Thursday, January 31, 2013

Danish pain-relief phobia

(Lemsip is a  lemon-flavoured hot drink  containing 650 mg of paracetamol (an analgesic), and 10 mg phenylephrine hydrochloride (a decongestant) to help to relieve headache, fever, blocked nose, body aches and pains and a sore throat.   It is widely used in Britain.

Danish caution is understandable as big doses of paracetamol (Tylenol)  can be fatal.  Lemsip alone is not dangerous but when taken along with other remedies -- such as Tylenol in capsule  form -- it can be a problem.

Danish bans would be better replaced by an emphasis on aspirin, which is much less life-threatening)

It starts with a sniffle. The kind that makes you annoying to sit next to at the cinema but isn’t enough to knock you sideways on the sofa with Kleenex and a boxset. Being a hardy Brit, I carry on, uncomplaining, until the temperature drops to minus nine.

The following morning I have sand running through my veins and drumming monkeys in my head.

“Must. Find. Lemsip,” I moan as I rifle through the last of our boxes to be unpacked from the UK. Locating the yellow and green packet, I give it a shake. Empty.

“Oh, I think I used the last one,” a voice shouts from the shower, “sorry!”

I turn on the hot tap for a few seconds until I hear shrieking sounds, then swaddle up to go in search of medicine.

The Danglish (Danish/English) speaking assistant in my local supermarket says she can’t help.

“No medicine here, only these,” she says, proffering a packet of what look like mint humbugs.

“What are they?”

“Sick sweets,” she tells me.

“How appetising…”

I take them anyway and experience a tingling feeling in my mouth before it goes completely numb. My throat, head and body still ache but for an hour, I can’t even moan about it.

Once I can feel my face again, I head to a chemist.

A kindly looking woman in square black Scandi-issue glasses nods sympathetically when I describe my symptoms.

“So do you sell Ibuprofen?”


“Cough syrup?”

She shakes her head.


She smiles and places a tiny packet on the counter, just enough to soothe the temperature of a smallish hamster.

“Can I buy more?”


“Should I see a doctor?”

“The doctor will tell you to drink hot tea and get hygge with candles.”

My doctor will prescribe cosiness and tea lights? Trying not to cry, I leave.

It’s snowing so hard outside that it feels like someone’s throwing pins at my face. I hear the crunch of moon boots on grit behind me and a girl’s voice calls out.

“Are you English?”


“Thought so.” Her accent isn’t Danish but I can’t place it. “You’re new around here, right?”


“Are you looking for some,” she lowers her voice: “Lemsip?”

I tell her I am and she beckons me over.

“I can get you Vapour Rub too if you’re interested. And vitamin C and caffeine pills.”

My new friend explains that she’s German and heading over the border tomorrow to see family and stock up on winter medicines.

“I normally bring a few things back. Strepsils for the Brits. Fibre supplements and Pepto-Bismol for the Americans, that sort of thing.”

Delighted to have stumbled into the Al Capone of cold and flu remedies, I tell her I’ll take pretty much anything Beecham’s has to offer.

“How much Vicks do you want? 100 grams?”

“Done. And maybe some Night Nurse.”

“Good choice. That stuff’s like crack round here.”

She slips me a single Lemsip sachet that she keeps handy in her satchel for an instant hit and we agree to meet in three days’ time.

“Stay warm and dry and I’ll be back as soon as I can,” my new dealer whispers conspiratorially as she disappears into the snow.

From my sickbed back at home, I discover that I’m not alone in my quest for cold and flu drugs in Denmark. The British Chamber of Commerce website recommends visitors stock up before coming over and there are whole forums dedicated to getting your hands on Hall’s Soothers.

Over-the-counter medicines are only sold in pharmacies here and the pickings are slim. You won’t find medicine for migraines and for anything stronger than Panadol you’ll need a doctor. The Danes are strict about what they put in their bodies and even food supplements are considered borderline medicines.

Breakfast cereals with added vitamins were banned in 2004 and the year before last, Marmite was made illegal. Yes, that’s right, yeast spread and Cheerios are contraband in Denmark. No wonder Lemsip’s so counter revolutionary.

So now I wait, surrounded by candles and cups of ginger tea, until supplies arrive. And I’m not sharing my last Lemsip with anyone.


Must they condemn what they also subsidize?

Obesity is said to be a huge problem, and as I pointed out the other day, public policy experts are calling for overweight people to be stigmatized. Never mind that such stigmatization flies in the face of official policies, or that the stigma would fall heaviest on racial minorities.

But that’s old stuff. We are being ruled by emotional activists who cannot seem to make up their minds, so their whims are subject to change depending on how they feel.

What intrigued me today was the claim that I keep seeing over and over again, that a major reason poor people are fat is because regular food costs more than fast food.

It often costs money to eat healthily. Cheap calories tend to come in the form of fast food, candies, cakes, processed foods and the like. Other experts have postulated that poorer Americans tend to be more sedentary than their wealthier counterparts. If you’re worried about putting any food on the table or making next month’s rent, there may not be much in the way of disposable income or time to join or use a gym or health club.

I disagree completely. It costs me nothing to do my 120 pushups, my 40-50 chinups, or to run, and that (plus a reasonably heart-healthy diet) is how I keep more or less in shape. As to the idea that fast food is cheaper than regular food, this claim has been repeatedly debunked. Rather than quote from the piece, I thought I’d let the graphics speak for themselves:

Another claim the lefties like to make is that regular food is not available where poor people live. Not only is this not the case in most cities, but even in Detroit (where you would expect stores to have been abandoned), there are in fact full service grocery stores all over the place. This claim that they are not there was also debunked in detail at the Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, no amount of debunking will kill popular narratives that people want to believe, because such is the nature of the human beast. I certainly can’t say much that others haven’t.

But on the issue of fast food, I did stumble onto a fascinating factoid. Under the Obama administration, those EBT cards (you know, the electronic debit cards that have replaced food stamps are being increasingly allowed in the same evil fast food restaurants said to be responsible for the obesity epidemic!

I kid you not. Here’s a remarkable graphic from the piece about Detroit:

There has been opposition to this (largely unreported) new trend mainly among natural food types, and this article is downright angry in tone:

(NaturalNews) Soviet-style government food distribution is quickly becoming standard practice in the rapidly decaying United States of America, with more than 20 percent of Americans now participating in the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. And if the fast food industry gets its way, food stamps may soon cover buckets of fried chicken at KFC and Meximelts at Taco Bell.

Food stamp benefits have more than doubled within the past six years, skyrocketing from $28.5 billion in 2005 to $64.7 billion in 2010. With this rise came the addition of 53,000 newly eligible businesses as well, which included convenience stores, dollar discount stores, and even gas stations. And now the fast food industry wants a piece of the pie, too.

According to a recent report in USA Today, Louisville, Ky. based Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver restaurant, and Pizza Hut, is lobbying the federal government to permit SNAP enrollees to use food stamps at their restaurants. And they claim doing so will help prevent hunger.

But many in opposition are decrying the proposition as ridiculous, and a blatant misuse of public funds in support of junk foods rather than health foods.

This is almost comical. It would be downright funny but for the fact that the country is going broke, and the same people who are pushing fast food on the poor are also subjecting everyone else to a major ongoing national harangue.

So much as I try to be rational, rationality is wasted on people who believe that “Emotions are what really count in this world.

If only there were a way to get them to just shut up.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cancer patients who say No to a mastectomy 'more likely to survive'

Why?  Perhaps because they were less unwell to start with and hence more confident of a less invasive procedure

Women stand a better chance of surviving breast cancer if they don’t have a mastectomy, a major study has found.

Those aged over 50 who have only the lump removed, followed by radiotherapy, are almost a fifth more likely to survive the illness than patients who lose the whole breast.

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer choose to have a mastectomy thinking it will remove the tumours as quickly as possible and give them the best chance of survival.

But the results of a ten-year research project by academics show that a  less radical form of treatment – breast conservation surgery – is more effective.

It involves taking away the affected lump and then administering high doses of radiotherapy over a course of five or six weeks to ensure any remaining cancerous cells are killed.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina looked at the records of 112,154 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1994 and 2004.

Around 55 per cent had breast conservation surgery and 44 per cent had a mastectomy.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, shows that women who had breast conservation surgery were 13 per cent more likely to survive the illness. But the results were even more promising in women over 50 whose survival odds were 19 per cent higher than those who had mastectomies.

It also found that women of all ages who had breast conservation surgery were a fifth less likely to die from other causes such as heart disease.

This study looked only at women diagnosed with breast cancer early – known as stages one or two. It did not include patients with advanced forms of the illness.

Experts believe radiotherapy may be far more effective at killing all cancerous cells than removing the entire breast.

Lead researcher Dr E Shelley Hwang, of the Duke Cancer Institute in North Carolina, said: ‘Our findings support the notion that less invasive treatment can provide superior survival to mastectomy in stage one or stage two breast cancer.

‘Given the recent interest in mastectomy to treat early stage breast cancers, despite the research supporting lumpectomy, our study sought to further explore outcomes of breast-conserving treatments in the general population comparing outcomes between younger and older women.’

Sally Greenbrook, senior policy officer at UK charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘We welcome these significant findings, as we have known for some time that lumpectomy and radiotherapy is as effective as mastectomy for some women.

‘These findings go further to suggest that lumpectomy with radiotherapy could be better than mastectomy in early stage invasive breast cancer.

‘We know, through speaking to women with breast cancer every day, how difficult it is to choose between a mastectomy and a lumpectomy.

This study provides further reassurance allowing women to be more confident when making this decision.

‘More research is needed to confirm these results, and we urge anybody concerned to speak to their surgeon so they can make an informed decision, as every choice is personal.’

Radiotherapy is given to women immediately after surgery and the course of treatment normally lasts five or six weeks. But many women are put off by the side effects which include chest pain, tiredness, lowered immune system and heart problems.

Around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year. One in eight women will get the disease at some point in their lifetime.

Thanks to medical advances the survival odds are far higher than other forms of cancer and 80 per cent of patients live beyond five years.


Economic analysis finds penicillin, not 'the pill', may have launched the sexual revolution

It's certainly plausible as a contributing factor but arrived a bit too early to be the main factor

The 1950s were not as prudish as they seemed on the surface, says economist Andrew Francis

The rise in risky, non-traditional sexual relations that marked the swinging '60s actually began as much as a decade earlier, during the conformist '50s, suggests an analysis recently published by the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

"It's a common assumption that the sexual revolution began with the permissive attitudes of the 1960s and the development of contraceptives like the birth control pill," notes Emory University economist Andrew Francis, who conducted the analysis. "The evidence, however, strongly indicates that the widespread use of penicillin, leading to a rapid decline in syphilis during the 1950s, is what launched the modern sexual era."

As penicillin drove down the cost of having risky sex, the population started having more of it, Francis says, comparing the phenomena to the economic law of demand: When the cost of a good falls, people buy more of the good. "People don't generally think of sexual behavior in economic terms," he says, "but it's important to do so because sexual behavior, just like other behaviors, responds to incentives."

Syphilis reached its peak in the United States in 1939, when it killed 20,000 people. "It was the AIDS of the late 1930s and early 1940s," Francis says. "Fear of catching syphilis and dying of it loomed large."

Penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it was not put into clinical use until 1941. As World War II escalated, and sexually transmitted diseases threatened the troops overseas, penicillin was found to be an effective treatment against syphilis. "The military wanted to rid the troops of STDs and all kinds of infections, so that they could keep fighting," Francis says. "That really sped up the development of penicillin as an antibiotic."

Right after the war, penicillin became a clinical staple for the general population as well. In the United States, syphilis went from a chronic, debilitating and potentially fatal disease to one that could be cured with a single dose of medicine. From 1947 to 1957, the syphilis death rate fell by 75 percent and the syphilis incidence rate fell by 95 percent. "That's a huge drop in syphilis. It's essentially a collapse," Francis says.

In order to test his theory that risky sex increased as the cost of syphilis dropped, Francis analyzed data from the 1930s through the 1970s from state and federal health agencies. Some of the data was only available on paper documents, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) digitized it at the request of Francis.

For his study, Francis chose three measures of sexual behavior: The illegitimate birth ratio; the teen birth share; and the incidence of gonorrhea, a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease that tends to spread quickly. "As soon as syphilis bottoms out, in the mid- to late-1950s, you start to see dramatic increases in all three measures of risky sexual behavior," Francis says.

While many factors likely continued to fuel the sexual revolution during the 1960s and 1970s, Francis says the 1950s and the role of penicillin have been largely overlooked. "The 1950s are associated with prudish, more traditional sexual behaviors," he notes. "That may have been true for many adults, but not necessarily for young adults. It's important to recognize how reducing the fear of syphilis affected sexual behaviors."

A few physicians sounded moralistic warnings during the 1950s about the potential for penicillin to affect behavior. Spanish physician Eduardo Martinez Alonso referenced Romans 6:23, and the notion that God uses diseases to punish people, when he wrote: "The wages of sin are now negligible. One can almost sin with impunity, since the sting of sinning has been removed."

Such moralistic approaches, equating disease with sin, are counterproductive, Francis says, stressing that interventions need to focus on how individuals may respond to the cost of disease.

He found that the historical data of the syphilis epidemic parallels the contemporary AIDS epidemic. "Some studies have indicated that the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy for treating HIV may have caused some men who have sex with men to be less concerned about contracting and transmitting HIV, and more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors," Francis says.

"Policy makers need to take into consideration behavioral responses to changes in the cost of disease, and implement strategies that are holistic and longsighted," he concludes. "To focus exclusively on the defeat of one disease can set the stage for the onset of another if preemptive measures are not taken."


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Statins starve your brain

They DO reduce cholesterol but that is the last thing you want for good mental functioning.  No wonder statin users often seem like Alzheimer's sufferers

Two recent studies have confirmed the vital importance of cholesterol, in particular, for brain function and the strength of the immune system.

Scientists at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and Swansea University's College of Medicine have identified two steroid-type molecules that play an important role in the survival and production of nerve cells in the brain.

These two molecules are cholic acid (a bile acid ) and 24S,25-Epoxycholesterol (a derivative of cholesterol)

24S,25-Epoxycholesterol can be used to turn stem cells into midbrain dopamine-producing neurons, and may help combat Parkinson's disease.

"...24S,25-Epoxycholesterol, influences the generation of new dopamine-producing nerve cells, which are important in controlling movement." said Professor William J Griffiths.

"What we have shown now is that cholesterol has several functions, and that it is involved in extremely important decisions for neurons. Derivatives of cholesterol control the production of new neurons in the developing brain. When such a decision has been taken, cholesterol aids in the construction of these new cells, and in their survival. Thus cholesterol is extremely important for the body, and in particular for the development and function of the brain." Ernest Arenas, Professor of Stem Cell Neurobiology at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet.

It is important to note that 24S,25-Epoxycholesterol is produced by the mevalonate biochemical pathway - the pathway that is blocked by cholesterol-lowering statins.

The research was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

The second study was completed by a team of researchers at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Prof. Wolfgang Schamel and colleagues investigated the 'memory' of the immune system.

When the immune system is first exposed to a new pathogen, it develops the ability to be more sensitive to it when it enters the body the next time. This 'memory' of the immune system is provided by a clustering of T cell receptors. The new study, published in the journals Immunity and Journal of Biological Chemistry, has demonstrated that cholesterol plays a key part in this process.

We already know that one of the most common adverse effects of cholesterol-lowering statins is cognitive decline, and there is a strong correlation between low cholesterol levels and increased infections.


Popular media misrepresent effects of statins

The benefits of statins are so widely preached that journalists think they MUST be good stuff, I guess

A national newspaper here in the UK (the Daily Mail) recently reported "How a 40p statin can stop deadly form of blood poisoning"

OK, here we go again. It's a great pity that much of the mainstream media no longer consider the implications of what they publish.

This article relates to a recent study published in the journal Critical Care, which investigated the use of a statin in people with sepsis (which is a harmful or damaging response to infection).

It was a small study of 100 people with sepsis. 49 were given a statin and 51 were given a placebo.

I'm not criticising the study itself. From a certain point of view, it might make sense to try the use of statins in cases of sepsis. Statins are known to have anti-inflammatory effects and inflammation, of course, is a key feature of sepsis. However, the anti-inflammatory effect may weaken the body's immune system overall.

Another important point is statins, of course, lower cholesterol, and low cholesterol levels have been consistently shown to increase the risk for infection.

Therefore, as with any medication, the benefits and risks have to be balanced.

Using some criteria, the use of the statin did reduce the severity of sepsis, however, there were the same number of deaths in both the statin and placebo group. So there was no evidence that the statin actually provided any extension of life. In addition, after one year, there was no difference in hospital readmission between the statin and placebo group. It is also worth mentioning that the researchers measured the patients perceived quality of life index and, at discharge, the people who did not receive the statin had a better quality of life index.

The way that the Daily Mail skewed the results in favour of statins was misleading. For example, by the statement: "The findings suggest the drugs, which cost as little as 40 pence a day, could help to reduce the death toll from a condition that affects around 37,000 people a year in Britain"

The study did not find a reduction in the death rate at all. This is factually incorrect.

And this recent study did not really tell us anything new; it certainly was not newsworthy.

In 2012 there was a detailed review of the use of statins in cases in sepsis, published in the Annals of Intensive Care. The study can be found here:

Statins in the Critically Ill, by Isabelle De Loecker and Jean-Charles Preiser

The authors of this study provide a balanced review of the use of statins in cases of sepsis and, all things considered, there was no clear evidence of any nett benefit associated with the use of statins.

The Daily Mail article also took the opportunity to portray statins as cheap, by referring to "a 40p statin". I have complained about this many times before, but I must say it again - statins are not cheap, they cost the `health' service in the UK 450 million pounds each year, not to mention the costs of administering the cholesterol test itself, which probably doubles the cost.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Dubious Canadian findings about diabetes and income

The findings below are far from surprising but they are also  poorly substantiated.  Results given in extreme quintiles are intrinsically uninteresting because they throw away most of the data -- and in this case even the quintile differences reported were slight.  It almost goes without saying that there was no overall relationship between the variables in the study. 

And switching to quartiles for other analyses tells us pretty clearly that the researchers were determined to find something to report in data where there was essentially nothing to report.  I conclude that income did NOT influence diabetes in the data concerned.

The journal article is "The impact of income on the incidence of diabetes: A population-based study" by Lysy, Z. et al..  I am not entirely sure why I am commenting on such rubbish

Canadian researchers have found that diabetes incidence is inversely related to income in the province of Ontario.

"Study of the Ontario population has already shown significant mortality difference in patients according to income in patients with diabetes," say Lorraine Lipscombe (Women's college Research Institute, Toronto) and team. "We now see that this is the population for whom the relative risk of developing diabetes is the greatest as well."

However, the income disparity was not equal in all populations, with women and younger people (aged under 40 years) the most vulnerable to developing the condition.

Diabetes prevention should be targeted to appropriate populations and healthcare costs should be budgeted to support younger and female lower-income populations, suggest Lipscombe and colleagues.

In an analysis of healthcare databases, the researchers found that between April 2006 and March 2007, 88,886 new cases of diabetes were identified in Ontario, with a mean age at diagnosis of 59 years.

Diabetes incidence was significantly higher among individuals from the lowest versus the highest quintiles for income, at rates of 8.70 versus 7.25 per 1000 people.

Multivariate analysis also showed that diabetes incidence was significantly higher among individuals from lowest versus highest quintiles for income, a trend that was seen across all age groups and in both males and females.

However, as reported in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, significant interactions were observed between income quintile and age groups. Among younger people from the lowest quartile for income, the risk for incident diabetes was 1.5 times higher than in those from the highest quintile for income. This difference narrowed with increasing age, with those aged 40-59 years at a 1.38-fold greater risk and those aged 60 or older at a 1.2-fold greater risk.

The finding that the income gap is more marked in younger people is "alarming" say the researchers, "given their longer lifetime duration of disease and potential complications."

"These patients will require long-term intensive health care to avoid complications, and financial barriers may impede adequate access to diabetes treatment and monitoring," they add.

The team also found that women experienced a wider gap in relative risk for diabetes according to income across all age groups, while in men, the gap narrowed with increasing age.

"Greater diabetes prevention efforts need to be directed toward younger and female, low-income populations in order to lessen the lifelong burden of diabetes on the health and productivity of an already disadvantaged population," concludes the team


A Mediterranean diet WON'T stave off dementia or boost concentration in old age

A Mediterranean diet does little for the brain and won't prevent dementia, researchers claim.  French scientists say there is no evidence that eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and oily fish boosts concentration in old age.

Inspired by traditional eating habits in Italy, Spain and Greece, the diet has been shown to prevent heart disease and cancer as well as increase life expectancy. And recently a number of studies have implied it may be just as beneficial for the brain and could stave off Alzheimer's.

Some scientists believe that because the diet is low in saturated fat, it prevents the blood vessels that supply the brain becoming blocked.

But academics from Paris Sorbonne University say there is no evidence for such a link.

The researchers tracked the diets of 3,000 middle-aged adults for more than a decade and divided them into three groups depending on how `Mediterranean' their diet was.

When the adults were 65 and over, they took six tests which checked their concentration and memory.

The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no difference between the scores of the three groups.

Lead researcher Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot said: `Midlife adherence to a MedDiet was not associated with global cognitive performance [brain power assessed 13 years later].'

Furthermore the researchers said that recent work by other  scientists had also failed to find any link.

Last year, the Foundation for Public Health in Paris found  women over 65 who followed a Mediterranean diet did not perform any better in memory tests.

However, Professor Nikos Scarmeas, from the Columbia University Medical Centre in New  York, said there was not yet enough evidence to draw firm conclusions about the diet's  effect on the brain.  [Old myths die hard]


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Steve Sailer on the "lead pollution causes crime" theory

I commented on the subject on 6th -- JR

As part of my continuing series on the causes of the 60s, let’s consider Kevin Drum’s revival (”America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead”) in Mother Jones magazine of the recurrent theory that lead poisoning leads to the decline of civilization.

When I was young, it was popular to blame the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on the ancients’ fondness for this soft and versatile metal. (Have you ever noticed that nobody is much interested in how the Roman Empire managed to last so long?)

That exposure to this heavy metal can be dangerous to humans has been recognized since the days of Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder. But lead was so useful in so many ways that more than a few American municipalities proudly named themselves after their lucrative lead resources. Leadville, Colorado is America’s highest elevated incorporated city. There are several Galenas, one of which is a tourist town in Illinois. There’s a Smelterville, which sounds like a city made up for The Simpsons but is actually a real place in Idaho.

Ironically, Drum stands the dominant narrative about the 60s on its head. Instead of the 60s representing enlightened emancipation from the shackles of 50s conformist culture, Drum finds the 60s, with their rising rates of crime and illegitimate births, to be the result of brain damage.

“If there are connections between lead poisoning and crime, there’s gold to be made in unraveling them.”
Known side effects of lead poisoning include lower IQ and reduced impulse control, which are in turn associated with poor decision-making, such as becoming a criminal or a single mom.

The lead-crime theory is, in essence, uncomplicated: Lead was added to gasoline between the World Wars, and a generation or so later, Central Park was full of muggers. Spiro Agnew couldn’t have come up with a funnier diagnosis of the 60s than what Drum has talked an increasing number of liberals into believing.

The theory is almost as malleable as the metal. If crime is high among blacks in a car-dependent Sunbelt city, it’s because particles from leaded gasoline are still in the soil. But if crime is high in an old industrial city where poor blacks mostly took public transportation, it could be due to lead paint.

Drum and Nevin attempt to blame lead poisoning for much of the difference between black and white crime rates. Nevin, for example, notes that the notoriously violent Robert Taylor Homes were built near Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway. (Ironically, one reason why mid-century liberals in Chicago had favored the construction of gleaming new housing projects was because of the tragic deaths of tenement toddlers who ate chips of lead paint they had peeled off the decaying walls.)

Yet one of the more obvious differences between Chicago’s black and white areas is the heavier traffic in the expensive, safe zones. People who can afford cars tend to move away from black slums, leaving them bleak. In the Chicago area, race and class palpably determine the homicide rate. For example, compare the next-door neighbors Oak Park and Austin west of The Loop. The Eisenhower Expressway runs through Oak Park, but not through Austin. Yet the homicide rate is several dozen times worse in Austin.

Drum, who lives in Irvine, at least should be familiar with Southern California, where South-Central is fairly light in traffic compared to the jammed freeway interchanges of upscale West LA and Sherman Oaks.

And across the country, the densest neighborhoods are typically the various Chinatowns, which suffer little street crime and enjoy high math scores.

Yet as far as Theories of Everything go, lead-caused-the-60s-crime-wave is one of the less derisible. Lead is bad for you, and it might have had noticeable effects on society as a whole.

The problem is coming up with ways to test the theory. A half-dozen years ago, I blogged (”Lead Poisoning and the Great American Freakout”) about the research that Drum finds so convincing today. One reality check immediately suggested itself: Back in the late 1960s, densely populated Japan was notorious for automobile-induced air pollution. Yet crime didn’t rise in Japan. The country remained an orderly, intelligent, non-impulsive culture.

That’s one strike against the theory. Another problem is that Jessica Wolpaw Reyes’s attempt to correlate small differences from when American states began phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1970s to when crime began declining in the 1990s isn’t convincing to many besides Drum. Reyes came up with statistically significant results for total violent crimes, but not for homicides (the most accurately counted crime), nor for property offenses.

Yet two strikes isn’t bad for a causes-of-crime theory. It holds up better than the famous Freakonomics abortion-cut-crime surmise.

Exactly how deleterious this metal is at low levels, at what ages, and through which modes of transmission remains murky. This doesn’t mean that lead wouldn’t cause increased crime by lowering IQ, all else being equal. But perhaps lead poisoning also diminishes crime by making its victims more sluggish, lacking in the initiative to go out and commit felonies.

On the other hand, perhaps lead pollution can help explain a little of the differences we see in black homicide rates between cities.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I was widely denounced for pointing out that the bad behavior visible on television wasn’t necessarily representative of average African Americans. You shouldn’t assume the typical black would behave as badly as New Orleans’s blacks, who had been more homicidal than most other cities’ blacks for years, even before Katrina.

This was especially true of the Crescent City’s flood-prone and poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Back in 2005, I speculated that the traditional high crime rates of New Orleans’s blacks were due to the city’s let-the-good-times-roll culture being unsuited for African Americans, who need more socially conservative cultures.

Yet perhaps lead plays a role in New Orleans as well. Heavy metals would tend to build up in the Lower Ninth Ward’s below-sea-level soil.

Notoriously, scientific papers end with a pronouncement that More Research Is Needed. It’s been six years since I first pointed out some of the flaws in the papers upon which Drum relies. Yet for all their weaknesses, they remain the state of the art in thinking about the impact of lead pollution on crime


Asthma: This junk science just takes your breath away

The claim that the smoking ban has reduced asthma rates is a case study in using ‘research’ to justify coercive policy

Earlier this week, the journal Pediatrics published a study which claimed that childhood asthma rates fell after the English smoking ban was introduced in 2007. But a closer examination suggests the claims have been puffed up – not that the media seemed to mind.

The study concludes: ‘The implementation of smoke-free legislation in England was associated with an immediate 8.9 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for asthma along with a decrease of 3.4 per cent per year.’

A quick look at the personnel involved should immediately arouse suspicion. The lead author is listed as Christopher Millett, an Australian social scientist who has worked in ‘obesity prevention’ and assists Stanton Glantz’s campaign to get smoking out of the movies. Glantz himself - founder of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and a veteran campaigner for smoking bans - is a co-author. The study should be seen as another entry in Glantz’s unenviable canon of junk science, and as a case study in the media’s role in creating panics and distorting policy.

The ups and downs of asthma

First, it is necessary to understand a few things about asthma. Although many people intuitively believe that there is a close relationship between smoking and asthma, this is not borne out by empirical evidence. As the British Medical Journal (BMJ) noted in 2005: ‘A broad consensus exists that in most Western countries the prevalence of asthma increased over the last four decades of the twentieth century.’ This huge rise in asthma rates is totally inconsistent with the belief that smoking causes or exacerbates asthma, since we all know smoking rates declined sharply over the same period.

Asthma rates go up and down quite inexplicably. After rising at an astonishing rate for years, there was a large drop in childhood asthma cases in the UK from the early 1990s until 2001, since when rates have stayed fairly flat.

The reasons for this are not known, as the BMJ article notes: ‘While theories abound, we must admit that neither the rise nor the recent flattening or fall in the prevalence of asthma can be explained on the basis of current knowledge. Any single explanation would need to account for both the rise and fall of the prevalence of asthma. A substantial change in prevalence would require a large change in an important risk factor to which a large proportion of the population was exposed. Various explanations have been proposed to explain trends and geographical variations in asthma, including air pollution, tobacco smoke, aeroallergens, diet, and infections in early life, but none has been shown by epidemiological studies to fit the above requirements.’

A quick survey of other countries highlights the confusion. In Canada, the number of children with asthma rose in the 1990s, but the number of childhood asthma attacks fell. Childhood admissions for asthma in Australia fell in the 1990s, but rose in the 2000s, at a time when smoking bans were introduced. Adult admissions continued to fall, however. In America, rates of asthma - including childhood asthma - have been flat or rising slightly since 2001. And in the Netherlands, there was a huge increase in childhood asthma prevalence in the 1980s and 1990s which ended around 1995. As authorities have noted, ‘there has been no satisfactory explanation for this observation’.

Smoking and asthma

What does any of this tell us? Not much, except that it’s futile to predict whether rates of asthma will rise or fall in the future since the causes of the condition are not well understood. Asthma rates vary enormously between countries and fluctuate greatly over time, and no one really knows why. It also shows that if smoking (let alone passive smoking) has any impact, it is not big enough to show up in aggregate data. However, as we shall see, Glantz’s new study relies on the conceit that asthma rates can be forecast with precision and that the effect of passive smoking can be identified and isolated in the aggregate data.

Although there is no link between smoking and asthma rates at the population level, some epidemiological studies have found a correlation between childhood asthma prevalence and smoking households, just as there is a correlation between asthma prevalence and income. (Perhaps tellingly, there is also a link between smoking and income; income may therefore be the third variable.)

But, as the organisation Statistics Canada notes, ‘there was no difference in the rate of past-year asthma attacks between those in smoking and non-smoking households’. Between 1994/1995 and 2000/2001, in smoking households, the prevalence of asthma among children increased, but past-year attacks among those with asthma decreased. Curiously, only children in non-smoking households experienced an increase in the prevalence of wheezing or whistling in the chest. The presence of other allergenic factors in the home (pets, for instance), which was not assessed in the Canadian survey, may be related to the increase in asthma-like symptoms among children in non-smoking households.

Step one: the dubious study

So what about Britain in recent years? After dropping off in the 1990s, asthma rates have varied only slightly from year to year since 2000 and there has been neither a rise nor a decline in the medium-term. (The failure to reduce asthma cases is a source of frustration for Asthma UK.)

The graph below shows hospital admissions for asthma among 0- to 14-year-olds in England (the group studied by Glantz and his team). It shows that the smoking ban had no effect on rates of asthma among this group. The data come from HES England and covers all National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in England. Note that these are financial years, but the smoking ban began in July (2007). The graph shows 12 years’ data, whereas the Pediatrics study shows only 8.5 years.

Between 2000/01 and 2006/07, the average number of childhood hospital admissions for asthma each year was 23,747. Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, the average number of admissions each year was 23,851. In other words, the rate remained essentially the same before and after the smoking ban. Evidence from London below (red line) shows much the same picture for adults; there are similar statistics for England as a whole and north-west England in particular.

Whichever dataset you use, it is apparent that the rate of hospital admissions for asthma was higher in 2006/07 than in any other year in the series, albeit only slightly. This is crucial for Glantz and Millett’s hypothesis because it allows them to portray the rate as rising before the ban. No such claim can legitimately be made on the basis of a one-year peak. The data show several other peaks, for example in 2001/02 and 2008/09, which did not represent the start of a long-term rise.

Given such variability, predicting the number of hospital admissions for asthma even one year in advance is a mug’s game. Nevertheless, having asserted that numbers were on the rise, the authors of the Paediatrics study use a model – in other words, make a post-hoc quasi-prediction – to suggest that the rate would have continued to rise had the ban not been introduced.

Finally, having observed that the rate did not rise in reality, they conclude that the ban resulted in there being 6,802 fewer hospital admissions for asthma than there otherwise would have been. Note that their methodology means that it is not necessary for the rate to decline at all after the ban for them to claim the smoking ban reduced asthma cases. It is only necessary for the number of admissions in Glantz’s hypothetical parallel universe to be higher than the rate recorded by the NHS.

This is sheer junk science, using a trick that has been used before for similar purposes. It’s a ‘heads-I-win, tails-you-lose’ fiddle. The only way the authors’ hypothesis could be disproved was if asthma admission rates happened to soar up at an exceptional pace straight after the ban. Even that would probably not silence them since they would only say that, had it not been for the ban, the situation would have been still worse.

More HERE  (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Antidepressants prescribed 'too easily' says GP

Denying truly depressed patients medication would be very risky.  Death (suicide) could readily ensue. 

I agree however that improvements in taxononmy are needed.  To be a bit radical, not all suicidal ideation should be classed as depression.  So called "anxious" depression should be regarded at least initially as an anxiety state only and NOT treated with depression drugs.  It should be treated with anxiolytics.  Getting the two mixed up could worsen the problem and such confusion may explain the "paradoxical" results anti-depressants sometime produce.  Wrong taxonomy could kill

Doctors are prescribing antidepressants “too easily” according to a GP who says the current medical definition of depression is “too loose and is causing widespread medicalisation”.

Dr Des Spence, who practises in Glasgow, said a recent review of studies “suggests that only one in seven people actually benefits” from antidepressants.

“Millions of people are enduring at least six months of ineffective treatment” with the drugs, he argued in an opinion piece published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal.

He said the updated version of a widely used psychiatrists’ handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, “suggests defining two weeks of low mood as ‘clinical depression’, irrespective of circumstance”.

He continued: “It even proposes that being low two weeks after bereavement should be considered depression.”

He claimed that 75 per cent of those who wrote such definitions had “links to drug companies” and argued: “Mental illness is the drug industry’s golden goose: incurable, common, long term, and involving multiple medications.”

But Ian Reid, professor of psychiatry at Aberdeen University, defended antidepressant use in a response on

He said studies claiming to show that antidepressants were no better than sugar pills for mild and moderate depression were riddled with “methodological flaws and selective reporting” of data.

He wrote: “Antidepressants are but one element available in the treatment of depression, not a panacea.

“Like 'talking treatments' (with which antidepressants are entirely compatible), they can have harmful side effects, and they certainly don’t help everyone with the disorder. But they are not overprescribed.

“Careless reportage has demonised them in the public eye, adding to the stigmatisation of mental illness, and erecting unnecessary barriers to effective care.”


Homeopathy is 'rubbish' and shouldn't be available on the NHS, says Britain's top doctor

This needs to be said more often

Homeopathy was condemned as ‘rubbish’ by Britain’s chief medical officer yesterday, who admitted she is ‘perpetually surprised’ it is available on the NHS.

Professor Dame Sally Davies also described homeopaths as ‘peddlers’ and spoke of her concern that they can prescribe pills and potions to treat malaria and other illnesses.

Giving evidence to an influential committee of MPs, Dame Sally said that homeopathy doesn’t work past the placebo effect.  In other words, any benefits patients perceive are simply caused by them receiving attention and simply expecting to feel better.

Her outspoken views are in conflict with the policy of the Health Service, which spends around £4million a year on funding homeopathic hospitals and on prescriptions and referrals.

Homeopathy, which has the backing of Prince Charles, claims to prevent and treat diseases using diluted forms of plants, herbs and minerals.

It is based on the principle that an illness can be treated by substances that produce similar symptoms. For example, it is claimed onions, which make eyes itchy and tearful, can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.

Other treatments include anti-malaria tablets made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae. But scientists argue the ‘cures’ are so diluted they are unlikely to contain any of the original substance.

Asked about her views on homeopathy by the Commons science and technology committee, Dame Sally – a consultant haematologist, or specialist in blood diseases, at the Central Middlesex Hospital from 1985 until 2011 – said: ‘I’m very concerned when homeopathic practitioners try to peddle this way of life to prevent malaria or other infectious diseases.’

The exact amount of NHS spending on the discipline is unclear but various homeopathic associations say it is as high as £4million a year.

The Department of Health said it is up to local NHS organisations to decide whether to fund it.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

'You can tell somebody's background by their weight': Health minister says poor people are likely to be obese

Some surprising frankness from Britain

Health Minister Anna Soubry  has risked controversy by claiming that she can spot poor people in the street because they are usually overweight.

The Conservative MP, who has responsibility for public health, said a culture of unhealthy TV dinners and junk food has eroded family life and that many homes no longer even have a dining table.

The MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, said: ‘When I go to my constituency, when I walk around, you can almost now tell somebody’s background by their weight. Obviously not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds, but that’s where the propensity lies.’

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Food and Drink Federation, which represents UK manufacturers, she warned them that they should voluntarily cut the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their products or ministers may have to force them to act through legislation.

She said it was ‘heartbreaking’ that the poorest in the country were those at greatest risk of obesity.

‘A third of our children leave primary school overweight or obese,’ she said. ‘When I was at school, you could tell the demography of children by how thin they were.’

But now, in a ‘deeply ironic’ turnaround, poor children tend to be overweight because their parents supply them with ‘an abundance of bad food’, she told the Daily Telegraph.

Miss Soubry put the responsibility for properly feeding children firmly with their parents, who should ensure that they have family meals. ‘What they don’t do is actually sit down and share a meal around the table,’ she said. ‘There are houses where they don’t have dining tables. They will sit in front of the telly and eat.

‘It doesn’t mean to say you can’t ever sit in front of the telly and have a meal, but I believe children need structure in their lives, they need routine.’

According to Department of Health figures, the poorest children are almost twice as likely to be obese than the wealthiest.

Government figures published last month showed that 24.3 per cent of the most deprived 11-year-olds in England were obese, compared with 13.7 per cent of children from the wealthiest homes.

Miss Soubry warned in October that the food industry was fuelling the obesity crisis, when she told supermarkets that the cakes and other bakery products it makes were too big.

She said: ‘I’m old enough to remember that when you went into a store and you bought a cake or a croissant, or some other product like that, a bakery product, it was probably half the size of what it is today.’


When hugging can lower your blood pressure and boost your memory

Sounds reasonable

Hugging a loved one isn't just a great way to bond - it has several physical benefits as well.  Scientists found that the hormone oxytocin was released into the blood stream when you hold a friend close. This lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety and can even improve your memory.

However, you have to be selective over who you hug. Giving a polite embrace to someone you don't know well can have the opposite effect, according to research from the University of Vienna.

Oxytocin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is primarily known for increasing bonding, social behaviour and closeness between parents, children and couples.

Increased oxytocin levels have been found, for example, in partners in functional relationships. In women, it is also produced during the childbirth process and during breastfeeding in order to increase the mother’s bond with the baby.

Hugging can also soften your personality. The researchers said someone who hugs loved ones often become more empathetic over time.

Neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, said: 'The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other, if the associated feelings are present mutually and if the corresponding signals are sent out.  'If people do not know each other, or if the hug is not desired by both parties, its effects are lost.'

When we receive unwanted hugs from strangers or even people we know, the hormone is not released and anxiety levels rise.

'This can lead to pure stress because our normal distance-keeping behaviour is disregarded. In these situations, we secrete the stress hormone cortisol,' Sandkühler said.

He added that: 'Hugging is good, but no matter how long or how often someone hugs, it is trust that’s more important.'

Sandkühler therefore cautioned against the worldwide 'free hugs' campaign - a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places.

He said people would only have a beneficial effect 'if everyone involved is clear that it is just a harmless bit of fun.'

Otherwise, it could be perceived as an emotional burden and stress.

'Everyone is familiar with such feelings from our everyday lives, for example, if someone we don’t know comes too close to us for no apparent reason.

'This violation of our normal distance-keeping behaviour is then generally perceived as disconcerting or even as threatening,' he said.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Aspirin sends you blind?

Nobody seems to be asking why some people were taking aspirin frequently.  They were obviously in more fragile health to start with and it may be that poorer health which caused the eye problems, not the aspirin

 Regular use of aspirin can almost triple the chance of developing a condition that causes more older people in Britain to lose their sight than any other, researchers are warning.

Scientists have found those who take aspirin on a regular basis are much more likely to develop ‘wet’ age-related macular degeneration (‘wet AMD’) than those who do not.

The disease, in which one’s central vision becomes progressively more blurred, affects a quarter of a million mainly elderly people in Britain.

Now scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that aspirin - taken by millions to ward off heart attacks, strokes and cancer - appears to greatly increase the chance of developing wet AMD, which is irreversible.

Australian academics drew their conclusions after following almost 2,400 middle-aged and elderly people for 15 years.

Of the participants, who were all at least 49 years old at the start of the study, 257 were deemed “regular” users of aspirin, who took it at least once a week. The rest only took it occasionally.

After the 15 year study period, one in 27 of the ‘occasional’ users (3.7 per cent) had developed wet AMD.

But almost one in 10 of the ‘regular’ users (9.4 per cent) had developed it.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers concluded: “Regular aspirin use was significantly associated with an increased incidence of neovascular [wet] AMD.”

Sight charities said doctors should bear the findings in mind when advising patients on whether or not they should take aspirin as a preventive medicine, particularly those who already had wet AMD in one eye.

Taken at a low daily dose to prevent heart attacks and strokes, aspirin is enjoying a resurgence due to recent studies strongly indicating it can fight cancer.

Oxford University researchers have found it reduces the incidence of some cancers by a third, while it also retards the growth of tumours.

However, aspirin has long been known to have side effects, most prominently increasing the risk of intestinal bleeds, which can cause ulcers.

Today’s study, by a team at Sydney University, suggests people should also consider the possible effect on their sight.

It builds on previous evidence suggesting aspirin could increase the chance of developing wet AMD.

A little over a year ago, researchers working on the European Eye Study found that aspirin doubled the risk of advanced wet AMD, which leads to the most profound blindness.

However, the researchers admitted they could not conclude that aspirin caused the disease, because it was a ‘cross-sectional’ study which did not follow people over time.

By contrast, the Australian study provides more robust observational evidence of a link, although it is not conclusive.

The academics behind today’s study did not think their research warranted changing clinical guidelines though, saying there was still “insufficient evidence” to do so “except perhaps in patients with strong risk factors for neovascular [wet] AMD”.

That approach was mirrored last night by sight charities.  A spokesman for the Macular Society said: “The evidence is now accumulating about the association of aspirin and wet AMD. However, it is not overwhelming at this point.

“For patients at risk of cardiovascular disease, the health risks of stopping or not prescribing aspirin are much higher than those of developing wet AMD. There are treatments for wet AMD as long as it is diagnosed in time.”

She added: “Patients with wet AMD in one eye should have their other eye carefully monitored so that any sign of wet AMD can be found quickly. Potential risks to the eye need to be discussed between the patient and their doctors.”

She also emphasised that a patient should always talk to their doctor before making a decision to stop taking aspirin prescribed to them.

Matthew Athey, of the RNIB, described the study as “interesting research”.  He said: "Further research is needed to clarify and investigate some of the issues raised in the study; however this association may be valuable for doctors in the future when considering aspirin for their patients."


Sperm quality has declined by 38% in a decade - and poor diet and lifestyle could be to blame

An old scare back again.  The last one was debunked when it was shown that the population sampled made a big difference.  In this case it may be that Almeria is not a good town to live in

Sperm counts are falling at an alarming rate - up to 38 per cent in a decade - with diet and lifestyle largely to blame.

A Spanish study has found that even in young men, sperm concentration fell by an average of two per cent a year - and could soon hit levels where fertility is compromised.

A ten year-study of more than 200 men found the average concentration went from 72 million spermatozoids per millilitre in 2001 to 52 million/ml in 2011.

The researchers, from the University of Murcia. say the findings are important because previous research has shown that a concentration lower than 40 million/ml makes conception more difficult.

'If the rate of loss we have outlines continues, with an average decline in quality of two per cent per year, the sperm of young men could reach this danger level of 40 million/ml in a very short space of time,' said co-researcher Professor Jaime Mendiola.

In the study, researchers at the University of Murcia compared the results of 273 men aged between 18 and 23 years from the nearby town of Almeria, collected between 2001 and 2002.

They compared these with samples collected ten years later by 215 undergraduates from Murcia, all the while ensuring that both
sample groups had the same age range and similar characteristics.

The researchers found that men living in Murcia had a significantly lower sperm count compared to those living in Almeria.

Furthermore, 40 per cent of the university students in Murcia had an alteration to one parameter of their sperm, e.g. the mobility or morphology.

Lead researcher Alberto Torres Cantero, professor of Preventative Medicine and Public Health at the university, said the study was also significant because it was the first study to evaluate the evolution of sperm quality in young Spanish men over ten years.

'Before, there were no well performed studies to detect a change in sperm quality in Spain,' he said.

But he added the fact that semen quality has worsened does not necessarily mean that the number of infertile men has increased.

He said: 'This study measures semen quality and not fertility, for which specific criteria established by the World Health Organisation are used.'

'We believe that some prevention actions involving lifestyle improvements, such as a healthier diet, could increase sperm quality,' he added.

For this reason, the authors stress the urgency for more research to highlight lifestyle interventions that could stem the decline in sperm quality.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Nutrition" as an excuse for hiding the homeless

The real motivation of course is to keep loonies out of public parks but mentioning that would be too "negative" in Seattle. Do-gooderism has to be invoked. It's interesting that busybody interfence in the food intake of other people is seen not as Fascism but as doing good

The Bread of Life Mission, which has served the homeless community in Pioneer Square for more than 70 years, said the city has directed them to stop feeding the hungry in downtown parks.
On the third Saturday of every month for the past three years, volunteers for the mission have handed out meals at places such as City Hall Park. The offering was in addition to the three meals a day they serve inside their building at 97 South Main Street.

"It was a service we were offering free of charge to be a blessing to the homeless," said Executive Director Willie Parish, Jr. "All we were doing was just a continuation of what we do on a daily basis."

In December, however, Parish said Seattle police told them they were no longer allowed to serve food at the park.

City officials say the restriction is nothing new, and that Bread of Life simply operated in the park for three years without being caught or reported.

David Takami with the Seattle Human Services Department said the city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without approval.

"This has happened in the past where there are a lot of meals served in a short period of time on the same day," he said. "It's a little chaotic and it can also lead to wasted food."

Takami said those wishing to feed the homeless need to coordinate with the Operation: Sack Lunch program, which serves up to 300 people a day at the city's outdoor meal site, located under the I-5 bridge at 6th Avenue and Columbia Street.

By requiring that all food be served at the site, Takami said the city can control the nutritional value of what the homeless eat and can prevent litter from being left behind at parks after meals.

He said the controlled environment is also safer for volunteers.

"For example, there was one group of middle school students who, out of the goodness of their hearts, wanted to serve meals to homeless people and we were concerned [...] because of possible safety issues," Takami said.

Nevertheless, Bread of Life is upset about the restriction and hopes to continue serving meals to homeless individuals who do not come into their shelter.  "We love to do it, we want to continue doing it," Parish said.


Australian biochemist-turned-winemaker claims to have created a wine that is beneficial to drinkers' health

It should be remembered that the best documented effect of anti-oxidants is to shorten your lifespan.  If that turns you on, go for it!

A QUEENSLAND biochemist-turned-winemaker claims to have created what drinkers had only dreamed of - wine that is beneficial to your health.

Greg Jardine, founder of Mt Nebo-based company Dr Red Nutraceuticals, filed a patent for Modified Polyphenol Technology in Wines late last year and said the creation would "finally give wine a real medicinal edge".

The process involved ageing red wine for a certain period of time, which enhanced the number of antioxidants within it, made them fat-soluble, rather than water-soluble, and easier to absorb into the bloodstream.

Some studies have shown antioxidants are effective at fighting a multitude of different diseases.

Mr Jardine said he had been working on the process for 10 years but had only recently discovered a way to retain the taste while enhancing antioxidants.

"Wine has got massive amounts of antioxidants but they are quite tannic so if you put more in people would not drink it because of the taste," he told The Sunday Mail.  "What we discovered was if we allowed them to age and stop it at the right point of time the tannic taste goes and we make it taste good."

Biomedical Sciences Professor Lindsay Brown, from the University of Southern Queensland, found the non-alcoholic dried crystal used to make the wine successfully treated rats with arthritis.

"The results were astonishing. Right from the outset of the 14-day trial, this wine was effective ... and by day four, it achieved a near-perfect recovery," he said.

Mr Jardine said the wine could help treat a "range of ageing conditions" from chronic fatigue and gout to stiff joints after a visit to the gym.

Ren Gray-Smith, 51, of Red Hill, in Brisbane's inner west, was suffering from fatigue and irregular sleep patterns when she switched her regular glass of red to Mr Jardine's creation.

"I was feeling very tired, had bad sleep patterns and (the wine) just helped to get me back on the right track," she said.

Stressing the wine is "not medicine", Mr Jardine said it should be consumed in moderation as it has the same alcoholic content as regular wine.

"We gave people one glass, not 50 glasses but it had 50 times more antioxidants in the glass," he said.

"For years the word has been a glass a day is good for you but we are finally proving it.  "We believe this is a game-changer for the food industry in Australia."

But before another toast, more research was needed to prove any beneficial effects, said clinical pharmacologist Creina Stockley. "If they can show it has a demonstrative effect in humans it's worth pursuing," she said.Dr Red was rapped over the knuckles by Queensland Health in 2008 after detailing their trial results on the company's website, claiming their fruit punches killed prostate cancer cells.

No convictions were recorded.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Over 75? You CAN have your cake and eat it as a poor diet makes no difference to your health

Epidemiological evidence is good for disproving theories and this is an example of that

Many of us spend decades trying to overcome our food demons by avoiding fast food restaurants and resisting the dessert tray.

But you may as well call a ceasefire in the battle of the bulge when you hit 75, say scientists from Penn State from Pennsylvania, as a diet is unlikely to make much difference after this.   Researchers found elderly people who followed a high-fat or high-sugar diet were no more likely to suffer from conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes than those following a healthy diet.

They followed 449 pensioners for five years, who were around 76 years old at the start of the study.

They called each five times during a 10-month period and asked them about their diet over the previous 24 hours.

The authors then placed them in three broad dietary groups. The 'sweet and dairy' pattern included those who got the most energy from baked goods, milk and dairy-desserts. The 'health conscious pattern' included higher intakes of rice, whole fruit, poultry, fish and vegetables. The 'western pattern' included higher intakes of bread, fried foods and alcohol.

Using outpatient electronic medical records, the researchers identified whether the participants developed cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome during the five-year period.

They found the participants were no more likely to suffer from these conditions whether they followed the 'sweets and dairy',  'western' or 'health conscious' diets.

The one link they found was a slightly higher risk of hypertension among 'sweets and dairy' followers.

Study author Gordon Jensen said: 'The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate.

'However, people who live on prudent diets all their lives are likely to have better health outcomes.'

The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging is one of the first studies to examine the health effects of poor diets on the elderly.

Prof Jensen added that the traditional 'elderly person' was less likely to be 'tiny and frail' and more likely to be overweight or obese.  He said: 'Recent reports suggest that there may be survival benefits associated with overweight and mild obesity status among the elderly.'


Why rest is as crucial as exercise in keeping fit: Breaks allow muscles to recover and makes the body get fitter faster

This is a tiny study of an unrepresentative group so cannot be relied on

If your resolution to exercise more is leaving you tired out, put your feet up.  Research suggests that short rest periods are just as important as the exercise itself.

Taking it easy now and again not only allows the muscles to recover, it also makes the body fitter faster, Stirling University sports scientists believe.

Their study was of keen cyclists but they think that men and women who are simply trying to get a bit fitter could also benefit from building periods of rest into their exercise programme.

In the study, 12 cyclists were split into two groups. One did bursts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with short rest periods, three times a week.

In each session, they pedalled hard, but below sprint pace, for four minutes, then stopped for two minutes, before repeating the pattern five times.  The second group rode continuously for an hour at a slightly easier pace, three times a week.

After four weeks, the two groups swapped programmes.

Tests showed the first programme, which involved a mixture of tough training and taking it easy, to be the most beneficial, leading to twice as big an improvement in power and performance.

Researcher Stuart Galloway, an exercise physiologist, said: ‘It is a case of training smarter.

‘We found in these cyclists that if you can make the hard sessions harder and the easy sessions easier, then you will likely see better progress.

‘Amateur athletes tend to spend a lot of their training in the moderate intensity bracket which in our study showed smaller improvements.

‘For the wider public, most people were advised to do moderate intensity exercise for around three hours a week.

‘More recently, high-intensity bouts of exercise such as spin cycling classes or interval running have been presented as the best option.

‘We would suggest that while high intensity is still important, it’s the combination with low intensity which has the biggest impact.’

It is thought that muscles find it harder to recover from long periods of exercise, than from short bursts, even if they are physically tougher.

Dr Angus Hunter, co-author of the study which appears in the Journal of Applied Physiology, said: ‘Your muscles may be fatigued more quickly when you work at high intensity but they recover more quickly too.’

This could leave people feeling less tired in between exercise sessions.

Dr Galloway said: ‘Often everything merged into the middle, so the hard sessions aren’t hard enough and the easy session aren’t easy enough.

‘If you feel fatigued after exercising and are taking too long to recover, it is probably because you have done a session of continuous, moderate intensity exercise.’

The study is one several to extol the virtues of short, sharp bursts of exercise.

Aberdeen University research suggests that short, sharp burst of exercise are better at warding off heart disease than much longer, but less strenuous, sessions.

Concentrated effort may also burn off more calories - as well as being easier to fit into a hectic day.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The CACTUS fruit that could treat diabetes: Dragon fruit is named as the hot new superfood for 2013

The usual rubbish.  The fact that no health benefits have been proven just makes it more attractive to certain egotists

If you're bored of blueberries and have had enough of splashing the cash on goji berries, the pitaya could be the super fruit for you.

But the fruit isn't your average healthy treat. While it might look innocuous, the pitaya is harvested from a South American cactus - and has the spines to prove it.

But when you are able to get inside - it's worth the trouble. The fruit has been hailed as having remarkable health-giving properties, including the ability to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetes as well as providing a dose of anti-oxidants.

Although the fruit originates in South America, it is now grown in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Philippines, where it's loved for its many health benefits.

Said to be rich in vitamin C, fibre and calcium, the pitaya - or dragon fruit as it's also known - gives you a bigger bang for your buck than similar super fruits such as acai berries.

Already available in Waitrose and Tesco, the bright pink fruit is full of edible black seeds and boasts flesh that tastes like a cross between a kiwi fruit and a pear.

Along with a mega-dose of vitamin C, pitaya is also thought to help lower cholesterol and is packed with skin-boosting antioxidants.

The tiny black seeds are a great source of healthy Omega-3 fat and there's plenty of magnesium and calcium in the flesh.

Pitaya is even believed to help help regulate blood sugar levels - in Taiwan, diabetes sufferers are urged to eat them by doctors.

Although the Taiwanese medical profession is convinced, as yet, the health benefits of pitaya haven't been confirmed by any European studies.

Nevertheless, with their beautiful rosy-pink colour and dramatic green fronds, they will at least look fabulous in your fruit bowl.


LOL!  Just two cups of coffee a day could cause male incontinence, warn researchers

There must be a lot of leaky American men about at that rate!

The amount of caffeine typically found in two cups of coffee could exacerbate, if not cause, male incontinence.  New research suggests men who consume the most caffeine are more likely to have the problem than those who drank the least.

Published in The Journal of Urology, it suggests caffeine may irritate the bladder, if not causing then exacerbating the problem.

Plenty of research has linked caffeine to incontinence among women. But little is known about whether there is a similar connection for men.  'We wanted to see if caffeine had an impact on them as well,' said Dr. Alayne Markland, the study's senior author, from the University of Alabama, told Reuters Health.

Dr Markland's team used responses from about 4,000 men to a national health survey between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers looked at how many had urinary incontinence and how much caffeine they ate or drank, as well as how much water they took in from both foods and drinks.

Overall, the men consumed an average of 169 milligrams of caffeine every day. The average cup of coffee contains around 125mg.

About 13 percent of the men reported leaky bladder, but only 4.5 per cent had a problem considered moderate or severe - which is more than a few drops of urine leakage during the course of a month.

After adjusting for the men's age and other risk factors, the researchers found that those who ate or drank 234mg of caffeine a day were 72 per cent more likely to have moderate to severe urinary incontinence than those who consumed the least caffeine.

Men who downed more than 392mg of caffeine daily were more than twice as likely to be incontinent.

Dr Markland said it was not simply a matter of how much fluid a person took in.  That's because total water intake, in contrast, was not linked to a man's risk of moderate to severe incontinence. This has led to the theory that caffeine irritates the bladder in some way.

She added: 'It's something to consider... People who are having problems with urinary incontinence should modify their caffeine intake.'

Dr. Bryan Voelzke, from the Department of Urology at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said the medications men take, such as diuretics (which increase the frequency of urination) could also affect their bladder control.

'I think the findings are interesting,' he said. 'But this study on its own is not enough to say caffeine is the source of urinary incontinence.'


Friday, January 18, 2013

Yes, you CAN be too fit for your own good: Why exercise may be harmful to the heart

A study just published in the journal PLoS One analysed data from six exercise studies involving 1,687 regular exercisers to find out the effects of —regular workouts on the heart.

The results shocked and confused the scientists: in almost one in ten people tested, exercise seemed adversely to affect blood pressure, insulin levels or ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels.

And in seven per cent of people, not just one but two of these risk factors for heart disease were worse as a result of exercise.

There is no clear explanation for this effect on a small portion of the population, but ‘it’s not a good sign,’ says Claude Bouchard, the study’s lead author and a professor of genetics and nutrition at Louisiana State University.

He suspects it is down to genetics and advises exercisers to have their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checked regularly.

Regular amounts of aerobic exercise, such as running, are known to slow the unhealthy changes to the cardiovascular system that occur with age.

However, intense and prolonged endurance training for many years — for instance, for marathons or triathlons — could be damaging to the heart, an editorial review published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested.

The author, Greg Whyte, professor of sports science at Liverpool John Moores University, explains: ‘Our research found that 50 per cent of long-term endurance and ultra-endurance runners, some of whom had been training for 43 years, showed signs of heart damage.

‘It is well documented that among veteran athletes there is a higher incidence of early symptoms of cardiac disease, which might increase the risk of a heart attack.

'There is a build-up of collagen in place of heart muscle, and compounds of blood markers that can make someone more susceptible to unusual heart rhythms.

‘It does not occur in people who just do a few marathons during their lifetime, but is a risk in people who have been training long and hard for years.’

So, should you be worried about doing exercise?  No, says Professor Whyte, pointing to overwhelming evidence that ‘exercise is wholly beneficial’, not just for the heart but for the whole body.

Even in Bouchard’s study, it was not all bad news.  For 10 per cent of people there were enormous gains in at least one measure of heart disease risk, with some improving by up to 50 per cent.

And among those who did have adverse outcomes, there was no evidence that these led to heart attacks or other health problems.

Professor Whyte says: ‘There will always be a few cases of people with underlying health problems and heart issues for whom physical activity can be problematic, but most people should be doing more of it, not less.’

Even ageing long-distance racers should not necessarily hang up their trainers.  ‘They may need to be monitored, but the benefits for the heart still outweigh any risks.,’ says Professor Whyte

As for the risk of stroke, most studies say exercise is beneficial for stroke prevention in healthy people, says John Brewer, professor of sport at the University of Bedfordshire.

‘It’s wise to get a check-up if you haven’t exercised for a while or have a family history of heart attacks and strokes, but in general, the evidence suggests that everything from moderate activity to higher-intensity and longer-duration exercise are beneficial.’


Will 50 cloves of garlic kill your cold — or just your love life? Pungent foodstuff may hold key to beating winter illness

In my younger days, I used to chew cloves of garlic if I had a cold.  It does help clear the head  -- and makes your tongue swell up!  -- JR

According to folklore, it keeps vampires at bay. And it will definitely keep your loved ones at arm’s length.

But could a soup made with more than 50 cloves of garlic protect you from  colds, flu and even norovirus?

As Britain sneezes and coughs its way through these dark months of contagious nasties, garlic is being hailed for its powers to halt viruses in their tracks.

It has gained its reputation as a virus buster thanks to one of its chemical constituents, allicin.

‘This chemical has been known for a long time for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal powers,’ says Helen Bond, a Derbyshire-based consultant dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association.

‘Because of this, people assume it is going to boost their immune systems. Lots of people I know are simply mashing up garlic, mixing it with olive oil and spreading it on bread.

‘But how or whether it may actually work has still not been proven categorically.’

Indeed, scientists remain divided on garlic’s ability to combat colds and flu. Last March, a major investigation by the respected global research organisation, the Cochrane Database, found that increasing your garlic intake during winter can cut the duration of cold symptoms — from five-and-a-half days to four-and-a-half.

But the report, which amalgamated all previous scientific studies on garlic, said it could not draw solid conclusions because there is a lack of large-scale, authoritative research.

The problem is that pharmaceutical companies are not interested in running huge, expensive trials — as they would with promising new drug compounds — because there is nothing in garlic that they can patent, package and sell at a profit.

If garlic were found to be a wonder drug, consumers could simply buy it in the supermarket for 30p a bulb or grow their own in the garden.

Nevertheless, garlic has a long and proud tradition as a medicine. The Ancient Egyptians recommended it for 22 ailments. In a papyrus dated 1500 BC, the labourers who built the pyramids ate it to increase their stamina and keep them healthy.

The Ancient Greeks advocated garlic for everything from curing infections, and lung and blood disorders to healing insect bites and even treating leprosy.

The Romans fed it to soldiers and sailors to improve their endurance. Dioscorides, the personal physician to Emperor Nero, wrote a five-volume treatise extolling its virtues.

But it wasn’t until 1858 that the French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered garlic kills bacteria. After placing it in a petri dish full of bacteria, Pasteur noted that within a few days a bacteria-free area had formed around each clove.

More recently, researchers have unearthed evidence to show garlic may help us to stay hale and hearty in a number of ways.

Last June, nutrition scientists at the University of Florida found eating garlic can boost the number of T-cells in the bloodstream. These play a vital role in strengthening our immune systems and fighting viruses.

And pharmacologists at the University of California found that allicin — the active ingredient in garlic that contributes to bad breath — is an infection-killer.

Allicin also makes our blood vessels dilate, improving blood flow and helping to tackle cardiovascular problems such as high cholesterol.

An Australian study of 80 patients published last week in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that diets high in garlic may reduce high blood pressure.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Children can GROW OUT of autism: Controversial research suggests not all youngsters have the same fate

It seems mnost likely that some kids were simply smart enough  to adapt

Autism is a condition some children manage to grow out of, a study has shown.

Experts studied 34 school-age children and young adults who had been diagnosed with autism early in life but now appeared to be functioning normally.

Tests confirmed that the group, aged eight to 21, no longer suffered symptoms of the developmental condition that makes it difficult to communicate and socialise.

The results, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, provide no estimate of the proportion of children likely to recover from autism.

But the researchers say they offer hope that in at least some cases, the handicap of autism can be left behind.

Dr Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health which supported the study, said: 'Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes.

'For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism and the role of therapy and other factors in the long term out come for these children.'

Previous studies looking at the likelihood of autism recovery have proved inconclusive.

Questions remained over the accuracy of the original diagnosis, and whether children who appeared to grow up functioning normally started out with mild forms of the condition.

For the new study, early diagnostic reports by doctors were reviewed by a team of expert investigators.

The results suggested that recovering children tended to have relatively milder social difficulties early in life. But they were likely to suffer more severe symptoms relating to communication and repetitive behaviour.

The research team, led by Dr Deborah Fein, from the University of Connecticut, compared the 34 'optimal outcome' participants with the same number of normally functioning peers and 44 children and young adults affected by high-functioning autism. Each group was matched by age, sex, and non-verbal IQ.

Optimal outcome individuals showed no signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication or social interaction despite their previous diagnosis of autism.

The researchers are continuing to analyse data on changes in brain function in the children.

They are also reviewing records of the kinds of treatment the children received, and to what extent they may have contributed to their recovery, as well as the role played by IQ.

'All children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are capable of making progress with intensive therapy, but with our current state of knowledge most do not achieve the kind of optimal outcome that we are studying,' said Dr Fein.

'Our hope is that further research will help us better understand the mechanisms of change so that each child can have the best possible life.


Study challenges link between pot use, low IQ

Not very convincingly

 A new analysis challenges previous research that suggested teens put their long-term brainpower in danger when they smoke marijuana heavily.

Instead, the analysis indicated that the earlier findings could have been thrown off by another factor -- the effect of poverty on IQ.

The author of the new analysis, Ole Rogeberg, cautioned that his theory may not hold much water. "Or, it may turn out that it explains a lot," said Rogeberg, a research economist at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Oslo, Norway.

The authors of the initial study responded to a request for comment with a joint statement saying they stand by their findings. "While Dr. Rogeberg's ideas are interesting, they are not supported by our data," wrote researchers Terrie Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi and Madeline Meier. Moffitt and Caspi are psychology professors at Duke University, while Meier is a postdoctoral associate there.

Their study, published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, attracted media attention because it suggested that smoking pot has more than short-term effects on how people think.

Based on an analysis of mental tests given to more than 1,000 New Zealanders when they were 13 and 38, the Duke researchers found that those who heavily used marijuana as teens lost an average of eight IQ points over that time period. It didn't seem to matter if the teens later cut back on smoking pot or stopped using it entirely.

In the short term, people who use marijuana have memory problems and trouble focusing, research has shown. So, why wouldn't users have problems for years?

"The question reminds me of something adults say when kids make weird faces: 'Careful, or your face will stay that way,'" Rogeberg said. "It is certainly possible that in the long term, heavy cannabis use has permanent or persistent effects on the brain. But to find out what these changes are and what they mean is not easy. We can't just look at the short-term effects and assume that these gradually become fixed and permanent over time."

In his report, Rogeberg used simulation computer modeling to argue that the initial study was possibly flawed because of the effects of poverty on IQ.

"Recent research indicates that IQ and brainpower are kind of like muscular strength: strengthened if it is regularly challenged. IQ is strengthened or sustained by taking education, studying hard, spending time with smart, challenging people, doing demanding work in our jobs," he said. "Some kids, unfortunately, are burdened with a poor home environment, poor self-control and conduct problems. These kids are likely to gradually shift away from the kinds of activities and environments that would exercise their IQs."

Rogeberg, whose report appears in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the initial study didn't properly take this into account. "Although it would be too strong to say that the results have been discredited, the methodology is flawed and the causal inference drawn from the results premature," he wrote.

In their response, the Duke researchers said that only 23 percent of the people they studied were from poor families, making it unlikely that these participants threw off the overall results. And, they added, their results were the same when they only focused on people from middle-class families.

The Duke team also noted that another group shows similar results from marijuana exposure: rats. And, as they pointed out, rats don't go to school or fall into rich, middle-class or poor categories.