needs a varied diet."


Monday, December 19, 2011

Daily dose of Vitamin B 'can fight memory loss and help protect against Alzheimer's' (?)

This appears to be an unpublished study carried out by food freaks. It is not even mentioned on the HSIS site. I wouldn't like to vouch for its replicability by more disinterested researchers

A daily dose of vitamin B can dramatically combat memory loss in old age and even protect against Alzheimer's, a study has found. People taking the pill had lower levels of a brain protein known to lead to a rise in the risk of dementia. Researchers found it also slowed mental decline in older people who have slight problems with their memory.

More than 800,000 people in Britain suffer from dementia and the number is forecast to double within a generation, but previous drug trials have been unsuccessful. Around a sixth of people over 70 are thought to suffer from mild cognitive impairment and about half develop dementia, usually within five years of diagnosis.

The research suggested dementia could be treated with a food supplement rather than by taking complicated medicines.

More than 250 people took part in the study, at Oxford University, including people with mild cognitive impairment who were aged 70 years or older. They were given vitamin B - found naturally in food such as beans, meat, wholegrains and bananas - or a placebo over a two-year period. Taking the food supplement appeared to help maintain mental processes, such as planning, organising and recalling information.

An earlier study showed B vitamins slowed the rate of brain shrinkage compared with a group receiving a placebo.

Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Health Supplements Information Service told the Daily Express: 'The findings from these two reports should be of interest to clinicians.'


Two deaths from brain-eating amoeba linked to sinus remedy for colds

Rather alarming

A sinus-flushing device used to relieve colds and allergies has been linked to a deadly brain-eating amoeba. Louisiana's state health department issued a warning about neti pots - which look like mini watering cans, that are used by pouring salty water through one nostril.

It follows two recent deaths - a 51-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man from the 'brain-eating amoeba' Naegleria fowleri. It is thought the amoeba entered their brains when they used the devices. Both victims are thought to have used tap water, instead of distilled or sterilised water as recommended by the manufacturers.

Dr Raoult Ratard, Louisiana State Epidemiologist, said: 'If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. 'Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose.'

He added that it is important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.

The very rare infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, health experts said such infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources, such as from an inadequately chlorinated swimming pool or when people irrigate their sinuses with devices like neti pots.

According to The Department of Health and Hospitals in Louisiana, the amoeba causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.

In its early stages, symptoms may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis and can include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.

A spokesman from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Louisiana cases are still being investigated.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Children whose father smoked at time of conception have 15% greater risk of developing leukaemia

This is almost certainly a social class effect. Smoking is correlated with all indices of social disadvantage and the poor are less healthy anyhow so it is most likely poverty rather tham smoking that creates the association with leukaemia

Children whose fathers smoke around the time of their conception have a 15 per cent higher risk of developing the most common form of childhood cancer, a type of leukemia, say researchers. The study credits a number of factors in children developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and follows others that have also found an increased risk.

'Study results suggest that heavier paternal smoking around the time of conception is a risk factor for childhood ALL,' wrote researchers led by Elizabeth Milne at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Australia. The findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Although ALL is the most common childhood cancer, it is still rare, affecting about three to five children out of every 100,000. The researchers surveyed the families of nearly 300 children with ALL, asking about the smoking habits of both parents. They also compared these families to those of more than 800 children of similar ages who did not have leukemia.

The mothers' smoking behaviour had no impact on the children's risk of developing the cancer, but children whose fathers smoked at all around the time of their conception were 15 per cent more likely to develop leukemia. Those whose fathers smoked at least 20 cigarettes per day around that same time were 44 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

Of nine earlier reports the researchers used in their comparison with the current study, six also found an increased risk.

'The importance of tobacco exposure and children's cancers has been overlooked until recently,' said Patricia Buffler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study. She added that since tobacco is full of toxins, including carcinogens, it was possible that there could be damage in the cells that produce sperm.

Milne agreed, noting: 'Sperm containing DNA (damage) can still reach and fertilize an ovum, which may lead to disease in the offspring.'

But she added that the study did not prove that DNA damage in the sperm caused ALL in the children, since the disease was likely to be caused by a number of factors. Other environmental factors tied to a greater chance of developing childhood leukemia are ionizing radiation such as x-rays, and the mother's exposure to paint or pesticides while pregnant.


Iron supplements 'could help stave off DVT and other life-threatening blood clots'

This concerns people with one particular disease only. It may have no application to others

Iron supplements could be used to prevent deep vein thrombosis and other life-threatening blood clots, new research shows.

Each year, one in 1,000 people in Britain is affected by clots that form in the veins, and scientists now believe the risk could rise in those with a lack of iron. DVT is often associated with long distance air travel and other situations that involve being immobile for long periods of time.

Clots frequently form in the legs causing painful swelling and, in some cases, a danger that lumps of blood will dislodge and travel to the lungs with fatal results.

Researchers at Imperial College London studied 609 patients with blood vessel disease haemorrhagic telangiectasia, who have a higher risk of blood clots. They found that this increased risk disappeared when the HHT sufferers took iron supplements. Many of the patients had low iron levels, because of iron loss through excessive bleeding - a symptom of HHT.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that a blood-iron level of six micromoles per litre compared with the normal mid-range figure of 17 micromoles led to a 2.5-fold increase in venous thrombosis risk.

Lead researcher Dr Claire Shovlin, from the university's National Heart and Lung Institute, said: 'Our study shows that in people with HHT, low levels of iron in the blood is a potentially treatable risk factor for blood clots. 'There are small studies in the general population which would support these findings, but more studies are needed to confirm this. 'If the finding does apply to the general population, it would have important implications in almost every area of medicine.'

Iron deficiency anaemia is thought to affect at least one billion people worldwide. Its association with clotting may have been missed before because blood iron levels fluctuate during the day. Other markers of iron deficiency can go unnoticed if certain medical conditions are present.

The scientists said that obtaining reliable data depended on consistent timing of blood samples.

Low iron levels were associated with higher levels of Factor VIII, a blood protein which promotes normal clotting. This in turn was a strong risk factor for blood clots. Making the blood clot more easily after losing iron might be an evolutionary trick to aid survival, suggested Dr Shovlin.

She added: 'We can speculate that in evolutionary terms, it might be advantageous to promote blood clotting when your blood is low in iron, in order to prevent further blood loss'.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Widowers 'need to find a new partner to stave off mental illness'

Or is it that the mentally unstable have more trouble finding a partner?

Finding love again after the death of a partner really can help heal a broken heart and stave off mental illness, scientists claim. New findings reveal that widowers who remain single for years after their partners’ death are more likely to succumb to mental illness.

Swedish researchers say that men who managed to find a new partner were more likely to move on and recover from their grief.

However, those who remained alone were at ‘far greater’ risk of conditions such as depression, anxiety or insomnia, and were also more likely to use anti-depressants or sleeping pills.

The study was the first of its kind to look at how losing a long-term partner affects men, with previous research on widows already establishing the increased risk of mental and physical illness among those who struggle to move on.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg questioned almost 700 men who’d lost their wives to cancer.

Results showed that widowers who’d found a new partner four or five years after the death of their wives ‘managed to deal with their loss relatively well.’

Study author Professor Gunnar Steineck, whose work was supported by the Swedish Cancer Society, said: 'Previous studies have shown that people who lose their partner are at greater short-term poor mental health.

'Our study is the first to show that the risk of poor mental health last for many years but, on the average, the risk is restricted to those who don’t find a new partner.'

Asked if the results proved that ‘love heals’ he said: 'We need more research to understand the underlying mechanisms, but yes, emotional support from a new partner does probably help to process grief and protect against mental illness.

'But it could also be the case that those men who cope best with their loss are more likely to show an interest in finding a new partner.'


NTSB Recommends Useless National Ban on All Mobile Phone Use while Driving

The war on cellphones continues

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday called on all states to ban “the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.” This was in response to a August 2010 three-collision accident in Missouri involving two school buses traveling in a convoy, a pickup, and a truck-tractor. The accident killed two people and injured 38. It went like this:

Collision 1: The pickup driver, who was engaging in a text-message conversation, rear-ended the truck-tractor after failing to notice that it had slowed or stopped.

Collision 2: The first school bus, whose driver was distracted by a passenger bus pulled over on the side of the road, then struck the pickup, killing the pickup driver.

Collision 3: The second school bus, following the first bus too closely, was unable to stop in time to avoid the collision, killing a high school student seated in the rear of the first bus.

There were multiple factors involved: the pickup driver was distracted by his cell phone, the pickup driver was fatigued, the first school bus driver was distracted by the other passenger bus on the side of the road, and the second school bus driver failed to follow at a safe distance. However, it was the inattention and unsafe behavior of the school bus drivers that ultimately resulted in fatalities, and these collisions involved external, rather than internal factors. It is worth noting that at the time of the accident, Missouri had a law on the books that banned texting while driving for drivers under 21. The texting driver of the pickup was 19 years old.

After studying the causes of the accident, NTSB issued a number of recommendations, one of which is garnering a significant amount of media attention: calling on the states to institute bans that would include texting while driving, use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving, and use of a hands-free mobile phone while driving.

Distracted driving is certainly a problem, although it is not responsible for as many fatalities and injuries as drunk driving, speeding, or aggressive driving [Figure 7]. But calling on states to institute bans on cell phone use will do little to reduce distracted-driving deaths. First, these bans are extremely difficult to enforce, particularly if the driver is using a hands-free device. Second, most distracted driving accidents are not caused by cell phone use. In fact, drivers distracted by conversations with passengers is a factor in far more crashes than cell phone use [Figure 1].

Obviously the NTSB isn’t going to call for bans on speaking in motor vehicles or isolating the driver from the rest of the cab with soundproofing technology. But there are plenty more potential internal distractions to worry about: watching your kids in the backseat through the rear-view mirror, reading a map, eating and drinking, smoking, grooming, adjusting the stereo, using a navigation device, adjusting climate controls, retrieving objects from seats or the floor, etc.

All of these internal distraction factors are primarily or partially responsible for some accidents. Rather than instituting bans on what drivers may or may not be doing inside their automobiles, licensing and testing authorities ought to be educating drivers on safe driving behaviors. Multitasking while driving naturally increases crash risk, but does anyone for a minute believe that prohibiting all multitasking (whatever that even means) would be enforceable or even beneficial?

But even if distraction bans could be enforced, they likely wouldn’t work. According to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, hardly a pro-distraction outfit, state bans on hand-held phone use while driving do not reduce crash risk [PDF] and state bans on texting while driving may actually increase crash risk [PDF]. “[C]learly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

The move by NTSB is clearly political and lacks any rational basis. Given their limitations and not wanting to appear useless, as is often the case for nanny state bureaucrats, they must do “something” — even if that “something” will fail to achieve what its backers claim. If states are serious about improving highway safety, they ought to ignore NTSB’s recommended bans and work on improving their driver education programs. NTSB’s handwaving is nothing more than a distraction from a very serious issue.