Monday, December 31, 2012

Half the Facts You Know Are Probably Wrong

Old truths decay and new ones are born at an astonishing rate

Dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Increased K-12 spending and lower pupil/teacher ratios boost public school student outcomes. Most of the DNA in the human genome is junk. Saccharin causes cancer and a high fiber diet prevents it. Stars cannot be bigger than 150 solar masses.

In the past half-century, all of the foregoing facts have turned out to be wrong. In the modern world facts change all of the time, according to Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (Current).

Fact-making is speeding up, writes Arbesman, a senior scholar at the Kaufmann Foundation and an expert in scientometrics, the science of measuring and analyzing science. As facts are made and remade with increasing speed, Arbesman is worried that most of us don’t keep up to date. That means we’re basing decisions on facts dimly remembered from school and university classes—facts that often turn out to be wrong.

In 1947, the mathematician Derek J. de Solla Price was asked to store a complete set of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society temporarily in his house. Price stacked them in chronological order by decade, and he noticed that the number of volumes doubled about every 15 years, i.e., scientific knowledge was apparently growing at an exponential rate. Thus the field of scientometrics was born.

Price started to analyze all sorts of other kinds of scientific data, and concluded in 1960 that scientific knowledge had been growing steadily at a rate of 4.7 percent annually for the last three centuries. In 1965, he exuberantly observed, “All crude measures, however arrived at, show to a first approximation that science increases exponentially, at a compound interest of about 7 percent per annum, thus doubling in size every 10–15 years, growing by a factor of 10 every half century, and by something like a factor of a million in the 300 years which separate us from the seventeenth-century invention of the scientific paper when the process began.”

A 2010 study in the journal Scientometrics, looking at data between 1907 and 2007, concurred: The “overall growth rate for science still has been at least 4.7 percent per year.”

Since knowledge is still growing at an impressively rapid pace, it should not be surprising that many facts people learned in school have been overturned and are now out of date. But at what rate do former facts disappear? Arbesman applies to the dissolution of facts the concept of half-life—the time required for half the atoms of a given amount of a radioactive substance to disintegrate. For example, the half-life of the radioactive isotope strontium-90 is just over 29 years. Applying the concept of half-life to facts, Arbesman cites research that looked into the decay in the truth of clinical knowledge about cirrhosis and hepatitis. “The half-life of truth was 45 years,” he found.

In other words, half of what physicians thought they knew about liver diseases was wrong or obsolete 45 years later. Similarly, ordinary people’s brains are cluttered with outdated lists of things, such as the 10 biggest cities in the United States.

Facts are being manufactured all of the time, and, as Arbesman shows, many of them turn out to be wrong. Checking each one is how the scientific process is supposed to work; experimental results need to be replicated by other researchers. So how many of the findings in 845,175 articles published in 2009 and recorded in PubMed, the free online medical database, were actually replicated? Not all that many. In 2011, a disquieting study in Nature reported that a team of researchers over 10 years was able to reproduce the results of only six out of 53 landmark papers in preclinical cancer research.

In 2005, the physician and statistician John Ioannides published “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” in the journal PLoS Medicine. Ioannides cataloged the flaws of much biomedical research, pointing out that reported studies are less likely to be true when they are small, the postulated effect is likely to be weak, research designs and endpoints are flexible, financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest are common, and competition in the field is fierce. Ioannides concluded that “for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.” Still, knowledge marches on, spawning new facts and changing old ones.

Another reason that personal knowledge decays is that people cling to selected “facts” as a way to justify their beliefs about how the world works. Arbesman notes, “We persist in only adding facts to our personal store of knowledge that jibe with what we already know, rather than assimilate new facts irrespective of how they fit into our worldview.” All too true; confirmation bias is everywhere.

So is there anything we can do to keep up to date with the changing truth? Arbesman suggests that simply knowing that our factual knowledge bases have a half-life should keep us humble and ready to seek new information. Well, hope springs eternal.

More daringly, Arbesman suggests, “Stop memorizing things and just give up. Our individual memories can be outsourced to the cloud.” Through the Internet, we can “search for any fact we need any time.” Really? The Web is great for finding an up-to-date list of the 10 biggest cities in the United States, but if the scientific literature is littered with wrong facts, then cyberspace is an enticing quagmire of falsehoods, propaganda, and just plain bunkum. There simply is no substitute for skepticism.

Toward the end of his book, Arbesman suggests that “exponential knowledge growth cannot continue forever.” Among the reasons he gives for the slowdown is that current growth rates imply that everyone on the planet would one day be a scientist. The 2010 Scientometrics study also mused about the growth rate in the number of scientists and offered a conjecture “that the borderline between science and other endeavors in the modern, global society will become more and more blurred.” Most may be scientists after all. Arbesman notes that “the number of neurons that can be recorded simultaneously has been growing exponentially, with a doubling time of about seven and a half years.” This suggests that brain/computer linkages will one day be possible.


Are video games really the villains in our violent age?

The Sandy Hook school massacre has revived concerns about the effects of first-person shooter games, but some of them are actually good for you

The number of aliens you kill may directly contribute to an improvement in your brain. This may not sound like a typical scientific discovery, but it has come from some of the world's finest neuroscience laboratories. In fact, it is the genuine outcome of studies on how action video games can improve your attention, mental control and visual skills. We're talking here about fast-moving titles such as Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, which demand quick reflexes and instant decision-making. They're often portrayed as the most trashy, vapid and empty-headed forms of digital entertainment, but it looks as if they may be particularly good at sharpening your mental skills.

This may come as a surprise if you read much of the popular press, which is often obsessed with technological scare stories. Scientific evidence has been less media-friendly but considerably more convincing. We now have numerous studies on how playing action computer games, as opposed to puzzle or strategy titles such as The Sims or Tetris, leads to an improvement in how well we pay attention, how quickly we react, how sensitive we are to images and how accurately we sort information. Crucially, these studies are not just focused on people who already play a lot of video games, but are testing whether action video game training genuinely leads to improvements.

The studies use randomised controlled trials. It is a method normally used to test medications, but it can be applied to anything. In this case, a group of people are randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half get the "treatment", perhaps blasting away at enemy combatants in Medal of Honor, while the others get the "placebo" – for example, managing a digital family in The Sims 3. Reliably, those assigned to play the fast-moving action games show improvements on neuropsychological tests that measure the ability to process quickly and react to visual information. It's worth saying that these conclusions were thrown into doubt in 2011 when several scientists, led by Walter Boot from Florida State University, suggested that these findings may be due to poor experimental design, but subsequent and better planned studies have continued to find a positive effect.

Another aspect of the game debate concerns the impact of violent video games. This has become a matter of public anxiety again in light of the tragic Sandy Hook killings after the gunman was identified as being a fan of first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty. It's worth saying that such appalling events are not a good basis for science, simply because the popularity of this form of entertainment makes it difficult to attribute any form of link between their use and statistically rare individuals. This does not, however, mean that the issue itself is not important and worthy of study – and it has, in fact, been researched widely.

Also using randomised controlled trials, research has found that violent video games cause a reliable short-term increase in aggression during lab-based tests. However, this seems not to be something specific to computer games. Television and even violence in the news have been found to have a similar impact. The longer-term effects of aggressive gaming are still not well studied, but we would expect similar results from long-term studies of other violent media – again a small increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviour in the lab.

These, however, are not the same as actual violence. Psychologist Christopher Ferguson, based at the Texas A&M International University, has examined what predicts genuine violence committed by young people. It turns out that delinquent peers, depression and an abusive family environment account for actual violent incidents, while exposure to media violence seems to have only a minor and usually insignificant effect. This makes sense even in light of horrifying mass shootings. Several of the killers did play video games, but this doesn't distinguish them from millions of non-violent young men. Most, however, had a previous history of antisocial behaviour and a disturbed background, something known to be much more common in killers.

Perhaps the most telling effect of video games concerns not what they involve but how much time someone spends playing them. A helpful study on the effect of giving games consoles to young people found that, while the gaming had no negative impact on core abilities, school performance declined for those kids who put aside homework for screen entertainment. Similarly, a significant amount of research has found that putting aside exercise for the physical inactivity of video games raises the risk of obesity and general poor health.

And while "addiction" is now the pop psychology label of choice for anything that someone does to excess (sex, video games, shopping), the same behaviour could just as easily, and more parsimoniously, be described as a form of avoidant or unhelpful coping. Rather than dealing with uncomfortable life problems, some people avoid them by absorbing themselves in other activities, leading to an unhelpful cycle where the distractions end up maintaining the problems because they're never confronted. This can apply as easily to books as video games.

The verdict from the now considerable body of scientific research is not that video games are a new and ominous threat to society but that anything in excess will cause us problems. The somewhat prosaic conclusion is that moderation is key – whether you're killing aliens, racing cars or trying to place oddly shaped blocks that fall from the sky.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Long term studies tell us mainly about the middle class

The authors below put a brave face on their findings, saying that "qualitative" findings persist but numbers are the stuff of science and they change the longer the study lasts  -- with mostly middle class patients staying in lengthy studies. 

That pesky social class again!  It is second only to age for wide-ranging health effects yet is more often than not ignored in medical research.  So it is refreshing to see one study that does look at it  -- albeit that the findings are unsurprising.
Loss to Follow-up in Cohort Studies: Bias in Estimates of Socioeconomic Inequalities

By Howe, Laura D. et al.


Background: Although cohort members tend to be healthy and affluent compared with the whole population, some studies indicate this does not bias certain exposure-outcome associations. It is less clear whether this holds when socioeconomic position (SEP) is the exposure of interest.

Methods: As an illustrative example, we use data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We calculate estimates of maternal education inequalities in outcomes for which data are available on almost the whole cohort (birth weight and length, breastfeeding, preterm birth, maternal obesity, smoking during pregnancy, educational attainment). These are calculated for the full cohort (n~12,000) and in restricted subsamples defined by continued participation at age 10 years (n∼7,000) and age 15 years (n∼5,000).

Results: Loss to follow-up was related both to SEP and outcomes. For each outcome, loss to follow-up was associated with underestimation of inequality, which increased as participation rates decreased (eg, mean birth-weight difference between highest and lowest SEP was 116 g [95% confidence interval = 78 to 153] in the full sample and 93 g [45 to 141] and 62 g [5 to 119] in those attending at ages 10 and 15 years, respectively).

Conclusions: Considerable attrition from cohort studies may result in biased estimates of socioeconomic inequalities, and the degree of bias may worsen as participation rates decrease. However, even with considerable attrition (>50%), qualitative conclusions about the direction and approximate magnitude of inequalities did not change among most of our examples. The appropriate analysis approaches to alleviate bias depend on the missingness mechanism.

Epidemiology: January 2013 - Volume 24 - Issue 1 - p 1–9

Statins have helped slash British heart attack deaths, "Experts say"

This is just faith.  There is no way of separating out statin effects from other effects mentioned below.  Wider use of aspirin  and other clotbusting drugs could be major factors, for instance

Statins have played a significant role in slashing the number of deaths from heart attacks by half.  The 'wonderdrug' can reduce cholesterol and protect against a host of chronic illnesses.

Experts have said the drug has contributed to the saving of millions of lives over the past ten years.

Between 2002 and 2010 the death rate in men fell dramatically from 78.7 per 100,000 to 39.2, figures show.  In comparison, the death rate among women fell from 37.3 to 17.7, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Professor Peter Weissburg, medical director of the foundation, told the Daily Express: 'Around 50 per cent fewer people are having heart attacks in the first place and statins play a big part on primary and secondary intervention.  'Until statins came along we didn't have drugs that were effective and safe.'

Every day eight million people in the UK take various statins, which cost as little as 40p a day.

Simvastatin is the most frequently prescribed one; last year GPs gave out almost three million prescriptions for it in England alone.

Their widespread use, combined with healthier lifestyles, has led to far fewer people having heart attacks.

Mr Weissburg added: 'The fall in the number of deaths from heart attacks has actually been dropping for the past 20 years and some of that is to do with lifestyle'.

Mr Weissburg said fewer people smoking, better control of blood pressure and better treatment for those who have suffered a heart attack, as well as statins, have contributed to the fall.

The success of statins in combating fatal heart attacks has led to some doctors calling for everyone over 50 to be prescribed the pills.

They protect against heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, as well as some cancers.

In November it was reported that thousands of people taking a common statin were to have their dose reduced over fears of side effects.

Side effects can include insomnia, bowel problems, headaches and loss of sensation or pain in the hands and feet.

The medicines regulator warned that patients taking one particular type - simvastatin - at the same time as other drugs used to reduce high blood pressure were likely to suffer more muscle aches and pains.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Wonder of wonders!  Epidemiological caution

All the things I would have said about this finding are said in the article itself!

An over-the-counter health supplement commonly taken by older people to keep joints supple could help them live longer, research indicates.

Glucosamine could have similar protective properties to aspirin, believe US researchers, but without the chance of developing stomach ulcers that comes with taking the latter.

In an observational study of 77,500 people over 50, they found those taking glucosamine were 13 per cent less likely to die over an eight-year period, than those who did not.

Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle believe the supplement might have protective anti-inflammatory properties.

However, writing in the European Journal of Epidemiology, they said there was only “limited evidence” this was the case.

Their study indicated those on glucosamine were 13 per cent less likely to die of cancer and 41 per cent less likely to die of respiratory disease, than those who did not.

They wrote: “Although bias cannot be ruled out, these results suggest that glucosamine may provide some mortality benefit.”

The study results were adjusted to try to take account of factors that could skew the results, such as age, gender, whether people smoked and social class.

However, it is possible that glucosamine has no real life-protective properties, and what the results actually show is that people who take glucosamine tend to take better general care of themselves.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that aspirin protects against a range of cancers, but this evidence does not at present exist for glucosamine.

Sarah Williams, from Cancer Research UK, said: “This is an interesting study, but it can’t tell us for sure if the glucosamine supplements themselves were responsible for the difference in death rates, or whether it could be explained by something else.  For example, people who take supplements might have generally healthier lifestyles than people who don’t.

"This kind of research will need to be repeated in other large groups of people to know more about any effects of glucosamine supplements on our health.”


Supermarket meals healthier?

Cookery programmes featuring the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson should not be shown before the 9pm watershed because their meals are so unhealthy, say doctors.

Researchers found celebrity recipes contain more calories and fat than supermarket ready meals, and less fibre.  Neither dishes by the likes of Jamie, Nigella, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Lorraine Pascale, nor own-brand meals from leading supermarket chains, were healthy, according to a study by Newcastle University researchers.

They looked at the nutrient content of 100 recipes randomly selected from five of the chefs' books - two were by the ubiquitous Jamie - and compared them to 100 pre-made meals from Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

On average, the chefs’ meals contained 605 calories, while the supermarket meals contained only 494.  They contained about 50 per cent more fat - 27.1g per serving, compared to 17.1g - and about half the fibre, 3.3g rather than 6.5g.

The only measure where the chefs’ recipes were healthier was in terms of being less salty, containing 1.65g of salt compared to 2.00g.

So unhealthy were the chefs' meals as a whole that the authors of the study, published online in the British Medical Journal, thought broadcasters should consider only showing them late in the evening.

They wrote: “In the United Kingdom advertisements of foods classified as high in fat, salt, or sugar are prohibited during programming likely to appeal to children, and a 9pm watershed for advertising such foods has been advocated.  “No restrictions apply to the content of programmes with television chefs. For consistency, the nutritional content of all food portrayed on television, including that in programmes with television chefs, should be considered.”

For 15 years Jamie Oliver has striven to convince people of the health benefits of cooking their own food, so it is perhaps surprising that his recipes have received a red warning from experts.

Taken from two of his books - Ministry of Food and 30 Minute Meals - they made up 47 of the 100 celebrity chef recipes.  They included one dish - Cauliflower Macoroni - that contains a whopping 1,100 calories per serving, about half an adult’s daily intake. It also contains 58g of fat, roughly three-quarters of a person’s daily need.

A recipe for braised pork by Nigella Lawson - who has never made a secret her love of rich food - contained 1,340 calories.

Wholesome Hugh tended to have the healthiest of the chefs’ recipes, with many rich in vegetables.   But even his contained a blow-out dish, Gill’s poached lee and Dorset Blue Vinny Tart, coming in at a weighty 1,1178 calories a portion.

The authors wrote: “This study shows that neither recipes created by popular television chefs nor ready meals produced by three leading UK supermarket chains meet national or international nutritional standards for a balanced diet.”

Martin White, professor of public health at Newcastle University, said he and his team were “a little surprised” to see the television chefs’ recipes were less healthy.  He said: “The Government says that processed ready meals should not be eaten too often and meals should preferably be cooked from scratch.  “So we thought it would be interesting to see what the evidence actually showed.”

It was important that celebrity chefs cooked healthy meals, he said.  “They have become immensely popular over the years. I can’t help but believe that, with millions of viewers, they don’t have some sort of influence over our eating habits.”

Prof White admitted to being “in two minds” about suggesting their programmes being restricted to after the watershed, but said moves had to be made to tackle Britain’s obesity epidemic.

Studies showed that restricting advertising of high salt, fat and sugar foods during children’s programmes had proved “ineffective overall”, so perhaps tougher measures were needed, he indicated.

At a minimum the chefs should include nutritional information in their cookery books so readers could decide how healthy they were, he said.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Regularly using Facebook correlates  with eating "unhealthy" snacks

Maybe this finding shows only that fat people are more friendly.  I think they are

Researchers found those who socialised regularly with their friends on the networking website had higher levels of self-esteem but lower levels of self-control.

This meant they were more likely to snack on unhealthy food once they had logged off - particularly if they had been chatting with close friends.

The team from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh suggested it was this factor that could be driving weight gain rather than by encouraging users to be sedentary.

Writing in the Journal of Consumer Research, they explained: 'Using online social networks can have a positive effect on self-esteem and well-being. However, these increased feelings of self-worth can have a detrimental effect on behaviour.

'Because consumers care about the image they present to close friends, social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem leads them to display less self-control after browsing a social network.'

The scientists used five experiments on the behaviour of Facebook users to see how it affected them when they were offline.

The studies suggested there was a link between the use of the website and poor self-control over what they ate and how much money they spent.

They found people who used Facebook to contact their friends were more likely to binge eat and be overweight. They also had higher levels of credit card debt.

The same was not true of people who focused on 'weak ties' - people they were less familiar with.

The findings have far-reaching implications as Facebook now has over one billion active users, which is one in seven of the world's population.

'These results are concerning given the increased time people spend using social networks, as well as the worldwide proliferation of access to social networks anywhere anytime via smartphones and other gadgets,' the authors said.

'Given that self-control is important for maintaining social order and personal well-being, this subtle effect could have widespread impact.

'This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who are the heaviest users of social networks and have grown up using social networks as a normal part of their daily lives.'


Feeling a bit stuffed? Your meal yesterday was the healthiest you'll eat all year

A counterblast to the usual message of doom.  I doubt that the generalizations offered are all well-founded but nor are almost all of the prophecies of doom

Yesterday’s blowout may have left you splayed on the sofa with a tum you fear will take January in the gym to work off.

But despite its button-bursting reputation, your Christmas dinner could actually have done you no end of good.

The meal takes some of our healthiest seasonally available foods and combines them with goodness-packed spices from the store cupboard.

In fact, what you eat at this time of year is a classic celebration of the best nutrition available in Britain’s darkest months.

Here, we reveal how Christmas foods will keep you hale and hearty long after the spinster aunts have gone home.

So raise a glass to the knowledge that enjoying them all in sensible moderation — or in moderate moderation at least (it is the season of goodwill, after all) — will keep you going through the bleak midwinter.

Much more HERE

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dark chocolate inhibits blood clotting

This appears to have been a transient effect and used a "specially enriched" chocolate

Having a piece of chocolate a day - not just at Christmas - could be the secret to staying heart healthy, according to scientists at the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.

Lead researcher Dr Baukje de Roos, from the Rowett Institute, said: ‘It’s an acute effect in the body that men and women both benefit from, but it’s more diluted in women.

‘These findings are not a carte blanche to eat chocolates as they are extremely rich in fat and sugar.

‘But probably eating a little bit of dark chocolate containing at least 70 per cent cocoa every day is going to do more good than harm,’ she added.

The scientists from the Rowett, who joined together with the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, studied what happened in the blood of 42 healthy volunteers, 26 women and 16 men, after they ate dark chocolate specially boosted with cocoa extract.

They were investigating the effect on blood clotting, the result of over-activity of platelets that stick together blocking blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Compounds called flavanols which are found in cocoa, tea and apples, appear have a beneficial effect on platelet function - and they are higher in cocoa-rich chocolate.

The platelet function of people eating the enriched dark chocolate was compared with platelet function in those who had eaten dark chocolate - with a lower cocoa and flavanol content - and white chocolate.

Blood and urine samples were taken and then analysed two hours and six hours after chocolate consumption.

The scientists were looking at a range of platelet function tests such as platelet activation - a reversible process where platelets are starting to get stressed and sticky - and platelet aggregation - an irreversible process when sticky platelets clump together.

They discovered the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly decreased both platelet activation and aggregation in men, but only cut platelet aggregation in women. The strongest effects were seen two hours after the chocolate had been eaten, says a report published in Molecular Nutrition Food Research.

Researchers also measured bleeding time - which shortens as platelets become stickier.

They found that the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly increased bleeding time after six hours in both men and women, possibly caused by the metabolites that our bodies produce from flavanols.

Dr Baukje de Roos, said: ‘Cocoa is a rich source of flavanols and we already knew that flavanols can stop platelets sticking together but we didn’t know how they did this.

‘It was especially interesting to see that both men and women had improvements in their platelet function, but in different ways.

‘The strength of the effects seem to be more pronounced in men.

'Our study found that compounds deemed responsible for the beneficial effects, flavanols and their metabolites, are appearing in the blood stream and in our urine within hours of consumption, and are having a positive impact on platelet function effects.’

But the effects probably wear off quite quickly, lasting perhaps no longer than two days, which means people wanting to get consistent benefits need to take a daily dose.

‘We hope that our findings could ultimately help with the development of healthier foods and food supplements,’ added Dr de Roos.

Among health benefits from chocolate are a drop in the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to the biggest review ever carried out last year, based on healthy people eating at least two pieces a week.

Previous research shows eating chocolate reduces blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.


Baldness cure could be on shelves in two years

If this were right, asthmatics should all have lots of hair

 A hair lotion that cures baldness could be on the market within two years, believe scientists.

 They are already talking with pharmaceutical firms about making the product, which would work by stopping the effects of a single guilty enzyme.

 US-based dermatologists announced earlier this year that they had found that an enzyme, called prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), instructed follicles to stop producing hair.

 They identified it by screening 250 genes implicated in hair loss.

 George Cotsarelis, head of dermatology at Pennsylvania University, said the one responsible for levels of PGD2 played “the major role”.

 He said he was now talking with several drugs firms about creating the anti-baldness product.

Drugs are already available that reduce PGD2 levels, as it has been implicated in asthma, holding out the hope that developing a related product for baldness could be speedy.

 About four in five men will experience some degree of baldness by the age of 70. In bald patches follicles are still making hairs, but less well than before. The hairs get shorter and shorter until they are either barely visible or do not even break the skin’s surface.

 Cotsarelis and colleagues found that in 17 men with hair loss, PGD2 levels were three times higher in bald spots than in hairy areas.

 When the original study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine in March, he said: “We really do think if you remove the inhibition [caused by PGD2}, you get longer hair.”

 He said the finding raised the possibility of not only stopping hair loss, but of bald men also being able to regrow full heads of hair.

 Des Tobin, director of the centre for skin sciences at Bradford University, described the advance as “a big step forward”.

 He said: “I can’t see why we won’t soon be able to intervene to prevent hair loss.”


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Typical Christmas Day meal condemned

Under conventional but wrong assumptions -- e.g., about salt

 Feasting on Christmas Day could see the average person eating the equivalent of half a pack of lard in saturated fat and as much salt as would be found in 50 packets of crisps, the British Heart Foundation has warned.

 In a survey, the charity asked 2,000 people who celebrate Christmas what they eat and drink over the festive period.

 They found that for many people, the Christmas indulgence starts before the turkey is even in the oven.

 More than one in 10 choose a full English breakfast for Christmas morning, with 14% opting for a bacon sandwich.

 The typical fried breakfast contains around 1,200 calories, and a bacon sandwich with brown sauce can contain over half an adult's recommended daily salt allowance.

 Almost three quarters of those surveyed said they eat a traditional turkey dinner on December 25. With all the trimmings, the typical Christmas meal adds up to 660 calories.

 Over half of people asked said they would follow this with Christmas pudding, with 23% planning to have cream.

 Between meals, 40% said they snacked on nuts and 30% on crisps, both of which are often laden with added salt.

 A third of people will eat at least one mince pie, and over half enjoy chocolates throughout the day.

 Combined with overindulgence at mealtimes, sweet snacks bring the average person's Christmas day sugar intake to the equivalent of 32 teaspoons.

 Christmas is a chance to enjoy a glass of wine or two, but one in 10 people said they drink more than 13 units of alcohol, the equivalent of 13 shots of whisky in one day.

 After breakfast, lunch and dinner on December 25, the British Heart Foundation estimates that the average Briton could have consumed up to 64g of saturated fat, more than double the recommended daily allowance for men, and three times that for women.

 Too much saturated fat can raise a person's risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

 Nearly a quarter of people surveyed admitted that they do absolutely no exercise over the entire Christmas period.

 Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "I'm sure many of us will overindulge on Christmas Day and if that's where it stopped it probably wouldn't make that much difference.

 "But once you've added together the Christmas parties, family gatherings and New Year festivities it's likely that you're eating and drinking much more than recommended.

 "We're not saying you shouldn't have any fun during the Christmas season, but neither your heart nor your waistline will thank you for eating and drinking to excess by the time January arrives."

 The charity recently launched its free 'New Year, New You' packs, containing a range of leaflets with advice on quitting smoking, healthy eating and exercise.

 It hopes to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles in order to lower their risk of developing heart disease.


Cannabis makes pain more bearable instead of reducing it, say scientists

i.e. Cannabis makes you "out of it", which is not a big surprise

Cannabis can make patients feel less bothered about pain, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have found the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis doesn't reduce the intensity of pain, rather it makes it more bearable.

Brain scans revealed the ingredient known as THC, reduced activity in areas linked to the emotional aspects of suffering.

While some patients have found cannabis to relieve chronic pain such as sciatica it has little effect on others, say scientists

While this had a strong relieving effect on some patients, it seemed to make little difference to the pain experienced by others.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Lee, said: 'Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.

'Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.'

Long-term pain, often without clear cause, is a complex healthcare problem. Different approaches are often needed to help patient manage pain, and can include medications, physiotherapy and other forms of physical therapy, and psychological support.

For a few patients, cannabis or cannabis-based medications remain effective when other drugs have failed to control pain, while others report very little effect of the drug on their pain but experience side-effects.

'We carried out this study to try and get at what is happening when someone experiences pain relief using cannabis,' says Dr Lee.

The researchers recruited 12 healthy men for the study. They were given either a 15mg tablet of THC or a placebo. They then had a cream rubbed into their skin to induce pain. Some were given a dummy cream while the rest receiving a chilli cream that caused a burning sensation.

The study was performed three more times, switching one aspect of the test for each volunteer. The patient also had four MRI tests to cover each combination.

'The participants were asked to report the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain: how much it burned and how much it bothered them,' says Dr Lee.

'We found that with THC, on average people didn't report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.'

Of most interest to the researchers was the strength of the connection in individuals between their right amydala and a part of the cortex called the primary sensorimotor area.

The strength of this connection in individual participants correlated well with THC's different effects on the pain that that volunteer experienced.

This suggests that there might be a way of predicting who would see benefits from taking cannabis for pain relief.

'We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods,' says Dr Lee.

Cannabis is a Class B drug, which means it is illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell. While THC can make users feel relaxed it can also cause hallucinations and make people feel paranoid.

The latest study has been published in the journal Pain. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Chicken soup really CAN fight a cold, say some scientists

Chicken soup is good for the soul, they say. And as a homespun remedy for everything that might ail you during winter, there are few things as deliciously soothing.

But could such a broth be more than just a cold comfort? According to the latest scientific study, the answer is yes.

Research in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that a compound found in chicken soup – carnosine – helped the body’s immune system to fight the early stages of flu.

But the authors warned this benefit ended as soon as the soup was excreted by the body, so that means you may need to have a fairly constant supply.

The study wasn’t the first to  look at this. More than a decade  ago, Dr Stephen Rennard, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, wanted to find out why his wife’s recipe for chicken soup, handed down through generations, was so healing.

Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of the most common type of white blood cell, neutrophils, which defend against infection.

Dr Rennard theorised that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.

What he couldn’t do was identify the exact ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds.

The tested soup contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.

The researchers also found many commercial soups had a similar inhibitory effect. It is probable that the combination of nutrients worked in synergy to provide the beneficial effect.

Another study, from Miami, also suggests chicken soup has more than a placebo effect.

It looked at how consuming it affected air flow and mucus in the noses of 15 volunteers who drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup.

It proved what ENT surgeons (experts in the upper airways, including the larynx) have long known: hot fluids help increase the movement of nasal mucus.

This in turn clears the airways, easing congestion.

But soup did a better job than the hot water as it also improves the function of protective cilia, the tiny hairlike projections in the nose that prevent contagions from entering the body.

Also, researchers at the University of Nebraska found the combination of vegetables and poultry in soup could help alleviate respiratory tract inflammation that results in feeling bunged-up.

All nutrients have some involvement in the complex workings of the immune system. But we know certain things about some of the common ingredients of broth.

Evidence suggests that organosulfides (naturally occurring chemicals found in garlic and onions), together with Vitamin D, stimulate production of immune cells called macrophage, while Vitamin C has an influence on both levels of neutrophils, and another type of immune chemical, interferon.

Vitamin A and carotenoids, found in carrots (a common ingredient of bouillon, the base of any good stock), help antibody production, while Vitamin E and zinc can influence the concentration of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

The other reason soups are recommended is because the nutrients are more easily absorbed than with solid versions. Remember to add a little fat – a drizzle of olive oil – to ensure the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (D, A, K and E).

You don’t have to live on chicken soup alone when you’re under the weather: the foods that offer a concentration of the nutrients mentioned include a wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lean proteins.


Fit brass fixtures to cut superbugs, say scientists

Sounds interesting.  I've got a lot of brassware in my house so I like the idea!

 Brass door knobs, handles and handrails should be brought back into common use in public places to help combat superbugs, according to scientists.

 Researchers have discovered that copper and alloys made from the metal, including brass, can prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria from spreading.

 Plastic and stainless steel surfaces, which are now widely used in hospitals and public settings, allow bacteria to survive and spread when people touch them.

 Even if the bacteria die, DNA that gives them resistance to antibiotics can survive and be passed on to other bacteria on these surfaces. Copper and brass, however, can kill the bacteria and also destroy this DNA.

 Professor Bill Keevil, head of the microbiology group at Southampton University, said using copper on surfaces in public places and on public transport could dramatically cut the threat posed by superbugs.

 Professor Keevil said: “There are a lot of bugs on our hands that we are spreading around by touching surfaces. In a public building or mass transport, surfaces cannot be cleaned for long periods of time.

 “Until relatively recently brass was a relatively commonly used surface. On stainless steel surfaces these bacteria can survive for weeks, but on copper surfaces they die within minutes.

 “Part of the process DNA from bacteria is also destroyed just as rapidly on the copper, so you cannot get gene transfer on the surface.”

 Almost 43,000 people a year are infected in hospitals with antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

 Antibiotic resistance usually occurs in a single bacterium that then multiplies and passes on this resistance to other bacteria around them.

 In research published in the journal Molecular Genetics of Bacteria, Professor Keevil and his colleagues found that compared to stainless steel bacteria on copper surfaces bacterial DNA rapidly degraded at room temperature.

 Professor Keevil added: “We live in this new world of stainless steel and plastic, but perhaps we should go back to using brass more instead.”


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Canada’s organic food system is a nightmare

You can't trust the labels

 As the holidays approach, Canadians are spending more time purchasing and preparing foodstuffs for their family tables. They’re also looking for appealing, tasty, nutritious goods that will not upset their budgets.

Be prepared for the seasonal, united organic-food-movement appeal, calling on Canadians to buy certified organic turkey, organic vegetables and fruit, organic breads and pastries, organic milk and meats, organic nuts and even organic booze.

But is organic food purer, tastier and more nutritious?

A recent in-depth report on the Canadian organic sector published by The Frontier Centre points out that there is no systematic, empirical proof that food certified as organic is purer, tastier or more nutritious.

It turns out that a bevy of federally regulated, for-profit, organic certifying agencies sell the privilege to organic farmers, brokers/traders and processors to label their products “certified organic” in Canada. And with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s logo affixed to their products, premiums of 100 to 200 per cent are then garnered without a single test being performed. It’s all just a glorified, bureaucratic, tax-subsidized, public-private, abused honour system.

The politicized privilege to be deemed “certified-organic” in Canada is available to anyone, whether here in Canada or anywhere in the world. To qualify, just pay fees and fill out paperwork, even if you’re in China, Mexico or Argentina. The honesty of the applicants is not verified. When staff at the CFIA finally carried out some secret tests on organic products, they were so taken aback by the results that they actually tried to suppress them.

There was a time when the CFIA considered organic testing. Testing is, after all, how the regular food system is kept safe. But the idea of applying science to the organic industry in Canada was dead-on-arrival, thanks to the organic lobby, in spite of the fact that the cost of testing is one tenth that of the current paper-based system.

By relying exclusively on paperwork, Canada’s for-profit organic certifiers benefit from highly lucrative revenues which, in turn, provide donations to activist organic groups which may explain their opposition to testing in spite of support for the idea from rank-and-file Canadian organic farmers.

In addition to upfront application and inspection fees, organic farmers and processors operating under CFIA “rules” are forced to pay royalties to their private certifiers between one and three per cent on their gross revenue from each and every transaction. It is akin to the franchise fees that fast-food restaurant owners pay to their head offices, with the difference that Canadian organic farmers and processors are paying for the use of the CFIA’s logo on their finished products, not the private certifier’s. And yet, the CFIA requires no testing. None.

As every lifestyle section in newspaper across the land pays homage to the certified-organic turkey and all the fixings (never asking whether it’s worth it or whether it even helps a single Canadian farmer), remember that private organic certifiers only enforce the administrative rules of organic production in this country. While independent inspectors make pre-announced visits once a year to each farm and facility, they don’t do any testing. They only fill out paperwork.

In addition to organic foods, you’ll also be hit with the idea of bringing in the New Year with certified-organic booze. Such claim could not possibly get any more absurd. None of the alleged mystical attributes of organic barley or grapes even has a chance of surviving the fermentation and distillation processes. So save your money.

Whether you’re someone who only “goes organic” during festive occasions, or one of the millions of Canadians who buys organic food on a regular basis believing it’s purer, more nutritious and more sustainable than regular food, let the buyer beware. The “organic” label doesn’t necessarily give you what you think you are buying.

If you really want to help Canadian organic farmers, buy directly from them as you’re not likely going to find their products on grocery-store shelves this Christmas season.

Otherwise, you may want to save the money for the children’s toys instead.


'Brussels sprouts should come with a health warning', say doctors after man admitted to hospital

They are the Christmas vegetables that split opinion and now doctors say Brussels sprouts should come with a health warning after a man was admitted to hospital by eating them.

The leafy green vegetables contain vitamin K, a chemical the body uses to promote blood clotting, and it counteracts the effects of anticoagulants (blood thinning medication).

The man, from Ayrshire, was prescribed anticoagulants after suffering heart failure last year and his dose was monitored once or twice a week to prevent blood clotting.

When his blood started to clot close to Christmas last year, the man was admitted to the specialist heart unit at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

Doctors could not work out why the medication was not keeping his blood thin until they discovered he had been eating too many sprouts.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Roy Gardner said: ''Patients who are taking anticoagulants are generally advised not to eat too many green leafy vegetables, as they are full of vitamin K, which antagonise the action of this vital medication.''

The case was reported in a festive edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

Jill Young, chief executive of the Golden Jubilee Hospital, said: ''Whilst we think this is possibly the first-ever festive admission to hospital caused by the consumption of Brussels sprouts, we were delighted that we were able to stabilise his levels.''


Friday, December 21, 2012

Some benefit from sleeping pills 'comes from placebo effect'

This is an unsurprising surprise.  Something similar could be said of most medications.  I myself take Ambien (aka Stilnox) before bed and I still have unpleasant memories of the night I forgot to take it.  It was hours later that I realized what I had done.  It's certainly more than a placebo for me

Half of the benefit of taking sleeping pills comes from the placebo effect, a new study has concluded.

A team of international researchers, including from Britain, found the effectiveness of a range of common sleeping tablets were of “questionable clinical importance”.

Their study, published in the British Medical Journal, questioned hypnotic pills, commonly known as Z-drugs, after re-analysing more than a dozen clinical trials.

Academics from the University of Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and University of Connecticut, found drugs such as Sonata and Ambien worked once the placebo effect was taken into account.

"Our analysis showed that Z-drugs did reduce the length of time taken for subjects to fall asleep,” said Prof Niroshan Siriwardena, from the the University of Lincoln's School of Health and Social Care.  “But around half of the effect of the drug was a placebo response.

“There was not enough evidence from the trials to show other benefits that might be important to people with sleep problems, such as sleep quality or daytime functioning.”

Prof Siriwardena, who led the study, added: “We know from other studies that around a fifth of people experience side-effects from sleeping tablets and one in 100 older people will have a fall, fracture or road traffic accident after using them.

“Psychological treatments for insomnia can work as effectively as sleeping tablets in the short-term and better in the long-term, so we should pay more attention to increasing access to these treatments for patients who might benefit."

Doctors write millions of prescriptions for Z-drugs every year as a short-term treatment for insomnia.

Medical experts have reported that their use has increased in recent years as many users believe they are a safer alternative to tranquillisers.

But some doctors questioned whether the benefits of Z-drugs justify their side-effects, such as memory loss, fatigue or impaired balance.

In their study, researchers used data submitted by pharmaceutical companies to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of new products.

The information was contained in 13 clinical trials, with more than 4,300 participants, that also had 65 “comparisons”.

The FDA collates results from both published and unpublished studies, enabling researchers to avoid common types of bias that undermine sponsored trials.

Their findings indicated that “once the placebo effect is discounted, the drug effect is of questionable clinical importance”.

Prof Siriwardena said future studies of sleeping tablets should investigate a broader range of outcomes, not just time taken to fall asleep.

Pharmaceutical companies, he added, should be “more transparent in disclosing results from their studies so that researchers can independently analyse their results”.


Sunday lunch with family boosts childrens' fruit and vegetable consumption: study

Mothers do seem to have strong convictions in favour of the  consumption of "greens" so I have no doubt that this is generally true

Families should eat Sunday lunch together, researchers have said, after finding that children who ate with their parents just once a week consume more fruit and vegetables.

Researchers found that children who ate with their parents at least once a week consumed more than one extra portion of fruit and vegetables when compared with those who never ate as a family.

It is thought that parents and siblings setting an example and making mealtimes a social occasion encouraged children to eat more healthily.

Cutting up fruit and vegetables for children, and parents who consume a healthy diet also boosted the intake of children, it was found.

A study of 2,300 primary school children in deprived areas of London found that more than six in ten do not eat the recommended five portions of different fruit and vegetables a day, a total of around 400g.

The findings by Leeds University were published in the in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Children who ate a family meal together at a table every day consumed 125g or 1.5 more portions of fruit and vegetables on average than children who never ate with their families.

Even those who reported eating together only once or twice a week consumed 95g or 1.2 more portions than those who never ate together.

Professor Janet Cade, of the University's School of Food Science and Nutrition, who supervised the study, said: "Even if it's just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating.

"Watching the way their parents or siblings eat and the different types of food they eat is pivotal in creating their own food habits and preferences.

"There are more benefits to having a family meal together than just the family's health. They provide conversational time for families, incentives to plan a meal, and an ideal environment for parents to model good manners and behaviour."

PhD student, Meaghan Christian, who conducted the study, said: "Modern life often prevents the whole family from sitting round the dinner table, but this research shows that even just Sunday lunch round the table can help improve the diets of our families.

"Since dietary habits are established in childhood, the importance of promoting the family meal needs to be more prominent in public health campaigns.

"Future work could be aimed at improving parental intake or encouraging parents to cut up or buy snack-sized fruit and vegetables."

It is estimated that one in ten children in the UK aged 2-10 is obese. In the last four years the Department of Health has spent over £3.3million on the 5 A Day campaign and a further £75 million on the Change4Life campaign, designed to encourage families to improve their lifestyle through diet and exercise.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Taking aspirin for 10 years could double the risk of sight loss

Nonsense!  WHY were people taking aspirin in the first place?  Probably because some had genuine health concerns.  They were less healthy generally.  And the risk found was tiny anyway

Taking aspirin for 10 years could more than double the risk of sight loss, according to a new study.  Scientists say taking aspirin could increase the chance of developing wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - an eye disorder that can lead to blindness.

A team from the University of Wisconsin used data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study on age-related eye diseases.

Eye exams were performed every five years over a 20-year period on nearly 5,000 participants. The volunteers, aged 43 to 86, were then asked if they had regularly used aspirin at least twice a week for more than three months. The average duration of follow-up was 14.8 years.

For the study, the researchers measured the incidences of different types of AMD. Wet AMD makes up just 10 per cent of cases but causes severe vision loss, while dry AMD is more common and milder - although it can develop into wet AMD at any time.

Results showed there were 512 cases of dry AMD and 117 cases of wet AMD over the course of the study for journal JAMA.

The researchers found those who took aspirin for 10 years had a 1.4 per cent risk of developing wet AMD compared to just 0.6 per cent of non-users. There was no association found between taking aspirin and developing dry AMD.

Dr Barbara Klein said: 'Aspirin use in the United States is widespread, with an estimated 19.3 percent of adults reporting regular consumption, and reported use increases with age.

'The results of cross-sectional studies of aspirin use and its relation to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been inconsistent.

'AMD is a potentially blinding condition for which prevalence and incidence are increasing with the increased survival of the population, and regular use of aspirin is common and becoming more widespread in persons in the age range at highest risk for this disease.

'Therefore, it is imperative to further examine this potential association.

'Our findings are consistent with a small but statistically significant association between regular aspirin use and incidence of neovascular AMD (wet AMD).'

The most common cause of blindness in the elderly, age-related macular degeneration affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s.

The team said further research would be needed to confirm the findings. If true it could help develop ways to prevent wet AMD.

Aspirin is often referred to as a wonder drug. Besides acting as a painkiller aspirin acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

The pill thins the blood and a low daily dose of 75mg has been found to reduce the risk of clots forming in the blood.

Research suggests the benefits of taking a daily aspirin outweigh the small risk of side-effects in patients with heart disease, although a doctor should always be consulted.

A series of studies involving 200,000 patients found the pill also cut the risk of dying of cancer by 37 per cent if taken for five years.

However, haemophiliacs and those with ulcers should not take it. Nor should children under 16 as it has been linked to an often fatal condition called Reye's syndrome.


Britons living longer than previously thought

Britons are living far longer than previously thought with no sign that we are reaching an 'upper limit' of how old people will get, a new report has shown.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics published yesterday suggest that most people are living six years longer than current life expectancy projections.

Presently the official life expectancy for a baby boy born in England or Wales in 2010 is 79 years and 83 for a girl.

However, for the first time the ONS has looked at the most common age for people to die in recent years. This analysis shows that most men will live to 85 while the majority of women will survive until 89. And it is likely to increase for children born today.

It means the traditional idea of a person's "allotted span" being "three score years and 10" is dramatically out of step with the experience of people in 21st Century Britain.

And past predictions that average lifespans would eventually hit an 'invisible wall' around 90 years may need to be revised, say statisticians. They say there is no obvious sign of an "upper limit" to ageing being reached.

In its report on mortality, the ONS said that it was clear there is now a year-on-year increase not only in centenarians but so-called "super-centenarians" - those aged over 110.

But the figures also show that, for the bulk of the population, the typical lifespan has also increased significantly in recent years.

The report compared the figures with theories from demographic experts in the 1980s that although people are living longer there is still a "boundary" beyond which few would expect to live.

It concludes: "The existence of an upper limit to life expectancy is much debated, as we have seen continued increases in life expectancy at birth over the last 50 years of around two and half months per year for males and slightly less for females.

"The information presented in this report suggests that in England and Wales an upper limit to lifespan has not yet been reached and that we will almost certainly see further increases in the average [age] at death."


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The secret to why the French live longer - Roquefort cheese?

This is all theory.  Not even a white rat in sight.  The journal article is "Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle?".

Let's have an alternative theory:  Australians live even longer than the French.  Could that be due to the high consumption of  Vegemite in Australia?   Vegemite is a complex product and we sure don't eat much Roquefort.   Unlike Americans, we don't even use it as a salad dressing.  Judging by the supermarket aisles, 90% of Australian cheese consumption is of a variety simply called "Tasty".   Very crass, I am sure.

Australia's national sandwich spread.  Loathed by almost all non-Australians.  The Brits understand it, however.  It is similar to their Marmite, which is also widely loathed outside Britain, but seen as essential by many Brits.  New Zealanders are generally in the Marmite camp (They have their own version) -- and their lifespan IS shorter than Australia's

Eating Roquefort cheese could help guard against cardiovascular disease despite its high fat and salt content, according to new research that suggests why the French enjoy good health.

Scientists discovered the French cheese, known for its mould and green veins, has specific anti-inflammatory properties.   It could provide clues to the "French paradox" and explain why people who live in the country enjoy good health despite favouring a diet high in saturated fat.

Using new technology, the researchers found the properties worked their best when the cheese, one of the world's oldest, ripened.

The properties of the blue cheese, which is aged in caves in the south of France, near Toulouse, were found to work best in acidic environments of the body, such as the lining of the stomach or the skin surface.   Acidification is also a common process accompanying inflammation such as in joints affected by arthritis or special plaque on an artery wall.

French women enjoy the joint-longest life expectancy in Europe, at 85.3 years, against 82.3 years for British women.

The group of doctors at a Cambridge-based biotech company developed the technology, which helps to identify the new anti-inflammatory factors.

The team from Lycotec, led by Dr Ivan Petyaev and Dr Yuriy Bashmakov, suggested the new properties could be extracted to help the fight against cardiovascular disease or in anti-ageing creams.

They detailed their work in a study, published in the Medical Hypotheses journal, titled: "Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle?"

"The anti-inflammatory factors found in these cheeses could be extracted and used independently or as a part of today's pharmaceutical or beauty products," they wrote.

"Observations indicate that consumption of red wine alone cannot explain the paradox and perhaps some other constituents of the typical French diet could be responsible for reduced cardiovascular mortality.  "We hypothesise that cheese consumption, especially of moulded varieties, may contribute to the occurrence of the `French paradox'."  They added: "Moulded cheeses, including Roquefort, may be even more favourable to cardiovascular health."

Roquefort, which is thought to have been first eaten in about 79AD, is noted for its sharp, tangy, salty flavour and its rich, creamy texture.


Squeezing breasts 'could stop growth of cancer cells'

Laboratory glassware study only

A little squeeze may be all that it takes to prevent malignant breast cells triggering cancer, research has shown.

Laboratory experiments showed that applying physical pressure to the cells guided them back to a normal growth pattern.

Scientists believe the research provides clues that could lead to new treatments.

'People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,' said Gautham Venugopalan, a leading member of the research team at the University of California in Berkeley, US.

'When we lift weights our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth - and reversion - of cancer cells.'

The study involved growing malignant breast epithelial cells within a gel injected into flexible silicone chambers.

This allowed the scientists to apply compression during the first stages of cell growth, effectively squashing the cells.  Over time, the squeezed malignant cells began to grow in a more normal and organised way.

Once the breast tissue structure was formed the cells stopped growing, even when the compressive force was removed. Non-compressed cells continued to display the haphazard and uncontrolled growth that leads to cancer.

'Malignant cells have not completely forgotten how to be healthy; they just need the right cues to guide them back to a healthy growth pattern,' said Mr Venugopalan, a doctoral student.

The results were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.

Professor Daniel Fletcher, who runs the Berkeley laboratory, said: 'We are showing that tissue organisation is sensitive to mechanical inputs from the environment at the beginning stages of growth and development.

'An early signal, in the form of compression, appears to get these malignant cells back on the right track.'

However, the team do not envisage fighting breast cancer with a new range of compression bras.

Prof Fletcher said: 'Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy. But this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.'

Adding a drug that helps to prevent cells adhering to their neighbours reversed the effects of compression, the scientists found. The cells returned to a disorganised, cancerous state despite being compressed.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eating fatty foods  makes you anxious?

Maybe it does if you are a mouse but since fat people are usually seen as jolly,  it seems unlikely that this generalizes to humans.  The normal diet of mus musculus is vegetable matter whereas humans are big meat eaters so a lack of generalization is hardly surprising.  We may be able to handle what mice cannot

The research team feed one group of mice a low-fat diet and a high fat diet to a second group over six weeks, monitoring how the different food affected the way the animals behave.

Fat represented 11 per cent of the calories in the low-fat diet and 58 per cent in the high-fat diet, causing the waist size in the latter group to increase by 11 per cent - not yet obese.

Next, the team used a variety of techniques to evaluate the relationship between rewarding mice with food and their resulting behaviour and emotions. They also looked at the brains of the mice to see how they had changed.

Mice that had been fed the higher-fat diet exhibited signs of being anxious, such as an avoidance of open areas. Their brains were also physically altered by their experiences.

One of molecules in the brain that the researchers looked at is dopamine. It enables the brain to reward us with good feelings, thereby encouraging us to learn certain kinds of behaviour. This chemical is the same in humans as it is in mice and other animals. Certain genes involved in the production of dopamine are controlled by the CREB molecule.

'CREB is much more activated in the brains of higher-fat diet mice and these mice also have higher levels of corticosterone, a hormone that is associated with stress. This explains both the depression and the negative behaviour cycle,' Dr Fulton said.

'It's interesting that these changes occur before obesity. These findings challenge our understanding of the relationship between diet, the body and the mind.

'It is food for thought about how we might support people psychologically as they strive to adopt healthy eating habits, regardless of their current corpulence.'


Ground-breaking anti-depressant eases symptoms in just over an HOUR

Sounds hopeful.  Side effects and habituation may be issues

An experimental drug has been found to lift depression in just over an hour in people who haven't responded to other treatments.

The findings open up the prospect of developing a new fast-working type of anti-depressant.

In a new study, a third of participants responded to the treatment within one hour and 20 minutes, seeing at least a 50 per cent reduction in their symptoms compared to a 15 per cent reduction in those who took a placebo.

This was significant as these patients had failed to improve in seven past antidepressant trials.

However, while their were minimal side-effects the dramatic improvements were short-lived with patients finding relief for an average of just half an hour.

The current range of treatments work through the brain's serotonin system, building up levels of this 'happy' hormone over a period of weeks. This can cause great distress to severely depressed patients as many are at high risk of suicide.

However, the latest drug called AZD6765, acts by preventing the binding of a brain chemical called glutamate to nerve cells.

It acts in a similar way to the Class C drug ketamine, but without the serious side-effects such as hallucinations.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health, who conducted the study, said this could be because the new drug doesn't block glutamate binding as completely as ketamine.

In the trial half of the 22 patients received the drug through an IV drip, while the other half took a placebo. All of them completed a survey assessing their depressive state immediately after taking the drug and a few days after treatment. The two groups then switched the agent they took and went through the same assessment.

The patients reported only minor side effects, such as dizziness and nausea, when taking AZD6765, which were not significantly different from those experienced with the placebo.

Research leader Dr Carlos Zarate, said: 'Our findings serve as a proof of concept that we can tap into an important component of the glutamate pathway to develop a new generation of safe, rapid-acting practical treatments for depression.'

The team reported their results online in the journal Biological Psychiatry. They now want to do further trials, testing whether repeated infusions a few times per week or higher doses might produce longer-lasting results.


Monday, December 17, 2012

High blood pressure is the biggest global killer...but obesity isn't far behind, warn leading scientists

Below is a report of a huge body of research recently published.  It aims to find what ails the WORLD.  One wonders what the point of that is.  As it points out itself, disease incidence varies markedly from country to country.  So the report must be some sort of classic of overgeneralization.  Leftists are normally blind to the individual and insist on seeing people in groups only but this is ridiculous.

And the conclusions are as foolish as one would expect.  What does it mean for "obesity" to be a major killer?  All the research shows that middling weight people live longest.  So if the report had any precision, it should be saying that extremes of weight is the big killer.  The whole thing is arrant nonsense that tells us nothing useful.  The key academic journal article concerned is here.  I have read a fair bit of the report and all I found was reams of carefully tabulated but meaningless data. 

The national life expectancy table was at least amusing, however.  The male life expectancy is 79 for Australia and Japan,  77 for the UK and 76 for the USA.  Iceland was tops at 80, followed by Andorra, Switzerland and Sweden.  Given the large minorities with different health outcomes in the U.S., the overall U.S. figure is another bit of meaninglessness, of course. 

High blood pressure killed more than nine million people worldwide in 2010, making it the greatest overall health risk.

Smoking and alcohol came second and third, according to the study which looked at the trends of 43 risks between 1990 and 2010.

High body mass index was the biggest ‘climber’, moving from tenth place in 1990 to sixth in 2010.

That year more than three million deaths were attributable to excess body weight - more than three times as many as under-nutrition.

In Australasia and southern Latin America, high BMI ranked as the leading risk factor.

The research, published in The Lancet, was carried out by an international consortium of scientists as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.

Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London, said: 'Overall we’re seeing a growing burden of risk factors that lead to chronic diseases in adults, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and a decreasing burden for risks associated with infectious diseases in children.

'But this global picture disguises the starkly different trends across regions.

'The risks associated with poverty have come down in most places, like Asia and Latin America, but they remain the leading issues in sub-Saharan Africa.'

The researchers estimated both the number of deaths attributed to each risk factor and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a unit that takes into account both years of life lost and years lived with disability.

Prof Stephen Lim, of the University of Washington, said: 'We looked at risk factors for which good data are available on how many people are exposed to the risks and how strong their effects are, so that our results can inform policy and programmatic choices.'

Smoking, including second-hand smoke, was the risk factor with the biggest burden in western Europe and high-income North American countries, and accounted for 6.3 million deaths worldwide in 2010.

Dietary risk factors and physical inactivity collectively accounted for one tenth of DALYs in 2010, with the most prominent dietary risks being too much salt and not enough fruit.

Prof Ezzati said: 'The good news is there are lots of things we can do to reduce disease risk.  'To bring down the burden of high blood pressure, we need to regulate the salt content of food, provide easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthen primary healthcare services.  [Rubbish!]

'Under-nutrition has come down in the ranking because we’ve made a lot of progress in many parts of the world.

'This should encourage us to continue those efforts and to replicate that success in Africa, where it’s still a major problem.'


The fruit fetish

Just one excerpt from the research mentioned above. 

To deconstruct it:  The old correlation is causation fallacy would seem to be at work.  Richer people probably eat more fruit and veg.  In poor countries many people live almost entirely on a carbohydrate staple such as rice.  So it is simply richer people who are healthier  -- an already well-known finding.  Fruit need have nothing to do with it.

The Global Burden of Disease researchers uncovered a number of surprises, some of which are likely to be questioned by other epidemiologists and biostatisticians.

As a cause of death and disability, lung cancer is rising, but emphysema and chronic bronchitis — which are also caused by smoking — are declining. The reason appears to be a huge reduction in indoor air pollution from cook stoves (which can also cause emphysema and bronchitis) in China and India.

In charting risk factors, the researchers found that diets low in fruit were responsible for more disease than obesity or physical inactivity. That conclusion was reached through analysis of the health effects of various components of diet and the number of people consuming diets high or low in those components.

“We were very surprised,” Murray said of the fruit finding. “I’m a pretty profound diet skeptic. But the evidence on diet is as convincing as on obesity.”

Murray and Lopez did a similar but smaller Global Burden of Disease in 1996 that described causes of death and risk factors for the world in 1990. The new study recalculated those findings using new data and methods in addition to providing a picture of the world in 2010.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why you could be heading for an early grave if you can't get off the floor without using your hands

The age at which this test applies is poorly defined. Limitations of this kind usually get steadily worse with aging. What may be possible at 60 may not be possible at 70, for instance

If getting up from a game of Scrabble on the floor this Christmas requires both hands, a lot of sighing and a helpful tug from a grandchild, beware.

For the gloomy message from scientists is that you may not live as long as your flexible counterparts.

Those who can sit down and get up using only one hand – or no hands at all – are likely to live for longer, a study found.

But those needing extra assistance, such as getting up on their knees or using two hands, are up to six times more likely to die prematurely.

The study found a simple two-minute test could predict the level of overall fitness in middle age that earmarks those likely to enjoy a longer life.

Researchers said the ease with which someone could stand up from a sitting position on the floor – and vice versa – was linked to a reduced risk of dying early.

Dr Claudio Gil Araújo, who carried out the study with colleagues at the Clinimex-Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, said it was ‘remarkably predictive’ of physical strength, flexibility and co-ordination at a range of ages.

He said: ‘If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.’

The study involved more than 2,000 men and women, aged 51 to 80, who were asked to sit and then rise unaided from the floor.  After the sitting-rising test, they were followed until the date of their death or October 31, 2011 – for 6.3 years, on average.

Before starting the test, they were told: ‘Without worrying about the speed of movement, try to sit and then to rise from the floor, using the minimum support that you believe is needed.’

Each of the two basic movements was assessed and scored out of five, making a composite score of ten, with one point subtracted from five for each support used such as a hand or knee.

Over the study period 159 participants died, a death rate of about 8 per cent, according to a report in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention.

The majority of these deaths occurred in participants with low test scores – indeed, only two of the deaths were in subjects who gained a composite score of ten.

Survival was strongly linked to the number of points scored.

The researchers took account of age, gender and body mass index and found the sitting-rising test score was a significant independent predictor of the likelihood of dying from any cause.

Those who scored three points or fewer had a five to six times higher risk of death than those scoring more than eight points.

A score below eight was linked with two to fivefold higher death rates over the 6.3 year study period.

Dr Araújo said: ‘Our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favourable influence on life expectancy.’


Loneliness 'can increase Alzheimer's risk'

Good to see that they reconsider the direction of the causal arrow at the end below

Feeling lonely can increase the risk of Alzheimer's in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers who found the link drew a distinction between being alone and loneliness.

The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (Amstel) looked at risk factors for depression, dementia and high death rates among 2,000 men and women aged 65 and older.

Participants who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia over three years as those who did not.

When influential factors including mental and physical health were taken into account, loneliness was still associated with a 64% increased risk of the disease.

But other aspects of social isolation, such as living alone and being widowed, had no impact.

At the start of the Dutch study, 46% of participants were living alone and half were single or no longer married. About one in five, just under 20%, said they felt lonely.

The findings were reported today in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The authors, led by Dr Tjalling Jan Holwerda, from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, wrote: "These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.

"Interestingly, the fact that 'feeling lonely' rather than 'being alone' was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline."

The researchers speculated that loneliness may be an effect of early dementia rather than its cause.

"We hypothesise that feelings of loneliness may.. be considered a manifestation of the deteriorating social skills that are seen as part of the personality change accompanying the process of dementia," they wrote.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Two more studies today on exercise

The first study below tends to reinforce the Belgian study noted yesterday:  You must do your walking in "nice" areas, not in the nasty old city.  Both studies are very short-term, however, and the second study below tends to suggest that there is no long-term (lifespan) benefit

A walk outdoors away from gadgets can boost brain power by half.  Leaving your laptop at home, switching off the smartphone and taking a walk in nature can help boost brain power by as much as 50 per cent, a study has revealed.

Researchers found that adults performed much better in a creative test after spending four days in the great outdoors disconnected from modern technology.

They say it is the first time that scientists have proven being in a park or woodland can improve your problem-solving skills.

And it may also explain why a holiday helps recharge the batteries after busy periods of work.

‘The study shows that you need to leave the iPhones and other technology at home and give your brain a break,’ said co-author David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

‘Too much of a good thing is not a good thing and so for creativity to flourish you need to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world.’

For the novel study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, 54 American adults with an average age of 28 participated in a four to six day hike. No electronic devices were allowed.

Before the trip commenced, 24 individuals were tested and scored an average 4.14 in a 10-question creativity test. The remaining 32 were tested at the end of the walk and answered an average of 6.08 questions correctly - an improvement of 50 per cent.

Researchers said the results indicate that time spent walking in parks and woodlands away from demanding technology helps individuals to restore brain power.

They say a hike provides an easy way to lift your creative abilities after long periods in front of a computer or TV screen.

‘We show that four days of immersion in nature and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 per cent,’ said Prof Strayer.

‘We are not sure if it is the increased exposure to nature or the decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology that helps, but it’s probably a mixture of both.

‘In the real world, you are either in one or other state. When you head out into nature, you’re unlikely to be surrounded by gadgets, while if you’re at home or in the office the opposite is likely true.’

While earlier research has indicated nature has beneficial effects, ‘it’s equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits’ end that is associated with the benefits,’ Prof Strayer said.

He added: ‘This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before.

‘It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature.’


Can Exercise Extend Your Life?

This is a real lulu, despite the bright-eyed enthusiasm expressed by the authors.  Quite aside from the direction of causation being probably reversed (ill people exercise less), how do we explain that black women were big beneficiaries while Hispanics got no benefit at all?  Whatever is going on seems to be affected by other things than exercise. It's probably just data dredging.  The weakness of the overall effect tends to indicate in fact that activity has no benefit at all

Adults who include at least 150 minutes of physical activity in their routines each week live longer than those who don't, finds a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Promoting the years of life that can be gained from moderate activity may be a better motivator to get Americans moving, said study author Ian Janssen, Ph.D., of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.

Janssen and his team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Health Interview Study mortality linkage, and U.S. Life Tables to estimate and compare the life expectancy at each age for adults who were inactive, somewhat-active and active. "Active" was defined as doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

They found that men at age 20 were estimated to gain as much as 2.4 years of life from moderate activity. Women at age 20 gained about 3 additional years from engaging in moderate activity. The biggest benefit from physical activity was seen in non-Hispanic black women, who gained as many as 5.5 potential years of life.

Janssen hopes the positive message of the study can help health officials better relay the importance of exercise to the public.
"Research has shown that the health messages that have the greatest effect on changing people's behaviors need to be easy to understand, specific to the individual, and be phrased in a gained-framed and positive manner," he explained.

"The messages on longevity gains associated with physical activity that were developed in this paper meet all three of those characteristics," Janssen added. "That is, people will understand what it means if you tell them they will live 2½ years longer if they become active."

Sara Bleich, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said presenting the issue as "years of life gained" versus "years of life loss" raises the classic issue of the carrot or the stick, that is, when it comes to behavior change, do people prefer to be rewarded or penalized?

"For healthy behavior changes such as dieting or smoking, rewards have been shown to effectively motivate behavior change," she continued. "From the current research, it is unclear whether rewards or penalties are more effective at motivating behavior change, but it is clear that rewards do work."
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