Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The diabetes boogeyman: Does diabetes make you fat rather than the other way around?

A boogeyman often invoked by the food fascists in their efforts to get control over what we eat

That obesity causes diabetes is one of the most entrenched medical mantras that there is. Even the (mythical) lifespan benefits of statins and antioxidants are not as often invoked as the relationship between obesity and diabetes. I think I see the relationship touted at least once a day somewhere.

But think!

* Most overweight people don't get diabetes and some diabetics are slim!

* It is true that certain diets can help control diabetes but that does not mean that diet causes diabetes. A roof can shelter me from the rain but that does not mean that roofs cause rain!

* There is undoubtedly a correlation between being overweight and having obesity but correlation is not causation and it could well be that at least in some people diabetes causes you to put on weight. I have certainly seen instances of the latter, where an overweight person discovered they had diabetes, went on a diabetic diet and promptly lost a lot of weight. It was apparently diabetes that was making them fat. Excessive appetite is a known symptom of diabetes so that is hardly a surprise. And all the so-often-quoted research findings are just correlations, so prove nothing about which way the causal arrow points.

* There are various studies of diabetes in mice but mice are a very short-lived species whereas we are a very long-lived species. We have obviously evolved life-preserving mechanisms that mice have not so what is a problem in mice might be quite easily coped with by the human body. And that is one reason why rodent findings often do not generalize to people.

So I am going to reproduce below something I wrote in 2008. I know of nothing which would alter my conclusions since. If anybody can tell me something important that I have overlooked, however, I would be delighted to hear it:
I decided to look at the evidence behind the claim. I looked at what appear to be the two most cited articles on the question — by Seidell and by Mokdad et al..

Neither article goes any where near proving the claim. Seidell, in fact, notes the differing relationship between weight and diabetes in Asia versus the West and makes the entirely sensible observation that the two things are “common consequences of changing lifestyles” — NOT directly linked, in other words. Both, for instance, could be a consequence of (say) reduced exercise.

And the Mokdad article is quite naive. It shows that fatties are more likely to have diabetes but again enables no causal inferences. Additionally, it does not allow for the curvilearity that is known to feature in relationships with obesity. In other words, it combines moderately overweight people with grossly overweight people — which flies in the face of the fact that it is people of middling weight who live longest. It could be just the real fatties who tend to get diabetes at an accelerated rate.

And genetic effects are, of course, not mentioned anywhere, despite all we know (and have known for a long time) about the genetic influence on body weight. It could be that a genetic difference causes both diabetes AND a larger fat mass. So even severe dieting would not chase that pesky diabetes-causing gene away.

The fact that prevalence of diabetes has been increasing would seem at first to discount a genetic influence but it does not, of course. Many genetic influences need environmental “triggers” to become dominant and we just don’t know what environmental triggers might have come to the fore in recent years. How about increased crime causing both stress and overeating as a response to stress? Who knows?

As far as I can see, then, the alleged effect of fat on diabetes is just a guess. Ho hum! Just another instance of crap medical “wisdom”.

I wonder do pigs get diabetes? Fat pigs are a byword. And pigs are a pretty good animal model for human beings. Pig tissue is even used for direct implantation into human hearts! Rodent models always have dubious generalizability but I think I would believe a double-blind study with pigs.

So, you see, I am not like those (such as the Global Warmists) for whom no evidence will count. I have just specified precisely what evidence would convince me. And nor would the evidence concerned be hard to gather. You might even get some good bacon at the end of it! Yum!


An example here of diabetes being associated with weight-gain and the gain being reversed by dealing with the diabetes. That train of events DOES suggest a causal inference: That it was the diabetes that caused the weight gain and not vice versa.

Update 2: Aborigines

I probably should say something about diabetes among Australian Aborigines. Within living memory, diabetes was virtually unknown among Aborigines but it is now very common. This is of course very interesting epidemiology and dietary change is the conventional explanation. At the beginning of the period Aborigines still fed themselves mostly by traditional hunter/gatherer activities and so got plenty of exercise and a varied diet of minimally processed food.

Nowadays with more generous government welfare provision they subsist largely on the most disparaged of Western foods --such as Coke and potato chips. That this switch from an aspirational diet to a disparaged one has been accompanied by a rise in diabetes tends to give epidemiologists erections. It should not, however, as there have been other large changes at the same time -- in particular the availability of alcohol has greatly increased.

At the beginning of the period it was in fact illegal to supply Aborigines with alcohol. Unlike Westerners, they have not had millennia to adapt to it and so handle it very badly. But paternalistic restrictions are out of fashion now so there is now a very large alcohol abuse problem in Aboriginal communities and it seems entirely possible that this is behind the diabetes upsurge.

To make matters worse, there is today a definite problem with "metho", which was at least much less in the past. "Metho" is a combination of ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol, a quite poisonous product, but it is cheap and very intoxicating -- and some stores frequented by Aborigines are even reputed to keep it in the fridge for sale to Aborigines as a beverage. It even has a pet name among Aborigines: "White lady". How they survive drinking it at all is a mystery.

So diet is only one candidate for explaining health problems among Aborigines.

I should perhaps end up with a clarifying note: In all my remarks above I had in mind the form of diabetes that accounts for at least 90% of the cases: Diabetes mellitus type 2.

Fun breakfast freaks the do-gooders

A monster breakfast which weighs the same as a small child and could potentially kill diners is attracting criticism from angry health campaigners

The Kidz Breakfast at Jesters Diner in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, includes 12 rashers of bacon, 12 sausages and six eggs and weighs on average 9lb - 1lb 5oz more than the average newborn baby.

Health experts are demanding its removal from the menu and are warning someone with a heart condition could die if they eat it, with each helping amounting to at least 6,000 calories, up to three days' food intake for an average person.


12 rashers of bacon
12 sausages
Six eggs
Four black pudding slices
Four slices of bread and butter
Four slices of toast
Four slices of fried bread
Two hash browns
Eight-egg cheese and potato omelette
Saute potatoes

Greasy spoon owner Martin Smith said the gigantic breakfast, which comes on a 2.5 sq ft plate, is 'just a bit of fun', with the menu inviting diners to tuck in and 'leave a stone heavier'.

Customers are also offered the £15 mammouth meal for free if they can devour the fry-up in less than an hour without help but no one has managed the stomach bursting feat.

Ellie Hambling, from HeartCare Cardiac Support Group, said: 'It would absolutely ruin your heart. It’s a no-goer I’m afraid.'

Prof David Haslam, from the National Obesity Forum, warned it 'is possible' someone could die after eating the meal in a single sitting, but added it was 'very unlikely'. He said eating the breakfast was 'dangerous' and 'profoundly wrong' and could lead to diabetes, heart disease and a stroke. Prof Haslam added the diner should take responsibility by 'taking it off the market'.

The breakfast has not yet been assessed by Guinness World Records, but according to records would take the title of the largest commercially available English breakfast.

The current holder, as of 1 December 2009, could be bought at Mario’s Cafe Bar in Westhoughton, Bolton, weighing an average of 6lb 7oz.

Mr Smith said: “We kept getting hassled that our Fat Boy Breakfast wasn’t big enough so we decided that we’d go one stage further and take it to the ultimate.”

He added: “Obviously this is not something that should be attempted lightly. We don’t particularly recommend it. It’s just a bit of fun really.”

The diner owner has refused to take his big breakfast off the menu but has agreed to help raise money for the HeartCare charity.


Monday, January 30, 2012

English diet 'could save thousands'

This is all just assertion. There are known differences in ancestry between the English and the Scots so the differences could be wholly genetic

The study, undertaken by academics at Oxford University, estimates that 3,700 deaths from heart disease, strokes and cancer, could be prevented annually if everyone in the UK ate as healthily as the English.

Peter Scarborough, of the university's department of public health, said national surveys showed people south of the border tended to eat better.

For fear of upsetting fiery Celtic sensibilities, Scarborough emphasised: "We are not trying to be inflammatory at all".

Rather, there was an important matter of public health at hand. "It has been a question for years as to why mortality rates are higher in other parts of the UK, particularly Scotland, than they are in England," he explained.

Scarborough, an epidemiologist, and colleagues calculated that if death rates from heart disease, stroke and cancer were as low in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as they were in England, 7,000 fewer people would die a year.

The research, published today (Thursday) in the journal BMJ Open, therefore suggests that just over half the difference (53 per cent) is due to diet alone. Scotland has the worst diet, he said, followed by Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

While the deep-fried Mars bars might be the stuff of Glaswegian legend - and something rarely eaten by most Scots in practice - he said there were real dietary differences that divided the two principal nations. "The Scottish diet is higher in saturated fat and salt and lower in fruit and vegetables," he said.

The study, sponsored by the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, analysed diets using data from four years worth of reports from the Family Food Survey, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It found that while the English eat just under 2,300 calories a day, elsewhere in the UK the intake is about 100 calories higher. Although that does not sound like a lot - it is the equivalent a glass of semi-skimmed milk - over time those calories can mount up, leading to higher obesity levels unless countered by more exercise.

But Scarborough said: "It's not the amount of food that most important in these health differences, it's the type."

He also stressed that the English diet itself was not a paragon of good eating, unlike the much vaunted Continental alternative, the Mediterranean diet, which is much higher in fruit and vegetables and unsaturated fats. "We are not holding up the English diet as perfect - it's certainly nothing like the Mediterranean diet - but clearly it is an achievable diet," he said.

Most of the differences in death rates between Wales and England and Northern Ireland and England can be explained by diet - according to the Oxford analysis, 81 per cent in both cases.

Interestingly, the figure is only 40 per cent for Scotland. This could be because a higher proportion of people smoke and drink heavily in Scotland.

However, even when other factors are taken into account - notably physical activity and stress levels - the wide gap between England and Scotland cannot be entirely accounted for.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "Earlier this year we set out actions being taken to make it easier for everyone to make healthy choices, including eating more fruit and vegetables, eating less salt, fat and added sugar, and becoming more active. "We have introduced a range of measures to improve diet and are spending over œ7.5m in the next three years on projects to encourage healthy eating."

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments about how healthy our traditional dishes might be. "This is a useful exercise in comparing influential differences in diet across the UK, namely calorie intake and fruit and veg consumption. However, saying the rest of the UK should follow England's lead to cut heart deaths isn't a foolproof solution; a quarter of English adults are obese and only 30 per cent eat their five-a-day.

"The findings have thrown up some clear inequalities in the four nations and our governments must do everything they can to create environments that help people make healthy choices."


Anti-Cancer Drugs Increase Cancer Growth: Avastin, Sutent Increase Breast Cancer Stem Cells, U-M Study Shows

(The journal article is: "Antiangiogenic agents increase breast cancer stem cells via the generation of tumor hypoxia")

Cancer treatments designed to block the growth of blood vessels were found to increase the number of cancer stem cells in breast tumors in mice, suggesting a possible explanation for why these drugs don't lead to longer survival, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The drugs Avastin and Sutent have been looked at as potential breast cancer treatments. But while they do shrink tumors and slow the time till the cancer progresses, the effect does not last, and the cancer eventually regrows and spreads.

"This study provides an explanation for the clinical trial results demonstrating that in women with breast cancer antiangiogenic agents such as Avastin delay the time to tumor recurrence but do not affect patient survival. If our results apply to the clinic, it suggests that in order to be effective, these agents will need to be combined with cancer stem cell inhibitors, an approach now being explored in the laboratory," says study author Max S. Wicha, M.D., director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The researchers treated mice with breast cancer using Avastin (bevacizumab) and Sutent (sunitinib), both of which work by stopping the growth and formation of blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The researchers found that tumors treated with these drugs developed more cancer stem cells, the small number of cells within a tumor that fuel a cancer's growth and spread and that are often resistant to standard treatment. Both the number of cancer stem cells and the percentage of cancer stem cells that make up the tumor increased after being treated with each of these therapies.

The researchers found that the cancer stem cells increased because of a cellular response to low oxygen, a condition called hypoxia. And they were able to determine the specific pathways involved in hypoxia that activate the cancer stem cells.

Results of the study appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently revoked approval of Avastin for treating breast cancer, although the drug is approved for use in other types of cancer. The reversal was in response to clinical trials showing that the drug's benefit was short-lived, with breast cancer patients quickly relapsing and the cancer becoming more invasive and spreading further throughout the body. Overall, the drug did not help patients live any longer.

The current study suggests the possibility of combining anti-angiogenesis drugs with a cancer stem cell inhibitor to enhance the benefit of this treatment. The researchers are testing this approach in mice and preliminary data looks promising.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

An interesting example of an extremely limited diet

The young woman above looks perfectly fine and has a job -- and she has got that way on about as "incorrect" a diet as possible. She eventually suffered a problem that was probably diet-related but the interesting thing is that she got so far on her very limited diet. I think it shows that all diet commandments are greatly exaggerated. The extremely limited diet of traditional Eskimos, featuring almost nothing but meat and fat, is another case in point. And they have a LOW rate of cardiovascular disease

A TEENAGE girl who has eaten almost nothing else except chicken nuggets for 15 years has been warned by doctors the junk food is killing her. Stacey Irvine, 17, has been hooked on the fast food since her mother bought her some at a McDonald's restaurant when she was two, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Shocked doctors learned of her habit when the factory worker, from Birmingham, north of London, collapsed and was taken to hospital after struggling to breathe.

Ms Irvine, who has never eaten fruit or vegetables, had swollen veins in her tongue and was found to have anaemia.

Medics gave her a series of injections and started her on an urgent course of vitamins.

Despite being warned she could die if she stuck to her nugget addiction, she still can't resist the fast food.

Despite a diet that regularly means she eats at least a third more than the 56g of fat recommended by experts, she manages to keep relatively trim.

This may be down to the amount of exercise she does or to her metabolism.

But the craving is taking a toll on her health. A lack of vitamins and other nutrients combined with a dangerous amount of salt can raise blood pressure and weaken the immune system and lead to an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes, particularly as Ms Irvine ages.

A less serious consequence of her craving is that she is struggling to find places to store all the free toys and novelties that come with the meals. They currently fill four bin bags.

Her exasperated mother Evonne Irvine, 39, who is battling to get her daughter seen by a specialist, said: "It breaks my heart to see her eating those damned nuggets.

"She's been told in no uncertain terms that she'll die if she carries on like this. But she says she can't eat anything else."

She once tried unsuccessfully to starve her daughter in a bid to have her eat nutritious food.

Ms Irvine, whose only other variation in her diet is the occasional slice of toast for breakfast - and crisps - said that once she tried nuggets she "loved them so much they were all I would eat".

Evonne Irvine's other two children - Leo, five, and Ava, three - both eat healthily.

In one six-piece portion of McNuggets there are 280 calories, 17g of fat, 16g of carbohydrate, 14g protein, and 600mg sodium and in a small portion of fries there are 230 calories, 11g of fat, 29g of carbohydrates, 3g protein and 160mg sodium.

If Ms Irvine ate three portions of each in a day she would eat a third more fat and almost double the recommended salt but virtually no vitamin C.

Each portion of nuggets contains just two per cent of the daily vitamin C requirement.


Gluten intolerance may sometimes be just a fad

"There are a whole lot of people who believe they are gluten intolerant, who don't have coeliac disease," says Professor Peter Gibson, professor of gastroenterology at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. "This is very controversial because there is a quite big percentage - even up to 10 per cent - of people who are avoiding gluten because they think gluten is their problem. Naturopaths have put them on a diet, or they have done it themselves after reading the internet or speaking to a friend."

As yet unpublished research from Monash University, co-written by Professor Gibson, found only 14 per cent of people on gluten-free diets were put on the regime by a doctor. Almost half had simply decided to cut wheat and grains from their diet because they assumed they were intolerant. More than 60 per cent had not been tested conclusively for coeliac disease.

"It's a very emotive area," Gibson said. "Fortunately, now there is a lot of work going on around the world trying to define this and how we can identify people who are truly gluten intolerant."

The issue is a question of medical distinction: coeliac disease is an immunological complaint in which gluten interferes with the body's ability to absorb nutrients, identifiable by a blood test; gluten intolerance has no diagnostic test or biological mechanism by which to explain it.

Improvements to a person's health without gluten can be explained several ways, by placebo effect or by the fact a gluten-free diet removes other agents from the body - most importantly the poorly absorbed carbohydrates known as fructans, which may cause illness or discomfit.

An Australian study published last year in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed for the first time that gluten could trigger symptoms of fatigue in people without coeliac disease - making the argument for what doctors call non-coeliac gluten intolerance. But the mechanism remained unexplained.

"Gluten intolerance in individuals without coeliac disease is a controversial issue and has recently been described as the 'no man's land of gluten sensitivity'," the authors wrote. "The evidence base for such claims is unfortunately very thin, with no randomised controlled trials demonstrating that the entity does actually exist."

Finland has done more than any other nation to identify its coeliacs. It has the most reliable data on increased prevalence: a doubling, from 1 per cent to 2 per cent between 1979 and 2000. Finns have been eating gluten free burgers at McDonald's for two decades.

It is accepted that coeliac disease affects about one in every 100 Australians - although there is no local research to confirm the Finnish findings. Some academics argue perceived increases in coeliac disease are heightened by increased testing, but it is generally agreed that prevalence has increased.

The increase in people identifying with non-coeliac gluten intolerance is more conflicted. An editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia last year noted the distinction: "The popularity of the 'fad' gluten-free diet might be peaking, but the medical need for gluten-free diets continues to rise."

Penny Dellsperger, a dietitian at Coeliac NSW, said there were significant medical risks to people adopting gluten free diets without first ascertaining whether they suffered coeliac disease. She said the symptoms could easily relate to other illnesses.

"Obviously there are a lot of people on gluten free diets who don't need to be and who haven't had the proper tests. We have to be careful gluten doesn't get a bad rap," she said.

"I don't understand why you would [maintain a gluten free diet] if you didn't need to. It's been marketed a lot and gluten has been promoted as an evil thing when it's actually not."


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why a mother's love really is priceless: It prevents illness even into middle age(?)

This is the old "correlation is causation" fallacy yet again. IQ was apparently not controlled for but there are pockets of high IQ among poor families and high IQ parents probably treat their children better on the whole and high IQ people have better health anyhow and would transmit that to their children genetically

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. And being a nurturing mother could well pay dividends in later life by protecting your child from serious illnesses, scientists say.

Tender loving care in childhood was found to reduce a person’s risk of conditions including diabetes and heart disease in adulthood, according to researchers at Brandeis University in Boston.

They examined 1,000 people from low-income backgrounds, which has been shown by a wealth of previous research to be related to poorer health in later life and lower life expectancy. However, they found some people from disadvantaged families managed to buck this trend – and they tended to have had a loving mother.

Participants were recruited at an average age of 46 and had a full health check in hospital. They were asked about their mothers with questions such as ‘how much did she understand your problems and worries?’ and ‘How much time and attention did she give you when you needed it?

A decade later half of the people had metabolic syndrome – a major risk factors for heart disease, strokes and diabetes. It is a combination of symptoms including excess fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, which affects around one in four people in the UK.

They found people in the lowest socio-economic category, with neither parent having finished school, had the highest rate of this condition – half of them were affected and regardless of their social mobility in later life.

‘The stresses of childhood can leave a biological residue that shows up in midlife. Yet, among those at risk for poor health, adults who had nurturing mothers in childhood fared better in physical health’

But although this high risk seemed to be ‘embedded’ from childhood, the researchers said, those who said their mothers were very nurturing were far less likely to have it.

Psychology professor Margie Lachman said events in childhood seem to leave a ‘biological residue’ on health during adult life. She said: ‘The fact that we can see these long-term effects from childhood into midlife is pretty dramatic.

‘We want to understand what it is about having a nurturing mother that allows you to escape the vulnerabilities of being in a low socioeconomic status background and wind up healthier than your counterparts.’

The authors suggest it could be a combination of empathy, teaching children ‘coping strategies’ to deal with stress so it does not affect their health and encouraging them to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle.

They did not look at how nurturing their fathers were but the authors believe they probably have a big influence too particularly for the next generation as parental roles are less rigid than they were when the people they studied were young.

Prof Lachman said the information could help devise training for parents about coping with their child’s stress, living a healthy lifestyle and having ‘control over their destiny’.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.


Scientists urge universities to axe alternative medicine courses

MORE than 400 doctors, medical researchers and scientists have formed a powerful lobby group to pressure universities to close down alternative medicine degrees.

Almost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.

But the new group, Friends of Science in Medicine, wrote to vice-chancellors this week, warning that by giving "undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery" and by "failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine", the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.

The group, which names world-renowned biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and the creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Professor Ian Frazer among its members, is also campaigning for private health insurance providers to stop providing rebates for alternative medical treatments.

A co-founder of the group, Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, of the University of NSW, who is also a government adviser on consumer health fraud, said it was distressing that 19 universities were now offering "degrees in pseudo science".

"It's deplorable, but we didn't realise how much concern there was out there for universities' reputations until we tapped into it," Professor Dwyer said. "We're saying enough is enough. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on funding [these courses] … nor should government health insurance rebates be wasted on this nonsense."

Professor Dwyer said it was particularly galling that such courses were growing in popularity while, at the same time, the federal government was looking at ways to get the Therapeutic Goods Administration to enforce tougher proof-of-efficacy criteria for complementary medicines, following the release of a highly critical review by the Australian National Audit Office last September.

Of particular concern to the group is the increase in chiropractic courses, following the recent announcement of a new chiropractic science degree by Central Queensland University. More than 30 scientists, doctors and community advocates wrote to the vice-chancellor and health science deans at the university voicing their concern, which laid the foundations for Friends of Science in Medicine.

The groundswell of protest from medical professionals comes after a decision in Britain that means from this year it will no longer be possible to receive a degree from a publicly-funded university in areas of alternative medicine, including homeopathy and naturopathy.

German and British medical insurance providers are also in the process of removing alternative therapies from the list of treatments they will cover.

Australia's vice-chancellors will meet in March and Professor Dwyer said his group was aiming to get a commitment from them to endorse health courses only with evidence-based science.

The spokesman for Universities Australia said tertiary institutions were self-accrediting. "[They have] the autonomy … to ensure the quality and relevance of the courses they offer," he said.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, a government body set up to regulate higher education, refused to comment.

Most health funds pay rebates for alternative therapies under top cover polices. Private Healthcare Australia did not return the Herald's calls.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Here we go again

Eating chocolate could stave off bowel cancer, say scientists. There are some sharp skeptical comments towards the end of the article

A study found having daily doses of cocoa reduced the risk of developing the disease. It is the latest piece of research to highlight the health benefits of the cocoa bean, most of which is harvested in West Africa.

Previous studies have found the seed is rich in particularly powerful natural antioxidants that destroy harmful molecules known as free radicals. And it has been suggested that eating chocolate with a high cocoa content could help to control diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease.

Dr Maria Arribas, of the Science and Technology Institute of Food and Nutrition in Spain, who led the latest study, said: 'Foods like cocoa, which is rich in polyphenols, seems to play an important role in protecting against disease.'

Dr Arribas and her team investigated if the food could stop rats from developing bowel cancer when exposed to tumour-causing chemicals.

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel and depending on where the cancer starts, it can sometimes be referred to as colon or rectal cancer.

One group of rats were fed a daily diet consisting of 12 per cent of cocoa for eight weeks, while another group were given a diet containing no cocoa.

After a period of time, both groups were exposed to a carcinogen called azoxymethane, which is used to induce colon cancer. Within four weeks of the toxin exposure rats began to develop intestinal cancers.

However, the researchers discovered the rats on the cocoa diets had a reduced number of pre-cancerous lesions compared to the control group. It is believed that the study, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, is the first to suggest that cocoa could help prevent bowel cancer. Further research is now needed to explore how the raw material could benefit humans.

However Sarah Williams, a spokesperson from Cancer Research UK warned that too much chocolate can also have a negative impact.

Commenting on the study she said: 'This study involved rats in the lab who were fed very large quantities of cocoa over a number of weeks, so it’s impossible to conclude that that eating chocolate or drinking cocoa protects people against bowel cancer.

'But we do know that chocolate is high in fat and calories, so eating too much of it could lead you to put on weight. 'And being obese has been shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer, so eating lots of chocolate is unlikely to be a good way to cut the risk.'

She highlighted that eating a healthy diet with 'lots of fruit, veg and fibre and limiting red and processed meat, cutting down on alcohol, staying physically active and not smoking' are other ways to reduce the risk of cancer.

In England, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer and it is estimated that 16,000 people die from the disease each year.


McFlurry of trade brings record year

A nasty one for the food Fascists

WE DON'T know how many burgers they made, but the other numbers are big enough. McDonald's rang up record sales of $US27 billion ($25.6 billion) in 33,510 restaurants worldwide last year, an increase of 12 per cent, turning a profit of $US5.5 billion from the 68 million customers it serves each day.

Although there is no country breakdown, it seems Australia was a weak contributor, with our stronger dollar biting into earnings and its chief executive, Jim Skinner, noting "lagging consumer confidence as a result of the economic slowdown".

Just 34 new stores opened in Australia last year, McDonald's US filings reveal, lifting this country's total to 865. That compared with 177 new stores opened in China.

But Australia again lived up to its track record as a hotbed of new ideas for the fast food giant. Chicken McBites have just been launched in the US after being invented here and launched in 2010. The recent launch here of smoothies and frappes have resulted in good sales volumes.

"That's something we're really proud of," said a spokeswoman. "Lots of innovation in McDonald's starts in Australia, like McCafes."

In what feel like hard economic times, McDonald's is trying to focus on value. "The McValue lunch has been very popular," the spokeswoman said.

Worldwide, said the chief operating officer, Donald Thompson, breakfast at McDonald's is booming, driven partly by local offerings such as McMuffins.

"Probably the biggest of all of the menu pieces I would say is breakfast. Breakfast is beginning to circulate around the rest of the world . .. there's some tremendous opportunity there. So we've got a lot of room still in breakfast products, the premium sandwiches. Wraps are travelling. McBites are in the US from Australia and smoothies and beverages are travelling around the world. So those things are going to continue."

In the December quarter, McDonald's reported sales of $US6.8 billion, up 10 per cent on the previous year, and net income of $US1.4 billion, up 11 per cent.

McDonald's does not give a country-by-country breakdown but the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa were the strongest of its geographic regions, with sales up by 11 per cent both for the quarter, after stripping out currency impacts, compared with a year earlier, and for the 2011 full year.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vitamin D deficiency in UK a 'major problem'

This is a disgrace. Official scares about avoiding skin cancer by staying out of the sun would have to be a major factor in this. Sun-loving Australians must get 1,000 times more sun exposure than Brits but skin cancer is only a minor problem among them, not even requiring surgery, usually. A quick spray with liquid nitrogen and that is the end of it usually

A quarter of all toddlers in the UK are lacking Vitamin D, according to research.

Vitamin D supplements are recommended for those people at risk of deficiency, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under five, and the elderly, but 74 per cent of parents know nothing about them and more than half of healthcare professionals are also unaware, the BBC said.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, described the issue as a "major problem". He told BBC Breakfast: "We see about one case of rickets a month in our hospital, but that's the very severe end of the disease. "There are many other children who have less severe problems - muscle weakness, delay in walking, bone pains - and research indicates that in many parts of the country the majority of children have a low level of Vitamin D."

He explained that it was discovered that Vitamin D prevents rickets about 100 years ago when most children in London suffered from the disease, and it was later eradicated.

But then, in the 1950s, there was concern that children were getting too much Vitamin D in food supplements and cod liver oil and supplements were stopped. This was unlike in other Western countries where they continued, he said. Dr Jacobs said: "We thought they were unnecessary, possibly harmful, and that was a major mistake."

He said parents are largely unaware of the risk of the condition, while health professionals are often taught that rickets is a disease of the past.

"It's really only over the past 10 years or so that I've noticed children with Vitamin D deficiency. and still I would say today, the majority of doctors, health visitors, midwives, nurses, are not aware enough of the problem," he said.

Asked about how vulnerable people can be given more Vitamin D, Dr Jacobs said current guidelines suggest taking drops or tablets, but experts are also looking into food supplementation.

He said it would not be harmful if people ended up with too much Vitamin D in their diet.

Current guidelines suggest that children and pregnant women should have 400 units a day, but he described this as a "conservative" level compared to the US, where he said a study suggested pregnant women should have 4,000 units. "In my view, it is extremely safe," he added.

Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said the Government would be reviewing the issue. She said: "We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of Vitamin D in their blood.

"People at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements. "Our experts are clear - low levels of Vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

"Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free Vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

"It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend Vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups.

"The Department of Health has also asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to review the important issue of current dietary recommendations on Vitamin D."


Brain scans could diagnose dyslexic children before they even learn to read and head off difficulties at school

Some children with dyslexia go undiagnosed for years, leading to prolonged learning difficulties and children who are angry and frustrated at school. But all that could be a thing of the past.

Scientists now say they can identify the reading problem before children even start school, and long before they become labeled as poor students and begin to lose confidence in themselves.
Dyslexia typically is not identified until children are seven or eight and demonstrate real problems with their reading

Dyslexia typically is not identified until children are seven or eight and demonstrate real problems with their reading

Although children are not typically diagnosed with dyslexia until they are around 7 or 8 years old - a team from Children's Hospital Boston said they could see signs of the disease on brain scans in children as young as 4 or 5 years old.

This age is also when studies show children are most able to respond to interventions. 'We call it the dyslexia paradox,' said Nadine Gaab of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at the hospital, whose study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gaab said most children are not diagnosed until they demonstrate problems reading, but helping children with dyslexia works best if you start before they even begin to learn to read.

'Often, by the time they get a diagnosis, they usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid, parents telling them they are lazy. We know they have reduced self esteem. They are really struggling,' Gaab said.

Her study builds on an emerging understanding of dyslexia as a problem with recognizing and manipulating the individual sounds that form language - which is known as phonological processing.

In order to read, children must map the sounds of spoken language onto specific letters that make up words. Children with dyslexia struggle with this mapping process.

'The beauty is spoken language can present before written language so people can look for symptoms,' said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University.

Signs of early dyslexia might include difficulty with rhyming, mispronouncing words or confusing similar-sounding words. 'Those are all very early symptoms,' Shaywitz said.

Dyslexia affects roughly 5 per cent to 17 per cent of all children. And up to 50 per cent of children with a family history of the disorder will struggle with reading, have poor spelling and experience difficulty decoding words.

In her study, Gaab and colleagues scanned the brains of 36 pre-school children while they did a number of tasks, such as trying to decide if two words start with the same sound.

They found that during these tasks, children who had a family history of dyslexia had less brain activity in certain regions of the brain than did children of similar ages, intelligence and socioeconomic status.

Older children and adults with dyslexia have dysfunction in these same areas of the brain, which include the junctions between the occipital and temporal lobes and the temporal and parietal lobes in the back of the brain. 'Often, by the time [children with dyslexia] get a diagnosis, they usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid'

Gaab said the study shows that when children predisposed to dyslexia did these tasks, their brains did not use the area typically used for processing this information. This problem occurred even before the children started learning to read.

'The important point of this paper is it shows the need to look for signs of dyslexia earlier,' said April Benasich, director of the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, who was not part of the study.

Benasich studies language processing in even younger children - babies who have a family history of learning disorders. 'There is evidence to suggest that what is thought to be reading failure is there before the kids fail,' she said.

Gaab said her study is too small to form the basis of any test for dyslexia but her team has just won a grant from the National Institutes of Health to do a larger study. Ultimately, she hopes parents will be able to go to their doctor and ask for their child to be assessed.

'Families often know that their child has dyslexia as early as kindergarten, but they can't get interventions at their schools,' she said in a statement. 'If we can show that we can identify these kids early, schools may be encouraged to develop programs.'


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Silent Thalidomide': Thousands of mothers and their daughters at risk of cancer from anti-miscarriage drugs they took decades ago

Tens of thousands of woman could suffer a rare cancer caused by a banned drug taken by their mothers or even grandmothers. The drug, Diethylstilboestrol (DES), was freely prescribed to pregnant women in Britain for three decades up to 1973, and was supposed to prevent miscarriages.

But it was belatedly banned in Britain after it was found to increase the risk of miscarriage – and it is now feared that it can lead to a deadly cancer to a second and even third generation.

Some 2,000 women have already sought compensation in America, with payouts totalling up to £1bn from the numerous drug companies that sold DES, while scores more are launching more legal action.

Now fresh compensation cases are set to begin here, with tens of thousands of British women to be asked if they could be potential victims of the drug nicknamed ‘the silent Thalidomide’.

As well as causing a rare cervical and vaginal cancer, and possibly breast cancer, in the daughters, and potentially grandchildren, of the women who took it long ago, DES is also being blamed for causing fertility problems.

The drug, a synthetic copy of the female hormone oestrogen, was created in Britain in 1938, and was soon being prescribed to millions of women around the world.

Doubts about the wisdom of using it surfaced in 1953, when an American study showed it caused more, rather than fewer miscarriages.

But it was not until 1971 that US authorities told doctors to stop prescribing it - after it was found that one in a thousand of the daughters of women prescribed DES had developed the cervical and vaginal cancer ‘clear cell adenocarcinoma’ (CCAC). And it was only in 1973 that British doctors were advised to stop prescribing the drug.

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has suggested 7,500 British women took DES, but there are other claims that up to 300,000 could be at risk.

Figures suggest that daughters of women who took the drug are made 40 times more likely to develop the cancer CCAC, often when young adults. The cancer is fatal in more than a quarter of cases. One study suggested that breast cancer risk is also doubled.

It will be impossible for many possible victims to find out, of course, whether their mothers or grandmothers used the drug.

Research on rodents has lent weight to the fear that DES dangerously alters DNA not only in the individual taking the drug, but also that those changes are passed on at least two generations.

Washington DC lawyer Aaron Devine, who is representing the 80 American women currently seeking compensation, is due in Britain in a fortnight to arrange a search for potential victims here.

The first woman in Britain found to have suffered as a result of DES taken by her mother is Heather Justice, 59, of Jarrow in Tyne and Wear. She was diagnosed with vaginal cancer aged 25, then went through a hysterectomy and other surgery. Records showed her mother had taken DES in the 1950s, but because she did not know which company produced it, has been unable to bring legal action.

Mrs Justice said: ‘One of the problems is that unlike Thalidomide, where you see the problem the minute the baby was born, women who took DES had healthy babies. ‘Problems were hidden until the teens and twenties, by which point we were forgotten about. When I asked my mum what she had taken, she didn’t even remember the name of the stuff. It is a complete and utter minefield.’

Among others who believe they have been afflicted in Britain are Janet Hall, 61, of Bournemouth - whose mother died from lung cancer aged 32 – who had to have much of her cervix removed when she was 20. She suffered a miscarriage, then had two daughters. One, Hannah, 26, has had pre-cancerous cells found in her cervix, she said. Mrs Hall said: ‘I feel guilty for my girls. It messes with your mind; it makes you ask why you had to have children.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health spoke of having ‘every sympathy’ for self-proclaimed victims, but said: ‘With regard to compensation for people who believe they have been adversely affected by this drug, this is a matter for the manufacturer(s) and/or the UK licensees of the drug.’


Packed lunches now "incorrect"

I took a packed lunch to school every day as a kid living in the tropics and came to no harm, nor did any other kid that I knew of.

SCHOOL children and workers who leave home with a packed lunch are at risk of food poisoning in warm weather, health experts say.

Four in five Australian workers take packed lunches, of which only half are kept cool, a Newspoll survey has found.

With bacteria growing quickly in warm weather, the likelihood of food poisoning is high, especially when cold meat, soft cheeses, pates and raw-egg mayonnaise are on the menu, the Food Safety Information Council says.

The risk is reduced by packing a frozen juice box, water bottle or ice pack with the lunch.

Children's lunch boxes do not need to be refrigerated if they are stored with a frozen item and kept inside school bags, away from heat sources such as direct sunlight.

Adults should store lunches in a workplace fridge or a cooler bag.

Where possible, lunches should contain low-risk foods including hard cheeses, well-cooked meats and poultry. Fresh, well-washed fruits and vegetables, and sandwich spreads such as honey and vegemite are ideal.

Lunch boxes and reusable drink bottles should be thoroughly washed and dried before they are used again. If they are damaged, the boxes should be replaced as bugs will grow in any cracks, the council says.

Food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 billion days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.2 billion.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

British insanity: Local councils will be handed £5bn to combat obesity

And it won't make a scrap of difference. It never does. Even when people do lose weight, they eventually put it back on -- and more

Local government is to take back responsibility for public health for the first time since the 1970s and will be given more than £5billion a year to stem obesity, binge drinking and smoking.

Powerful new public health directors based in councils will be asked to transform the NHS so it focuses much more on preventing illness rather than dealing with its consequences.

Announcing the plans today, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will argue that a decade of failure has seen obesity rates spiral – with more than a quarter of adults now dangerously overweight – sexually transmitted infections double and gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor areas persist.

Mr Lansley, who aims to create a new ‘public health service’, will say that under Labour, public health was seen as ‘something to be sidelined’.

He will announce that next year £5.2billion will be spent on public health as responsibility is returned to local authorities for the first time since 1974. In a speech to health professionals, he will also pledge that the Government will increase health spending in real terms each year after that.

From April 2013, for the first time the funding will be ringfenced, meaning public health cash can no longer be raided to bail out other parts of the system.

Public health is currently the responsibility of primary care trusts. But as these will be scrapped with the introduction of GP consortiums in 2013, it has been decided that it should revert back to local government – which is responsible for wider determinants of health, such as housing, transport and leisure.

Local government will devise its own schemes for promoting public health, though ministers favour ‘nudging’ people to make healthy choices by presenting them as social norms rather than Labour’s ‘nanny state’ approach.

One example was the use of signs in shops saying ‘most people who shop here buy at least two pieces of fruit’, a tactic which proved effective in trials.

Under the new system, local authorities will be judged against a wide range of measures including tooth decay in children and reducing the number of falls in older people, and wider factors such as school attendance, domestic abuse, homelessness and air pollution. There will also be a major push to promote breastfeeding.

Mr Lansley will say: ‘The job of the Government – and my responsibility – is to help people live healthier lives.

‘The framework is about giving local authorities the ability to focus on the most effective ways to improve the public’s health and reduce health inequalities, long-term, from cradle to grave. Moving away from an old-style, top-down, target-driven regime, and towards outcomes that we all want to see.

‘Some are straightforward and obvious. Others are more complex, maybe things you wouldn’t immediately think of. ‘But they all help us live longer, healthier lives, and improve the health of the poorest, fastest.

He will also point out that ‘2000 to 2010 was a decade in which public health was seen as relatively unimportant, something to be sidelined’.

He will say: ‘Obesity rates from 2000 to 2010 rose from 21.2 per cent to 26.1 per cent so now over a quarter of adults are obese; sexually-transmitted infections, after the steep declines in the Eighties to Nineties, doubled in the subsequent decade; and health inequalities persist, with gaps in life expectancy of over a decade between people born in the richest areas and people born in the poorest.’

Mr Lansley will cite last year’s National Audit Office report which was unable to conclude that the £20billion Labour spent on reducing health inequalities was good value for money.

Councils who succeed will be rewarded with a ‘health premium bonus’ to spend on public health in the following year.

‘I want local government to be bold,’ Mr Lansley will say. ‘Really push to make things better. The health premium will encourage that, rewarding local authorities that make a real, demonstrable difference.’


'Breast is best advice is too posh': Charity stops promoting it in ante-natal classes

A leading childbirth charity will stop telling mothers to breastfeed over fears its image is ‘too posh’.

The National Childbirth Trust will no longer promote the practice to all women in its ante-natal classes. Instead it will encourage those who have already decided to take it up to do it properly.

The change follows concerns that its ‘breastapo’ tactics are alienating some women reluctant to breastfeed, particularly among the working class. The charity wants women from more diverse backgrounds to attend its classes.

The NHS recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for six months. Breastfeeding rates range from 90 per cent for more affluent women, to just over 70 per cent for those in the poorest social classes and only 63 per cent for teenage mothers.

It provided ante-natal classes for about 90,000 couples last year, 16 per cent of them free through the NHS. But it has been criticised for alienating women who decide not to breastfeed or those who chose to have a caesarean.

Last year TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp claimed that she and thousands of mothers were being made to feel a ‘failure’ for having c-sections.

Spokesman Anne Fox said: ‘We need to get the message out that the NCT is for everyone, not just for “posh” parents as some people assume. ‘We want to have a more diverse reach. We have always worked on word of mouth, but now we want the person who says “You should go to NCT” to be a pregnant 15-year-old in central Manchester. ‘Our practitioners and volunteers are training to support all parents; those from ethnic minority groups, families that are newly arrived and those who parent on their own.’

The NCT, formed in 1956, has 100,000 members, making it the biggest parenting charity in the country.


Monday, January 23, 2012

A most interesting finding

Contrary to expectations, babies born into difficult family situations adapt to that by developing faster. And their experience in utero primes them to do that, allegedly.

I wonder, however, are we looking at a type of chimpanzee effect here. That effect connects early maturation to lower final levels of mental ability. If the "depressed" mothers in the study were of sub-par average IQ, we would expect their infants to mature faster anyhow -- with no fetal detection involved. Control for maternal IQ would resolve that

Prescient Human Fetuses Thrive

Curt A. Sandman et al.


Fetal detection of adversity is a conserved trait that allows many species to adapt their early developmental trajectories to ensure survival. According to the fetal-programming model, exposure to stressful or hostile conditions in utero is associated with compromised development and a lifelong risk of adverse health outcomes.

In a longitudinal study, we examined the consequences of prenatal and postnatal exposure to adversity for infant development. We found increased motor and mental development during the 1st year of life among infants whose mothers experienced congruent levels of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy, even when the levels of symptoms were relatively high and the prenatal and postnatal environments were unfavorable.

Congruence between prenatal and postnatal environments prepares the fetus for postnatal life and confers an adaptive advantage for critical survival functions during early development.


Tanning addicts snap up banned drug Melanotan II

Just another drug of abuse that probably would be better legalized so its effects can be properly tracked and users helped where needed

HEALTH experts are alarmed at a booming trade in an artificial tanning drug that promises to make you "tanned, thin and turned on".

Melanotan II, nicknamed the "Barbie Drug", is banned from commercial sale in Australia but tan-addicts are snapping up vials of the injectable drug over the internet. Initially popular with bodybuilders, the drug is now being used by models, brides-to-be, actresses and others seeking an instant tan.

One online distributor Pure Peptides, listed as being based in Australia and the US, claims it was flooded with more than 10,000 orders in the past year.

A 10mg vial of the synthetic hormone which increases the levels of melanin, the skin's darker pigment can be bought online for as little as $40.

But the Australian Medical Association warns it could cost users their lives. "People should not be messing with something that's unproven and theoretically increases the risk of skin cancers, particularly melanomas," Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said.

The drug has also been banned in Britain, Canada and throughout Europe after reported side effects including nausea, flushing, the darkening of freckles, high-blood pressure, physical scarring, suppressed appetite, spontaneous erections and increased libido.

Dr Kidd said: "There hasn't been any proper clinical studies done on humans. They're putting dollars before lives."
Melanotan II is banned from commercial sale and the Therapeutic Goods Administration last year made it illegal for Australians to buy it from overseas for personal use without a prescription.

But the move has not stemmed the tide of sales, with the drug still freely promoted and available online to Australians.

A TGA spokeswoman said: "It continues to be unlawful for Melanotan to be imported and sold on a commercial basis. In addition, it is now unlawful to import Melanotan for personal use unless the substance is prescribed by a medical practitioner registered in Australia."

One supplier Pure Melanotan declares on its website: "All Australian orders are shipped from our local Australian distribution center via Australian Post Express, No Customs & No Duties or fees."

The TGA said they were not aware of these local warehouses but warned the supply of the drug in Australia could be an offence against state and Commonwealth legislation. The TGA said it would investigate if the drug was slipping into Australia unchecked.

But Dr Kidd warns Melanotan II is unapproved for a good reason: "You might end up accidentally killing yourself."


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Are dads to blame for unhealthy kids? New study shows obese fathers more likely to have overweight children

It's what you would expect from genetics. Everything else is a minor influence

New research has linked fathers' weights to their childrens' - finding that an obese man is more likely to have obese children.

The Australian study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, looked at the weights of eight- and nine-year-old children from two-parent families where one parent was obese.

The report found that 'having an overweight or obese father, but a healthy weight mother, significantly increased the odds of child obesity', while the reverse did not hold true.

The findings go against popularly held beliefs that mothers - who tend to spend more time with children than fathers as well as usually controlling food shopping and meals - have more influence over children's weight.

Today Mums says that scientists had before theorised that the sex of offspring was an important factor when it came to parents' sizes affecting obesity.

It was thought that obese mums were more likely to have obese daughters and obese fathers would similarly be more likely to have obese sons. The new evidence throws that into doubt.

The counter-intuitive results, yielded from 3,825 children, have surprised the University of Newcastle, NSW, scientists, who have not yet isolated the reasons for the correlation.

In an email to Today Mums, study co-author Emily Freeman, from the university's Family Action Centre, said that the results merited prompt action: 'We felt that it was very important to get the message out there straight away that dads have a big role in keeping their children healthy'.

The health scientist went on to say that a father's position as a role model may be influencing children's weights.

A dad who eats his greens and heads to the park for exercise is undoubtedly setting a good example - and one that is corroborated by anecdotal evidence when it comes to healthy children, says the scientist.


Men over 6ft 'face a 24% lower risk of heart failure'

This is consistent with there being a general syndrome of biological fitness. High IQ people tend to be taller and healthier so we are seeing another part of that below

They are said to be more desirable to women, more successful and more likely to father children. And now scientists claim that tall men have yet another advantage – they are less at risk of heart problems.

Harvard researchers have found that those who are more than 6ft are a quarter less likely to suffer from heart failure than men just a few inches smaller.

They looked at the records of 22,000 male doctors in their mid-fifties who were subsequently followed over a 22-year period. They each filled in an initial questionnaire on their height, weight and general health and then every year subsequently filled in surveys about any new medical diagnoses.

The study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, found that 1,444 men developed heart failure which was about 7 per cent of the total. But men who were 6ft or over (1.8 meters) were 24 per cent less likely to report having heart failure than those who were 5ft 8 or smaller (1.72 meters).

This was after their age and weight, as well as whether they had high blood pressure and diabetes, had all been taken into account.

The scientists think that one reason is that shorter men may have had childhood diseases that stunted their growth. In adulthood this could have led to the build-up of plaque in their arteries and higher blood pressure.

But they also think that the biology of taller men may put them at less risk. They say that there is greater distance between certain points in their arteries and their hearts which puts the heart under less strain.

Jeffrey Teuteberg, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who was not involved in the study said: 'As much as we know about the development of very common diseases like heart failure, there’s still a lot we don’t know. “There’s still a lot more that impacts the development of those diseases beyond those things,” 'The message certainly shouldn’t be: "If you’re tall, don’t worry about these sorts of things, or if you’re short, you’re doomed."'

Heart failure affects around 900,000 people in Britain, mainly the elderly.

It occurs when their hearts are too weak to properly pump blood around the body and can be caused by heart attacks, which cause the organ to weaken.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Patients With Normal Bone Density Can Delay Retests, Study Suggests

Bone loss and osteoporosis develop so slowly in most women whose bones test normal at age 65 that many can safely wait as long as 15 years before having a second bone density test, researchers report in a new study.

The study, published in Thursday’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, is part of a broad rethinking of how to diagnose and treat the potentially debilitating bone disease that can lead to broken hips and collapsing spines.

A class of drugs, bisphosphonates, which includes Fosamax, has been found to prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis. But medical experts no longer recommend the medicines to prevent osteoporosis itself. They no longer want women to take them indefinitely, and no longer consider bone density measurements the sole defining factor in deciding if a woman needs to be treated.

Now, with the new study, researchers are asking whether frequent bone density measurements even make sense for the majority of older women whose bone density is not near a danger zone on initial tests, recommended at age 65.

“Bone density testing has been oversold,” said Steven Cummings, the study’s principal investigator and an emeritus professor of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study followed nearly 5,000 women ages 67 and older for more than a decade. The women had a bone density test when they entered the study and did not have osteoporosis. (In a separate national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 percent of women over age 65 did not have osteoporosis.)

The researchers report that fewer than 1 percent of women with normal bone density when they entered the study, and fewer than 5 percent with mildly low bone density, developed osteoporosis in the ensuing 15 years. But of those with substantially low bone density at the study’s start, close to the cutoff point for osteoporosis of fewer than 2.5 standard deviations from the reference level, 10 percent progressed to osteoporosis in about a year.

Dr. Margaret Gourlay, the study’s lead author and a family practice specialist and osteoporosis researcher at the University of North Carolina, said she and her colleagues were surprised by how slowly osteoporosis progressed in women.

Medicare pays for a bone density test every two years and many doctors have assumed that is the ideal interval, although national guidelines recommend them only at “regular intervals.”

“I think this will change the way doctors think about screening,” Dr. Gourlay said.

The results, said Joan A. McGowan, director of the division of musculoskeletal diseases at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, “provide telling evidence that you are not going to fall off a cliff if you have normal bone density in your 60s or early 70s, that you are not going to have osteoporosis in the next five years unless something else happens.”

For example, said Dr. McGowan, who was not involved in the study, a woman who had to take high doses of corticosteroids for another medical condition would lose bone rapidly. But the findings “cover most normal women,” she said.

Bone density screening took off after Fosamax, the first bisphosphonate, was approved at the end of 1995. For the first time, doctors had a specific treatment that had been shown to prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis.

For years doctors were overly enthusiastic, prescribing it for women whose bone density was lower than normal but not in a danger zone, keeping women on the drug indefinitely. They even gave a name, osteopenia, to lower than normal bone density, although it was not clear it had real clinical significance.

Now, osteoporosis experts consider osteopenia to be a risk factor, not a disease, and its importance varies depending on a patient’s age, said Dr. Ethel S. Siris, an osteoporosis researcher at Columbia University who was not involved in the study.

Doctors are more likely to prescribe bisphosphonates for older patients and recommend against them for most younger postmenopausal women with osteopenia.

The experts also generally recommend that most people on bisphosphonates take them for just five years at a time, followed by a drug holiday of undetermined length. The idea is to reduce the risk of rare but serious side effects, including unusual thighbone fractures and loss of bone in the jaw.

A risk calculator, FRAX, can help determine whether treatment is recommended. It assesses a combination of risk factors: whether a parent has had a hip fracture, the age of the patient, steroid use, bone density at the hip, and whether the person has broken a bone after age 50, an especially important indicator. Nearly half who break a hip already had already broken another bone, Dr. Siris said.

“If you are an older individual, a man or a woman, who already broke a major bone — spine, hip, shoulder, or pelvis or wrist — take it very seriously and get treated,” she said. “If you have relatively good bone density then you are not at risk now.”


The Report on Carcinogens

What Went Wrong and What Can Be Done to Fix It

There is nothing wrong in principle with publishing periodic reports identifying substances that pose carcinogenic risks to humans. Cancer remains a serious disease even though advances in diagnosis and treatment have rendered most types much less often fatal than they were when President Richard Nixon declared the “war on cancer” in 1971. But it would be a mistake to continue basing these reports on scientific knowledge and primitive technology dating from the 1960s.

The National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is one such periodic report. The NTP has interpreted its statutory charge in a way that never was consistent with the law authorizing its preparation, resulting in Reports that never could live up to Congress’ original intent. Though the law requires the NTP to estimate the number of Americans actually exposed, and to list substances only if a significant number of Americans are exposed to them, the NTP functionally ignores exposure. The law also requires the NTP to estimate the reduction in cancer incidence resulting from regulatory standards, but it does not perform that required task, either.

Problems with the RoC begin with the NTP’s listing criteria. A careful review of the text shows that they are mere tautologies. For example, a substance is deemed to be a known carcinogen if the NTP decides that the evidence from human studies is sufficient. The minimum threshold for designation as a known carcinogen is unknown to the public because the NTP never says what is required for evidence to be sufficient. Thus, a substance is a known human carcinogen if the NTP says the evidence is sufficient. Conversely, the evidence is sufficient if the NTP says the substance is a known carcinogen. Similarly circular logic pervades the definition of a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen.

Worse, the NTP appears to be institutionally incapable of incorporating decades of advancements in scientific knowledge into its listing decisions, and there is no transparent way to scientifically rebut or reverse a listing decision once it has been made.

Both of the statutory categories for assignment (known and reasonably anticipated) imply that a causal relationship has been demonstrated with near certainty in the first case, and with an unspecified but lesser confidence level in the second. But the NTP’s listing criteria do not require any demonstration of causality. Rather, the NTP assumes that causality is demonstrated when it decides to list. This is clear from the grammatical structure of the criteria, which treats causality as a merely parenthetical element.

This enables the NTP to reserve to itself the discretion to consider whatever information it wants, to exclude whatever information it wants, and to evaluate that information in accordance with whatever ad hoc criteria it wants to apply. The NTP does not constrain itself to scientific information, either. By withholding B. 2 Belzer: The Report on Carcinogens from the public the weight of evidence scheme, the NTP preserves the policy discretion to give any weight it wants to policy goals and objectives, and to keep those weights hidden from public view.

This paper concludes with specific recommendations for statutory reforms that would improve the scientific quality of listing decisions and the practical utility of the RoC for screening-level risk-benefit decision-making. Each recommendation would help restore science to its intended role and end the NTP’s science charade.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Weight gain linked to risk of aggressive cancer - study

The usual rubbish. They are most likely just picking up that poor people tend both to get fatter and to have poorer heath generally anyhow. Note that it is the moderately overweight who have the longest lifespans

THE risk of death from prostate cancer nearly doubles in men who have put on 20 kilograms or more in their adult life, new Australian research has found.

The paper, published in the International Journal of Cancer, shows an increase in body weight during a man's adult life is associated with an increased risk of suffering an aggressive form of prostate cancer and of dying from prostate cancer.

Having a high body mass throughout life was also associated with increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. "This study and other similar studies have shown that obesity is related to aggressive and fatal cancer," said the study's co-author, Dallas English. "Maintaining a healthy weight during adult life is really the bottom line."

Professor English, director of the centre for molecular, environmental, genetic and analytic epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, said one of his concerns was that the study - of more than 17,000 Australian men aged 40 to 69 - drew participants from a generation in which childhood obesity was not a significant issue.

He said the higher rates of obesity among children now might worsen outcomes. "In Australia, things have changed a lot," he said. "We haven't had the experience of people growing up with childhood obesity."


Daily dose of rosehip extract could help cut heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels

The small changes observed may have no clinical significance. Journal article here

A daily dose of the herbal remedy rose hip could cut the risk of heart disease, new research shows. Obese patients who consumed a drink made with rose hip powder every day for just six weeks saw their blood pressure and cholesterol levels drop significantly.

The tiny berries, which sprout at the end of the rose-blooming season, have been used for centuries as a folk remedy for conditions like arthritis. They are packed with vitamin C and are thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

One study in 2007 showed patients with sore joints who took a rose hip capsule every day experienced a 40 per cent drop in pain levels and a 25 per cent improvement in mobility.

In the latest research, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists at Lund University in Sweden recruited 31 obese men and women to see if a daily concoction made with rose hip powder would reduce their risks of developing type two diabetes and heart disease.

Each one spent six weeks drinking the rose hip solution, made with 40 grammes of rose hip powder, followed by six weeks on a drink make from apples and grapes.

At the end of each experiment, researchers measured patients’ body weight, blood pressure, blood fat levels and glucose tolerance - a test to see if they are in the early stages of diabetes.

After six weeks on the rose hip drink, patients saw their blood pressure drop an average of 3.4 per cent, a small but significant decline, and their total cholesterol levels drop by almost five per cent.

Further tests revealed a bigger drop - six per cent - in levels of LDL cholesterol, the ‘bad’ type of blood fat thought to heighten heart disease risks.

Scientists estimated that the drop in cholesterol and blood pressure combined would reduce the risk of heart disease in obese patients by 17 per cent.

And they said if further studies confirmed the cardiovascular benefits of the common garden berry, it could even be used as an alternative therapy for patients who are unable to take the anti-cholesterol drugs statins due to side effects.

In a report on their findings the researchers said: ‘The findings may have important health implications. They may represent an attractive alternative to statin treatment for people that, because of muscle pain and increases in liver and muscle enzymes, do not tolerate statins.

‘The same is true for people at risk of developing diabetes, as statins recently were shown to increase the risk of diabetes.’


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Statins could be linked to increased risk of diabetes

They're treading gingerly here. Once they start talking about statin side-effects, it will open up a real can of worms. The side effects are so numerous that statins will almost certainly eventually be found to reduce lifespans among those who actually take them.

A lot of people who are prescribed them throw them out after a couple of days because of the side effects on memory, muscle tone etc. They may not always tell their doctor that, however.

Journal article here

Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may be linked to an increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women, according to a U.S. study. However, researchers said the benefits of the heart attack-reducing drugs still make them valuable for people at risk.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that among the thousands of women looked at, those who reported using any kind of statin at the start of the seven-year study were nearly 50 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those not taking statins.

'Statin medication use in postmenopausal women is associated with an increased risk for diabetes mellitus,' wrote Yunsheng Ma of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and his colleagues.

The group used data from the Women's Health Initiative, including more than 150,000 diabetes-free women in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

As part of that larger trial, some of the women were prescribed diet changes or took daily hormone therapy or vitamins, while others weren't told to change their diet or lifestyle.

At the start of the study in the mid-1990s, the women filled out health questionnaires that included whether or not they were taking statins, as well as information on other diabetes risks, such as weight and activity levels. The researchers then followed participants for six to seven years, on average.

In total, just over 10,200 women developed diabetes, with women who reported using any kind of statin - about one in 14 of the participants - 48 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those not taking statins.

That was after considering other known diabetes risks.

Previous studies, mostly in men, have suggested a smaller 10-to-12 per cent increase in diabetes among statin users, said Naveed Sattar, a metabolism and diabetes researcher at the University of Glasgow who did not take part in the study.

Those numbers may be more accurate because they come from trials in which participants were randomly assigned to take a statin or not, which can better account for possible differences in groups of patients, he said, noting that this kind of observational study can't prove cause-and-effect.

The high cholesterol levels that caused the women to take statins may be responsible for the onset of diabetes - rather than the statins themselves. Still, 'broadly speaking, this kind of confirms that statins may well increase diabetes risk,' Sattar said.

The reasons why remain unclear, but the effect of statins on the muscles and liver may lead the body to make slightly more sugar than it normally would, or cause users to exercise a bit less, he added.

While this means that a bit more caution may need to be taken in broad statin use, the benefits still outweigh the potential risk for people with heart disease, he and other experts aid.

Instead, statin users should try to reduce their risk of diabetes in other ways, such as by losing weight and getting more exercise, and should have their blood sugar regularly monitored.

'The conclusion still stands that overall, those people who've got existing heart disease or have had previous strokes, they still would get vast benefit from statins,' Sattar said.


Coffee 'reduces risk of diabetes… but decaff works best

If you are a rat

Drinking coffee can help reduce the risk of diabetes, say scientists. A study found three compounds contained in the beverage can block the toxic build up of a protein, which is known to trigger the long-term condition.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin for it to function properly but the coffee extracts were also shown to prevent insulin-producing cells from being destroyed. Researchers now believe the coffee extracts - caffeine, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid - could help develop more effective treatment.

Lead researcher Kun Huang from Huazhong University of Science and Technology said: 'We found three major coffee compounds can reverse this toxic process and may explain why coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.'

All of the compounds were shown to have a positive effect during laboratory tests, however caffeine was the least effective of the three. As a result Huang states that decaffeinated coffee could be more beneficial than regular options.

Huang added: 'In decaffeinated coffee, the percentage contents of caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid are even higher [than in regular coffee], whereas the level of caffeine is greatly reduced.

'We expect that decaffeinated coffee has at least equal or even higher beneficial effect compared to the regular caffeinated types.'

The new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, supports previous studies which have found people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a 50 per cent lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Despite the findings Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton, highlights that the concentrations of coffee compounds used in the Chinese study are much higher than those found in a typical coffee consumption.

Researchers now plan on carrying out further studies in animals and humans to better understand the link between coffee consumption and reduced risk of diabetes.

Diabetes affects 2.8 million people in the UK and it is thought that a further one million people have the condition but are unaware of it. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity and can often be controlled by following a healthy diet and monitoring blood glucose levels.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

HRT breast cancer alert that led to thousands of women abandoning treatment was 'based on bad research'

I have been pointing this out for years

British research which linked HRT to breast cancer and led to hundreds of thousands of women abandoning the treatment was ‘unreliable and defective’, says a damning review.

It is almost ten years since the study – the largest of its kind – contributed to a worldwide scare about the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy. It was one of three major pieces of research which undermined the confidence of women and doctors in the therapy.

As a result GPs were advised to prescribe it on a short-term basis only to combat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. They were also told not to use it as a treatment for the bone thinning disease osteoporosis – which can lead to deadly fractures. An estimated one million women gave up HRT in Britain, halving the number using it.

Scientists at Cancer Research UK’s Epidemiology Unit at Oxford, who carried out the MWS, said HRT doubled the risk of breast cancer and blamed it for an extra 20,000 British cases over the decade.

However, the new review led by Professor Samuel Shapiro, a leading epidemiologist at Cape Town Medical School, South Africa, says the size of the study was irrelevant because the design was flawed and this skewed its findings. Professor Shapiro claims the study failed on a number of criteria accepted in good quality research.

For example, cancers detected within a few months of the study’s start would have already been present when women were enrolled, but these were not excluded and this skewed the findings.

Women in the study were contacted through breast screening – but this in itself would have increased the number already aware of lumps or pre-cancerous changes and led to a bias in higher numbers of cancers being detected.

A key criticism is the ‘biological implausibility’ of HRT promoting new cancers – and of this effect being ‘switched off’ within months of a woman stopping using it.

The researchers also said the name Million Women Study implies an authority beyond criticism or refutation. ‘Size alone does not guarantee that the findings are reliable,’ said the review. ‘HRT may or may not increase the risk of breast cancer, but the MWS does not establish that it does.’

The review, published in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, is the final in a series looking at research linking HRT to breast cancer, which found flaws in two other major studies.

Review co-author Dr John Stevenson, consultant metabolic physician at Imperial College, London, and Royal Brompton Hospital London, said: ‘So much damage has been done by frightening women off HRT, in terms of reducing their quality of life, preventing bone loss and fractures and improving the risk of cardiovascular disease.

‘HRT is one of the cheapest treatments in medicine and we have yet to count the cost to the NHS because of women not having HRT.’

Professor Dame Valerie Beral, who led the Million Women Study, said the review authors were influenced by work as consultants to HRT manufacturers, and that 20 other studies had come to the same conclusion as MWS. [An "ad hominem" attack is about as weak a rejoinder as you get]


Sweet, sour, salt, savoury, bitter AND fat: Scientists discover that tongue has 'sixth sense' for lipids

If you cannot resist a stodgy cake or chips, it may not be simply down to lack of willpower.

Some of us have a sixth sense of taste – for fat – and those of us who lack it could be more susceptible to piling on the pounds.

For years it was thought that the tongue could detect just four elements of taste – sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Then a fifth ‘savoury’ one was discovered.

Now scientists believe a genetic variant can make some people far more sensitive to fat molecules than others.

Until now, it had been assumed that the desire to eat fatty foods was to do with the sensory system, with some people attracted to its smell and texture.

But the Washington University School of Medicine researchers found that obese people’s cravings for fatty food may be related to their levels of a receptor called CD36.

Those with more of it are better at detecting the presence of fatty food, and seemingly less likely to gorge on it. Twenty-one overweight people were asked to taste solutions from three cups and point to which was different. One contained small amounts of a fatty oil, while the other two were fat-free.

Participants who made the most CD36 were eight times more sensitive to the presence of the fat than those who made around half the amount.

Researcher Professor Nada Abumrad said the finding could help treat obesity by finding a way to increase sensitivity to it.

‘What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity,’ she said.

As people eat more fat, it is possible they need more and more to satisfy their cravings, the researchers told the Journal of Lipid Research.

Previous tests of the CD36 receptor in animals have shown levels of it are not just genetic, but that eating more fat leads to less production of it.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nutrition therapists condemned as 'quacks' who put patients' health at risk

Nutrition therapists have been condemned as quacks and accused of putting the health of the sick – including those suffering from breast cancer – at risk.

An industry has grown up based on the concept that ‘food doctor’ nutritionists can cure patients’ ills and allergies through diet.

However at least some of the practitioners, who charge up to £80 for a consultation, are providing advice that could harm health, a study by the consumer watchdog Which? found.

The group sent undercover researchers to pose as patients with a range of problems and visit 15 so-called nutritional therapists.

Which? said: ‘They found shocking examples of advice which could have put patients with real health problems at risk.’ All but one of the 15 offered either potentially dangerous or misleading advice. Six of the consultations were rated as ‘dangerous fails’ in terms of misinformation and bad advice. A further eight were rated as ‘fails’, and just one a ‘borderline pass’.

Which? is calling on the Government to regulate the sector which, like much of the cosmetic beauty and anti-ageing industry, has no effective policing regime.

It said: ‘One researcher, posing as a breast cancer sufferer, was told by her therapist to delay radiotherapy treatment recommended by her oncologist, saying they could rid the body of cancer through diet. ‘The therapist advised her to follow a no-sugar diet for three to six months saying, “Cancer feeds off sugar. By cutting out sugar we have a better chance of the cancer going away.”’

This was considered highly irresponsible and incorrect by a panel set up by Which? to assess the advice. It included Professor David Colquhoun, an expert in pharmacology at University College London and a GP, Dr Margaret McCartney.

Another researcher was told if the treatment prescribed for his severe tiredness started to make him feel unwell, it showed that it was working. The therapist advised him not to contact his GP as they ‘wouldn’t understand what was happening’.

Bizarre tests, including iridology, which involves examining patterns in the iris, and hair analysis were also used to ‘diagnose’ conditions.

A researcher who said she had been struggling to conceive was told after having her iris examined she had ‘bowel toxicity’ and a ‘leathery bowel’. Both are meaningless terms, the expert panel said.

Which? found the therapists often used these tests as a part of a sales talk to market unnecessary supplements costing up to £70 a month. Very few of the 15 addressed issues that would have had a positive impact on health, such as reducing alcohol intake.

Prof Colquhoun said: ‘Nutritional therapy is plagued by ‘diagnostic tests’ that are little more than quackery. Iridology and hair analysis simply don’t work.’ Dr McCartney said: ‘If you have symptoms see your GP, not someone who can’t diagnose accurately.’

Which? has decided not to name the therapists involved. However, it has reported its findings to the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT), where a number are registered.

BANT declined to comment.

The British Dietetic Association was keen to make clear its trained dietitians are very different from nutrition therapists such as those visited by Which? BDA said: ‘Anybody can set up shop as a nutrition therapist, with no qualifications. Registered dieticians working in the UK are educated to degree level and must be registered with the Health Professions Council.’


Australia: Women 'overdiagnosed' with breast cancer

There have been similar reports to this from Britain

WOMEN are being treated unnecessarily for breast cancer due to mammograms "overdiagnosing" cancers which would never cause harm, a study has revealed.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Monash University breast cancer researchers Robin Bell and Robert Burton called for women invited to use the publicly-funded BreastScreen program to be presented with a more balanced view about the benefits and harms of breast screening.

Their analysis found that improvements in cancer treatments rather than early detection through screening was likely to have caused the 21 to 28 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths since the program began in 1991.

A 2010 study found that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one would have her life prolonged but 10 healthy women would be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and treated unnecessarily.

The Cancer Council has backed calls for women to be informed about the risks and benefits of screening, including the uncertainty of overdiagnosis but insist that breast screening has contributed substantially to an overall drop in breast cancer deaths. It said three evaluations of mammography screening for women aged 50-69 years had put the reduction in breast cancer mortality at between 30 and 47 per cent.

Associate Professor Robin Bell said the benefits of the BreastScreen program were overblown. "This comes down to the balance of harm versus benefits," Prof Bell said. "My view is that women need to be given more balanced information about the BreastScreen program when invited to be screened.

"Overdiagnosis amounts to women having a small, slow-growing cancer being diagnosed and treated, where in her lifetime that cancer may not have required treatment."

She said the impact of breast screening was diminishing as the outcome of treatment for breast cancer improved and the balance of benefit to harm of breast screening was becoming less favourable. "This has serious implications for health policymakers," she said.

More than 13,000 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.