Friday, June 29, 2012

Link between religion and being overweight, Australian  academics find

The way overweight people are stigmatized these days, it's no wonder they turn to the churches,  where they are simply accepted as all part of God's children.

But that didn't occur to the brainiacs below, of course.  It must be wonderful to "just know" by instinct which way the causal arrow points

RELIGION could be fattening, a new Australian study has found.

The study, by two northern NSW academics, has found a link between religion and higher body mass index (BMI) readings.

They say the "sin of gluttony" might not be as frowned upon by religious people as much as other vices such as drinking, smoking and pre-marital sex - and that many religious celebrations might even encourage over-eating.

Southern Cross University business academic Michael Kortt and University of New England colleague Brian Dollery collaborated on the study, which has just been published in the Journal of Religion and Health.

They analysed data from 9408 adults and found religious denomination was "significantly related to higher BMI" - a warning sign of potential health problems heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.  Dr Kortt and Professor Dollery found Baptist and Catholic men had a higher BMI compared with those with no religious affiliations.

They also revealed non-Christian women had lower BMIs.

"There has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that there is a positive relationship between religion and health," the academics said in their paper.  "We have identified a statistically significant association between religion and BMI for Australian men and women."

The study results reflected previous research cited by Dr Kortt and Prof Dollery in their paper, "Religion and BMI in Australia".

"In the first place, religion may both condemn and serve to control certain types of 'aberrant' behaviour such as excessive drinking, smoking and pre-marital sex," the academics said, referring to leading obesity research in the US.

"However, excessive eating, or the sin of gluttony, may not receive the same level of condemnation and could even be viewed as an 'accepted vice' by religious leaders and followers."

Dr Kortt and Prof Dollery also noted research suggesting many religious functions and celebrations revolved around food "which, in turn may (exacerbate) an environment conducive to excessive eating".

The academics noted that people who practised religion at home - for example, by watching TV evangelists - were more likely to consume high-calorie foods and drinks and might prefer a sedentary lifestyle.


The wonders of coffee again

New Yorkers must all be supermen and women at that rate.  They do kinda like their coffee.  What world do the writers of this mush live in?

Drinking coffee could help older people maintain their strength and reduce their chances of falling and injuring themselves, a new study has found.

The decline in muscle strength that occurs as we age can reduce quality of life by making everyday tasks harder.

The process is not well understood, but it is clear that preserving muscle tone is key.

It is known that in adults in their prime caffeine helps the muscles to produce more force. But as we age, our muscles naturally change and become weaker.

So, sports scientists at Coventry University looked for the first time at whether caffeine could also have a strengthening effect on pensioners.

Their study on mice revealed that caffeine boosted power in two different muscles in elderly adults - an effect that was not seen in developing youngsters.

Jason Tallis, the study's primary author, said: 'With the importance of maintaining a physically active lifestyle to preserve health and functional capacity, the performance-enhancing benefit of caffeine could prove beneficial in the aging population.'

The researchers isolated muscles from mice ranging in age from juvenile to elderly, then tested their performance before and after caffeine treatment. The stimulant is found in coffee and a number of soft drinks.

They looked at two different skeletal muscles, which are the muscles we can control voluntarily. The first was the diaphragm, a core muscle used for respiration; the second was a leg muscle called the extensor digitorum longus (EDL), used for locomotion.

Tallis said: 'Despite a reduced effect in the elderly, caffeine may still provide performance-enhancing benefits.'

Consuming caffeine has also been linked to improved thinking processes and improved memory skills in later life.

However, previous research has shown that excessive caffeine intake may cause the body to rid itself of calcium - a nutrient vital in supporting bone strength in later life.  It can also temporarily increase blood pressure, although the long-term effects of this are unclear.

The latest study will be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology this month.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is sitting down bad for you?

Chicken and egg again.   Many of the people who sat down a lot may have done so because they were in poor health anyway

Note that even if the theory below is correct, sitting down could have benefits as well as disadvantages.  It may lead to less wear and tear on the joints, for instance

You may want to sit down before you read this - but best not to. Study after study has shown not only that being inactive is bad for your fitness but also that sitting for long periods each day may shorten your lifespan.

In fact sitting for more than six hours a day can make you up to 40 per cent likelier to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours a day.

Basically, those who sit for longer periods of time aren't getting the consistent and continual physical activity needed to maintain a healthy body.

The facts about the effects of sitting for long periods are confronting in the modern world, which seems designed to encourage or even force workers and students to sit. The hard truth is:

People with jobs that require sitting tend to have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease of people who mostly stand on the job.

After two hours of sitting, good cholesterol drops 20 per cent.

A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching television and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 per cent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less.

As soon as you sit down, electrical activity in the leg muscles shuts off and calorie burning drops to one a minute.

If you have a desk job or spend a lot of time at the computer, proper chair height, distance from your desk, arm and wrist rests and degree of bend of the arms and legs are important. Sitting with the feet or lower legs under your chair for example, amounts to a contraction of the back of the thigh (hamstrings). Repeated shortening of these muscles results in greater tightness and lack of flexibility, which in turn can create problems with the lower back.

The muscles that are responsible for lifting the legs, as with walking or climbing stairs, are called hip flexors. With excessive sitting, these muscles react in the same way as the hamstrings, shorter and tighter. Postural changes can occur over time related to leaning forward, slouching and rounding the back, crossing the legs etc, taking its toll on the hips, spine and shoulders.

Even if you have a desk job, there are things you can do to help avoid problems related to too much sitting. These include:

When the phone rings, instead of staying seated, make a habit of walking while having the conversation.

If your building has stairs, take them instead of using the lift whenever possible.

Wear a pedometer throughout the day. This can be a real eye-opener as to how inactive you may be. Aim for the recommended 10,000 steps a day.

Use work breaks to get up and move.

Set a goal of standing up and stretching once an hour. Regular stretching relieves stress and can help ease tightness that might otherwise get the better of you.

Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men

By Warren TY et al.


PURPOSE:  The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between two sedentary behaviors (riding in a car and watching TV) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality in men in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study.

METHODS:  Participants were 7744 men (20-89 yr) initially free of CVD who returned a mail-back survey during 1982. Time spent watching TV and time spent riding in a car were reported. Mortality data were ascertained through the National Death Index until December 31, 2003. Cox regression analysis quantified the association between sedentary behaviors (hours per week watching TV, hours per week riding in a car, and total hours per week in these two behaviors) and CVD mortality rates.

RESULTS:  Three hundred and seventy-seven CVD deaths occurred during 21 yr of follow-up. After age adjustment, time riding in a car and combined time spent in these two sedentary behaviors were positively (P(trend) < 0.001) associated with CVD death. Men who reported >10 h x wk(-1) riding in a car or >23 h x wk(-1) of combined sedentary behavior had 82% and 64% greater risk of dying from CVD than those who reported <4 or <11 h x wk(-1), respectively. The pattern of the association did not materially change after multivariate adjustment. Regardless of the amount of sedentary activity reported by these men, being older, having normal weight, being normotensive, and being physically active were associated with a reduced risk of CVD death.

CONCLUSION:  In men, riding in a car and combined time spent in these two sedentary behaviors were significant CVD mortality predictors. In addition, high levels of physical activity were related to notably lower rates of CVD death even in the presence of high levels of sedentary behavior. Health promotion efforts targeting physically inactive men should emphasize both reducing sedentary activity and increasing regular physical activity for optimal cardiovascular health.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 May;42(5):879-85.

Popular low-fat diets 'will not help keep the weight off and are bad for your body', claims study

The diet merry-go-round goes on and on

A new study claims that choosing the right diet to match your body's own biology is key to keeping the pounds off.

The popular low-fat diets may not be very good in terms of keeping the weight off, as well as not being good for your health, according to the study, led by the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital.

The study found that diets that reduce the surge in blood sugar after a meal - either low-glycemic index or very-low carbohydrate – may be preferable to a low-fat diet for those trying to achieve lasting weight loss.

Furthermore, the study finds that the low-glycemic index diet had similar benefits to the very low-carb diet without the negative effects of stress and inflammation as seen by participants consuming the very low-carb diet.

The team said that, while weight re-gain is often attributed to a decline in motivation or adherence to diet and exercise, but biology also plays an important role.

After weight loss, the rate at which people burn calories (known as energy expenditure) decreases, reflecting slower metabolism. Lower energy expenditure adds to the difficulty of weight maintenance and helps explain why people tend to re-gain lost weight.

Prior research by Cara Ebbeling, PHD, and David Ludwig, MD, has shown the advantages of a low glycemic load diet for weight loss and diabetes prevention, but the effects of these diets during weight loss maintenance has not been well studied.

Research shows that only one in six overweight people will maintain even 10 percent of their weight loss long-term.

The study suggests that a low-glycemic load diet is more effective than conventional approaches at burning calories (and keeping energy expenditure) at a higher rate after weight loss.

'We’ve found that, contrary to nutritional dogma, all calories are not created equal,' says Ludwig, who is also director of the Optimal Weight for Life Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He said: 'Total calories burned plummeted by 300 calories on the low fat diet compared to the low carbohydrate diet, which would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity.'

Each of the study’s 21 adult participants (ages 18-40) first had to lose 10 to 15 percent of their body weight, and after weight stabilisation they completed all three of the following diets in random order, each for four weeks at a time.

The randomised crossover design allowed for observation of how each diet affected all participants, regardless of the order in which they were consumed:

 *   A low-fat diet,which reduces dietary fat and emphasises whole-grain products and a variety of fruits and vegetables, comprised of 60 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent from fat and 20 percent from protein.

  *  A low-glycemic index diet made up of minimally processed grains, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes and fruits, with 40 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 40 percent from fat and 20 percent from protein. Low glycemic index carbohydrates digest slowly, helping to keep blood sugar and hormones stable after the meal.

 *   A low-carbohydrate diet, modeled after the Atkins diet, comprised of 10 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 60 percent from fat and 30 percent from protein.

The study used state-of-the-art methods, such as stable isotopes to measure participants’ total energy expenditure, as they followed each diet.

Each of the three diets fell within the normal healthy range of 10 to 35 percent of daily calories from protein. The very low-carbohydrate diet produced the greatest improvements in metabolism, but with an important caveat: This diet increased participants’ cortisol levels, which can lead to insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.

The very low carbohydrate diet also raised C-reactive protein levels, which may also increase risk of cardiovascular disease.

Though a low-fat diet is traditionally recommended by the U.S. Government and Heart Association, it caused the greatest decrease in energy expenditure, an unhealthy lipid pattern and insulin resistance.

'In addition to the benefits noted in this study, we believe that low-glycemic-index diets are easier to stick to on a day-to-day basis, compared to low-carb and low-fat diets, which many people find limiting,' said Ebbeling.

'Unlike low-fat and very- low carbohydrate diets, a low-glycemic-index diet doesn’t eliminate entire classes of food, likely making it easier to follow and more sustainable.'


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Do daffodils hold the key to treating depression? Compounds in flower can pass through blood brain barrier

This is just speculation so far

A bunch of flowers rarely fails to lift the spirits.  But daffodils could do more than just that – they may hold the key to treating depression, research suggests.

Scientists have discovered that compounds in South African species of snowdrops and daffodils are able to pass through the blood brain barrier, the defensive wall which keeps the brain isolated.

The barrier is a major problem for doctors treating brain conditions such as depression as it contains proteins which push the drugs out as soon as they get in.  Nine out of ten compounds cannot penetrate the brain, research shows.

But Professor Birger Brodin, who carried out the research at the University of Copenhagen, said compounds from the South African flowers Crinum and Cyrtanthus were able to pass through the barrier.

These could eventually be used to help deliver drugs to the brain. Writing in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, he said: ‘Several of our plant compounds can probably be smuggled past the brain’s effective barrier proteins.

‘We examined various compounds for their influence on the transporter proteins in the brain.  ‘Our results are promising, and several of the chemical compounds studied should therefore be tested further, as candidates for long-term drug development.’

He added: ‘The blood vessels of the brain are impenetrable for most compounds, one reason being the very active transporter proteins. ‘So it is of great interest to find compounds that manage to “trick” this line of defence.

‘Studies of natural therapies are a valuable source of inspiration, giving us knowledge that can also be used in other contexts.’

But he warned the study was only the first stage, and it would be a long time before the compound could be developed into useable drugs.


Philly "food desert"  project tests supply and demand

Food deserts are basically a Leftist fantasy anyway but the article below argues that even if we take the concept seriously, government "fixes"  won't fix anything

Food deserts are areas in developed nations where access to fresh and healthy food is limited and inadequate.

In the urban areas of Philadelphia it could be defined as convenience stores outnumbering grocery stores or markets that carry fresh produce.

These convenience stores are a great place to run in and grab a snack while you’re on the go.  In fact, Philadelphia is home to about 2,500 corner stores.  But given that Philadelphians suffer with an obesity rate of about 32 percent, the highest of any large city, some think these convenience stores should be forced into a healthy makeover.

But will adding products like vegetables and fruits to the shelves in these food desert areas result in slimmer waistlines for its customers?

The federal government thinks so and has so far given $900,000 taxpayer dollars to the city for 632 convenience stores to stock up on produce.

Now will Philadelphians opt for that apple over a bag of chips?  Only time will tell, but history, habits and desires do provide some insight.

The Washington Post points out that a similar trial of this sort on a much smaller scale was attempted in the U.K. where a market was brought to an underserved area.  The result:  “Of shoppers surveyed, 45 percent switched to the new store. Their habits, however, barely changed: Consumption of fruits and vegetables increased by one-third of a cup per day — about six grapes or two broccoli florets.”

Unfortunately there is no evidence to prove that more healthy food options result in healthier lifestyles choices.  People eat what they want to eat.  Therefore it doesn’t seem likely that stocking up corner stores with fresh produce is going to change anyone’s eating habits.

Furthermore, if the people residing in these food deserts areas had a high penchant for fresh produce, stores wouldn’t need government subsidies to supply the food.  After all, one apple is likely cheaper than a bag of chips.

Once these subsidies run out, it is likely these stores will go right back to business as usual and continue to supply their customers with what they demand — chips, candy and gum.

How is this any different than what is seen in grocery stores and markets that do sell produce? Where is the candy, gum, 16-ounce sodas and personal chip bags kept at your local grocer? In the checkout line at the front of the store — usually not where you find your apples and oranges. The impulse to buy a bag of candy or chips isn’t going to go away just because more fruit is on the shelf next to it.

Enlisting federal taxpayer dollars to fund this attempt to get a city to eat healthier is a gamble at best and a waste of money at worse.  Some might enjoy the convenience of stopping by the corner store for their usual fill and picking up a head of lettuce for dinner as well.  But chances are that head of lettuce would have been purchased regardless of whether or not it was from a convenience store.

Habits don’t change overnight, and it is certainly not in the job description of the government to try and make that change.

Fast food, soda and chips are available for a reason.  People demand them.

Just because the government supplies more fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity doesn’t mean people in Philadelphia will jump on board and choose those options over their usual snacks or meals.

Only time will tell if Philadelphia’s food deserts become home to fresh fruits and vegetables in every corner store.  But the real results will show in the waistlines of its people.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The latest screech of the food alarmists

The sad thing is that big firms feel obliged to change what they do to get these attention-seekers off their backs.

Coca Cola has been on sale for over 100 years so if there were any harm of the kind alleged it would have been evident years ago

Campaigners are calling for a ban on a colouring linked to cancer which has been found in Coca-Cola sold in Britain.  A chemical in the caramel colouring that gives the drink its distinctive colour has been at the centre of a health alert in the United States.

Coca-Cola has recently switched to a new manufacturing process in America to bring down the level of the suspect chemical, 4-methylimidazole (4-MI).

But this precaution has not yet been taken in other countries such as Britain, where its products are the nation’s biggest selling soft drinks with sales of £1.1billion a year.

The amount of 4-MI found in regular Coca-Cola cans sold in Britain was 135 micrograms – some 34 times higher than the 4mcg level in the US, according to research by the US group Center For Science In The Public Interest in partnership with Britain’s Children’s Food Campaign.

Health authorities in California are so concerned that they have passed a law that requires any can of drink containing a 4-MI reading of 30mcg or more to carry a health warning. If this safety assessment was applied in Britain, all cans of Coke would have to carry a warning.

The contaminant results from the industrial process, involving ammonia, that creates the caramel colouring. Chemical reactions between sugar and the ammonia result in the formation of 4-MI, which has been found to cause cancers in laboratory tests with mice and rats.

The results of the campaigners’ research are to be published in the International Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Health, and today they will write to British health ministers calling for an outright ban on the colouring.

Malcolm Clark, campaign co-ordinator at the lobby group, said: ‘Coca-Cola seems to be treating its UK consumers with disdain. The company should respect the health of all of its customers around the world, by using caramel colouring that is free of known cancer-causing chemicals.

‘The UK Government must regulate to protect public health from companies that aggressively market sugar-laden drinks that lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.’

Manufacturers say it is possible to provide a caramel colour that is totally free of 4-MI, however it is four times more expensive.

The CSPI examined regular Coca-Cola from around the world. In the US the 4-MI level was 4mcg per 355ml. The figure was higher in every other country, from 56 in China to 267 in Brazil. Diet Coke and Coke Zero were not included, but earlier tests suggest they tend to have one third less of the contaminant than the standard drink.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California, which made the warning labels law,  said: ‘Studies published in 2007 by the federal government’s National Toxicology Program showed that long-term exposure to 4-MI resulted in increases in lung cancer in male and female mice.’

California’s experts suggest that regular consumption of 4-MI at its warning label level of 30mcg would cause cancer in one in 100,000 people over their lifetimes.

Coca-Cola strenuously denies there is any human health risk from 4-MI.   It said the decision to change the manufacturing process in the US, made public in March, was to avoid the need to apply ‘scientifically unfounded’ health warnings to cans and bottles.

The British arm of the company said it will change the caramel colouring used in its drinks in this country, but was unable to put a timescale on it.  It said: ‘We intend to expand the use of the reduced 4-MI caramel globally as this will allow us to streamline and simplify our supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution systems.’

The British Soft Drinks Association said there was no need to ban caramel colours containing 4-MI.

A spokesman said: ‘The 4-MI levels found in food and drink products pose no health or safety risks. Outside the state of California, no regulatory agency in the world considers the exposure of the public to 4-MI as present in caramels as an issue.’

The spokesman and Coke said food safety watchdogs in Britain and Europe have both decided the presence of 4-MI in caramel colouring is not a health concern.


First drug in 50 years to tackle C.diff goes on sale today in Brtitain

Hospital hygeine would do an even better job but that is too much to expect in Britain

The first new drug in more than 50 years to tackle the deadly C.diff stomach bug goes on sale today.

It is hoped that Dificlir will save some of the 3,000 lives lost annually to the disease. However, it costs £67.50 a tablet, so hospitals may opt to reserve it for the most severely ill.

Studies have shown that the twice-a-day treatment is just as good as existing drugs at treating the initial infection.

But, crucially, it halves the odds of already-weakened patients relapsing. Relapses affect a quarter or so of the 27,000 C.diff patients treated each year and cost the NHS up to £10,000 a time. They are fatal up to 10 per cent of the time.

Dificlir, made by Japanese firm Astellas, stops the bug producing the poisons that wreak havoc in the gut. It also prevents it from making the spores that help its spread.

Using the new drug should spare 10 in every 100 patients from the pain and indignity of relapsing, said Robert Masterson, a superbug expert from the University of the West of Scotland.

He added that while hygiene drives have led to a fall in the number of C.diff cases in recent years, there is no room for complacency.

Graziella Kontkowski, founder of the patient group c-diff support (CORR), said she hoped better treatment would save lives.

She said that the bug, which thrives in filthy conditions, affects the young and old, and added: ‘I would like to hope that with this new treatment, recurrences of Cdiff will soon be a thing of the past.’

Official guidance on NHS use is due in the next few weeks.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Two glasses of wine a day for middle-aged adults 'makes your life better'

Probably just a social class effect

Drinking a couple of glasses of wine each day improves your quality of life, researchers say.  They found that those who drink in moderation had better scores in an index that measures factors including dexterity, emotion, mobility and the ability to understand than those who abstained completely.

U.S. researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine studied 5,404 people at the age of 50, and continued to observe them over a follow-up period.

Most showed a stable pattern of alcohol consumption and ‘persistent moderate drinkers’ were identified.

They found that these regular moderate drinkers – those who consumed no more than 14 drinks a week and no more than three a day for women and four a day for men – scored highest in each section of the Health Utilities Index.

Subsequent changes in quality of life past 50 were similar in all groups, except for those who cut down on drinking from moderate levels – and these showed signs of decline.

The authors write: ‘Overall, this study shows a positive relation between regular moderate alcohol intake and quality of life in middle-aged adults.’

They said it was unclear exactly why continued moderate alcohol consumption seemed to have such a beneficial effect.

Other experts warned that the study did not take into account the reasons for people stopping drinking or cutting down.

Harvey Finkel, from the Boston University Medical Centre, said: ‘As people age, even disregarding medical obstacles, social interactions generally decrease, which leads to both less stimulation to drink and less opportunity to drink.’


No physical benefit from 'exergames': study

Games such as Wii FIt Balanceare of little physical benefit

Getting our sedentary, overweight children off the couch is a challenge. That's why the Nintendo Wii game console, which arrived in the United States six years ago, was such an exciting prospect. It offered the chance for children to get exercise without even leaving the house.

Tennis was one of the games in the Wii Sports software that came right in the box with the console. This was the progenitor of "exergames", video games that led to hopes that fitness could turn into irresistible fun.

But exergames turn out to be much digital ado about nothing, at least as far as measurable health benefits for children. "Active" video games distributed to homes with children do not produce the increase in physical activity that naive parents (like me) expected. That's according to a study undertaken by the Children's Nutrition Research Centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and published early this year in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Previous studies have shown that adults and children who play active video games, when encouraged in an ideal laboratory setting, engage in moderate, even vigorous physical activity briefly. The Baylor team wanted to determine what happened when the games were used not in a laboratory, but in actual homes.

The participants in this study were children 9 to 12 years old who had a body mass index above the median and whose households did not already have a video game console. Each was given a Wii. Half were randomly assigned to a group that could choose two among the five most physically demanding games that could be found: Active Life: Extreme Challenge; EA Sports Active; Dance Dance Revolution; Wii Fit Plus; and Wii Sports. The other half could choose among the most popular games that are played passively, like Disney Sing It: Pop Hits and Madden NFL 10.

The participants agreed to wear accelerometers periodically to measure physical activity over the 13-week experiment. To observe how well the intrinsic appeal of active games changed children's behavior, the researchers distributed the consoles and games without exhortations to exercise frequently.

They found "no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at any time, than children receiving the inactive video games."

How is it possible that children who play active video games do not emerge well ahead in physical activity? One of the authors of the Pediatrics article, Anthony Barnett, an exercise physiologist who is a consultant at the University of Hong Kong, explains that the phenomenon is well known in the field.

"When you prescribe increased physical activity, overall activity remains the same because the subjects compensate by reducing other physical activities during the day," he says.

Changing sedentary behavior is extremely difficult, says Dr. Charles T. Cappetta, an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. "It may seem that active video games are an easy solution to getting kids off the couch," he says. "But as this study and others show, they do no such thing."

He says that "live sports" – the kind that are outside of the home, without controllers and television monitors – "remain the gold standard to get cardiovascular benefit."

Last year, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a small-scale study of use of the Wii Fit by adults and children in homes over three months and its impact on physical activity and fitness.

"When the Wii Fit was introduced in 2008, it targeted fitness instead of just entertainment," says Scott G. Owens, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Mississippi and the lead author. "This caught our attention. Anything that comes out that might help kids be more physically active would be of interest to us."

Owens and his colleagues offered Wii Fit games to eight households that responded to advertisements seeking study participants. Before the games arrived,'the researchers used accelerometers to set the baseline of the participants' physical activity and ran fitness tests. Measurements were taken again six weeks and 12 weeks after.

"A major finding was the dramatic drop in daily use after the first six weeks," Owens says.

The Wii Fit was used an average of 22 minutes a day by everyone in the household in the first six weeks, but only four minutes a day in the second six weeks. At the end, health-related fitness measures were essentially unchanged.

Owens says he presented the findings at the 2010 meeting of the Games for Health conference, which focuses on video games.

"The academics who presented at the meeting tended not to be surprised by our findings," he said. "But the exergame developers and marketers were disappointed, I think."

Asked about this study and the one at Baylor, a Nintendo spokesman issued this statement: "While Nintendo does not make any health claims with active-play games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit Plus, we hope that the games encourage users to be more physically active. They are designed to get people up off the couch and to have fun."

For physical activity that brings measurable health benefits, kids need things like real balls, real rackets and real courts.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Living near loud traffic increases your risk of having a heart attack

Boring!  Of course people living near busy roads have worse health.  They are poor.  The rich don't live there.  And poverty is a major predictor of ill health

Loud traffic noise increases the risk of heart attack, a study shows.  Researchers say that each ten per cent rise in volume comes with a 12 per cent higher risk of heart attack.

Previous studies had investigated the combined effects of noise and pollution, although the results were inconclusive.

But the latest study of more than 50,000 people has found a ‘clear relationship’ between noise and heart attacks, reports journal PLoS ONE.

Dr Mette Sorenson, of the Danish Cancer Society, said that the reason for the relationship is unknown, but may be due to increased stress and sleep disturbances associated with high traffic noise.

He said: 'In this study residential exposure to road traffic noise was associated with a 12 per cent higher risk of myocardial infarction (MI) per ten decibel exposure to noise, showing a clear dose response relationship.'

Suggesting one possible explanation he said: 'Sleep disturbances can contribute to cardiovascular risk, leading to the hypothesis that exposure to noise during the night might be more harmful than daytime exposure.

'The sleep structure generally becomes more fragmented with age and elderly people are thus more susceptible to sleep disturbances.'

He said it was possible that changes in lifestyle caused by disrupted sleep could play a part.  But he adds: 'Stress and sleep disturbances can cause changes to lifestyle habits, including increased tobacco smoking and thus potentially a stronger association between traffic noise and MI among smokers.

'However we found indications of a high effect of road traffic noise on MI among never smokers.'

He points out that those studied mainly lived in urban areas, meaning other factors could be at play.

But he said: 'The present study shows a positive association between residential exposure to road traffic noise and risk for MI.'


The 1930s' Supersize Me: Bizarre experiment involved man eating only burgers for THREE MONTHS (and he didn't report any health problems)

The elite have hated popular food for a long time

Over 80 years before Morgan Spurlock even thought about eating McDonald's every day for a month, one Minnesota man resolved to chow down on up to 30 burgers a day - for three months.

However, unlike Spurlock's crusading attack on the fast-food giant, unheralded Bernard Flesche devoured burgers three times a day to show how healthy and safe they were and ultimately helpied them become synonymous with America.

Dubbed the 'White Castle Project', the 1932 initiative was the braind-child of White Castle owner Edgar Waldo 'Billy' Ingram, the father of fast-food burgers in the United States who created his patented 'Slyders' in 1921.
Needing to change the public perception of their burgers, White Castle commissioned an experiment in which a man was to eat up to 30 burgers a day for three months to prove they were safe to consume

Needing to change the public perception of their burgers, White Castle commissioned an experiment in which a man was to eat up to 30 burgers a day for three months to prove they were safe to consume

Even though his business was growing, the Wichita, Kansas, headquartered firm was still having difficulty persuading Americans to eat ground beef after the famous journalist and author Upton Sinclair exposed the poor hygiene of meat processing factories in his novel 'The Jungle'.

Nutritionist of the era waded in too declaring 'The hamburger habit is just about as safe as walking in a garden while the arsenic spray is being applied.'

Adding insult to injury, one anti-burger author said that the then unpoular snack was 'about as safe as getting your meat out of a garbage can standing in the hot sun. For beyond all doubt, the garbage can is where the chopped meat sold my most butchers belongs, as well as a large percentage of all the hamburger that goes into sandwiches.'

Deciding that these perceptions may be a problem, Ingram hired Jesse McClendon, Ph.D., a respected biochemist who had taught at Cornell University to research and eventually prove that burgers were safe.

Resolving that human experimentation was the most sensible way forward, McClendon convinced White Castle to endorse his study that would pave the way for thousands of American fast-food outlets and the popularity of cheeseburgers.

Forty-nine-year-old McClendon knew from previous research that dogs fed on lean-meat only diets did not suffer a depreciation in health.

So he proposed to White Castle that he would feed a single experimental human subject only White Castle burgers, bun, onion, pickles and all, plus water for 13 straight weeks.

Bernard Flesche, a University of Minnesota medical student stepped forward as a willing guinea pig for the burger-thon.

'He started out very enthusiastic eating about 10 burgers at a sitting, but a couple of weeks into it, he was losing his enthusiasm,' wrote his daughter almost 75 years later in a letter to her local newspaper in Minnesota about the little known experiment.

His sister even tried to tempt him with fresh vegetables during his three month burger stint but he stuck to his rigid diet of burgers only.

Similar in scope but not size, was Morgan Spurlock's 2004 'Super Size Me' documentary in which he dined at McDonald's restaurants three times a day for a month.

He gained 24 pounds, experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction and took 14-months to lose the weight on a vegan diet.

The documentary changed the public perception of fast-food and the obesity 'epidemic' raging across the developed world.  McDonald's introduced a changed health conscious menu after the success of the film.

However, almost 80-years previous to that famous experiment, Flesche, who had spent 13-weeks eating burgers with no apparent effect on his health, ended his mammoth burger binge.

'The student maintained good health throughout the three-month period and was eating 20-24 hamburgers a day during the last few weeks,' said burger mogul Ingram.

Overjoyed by the success of the experiment, Ingram added that it proved customers 'could eat nothing but our sandwiches and water, and fully develop all their physical and mental faculties.'

The study was heavily promoted nationwide and helped White Castle become one of the largest fast food outlets in the U.S. until the emergence of McDonald's in the 1950s.

Flesche complete his medical studies and died from heart problems at the age of 54.

As a result of his participation in the White Castle study his daughter revealed that 'He never willingly ate hamburgers again.'


Friday, June 22, 2012

Popeye had the right idea: Favourite snack of cartoon strongman could cut colon cancer

This work appears to have been with one carcinogen only so is of unknown generalizability

Popeye the Sailor Man had the right idea when he guzzled cans of spinach. Because the cartoon character's favourite food doesn't just give you iron - it could also reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Researchers at Oregon State University found eating the green leafy vegetable reduced the damaging effects of a carcinogen found in cooked meat.

They were studying the complex biological effects of the cancer-causing substance on microRNA and cancer stem cells.

During their animal study they found that the consumption of spinach could partially offset the damaging effects of the carcinogen. In tests with laboratory animals, it cut the incidence of colon tumors almost in half, from 58 per cent to 32 per cent.

'Cancer development is a complex, multi-step process, with damaged cells arising through various means,' said researcher Mansi Parasramka.

'This study showed that alterations of microRNAs affect cancer stem cell markers in colon cancer formation.

'MicroRNAs are very small factors that do very big things in cells,' she said.

Traditionally, cancer was thought to be caused by changes in DNA sequence, or mutations, that allowed for uncontrolled cell growth. That’s still true.

However, there’s also increasing interest in the role played by epigenetics, in which such factors as diet, environmental toxins, and lifestyle affect the expression of genes – not just in cancer, but also cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurological disorders.

Included in this epigenetic equation is the formation of microRNAs – once thought to be 'junk DNA' - which researchers were at a loss to understand. It’s now known that they influence which areas of DNA get expressed or silenced.

There are hundreds of microRNAs, and the OSU scientists monitored 679 in their experiments. When they don’t work right, problems can occur, including abnormal gene expression leading to cancer.

Professor Rod Dashwood said: 'Unlike mutations which are permanent genetic changes in DNA, the good news about epigenetics and microRNA alterations is that we may be able to restore normal cell function, via diet and healthy life style choices, or even drug treatments.'

Epigenetics essentially makes every person biologically unique, Dashwood said, a product of both their genetics and their environment. That includes even identical twins.

The findings of the new study should lead to advances in understanding microRNAs, their effects on cancer stem cells, and the regulatory processes disrupted in disease development, the OSU scientists said.

This might lead one day to tailored or “patient specific” therapies for cancer, Dashwood said.

The research at OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute was recently reported in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health.


The moralistic, Malthusian war against fat people

Activists, professors, theologians – everyone is now promoting the depraved idea that human gluttony is plunging the planet into catastrophe

Sometimes, I hear something on a news programme that catches me unaware and makes me think: ‘Surely this is an Ali G spoof?’

It is early Monday morning and a professor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, holding forth on the danger that human beings’ weight gain presents to the survival of the planet. ‘Having a heavy body is like driving a Range Rover’, he argues, with passion and conviction. Before you can even catch your breath, he is warning of the catastrophic things that will occur when ‘we are all as fat’ as people in America. After lecturing listeners about the need to factor people’s ‘body mass’ into all debates about the environment, he pauses and then reminds us again that fatness is an ‘ecological not just a health concern’.

I look across the breakfast table, and my wife affirms my suspicion that this must indeed be an Ali G moment. But alas, a few minutes later, the twenty-first-century equivalent of a Trollope-like, worldly cleric, the weight-conscious priest Giles Fraser, is on the air to give his ‘thought for the day’. He, too, is morally weighed down by the problem of body mass. His little homily on sustainability is on-message in this Ali G world of ours. When I hear him say that ‘bigger is not always better’, it becomes clear why theology is in trouble. But when he finishes by saying ‘economic growth is like getting fat’, I slowly start to realise that this is more than just a bad joke…

There is something deeply troubling about having a professor, followed by a cleric, casually turning the size of the human body into a marker of moral evil. And they weren’t only talking about the weight of humanity in metaphorical terms. The professor and his London-based team have apparently quantified fatness around the globe. According to their calculations, the weight of the global human population stands at 287million tonnes. Of this mass of human fat, 15million tonnes of it is a result of people being overweight and 3.5 million tonnes is a consequence of full-on obesity. Apparently, American fatties bear greatest responsibility for weighing down the planet: the professor’s team says that although Americans only make up six per cent of the global population, they’re responsible for more than a third of the obesity.

This degraded depiction of human beings is really about morally indicting people for the original sins of eating and breeding. These days we are told that eating too much is as bad as having too many children. So the professor’s report on global gluttony claims that increasing levels of fatness around the world have the same impact on global resources as an extra billion people would. In other words, if people, especially American people, hung out at their local Weight Watchers a bit more, then the planet could be spared the misery and horrors that an extra billion people would bring it.

Sadly, it isn’t only small groups of scaremongers who have a tendency to present people’s eating and breeding habits as the cause of catastrophes to come. The current targeting of people’s allegedly immoral body mass coincides with the Rio+20 conference, the latest UN gathering to discuss sustainability, where the key argument doing the rounds is that human salvation will require a significant restraint of the breeding and consumption behaviour of human beings. This is a very fashionable prejudice these days. Indeed, on the eve of the Rio+20 conference, 105 science academies issued a statement warning that a failure to tackle population growth and overconsumption would have ‘potentially catastrophic implications for human wellbeing’.

‘Less body mass’ and ‘smaller human footprint’ – those are the mottos of today’s morally disoriented scaremongers, whose philosophical and theological outlook continually reduces human life to physical quantities of biological material and carbon footprints. Those who wish to make us feel guilty about our bodies should follow through the logic of their depraved misanthropy, and go whip themselves.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Just two tablespoons of olive oil a day could cut heart disease risk among Spaniards

This is probably just a poverty effect: Poor Spaniards can afford less  oil and also have poorer health

Olive oil has long been known to be good for the heart. Now scientists have found out  exactly how good it can be. And it doesn’t take much to enjoy the benefits.

According to their research, just two tablespoons of olive oil almost halves your risk of dying from heart disease. The equivalent of one tablespoon cuts the risk by around 28 per cent.

There have been numerous studies highlighting olive oil’s  benefits to the heart, but few  have investigated the extent to which this translates into reduced death rates.

The results are based on the diets of nearly 41,000 adults in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, which began 20 years ago.

While the research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found olive oil does not appear to reduce cancer deaths, there was an enormous impact on the death toll from heart disease.

Last night British experts said the results showed that olive oil, a large part of the so-called Mediterranean diet which is rich in fish, fruit and  vegetables, played an even bigger part in preventing heart disease than first thought.

The researchers stressed that they had allowed for the benefits  of other ingredients in the Mediterranean diet when assessing olive oil’s powers.

‘These findings are very significant,’ said Dr Charles Knight of the British Cardiovascular Society. ‘This is confirmation that olive oil is good for the heart.’

Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, compounds that can dampen inflammation in the body and possibly reduce the risk of clots.

Spanish researchers studied data on the eating habits of 40,622 men and women between 29 and 69, tracking them for just over 13 years to see what effect olive oil had on death rates. In the study period, just under 2,000 of the recruits died, including 956 from cancer and 416 from heart disease.

The data showed that heart death victims were among the lowest consumers of olive oil. Those who got through 29 grams or more a day – just over two tablespoons – were 44 per cent less likely to die from cardiac problems.


You can't win:  Low-fat salad dressing is 'bad for you'

Choosing a low-fat dressing for your salad might help you keep your weight down because it has fewer calories – but you could lose some other health benefits, a study shows.

It found higher-fat dressings help the body absorb more carotenoids, compounds in vegetables linked with a reduced risk of illnesses including cancer and heart disease.

Researchers from Iowa State University fed 29 people salads dressed with butter, high in saturated fat, canola oil for monounsaturated fat, and corn oil for polyunsaturated fat.

Each salad was dished up with three grams, eight grams or 20 grams of fat from dressings to see if fat dosage made a difference to the overall results.

The participants had their blood tested for absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids, which are compounds associated with a reduced risk of several chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

With all but the canola oil, made from genetically modified rapeseed, the more fat that was used the more carotenoids were absorbed, says the study in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

Canola oil promoted the same carotenoid absorption with three grams of fat as with 20g, suggesting it may be a healthy choice for weight watchers. Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fat.

Professor Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University in the US said: 'If you want to utilise more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings.

'If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there is a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.'

Results showed corn oil was the most dependent on dose, with the more fat on the salad, the more carotenoids the participants absorbed.

The butter rich in saturated fat was also dependent on dose when drizzled on the salads, but not to a lesser extent.

Canola oil and olive-oil based dressings promoted the same carotenoid absorption at three grams of fat, as they did at 20 grams - suggesting this would be a good choice of dressing for people watching their weight but wanting to remain healthy.

The researchers are taking the study further by trying to understand how meal patterns affect nutrient absorption - determining whether people absorb more nutrients if they eat vegetables at one time or spread throughout the day.

Professor Ferruzzi added: 'Even at the lower fat level, you can absorb a significant amount of carotenoids with monounsaturated fat-rich canola oil.

'Overall, pairing with fat matters.

'You can absorb significant amounts of carotenoids with saturated or polyunsaturated fats at low levels, but you would see more carotenoid absorption as you increase the amounts of those fats on a salad.'


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A drink a day for pregnant women 'will NOT harm unborn baby's development'

Drinking alcohol while trying to conceive or in early pregnancy – even the occasional binge – will not harm the baby’s development, research has claimed.  It also shows moderate drinking, around one a day, does not affect the child’s IQ and other brain functions.

However, high levels of consumption – nine or more drinks a week – were linked to a lower attention span at the age of five.

The findings contradict official guidance, which says alcohol is best avoided in pregnancy and when trying to conceive.

Previous research has suggested the odd tipple does not affect intellectual or behavioural development, but this is the first significant evidence that occasional binge drinking in the early weeks of pregnancy is unlikely to irrevocably harm the baby.

Danish doctors behind the research said the findings should not be taken as a green light for pregnant women to binge drink, defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion.

Joint author Professor Ulrik Kesmodel, of Aarhus University Hospital, said it was clear that heavy, continuous drinking was detrimental to the unborn child.

Heavy drinking in pregnancy is linked to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in children, which can cause physical, mental and behavioural problems. Newly pregnant women were often concerned their baby had been conceived at a time when they may have been binge drinking, said Prof Kesmodel.

But he added: ‘These findings, which were unexpected, should bring some comfort to women if they were drinking before they realised they were pregnant.’ A total of 1,628 women, aged 31 on average, were recruited for the research at their first antenatal visit.

Their weekly drinking habits were recorded, with low consumption defined as one to four drinks, moderate as five to eight and high levels as nine or more. Women who did not drink during pregnancy were included for comparison. In Denmark, one standard drink is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol, compared with a unit of 7.9g in the UK.

Five studies published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology looked at the effects of alcohol on IQ, attention span, and functions such as planning, organisation and self-control in five-year-old children.

They showed occasional binge drinking, or low to moderate weekly drinking, in early pregnancy had no significant effect on the neurodevelopment of children aged five.

No differences in IQ and other tests were found between children whose mothers had up to eight drinks a week in pregnancy compared with those abstaining.

There was also no effect on a child’s selective attention and sustained attention in children of mothers drinking up to eight drinks a week. However, nine or more drinks a week were associated with a lower attention span among five-year-olds.

Prof Kesmodel, a consultant gynaecologist who carried out the studies with Erik Lykke Mortensen at the University of Copenhagen, said: ‘We were not so surprised to find no effects from lower levels of drinking, as previous research suggested this, but we didn’t even find subtle effects caused by low to moderate and binge drinking.

‘But the key message is that drinking during pregnancy is not beneficial and additional studies should be undertaken.’

The Department of Health said: ‘Our advice remains that women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant should avoid alcohol.’


Top heart doctors fret over new blood thinners

No easy decisions.  In principle Warfarin should be avoided like the plague because of its narrow safe range but the alternatives appear to have problems too

For millions of heart patients, a pair of new blood thinners have been heralded as the first replacements in 60 years for warfarin, a pill whose hardships and risks have deterred many from using the stroke-prevention medicine.

But growing complaints of risks and deaths tied to the new crop of drugs have made some top U.S. cardiologists hesitant to prescribe them. Some are proposing a more rigorous monitoring regimen for when they are used.

Most concerns revolve around Pradaxa, a twice daily pill from Boehringer Ingelheim that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2010 to prevent strokes in patients with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. It was the first new oral treatment for that use since warfarin was introduced in the 1950s.

"The good news is you now have an alternative to warfarin," said Dr. Alan Jacobson, director of anti-coagulation services at the Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare system in Loma Linda, California. "The bad news is you can kill a patient as easily with the new drug as you could with the old drug" if it is not handled properly.

"The average patient doesn't understand anything about the new drug, or what the risks are, or what other medicines he can or can't take," said Jacobson, citing interactions with common painkillers and other drugs that can alter Pradaxa blood levels.

Xarelto, a once daily pill that Johnson & Johnson developed with Bayer AG, was approved last November for atrial fibrillation. The condition affects about 3 million Americans, causing blood to pool in a storage chamber of the heart, where it can clot and travel to the brain.

Both new drugs were designed to sidestep risks of warfarin, including brain hemorrhages and other dangerous bleeding, and become mainstays of a new therapeutic market worth at least $10 billion a year. Patients taking warfarin require close monitoring and regular blood tests as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.

Doctors have less data and familiarity with Xarelto, which is still being rolled out.

But Jacobson and another dozen physicians interviewed by Reuters expressed similar concerns about both Pradaxa and Xarelto.

They say that real world use of Pradaxa and Xarelto, which do not require regular blood monitoring or frequent doctor follow-up, raises concerns about the risk of stroke, serious bleeding and blood clots if not taken properly, particularly in patients with poor kidney function.

The nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices estimated last month that 542 reports of deaths associated with Pradaxa were reported to the FDA in 2011, topping all other medicines, including warfarin, with 72 deaths. Adverse event reports on Xarelto were not available.

A case study published in March raised alarm in particular, showing an elderly Utah patient on Pradaxa developed a massive brain hemorrhage and died after a minor fall.

European regulators have instructed Boehringer Ingelheim to add warnings about the bleeding risk to Pradaxa's package insert. Almost two dozen U.S. federal lawsuits have been filed against Boehringer Ingelheim alleging harm from Pradaxa.

Boehringer declined to comment on the lawsuits. The German company also declined to comment about the deaths, but said the number of reports of bleeding with Pradaxa were within Boehringer's expectations, given the incidence of bleeding seen in the drug's largest study.

"Research has shown that the number of reported adverse events for a drug peaks during its first few years on the market," when doctors are most likely to file voluntary reports to regulators and drugmakers, company spokeswoman Emily Baier said.

Dr. Robert Temple, a top official in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said few doctors notify the agency about incidents from warfarin because its risks are already well known. So the lopsided number of Pradaxa reports compared with warfarin may not indicate an elevated risk, he said.

"We don't necessarily believe it is real," he said. "But we're watching it. We can't help but notice it."


The makers of Pradaxa and Xarelto say it takes time for doctors to get up to speed on new types of treatments and how to best administer them outside the controls of clinical trials.

"This is a shift in medical practice," said Dr. John Smith, senior vice president for clinical development at Boehringer. "Individual physicians have to determine what the follow-up plan will be, to use common medical-sense judgment."

Dr. Peter Wildgoose, a senior director of clinical development at J&J, said the company has not provided special advice on follow-up care for patients on Xarelto.

"There's nothing more than for any other drug that people regularly take," he said, adding that most atrial fibrillation patients probably see their doctors on a regular basis. "These drugs have been tested long term, for several years at a time, with very good outcomes."

Boehringer Ingelheim and Johnson & Johnson officials stressed there was far less evidence in trials of brain bleeding - the most worrisome side effect of anti-coagulants - in patients taking Pradaxa and Xarelto than those taking warfarin.

In the meantime, warfarin is holding its own, with 33 million U.S. prescriptions filled for atrial fibrillation and other uses last year, according to IMS Health, a healthcare information and services company. Some 2.2 million prescriptions were filled for Pradaxa.

About 130,000 U.S. prescriptions were written for Xarelto in the first three months of 2012. Pradaxa and Xarelto each cost about $3,000 a year, versus just $200 for generic warfarin.

Prominent U.S. heart doctors stress that neither new drug has a known antidote for a bleeding emergency, as warfarin does.

They also say that patients using them should undergo testing ahead of time to ensure good kidney function, be carefully taught potential pitfalls of the drugs and be seen by doctors periodically, especially after a switch is made.

"I have received a dozen phone calls from local colleagues in the last couple of months about bleeding on Pradaxa and have yet to find a single case where that bleeding was not related to improper use of the drug," said Dr. Sanjay Kaul, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Kaul found that many of the doctors failed to test patient kidney function before prescribing Pradaxa, though 80 percent of the drug is excreted in that organ. Weak kidneys allow the medicine to build to unsafe levels in the bloodstream. About two-thirds of Xarelto is eliminated by the kidneys - including 36 percent of the active drug as well as drug that has already been rendered inactive by the liver. Other doctors failed to ask patients whether they had a history of gastrointestinal bleeding, which raises the risk for Pradaxa.

"What really compounds the matter is the lack of a specific antidote to reverse life-threatening bleeding" from Pradaxa, said Kaul, who served on independent panels that advised the FDA on both new medications. Kaul said he had written only one prescription for Pradaxa and none for Xarelto.

Boehringer Ingelheim said it is working on an antidote, but declined to elaborate. Johnson & Johnson said it is not developing an antidote, but is monitoring early efforts by other drugmakers to come up with one. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, which is developing a blood clot drug called Eliquis that is similar to Xarelto, declined to comment on the antidote issue.


Warfarin thins the blood by blocking Vitamin K, while Pradaxa directly inhibits thrombin - a protein involved in clotting. Xarelto and Eliquis - which Bristol-Myers is developing with Pfizer Inc - interferes with a protein called Factor Xa.

Richard Purkiss, an analyst with Atlantic Equities, sees the new blood clot drugs reaching combined global annual sales of $10 billion for stroke prevention and other uses, with Eliquis commanding up to a 60 percent market share, based on data showing it was more effective and safer than warfarin, including less bleeding and risk of death from all causes.

Neither Pradaxa nor Xarelto were able to claim both superiority and better safety than warfarin, or reduced risk of death.

Only 25 percent of Eliquis is eliminated by the kidneys - and the rest by the liver - which some doctors say could make it more appropriate than Pradaxa or Xarelto for older patients and those with kidney problems. The FDA is expected to make a decision on Eliquis by June 28.

Michael Liss, portfolio manager at American Century Investments, predicts Eliquis will overtake Pradaxa and Xarelto within six months after it is introduced. He expects it to capture peak annual sales of up to $4 billion, with Pradaxa and Xarelto dividing up another $3 billion.

Dr. Kenneth Bauer, head of hematology for the Veterans Administration health system in Boston, said the FDA should never have approved Pradaxa and Xarelto for patients with severe kidney dysfunction, since such patients were excluded from large studies. Nor should the agency have approved an untested 75-milligram half dose of Pradaxa for such patients, he said.

"These are people whose kidneys are already damaged ... and even at the smaller dose (of Pradaxa), you risk overdosing yourself," Bauer said.

The FDA said it routinely approves adjusted doses of medicines, and noted that patients with severe liver dysfunction were included in smaller studies of Xarelto and Pradaxa.

Boehringer Ingelheim's Smith said the FDA cleared the lower dose of Pradaxa after conducting its own analysis of how it performs in the bloodstream.


Almost 15 percent of Americans over the age of 80 are believed to have atrial fibrillation and face a fivefold higher risk of stroke if untreated.

Dr. Richard Besdine, director of the Center for Gerontology at Brown University, said he had switched only two of his approximately 100 elderly patients from warfarin. He is unlikely to switch many others for at least a few years.

"If there's an adverse event lurking in the closet for a new drug, it's most likely to come out in patients that are old and frail and taking multiple medications. They're the canary in the coal mine," he said.

Even so, Besdine - like many other doctors now on the sidelines - believes the new drugs may eventually displace warfarin as doctors become familiar with them.

Others note that warfarin's disadvantages have led as many as 70 percent of prospective patients to refuse to take it, leaving plenty of room for the new drugs.

Dr. Robert Califf, a Duke University cardiologist who headed the largest study of Xarelto, noted warfarin is still one of the biggest causes of U.S. emergency room fatalities.

"We shouldn't lose sight of what warfarin is like in the real world," he said.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seven cups of tea a day 'raises incidence of prostate cancer by 50%' among Glaswegians

Some reasonable reservations expressed below about these unusual results.  I will refrain from making jokes about Glasgow

Men who drink lots of tea are far more likely to develop prostate cancer, researchers have warned.  They found that those who drank seven or more cups a day had a 50 per cent higher risk of contracting the disease than men who had three or fewer.

The warning comes after scientists at the University of Glasgow tracked the health of more than 6,000 men for four decades.

Their findings run counter to previous research, which had suggested that tea-drinking lowers the risk of cancer, as well as heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

The study, led by Dr Kashif Shafique, began in 1970.  Participants aged between 21 and 75 were asked to complete a questionnaire about their usual consumption of tea, coffee and alcohol as well as their smoking habits and general health, and had to attend a screening examination.

Just under a quarter of the 6,016 men were heavy tea drinkers, consuming seven or more cups a day. Of these, 6.4 per cent developed prostate cancer over the next  37 years.

Researchers found that the subjects who drank the most tea were often teetotal and led healthy lifestyles.

As a result, they may have been at a lower risk of death from ‘competing causes’, effectively giving them more time to develop prostate cancer, the journal Nutrition and Cancer reports.

Dr Shafique said: ‘Most previous research has shown either no relationship with prostate cancer for black tea, or some preventive effect of green tea.  'We don’t know whether tea itself is a risk factor or if tea-drinkers are generally healthier and live to an older age, when prostate cancer is more common anyway.'

He added that those drinking the most tea were less likely to be overweight or drink alcohol, and more likely to have healthy cholesterol levels.

‘However, we did adjust for these differences in our analysis and still found that men who drank the most tea were at greater risk of prostate cancer,’ he said.  Dr Shafique did stress, however, that his team was ‘unaware of any constituent of black tea that may be responsible for carcinogenic activity in prostate cells’.

Previous research has found health benefits from flavonoids – antioxidant compounds in tea that are thought to control inflammation, reduce excess blood clotting and limit narrowing of the arteries.

Of seven previous studies on black tea and prostate cancer, four found a potentially protective effect while the remainder found no effect either way.

Dr Kate Holmes, head of research at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘Whilst it does appear that those who drank seven or more cups of tea each day had an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, this did not take into consideration family history or any other dietary elements other than tea, coffee and alcohol intake.

‘It is therefore unclear as to whether there were other factors in play which may have had a greater impact on risk.’

Almost 80 per cent of Britons drink tea, consuming an estimated 165million cups each day. The British tea industry is thought to be worth more than £700million a year.

Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Tea Advisory Panel, an educational body funded by the industry, said just 92 men in the Glasgow study drank more than seven cups a day and went on to develop prostate cancer.

She added: ‘We’re lacking the complete picture because we don’t know what other dietary factors were involved. Other research suggests tea has a protective or neutral effect on prostate cancer, and the authors acknowledge there is no known ingredient in tea that is cancer-causing.

‘Tea-drinking may be a marker for some sort of behaviour that can raise the risk of prostate cancer, but the study does not show it is a cause.’

Prostate cancer strikes 40,000 British men each year, causing more than 10,000 deaths


More publicity for the serious side effects of Statins

Which were once almost universally pooh-poohed as minor

Women on statins, the anti-cholesterol drugs, are at risk of fatigue, a U.S. study has found.  Two in five women taking the pills had less energy than before, with one in ten reporting they felt ‘much worse’.

While experts stress that patients should never stop taking their pills before speaking with their doctor, it has been suggested that for some women, this side-effect could outweigh the benefits of the drug.

This news comes on top of previous research that suggested women may not benefit from statins as much as men.

So should women carry on taking the pills? We asked the experts...


Statins reduce the amount of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, which can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries, raising the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Statins are recommended for those with heart disease or a high risk of developing it.

Around five million Britons are taking statins, though last month, a review by researchers at the University of Oxford said everyone over 50 could benefit from them.


The new study into fatigue involved two leading statins, pravastatin and simvastatin.

The researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine looked at more than 1,000 adults, a third of them women, and the effects of statins on energy levels and exercise capacity.

Participants were randomly given a placebo or a statin at an average dose — pravastatin (40mg) or simvastatin (20mg).

The effect appeared to be stronger for simvastatin.
Statins are recommended for those with heart disease or a high risk of developing it

Statins are recommended for those with heart disease or a high risk of developing it


Most people think cholesterol comes from our diets — in fact, most is made in the liver.  Statins work by blocking enzymes involved in the production of cholesterol.

However, many hormones, including oestrogen, are also metabolised by the liver and it’s thought statins may interfere with this, says Dr Sovra Whitcroft, a gynaecologist at the Surrey Park Clinic in Guildford.

‘As oestrogen promotes sleep, any disruption to its levels could lead to tiredness.’


The list of officially acknowledged side-effects has grown. Initially these included upset stomach, headache or insomnia. Memory problems were added in 2009.

However, GPs point to other side-effects such as irritability and ‘generally feeling old’ that are never mentioned in studies, yet are common.

Another concern is hair loss.  Dr David Fenton, a consultant dermatologist in London, says this is a rare side-effect he has witnessed.

‘Women shed more hair than they should, and it can exacerbate any genetic tendency towards the female equivalent of male pattern baldness. I see many with thinning patches.’

A recent Greek study, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, suggested up to 10 per cent of patients reported myopathy — muscle pain.

‘There has not been a post-marketing surveillance study of statins,’ says Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a Cheshire GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con.  ‘So no one really knows what the adverse effects may be or how many people experience them.

‘Some say side-effects are vanishingly rare. But many patients I see have probable side-effects from a statin with a significant impact on their quality of life.’

And many experts agree women seem to suffer more side-effects than men.  Dr Richard Karas of Tufts University Medical Center in Boston, U.S., says because women are smaller and tend to be older when prescribed statins, this might contribute.

However, the British Heart Foundation reports only one in every 10,000 people who take statins will experience a potentially dangerous side-effect.

The NHS estimates statins save 7,000 lives a year, so the risks are seen to be outweighed by the benefits.


It's generally accepted that for people who have had a heart attack, stroke, or have heart disease, statins can be a life-saver.

But more controversial is whether women benefit in the same way as men.  When it comes to preventing another stroke or heart attack (known as ‘secondary prevention’), a key study, the Jupiter trial, found that taking rosuvastatin cut the recurrence rate in men and women.

As Kausik Ray, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at St George’s University, London, points out, the five-year study ‘was so successful at reducing the incidence of deaths it was stopped after two years’.  ‘It found that healthy women at risk of heart attacks benefited significantly as much as men from taking statins.’

However, Dr Kendrick points out that while the recurrence rate dropped for both genders, the death rate dropped only for men.

As well as preventing a second heart attack or stroke, statins are also increasingly being used as ‘primary prevention’ — before there’s any sign of heart disease, let alone a symptom such as angina or a heart attack.

Here, the picture about the benefits for women is less clear.  A major review by the Cochrane Library (a highly regarded research organisation) said there was no evidence for using statins for primary prevention unless the patient was deemed at high risk of cardiovascular problems.

The review also pointed out most of the trials were conducted on white, middle-aged men.

So we can’t necessarily assume the findings will apply to older people, who may be at greater risk of adverse effects, and women, who may be at lower cardiovascular risk (thanks to their better lifestyles, oestrogen — which protects the heart — and their naturally higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol).

For instance, when researchers from Harvard Medical School re-analysed eight major studies in 2007, they concluded there was no evidence statins worked as primary prevention for women.  ‘My view is that statins are, for women, completely useless for primary and secondary prevention,’ says Dr Kendrick.

However, Professor Ray disagrees, pointing out that in the Jupiter trial, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 40 per cent of the nearly 18,000 participants were women.

‘The evidence clearly shows that women at risk of heart disease benefit to a similar extent as men, though the number of women in trials is small,’ he says.


‘It's difficult to monitor fatigue — you can’t measure it like cholesterol,’ says Professor Ray.  ‘The latest study is useful, but it is not going to change what we do.

‘Fatigue is a common symptom, especially in women, but can be due to other causes.

For example, you may have an underactive thyroid and in premenopausal women fatigue could be related to anaemia. These conditions are often not picked up.’ 

Dermatologist Dr Fenton points out that tiredness could also be a side-effect of the lifestyle measures many implement when prescribed statins.

‘Losing weight, taking up exercise and restricting a diet by eating less red meat can all cause tiredness. It’s vital to check iron levels.’

Even if the fatigue is linked to statins, don’t stop taking the drug automatically, especially if you’re at high risk for future events, e.g., you are diabetic.

‘If you have a strong family history of heart disease, and a poor lifestyle, or have multiple risk factors, putting up with fatigue may be more sensible than being at risk of heart attack,’ says Professor Ray.

‘You need to discuss this with your GP.’


‘You can certainly try taking them in a different way,’ says Professor Ray.  ‘For example, I’d recommend you take a drug holiday, under medical supervision. Stop taking your statin for a week (which is how long it will take to clear your system) and then see how you feel.’

‘Or you could ask to be swapped to a long-acting statin, such as rosuvastatin, a 5mg twice-weekly tablet, which may suit your body’s digestion.’

Statins have been linked to low levels of co-enzyme Q10 — a natural compound found in cells which is important for turning glucose into energy.  ‘This may cause tiredness, but you can’t measure levels in the body, so you can only see if taking a supplement helps by trial and error.  'It can’t hurt and might help,’ says Professor Ray.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Chewing on chewing gum  keeps memories from sticking in the brain

There could be something in this.  Doing more than one thing at a time may be a distraction

Chewing gum can be annoying to people around you and it leaves a sticky mess behind, but now researchers say it can also hamper your memory.  According to experts from Cardiff University in the UK, people who chewed gum had a harder time recalling lists of letters and numbers than those who avoided the habit.

Researchers believe that the motion involved in chewing impedes the brain's ability to memorize serial lists. Just like tapping your finger or foot may distract you from accomplishing the same task, continual movements like chomping on a piece of gum can also interfere with your short-term memory.

The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, challenges the prevailing notion that chewing gum — at least when it is flavored — is a performance enhancer that can boost brain power.

It also provides further proof that human beings are bad at multitasking, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Some previous studies have argued that gum improves concentration by triggering an increase in blood flow through the brain, said lead author Michail Kozlov, of Cardiff University.

But his team found that an oral activity such as gum chewing can interfere with the process that is normally used to remember verbal content.

The study found that it made no difference whether the volunteers chewed vigorously or naturally

As part of the study, the researches gave subjects tasks to perform while chewing gum and without gum.

In one test, the volunteers were told to masticate vigorously and asked to remember a sequence of randomly ordered letters, such as P, V, B, C, D, G, T. Another group repeated the experiment, but chewed at a natural pace.

In the second test, students chewed the flavorless gum and tried to pick up the missing item in the sequence.

The study found that it made no difference whether the volunteers chewed vigorously or naturally. In both cases, ‘chewing has an overall adverse affect on serial recall,’ researchers wrote.

The jury is still out, however, on the role of flavor. In a 2002 study, the participants chewed mint-flavored gum and performed better on short-term word and memory tasks than those who did not chew gum.

But because chewing gum loses its flavor in several minutes, ‘it seems advisable that chewing gum is only considered a performance enhancer as long as its flavor lasts,’ the researchers noted.


Bloomberg taking more bites out of the big  Apple

Last week I scoffed at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg taking a big gulp out of liberty in his city by banning the sale of large sized soft drink servings on his anti-obesity crusade, and warned that if he could do such evil with soda pop he could do it with other foods too.  I just didn’t think he’d move to do it so quickly.

But that is the nature of the statist mind. When they find themselves in positions of power they begin trampling upon individual liberty without so much as a backward glance. They enjoy interfering, meddling, and dictating into the lives of others. It makes them feel good.

I’ve always thought it was a mayor’s job to represent his town to the world, preside over city council meetings, see that the trash is picked up regularly, and oversee the responsibilities of the city’s employees.  It is inconceivable to me that the duties of a city mayor might include overseeing a food police department.

Now his target is set on large sized popcorn containers at movie theatres, milkshakes and “milk-coffee beverages" throughout the city, and who knows what other treats and snacks might come under the microscope next.

His New York City Board of Health expressed their approval last Tuesday for his soda pop proposal and now is hard at work thinking of other draconian methods to trim the fat from the waists, thighs and butts of the Big Apple’s obese denizens.

Member Bruce Vladeck proposed limiting movie-theater popcorn containers. "The popcorn isn't a whole lot better than the soda," he said. Another member suggested limits for milkshakes and "milk-coffee beverages."

While they’re at it, why stop with popcorn and milkshakes? Why not ban the sale of big candy bars, Twinkies, pizza slices, double dip ice cream cones and foot long hot dogs?

That great old tyrant, Ivan the Terrible, the first Tsar of Russia, was said to have once issued a royal decree proclaiming that all the men in his empire should not shave their beards, must not shave their moustaches, or pluck them, upon penalty of death.

And Ivan demonstrated much ingenuity in his death sentences, including burning barefaced men at the stake, impaling them on poles and boiling them in pots.

It seems to me that Mayor Bloomberg is doing his level best to imitate the Russian Tsar American style as he takes another enormous bite of liberty out of his big fat apple.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bloomberg off with the fairies

Bloomberg arrogance doesn't need facts

 Most children and youth who consume soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, such as fruit punch and lemonade, are not at any higher risk for obesity than their peers who drink healthy beverages, says a new study published in the October issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. The study examined the relationship between beverage intake patterns of Canadian children and their risk for obesity and found sweetened beverage intake to be a risk factor only in boys aged 6-11.

"We found sweetened drinks to be dominant beverages during childhood, but saw no consistent association between beverage intake patterns and overweight and obesity," says lead author Susan J. Whiting. "Food and beverage habits are formed early in life and are often maintained into adulthood. Overconsumption of sweetened beverages may put some children at increased risk for overweight and obesity. Indeed, boys aged 6-11 years who consumed mostly soft drinks were shown to be at increased risk for overweight and obesity as compared with those who drank a more moderate beverage pattern."

The authors determined beverage consumption patterns among Canadian children aged 2-18 years using cluster analysis where sociodemographics, ethnicity, household income, and food security were significantly different across the clusters. Data were divided into different age and gender groups and beverage preferences were studied. For this study the sweetened, low-nutrient beverages, categorized according to Canada's Food Guide, consisted of fruit-flavoured beverages, beverages with less than 100% fruit juice, lemonades, regular soft drinks, and sweetened coffees or teas.

The authors found the main predictors of childhood obesity in Canadian children were household income, ethnicity, and household food security.

The study "Beverage patterns among Canadian children and relationship to overweight and obesity" appears in the October issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.


Martha Payne isn’t the only schoolkid who has fallen victim to Britain's school-dinners authoritarianism

By Brendan O'Neill

How lovely that the Twitterati has come out in support of Martha Payne, the nine-year-old girl whose school-dinners blog, “Never Seconds”, was temporarily banned by Argyll and Bute council. Little Miss Payne has been taking photos of her school dinners every day for two months, and posting them online with comments about how unappealing they were. And in an era when officialdom and commentators are obsessed with what schoolkids eat during their lunchbreaks, as if it makes a blind bit of difference to their future fortunes, her blog became an internet sensation. Her local council, not best pleased by the adverse publicity and clearly possessed of a bizarre authoritarian streak, decided to ban the blog. The ban has now been overturned, after tweeters and celebs correctly pointed out that it was wrong and rotten for a council to censor a child’s after-school blogging. Good work, Twitterati.

But what a shame that these decent folks’ opposition to council heavy-handedness in relation to school lunches is so spectacularly partial. What a shame, for example, that they haven’t offered solidarity to those millions of children who have been banned from bringing sweets and crisps into schools, which, as I once reported for the BBC, has given rise to a black market in junk food in school playgrounds. What a shame they didn’t speak out when councils, behaving like a Tuckshop Taliban, stormed into schools and shut down tuckshops and vending machines that sold chocolate or Coke. What a shame they didn’t have anything to say when mothers in Yorkshire who passed chips through the schoolgates to their children were slated in the media and depicted as Viz-style “Fat Slags” in The Sun. What a shame they didn’t complain when it was revealed that some schools are taking it upon themselves to raid children’s lunchboxes – made for them by their parents! – in order to confiscate anything “unhealthy”.

What a shame, in other words, that only one kind of authoritarianism in relation to school dinners is criticised – namely that which censors people from revealing how crap such dinners are – while other forms of authoritarianism, which control both what children can eat and even what their parents can provide them with, are tolerated. Like stern headmasters, it seems concerned hacks will only give their nod of approval to nice, polite, healthy schoolchildren, while withholding it from the rabble, from kids who eat chips and cake with the blessing of their stupid parents. Those kids, it seems, can be censored and censured and controlled as much as is necessary.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Revolutionary idea!  Target fat taxes at  fat people!

Why punish the innocent and the guilty alike?  No system of justice has ever recognized that as just  -- until we come to the Obesity warriors

Susanne Eman, a mother of two from the United Kingdom, weighs 343 kgs and wants to be the world’s fattest person. Her target weight is 730 kgs, and she is well on her way to achieving her goal. Yet there are a number of anti-obesity campaigners who want to tax her fat dream. Taxes are not the answer. The obese should pay for their obesity – but they should pay market rates, not government taxes.

These campaigners also want to impose a ‘fat tax’ on meals such as Burger King’s 510 calorie bacon sundae and KFC’s 540 calorie Double Down. Last year, Denmark introduced a tax on butter, milk, pizza, oil and other foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat. Hungary has also implemented a fat tax on foods with a high fat, salt or sugar content.

Fat tax zealots also want soft drinks to be taxed more and have convinced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the sale of sugary drinks more than 470 ml. And in Australia, the Obesity Policy Coalition claims that more than 70% of Australians want fatty foods to cost more and healthy foods to cost less.

Fat taxes increase costs for everyone, irrespective of an individual’s girth, and importantly, do not take into account factors such as the lack of physical activity that contribute to obesity. Additional taxes imposed by the government on what we choose to eat and drink are clearly not the answer.

Rather, the additional costs of obesity should be borne directly by the obese and not by other taxpayers or businesses. This guarantees that people who are responsible and disciplined in managing their weight are not subject to a ‘fat tax,’ while ensuring the market charges the obese for the additional costs they impose on society. Some private sector businesses have started responding to the additional costs that obesity entails: several airlines require obese passengers to purchase a second seat, and insurance companies are factoring obesity into premium costs.

Susanne Eman should be free to be fat. She should pay for it too, but not through another new tax that will punish the healthy when they want to try a bacon sundae.


Pesky!  Drinking, smoking or being overweight 'does not harm men's fertility'

It's the advice every man trying to become a father wants to hear – have a drink and relax.  Researchers said yesterday that they have evidence that it probably won't harm their chances of starting a family. Nor will smoking, taking drugs or being overweight.  They found men with unhealthy lifestyles were likely to be just as fertile as those living more sensibly.

Under NHS guidelines issued in 2004, GPs are supposed to warn men diagnosed with infertility of the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs.

To try to improve sperm quality, infertile men are also urged to avoid being overweight and not to wear tight underwear.

The quantity of 'swimming sperm' available is regarded as critical to attempts to conceive, and infertile men are advised to cut out unhealthy habits to improve it. This leads to extra strain for many childless couples at an already stressful time. But a British study suggests many factors that were thought to contribute to sperm problems have little impact.

Estimates suggest around 30 per cent of men in couples seeking IVF treatment are subfertile, and 2 per cent are 'totally' infertile, while some studies show dramatic falls in average sperm counts. In some cases, fertility treatment is delayed or withheld on the NHS until couples improve their lifestyles.

However, the number of swimming sperm a man produces appears virtually unaffected by lifestyle choices, claim a team of scientists from Manchester and Sheffield universities.

They recruited 2,249 men from 14 fertility clinics around the UK and asked them to fill out detailed lifestyle questionnaires. Information from 939 of the men who produced low numbers of swimming sperm was then compared with information from 1,310 who produced higher numbers.

The results, reported in the journal Human Reproduction, showed that men with poor quality sperm were 2.5 times more likely to have had testicular surgery, and twice as likely to be of black ethnicity.

They were also 1.3 times more likely to do manual work, not wear loose boxer shorts, or not to have had a child before. But men's use of tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs made little difference.

Even being overweight, as measured by body mass index, did not affect sperm quality. The number of swimming sperm broadly correlates with how fertile a man is likely to be. It also often determines the type of fertility treatment that is offered. Study leader Dr Andrew Povey, of Manchester University, said: 'Our results suggest that many lifestyle choices probably have little influence on how many swimming sperm they have.

'For example, whether the man was a current smoker or not was of little importance. Similarly, there was little evidence of any risk associated with alcohol consumption.  'This potentially overturns much of the current advice given to men about how they might improve their fertility.'

Co-author Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University, said men should still take care of themselves, without feeling the need to 'become monks'.

But he added: 'Although we failed to find any association between common lifestyle factors and the number of swimming sperm, it remains possible that they could correlate with other aspects of sperm that we have not measured.  These include the size and shape of sperm or the quality of the DNA.'