Sunday, June 30, 2013

Children who eat lots of chicken are less likely to develop bowel cancer later in life

And red meat did no harm!

At the end of the article below, the authors express some appropriate humility about the generalizability of their chicken findings.  In a major departure from epidemiological convention, they allow that correlation might not be causation!

Teenagers who regularly eat chicken are less likely to develop bowel cancer when they get older, new research shows.  Scientists found poultry reduced adolescents’ risk of a bowel tumour by around 20 per cent and cancer of the rectum by up to 50 per cent.

The research, by experts at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, U.S., shows chicken appears to reduce the development of adenomas, harmful growths which are a precursor to cancer.

The study is the first to show that bowel cancer risk later in life can be influenced by the type of meat eaten as a teenager.

Diets high in fat and red meat, as well as lack of exercise, are thought to be among the main risk factors.

Researchers wanted to see if meat consumption relatively early in life had any impact on cancer risk decades later.  This is because the development of bowel cancer is a slow process that can take several decades.

They tracked nearly 20,000 women who took part in a long-running research project called the Nurses’ Health Study 2, which began back in the late nineties.

At the start of the study, all the women had given details of dietary habits during childhood and adolescence.  They were then monitored to see how many over the following decade were diagnosed with adenomas.

The results, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed that women who ate the most chicken during their teenage years were the least likely to have the pre-cancerous growths.

However, the researchers also found those that ate the most red meat were no more likely to get cancer than those who consumed the least, while eating fish did not appear to have a protective effect.

Although the study was confined to women, it’s likely that the findings apply to both sexes.

Researchers admitted there is no obvious explanation for why poultry appears to have a protective effect and said the findings could be skewed by the fact they relied on women remembering what they had eaten years earlier.

In a report on their findings they said: ‘There is no well-established plausible mechanism to explain it.

But it is possible that poultry intake during adolescence is simply a marker of a healthy diet or lifestyle that may track through the course of life.’


Tofu rots your brain

Reasonable data below too  -- thus giving the conclusions some weight

Brain Aging and Midlife Tofu Consumption

By Lon R. White et al.


Objective: To examine associations of midlife tofu consumption with brain function and structural changes in late life.

Methods: The design utilized surviving participants of a longitudinal study established in 1965 for research on heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Information on consumption of selected foods was available from standardized interviews conducted 1965–1967 and 1971–1974. A 4-level composite intake index defined “low-low” consumption as fewer than two servings of tofu per week in 1965 and no tofu in the prior week in 1971. Men who reported two or more servings per week at both interviews were defined as “high-high” consumers. Intermediate or less consistent “low” and “high” consumption levels were also defined. Cognitive functioning was tested at the 1991–1993 examination, when participants were aged 71 to 93 years (n=3734). Brain atrophy was assessed using neuroimage (n=574) and autopsy (n=290) information. Cognitive function data were also analyzed for wives of a sample of study participants (n=502) who had been living with the participants at the time of their dietary interviews.

Results: Poor cognitive test performance, enlargement of ventricles and low brain weight were each significantly and independently associated with higher midlife tofu consumption. A similar association of midlife tofu intake with poor late life cognitive test scores was also observed among wives of cohort members, using the husband’s answers to food frequency questions as proxy for the wife’s consumption. Statistically significant associations were consistently demonstrated in linear and logistic multivariate regression models. Odds ratios comparing endpoints among “high-high” with “low-low” consumers were mostly in the range of 1.6 to 2.0.

Conclusions: In this population, higher midlife tofu consumption was independently associated with indicators of cognitive impairment and brain atrophy in late life.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Food really is addictive?

I suppose anything you really like could be called addictive.  I really liked my Meccano (erector) set when I was a kid. I spent hours with it.  Was I addicted to it?  Those who say so are just attempting to distort language for political purposes.

And rather than say that food mimics the effect of drugs, would it not be more accurate to say that drugs mimic the effect of food? Food came first

Food could be as addictive as class-A drug heroin and nicotine in cigarettes, claims a new study.

Researchers have found substance abuse and food with a high glycaemic index - such as white bread and potatoes - may trigger the same brain mechanism tied to addiction.

Eating highly processed carbohydrates can cause excess hunger and stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, according to the study.

The findings suggest that limiting 'high-glycaemic index' foods could help obese people avoid overeating.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, investigated how food intake is regulated by dopamine-containing pleasure centres in the brain.

Study leader Dr David Ludwig, of Boston Children’s Hospital in the United States, said: 'Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked to substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive.'

To examine the link, researchers measured blood glucose levels and hunger, while also using MRI scanning to observe brain activity during the crucial four-hour period after a meal, which influences eating behaviour at the next meal.

Evaluating patients in such a time frame is one novel aspect of the study, whereas previous studies have evaluated patients with an MRI soon after eating.

Twelve overweight or obese men ate test meals designed as milkshakes with the same calories, taste and sweetness.

The two milkshakes were essentially the same; the only difference was that one contained rapidly digesting - high-glycaemic index - carbohydrates, and the other slowly digesting - low-glycaemic index - carbs.

After the participants consumed the high-glycaemic index milkshake, they experienced an initial surge in blood sugar levels, followed by sharp crash four hours later.

This decrease in blood glucose was associated with excessive hunger and intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region involved in addictive behaviour.

Previous studies of food addiction have compared patient reactions to drastically different types of foods, such as high-calorie cheesecake versus boiled vegetables.

Another novel aspect of the new study is how a specific dietary factor that is distinct from calories or sweetness, could alter brain function and promote overeating.

Dr Ludwig said: 'These findings suggest that limiting high-glycaemic index carbohydrates like white bread and potatoes could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat.'

Though the concept of food addiction remains controversial, the findings suggest that more interventional and observational studies be done.

Dr Ludwig said additional research will hopefully inform clinicians about the subjective experience of food addiction, and how they can potentially treat obese patients and regulate their weight.


HRT does NOT affect a woman's memory or increase her risk of developing dementia

The rehabilitation of HRT goes on

Women taking hormone replacement therapy following the menopause are not at a higher risk of developing dementia, a study has claimed.

HRT, which is used to treat the symptoms of menopause, including hot flushes, has been previously linked with declining memory and a doubled risk of developing dementia.

Researchers followed a group of more than 1,300 women between the ages of 50 and 55 who were on HRT medication called conjugated equine oestrogens (CEOs).

The researchers, based at the Women's Health Centre of Excellence for Research at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem,  North Carolina, gave one set of women placebos and one the HRT treatment, then studied the results after seven years.

They found no overall differences in the brain function scores between women taking the HRT treatment and the placebos, CBS reports.

Dr Mark Espeland, a professor of biostatistics, led the research, and said it proved giving the hormones at an earlier age of menopause could see more benefits than prescribing them later.

'Our findings provide reassurance that CEO-based therapies when administered to women earlier in the postmenopausal period do not seem to convey long-term adverse consequences for cognitive function.'

They did note some minor speech disturbances in some of the women taking CEOs longer-term. But they attributed that to 'chance' and reported that it was not statistically significant.

Around 1.5 million British women use HRT, which relieves symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes and mood swings by replacing the body's declining supply of oestrogen.

Researchers had previously claimed the risk of suffering from mental decline could be doubled by taking hormone replacement therapy.

The warning came in 2003, from a study by scientists in the U.S. who sought to determine if healthy women should turn to HRT to combat ill-health in later life, not just menopausal symptoms.

Fewer than 3 per cent of women in Britain aged 65 and older are on the therapy.

The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pesky news for parents... watching TV can actually IMPROVE your child's schoolwork

Is the batty Baroness Greenfield listening?

Parents have for years rationed the amount of television their children can watch in the belief that too much will scramble their offspring’s brains.

Now a study suggests the opposite is true – that children who are glued to the screen for hours a day can significantly outperform classmates who watch considerably less.

It also found that other family rules imposed by parents hoping to boost their children’s academic prowess, such as insisting on regular bed or meal times, make only a relatively small difference.

While TV has been consistently blamed for diminishing children’s brain power, University of London academics found those who watched three or more hours a day were three months ahead of those who watched less than an hour a day.

The report’s lead author Dr Alice Sullivan, senior academic at the university’s Institute of Education, admitted the results, particularly those regarding television, were ‘contrary to expectations’.

She added that the educational value of children’s television had been ‘underestimated’. ‘It may also help expose some children to a broader vocabulary than they get at home,’ Dr Sullivan said.

Their findings were part of an  analysis that set out to examine claims made by politicians, including David Cameron, and others that parenting skills were more important than social background in determining how well children do at school and in later life.

It used test results for 11,000 British seven-year-olds tracked since birth as part of a long-term project called the Millennium Cohort Study.

In tests comparing youngsters of the same social class, regular meal times conferred only a six-week advantage in terms of reading and writing skills, while set bedtimes gave only a two-month head start.

Overall, the analysis, published in the journal Sociology, concluded ‘social class and in particular parents’ education were the dominant factors’ in determining how well children fared.

It found those with parents in stable, well-paid jobs were more than a year ahead than those  whose parents work in unskilled  or semi-skilled positions.


How popping aspirin can give some people asthma for life; Life-threatening allergies to antibiotics and general anaesthetics are also on the rise

On the day of her grandmother's funeral, Jacqui Sanders took an aspirin to cope with a painful headache. She had used the drug before, and after taking the pill she waited for her pounding head to abate.

Instead, ten minutes later she started to feel breathless. Initially, she blamed it on the stress of the day. However, it soon became clear it was not her emotions causing the problems, but an asthma attack.  Jacqui had been diagnosed with a mild form of the condition a few years earlier, but was now experiencing a full-blown attack.

'I was rushed to my local surgery, where I was quickly given a nebuliser, but it was frightening,' says the 44-year-old mother-of-two from Ruislip, North London.

She'd previously suffered another severe attack when she had taken an aspirin. After the second attack, her GP warned she might be allergic to aspirin and advised her to avoid aspirin and ibuprofen, as people are often allergic to both.

Allergies to painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin are common, say experts, and can develop in adulthood, often among people who have taken these painkillers for years without any problems.

They're not the only drugs that can cause problems - allergies to antibiotics, which affect about 10 per cent of people, are also on the rise, as are reactions to general anaesthetics. The latter can be life-threatening.

'We see a lot of drug allergy patients and it's increased over recent years,' says Dr Pamela Ewan, consultant allergist from Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. 'They can come out of the blue. People have usually happily taken the drugs for years and then suddenly develop problems.'

She attributes the increase partly to greater awareness among GPs, but also to the rise in the number of pills we are popping throughout our life. This is a particular problem with antibiotics, as the risk of allergy increases with exposure - the more of the drug you take, the more you are likely to develop an allergy.

Dr Ewan says: 'There has been far too much misuse of antibiotics, with too many handed out by doctors. Not only does this lead to superbugs but it may have contributed to more people developing allergic reactions to them.'

The antibiotics she commonly sees reactions to are penicillin, erythromycin and cephalosporins. These are commonly used for chest, ear and throat infections, tonsillitis and sinusitis.

Allergies occur when the antibiotics send the immune system into overdrive, causing it to wrongly assume the antibiotics are a foreign invader. This triggers cells of the immune system called mast cells to release histamine. This chemical causes symptoms such as rashes, swelling of the face and airways, and breathing difficulties.

In most cases, antibiotic allergies trigger a rash, usually across the body. However, in severe cases they can trigger anaphylactic shock, a more severe reaction where the patient's airways can swell and they struggle to breathe; their blood pressure also drops dangerously low.

The body's reaction to ibuprofen and aspirin is slightly different, says Dr Ewan. 'Ibuprofen is a common allergy - we see a lot of it. This often causes facial swelling and breathing difficulties, usually starting within a few minutes to an hour later, but is unlikely to cause a rash.'

Doctors are unsure exactly how ibuprofen triggers a reaction. The painkiller, together with aspirin and the painkiller diclofenac, are part of a group of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

In people who have a reaction, the drugs seem to trigger the release of  inflammatory molecules called leukotriene, which in high levels cause swelling.

It's not clear if taking lots of ibuprofen throughout life makes an allergy more likely, but 'you'll be unlikely to get ibuprofen allergy the first time you take it - most people who develop an allergy have taken it a few times before,' says Dr Ewan.

Although the immune system can react to NSAIDs, patients can often continue to take other painkillers such as paracetamol or codeine without any problems, and many can also take another form of NSAIDs called COX-2 inhibitors, which work differently in the body.

However, while these patients are able to take other painkillers, some can be with left with lifelong asthma, triggered after their first allergic reaction. This is called aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease, and affects about 10 per cent of the country's 5.4 million asthmatics - half never had asthma before.

'It tends to affect more women than men, suggesting hormones are playing a role, and around half of sufferers report they had a cold beforehand,' says Dr Sophie Farooque, allergist from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

This raises the possibility that a cold or flu is somehow knocking the immune system out of kilter, causing it to over-react when it next encounters aspirin or ibuprofen.

Doctors are also seeing a rise in allergies to general anaesthetics. These are rapid and life-threatening - within minutes of delivering a general anaesthetic a patient often goes into anaphylactic shock.

Dr Ewan says: 'Once the anaesthetic is administered, a patient's blood pressure drops through the floor and their heart may even stop.'

Although cases are still rare, the rise may well be due to the more complex anaesthetics that medics use in surgery. According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the NHS gives three million general anaesthetics a year.

'General anaesthetics are more complex than they were 20 years ago - people used to be given one or two drugs but now they are given a cocktail or up to seven drugs, including antibiotics, painkillers and anti-sickness drugs,' explains Dr Ewan.

Studies suggest only a third of such allergies are due to the anaesthetic drug itself - two-thirds are due to the other drugs. And similar to other drug allergies, people suddenly develop an allergy to general anaesthetic.

Michele Adams is all too familiar with this situation. The 46-year-old from Bushey, Hertfordshire, had a trouble-free general anaesthetic eight years ago to have a mole removed.

However, when she had a general anaesthetic last March for a hysteroscopy, where surgeons use a thin telescope to examine the lining of the womb, it was a different story.

'I was meant to be under for an hour, but four hours later they were still trying to bring me round. I had an anaphylactic reaction the minute the anaesthetic went into my arm.  'My blood pressure plummeted, I went blue and nearly had a cardiac arrest.

'I was told it was a close call,' says the married mother-of-two, who has her own recruitment firm. Michele spent the night in hospital and two weeks at home recovering.

She says: 'I felt exhausted. I recognised the feeling as five years earlier I'd suffered an anaphylactic shock to the antibiotic trimethoprim, which I took for a urine infection. Then eight months after I had a similar reaction to cough medicine. I'd never suffered problems before.'

Unfortunately, there is no way of predicting who will react, but Dr Farooque adds that allergists do an assessment of cases to identify the medication that triggered the reaction to ensure it doesn't happen again.  In Michele's case, it was the muscle relaxant given with the general anaesthetic.

Dr Farooque says there is a shortage of drug-allergy clinics where people can have their allergies properly diagnosed and other safe drugs suggested.

And without specialist help, patients often don't realise what drugs are safe for them to take.

To lower the risk of developing allergies in the first place, Dr Ewan advises: 'Don't take drugs unless you are sure you need them.'

Michele adds: 'I don't even touch vitamins now.'


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Breast is best for getting ahead (?)

Naive rubbish.  High IQ mothers are most likely to breastfeed and it is the high IQ that they pass on which advantages their children

People breastfed as infants have a 24 percent better chance than their formula-fed counterparts of climbing the social ladder, said a study Tuesday.

Conversely, being fed mothers' milk as a baby also reduced one's chances of social demotion later in life by as much as 20 percent, said the findings published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

"Our study adds to evidence on the health benefits of breast feeding by showing that there may be lifelong social benefits," wrote the British research team.

The researchers looked at data on 17,419 people born in Britain in 1958 and another 16,771 born in 1970 -- comparing their social class at the age of 10 or 11 to that aged 33/34, and whether or not they had been breastfed.

Social class was categorised on a four-point scale ranging from unskilled or semi-skilled to professional or managerial.

In the 1958 group, 68 percent had been breastfed compared with only 36 percent in the 1970 group, said the study, which claims to be the largest yet to probe the relationship between breastfeeding and social mobility.

The researchers gathered data during regular followups every few years and took into account a range of other potential factors such as brain development and emotional stress levels.

"Intellect and stress accounted for around a third (36%) of the total impact of breastfeeding: breastfeeding enhances brain development, which boosts intellect, which in turn increases upwards social mobility. Breastfed children also showed fewer signs of stress," said a statement.

The authors said breast milk contained so-called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids or LCPUFA's, which were essential for brain development.

Previous studies, however, have suggested that LCPUFA's alone may not improve cognitive growth The team said it was impossible to tell which was more beneficial to the child: the nutrients found in breast milk, the skin-go-skin contact and bonding between a nursing mother and her infant, or perhaps a combination of the two.

Further research was needed, they said, to determine whether mothers who fed their infants formula could aid their long-term development by mimicking the skin contact between breastfeeding women and their offspring.


The 'peanut patch' that could save lives: New plaster reduces severity of allergic reactions in children

Just another version of systematic desensitization

A newly developed skin patch could help children who have a deadly peanut allergy.  New figures show youngsters who once faced the threat of a fatal reaction from the tiniest amounts of peanut protein can snack on the nuts after wearing the patch for a year.

The stick-on patch, which could help thousands of children in the UK, is packed with tiny traces of peanut protein.  Worn on the arm or back, it allows minute amounts of the protein to gradually seep through the top layers of the skin.

It then comes into contact with immune system cells which would normally trigger a life-threatening overreaction.

But the proteins are in such tiny quantities that the immune cells slowly get used to their presence, learning to recognise peanuts so that they are no longer a threat.

As a result, the body’s defences stop overreacting when they come into contact with peanuts.

The patch, about the size of ten pence piece, is undergoing trials involving more than 200 patients with severe peanut allergies.

The first results from one of the trials, involving children aged five to 17, show that many are able to build up tolerance to peanuts after wearing one for 12 to 18 months.

The volunteers wear a peanut patch or an identical dummy one, changing it for a new one every day.

After 12 months, at least 20 per cent of the children were consuming more than ten times the amount of peanut protein they were able to tolerate at the start of the study.  By 18 months, the number had risen to 40 per cent.

This equated to about 1.5 peanuts in children who, before the treatment, were at risk of life-threatening anaphylactic shock from the smallest amount of peanut dust – prior to the study some were at risk of death if they were in the same room as someone who was eating peanuts.

The breakthrough patch, called Viaskin Peanut, does not cause anaphylactic shock because the proteins stay in the skin and do not penetrate as far as the bloodstream.

Researcher Professor Christophe Dupont, from the Necker Hospital in Paris, said: ‘The change in peanut consumption represents an important improvement in the quality of life of these patients.’


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Antibiotics could cure 40% of chronic back pain patients

After the discovery of helicobacter pylori, medical researchers went all out loking for bacterial causes of everything  -- without much result.  The remarkable  finding below might revitalize that focus

Surgeons in the UK and elsewhere are reviewing how they treat patients with chronic back pain after scientists discovered that many of the worst cases were due to bacterial infections.

The shock finding means that scores of patients with unrelenting lower back pain will no longer face major operations but can instead be cured with courses of antibiotics costing around £114.

One of the UK's most eminent spinal surgeons said the discovery was the greatest he had witnessed in his professional life, and that its impact on medicine was worthy of a Nobel prize.

"This is vast. We are talking about probably half of all spinal surgery for back pain being replaced by taking antibiotics," said Peter Hamlyn, a consultant neurological and spinal surgeon at University College London hospital.

Hamlyn recently operated on rugby player Tom Croft, who was called up for the British and Irish Lions summer tour last month after missing most of the season with a broken neck.

Specialists who deal with back pain have long known that infections are sometimes to blame, but these cases were thought to be exceptional. That thinking has been overturned by scientists at the University of Southern Denmark who found that 20% to 40% of chronic lower back pain was caused by bacterial infections.

In Britain today, around 4 million people can expect to suffer from chronic lower back pain at some point in their lives. The latest work suggests that more than half a million of them would benefit from antibiotics.

"This will not help people with normal back pain, those with acute, or sub-acute pain – only those with chronic lower back pain," Dr Hanne Albert, of the Danish research team, told the Guardian. "These are people who live a life on the edge because they are so handicapped with pain. We are returning them to a form of normality they would never have expected."

Claus Manniche, a senior researcher in the group, said the discovery was the culmination of 10 years of hard work. "It's been tough. There have been ups and downs. This is one those questions that a lot of our colleagues did not understand at the beginning. To find bacteria really confronts all we have thought up to this date as back pain researchers," he said.

The Danish team describe their work in two papers published in the European Spine Journal. In the first report, they explain how bacterial infections inside slipped discs can cause painful inflammation and tiny fractures in the surrounding vertebrae.

Working with doctors in Birmingham, the Danish team examined tissue removed from patients for signs of infection. Nearly half tested positive, and of these, more than 80% carried bugs called Propionibacterium acnes.

The microbes are better known for causing acne. They lurk around hair roots and in the crevices in our teeth, but can get into the bloodstream during tooth brushing. Normally they cause no harm, but the situation may change when a person suffers a slipped disc. To heal the damage, the body grows small blood vessels into the disc. Rather than helping, though, they ferry bacteria inside, where they grow and cause serious inflammation and damage to neighbouring vertebrae that shows up on an MRI scan.

In the second paper, the scientists proved they could cure chronic back pain with a 100-day course of antibiotics. In a randomised trial, the drugs reduced pain in 80% of patients who had suffered for more than six months and had signs of damaged vertebra under MRI scans.

Albert stressed that antibiotics would not work for all back pain. Over-use of the drugs could lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are already a major problem in hospitals. But she also warned that many patients will be having ineffective surgery instead of antibiotics that could alleviate their pain.

"We have to spread the word to the public, and to educate the clinicians, so the right people get the right treatment, and in five years' time are not having unnecessary surgery," she said.

Hamlyn said future research should aim to increase the number of patients that respond to antibiotics, and speed up the time it takes them to feel an improvement, perhaps by using more targeted drugs.

The NHS spends £480m on spinal surgery each year, the majority of which is for back pain. A minor operation can fix a slipped disc, which happens when one of the soft cushions of tissue between the bones in the spine pops out and presses on nearby nerves. The surgeons simply cut off the protruding part of the disc. But patients who suffer pain all day and night can be offered major operations to fuse damaged vertebrae or have artificial discs implanted.

"It may be that we can save £250m from the NHS budget by doing away with unnecessary operations. The price of the antibiotic treatment is only £114. It is spectacularly different to surgery. I genuinely believe they deserve a Nobel prize," said Hamlyn. Other spinal surgeons have met Albert and are reviewing the procedures they offer for patients.


Are superfoods that super?

The alleged benefits of so-called superfoods is often based on flimsy research

I’m not happy. Last week I discovered I’ve been wasting my time every Sunday for most of my adult life. I refer to my weekly meal of mackerel, which I force myself to eat despite the repulsive taste and texture, and the smell that lingers for days after. Not only do I hate the slimy fish, but twice I’ve nearly died (or at least it felt that way) when a bone has stuck in my throat.

So new draft guidance published by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggesting that the impact of an oily fish diet in preventing heart attacks or strokes "could be minimal" is far from welcome. Minimal? I’ve been missing out on a lovely, wholesome fry up – my preferred choice, naturally – for a decade or more because I, and millions of others, believed that oily fish was key to health and longevity.

Like any good psychiatrist, I blame my mother. When I was a child, she bought a book called Superfoods and, in her determination to guarantee my sister and I would live long enough to look after her in her old age, it became her bible. Each time we found an unusual or exotic foodstuff on our plate, she would take great pleasure in informing us it was a "superfood" and would help ward off diabetes or cancer or evil or whatever it was she’d read about.

We all know that certain foods are better for us than others, but the idea that some possess almost mystical properties is very seductive.

Suppliers and manufacturers exploit a belief in some elixir of health and market, and price accordingly, or promote in various ingenious ways even more "super" versions of superfoods.

Despite six years at medical school and well-developed cynicism when it comes to food fadism, I admit I have bought into the superfoods phenomenon. In addition to oily fish, I make sure I consume pomegranates, blueberries, kiwi fruit, broccoli and brazil nuts regularly, even though I know that if it’s not deep fried, coated in lard or caked with sugar, pretty much any vegetable or fruit is good for you.

The specific marketing of goods as "superfoods" is prohibited in the European Union unless backed by scientific evidence. But research into the benefits of many of these foods is, at best, provisional and based on small preliminary studies that are open to multiple factors that can skew the results.

In 2011, the NHS looked at these wonder foods and examined some of the claims made for them. The findings were critical not just of the media’s sensationalist reporting of the research, but also of the research itself. They pointed out that the plethora of contradictory reports was such that "often the same food is declared healthy one day and harmful the next". (I’m still not sure if red wine and chocolate will save my life or kill me.)

There are many reasons why the research is often not as promising as it first appears. One problem is confounding factors – this is when a factor other than the one being investigated is responsible for the effects. A study of alcohol consumption by Dutch men over 40 years, for example, found that those who consumed an average of half a glass of wine a day lived five years longer than those who didn’t. While the researchers took into account some factors that might explain the disparity – such as smoking and weight – they didn’t consider exercise. So there’s no way of knowing if the results were down to the wine, or because the men who drank half a glass a day took more exercise, or a combination of both.

Another problem is that often the researchers use surrogate end points, in which the studies measure outcomes not directly related to people’s health. One widely reported study that claimed that eating oily fish could improve people’s memory compared changes in the blood flow to the brain in those who ate the fish and those who did not – but it didn’t actually test memory, which is the only way to say for sure that oily fish bestows that benefit.

Also, many reported studies are performed on animals or in vitro in laboratories, making any findings impossible to extrapolate in a meaningful way to the average person.

And there are other factors that can affect the reliability of research, such as bias and conflicts of interest over who funds the study and what they want from it. In short, few claims that a food has a miracle benefit live up to scrutiny.

So my advice is this: ensure you have a balanced, sensible diet and don’t eat too much sugar, salt or fat. That’s pretty much it. While it might be tempting to believe in miracles, the reality is more prosaic.

The good news for me is that for the first time in years, I can now look forward to a decent Sunday brunch.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Could being overweight cause DEAFNESS? Obese teenagers are 50% more likely to suffer with hearing problems

Fat is predominantly working class so this is just another instance of poor health among the poor

Obese teenagers are more likely to suffer hearing loss than their slim peers, according to a new study.

Scientists found that obese adolescents suffered increased hearing loss across all frequencies and were almost twice as likely to develop one-sided, low-frequency hearing loss.

'This is the first paper to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents,' said study  author Professor Anil Lalwani of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center.

The study found that obesity in adolescents is associated with sensorineural hearing loss across all frequencies (the frequency range that can be heard by humans).  Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear hair cells.

But the the highest rates were for low-frequency hearing loss—15 per cent of obese adolescents compared with 8 per cent of non-obese adolescents developed the problem.

People with low-frequency hearing loss cannot hear sounds in frequencies 2,000 Hz and below. In most cases they can still understand human speech well, but may have difficulty hearing in groups or in noisy places.

'These results have several important public health implications,' said Dr Lalwani.

'Because previous research found that 80 per cent of adolescents with hearing loss were unaware of having hearing difficulty, adolescents with obesity should receive regular hearing screening so they can be treated appropriately to avoid cognitive and behavioural issues.'

Although the overall hearing loss among obese adolescents was relatively mild, the almost 2-fold increase in the odds of unilateral low-frequency hearing loss is particularly worrisome.

It suggests early, and possibly ongoing, injury to the inner ear that could progress as the obese adolescent becomes an obese adult.

Future research is needed on the dangerous consequences of this early hearing loss on social development, academic performance, and behavioural and cognitive function.

'Furthermore, hearing loss should be added to the growing list of the negative health consequences of obesity that affect both children and adults—adding to the impetus to reduce obesity among people of all ages,' said Dr Lalwani.

The study analysed data from nearly 1,500 adolescents from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—a large, nationally representative sample of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19, conducted from 2005 to 2006 by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Participants were interviewed at home, taking into account family medical history, current medical conditions, medication use, household smokers, socioeconomic and demographic factors, and noise-exposure history.

Dr. Lalwani and his colleagues speculate that obesity may directly or indirectly lead to hearing loss.

Although additional research is needed to determine the mechanisms involved, they theorise that obesity-induced inflammation may contribute to hearing loss.

Low plasma levels of the anti-inflammatory protein adiponectin, which is secreted from adipose tissue, have been found in obese children, and low levels in obese adults have been associated with high-frequency hearing loss, which affects a person's ability to understand speech.

Obesity also may also contribute to hearing loss as a result of associated problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol - all of which have been reported to be associated with deafness.


Saliva Protects Elderly People from Influenza A Virus

Saliva is not normally a topic of polite conversation, but it may be the key to explaining the age and sex bias exhibited by influenza A and other diseases.

“Saliva does more than start the process of digesting certain foods. Saliva also contains germ-fighting proteins that are a first-line defense against infections,” said Dr Qin and colleagues, who report their results in a paper published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Researchers already knew that levels of certain glycoproteins – proteins with a sugar coating that combat disease-causing microbes – differ with age.

Dr Qin and colleagues took a closer look at how those differences affected vulnerability to influenza A virus.

They collected 180 samples of saliva from men and women of various ages and then assessed the inhibiting and neutralizing activity of saliva against two strains of influenza A (H9N2) virus.

The findings show that glycoproteins in saliva of people age 65 and over were more efficient in binding to influenza than those in children and young adults.

“Seniors, who fought off the bird flu better than the younger groups, might thank their saliva.”

“The research may provide useful information to help understand some age-related diseases and physiological phenomenon specific to women or men, and inspire new ideas for prevention and diagnosis of the diseases by considering the individual conditions based primarily on the salivary analysis,” the researchers said.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

What you ate when you were THREE determines your risk of heart disease later in life

Correlational rubbish.  An association between REPORTED diet and cholesterol.  Big deal.  No lifespan data or disease incidence data at all

A child's diet at the age of three could determine its risk of heart disease as an adult, researchers say.  A study found that the effects of unhealthy eating begin at an early age, with the tell-tale signs of cholesterol noticeable in children aged between three and five.

This suggests interventions to protect health could start much earlier, say the researchers, from St Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

They  looked at 1,076 preschool children and studied the link between eating habits and serum levels of non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - a marker of later cardiovascular risk.

'Our results show that associations between eating behaviours and cardiovascular risk appear early in life and may be a potential target for early intervention,' said Dr Navindra Persaud.

'Eating behaviours as reported by parents were positively associated with serum non-HDL cholesterol levels in children aged three to five.

'The association between the eating behaviours subscore and serum non-HDL cholesterol persisted after controlling for age, sex, birth weight, parental BMI, gestational diabetes and parental ethnicity.'

She said that the findings suggested earlier intervention could be called for.  She said: 'Our results support previous arguments for interventions aimed at improving the eating behaviours of preschool-aged children.

'To do so, evidence suggests promoting responsive feeding, where adults provide appropriate access to healthy foods and children use internal cues (not parent-directed cues or cues from the television) to determine the timing, pace and amount they consume.'

The findings were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.


'Don't take vitamin pills': U.S. doctor warns that some supplements could harm health

Did Steve Jobs die of his "alternative" beliefs?

A U.S. doctor is has warned people against taking health supplements, saying they could pose a risk to health.

Dr Paul Offit, who has written a book called 'Do You Believe In Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine', said that very few alternative health supplements are of any benefit and could in fact carry health risks.

He added that people often believe that supplements are harmless but that this simply isn't true - particularly in the case of super-strength supplements which are becoming increasingly popular.

'When you take large quantities of vitamins - 5-fold, 10-fold - greater than the [recommended daily allowance], I think the data is clear - it increases your chances of heart disease, cancer and can shorten your life,' said the doctor in an interview with CBS This Morning.

The doctor, who is based at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, went on to explain that he had recently seen a television advertisement that told viewers you would need to drink two gallons of orange juice to get as much Vitamin C as was in the supplement being promoted.

He said that there's probably a good reason why nature doesn't provide that much Vitamin C ni one hit.

The UK market for vitamins and supplements was estimated to be worth £385million last year, up 2.7 per cent on the previous year.
Dr Offit said that certain supplements such as folic acid can be very useful however

Dr Offit said that certain supplements such as folic acid can be very useful however

Dr Offit went on to explain that he didn't think that multivitamins would do any harm however, although it is not really known whether or not they actually do any good.

When asked if he thought it was worth taking any nutritional pills, he said that there were four cases.

He recommended pregnant mothers to take folic acid to prevent babies developing spina bifida, a condition that causes the spine to become deformed.

He said that Vitamin D was important for babies, particularly in those who are exclusively breastfed and do not get much exposure to sunlight.

Elderly women should take  Vitamin D and calcium to help prevent bones thinning and he concluded that omega-3 fatty acid oils might be beneficial to heart health, but that current  studies are inconclusive.

Dr Offit also blasted the term 'alternative medicine and said: 'There's no such thing as alternative medicine - if it works it, is medicine. If it doesn't work it's not an alternative'

When asked what his views on alternative therapies such as acupuncture were, he said that it could be helpful but not because the needles were inserted into the skin. he added that the 'ancient Chinese didn't know anything about the human anatomy'.

Finally he said that Apple found Steve Jobs might be alive today if he has sought expert medical help sooner.

He explained that the type of pancreatic cancer Jobs had - a neuroendocrine tumour - is cured in 95 per cent of patients by undergoing surgery, but that his choice of esoteric therapies including bowel cleanses and acupuncture ultimately cost him his life.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Risk of autism is up to 50% higher in children exposed to traffic fumes and air pollution

Here we go again:  People living in unprestigious locations -- such as near traffic -- will be poorer and less healthy for that reason alone.  And depending on who they marry and all sorts of other things, some nurses will be poorer than others

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk was doubled for women living in the most polluted locations.

'Our findings raise concerns since, depending on the pollutant, 20 per cent to 60 per cent of the women in our study lived in areas where risk of autism was elevated,' said lead scientist Dr Andrea Roberts.

Autism, a developmental disorder that interferes with social and communication skills, affects around 500,000 people in the UK.

It covers a 'spectrum' of conditions that may be mild or very severe, requiring round-the-clock care.

For the new study, researchers identified 325 women who had a child with autism and 22,000 who had children without the disorder.

Data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives was used to assess pollution exposure in the areas where the women lived.

The scientists found a clear link between being pregnant somewhere with high levels of pollution and having an autistic child.

Diesel and mercury pollution showed the strongest link.

Women living in the top fifth of locations with the highest levels of these pollutants were twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism as those in areas with the lowest levels.

Other types of air pollution, including lead, manganese, methylene chloride and combined metals, had weaker associations with autism risk.

Women with the highest levels of exposure to these substances were about 50 per cent more likely to have a child who develops autism.

Most pollutants were more strongly associated with autism in boys than in girls.

Boys are in any case much more likely to have the disorder. The findings form part of the Nurse's Health Study II, a major U.S. investigation of environmental factors behind disease in a large group of more than 116,000 female nurses.

Women living in the top fifth of locations with the highest levels of pollutants were twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism as those in areas with the lowest levels

Senior author Dr Mark Weisskopf, also from Harvard, said: 'Our results suggest that new studies should begin the process of measuring metals and other pollutants in the blood of pregnant women or newborn children to provide stronger evidence that specific pollutants increase risk of autism.

'A better understanding of this can help to develop interventions to reduce pregnant women's exposure to these pollutants.'

Air pollutants contain many toxins that are known to affect neurological function and foetal development.

The researchers wrote: 'To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine the association between air pollution and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) across the United States..

'We observed significant positive linear trends between pollutant concentration and ASD, for diesel particulate matter, lead, manganese, methylene chloride, mercury and nickel.'


Beware the pretense of science

Donald J. Boudreaux comments on the FDA and other regulators from first principles

Judging from statements that regularly issue from politicians and the punditry — and from ivory-tower sages — you'd think that questions about what outcomes the economy “should” produce typically have answers that are objective, correct and specific. “Is this new drug safe?” “Is that amount of pollution too high?” “Are wages for those workers too low?” “What's the minimum number of days of paid vacation that workers should get annually?”

In response to such questions, the moralist within each of us demands specific answers: “Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “Fourteen days!” It's satisfying to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, saints from sinners, objectively correct answers from objectively incorrect ones.

But human nature makes the demand for such answers futile in many cases.

One reason is that each of us — as a worker, consumer, entrepreneur, investor, homeowner, voter, concerned citizen — is different from others of us. There is no objectively correct minimum number of days of paid vacation annually for workers as a group. Suppose I have a lower preference for leisure than you do. My preference cannot be projected onto you; it's just my preference. But because of my particular preference for little leisure, I'm more likely than are you to find and not to quit a job that offers fewer vacation days than your job offers.

Likewise, there's no objective yes-or-no answer to the question “Is this drug safe?” Your tolerance for risk might be higher than mine, and so you — unlike me — would prefer to take a certain drug rather than do without it. Your preference is neither right nor wrong; it's just your preference.

In both of the above examples — only two of countless ones — government-imposed standards cannot possibly be objectively correct. If government mandates that every worker get at least two weeks of paid vacation annually, the government will make those workers who prefer less leisure worse off. Forced to raise the amount of worker pay dispensed in the form of paid vacations, employers will lower the amount of worker pay dispensed in other forms such as cash or employer contributions to employee pensions. Such a regulation will make people who attach little value to leisure worse off.

The same holds true for drugs. Because no drug is completely risk-free, and because different people have different tolerances for risk, there's absolutely no scientifically objective way for the FDA to determine if a new drug is objectively too risky or not. That question is one of personal preferences and not one of science. And that question isn't miraculously transformed into a scientific question by government charging teams of scientists to assess whether this or that drug is “too risky.”

The pretense of science is not science. If government officials truly wish to be scientifically driven, they would allow each of us adults to choose which drugs we wish to take, regardless of the objective likelihood that someone will die or be seriously injured if he or she chooses to be treated with some drug.

Put differently, the scientifically correct level of riskiness of drugs for me is whatever level of riskiness I choose to tolerate. I — not some third party, not even one with an M.D. and who is appointed by government — am the only person on Earth capable of knowing the truth about what is, for me, the appropriate level of riskiness of drugs. Ditto for you.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Home Births May Be Safer Than Hospital Births

This may simply show that it is mainly very healthy women who choose homebirth

A new study has found that mothers experiencing low-risk pregnancies and who are planning home births may have an overall lower risk of birth complications than those who plan their births in hospitals.

LiveScience is reporting that just 1 in 1,000 of the mothers monitored for the study suffered from severe complications during their home births, as opposed to 2.3 in every 1,000 who gave birth in a hospital.

The study, conducted by researchers in the Netherlands, additionally noted a marked decrease in incidents of postpartum hemorrhage in mothers who gave birth at home – 19.6 out of 1,000 compared to 37.6 out of 1,000 respectively.

A reported 146,000 women took part in the study. Of those, 92,333 were said to be giving birth at home, while 54,419 chose the option of giving birth in a hospital.

Researchers told LiveScience that their findings likely only apply to regions where midwives are fully qualified to assist in a home birth.

They added to the science news website that the dearth of severe complications in planned home births should not lead to a general lack of concern surrounding home births for families weighing their options, as “every avoidable adverse maternal outcome is one too many.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Prevention in Atlanta, the amount of home births in the United States went up last decade.

“Home births are still rare in the United States, comprising less than 1 percent of births, however they have been increasing since 2004,” they noted on their official website.


How a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime could PREVENT diabetes  -- if you are a mouse

Amazing what mice get up to these days

Forget everything you've been told about hot chocolate being an indulgence: a cup before bedtime could fend off diabetes, a study has found.

Mice fed a high fat diet that causes type 2 diabetes - the obesity-related form of the condition - suffered less inflammation when given cocoa powder as well.

Researchers believe their findings, published by the European Journal of Nutrition, may apply to humans.

Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, plant chemicals that boost blood flow by widening vessels.  They have previously been linked to a host of health benefits.

In the study the mice ate the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder, about four or five cups of hot cocoa, during a ten week period.

Professor Joshua Lambert said: 'What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect.  There was not as big of an effect on the body weight as we expected, but I was surprised at the dramatic reduction of inflammation and fatty liver disease.'

Several indicators of inflammation, which causes type 2 diabetes by prompting insulin resistance, were much lower in the mice fed the cocoa, and almost identical to a control group that just received low fat foods.

For example, they had about 27 per cent less insulin in their plasma, high levels of which suggest a patient may have diabetes, than those on the high fat diet without the supplement.

The cocoa powder also reduced amounts of harmful liver fats called triglycerides by about a third.  Too much of these are a sign of fatty liver disease and are related to inflammation and diabetes.

Prof Lambert, of Pennsylvania State University, said the mice also saw a slight but significant drop in their rate of body weight gain.

Cocoa has been used in a medicinal capacity for more than two thousand years.

The Mayans and Aztecs civilisations were convinced it relieved a host of ailments including fever, heart pain and bowel complaints.

Although generally thought of in the modern world as an indulgent food, there is growing evidence to suggest these ancient civilisations were onto something.

In recent years scientists have established regular consumption of flavonoid rich fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Now the biological activities of cocoa flavonoids are being associated with combating inflammation and impaired immune function.

Prof Lambert said he looked at cocoa because it contains a lot of flavonals, like green tea and wine whose health benefits have been studied for a long time.

Cocoa, although commonly consumed in chocolate, actually has low calorie and fat content, and is high in fibre.

Prof Lambert added: 'Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence. However, cocoa powder is low in fat and low in sugar.'

He expects future research will follow to better identify why cocoa powder is effective at treating inflammation, as well as determine if the food works just as well in humans.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

IQ link with baby weight gain, University of Adelaide research shows

Consistent with the view that high IQ is just one aspect of generally superior biological fitness

A CHILD’S IQ is linked to weight gain during their first month of life, new University of Adelaide research shows.

The researchers found babies who put on 40 per cent of their birthweight within the first four weeks had an IQ 1.5 points higher by the time they were six years old, when compared to those who put on just 15 per cent of their birthweight in the same period.

Lead author of the study, public health researcher Dr Lisa Smithers, said the study was the first of its kind to focus on IQ benefits of rapid weight gain in the first month of life for healthy newborns.

“Those children who gained the most weight scored especially high on verbal IQ at age 6. This may be because the neural structures for verbal IQ develop earlier in life, which means rapid weight gain during that neonatal period could be having a direct cognitive benefit for the child,” she said.

The researchers analysed data from nearly 14,000 children who were born full-term.

The study also found infants with the biggest growth in head circumference also had the highest IQ.

“Head circumference is an indicator of brain volume, so a greater increase in head circumference in a newborn suggests more rapid brain growth,” Dr Smithers said.

But, she warned the study should not be seen as a reason to overfeed babies.

“We don’t want to send the message that parents should overfeed their baby to get a higher IQ,” she said.

“Babies should never be overfed, or force fed, but fed on demand which is consistent with the advice in our national guidelines.”

She also warned overfeeding could lead to other health problems such as obesity.

Dr Smithers said a 1.5 point increase in IQ was more important on a population level because you would not be able to tell if an individual child had an IQ 1.5 points higher than another.

Instead, she said the findings indicated the importance of identifying and managing any early feeding and growth issues.

“The take home message from this is that parents need to get help if they have any concerns about their baby’s growth.”

The study was published today in the international journal Pediatrics.


Britons consume fewer calories a day than 30 years ago... but are fatter

Suggesting that reduced exercise is the key factor in recent average weight gain

Researchers found that an average person eats 600 fewer calories each day than 30 years ago – a 20 per cent drop – but weighs 30lb more.

While snacks, sweets and takeaways have been ditched in favour of healthier options, the main cause of obesity is likely to be a decline in physical activity, it is claimed.

The 20 per cent drop in daily calorie intake is the equivalent of a burger and chips from a fast food restaurant or three pints of Guinness.

But the weight gain cannot be fully explained by lazy Brits adopting a couch potato lifestyle, said the five-year study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Instead, it shows that as Britons get older they find it harder to keep their weight down.

This suggests adults become more susceptible as they get older to the effects of some sugars and fats in modern food, says the report.

The full study is to be published later this summer but details which have emerged show that the average adult Briton has cut down calories intake by around 600 calories a day.

This is almost entirely down to better food and drink habits in the home because the amount of calories consumed outside the home is up by 15 per cent over the same period.

At home, though, Britons today are having cereal for breakfast rather than fried food, using semi-skimmed milk, and eating more fish and less red meat. They are also drinking less alcohol.

However, outside the home they are eating and drinking more high calorie food, from burgers to lunchtime sandwiches and coffee shop lattes.

Added to this, an adult today is more likely to have a desk job during the day and more likely to spend time in front of a screen when home in the evening.

The average adult is putting on weight at an average of 0.25kg - just over half a pound - a year, said report author Professor Rachel Griffiths of the IFS.

But it means that a man in his twenties weighs around 7kg - 15lbs - more today than a man in his twenties did three decades ago.

And someone in their 50s weighs a staggering 14kg - 30lbs - more today than someone of the same age 30 years ago.

Professor Griffiths told industry journal The Grocer: ‘The drop in calories consumed would have been expected to have caused a weight loss of 1kg per year over the period.’

She said the link between the rise in obesity and the increased sugar in some foods could be behind the disparity in the figures.

She added: ‘We are looking at why certain age groups and people seem to be far more susceptible to weight gain.’


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Diabetes rate soaring among British under-40s: Number being diagnosed with type 2 up six-fold in 20 years

These correlations are entirely to be expected.  Diabetics are big eaters and drinkers so will tend to get fat.  Diabetics are however only a small proportion of overweight people so to say that obesity causes diabetes is very poor reasoning. It would be much better founded to say that diabetes cause obesity.

 There are admissions below that the rise in diabetes may be artifactual, with doctors being REWARDED for diagnosing it!

Soaring numbers of under-40s are developing a type of diabetes linked to obesity and traditionally seen as a disease of the elderly.  A study of GPs' records found the number of young people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes rose six-fold over two decades.

The most common form of the disease, it is strongly linked to obesity and was once the preserve of the middle-aged and elderly.

Those who analysed the figures said the increase can 'almost entirely' be explained by the obesity crisis – and warned developing diabetes early raises the odds of potentially deadly complications.

Diabetics are more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes than other people.

The condition, in which the body struggles to convert sugar to energy, also increases the risk of blindness, kidney disease and nerve and circulatory damage, which can lead to amputations. Earlier onset gives the disease time to attack the body and could bring decades of ill health.

The study of a snapshot of GPs' surgeries found that from 1991 to 1995, 577 people under 40 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

But from 2006 to 2010, that soared to more than 14,000 – a more than 20-fold increase – with young women particularly likely to be diagnosed.

A large part of this rise can be explained by changes in the way data is collected, and it is estimated the true rate of diagnosis in under-40s is now around six times higher than in the 1990s, at around 25,000 new cases a year.

Obesity rates roughly doubled in the same period, with 26 per cent of adults dangerously overweight by 2010.

In a report on their findings, published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, the researchers said: 'Not only was the overall  incidence increasing but the proportion of people aged 40 or less rose markedly.

'This is likely to place  an increasing burden on resources and may also lead to death at a younger age.'

The researchers, from Cardiff University and the Heart of England NHS Trust in Birmingham, said the rise may be partly due to better screening, since GPs now have performance-related pay that rewards them for diagnosing sufferers.  However, they said rising obesity was the main driver.

Lead researcher Professor Craig Currie said: 'It's almost entirely obesity. How fat  you are is the top and bottom  of it.'

Dr Matt Capehorn, of the National Obesity Forum, said even children in their early teens have been diagnosed.

Some are genetically more at risk but lifestyle is the key trigger, he said, adding: 'It's still quite rare but we do see them. In the huge majority of cases type 2 diabetes develops as a consequence of being overweight. So as the weight of the nation increases, the incidence goes up too.

'The implications for NHS spending are huge. It already spends about 10 per cent of its entire budget on diabetes. It's not the diabetes that kills people but usually the heart disease they develop as a consequence.'

Professor Jason Halford, of the UK Association for the Study of Obesity, warned diabetes is the first in a chain of diseases fuelled by obesity.

He said: 'It is likely that in a few years we will see a similar epidemic of cardiovascular disease and, after that, probably an increase in a good number of cancers as well.'


Up to half of all men given the all-clear by NHS prostate cancer tests could actually have the  disease

Tests for prostate cancer may be  incorrectly giving the all-clear to up to 50 per cent of men who have the disease, according to a study.

Experts believe thousands of patients with the disease could be missed every year because the standard biopsy techniques used at most NHS hospitals are flawed.

And thousands more perfectly healthy people could be wrongly diagnosed with the disease and undergoing needless radiotherapy or surgery, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London.

Most NHS hospitals automatically use biopsies for men with suspected prostate cancer, removing and examining tissue in an attempt to establish whether the disease is present.

More than 100,000 of these ‘blind’ biopsies are carried out every year – but experts say the procedures are inaccurate and risky.

They are instead calling for less invasive – but far more expensive – MRI and ultrasound scans to be used first, which they say could immediately and reliably give the all-clear to men without the disease, and allow doctors to carry out more accurate biopsies by pinpointing the area where a tumour is suspected.

Professor Mark Emberton, of the University College London, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘There is no other organ of the body where we carry out random “blind” biopsies without knowing where we are looking.

‘At UCLH we have been using MRI, followed by a guided biopsy for several years, but there are only a handful of hospitals in this country which do this, and that needs to change.’

The health economists who carried out the Wellcome Trust-funded study calculated that using the alternative procedure could mean a quarter of patients are given the all-clear without having a biopsy.

For every 1,000 men with suspected cancer, 250 men could have been reassured after a scan.

Of 500 of the cases in which significant disease was present, just 50 per cent were detected during the traditional biopsy, compared with 68 per cent using the MRI-guided technique.

One in 20 of those undergoing the traditional biopsy were wrongly found to have significant disease levels.

Using the MRI-guided technique, around half as many men were given a wrong diagnosis.

Sarah Willis, a health economist from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘These findings suggest that the use of MRI and ultrasound not only detects far more cases, but leads to fewer false positives, in which significant disease is wrongly diagnosed.’

Dr Kate Holmes, head of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘This early data suggests that giving men an MRI scan before a biopsy may put clinicians in a better position to tailor investigations and treatments further down the line.

'However, further research is necessary before we will know the true value of this method.’


Monday, June 17, 2013

Fat-fighting nonsense in Australia

And what evidence do they have to show that this system will do any good?  None.  It's just dubious theory

The Government is touting a new five-star food labelling system as the latest tool to help fight the obesity epidemic in Australia.  The star scale would rate foods from half-a-star to five stars, based on nutritional value.

Federal, state and territory ministers will discuss the proposal for the new voluntary system at a meeting tomorrow.  If they agree, it is likely stars will appear on the front of food packaging by the middle of next year.

But it is understood the Food and Grocery Council is not convinced the plan is ready to roll out.

The federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Shayne Neumann, says he wants all jurisdictions and the industry to support the scheme.

"I'm very pleased the jurisdictional representatives will be there on Friday," he said.  "I've had some discussions already and I'm very pleased with the response so far in relation to it.  "An at a glance, interpretive information guide is what consumers want. It's a powerful tool."

Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia says the system will make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

"People will be able to just, at a glance, have a look at the front of the pack and go, 'Hey this is four-and-a-half star food, that's obviously good for me, it's obviously good for my children'," he said.

"Or one-and-a-half stars - 'look we'll eat a bit of that but we'll be careful'."

The proposal has been worked on for months by representatives from the food industry and retailers, health and consumer groups.
Obesity tipped to soar

Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says the aim of the proposal is very clear.  "The situation is very serious already. We've got more than 65 per cent of adults overweight or obese and 25 per cent of children," she said.  "And, the projections are that by 2020 that will rise to 80 per cent of adults and two-thirds of children."

She says it is a population-wide problem and while obesity rates are higher among low-income earners, it is a middle-class problem

"There's not going to be one magic bullet and we need to give people the kind of information that will help them make better decisions and healthier decisions," she said.  "So front of pack labelling system that gives people interpretive information will help them cut through the marketing spin."

Food and Grocery Council has concerns

Most packaged food will be covered. Soft drinks and confectionary will be exempt, but will display the kilojoule content.

But the ABC understands the Australian Food and Grocery Council has concerns about the cost to food manufacturers to change labelling and how the 'health value' of a product would be determined.

The ABC understands it is prepared to consider the options, but it has also written to the states with some concerns.  The council did not return calls from the ABC.

Mr Moore says the group has been involved in the process and has lashed out at what he calls their delaying tactics.

"I must say I feel a little jaded because my organisation, the Heart Foundation, Cancer, Choice, have spent quite a significant amount of time and quite a reasonable amount of money to come to this point and I think it's entirely inappropriate action from the Food and Grocery Council," he said.


British PM  backs genetically modified crops to prove Britain is pro-science

David Cameron has given the clearest signal yet that the government wants to see controversial genetically-modified crops grown across the country.

The Prime Minister told a conference of entrepreneurs that Britain needs to take a ‘really good look again’ at its policy on GM food if it is to prove it is a ‘pro-science’ country.

The intervention from Mr Cameron that he wants to see a GM free-for-all across the UK will alarm those who deride genetic modification as ‘Frankenscience’.

It emerged earlier this week that ministers are to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the cultivation of GM crops for human consumption.

But it is the first time that the Prime Minister has spoken up in favour of the idea. In opposition he was seen as being sceptical of GM crops.

Advocates argue that GM techniques increase crop yields, avoid the need for pesticides, and could be essential in assuring Britain's future food security.

However, any relaxation of current restrictions will be in the teeth of much opposition. A survey by YouGov out today found only 21 per cent of the population supported the technology, while 35 per cent opposed it.

Mr Cameron made the comments as he addressed an audience of scientists and business leaders in London at an innovation summit linked to the UK's leadership of the G8 group of the world's richest nations.

He said: ‘We need to make sure we are a very pro-science country. I think there are one or two subjects there we need to take on. I think it's time we had a really good look again at GM food and all of that.  ‘I think we need to be open to be open to arguments from science.’

The government is reported to be ready to call for EU restrictions on cultivation of the crops for human consumption to be relaxed.

The coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials for GM food but widespread use is effectively banned.

Some GM products are contained in imported foods, but most supermarkets have banned the ingredients from their own-brand products because of public unease about the material.

Earlier this week, science minister David Willetts supported calls for controls on GM crops to be weakened to make it easier for Britain’s farmers to grow them.

'We believe that GM crops can help make agriculture more efficient and also just as importantly more sustainable, by, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of fossil fuels,' he said.

A European Commission analysis of 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years concluded in 2010 that there is 'no scientific evidence associating genetically-modified organisms with higher risks for the environment or food and feed safety than conventional plants or organisms'.

But opponents of GM crops argue that it is far too early to conclude that the technique is safe – including many farmers, with a quarter of those surveyed saying they would not cultivate them under any circumstances.

They are concerned that GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds that evolve to adapt to engineered plants.

Mr Cameron also used the innovation event to launch a prize fund, with £1million of taxpayers' money, to encourage revolutionary new ideas aimed at solving the world's biggest problem.

He said the modern version of the 1714 Longitude Prize would be a ‘Britain's Got Talent’ for innovators.

‘There are so many problems in our world that need that amazing solution, whether it is a cure for dementia, solving the problem of diabetes, having a flight from Britain to New York that's carbon free,’ he said.

‘Let's challenge the public and challenge the scientists for which is the great problem we want to crack.

‘I'm thinking of something - Britain's Got Talent, you know, you switch on the TV and you watch the dog jumping over the pole, or whatever it is. Let's actually get the nation engaged on what the biggest problems are in science and in our lives that we need to crack, with a multi-million pound prize to then help us do that.’


Sunday, June 16, 2013

So Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Called Us to Complain about vaccines …

He says scientists lie, journalists are scared of the CDC, and the government is poisoning children  -- a brainless attention-seeker

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. likes to talk. When he calls you to discuss vaccines, he talks a lot, uninterruptably. He called Keith Kloor after Kloor wrote a story for Discover about RFK Jr.’s keynote address to a convention of people who think vaccines cause autism.

RFK Jr. was displeased. His managing director emailed me (I’m the health and science editor) to say that the story was full of inaccuracies, and I offered to correct any errors right away. He said Kennedy wanted to speak to Plait or me; I requested comments or corrections in writing; we went back and forth. Eventually Kennedy got me on the phone and he talked and I listened.

The short version of the vaccine conspiracy theory (if you are stuck on the phone with RFK Jr., you will be subjected to the long version) is that a vaccine preservative called thimerosal causes autism when injected into children. Government epidemiologists and other scientists, conspiring with the vaccine industry, have covered up data and lied about vaccine ingredients to hide this fact. Journalists are dupes of this powerful cabal that is intentionally poisoning children.

For a guy whose family has such a distinguished record of public service, Kennedy says some pretty awful things about government employees: “The lies that you are hearing and printing from the CDC are things that should be investigated.” He spoke to one scientist (he named her but I won’t spread the defamation) who, he said, “was actually very honest. She said it’s not safe. She said we know it destroys their brains.”

I asked the scientist about their conversation. She said there is in fact no evidence that thimerosal destroys children’s brains, and that she never said that it did.

Like a lot of conspiracy theories, this one started with a mystery: Autism diagnoses were going up, and it wasn’t entirely clear why. It was reasonable to ask whether vaccines were disrupting neural development somehow, and a paper published in a prestigious medical journal claimed to show evidence of a link.

So scientists studied the question. They found that the incidence of autism is independent of when and how many vaccines children are given, that taking thimerosal out of vaccines doesn’t reduce the incidence of autism, and that the study by Andrew Wakefield purporting to show a link was entirely made up.

Thimerosal is a mercury compound, which sounds scary, but mercury comes in many forms that behave differently in the body, and this isn’t the dangerous kind. And in any case, a decade ago thimerosal was removed from the childhood vaccines that anti-vaxxers claimed were causing autism. The evidence is pretty clear now that the increase in autism rates is mostly a matter of better diagnoses and more parents seeking services.

But RFK Jr. disagrees. A scientist told him about the changes in diagnostic criteria, but “I knew that that was not true, because I spent my life working with people with intellectual disabilities. My family started the Special Olympics. I worked at Camp Shriver from when I was 8 years old. … I saw every kind of mental disability, but I had never seen autistic. I didn’t know what autism was until I saw Rain Man.”

Kennedy claims that scientists admit to him in private that they are lying about the data. When he challenged one university scientist about the accuracy of studies showing that the presence of thimerosal in vaccines had no effect on autism diagnoses, “He folded like a house of cards. Three weeks later I heard him on the radio and he was saying the same things he said to me, which I knew he knew was lying.”

A cover-up of such proportions might sound like Pulitzer bait, but he says journalists aren’t pursuing the story because we won’t read scientific papers. (Phil Plait and I both have science Ph.D.s.) As RFK Jr. explained, “journalists get their information from government officials who are saying there’s no problem. Not one of them has picked up the multitude of studies that say thimerosal is the most potent brain killer imaginable.”

When RFK Jr. challenged the university scientist about a study of the biological activity of thimerosal in vitro, which “everybody accepts because journalists hadn’t read it,” the scientist said, “ ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right about that.’ He backpedaled.” That’s because “now he was dealing with somebody who wasn’t afraid to read science.”

I talked to the scientist, who would prefer I not use his name because he gets death threats from unhinged anti-vaxxers. He said, “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”

Seth Mnookin knows the vaccine-autism conspiracy theory as well as anyone. I asked him about Kennedy’s claims, and he said, “What he has done is taken concern that there could be a problem as evidence that there was a problem.” Kennedy also said that Mnookin, in his book, “doesn’t talk about the science.” The Panic Virus has 66 pages of source notes and 38 pages of bibliography.

The underdog narrative is powerful. So is fear of chemicals. So is the desire for a simple solution to a complicated problem. And conspiracy theories are alluring. For some people, it’s deeply rewarding to believe that you and your fellow conference attendees are the only ones who know the real story behind the moon landing, Area 51, or the obvious example. Like doomsday cultists after the world doesn’t end, they misinterpret every new bit of information to make it fit into their existing worldview.

And vaccines are a special case. You’re allowing your healthy child to be injected with some mysterious substance to prevent a disease that —because vaccines work so well— you have never even seen. There’s a long history of conspiracy theories about vaccines, and it’s sometimes easier to recognize the paranoia from afar.

In parts of Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries, people are convinced that a polio eradication campaign is a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children. They know it is: They have it on good authority from leaders with famous names.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s elaborate conspiracy theory is just as delusional and dangerous. Rather than accepting the findings of the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Mental Health, or the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kennedy says the scientists are lying. He says vaccine-makers are intentionally poisoning kids and giving them autism. Only he and his fellow activists know the truth because journalists, although they may report aggressively on the National Security Agency, Defense Department, and Central Intelligence Agency, are cowed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kennedy had one substantive objection to Phil Plait’s story that I hope shows he may someday change his mind. We refer to people who say vaccines cause autism with the shorthand “anti-vaxxers” or say that they are part of the “anti-vaccine movement.” Kennedy said that he is “very much pro-vaccine” and that “vaccines have saved millions and millions of lives.”

They will save even more lives if he and his colleagues stop spreading fear and misinformation about them. Kennedy is a passionate guy with practically unique name recognition, powerful connections, and the ability to command attention. He could reverse the course of the anti-vaccine movement today if he announced that his concern about vaccines had been well-intentioned, but that research has shown that vaccines don’t cause autism after all. It would be a proud legacy, one worthy of his name.


Aggressive anti-vaccination nuts in Australia

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), which is actually anti-vaccine, is fighting an order to change its name.

It claims to be a lobby and support group that promotes health choices.  But the New South Wales Fair Trading Department says that is misleading because it is, in fact, an anti-vaccination group.

New Zealand father Ian Williams has become the latest vocal campaigner in favour of vaccination.

He and his wife had not vaccinated their children, but then their son got a cut on his foot, and the situation became very serious.

"It took a stay of 24 hours in hospital for them to diagnose it was tetanus, because the spasms started getting worse and worse," he said.  "It's a terrible thing. Your whole body arches, your arms go up in the air."

Mr Williams says the vaccine controversy is difficult to navigate.  "It looks like, when you go into it, there's a whole lot of pros and cons, and there's a 50-50 argument," he said.

In reality, almost 100 per cent of doctors are pro-vaccine.

The Australian Vaccination Network sounds like an organisation that would agree with Mr Williams' views that vaccination is a life saver, but it does not.

In fact, it actively promotes the link between vaccination and autism, a theory that was debunked by the medical world 20 years ago.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading has ordered it to change its name, but the AVN is resisting the order in court.  The parties will be back in court on Friday.

New South Wales Opposition health spokesman and paediatrician, Dr Andrew McDonald, says the AVN's name is a serious problem.

"This is all about false advertising. The Australian Vaccination Network, a vehement anti-vaccination group, who are doing whatever they can to keep their name near the top of a Google search," he said.

"They're number two on a Google search if you use the words 'Australia' and 'vaccination' and that's why they want to preserve their name to keep it there."

Journalist Jane Hansen has been heading up a recent campaign at Sydney's Sunday Telegraph designed to raise vaccination rates.

"Anyone who criticises the AVN - and this is journalists, politicians or even parents that have had sick children who have gone public with their views on vaccination - very quickly find themselves on the end of some pretty vile attacks," she said.

"They pride themselves on this all natural approach but there's no peace, love and lentils if you criticise them.

"They come at you, criticising you of being on the payroll of 'Big Pharma'."

Dr McDonald has also felt their sting.  "We've had the police around our office following and they've investigated threatening emails to this office," he said.

PM has contacted the founder of the AVN, Meryl Dorey, to respond to those allegations.

Dr McDonald says it is time for doctors to educate the community about the consequences of non-vaccination.

"The tragedy is that we are now seeing as much whooping cough as I did 30 years ago," he said.  "We've just had a major epidemic of measles in Campbelltown.  "Unless we improve our immunisation rates, we are at risk of future epidemics."


Friday, June 14, 2013

The best way to boost brain power and improve exam grades? Chant 'Om' like the Beatles did

Class again.  Not many workers would be doing TM

A meditation technique made famous by the Beatles could boost brain power and even improve exam grades, scientists have claimed.

A study of high school students found graduation rates were up to 25 per cent better for those who Chanting ‘om’ or a similar meditation mantra for 20 minutes twice a day.

The relaxation technique, known as Transcendental Meditation, involves a particular sound being repeated over and over again with the eyes closed.

It has also been shown to reduce the risk of death from heart attack and strokes and soothe stress and anxiety.

It became fashionable among ‘flower power’ hippies of the Sixties after John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr visited India and were taught it by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Professor Robert Colbert, from the University of Connecticut, said improved graduation rates benefit society as a whole, as well as improving prospects for the individual.

He added that dropping out can result in loss of income, along with more risk of turning to crime and ending up in jail, or becoming dependent on state benefit.

In the study, analysis of the records of 235 students at an urban school on the east coast of the U.S. showed a 15 per cent higher graduation rate for those put on a transcendental mediation program compared to a control group.

When only the lowest academically performing participants in both groups were considered, passes rose by 25 per cent in the meditators.

The meditating students were also less likely to drop out from school, or enter prison, and were more likely to be accepted to further education.

Prof Colbert said: 'While there are bright spots in public education today, urban schools on the whole tend to suffer from a range of factors which contribute to poor student academic performance and low graduation rates.

'Students need to be provided with value added educational programs that can provide opportunities for school success.

'Our study investigated one such program, Transcendental Meditation, which appears to hold tremendous promise for enriching the lives of our nation’s students.'

In a 2009 interview, Ringo Starr said of Transcendental Meditation: 'Over 40 years ago, we ended up in Rishikesh.

That is where we hung out with Maharishi. We had met him a few months before in Wales. Since then, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, I have meditated. It is a gift he gave me.’

Paul McCartney added: 'It is one of the few things anyone has ever given to me that means so much to me. For us, it came at a time when we were looking for something to stabilise us at the end of the crazy Sixties.'

The research is published in the journal Education.


Can an hour in a salt cave cure your ills>

The crisp white powder crunches under foot, stacks of crystalline rock sparkle and ‘icicles’ glitter from above. No, it’s not a secluded Alpine cave but a clinic in West London.

The white powder isn’t snow, it’s salt. So are the icicles and the rocks piled in the corner. I am standing in the Adalex Clinic’s recently-opened ‘salt grotto’.

The grotto (actually, it’s less of a ‘grotto’ than just a plain old room with assorted sun loungers) is the brainchild of Grace Hart, a former psychologist.

She says that such grottos are commonplace in her native Poland, and claims that a spell in its salty confines — a typical session lasts an hour and costs £25 — offers all manner of health benefits, from relieving asthma to improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure.

Above all, after an hour in the grotto I should experience, she says, a sense of ‘psycho physical comfort’. Which definitely sounds like a good thing — even if I’m not entirely sure what she means by it.

Actually, quite a lot of what clinic manager Grace says about the health benefits of the salt grotto doesn’t bear close scrutiny.

‘It’s about feeling good, mentally and physically,’ she tells me. ‘You will feel calm and refreshed, and you won’t have any anxiety.’

The apparently miraculous power of salt is all, she says, down to its ‘micro-elements’.

Salt is rich in minerals such as iodine, potassium and bromide. Usually, we get these by eating it — but Grace believes we can absorb them by sitting in a room full of the stuff.

‘We are depleted of micro-elements because our water is polluted, our diet is bad. But micro-elements like bromide have a calming effect on the brain. If you are stressed out, you can become calm in a natural way.’

As well as a new-found sense of calm, after an hour in the grotto, she promises, I should feel reinvigorated and healthy.

‘The air is very clean inside the grotto — ten times cleaner than normal air,’ she continues. ‘Salt is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. You start breathing slower and deeper as the salt opens up your bronchial airways. You breathe better and you feel better.’

While it may sound like bunkum (OK, it definitely does sound like bunkum), in Central and Eastern Europe they have been using salt grottos — both natural and artificial — for donkey’s years.

The first was set up 150 years ago after Dr Feliks Boczkowski, a Polish physician from Wieliczka, near Krakow, noted that local salt miners didn’t suffer from lung diseases. A natural grotto was carved out within the Wieliczka mines themselves, 400 feet underground. It became popular with those suffering respiratory disease, and is still in use today.

Before I’m allowed into Grace’s grotto, she hands me a pair of blue plastic shoe covers to protect both the salt and my shoes.

To keep the salt fresh, it is regularly topped up from the stash of enormous 25kg sacks kept in a storage room at the back.

And it definitely is salt. After Grace closes the grotto’s outer door and leaves me alone, I taste a pinch just to be sure.

The PA system in the corner plays a pan-pipes version of Just The Way You Are, while angled lamps make the salt look rosy pink, with blotches of blue on the ceiling and orange stripes along the walls.

It’s a little like being in a Seventies nightclub. Nevertheless, after 20 minutes in the cave, the promised sense of calm is indeed descending. In fact, I’m starting to nod off. I’m seated on a squishy sun lounger and wrapped up in a snuggly blanket which Grace has provided.

Though there are magazines in the waiting room, in the grotto there’s nothing to do but drift in and out of sleep. Clients are asked to leave their mobile phones behind.

There is a soporific sound of gently trickling water coming from what looks like an enormous garden water feature. This, explains Grace, is the grotto’s ‘evaporation tower’.

A good six feet high, it features an artfully-arranged fan of salt-encrusted twigs inside a giant wooden display case. Water flowing from a tank concealed within the tower’s wardrobe-like structure is trickling over them. It’s brine, brought over from Poland, Grace tells me.

‘It is one of the most healthy, healing waters,’ she says. It is a very special mineral water. Sitting near it as it flows, many of your positive ions will change to negative ions, which always make you feel better.

‘In the city, there are a lot of positive ions — which make you feel anxious, angry and agitated.  Negative ions make you feel refreshed and fantastic.’

From what I can remember of GCSE physics, ions are simply atoms or molecules with positive or negative electrical charges. Why they should leave you anxious or refreshed eludes me.

The twigs, meanwhile, are birch — a ‘healing wood’ according to Grace. But of course!

The salt itself is equally exotic. The three tons which cover the floor have been brought from Poland, while the rocks lining the walls and piled at the corners are Himalayan salt imported from Pakistan.

According to Grace: ‘Not every salt has all the special properties. Himalayan salt has 84 different micro-elements.’

In total, the room contains more than 10 tons of salt. Building it took a month and cost £35,000.

There’s no doubt that lolling around in my sun lounger is a rather pleasant way to while away an hour — but how does the scientific evidence stack up? Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount.

‘I know of no good scientific evidence about this approach and see no reason why this should be any better than relaxing in any other quiet environment,’ says Professor Edzard Ernst, a physician and former Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University.

Wendy Sadler, of Science Made Simple, an independent organisation aimed at explaining scientific research to the public, agrees — and questions the idea that exposure to ‘micro-particles’ and ‘negative ions’ can make you feel calmer and more energised.

She says: ‘There’s no reason at all you should feel calm because of exposure to negative ions. And there have been no studies that have shown mineral water will convert positive ions to negative ones.’

Neither is there much to support the myriad other health benefits salt grottos purport to offer.

Malayka Rahman, research officer at Asthma UK, says that while some sufferers have noticed short-term benefits, it is not clear whether that’s down to salt or simply the effect of an hour’s relaxation.

A couple of months ago a similar business, the Salt Cave — a company which operates a chain of grottos across the UK — was forced to remove a section of its website which claimed salt therapy could treat various ailments, including cystic fibrosis and psoriasis.

The Advertising Standards Authority concluded that there was insufficient evidence.

Grace is unperturbed by such naysayers. ‘There’s always a war between traditional doctors and alternative therapies,’ she says. ‘The medical world is like a Mafia. You can’t patent a natural thing like this, so there’s no money in it for them.’

And anyway, she says, business is booming. Though the clinic is ghostly quiet during my time there, Grace claims her grotto often has 30 customers a day.

Clients hoping to treat their asthma are recommended to make two or three visits a week for seven or eight weeks — at a cost of more than £400. It sounds an awful lot to realign your ions, if you ask me.

You can even hire the grotto for private parties — complete with champagne and canap├ęs in the clinic’s sleek white reception area.

The next marketing opportunity is a new wrinkle cream made with hemp oil and (yes, you guessed it) Himalayan salt.

Grace says: ‘Salt keeps moisture in the skin and smooths it out. Look, I’m 62, but I don’t have many wrinkles.’ (It is true that she does look some ten years younger than her age.)

As for me? Well, I can’t say I experience any great transformation.

Grace tells me I should sleep deeply that night, and certainly I leave the clinic feeling relaxed. But whether that’s the salt at work or has more to do with the fact that I’ve spent an hour snoozing on a sun lounger, I don’t know.

At any rate, it was a perfectly pleasant — if expensive — way to spend a morning. As for any supposed health benefits . . . well, I’d take those with a pinch of salt.