Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eating a Mediterranean diet 'improves mental well-being as well as physical health' (?)

There is a lot of bull talked about the good ol' Med diet but this would have to be the crappiest of all.  Both the diet and the health "results" were judged by self-report questionnaire.  There is no objective data in the study at all

Eating a Mediterranean diet is good for the mind as well as the body and improves a person's quality of life, according to researchers.

The study found that the consumption of oil-rich Mediterranean foods, such as fish and seafood, helps to improve overall well-being.

For years the region's diet has been associated with superior physical health.

But scientists have now linked its consumption to improved mental and physical health too.

A Mediterranean diet, which is characterised by a regular intake of fruit, vegetables, pulses, fish, olive oil and nuts, has been proven to lessen the chances of chronic illness.

However, it was not yet clear how the diet impacts on mental and physical health and quality of life.

So scientists devised a food pyramid, which states main meals should never lack cereals and fruit and veg - and a daily intake of two litres of water.

Olive oil is the main source of fat for nutritional quality and moderate consumption of wine is recommended, as well as fish, lean meat and eggs - all are found in Mediterranean diets.

At the top of the pyramid are sugar, sweets, cakes, pastries and sweet drinks, which should only be consumed occasionally and in small amounts.

The researchers, from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra in Spai, conducted a four-year study of the eating habits of more than 11,000 university students.

Dietary intake data was taken at the beginning of the study and self-perceived quality of life was measured after the four year period.

To determine whether the Mediterranean diet was followed, consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts, cereals and fish were positively rated on a questionnaire and meat, dairy products and alcohol were negatively valued.

Results showed those who stuck more to the Mediterranean diet scored higher on the quality of life questionnaire in terms of physical and mental well-being, with the link to physical well-being even stronger.

Lead researcher Patricia Henrmquez Sanchez said: 'The progressive ageing of the population in developed countries makes it even more interesting to find out those factors that can increase quality of life and the health of the population.

'The Mediterranean diet is an important factor associated with better quality of life and can be considered as a healthy food model.'

The study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Heh!  Excess levels of Vitamin D linked to higher death rates

Excess levels of vitamin D in the blood are linked with higher death rates, warn researchers.

They claim, in a ‘surprising’ finding, that too much of the sunshine vitamin may cause almost as much harm as too little.

A new study from Danish researchers found rates of death were 40 per cent up in people with very high levels of vitamin D.

The study from University of Copenhagen is based on blood samples from 247,574 patients having tests through their GPs.

But British experts said the UK had the reverse problem, with one in four people currently having low levels that put them at risk of deficiency.

The study is the largest of its kind using blood samples from the Copenhagen General Practitioners Laboratory.

It found a link between higher death rates when vitamin D levels fell to the lowest level - and when they soar to the highest level.

The findings show when blood contains less than 10 nanomol (nmol) of vitamin per liter of serum, mortality is more than doubled, being 2.31 times higher than the average.

However, if the blood contains more than 140 nmol of vitamin per liter of serum, mortality is higher by a factor of 1.42 - around 40 per cent higher.

The lowest mortality rate was at 50 nmol, says a report in the scientific Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system, strong healthy bones and teeth, and the absorption of calcium..

Deficiency has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and autoimmune conditions as well as osteomalacia, which is the painful manifestation of soft bones in adults.

Researcher Darshana Durup, of the university’s faculty of health and medical sciences, said ‘We found higher mortality in people with a low level of vitamin D in their blood, but to our surprise, we also found it in people with a high level of vitamin D.

‘We can draw a graph showing that perhaps it is harmful with too little and too much vitamin D.

‘It is important to conduct further studies in order to understand the relationship. A lot of research has been conducted on the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

'However, there is no scientific evidence for a "more is better" argument for vitamin D, and our study does not support the argument either.

‘We have moved into a controversial area that stirs up strong feelings just like debates on global warming and research on nutrition. But our results are based on a quarter of a million blood tests and provide an interesting starting point for further research.’

She said ‘Our data material covers a wide age range. The people who participated had approached their own general practitioners for a variety of reasons and had had the vitamin D level in their bloodstream measured in that context.

'This means that while the study can show a possible association between mortality and a high level of vitamin D, we cannot as yet explain the higher risk.’

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the UK Health Supplements Information Service said the findings were contradicted by other research, showing people with higher vitamin D levels had lower mortality rates.

Data from the UK’s national nutrition survey showed no Britons had levels of vitamin D as high as those found at the top end in the study, which may have been affected by the fish-rich diet enjoyed by many Danish people, she said.

‘The Danes actually get a lot more sun exposure than Britons and eat a lot of oily fish. Although this is healthy in moderation, oily fish also contains high levels of vitamin A which can be harmful and toxins which may have had an effect on people’s health.

‘One-quarter of Britons go into the summer with levels of vitamin D below the level for optimal health, we have the problem of too many people consuming too little of the vitamin’ she added.

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency does not recommend a specific daily dose of vitamin D unless you are elderly, pregnant, Asian, get little sun exposure and eat no meat or oily fish when 10mcg is advised.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The death panels are real  -- and are at work in America right now

Cancer deaths are too expensive to prevent?

What do you get when you cross 3 pediatricians, 4 internists, 3 family doctors, 2 epidemiologists, 2 nurses, a PhD, an obstetrician, a perinatologist and an occupational medicine doctor? Unfortunately, this is not a joke. You get a Federal Government panel, given the imprimatur as experts on a medical subject that if any one of them individually treated, would be considered malpractice. This would be the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), an ad hoc committee charged with making recommendations about clinical preventative services. They have just issued their findings that there is no role for routine PSA screening in men to detect prostate cancer. The real question is why do we need such an agency?

There are no doctors on this panel who treat prostate cancer. You would not go to a pediatrician or obstetrician if you had this disease, so how does it make sense to aggregate 16 such people and have them opine on a subject that they know about only from a book?

The conclusions of this committee were reached using a relatively new statistical gimmick called “meta-analysis”. This allows the pooling of small studies to create an enormous one with what statisticians refer to as “strength”, which is based entirely on large numbers of patients. It does not account for the quality of the study itself, and bad methodology of small studies can be concealed by pooling data, which is what happened here.

The American Urological Association (AUA)-the true experts in this area- has denounced these recommendations. It is particularly stinging that these recommendations were released during the largest meeting of urologists in the world- the AUA annual convention in Atlanta, where over a quarter of the program is devoted to discussion about prostate cancer. I know this is true because I attended it.

Some relevant facts about prostate cancer- it is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, but in the US. It is first, and is the second leading cause of death in men. Prostate cancer worldwide has the highest prevalence in the US, where it affects 125 of every 100,000 men, and in African-Americans it is 185. When compared to the rest of the world where PSA testing is not routinely done, the death rate from prostate cancer is the lowest in the US. Here, the 10 year survival of men with prostate cancer has risen from 53% in the pre-PSA testing era to 97% now.

These statistics are just part of the story. Prior to PSA testing, 25% of men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer already had spread of the disease to their bones. Now it is less than 5%.The USPSTF got it completely wrong when they recommend waiting to get a PSA until a man has symptoms of prostate cancer. For many men, these symptoms do not occur until late in the disease, when they can suffer miserably from the side effects of advanced disease. 30,000 men die annually from this disease and this number will rise significantly because of these recommendations. It will set back the advances made in prostate cancer by over 20 years.

This is just the latest attempt by the USPSTF to limit effective screening methods for cancer. In 2010, they made recommendations to significantly curtail screening mammography for breast cancer in women. Now they are recommendations, but soon, when Obamacare is fully implemented, these will be policy, not suggestions, and will have the full force of law behind it. Other screening programs will soon be on the chopping block, like colonoscopy for colon cancer screening.

The reason behind this is simple. It is about money, power and control. On the UTPSTF web site, it states that over 1000 PSA tests were necessary to save a single life from prostate cancer. Someone in Washington has decided what the value of a human life is, and what would be the acceptable cost associated with saving it. This is called “comparative effectiveness” and is what happens in a socialized healthcare system, like in England, where resources need to be allocated prudently, and healthcare is rationed. This is the essence of Obamacare- a system where medical decisions have been taken away from patients and their doctors and transferred to bureaucrats in Washington.

Just two final notes - my friend, a family medicine doctor, sent me an email that 3 of his patients called today to get a PSA before it was unavailable. And for the record, President Obama was screened for prostate cancer with a PSA within the past year.


Organic myths and malpractice

A study reported in the journal Nature shows it's time to put the thirty years' war between organic and conventional agriculture behind us.

Just like the real Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in which Catholics fought Protestants on ecclesiastical grounds, the organic-versus-conventional war has been an entirely pointless undertaking.

A handful of organic activists have made outlandish claims against conventional and biotech food, giving consumers the false impression that paying double or more for organic groceries is the only way to feed your family safely. Meanwhile, the majority of salt-of-the-earth organic farmers have ignored the battle, appreciating that it's not their place to “beat” their neighbours, but rather to simply offer an alternative to consumers.

The report − “Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture” by Verena Seufert, Navin Ramankutty and Jonathan Foley − indicates that organic crops yield 25 percent less overall than conventional crops. But speaking as an organic inspector, I must report, regrettably, that things are actually a lot worse for the organic activist mob.

First of all, the study does not account for residual, synthetic fertilizer in organic fields. Second, and of far greater significance, the authors fail to consider that isolated organic fields benefit from all the pest-protection being carried out by neighboring farmers, which makes it difficult if not impossible for insects, bacteria and fungi to even reach organic fields.

But of greatest significance is the issue of fraud. If only a few organic farmers were cheating, the results of this study might be accurate. If, however, just 20 percent of organic farmers cheat by using synthetic ammonium nitrate, thereby doubling or tripling their yields, then this handful of charlatans could easily rival the combined production of the rest of the organic industry!

I communicated with Seufert and Ramankutty right after their study came out. Seufert insists that fraud could not possibly have influenced her results because she relied “on data from experimental stations of research institutes where the management practices were controlled thoroughly.” Fair enough.

But, in the same breath she admits, “We also included data from farm surveys,” and this, I pointed out, is where fraud would most certainly have an impact on her results.

Naturally, she insists that “management practices were strictly controlled and all inputs documented,” but this brings us to the crux of the single biggest challenge facing organic agriculture: You can document all you want, but it does not guarantee compliance. Bernie Madoff proved that.

Since organic certification in the United States and Canada is all done on paper without any field testing, one could very well ask whether side-by-side comparisons of this sort can even be done.

Still, it's a long-overdue study thoroughly debunking claims by organic activists that organic yields can equal or exceed conventional yields, a patently absurd notion.

It's not that the authors of the Nature article deliberately overlooked the issues discussed here. Most people simply aren't aware of the complete lack of field testing in the multi-billion-dollar organic biz. So, no one should be upset if the results of this study are taken with a grain of salt.

In the meantime I will continue to believe what I saw with my own eyes while carrying out over 500 organic farm inspections: that organic yields are closer to half what conventional and biotech yields are, which is perfectly fine because, after all, organic agriculture is all about quality, not quantity.

This brings us full circle to the inescapable upshot of this study: organic farming is most certainly NOT part of the solution to feeding the world. It remains a perfectly valid, alternative food-production system for those willing to pay more for quality, hopefully in the form of purity and nutrition.

But we need to start guaranteeing that organic food is genuinely organic each and every time. Otherwise, consumers will continue to be duped by a phony political agenda.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Breast cancer link to working nights: Three late shifts a week 'doubles the risk of disease'

Groan!  Who work night shifts?  Working class people.  Who have poorer health anyway?  Working class people.

Women who work night shifts are at higher risk of breast cancer, warn researchers.  Their findings suggest working at night increases the chances of the disease by 40 per cent.

Women working more than two night shifts a week have double the risk of those on day shifts, says a report from scientists, while night workers who also describe themselves as ‘morning people’ or ‘larks’ have a stronger risk than those who say they are ‘night owls’.

Experts believe a hormone in the body that potentially suppresses tumours may be disrupted by constant exposure to light during night-time hours.

There has been mounting evidence that night shifts might boost cancer risk because of the disruption to the body clock and hormone production.

The latest study, backed by the Danish Cancer Society, involved more than 18,500 women working for the Danish army between 1964 and 1999.

Researchers were able to contact 210 women out of a total of 218 who had breast cancer between 1990 and 2003 and who were still alive in 2005/06.

These women were matched with 899 women of the same age who had also worked for the Danish army but had not developed breast cancer.

The women completed a detailed questionnaire which included questions on their working patterns, use of the Pill and HRT, sunbathing habits and whether they classified themselves as a ‘morning’ or ‘evening’ person.

Overall, night shift work was linked with a 40 per cent increased risk of breast cancer compared with no night shifts. But women who had worked night shifts at least three times a week for at least six years were more than twice as likely to have contracted the disease as those who had not.

Those working this shift pattern for this length of time were even more likely to develop breast cancer if they were ‘morning’ types, says a report in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

They were almost four times as likely to have the disease as those who worked no night shifts, possibly because they are more susceptible to body clock disruption.

Researcher Johnni Hansen said the findings suggested that working up to two nights a week was not long enough to disrupt the body clock.

But frequent night shifts for several years may disrupt circadian rhythms – the body clock – and sleep patterns.
Night shift workers, such as the emergency services, have double the risk risk of breast cancer, new research suggests

Night shift workers, such as the emergency services, have double the risk risk of breast cancer, new research suggests

Exposure to light at night inhibits production of melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland in the brain between the hours of 9pm and 8am. Melatonin, a hormone which dictates the natural cycles that govern sleep patterns, helps suppress tumours.

Research suggests that unusually low levels of melatonin, which are seen in people exposed to light during the night, may promote tumour growth.

Dr Rachel Greig, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘It may be that night shifts themselves are not the only cause, as shift work can increase the likelihood of other lifestyle risk  factors, such as lack of exercise.

‘All women should cut back on alcohol, get regular physical activity and maintain a healthy diet to reduce their risk of breast cancer.’


Anti-psychotic drug also kills cancer

These findings in laboratory glassware generally lead nowhere but it may be a straw in the wind

A drug with a long list of heavy side effects, commonly used to treat sufferers of schizophrenia, also possesses some startlingly potent anti-cancer properties, according to research published Thursday in the medical journal Cell.

The drug, thioridazine, is usually dispensed as a last resort for schizophrenics whose symptoms did not respond to other treatments. Scientists said that after analyzing thousands of different drugs for possible anti-cancer effects, they discovered that thioridazine can be used to selectively target and eradicate cancerous stem cells present in leukemia, along with breast, blood, brain, prostate, ovarian, lung and gastrointestinal cancers, all without the worst side effects of today’s most frequently used cancer therapies.

“The unusual aspect of our finding is the way this human-ready drug actually kills cancer stem cells – by changing them into cells that are non-cancerous,” Mick Bhatia, the study’s principal researcher and scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in Canada, said in a media advisory.

Bhatia’s team didn’t find the drug all on their own, however. In order to siphon up large amounts of previously unknown data on already-available drugs, they actually created a robotic stem cell screening system that analyzed thousands of different chemical compounds for potential effects on leukemia and breast cancer.

“We discovered the drug by creating a new way of looking at different chemicals,” he explained to “In order to do that, we have to put cancer stem cells in a dish, but also have normal stem cells to also test the compounds. We were able to do this with a robotic system, fully automated, that allowed us to go through 10 or 15 compounds [at first]. Now we can do this with thousands of compounds, eventually arriving at this drug that doesn’t do anything to normal stem cells, but kills cancer stem cells.”

The bad news: thioridazine is known to cause a wide variety of side effects in humans, including vomiting, constipation, swelling, slowed movements, the inability to produce facial expressions and sudden death from an irregular heartbeat — meaning the drug won’t get prescribed to cancer patients just yet.

However, scientists said that further study of how the drug interacts with cancer cells could broach a new frontier in cancer therapies, and noted that there are at least 12 other existing drugs that have “good potential for the same response.” They are still testing the drug’s effects on other types of cancers.

The McMaster advisory noted that Bhatia’s team hopes to begin human trials soon, and plans to test the drug first on leukemia patients whose cancer has returned after remission. They reportedly hope to learn whether thioridazine can also help prevent cancers from returning.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Caesarean section babies 'face double the risk of obesity' than those delivered naturally

All this probably means is that middle class women are healthier and have less need of C-sections.  And fat is working class these days

Babies born by caesarean section are at double the risk of becoming obese children as those delivered naturally, researchers have claimed.

They said the obesity epidemic could be driven in part by rising rates of surgical deliveries.

The rate of caesareans in England is almost 25 per cent, which totals around 155,000 a year.

The operation can be life-saving for mother and baby but about 7 per cent of NHS surgical births occur for no medical reason.

In the US study, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital examined 1,225 mother and child pairs over three years, weighing them and measuring the babies’ body fat. One in four of the deliveries was by caesarean.

After taking into account obesity in the mother and other factors, they found almost 16 per cent of children delivered by caesarean were obese by the age of three compared with 7.5 per cent born naturally.

The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, concluded that infants born surgically are not exposed to beneficial bacteria, and therefore their bodies take longer to accumulate good bugs that boost the body’s metabolism.

Obese adults tend to have fewer ‘friendly’ bacteria in their digestive tract and higher levels of ‘bad’ bacteria, which mean they burn fewer calories and store more of them as fat.

However, other studies show that obese women are more likely to need a caesarean, and are more likely to have children who grow up to be overweight or obese.

The researchers said mothers should be made aware of the potential health risks to the baby when choosing a surgical delivery if it is not necessary.

Sue MacDonald, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘This highlights the need to avoid caesareans that are not medically needed.’


Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2011-301141

Delivery by caesarean section and risk of obesity in preschool age children: a prospective cohort study

By Susanna Y Huh et al.


Objective: To examine whether delivery by caesarean section is a risk factor for childhood obesity.

Design: Prospective prebirth cohort study (Project Viva).

Setting: Eight outpatient multi-specialty practices based in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

Participants: We recruited women during early pregnancy between 1999 and 2002, and followed their children after birth. We included 1255 children with body composition measured at 3 years of age.

Main outcome measures: BMI score, obesity (BMI for age and sex ≥95th percentile), and sum of triceps plus subscapular skinfold thicknesses at 3 years of age.

Results: 284 children (22.6%) were delivered by caesarean section. At age 3, 15.7% of children delivered by caesarean section were obese compared with 7.5% of children born vaginally. In multivariable logistic and linear regression models adjusting for maternal prepregnancy BMI, birth weight, and other covariates, birth by caesarean section was associated with a higher odds of obesity at age 3 (OR 2.10, 95% CI 1.36 to 3.23), higher mean BMI z-score (0.20 units, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.33), and higher sum of triceps plus subscapular skinfold thicknesses (0.94 mm, 95% CI 0.36 to 1.51).

Conclusions: Infants delivered by caesarean section may be at increased risk of childhood obesity. Further studies are needed to confirm our findings and to explore mechanisms underlying this association.


Seaweed pill could help beat arthritis thanks to potent anti-inflammatory effect
Just speculation so far

A pill made from seaweed could one day help treat the painful joint disorder arthritis.  Scientists found a 'nuisance' seaweed that has been destroying coral reefs in Hawaii produces a chemical with powerful anti-inflammatory properties.  It could be used in future medicines to treat other chronic diseases from cancer to heart trouble.

The seaweed is packed with tiny photosynthetic organisms called 'cyanobacterium' which also produce compounds that have shown promise in combating bacterial infections.

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego first discovered the organism in 2008 off the Kona coast of Hawaii.

They took samples from the seaweed blooms in 2009 as they were overgrowing and smothering the corals underneath. They were also releasing a chemical that was causing the corals to bleach.

Tests on this chemical revealed some surprising results - the seaweed was generating natural products known as honaucins, which had potent anti-inflammation and bacteria-controlling properties.

Researcher Professor William Gerwick said: 'In different arenas these compounds could be helpful, such as treating chronic inflammatory conditions for which we currently don’t have really good medicines.'

Assistant professor Jennifer Smith, added: 'These organisms have been on the planet for millions of years and so it is not surprising that they have evolved numerous strategies for competing with neighboring species, including chemical warfare.

'Several species of cyanobacteria and algae are known to produce novel compounds, many that have promising use in drug development for human and other uses.'

Professor Gerwick said: 'I think this finding is a nice illustration of how we need to look more deeply in our environment because even nuisance pests, as it turns out, are not just pests.

'It’s a long road to go from this early-stage discovery to application in the clinic but it’s the only road if we want new and more efficacious medicines.'

The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

'Orphan' sleep drug may be potent cancer-fighting agent

And because of the FDA, this drug will never become generally available.  It takes half a billion dollars to get a drug through the FDA and since the drug will not be patentable, nobody is going to spend that sort of money on it

An inexpensive "orphan drug" used to treat sleep disorders appears to be a potent inhibitor of cancer cells, according to a new study led by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Their novel approach, using groundbreaking technology that allows rapid analysis of the genome, has broad implications for the development of safer, more-effective cancer therapies. The findings are published in the May 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A research team led by corresponding author Carla Grandori, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator in the Hutchinson Center's Human Biology Division, used a high-speed robotic technology called high-throughput screening and a powerful genetic technique called siRNA gene silencing to uncover fatal weaknesses in cancer cells driven by an oncogene known as "Myc," which is hyperactive in many cancers, including those of the brain, breast, lung, ovary and liver.

Myc traditionally has been considered an "undruggable" oncogene because it is not readily neutralized by the kind of small, stable molecule that would work as a cancer drug. Even if such drugs existed, they would likely disable Myc in normal cells as well, which would create toxic side effects.

"Fortunately, Myc-driven cancer cells have an Achilles heel," Grandori said. "Their rapid growth and division damages their DNA, and they rely on other genes to repair that damage. Disabling those genes can cripple the cancer's ability to grow."

Grandori and colleagues found more than 100 genes which, when blocked, caused the death of Myc-driven cancer cells but not normal cells. This suggests that each of these genes is a potential target for a new, nontoxic cancer therapy.

One of these genes, CSNK 1 epsilon, is especially promising. Not only does silencing it kill cancer while sparing normal tissue, but an inhibitor for the enzyme it produces already exists: a compound that originally was developed to modulate sleep cycles.
"It had been sitting on a shelf for years, like the thousands of other 'orphan' drugs that are abandoned when they prove ineffective for their intended use," Grandori said.

With a simple, five-minute web search, she purchased the compound online and designed an experiment to test its potential.  She implanted special laboratory mice with Myc-driven neuroblastomas (a deadly cancer of the nervous system that often strikes children), and treated half of them with the new compound. The untreated mice quickly died of their tumors, but the treated mice thrived and their neuroblastomas shrank away.

"It is possible that the next great breakthrough in cancer therapy is already out there, sitting on a shelf, hiding in plain view," said Grandori, who is also a research associate professor and director of the Quellos High Throughput Screening Core at the University of Washington Department of Pharmacology.

Grandori feels that the combination of high-throughput screening and siRNA silencing has the potential to radically change the way cancers are treated.

"We've barely scratched the surface," she said. "These techniques are incredibly powerful, but they're new and not widely known. There are thousands of researchers who could apply this approach to their work. In the right hands, it could speed up the development of new cancer therapies a thousand-fold."


The Nasa 'space drink' hat can rub out sun spots: Fruit juice developed to protect astronauts reduces wrinkles and reverses the telltale signs of ageing in four months

But does it shorten your lifespan?  Many anti-oxidants do

A groundbreaking study has shown that the concoction, known as AS10, dramatically reduces wrinkles, blemishes and sun damage after four months.

Visia photographs – which reveal the condition of the skin below the surface by using different types of light exposure – were taken of 180 participants at the start of the trial, and again after four months of drinking two shots of AS10 a day. By the end UV spots were reduced by 30 per cent and wrinkles by 17 per cent.

AS10 was developed as a nutritional supplement for astronauts to protect them from the damaging effects of high levels of radiation outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The drink contains a blend of fruits including cupuacu (a Brazilian fruit from the cacao plant family), acai, acerola, prickly pear and yumberry, which all provide vitamins and phytochemicals – compounds known to block the harmful effects of radiation. Other ingredients are grape, green tea, pomegranate and vegetables.

Radiation particles alter oxygen molecules in the body to create reactive oxygen species (ROS) – so-called ‘free radicals’ which damage cells in a process known as oxidative stress. This process has been linked to diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. The toxic molecules are also thought to play a role in the skin ageing process.

ROS are created naturally within the body as cells generate energy, but also through environmental factors such as chemicals and ultraviolet light from the sun – the strongest stress to skin. Mobile phone radiation, cigarette smoke and alcohol also generate ROS.

‘Think of them as little Pac-men taking bites out of molecules that are essential for cells to function,’ says Dr Aaron Barson, the nutritional scientist from Utah who carried out the AS10 study after patients reported dramatic improvement from the drink.

AS10 is thought to improve skin condition because the drink’s large quantities of antioxidants ward off oxidative stress, allowing the skin to heal naturally. Antioxidants attach themselves to ROS and neutralise them before they cause damage.

Dr Barson says: ‘The skin is the first body tissue to be exposed to UV rays and we know it is sensitive to oxidative stress. Our study shows it greatly benefits from a reduction in this stress. The effects of oxidative stress on the skin can be quickly modified and the skin can heal itself by drinking AS10.’

Dr Barson suggests that the results may have been even better had the trial been conducted during the winter, when exposure to ultraviolet light would have been less.

A second, larger study is planned this summer to investigate for how long the effects last and whether skin condition reaches a plateau or deteriorates once the drink is no longer consumed.

The main drawback is the high price of the drink. The women in the trial drank a sherry glass – 60ml – of AS10 a day. At £30 per 750ml bottle, the cost was just under £300 over the four months.

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says: ‘The Visia scans show a marked improvement in the level of UV spots, which represent sun damage beneath the surface of the skin. The kind of interventions that might deliver this level of improvement are glycolic skin peels, which use acids to strip away layers of skin, retinoids, high-potency Vitamin C and hydroquinone with the use of sun block on a daily basis.

‘If these changes were due to AS10, this would be of great interest as UV is responsible for 80 per cent of the skin changes we associate with ageing.’

She adds that although AS10 might well do what it claims, a critical appraisal of the methods in the study would be required to back this up.

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Mervyn Patterson, of Woodford Medical, agrees. He says: ‘These images show a reduction in the degree of pigmentation on the skin caused by UV exposure. This could be due to the drink.’

But he says daily use of sunscreen with UVB/UVA sun protection factor of 50+ could deliver results on a par with AS10. ‘It is more likely to protect the skin, resulting in reductions in redness and pigmentation and a subtle reduction in wrinkles.’


Friday, May 25, 2012


I am off to hospital again later today  -- for what I hope will be the last time for a while.

How much if anything I will be able to blog for a few days is uncertain.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Calcium booster pills 'raise risk of heart attack and could do more harm than good'

Taking calcium supplements can push up the risk of a heart attack, warn researchers.  They claim the safety of the tablets is 'coming under increasing scrutiny' as they could be doing more harm than good.

Hundreds of thousands of women take  the boosters as they are recommended for strengthening bones against osteoporosis.

But, according to the study, the supplements can no longer be seen as a low-cost panacea against thinning bones.  Instead, the scientists suggest, people should eat more calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese and green, leafy vegetables.

They found that those using calcium boosters, with no other supplements, had double the risk of a cardiac attack than others who did not take them.

Researchers looked at records for 24,000 people in Germany aged 35 to 64 taking part in a nutrition research project in the 1990s.

Their diet was analysed and they were asked if they had taken vitamin or mineral supplements in the previous month.

The volunteers were tracked for 11 years, during which there were 354 heart attacks, 260 strokes and 267 associated deaths.

Those taking any supplements, including calcium, were found to be 86 per cent more likely to have a heart attack than those who did not take any. But the risk for those taking only calcium was even higher.

Researchers claim the tablets have a potentially harmful 'flooding' effect on the levels of the mineral in the blood, it was reported in the medical journal Heart. Calcium in food or drink is spread through the day and so absorbed slowly.

In the study, Professors Ian Reid and Mark Bolland, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, said people should be discouraged from taking the boosters. 

It was also wrong to see them as natural  as they do 'not reproduce the same effects as calcium in food', they added.

The National Osteoporosis Society said there was not enough evidence to say the supplements trigger heart problems.

The Food Standards Agency advises adults to have 700mg of calcium a day in their diet.


Feeling hormonal? How serious cycling could be playing havoc with male reproductive health

Male cycling enthusiasts may have more to worry about than saddle sores and road safety, after a study found the sport can play havoc with their fertility.

Researchers at UCLA School of Nursing found serious cyclists - rather than the recreational rider - could experience hormonal imbalances that could affect their reproductive health.

They found keen bikers had more than double the amount of estradiol in their blood compared to triathletes and other sport enthusiasts.

Estradiol is a form of estrogen and, in males, is produced as an active metabolic product of testosterone.

Possible conditions associated with elevated estrogen in males include gynecomastia, a condition that may result in the loss of pubic hair and enlarged breast tissue.

Study author assistant professor Leah FitzGerald, said: 'Although preliminary, these findings warrant further investigation to determine if specific types of exercise may be associated with altered sex-hormone levels in men that could affect general health and reproductive well-being.' 

Most research studying the effects of exercise on reproductive health has focused on female athletes; there have been few studies that have looked at male endurance-trained athletes.

The UCLA study explored associations between exercise intensity and circulating levels of reproductive hormones in both serious leisure athletes and recreational athletes.

The researchers divided 107 healthy male study subjects (ages 18 to 60) into three groups: 16 triathletes, 46 cyclists and 45 recreational athletes.

Participants completed the International Physical Assessment Questionnaire to provide an objective estimate of time they spent participating in different levels of physical activity and inactivity during the previous week.

Blood samples were then collected from each participant to measure total testosterone, estradiol, cortisol, interleukin-6 and other hormones.

Plasma estradiol concentrations were more than two times higher in the cyclists than in the triathletes and recreational athletes, and total testosterone levels were about 50 percent higher in cyclists than in the recreational athletes.

'Plasma estradiol and testosterone levels were significantly elevated in serious leisure male cyclists, a finding not previously reported in any type of male athlete,' said Leah FitzGerald.

The study has been published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Children of mothers over 40 'are healthier and more intelligent and less likely to have accidents'

As an unpublished paper this is hard to evaluate but the picture of the children given below is typical of high IQ individuals.  The authors claim to have controlled for social class but did that include maternal and paternal IQ?  I doubt it.  High IQ mothers are more likely to postpone childbirth so I think we are just looking at an effect of genetically transmitted IQ here

They might be harder to catch – and no doubt leave their mothers more exhausted – but children born to mums over 40 are healthier and brighter than those of younger women.  The offspring of older women are less likely to have accidents or need hospital care and more likely to have been vaccinated early, a study found.

They will also develop a broader vocabulary from a young age and achieve higher scores in IQ tests in a range of measures up to the age of five.

The research, to be presented today at The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in Glasgow, is a rare piece of good news for the rising number of women who are delaying motherhood.

Previous studies have highlighted the growing infertility rates for older women and the greater risk of them developing diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

But the latest research appears  to show gains for older mothers once they have given birth, possibly due to their greater experience  and maturity.  The number of mothers who gave birth over the age of 40 increased from 15,000 in 2000 to 27,000 in 2010.

Researchers at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and Birkbeck College, London, said their findings showed older mothers can make better parents.

Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, who worked on the study, said negative publicity surrounding the rise of older mothers was based on the physical risks of pregnancy and childbirth.  He said: ‘We have clear evidence that there are more desirable outcomes for children of older mothers compared with younger ages. We can reassure these older women that their children are probably better off.’

The Wellcome Foundation-funded study looked at 1,100 children born to women aged 40 and over, compared with 38,000 children born to younger women in Britain. The children’s ages ranged from nine months to five years.

Children of older mothers were less likely to be in accidents or need hospital admission, and were no more at risk of obesity.

Dr Sutcliffe said older mothers might be more risk-averse, possibly because they were less active and unable to run after their children, but they may also be better at spotting and avoiding potentially risky situations.

The research also checked a number of outcomes linked to parenting skills, including naming vocabulary, picture and shapes identification and developmental IQ using established British assessment scales.

The findings showed greater ability among children born to older mothers once social class was taken into account.

Previous research found three times more children born to older mothers got five GCSEs compared with those born to younger women.

Dr Sutcliffe said: ‘We found a continuum which showed a link between the older ages of mothers and better outcomes. It was the effect of age per se.

‘The big question is why. Older mothers appear to have good parenting skills, they may be less impulsive, calmer and have more life experience that better equips them for the role. More women are giving birth at older ages, this isn’t going to go away, they are deferring motherhood for many reasons.

‘The evidence suggests that when the enormous difficulties of pregnancy and birth are over, they can make better mothers,’ he added.


Middle-aged women 'needlessly denied HRT over breast cancer link'

  I was critical of this study from the beginning.  It stressed risk for a tiny minority of women to the exclusion of the benefits for virtually all women.  If we were all as risk-averse as that we would never get out of bed  --  JR

Millions of middle-aged women were needlessly denied hormone replacement therapy because a landmark report which found it raised the risk of breast cancer was exaggerated, the study's author's have admitted.

Ten years after the publication of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, two academics who worked on it now say the risks of HRT were overblown while the benefits to middle-aged women were overlooked.

The initial research concluded that use of combined HRT - progesterone plus oestrogen - increased the risk of breast cancer by 26 per cent. The following year a separate British investigation, the Million Women Study, found it doubled the risk.

Use of HRT subsequently plummeted, with women frightened to take it and doctors reluctant to prescribe it. In England, the number taking it is thought to have fallen from a peak of about 1.5 million to less than half that.

Yet now two of the prinicipal investigators on the WHI study - which mainly involved women over 60 - say the results were " wrongly generalised" to apply to all post-menopausal women.

The original WHI study included 16,608 women aged 50 to 79, whose average age was 63. It found that use of combined HRT increased the risk of breast cancer by 26 per cent.

But subsequent research has younger women - those under 60 or within 10 years of menopause - tend to react differently, and for most of them the benefits outweigh the risks.

For this group benefits can include reduced risk of bowel cancer, bone fracture, coronary heart disease and a reduced overall death rate, research has found.

Dr Bob Langer, who was the prinicipal investigator on the WHI at the University of California, San Diego, in 2002, said: "Overgeneralizing the results from the women who were - on average - 12 years past menopause to all postmenopausal women has led to needless suffering and lost opportunities for many.

"Sadly, one of the lessons from the WHI is that starting hormone therapy 10 years or more after menopause may not be a good idea, so the women who were scared away by the WHI over this past decade may have lost the opportunity to obtain the potential benefits."

He continued: "Information that has emerged over the last decade, shows that for most women starting treatment near the menopause, the benefits outweigh the risks, not just for relief of hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, but also for reducing the risks of heart disease and fractures."

Professor JoAnn (corr) Manson of Harvard Medical School, another of the principal investigators, said the WHI was still important because it "clarified that, for older women at high risk of cardiovascular disease, the risks of hormone therapy far outweighed the benefits". But she said each woman had to be treated as an individual.

Writing in the Climacteric, the Journal of Adult Women's Health & Medicine, they said one of the key problems of the original study was that women in their 50s were "under-represented". Seventy per cent of participants were over 60.

Writing elsewhere in the journal, other academics point out that the 26 per cent relative increase only translates to eight additional cases of breast cancer per year 10,000 women receiving it.

The Million Women Study - which concluded 2,000 breast cancer cases were caused by HRT in Britain annually - has also come in for criticism, with some experts describing it as "unreliable" due to its design, despite its size.

However, debate on exactly how or how much HRT causes breast cancer rages on, and many of those involved in both studies still say they produced valid results.

Sarah Williams, from Cancer Research UK, said: "This review highlights how important it is to look at each woman’s individual circumstances when considering HRT."

Eluned Hughes, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We do know that taking HRT can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, however, there is on-going confusion and differing opinion around the extent of this increased risk.

"It is therefore vital that women have access to clear, accurate and balanced information outlining the benefits and limitations of taking HRT which will allow them to make an informed choice about their treatment. If women do decide to take HRT, they should be closely monitored and reviewed at least once a year.”


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ignore all that hype about antioxidant supplements: Why daily vitamin pills can INCREASE your risk of disease

Many of us have been so seduced by the idea that supplements help protect us against ill health that we happily pop one, two or even more a day — and feel guilty if we forget.  In the UK alone, we spend more than £300 million on supplements every year.

But while this might be keeping the manufacturers in a healthy state, are vitamin pills really so good for us?

For decades the message has been clear: supplements deliver vital nutrients often missing from our diets, particularly antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, which help fight the damaging action of free radicals.

These molecules are derived from oxygen and are produced by factors as varied as pollution and breathing.

Worryingly, free radicals have been linked to a host of serious ailments, including cardiovascular disease, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autoimmune conditions, diabetes and cancer.  So the thinking has been, free radicals bad, antioxidant pills good.

But increasingly scientists are questioning the benefits of antioxidant pills, and even suggesting that some might actually cause us serious harm.

Most recently, a study published last month by the University of California found no good evidence that they reduce the risk of cancer in healthy people.

More alarmingly, the researchers, who looked at numerous studies assessing the impact of antioxidants (as well as folic acid, calcium and vitamin D), suggested that large doses of some could help promote cancer. These were beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) and vitamins C and E.

And these were not isolated findings.  A worrying body of research now shows the antioxidant pills you’re taking to protect your health may, in fact, be increasing your risk of disease, and even premature death.

One early study from 1994 found regularly taking beta carotene supplements (a 20 mg pill) increased the risk of death from lung cancer by 8 per cent. A 2002 study found large doses of vitamin C (1g) and E (800iu — the unit by which some vitamins are measured) almost trebled the risk of premature death among postmenopausal women.

In 2010, scientists found that taking antioxidant supplements (vitamins A, C, E, beta carotene) could increase bladder cancer risk by 50 per cent.  And a U.S. study last year found vitamin E supplements (dose of 150 iu) increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 per cent, with the risk of death increasing as the dose got larger.

And yet, despite such findings, the sale of supplements generally continues to rise, with the biggest boost seen in individual supplements, for example, vitamin C capsules.  Sales of these are rising by 13 per cent a year, according to research company Euromonitor.  This compares to a steady increase of just 2 per cent in sales of multivitamins.

Concerns about antioxidant supplements are highlighted in a new book,  The Health Delusion, written by Aidan Goggins, a pharmacist, and Glen Matten, both of whom have masters degrees in nutritional medicine.   As the authors explain: ‘Millions of people are misled into ritualistically ingesting these substances in the belief that they are enhancing their general health and well-being.’  In fact, they say, these pills can be positively unhealthy.

They are particularly critical of the manufacturers: ‘Maybe it’s a genuine lack of comprehension of the science, or a stubbornness to expunge former beliefs, or worse, a blatant attempt to cash in while there’s still money to be made.

'Whatever it is, (the supplement manufacturers) are putting your health in jeopardy and it’s high time it stopped.  ‘It is clear that it is no longer science but market forces that are driving the macabre antioxidant industry.’

It’s a controversial view, but Goggins and Matten point out that supplements are based on a flawed understanding of how antioxidants work.

They say the original studies which switched the world on to the health-giving properties of antioxidants were based on diets rich in these compounds in their natural state — i.e. as found in fruit and vegetables.

The antioxidant theory was first mooted by U.S. scientist Denham Harman in the 1950s.   He suggested that the ageing process and its related diseases were the consequence of free-radical activity, and showed that free-radical inhibitors (antioxidants) were able to extend the lifespan of mice.

Over subsequent decades, these findings were backed up by mounting evidence from laboratory studies that showed ‘diets containing antioxidants’ stopped free radicals in their tracks, reducing the incidence of heart disease, strokes and cancers.

‘Free radicals quickly became public enemy number one, and antioxidants our saviours,’ write Goggins and Matten.

By the late 1970s, antioxidant supplements were flying off the shelves, with manufacturers packing larger and larger doses into each pill.  Vitamins swiftly became a global mega-business, worth an estimated £43 billion today.

The industry backed studies which supported a growing belief that vitamin pills could be just as effective as vitamins ingested in their natural form.

But as Goggins and Matten point out, the studies extolling the virtues of vitamin pills were largely ‘observational’.  This means they reported what appeared to happen to groups of people taking vitamins.

However, subsequent ‘intervention studies’ (that is, more rigorous clinical trials  involving placebo groups) have failed to show such dramatic results.  ‘Not only did the intervention studies show no positive effects from antioxidant supplementation, but also a worrying trend of increased harmful effects was emerging,’ they say.

‘The omens weren’t good. Cancer, heart disease and mortality — the very things antioxidants were supposed to protect us against — were increased in those who supplemented their diet.’

Meanwhile, scientists began to realise that free radicals could actually be important to our health.

They perform a host of vital functions in the body, including helping the immune system fight infection. Significantly, studies now show they actually stop the growth and cause the death of cancer cells.  The emerging science indicates that free radicals only turn ‘bad’ when the body’s coping abilities are overwhelmed — a term known as ‘oxidative stress’.

‘We are left with a delicate balancing act,’ explain Goggins and Matten.  ‘Both too many and too few free radicals spell trouble.’

And, it seems, large doses of vitamin pills can upset that delicate balance.

When vitamin companies started to put large doses in their capsules, the implication was that you could use supplements as you might a drug — in other words, like a preventative medicine.

‘We thought we could become masters of this dynamic, complex, finely tuned, self-regulating system simply by consuming large doses of antioxidants in the form of a pill,’ say Goggins and Matten.  ‘But high-dose supplements are very different from the levels of  antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.

'By taking high-dose antioxidant pills, we end up overwhelming our body and putting this fragile balance out of whack.’

The recommended daily aallowance (RDA) for vitamin E, for instance, is 22iu, but your average vitamin E pill contains 18 times that.  Similarly, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables provides around 200mg vitamin C per day, yet supplement doses of 1000mg (1g) are routinely taken.

At best, this could be money wasted. A meta-analysis of trials published in 2008 found that dietary vitamin C (from food such as oranges and red peppers) can offer protection against heart disease, and even reduce the risk of breast cancer in women with a family history of the disease.

But the same trials found these reductions in risk did not exist in those taking vitamin C supplements, reported the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation. (And while many people think that if you take too much vitamin C any excess is simply excreted by the body, in high doses, some of the excess will still be absorbed.)

Furthermore, an excessive intake of some nutrients (in pill form) can actually diminish the effect of other nutrients, causing real health problems.  For instance, vitamin E is found in eight different forms in the body but most supplements contain only one (alpha tocopherol).

Studies show that when we ingest high levels of one type of vitamin E, our bodies kick out the other types to make room for it. This upsets a delicate balance, negating any potential disease-fighting properties and rendering the body more vulnerable to disease at a cellular level, write Goggins and Matten.

Alpha tocopherol may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, but only when levels of another form of vitamin E are also high — as they would be in food.

‘Taking a high dose of one nutrient without regard to the others is a bit like playing Russian roulette with your health,’ say Goggins and Matten.  ‘You should still strive to get antioxidants, but they should come the way nature intended — via food.’

But do the same concerns apply to ordinary multivitamin and mineral supplements?

The authors say that a low-dose capsule which provides the recommended daily amounts of nutrients is unlikely to be harmful.  In fact, they accept that for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or for those who are following a strict vegetarian diet, there is a very legitimate need for use of a broader range of nutrients to meet the additional needs of the body. But, for the rest of us, it’s just money wasted.

‘If your diet is terrible, then a multivitamin may be of some benefit,’ says Matten.  ‘But we cannot over-emphasise how much of a “poor man’s alternative” it is to an optimal diet.

‘The notion that we can replace the synergy of literally hundreds of nutrients found in food with isolated nutrients in a pill form is absurd.’


Children addicted to television face a lifetime hooked to the box say doctors as they warn a generation risks brain damage (?)

And where is his evidence for all this?  He has none

Today's youngsters risk developing a lifelong dependency on TV and computer screens, Britain’s leading doctors will be told today.

The growing addiction could leave a generation suffering damage to the body as well as the brain, a leading psychologist will warn.

The latest statistics show that 12 to 15-year-olds spend an average of more than six hours a day slumped in front of screens.

Shockingly, the figure only applies to viewing at home and not to computer use at school or gadgets such as smartphones in free time.

Dr Aric Sigman wants TV banned for toddlers and severely rationed for other youngsters and will warn that parents who use technology as a ‘babysitter’ could be setting up their children for a lifetime of ill health.

His work and studies by other researchers link time spent in front of screens with health problems including obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, inattentiveness and declines in maths and reading, as well as sleep disorders and autism.

Some of the problems may be caused by simple over-eating and lack of exercise, others by changes to hormones or effects on attention and concentration.

Studies also show that the brain’s reaction to computer games is similar to that seen with drugs and alcohol.

He will tell the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s annual conference in Glasgow: ‘Whether children or adults are formally “addicted” to screen technology or not, many of them overuse technology and have developed an unhealthy dependency on it,’ he will say.

Dr Sigman wants television sets taken out of bedrooms and believes that the youngest children, whose brains are still developing, should not watch TV at all.

From the age of three to seven, they should be limited to an hour and a half a day. Older children should be able to get by with just two hours of TV programmes and computer games.

Dr Sigman will say: ‘“Passive parenting” in the face of the new media environment is a form of benign neglect.

'A large number of studies are finding that parental rules and limits on child screen time effectively reduce screen time, as does not having screens in bedrooms.’


Monday, May 21, 2012

Another glass of doublethink?

As you may have noticed, we've been pretty preoccupied with the nanny state this week. With Monday's minimum alcohol pricing announcement in Scotland, Tuesday's release of "The Wages of Sin Taxes", Chris Snowdon's excellent debunking of the arguments for sin taxes, and yesterday's call by British Medical Association writers to bring in a "fat tax" on fatty foods (not that anyone can agree on what those are), it seems that there's hardly a single bit of fun someone in power doesn't want to discourage with a tax or price floor.

It's all very dispiriting, but what's striking is how economically sound it all is. These paternalists might have no regard for individual liberty; they might have a puritan's appreciation of the power of a bottle of wine to lubricate human relationships; they might even long for two extra years in a care home in Kent. And you have to admire their pragmatism in stamping out the things they disapprove of — generally speaking, poor people living unhealthy lifestyles. They grasp the fundamental law of economics that incentives matter.

But in in proposing things like taxes on Coca-Cola are price floors for alcohol, the puritans have given the game away. They've accepted free market logic that contravenes all the other things they tend to support.  If taxing Coca-Cola makes people drink Coca-Cola less, then taxing work via the income tax must make people work less. If a price floor for alcohol makes people drink less booze (binge drinkers' low price elasticities of demand notwithstanding), then the price floor for labour we call the National Minimum Wage must make firms hire fewer people.

Even the infamous "pasty tax", which I oppose – there's no such thing as a good tax rise, in my book – is criticised by many on the left as a tax on "working class food". What is a minimum price floor on alcohol, if not an attack on "working class booze"?

The elite that wants to impose its lifestyle on the rest of us may be using this sort of thinking for evil, but more people accepting the logic of economic thinking is generally a good thing. Not many people actively want more unemployment or less productivity. With any luck, it will turn out that not many people actively want to be told by their betters how to eat and socialize either.


Another iatrogenic disaster

Despite all the regulators

In 2008, Emma Murphy phoned her partner Joe at work. ‘I know what’s wrong with the children,’ she said.

For four years the couple had been perplexed by the health problems that affected their daughters Chloe and Lauren and their son Luke – and their GP had consistently dismissed their concerns.

It was only after watching a television programme about Fetal Anticonvulsant Syndrome (FACS) that Emma realised the children, who all had special needs, had been irreversibly damaged in the womb by the anti-epileptic drugs she had taken since she was 12.

After the scandal of the devastating birth defects caused by the morning-sickness drug Thalidomide in the Fifties, it seems inconceivable that the same situation could occur again. But for thousands of families in the UK, the word Epilim has the same sinister connotations.

It has been prescribed since 1978 and reports of the ingredient sodium valproate causing birth defects such as spina bifida go back almost as far. FACS is believed to have affected up to 20,000 babies – ten times more than Thalidomide.

FACS is thought to be caused in the first three months of pregnancy when an anti-epileptic drug crosses the placenta into the foetus. Effects depend on the dosage and the drug.

There are three FACS syndromes, each involving different anti-epileptic drugs and each with their own set of symptoms. In 2010, Epilim was taken by more than 21,500 women aged between 20 and 39 for epilepsy and other conditions. It is indicated in 80 per cent of cases of FACS.

Dr Peter Turnpenny, clinical geneticist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, says: ‘Epilim may affect about 560 babies every year, and 10,000 to 20,000 since being introduced to the UK.’

FACS is, Dr Turnpenny points out, less dramatic than the missing and distorted limbs caused by Thalidomide, but the neurological effects are far worse. ‘About ten per cent of foetuses exposed to sodium valproate will have a major congenital malformation such as cleft palate. Twelve per cent are likely to be diagnosed with a neuro-developmental disorder.’

Emma, 31, was prescribed Epilim after developing epilepsy as a girl. She and Joe, 39, a taxi driver, were oblivious to the concerns about the drug.

Their first three children were born prematurely. Within 24 hours they became limp and unresponsive. All had delayed speech and Lauren and Luke were late walkers. Lauren was diagnosed with cerebral palsy aged two.

Emma saw the TV programme on FACS when she was four months pregnant with their youngest daughter Erin, now four. She heard one mother, Janet Williams, describing the symptoms experienced by her two sons who have FACS. ‘I knew straight away,’ Emma says. She contacted the Organisation for Anticonvulsant Syndrome, a support group founded in 1999 by Janet.

Emma’s GP finally referred her to a geneticist who recognised immediately the characteristic facial features in the children – a thin upper lip, small, crowded teeth and wide nasal bridge.

A year later, Emma’s youngest son Kian was conceived – an unplanned pregnancy when Emma took a course of antibiotics that may have reduced the effectiveness of her contraceptive pill. Although Emma immediately changed her Epilim for Keppra, a newer drug with no known links to FACS, it was too late.

All five children have hypermobile joints, which means they are excessively bendy and painful at night. Lauren needs a walking frame and she and Luke have support workers at school. Joe has been forced to give up work because of Emma’s epilepsy and the children’s needs.

Janet Williams, whose sons are now in their 20s, says: ‘I saw my GP and my gynaecologist when I was pregnant and was told to keep taking the Epilim. There wasn’t an information leaflet in the box at that time. I trusted the medical profession.’

Emma agrees. ‘As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I asked my GP whether my medication was safe. Because of the severity of my epilepsy, I was under a team of medics throughout all my pregnancies. I was never warned.’

Both women are calling for anyone prescribing anti-epileptic drugs to warn of the risks during pregnancy.

‘The problem is that Epilim is a very good drug,’ says consultant neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan at BMI The London Independent Hospital. ‘These days we avoid putting women of childbearing age on it as a first-choice drug. Not all doctors are aware of the risk.’

No one is suggesting that women stop taking their anti-epileptic drugs. ‘Major convulsive seizures could cause injury to the baby or a miscarriage, but there are other effective drugs available that are known to be safe during pregnancy,’ says consultant neurologist Dr Jim Morrow at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

‘If you have epilepsy and are considering having children, see your specialist and plan two years in advance as it may take this long to change your drug regime,’ adds Dr O’Sullivan.

A spokesman for Sanofi, which makes Epilim, says: ‘We have always provided appropriate information and warnings in relation to the potential side effects and risks associated with use of this medicine, including risks to the unborn child, in line with developing scientific knowledge.

‘Sodium valproate remains the most effective treatment of generalised epilepsy. Sanofi has been proactive in supporting ongoing research to evaluate the risk-benefit profile in all patient groups and continues to work closely with the scientific and medical communities.’

But David Irwin, solicitor at medical specialists Irwin Mitchell, claims the manufacturer did not give adequate warnings in its product leaflets before 1997. In 2006, about 140 affected families launched a case against the manufacturer. It collapsed last year and legal aid was withdrawn as it was thought there was insufficient evidence to win.

Emma doesn’t care about compensation, just that other families are not torn apart. ‘Our lives revolve around caring for the children’s complicated health needs and we don’t know what the future holds,’ she says. ‘I want the medical profession to be educated about it and for women to be in a position to make an informed choice.’


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Study of oldsters finds coffee drinkers live longer

This research compares coffee-drinking Americans with non coffee-drinking Americans.  But who are the non coffee-drinking Americans?  Mormons I know about but other than that Americans who don't drink coffee must be pretty rare.  So until we know who these odd folk are, the report below is basically uninterpretable

One of life's simple pleasures just got a little sweeter. After years of waffling research on coffee and health, even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease, a big study finds the opposite: Coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. Regular or decaf doesn't matter.

The study of 400,000 people is the largest ever done on the issue, and the results should reassure any coffee lovers who think it's a guilty pleasure that may do harm.

"Our study suggests that's really not the case," said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute. "There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking."

No one knows why. Coffee contains a thousand things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer. The most widely studied ingredient - caffeine - didn't play a role in the new study's results.

It's not that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short-term, and those in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.

Even in the new study, it first seemed that coffee drinkers were more likely to die at any given time. But they also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those things into account, a clear pattern emerged: Each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.

The study was done by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The results are published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Careful, though - this doesn't prove that coffee makes people live longer, only that the two seem related. Like most studies on diet and health, this one was based strictly on observing people's habits and resulting health. So it can't prove cause and effect.

But with so many people, more than a decade of follow-up and enough deaths to compare, "this is probably the best evidence we have" and are likely to get, said Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. He had no role in this study but helped lead a previous one that also found coffee beneficial.

The new one began in 1995 and involved AARP members ages 50 to 71 in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Atlanta and Detroit. People who already had heart disease, a stroke or cancer weren't included. Neither were folks at diet extremes - too many or too few calories per day.

The rest gave information on coffee drinking once, at the start of the study. "People are fairly consistent in their coffee drinking over their lifetime," so the single measure shouldn't be a big limitation, Freedman said.

Of the 402,260 participants, about 42,000 drank no coffee. About 15,000 drank six cups or more a day. Most people had two or three.

By 2008, about 52,000 of them had died. Compared to those who drank no coffee, men who had two or three cups a day were 10 percent less likely to die at any age. For women, it was 13 percent.

Even a single cup a day seemed to lower risk a little: 6 percent in men and 5 percent in women. The strongest effect was in women who had four or five cups a day - a 16 percent lower risk of death.

None of these are big numbers, though, and Freedman can't say how much extra life coffee might buy.  "I really can't calculate that," especially because smoking is a key factor that affects longevity at every age, he said.

Coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents or infections. No effect was seen on cancer death risk, though.

Other research ties coffee drinking to lower levels of markers for inflammation and insulin resistance. Researchers also considered that people in poor health might refrain from drinking coffee and whether their abstention could bias the results. But the study excluded people with cancer and heart disease - the most common health problems - to minimize this chance. Also, the strongest benefits of coffee drinking were seen in people who were healthiest when the study began.


Exercise and Caffeine Is a Cancer-Fighting One-Two Punch

If you are a mouse

This is the study that many of us have been waiting for: exercise combined with caffeine will greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer caused by sun exposure.

Well perhaps not those of us averse to exercise. But scientists in New Jersey have found that mice who logged plenty of hamster wheel time and ingested lots of caffeine had a 62 percent lower incidence of cancer tumors than those who were lazy and remained uncaffeinated. And the volume of the tumors that did develop was 85 percent smaller.

"I believe we may extrapolate these findings to humans and anticipate that we would benefit from these combination treatments as well," said Yao-Ping Lu, an associate research professor of chemical biology and director of skin cancer prevention at the Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy in Piscataway, New Jersey, who presented the findings on Tuesday at the annual American Association for Cancer Research. He believes the key to the cancer fighting combo is that overall, it reduces inflammation.

And even those of you who'd just as soon imbibe your caffeinated beverages without getting up from the couch can take comfort in the findings. Caffeine alone reduced tumors by 27 percent and tumor size by 61 percent. Also exciting is the fact that these mice lost weight despite being fed a high-fat diet. The rodents' "parametrial fat pad" weight decreased by 30 percent without exercise.

Mice that exercised but didn't have caffeine saw 35 percent fewer tumors and 40 percent smaller ones. They also reduced their fat pad by 63 percent.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mother's milk lowers SIDS risk (?)

The usual blinkered nonsense,  I suspect.  The journal article does not appear to be online but I would be surprised if they controlled for IQ  -- which is a major correlate of breastfeeding.  What the results may mean is that high IQ people are healthier and have healthier babies -- which we already know

As well as immunological health advantages, a review of breastfeeding research has found babies breastfed up to one-year-old and exclusively to six months had their risk of sudden and unexpected infant death more than halved.

The evidence, published in the latest edition of the Australian Breastfeeding Review has from today prompted a revision of national public health guidelines on safe sleeping to include breastfeeding. Evidence of the relationship between breastfeeding and sudden and unexpected infant death was now irrefutable, said the chairwoman of the SIDS and Kids national scientific advisory group, Jeanine Young.

"We have now reached a point where conclusive evidence from numerous studies demonstrates breast milk can reduce sudden and unexpected death in infancy," said Professor Young, who also authored the latest review of breastfeeding research.

It was not clear why breastfeeding was protective against death, she said.  "We think its multifactorial. We know breastfed babies tend to rouse more easily than bottle-fed babies, and because women breastfeed frequently the child is roused - and checked on - every few hours. We also know babies that aren't breastfed get more respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, which is important because about 45 per cent of babies who die suddenly are unwell in the weeks before."

Confusion over whether breastfeeding was directly linked to reduced SIDS risk had led to the recommendation being removed from safe-sleeping guidelines in 1997, she said.  "Some people would argue it should never have been taken out of the public health guidelines.

"We're lucky to get mothers to breastfeed for even a few months these days, but longer breastfeeding is associated with greater protection."

Professor Young said breastfeeding was independently protective against death, even when controls for other known causes such as smoking and sleep positions were allowed for.

But mothers who could not breastfeed should not feel guilty because they could still ensure the five other recommendations were followed, which included sleeping babies on their backs and maintaining a smoke-free environment.


'Good' cholesterol is not so great for you as study finds it doesn't lower heart attack risk

We all know lowering 'bad cholesterol' - known as Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL - helps the heart.  But scientists say raising levels of 'good cholesterol' may not protect you from cardiac disease.

In a challenge to conventional wisdom, a team from Harvard Medical school found no direct link between raising good cholesterol levels - or HDL - with a lower risk of a heart attack.

The study published in the medical journal The Lancet compared heart-attack risk among people who inherited known genetic variants that gave them higher HDL levels.

This should mean they had a lower risk of coronary disease. However, the study of more than 50,000 people found no such link.

This implies that it is best to focus on lowering the levels of LDL in order to tackle heart disease.

'Ways of raising HDL cholesterol might not reduce risk of myocardial infarction,' Dr Sekar Kathiresan from Massachusetts General Hospital, who led the study, said.

'With drugs or lifestyle changes to raise HDL, we cannot automatically assume that risk of myocardial infarction will be reduced,' he added.

In the new research, scientists studied genes involved in raising HDL in about 170,000 individuals and found that 15 HDL-raising genetic variants they tested do not reduce the risk of heart attack.

It was found that there was no difference in heart attack risk of individuals who carried genes involved in elevated HDL than those without the genetic variant.

'It is an interesting study which goes against prevalent evidence about HDL. Increasing HDL, in any case, is difficult, whether by lifestyle or exercise. So our primary target is lowering LDL cholesterol,' Dr Anoop Misra, head of Centre of Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospital, said.

Dr D. Prabhakaran, executive director, Centre for Chronic Disease Control, said: 'Heart attack is multifactorial and not confined to one single risk factor like low HDL.

'While understanding genetics to develop new drugs may be useful, it would be wrong not to address other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose, obesity and tobacco.'


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sugar can make you dumb,  scientists warn

If you are a mistreated rat.  High doses of anything can be harmful -- even water

Let me tell a little story:  I knew an Englishman once who had about 6 cups of tea daily  -- and he always had two teaspoons of sugar in each one.  He also liked his desserts and confectionery. He almost SWAM in sugar, in other words.   He was however an energetic and alert man who had built up and continued to run a very successful business.  How come sugar didn't make him dumb?

Eating too much sugar can eat away at your brainpower, according to US scientists who published a study showing how a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup sapped lab rats' memories.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup - a common ingredient in processed foods - as drinking water for six weeks.

One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the other group was not.
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Before the sugar drinks began, the rats were enrolled in a five-day training session in a complicated maze. After six weeks on the sweet solution, the rats were then placed back in the maze to see how they fared.

"The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

A closer look at the rat brains revealed that those who were not fed DHA supplements had also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

In other words, eating too much fructose could interfere with insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar, which is necessary for processing thoughts and emotions.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new."

High-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in soda, condiments, applesauce, baby food and other processed snacks.

The average American consumes more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

While the study did not say what the equivalent might be for a human to consume as much high-fructose corn syrup as the rats did, researchers said it provides some evidence that metabolic syndrome can affect the mind as well as the body.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Gomez-Pinilla.

"Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimise the damage."


How the wealthy stay healthy years longer than the  poor

This is undoubtedly the most widely replicated finding in epidemiology.

The health of people living in the better-off parts of Britain is improving at a faster rate than those in poorer areas, official figures revealed yesterday.  Residents from affluent neighbourhoods can expect to be almost 70 before illness or disability begins to restrict their quality of life.

However in poorer parts of the country – where women are more likely to smoke, drink and be overweight – people are unlikely to enjoy an active and healthy life beyond 55.

More alarmingly, the projections from the Office for National Statistics, which are based on current trends, found that  the health of women in deprived parts of the country is forecast to get even worse.

The ONS figures don’t identify the areas with the worst life expectancies.  But a previous study in 2009 said men live longest in Westminster and Kensington in London; in Epsom, Surrey; South Buckinghamshire and Wokingham, Berkshire. Women lived longest in Kensington, Westminster, Epsom and Hart in Hampshire and in East Dorset.

By contrast, the lowest life expectancy for men was in Glasgow and Blackpool. Women died at an early age in Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.

Yesterday’s report said that the typical lifespan of someone born between 2006 and 2009 will be 81.4 for men and 84.5 for women in the best-off areas, up from 80 and 83.2 on the likely life expectancy of babies born four years earlier.

For the worst-off districts, men’s overall life expectancy went up over the same period from just 72.2 to 73.3, and women’s from 77.9 to 78.9 – a notably shorter difference than in the wealthier areas.

But it was the ratings for healthy life expectancy that showed a widening gap between the expectations of those in areas of high employment and those where many people are jobless or on benefits.

The ONS estimated what it calls ‘disability-free life expectancy’, the time someone might hope to live without a long-standing health problem.  For men this has risen from 67.3 to 69.4 in the wealthy areas between the two periods. For women in the same areas, the gain is from 67.8 to 69.6.

In the most deprived districts, the disability-free life expectancy of men has crept up slightly from 54.2 to 54.6. For women, healthy life expectations fell from 57.2 to 56.9.

The ONS report said those in richer areas are more likely to benefit from state health programmes and ‘have awareness and knowledge of how to use the system’.

It asked: ‘Why is the gap widening more for females than males? Significant risk factors to good health and longevity include smoking, drinking and obesity.  ‘In recent years there has been a greater decline in patterns of smoking and drinking for men compared to women.  ‘It is also notable that obesity is more prevalent in women than men in low-income households.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Evidence  That Red Meat Makes You Happy

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that a big, juicy hunk of steak makes you happier. But now there's scientific proof, too; according to a new study, consumption of red meat halves the risk of depression.

The study, carried out at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, confirms that people who avoid red meat are at increased risk of clinical depression. Admittedly the study was only conducted in a population of women, but I'm willing to extrapolate in this case. Professor Felice Jacka, one of the researchers, explains:

    "When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.

    "Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women's diets, as well as other factors such as their socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.

    "Interestingly, there was no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins, and mental health. Vegetarianism was not the explanation either. "

Official proof, if it were needed, that vegetarians are a bunch of sadsacks. While there's plenty of evidence that suggests that the quality of your diet is important for mental health, this is the first study to suggest that red meat has a positive effect. Sadly, the researchers have no idea why.

It's worth pointing out that red meat does bring physical health risks. In fact, recent research suggests that red meat is behind one in ten early deaths. So there's a decision to make: live long, miserable and steak-free; or die young, happy and elbow-deep in burgers. Tough call.


Statin fatigue

Awareness of their severe side-effects is slowly growing

For years, physicians and scientists have been aware that statins, the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, can cause muscle aches and fatigue in some patients. What many people don’t know is that these side effects are especially pronounced in people who exercise.

To learn more about the effect statins have on exercising muscles, scientists in Strasbourg, France, recently gave the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor to a group of rats for two weeks, while a separate control group was not medicated. Some of the rats from both groups ran on little treadmills until they were exhausted.

It was immediately obvious that the medicated animals couldn’t run as far. They became exhausted much earlier than the rats that had not been given statins.

The differences were even more striking at a cellular level. When the scientists studied muscle tissues, they found that oxidative stress, a measure of possible cell damage, was increased by 60 percent in sedentary animals receiving statins, compared with the unmedicated control group.

The effect was magnified in the runners, whose cells showed 226 percent more oxidative stress than exercising animals that had not been given statins.

The medicated running rats also had less glycogen or stored carbohydrates in their muscles than the unmedicated runners. And their mitochondria, tiny mechanisms within cells that generate power, showed signs of dysfunction; mitochondrial respiratory rates were about 25 percent lower than in the unmedicated runners.

Over all, the study data showed that working out while taking statins “exacerbated metabolic perturbations” in muscles, the study’s authors conclude. The drug made running harder and more damaging for the rats.

Statins’ safety has come under considerable scrutiny in recent weeks. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration added safety alerts to prescribing information for statins, warning of risks for memory loss and diabetes, as well as muscle pain.

More than 20 million Americans are taking statins, and by most estimates, at least 10 percent of them will experience some degree of muscle achiness or fatigue. That proportion rises to at least 25 percent among people taking statins who regularly exercise, and may be 75 percent or higher among competitive athletes.

Why and how exercise interacts with statins to cause muscle problems remains unknown, in part because it’s more difficult to study molecular responses in people than in animals. (People generally dislike muscle biopsies.) But an eye-opening 2005 study of healthy young people taking statins showed that the gene expression profiles in their leg muscles after exercising were very different from those of volunteers not using statins. In particular, genes associated with muscle building and repair were “down-regulated,” or expressed less robustly, in the group using statins.

“It seems possible that statins increase muscle damage” during and after exercise “and also interfere somewhat with the body’s ability to repair that damage,” says Dr. Paul Thompson, the chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and senior author of the study.