Monday, April 21, 2014

Posting suspended

After repeating almost daily  for 8 years some version of the simple truth that correlation is not causation, I have had enough.   I expect to be posting no more here.

The extensive sidebar here should however continue to provide a convenient antidote to the pervasive silliness that is most medical research.

Changing dietary "wisdom"

Cut sugar intake by half, eat seven or nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day rather than five, avoid protein, shun low-fat foods – these are just some of the often conflicting dietary tips we have received this year as experts seek to reiterate that what we eat has a direct effect on our health.

But with a growing list of things that we should supposedly avoid at mealtimes, it might be easier to ask: What SHOULD we be consuming?

For those looking to the Government for help, there is currently little resolution. A generation of Britons has grown up looking to the NHS eatwell plate – with its five segments representing different food groups – as a guide to what a healthy diet should look like.

But almost two decades after the plate was created, experts – including those like Dr Mike Rayner who first came up with the idea – say it  is time to start again. The recommendations are based on outdated nutritional data, and worse, are encouraging poor habits, they say.

So with the help of leading dietary experts, we have now given the plate a complete overhaul, based  on the latest scientific evidence. What is on it – and what is not – may surprise you.

The main problem with the current plate, created in 1995, is the inclusion of foods now known to be detrimental to health if consumed regularly.

Dr Rayner says: ‘On it is  a can of cola, which might suggest we’re encouraging people to drink sugary soda, just like we’re encouraging them to eat fruit and vegetables which are also depicted.’

Katharine Jenner, a registered nutritionist and lecturer at Bart’s Health NHS Trust in London, agrees.

‘With all we know about the detrimental effects of added sugar in our diet, it is ludicrous that we should still be showing a custard tart on the plate as an essential part of our diet. If anything, foods like this should come with a big warning sign.

‘Likewise, when a growing body of evidence is linking salty and fatty processed foods with heart problems – the biggest causes of death in the UK – if the plate is to have any place in educating the nation, it should adopt bold, clear advice about what we should be eating only occasionally rather than suggest it is part of a healthy balanced diet.’

The original plate was based on evidence of how diet could reduce the risk from cardiovascular disease.

Scientists looked at what the average Briton was eating and then calculated how much this would need to change to lower the risk of stroke and heart attack – the nation’s biggest killer.

And there has been some success: according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, over the past 20 years our intake of saturated fat, added sugar and salt is down.

The survey, based on self-reporting, also shows the average adult now eats about four portions of fruit and veg a day too – up by about  half a portion in a decade and just short of the five-a-day target set  by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2003.


Bottle of wine a day 'is not bad for you': Leading scientist also claims those who exceed recommended dose could live longer than teetotallers

If you like to unwind with a glass of wine, then this might be the news you’ve been waiting for. Because according to a leading scientist, drinking just over a bottle a day won’t harm your health.

Dr Kari Poikolainen, who used to work for the World Health Organisation as an alcohol expert, examined decades of research into its effects. Men are currently meant to have no more than four units a day but women are supposed to have three units – around the equivalent of a large glass of wine.

A bottle of wine has ten units. But Dr Poikolainen believes drinking only becomes harmful when people consume more than around 13 units a day.

He also claimed that people who exceed the recommended limit could live longer than teetotallers.

Dr Poikolainen said: ‘The weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining – however the moderate amounts can be higher than the guidelines say.’

But Julia Manning, from think-tank 2020Health, said: ‘This is an unhelpful contribution to the debate. It makes grand claims which we don’t see evidence for.’ She added: ‘Alcohol is a toxin, the risks outweigh the benefits.’


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pregnant women who take SSRI antidepressants are three times more likely to have a child with autism

This is just correlational stuff.  The effects could be due to the underlying illnesses only

Mothers-to-be who take antidepressants have an increased risk of having a child with autism, a study has found.

U.S. researchers say women who took commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - SSRIs - were three times more likely to have a baby boy with autism or developmental delays.

The effect of  the drugs, prescribed for depression, anxiety and other disorders, is particularity pronounced during the third trimester, they say.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public looked at nearly 1,000 mothers and their babies.

The study, published  online in the journal Pediatrics, looked at data from mother-child pairs in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study.

The researchers divided the data up into three groups - children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), those with developmental delays and those with typical development.

All the children were aged between two to five and of them, 82  per cent of those with autism were boys,66 per cent with developmental delay were boys, as were 86 per cent of those with typical development.

While the study included girls, the substantially stronger effect in boys alone suggests they may be much more susceptible for the effects of SSRIs in the womb, the researchers concluded.

'We found prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with autism relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester,' said study author Li-Ching Lee.

'SSRI was also elevated among boys with developmental delay, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester.'

The 'happy' hormone serotonin is critical to early brain development, so the researchers suggest exposure during pregnancy to anything that influences serotonin levels can have potential effect on birth and developmental outcomes.

With diagnoses of autism on the rise, they suggest increased use of SSRIs in recent years may be contributing to this.

Commenting on the study, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at UC Davis, said: 'This study provides further evidence that in some children, prenatal exposure to SSRIs may influence their risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder.

'This research also highlights the challenge for women and their physicians to balance the risks versus the benefits of taking these medications, given that a mother's underlying mental-health conditions also may pose a risk, both to herself and her child.'


Super tea that boosts your love life: Scientists claim to have found aphrodisiac properties in Himalayan plant (?)

The claims for it would seem to be mostly hearsay

If you want to improve your health while giving your sex life a boost, try a cup of moringa tea with your breakfast.

Moringa, or ‘miracle tree’, is being hailed as a superfood that not only increases energy levels and boosts the immune system, but can also be an aphrodisiac.

Native to North Africa and the Himalayan mountains in northwestern India, the plant has traditionally been used to boost sexual desire and to treat male sexual disorders.

A recent study in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences found that it enhanced sexual behaviour in rats. It’s also known to contain chemical compounds called saponins which have been shown in other studies to support libido and levels of the sex hormone testosterone.

Gram for gram, moringa has seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas and three times the iron of spinach. Its tiny leaves are also high in protein, with twice the amount found in yoghurt.

The plant, which can be taken as a tea, or in tablet, powder or oil format, is said to help the body recover after exercise, and is also rich in zeatin, a plant hormone which has an anti-ageing effect on skin cells.

Nutritionist Daniel Herman, founder of the Bio-Synergy nutrition brand, said: ‘Moringa has a number of different benefits for general wellbeing.

‘It’s an anti-inflammatory – if you’ve just done the London Marathon, for example, it’s a great product to take for niggles – and some studies suggest it can regulate blood sugar levels.

‘It can also boost the immune system – it’s a rich source of antioxidants like Vitamin A and C, which can fight free radicals.

‘The aphrodisiac effect might be because it improves blood flow, which can certainly help men.’

Lorna Driver-Davies, a nutritionist for health product firm NutriCentre, said: ‘Moringa looks to be an exciting new food.

‘Good scientific research has shown it has antioxidant effects; it may work as an anti-inflammatory and may be used for liver support.’

It is thought to have been used by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and is recommended for 300 health conditions in traditional ayurvedic medicine.

Mr Herman added: ‘Moringa has been around for years but there is suddenly a lot of interest in this from the scientific community.’


Friday, April 18, 2014

Food for thought in fad diets

Very interesting point below that most proposed diets have a lot in common  -- a large degree of "consensus".  Consensus is not science however and as far as I can see the consensus is blatantly wrong.  They all say, for instance that "processed" food must be avoided:  ALL processing.  Cooking is processing so should we all eat our food raw?  There may indeed be some forms of deleterious processing but which ones?  The discussion has not even begun about processing.  So how can it be sweepingly condemned?

It turns out that there is good food for thought behind many so-called fad diets. In addition to this they are not as different as first appearances suggest.

A new paper reviewing various food philosophies from Paleo to Mediterranean, low-GI to vegetarian, says they essentially follow the same underlying principles.

"Claims for the established superiority of any one specific diet over others are exaggerated," say the paper's authors, Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller. "The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme.

"A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches."

Dr Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, agrees.

"The message is stick to healthy foods and stay away from processed foods," says Cordain, a newly retired professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. "Whether you want to call it Mediterranean, Japanese or Paleo, that should be the message."

It is on this basis that Cordain rejects Paleo's wooden spoon for being the worst of 32 diets according to a US News and World survey.

The diet, which advocates eating as our ancestors did pre-processed foods and pre-agriculture therefore avoiding dairy and wholegrains as well as sugar and refined foods, was criticised for being impractical.

"Duplicating such a regimen in modern times would be difficult," argue the experts in the panel of judges.

"To clarify, that isn't a science paper," counters Cordain, who was in Australia last week to speak at the BioCeuticals Research Symposium. "It's ill-informed and not based on data but opinion."

He believes that those who consider Paleo a poor diet choice do so based on multiple misconceptions.

"It's not saying let's all be hunter-gatherers in the 21st century," says Cordain, "but we can make intelligent food choices ... it's about 'let's start eating real, living, healthy foods' ...

"As soon as you say food groups are eliminated, there's a knee-jerk response that it's nutrient-deficient. Let's let science be the judge."

Based on the 13 vitamins and minerals most lacking in the US diet, Cordain argues that eliminating certain food groups in this instance, enriches rather than depletes the diet.

"Seventy per cent of calories in the US diet come from four food groups: refined sugars, refined grains, refined vegetable oils and refined dairy," he says. "By making the suggestion that we get those out of our diet [to improve our health], that's really the message."

Dietitians argue that dairy and wholegrains add nutrients to our diets, but Cordain believes they are more about comfort than benefit.

"If you want to eat them, fine, but you're better off eating a bowl of broccoli than a slice of bread," he says. "Humans don't have to eat wheat, but it's in our comfort foods ... your mum didn't bring you salmon at your birthday party when you were a kid."

Nutrient profile aside, it's a fair point and one that applies to many of us, who don't eat purely for fuel but also for pleasure.

Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Cordain says these ''comfort foods'' can still be a part of the Paleo diet or any other diet.

"If you want to have pizza and beer, you can," he says. "They're guidelines and you can comply with them any way you want. You just give people information and they make their own decision."

Certainly, there is an abundance of information out there and nutritional science is evolving at a rapid rate.

For instance, Cordain says: "When I wrote the book [in 2001], I was pretty much on board with the idea that saturated fat was not a good thing."

Since then, he has shifted his perspective based on the latest science and the book was updated in 2010 to reflect this.

But, with the shifting science and with the clutter of competing diet claims, it can become confusing.

Which it needn't be, argue the Yale paper authors. Diet affects both our vitality and our longevity, so it is a significant issue. But, it doesn't necessarily have to be a complex one.

For the plethora of diets and science out there, there is commonality among the claims, the authors say: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.


Hyperlexia: Separating “autistic-like” symptoms from “autism”

This sounds like a considerable taxonomic advance

There is a great deal of attention these days, appropriately, to autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). It is a serious condition and deserves serious attention.   But discussions continue whether an apparent increase in the disorder is due to expanding criteria and better identification, or whether there is in fact an actual increase in incidence and prevalence.  This is an important question because if we are to make accurate diagnoses, develop effective treatment, and hopefully someday create preventative strategies, we need be careful to properly identify the condition.  Because, as elsewhere in medicine, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name from both clinical and research standpoints.
           One example of an area where that becomes especially important is hyperlexia—children who read early.  In these children it is critical to sort out “autistic-like” symptoms from “autism” because of very different treatment interventions and very different outcomes.  Let me explain.

           In my work with my specialty, savant syndrome, I get numerous, “I have a son or daughter who…” questions, almost daily, on my website. These are messages from concerned parents wondering about certain unusual, but remarkable, savant-like skills including precocious music, art, or math skills for example.  Sometimes the special, conspicuous ability is a startling, advanced ability to read words in a very young child, well beyond that expected at the child’s chronological age.  This is usually coupled with an intense fascination with letters or numbers.  This is hyperlexia.

           In such precocious readers, in spite of intense preoccupation and ability with words, there are, correspondingly, significant problems in understanding and expressing verbal language.  Comprehension of that which is masterfully read is often poor, and thinking is concrete and literal.  There is difficulty with, and paucity of, abstract thinking.  There may be some development delays and there may be some “autistic-like” behaviors and symptoms commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders as well.  Those might include echolalia (repeating rather than initiating conversation), pronoun reversals, intense need to keep routines (obsession with sameness), auditory or other sensory hypersensitivity, specific intense fears, strong auditory & visual memory, and selective listening with the appearance of suspected deafness.

           Usually parents of hyperlexic children, when they inquire of this website, have had their children go through numerous evaluations, with various confusing and contradictory diagnoses such as autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder  not otherwise specified (NOS), behavior disorder, language disorder, gifted, Attention Deficit Disorder, or Asperger’s just to name a few.  In other instances there is no diagnosis applied except “precociousness.”  If the parent goes to the World Wide Web to learn about “hyperlexia,” as they often do, they are likely to find that “hyperlexia” is, mistakenly, always linked to autistic spectrum disorder.

           But the reality is, in my experience, that there are several types of “hyperlexia” and distinguishing among the several types is critical if appropriate treatment and educational decisions are to be made.   And equally important, the good news is that there are very different, positive outcomes in children with this advanced reading ability depending on the type of hyperlexia present.  This fact can provide a great deal of relief to parents worried that their child’s hyperlexia is automatically a part of autistic spectrum disorder, especially of course if their child already has been given such a diagnosis.

           The critical consideration is that when hyperlexia is present it should be carefully separated into three separate sub-types with special attention to separating “autistic-like” symptoms and behaviors from “autism.” To that end there are, in my experience, several types of hyperlexia to be considered.

Hyperlexia, Type I

           These are very bright, neurotypical children who simply read early to the amazement of their parents, grandparents, teachers, peers, and parents of their peers.  Often one or both parents have read frequently and patiently to their children.  Very early the child begins to “read” the book which is actually rather prolific memorization of the book triggered by the words and pictures on the pages themselves.  Soon however the child is actually reading the words in the book, rather than just memorizing them, and that reading ability can then be transferred to other books.  The child is a precocious reader at that point and is reading at a first or second grade level in pre-school, kindergarten or even before.  At some point, of course, most of the other children in the class catch up as they learn to read at the usual pace.  This group of bright, neurotypical children who read early I classify as having hyperlexia, type I.

Hyperlexia, Type II

           This is a group of children who do have hyperlexia presenting as a ‘splinter skill’ as a part of an autistic spectrum disorder.  They read voraciously usually with astonishing memory for what they read, often accompanied by other memorization skills and abilities, sometimes linked with number or even calendar calculating capability.  These ‘splinter skills’ are seen along with, and in the midst of, the characteristic language, social and behavioral symptoms seen in autistic spectrum disorders.   They usually carry a diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder or pervasive developmental disorder (PPD/NOS) for example.  These cases include the several sub-types of autistic disorder such as early onset, classic early infantile autism, or later onset, regressive, autism to name several.  In this group it is the hyperlexia as a splinter skill that raises the “savant syndrome” questions.  Clinical presentation, course of the illness and prognosis are those seen in characteristic autistic spectrum disorders.  These children are appropriately diagnosed as having “autism.”

Hyperlexia, Type III

           This is a less frequently recognized, and probably less common form of hyperlexia overall.  These children also read early, often show striking memorization abilities, and sometimes have precocious abilities in other areas as well.  They may some have “autistic-like” behaviors.  For example, they may show unusual sensory sensitivity (to sounds, touch or taste).  There may be fascination with and insistence on routine with resistance to change.  Unlike many autistic children, however, they tend to both seek and give affection and are generally more social, more outgoing, more interactive and less withdrawn than children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  They do tend to make eye contact and can be very interactive with persons close to them although typically they are more comfortable with adults than peers.  These children are quite bright, inquisitive, and precocious overall.    Interest in, and mastery of, reading coupled with the enhanced memorization ability is conspicuous and quite amazing.   There may other transient “autistic-like” symptoms or behaviors, but over time the autistic-like traits, symptoms and behaviors fade and then disappear.  Some characterize this as the child having “outgrown” their autism.  But in my view, rather, this better outcome is because the child did not have Autistic Spectrum Disorder to begin with. The prognosis for these children, based on correspondence and follow up with many parents, is in a word, excellent.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss either autistic spectrum disorder or hyperlexia in depth.  Space precludes that.   Rather it is to point out that when precocious reading ability and extraordinary fascination with words presents itself in a very young child, especially when accompanied by other language or social problems that might suggest an autistic spectrum disorder, a comprehensive assessment by a knowledgeable professional  team familiar with the differential diagnosis of both autistic spectrum disorder and  the several forms of hyperlexia is indicated so that a diagnosis of “autism” is not inappropriately or prematurely applied.

           Many parents who had inquired on my website about their child with accelerated, savant-like precocious reading ability, obtained considerable help, and relief, when, in those particular instances, the diagnostic and treatment approaches consistent with the above were followed. Especially grateful were parents when it turned out their hyperlexic child was in group III above with “autistic-like symptoms” rather than Autistic Disorder.  But even parents of group II hyperlexic children were also helped, and relieved, when directed to knowledgeable resources in their community in those cases where hyperlexia was indeed a “splinter skill” in a child with autism.  Hopefully, as the literature continues to evolve on hyperlexia, there will be more clarification regarding the classification of hyperlexia into its component sub-groups, and then even more resources will emerge for comprehensive evaluation and application of appropriate treatment principles to individuals in both group II and group III.

Children Who Speak Late—The Einstein Syndrome

            Hyperlexia is not the only circumstance in which the distinction between “autism” and “autistic-like” symptoms is important.  An almost identical circumstance is seen in some very bright children who happen to speak late.  In his two books—Late-talking Children and The Einstein Syndrome, Thomas Sowell describes a number of very bright children who developed speech later than usual as having the “Einstein Syndrome” where outcome, like in hyperlexia III, was excellent but the children were given a diagnosis of  “autism” along the way.  Like reading early, speaking late in children can have several causes, including but not limited to autism, and a comprehensive differential diagnostic work-up is vital in making the final diagnosis and prescribing appropriate treatment and education strategies.

           Often, as elsewhere in medicine, particularly in puzzling cases, it is necessary to let the “natural history of the disorder” emerge before prematurely applying a definitive diagnosis or “label” that can have important, lasting consequences.   Treatment can still be applied to target symptoms, but parents or others can, in those cases, be spared the unnecessary worry and fear that their child is “autistic” when in fact the prognosis overall is quite good.  In hyperlexia III sometimes the social awkwardness or aloofness are the last to fade, but often as the child moves to first or second grade, for example, much of the behavior that “looked autistic” has faded and disappeared to everyone’s relief.

           In summary, several conditions can contribute to the circumstance in which children read early or speak late.  Sometimes those symptoms can be associated with Autistic Spectrum Disorder—but not always.  In both children who read early or speak late, a comprehensive workup by a clinician skilled in diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, and a workup by a skilled Speech and Language therapist are indicated with emphasis on differential diagnosis being careful not to apply any diagnosis prematurely.  Sometimes, in difficult cases, observing the natural history of the disorder without applying a definitive label is the preferred course until the true nature of the condition reveals itself.

           For further information my paper in the Wisconsin Medical Journal titled “Hyperlexia III: Separating ‘Autistic-like’ Behaviors from Autistic Disorder: Assessing Children who Read Early or Speak Late” provides more detailed discussion and examples of instances in which children read early or speak late.  It can be accessed on the website on the right menu under ‘hyperlexia.”


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Woman who lived on just CHIPS for 15 years

No dietary correctness there -- but she got by fairly well.  It may show how nutritious the humble potato is

A woman who lived on a diet of chips for 15 years has finally eaten a proper meal - after being hynoptised to overcome her debilitating fear of food.

Hanna Little, 20, has eaten chips every day since she was five years old - after she developed a fear of all other foods which made her physically sick if she tried to eat them.

Hanna from Truro, Cornwall, has severe Selective Eating Disorder (SED) and would suffer anxiety attacks at the thought of eating anything new.

Hanna could never eat with her friends, had to check menus before visiting restaurants and was in a constant panic about how she would react to new foods.

It was only when she was forced to quit her factory job after she kept passing out due to her limited diet that she was forced to take action.

Now after just one hypnotherapy session, she has managed to battle her demons - and has eaten her first proper meal - pizza - in more than a decade.

'Different foods terrified me, it made me physically sick and anxious and I never knew how I would react.  'I would go to parties, picnics and barbecues with my friends but I would never be able to eat anything. 

'I think I can eat chips because they're just plain - it was the idea of different flavours mixing together which really freaked me out.  'I could manage a slice of dry toast for breakfast, but lunch and dinner every day always had to be chips.

'Now I can eat whatever I like - my favourite food is pizza - I could never have imagined being able to eat it before the treatment but now I love it.'


Even casual use of cannabis alters brain, warn scientists

This is not a watertight case but it is persuasive

Experimenting with cannabis on a casual basis damages the brain permanently, research has found.  It is far from being a “safe” drug and no one under the age of 30 should ever use it, experts said.

People who had only used cannabis once or twice a week for a matter of months were found to have changes in the brain that govern emotion, motivation and addiction.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School in America carried out detailed 3D scans on the brains of students who used cannabis casually and were not addicted and compared them with those who had never used it.

Two major sections of the brain were found to be affected.

The scientists found that the more cannabis the 40 subjects had used, the greater the abnormalities.

Around 10 million people in Britain, almost a third of the population, have used illegal drugs, with cannabis the most popular. The research author, Dr Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences. Some people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week.

“People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.

“I’ve developed a severe worry about whether we should be allowing anybody under age 30 to use pot unless they have a terminal illness and need it for pain.”

The team examined sections of the brain involved in emotion, motivation and addiction in 20 students who had used cannabis and 20 who had not. Anne Blood, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said: “These are core, fundamental structures of the brain. They form the basis for how you assess positive and negative features about things in the environment and make decisions about them.”

The changes are thought to be the first steps towards addiction as the brain alters the way it perceives reward and pleasure, making ordinary experiences seem less fulfilling compared with drug use.

Jodi Gilman, a researcher in the Massachusetts General Center for Addiction Medicine, said: “It may be that we’re seeing a type of drug learning in the brain. We think when people are in the process of becoming addicted, their brains form these new connections.

“Drug abuse can cause more dopamine release than natural rewards like food, sex and social interaction. That is why drugs take on so much salience, and everything else loses its importance.” The study is published in the Journal of Neurosciences.

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “For too long cannabis has been seen as a safe drug, but as this study suggests, it can have a really serious impact on your mental health.

“Research also shows that when people smoke cannabis before the age of 15, it quadruples their chance of developing psychosis. But very few people are aware of the risks involved.”

Prof David Nutt, from Imperial College, London, said a sample of 40 was not big enough to draw conclusions.

Prof Nutt, who was sacked as a government drugs adviser for his views, added: “Whatever cannabis does to the brain its not in the same league as alcohol which is a proven neurotoxin.”


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

War on salt has cut heart deaths (?)

Do I have to say it again?  Correlation does not prove causation.  The only salt-related deaths I know of are from TOO LITTLE salt. It's just guesswork below

Falling salt consumption has played an “important role” in the plummeting number of deaths from heart disease in Britain, researchers have said.

Between 2003 and 2011 average salt intake in England reduced by around 15 per cent while the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke fell by 40 per cent, their study found.

Health campaigners said the changes showed the success of efforts to persuade food manufacturers to reduce the salt content in a host of foods.

High salt intake is linked to raised blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

The research by Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Queen Mary University, London, examined more than 30,000 patients over an eight year period.

It found falls in blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as other changes, such as a fall in smoking rates, and an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.

Meanwhile salt intake was measured from 3,000 Britons over the same period - and showed that over the same period, consumption fell by an average of 1.4 grams a day - a 15 per cent reduction in intake.

Researchers said the significant reduction in salt was likely to have “played an important role” in the falling deaths over the period.

Other changes over the same period include an increase in the prescribing of statins, to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure and improvements in the treatment of patients who suffer from heart disease.

But researchers said the research found that blood pressure fell even among those who were not taking medication, suggesting that a reduced salt intake was likely to have made a significant contribution to the fall in deaths.

Author Prof Graham MacGregor, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said: “It’s a success story - the UK is leading the world in salt reduction.

“Basically many other countries are now copying what we did in the UK when we started putting pressure on food companies to reduce salt levels around 10 years ago.

“This paper shows that it works. Cutting down salt will cause a major reduction in strokes and heart attacks. If you get salt down then blood pressure comes down, it’s very simple really.”

Researchers said that 80 per cent of daily salt intake comes from foods such as cereals, bread, meat products, ready meals, rather than being added to food.

However, experts said most people still eat too much salt, with average intake at 8.1 grams a day - well above Government recommendations of 6 grams a day.

Victoria Taylor, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “While the reductions in average intakes of salt are a positive change, we mustn’t forget that they are still well above the recommended maximum of six grams a day for adults.”


Idea of New Attention Disorder Spurs Research, and Debate

This "new" disorder is probably just low IQ

With more than six million American children having received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, concern has been rising that the condition is being significantly misdiagnosed and overtreated with prescription medications.

Yet now some powerful figures in mental health are claiming to have identified a new disorder that could vastly expand the ranks of young people treated for attention problems. Called sluggish cognitive tempo, the condition is said to be characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing. By some researchers’ estimates, it is present in perhaps two million children.

Experts pushing for more research into sluggish cognitive tempo say it is gaining momentum toward recognition as a legitimate disorder — and, as such, a candidate for pharmacological treatment. Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how its flagship A.D.H.D. drug might treat it.

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology devoted 136 pages of its January issue to papers describing the illness, with the lead paper claiming that the question of its existence “seems to be laid to rest as of this issue.” The psychologist Russell Barkley of the Medical University of South Carolina, for 30 years one of A.D.H.D.’s most influential and visible proponents, has claimed in research papers and lectures that sluggish cognitive tempo “has become the new attention disorder.”

In an interview, Keith McBurnett, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of several papers on sluggish cognitive tempo, said: “When you start talking about things like daydreaming, mind-wandering, those types of behaviors, someone who has a son or daughter who does this excessively says, ‘I know about this from my own experience.’ They know what you’re talking about.”

Yet some experts, including Dr. McBurnett and some members of the journal’s editorial board, say that there is no consensus on the new disorder’s specific symptoms, let alone scientific validity. They warn that the concept’s promotion without vastly more scientific rigor could expose children to unwarranted diagnoses and prescription medications — problems that A.D.H.D. already faces.

“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

Though the concept of sluggish cognitive tempo, or S.C.T., has been researched sporadically since the 1980s, it has never been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which codifies conditions recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The editor in chief of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Charlotte Johnston, said in an email that recent renewed interest in the condition is what led the journal to devote most of one issue to “highlight areas in which further study is needed.”

Dr. Barkley declined repeated requests for interviews about his work and statements regarding sluggish cognitive tempo. Several of the field’s other key researchers, Stephen P. Becker of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Benjamin B. Lahey of the University of Chicago and Stephen A. Marshall of Ohio University, also declined to comment on their work.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Green tea CAN make you clever: Drink improves memory and could help treat dementia (?)

A very small study (N=12!) using an odd measure of cognitive functioning.  Journal article "Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing"  here

Green tea has always been hailed as the healthiest hot drink of choice, but new research has found it can also be good for your mind.  Scientists claim green tea enhances several cognitive functions, in particular our working memory.

The new findings suggest that green tea could be used to treat dementia and other psychiatric disorders.

The new research, from the University of Basel, found that green tea extract increases the brain's effective connectivity.

Scientists at the university saw significant improvements in working memory tasks after people had consumed green tea.

The findings suggest green tea could be used to help treat memory loss caused by psychiatric disorders or as part of recovery.

Past studies have shown the health benefits that come from drinking green tea, but the neural mechanisms behind the effect were previously unknown

Volunteers were given a drink with green tea extract before being given working memory tasks to solve.

By monitoring brain activity through MRI scans, scientists could see an increased connectivity between the parietal and the frontal cortex of the brain.

‘Our findings suggest that green tea might increase the short-term synaptic plasticity of the brain’, co-author Prof. Borgwardt said.

The results of the study were published in the journal Psychopharmacology.


People exposed to earlier sunlight are leaner than those who get afternoon light

A very small study of unknown representativeness

A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light. A new Northwestern Medicine study reports the timing, intensity and duration of your light exposure during the day is linked to your weight—the first time this has been shown.

People who had most of their daily exposure to even moderately bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, the study found. (BMI is a ratio calculated from a person's weight and height.)

"The earlier this light exposure occurred during the day, the lower individuals' body mass index," said co-lead author Kathryn Reid, research associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "The later the hour of moderately bright light exposure, the higher a person's BMI."

The influence of morning light exposure on body weight was independent of an individual's physical activity level, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season. It accounted for about 20 percent of a person's BMI.

"Light is the most potent agent to synchronize your internal body clock that regulates circadian rhythms, which in turn also regulate energy balance," said study senior author Phyllis C. Zee, M.D. "The message is that you should get more bright light between 8 a.m. and noon." About 20 to 30 minutes of morning light is enough to affect BMI.

Zee is the Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor of Neurology and director of the Northwestern Medicine Sleep and Circadian Rhythms Research Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also is a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"If a person doesn't get sufficient light at the appropriate time of day, it could de-synchronize your internal body clock, which is known to alter metabolism and can lead to weight gain," Zee said. The exact mechanism of how light affects body fat requires further research, she noted.

The study will be published April 2 in the journal PLOS ONE. Giovanni Santostasi, a research fellow in neurology at Feinberg, also is a co-lead author.

What's the Magic Number for Low BMI?

Many people do not get enough natural light in the morning, Zee said, because the American lifestyle is predominantly indoors. We also work in poorly lit environments, usually about 200 to 300 lux. In the study, 500 lux was "the magic number" or minimum threshold for having a lower BMI. Even on a cloudy day, outdoor light is more than 1,000 lux of brightness. It is difficult to achieve this light level with usual indoor lighting, the scientists noted.

Light May Be Next Frontier for Weight Loss

"Light is a modifiable factor with the potential to be used in weight management programs," Reid said. "Just like people are trying to get more sleep to help them lose weight, perhaps manipulating light is another way to lose weight."

Santostasi, a physicist by training, developed a new measure for the study that integrates the timing, duration and intensity of light exposure into a single number called mean light timing or MLiT.

He searched for a correlation between light exposure timing, duration or intensity in the study raw data, but none of those factors individually were associated with BMI. It was only when he began combining parameters, that he saw "the strong signal" when all three were examined together.

"I saw that what seemed to be most associated with body mass index was not just how much light you receive but when you get it and for how long," Santostasi said.

The study included 54 participants (26 males, 28 females), an average age of 30. They wore a wrist actigraphy monitor that measured their light exposure and sleep parameters for seven days in normal-living conditions. Their caloric intake was determined from seven days of food logs.

Befriend Your Body Clock – Get Morning Light

The finding emphasizes the importance of "circadian health" in which exposure to light and dark is synchronized with your internal body clock. "We focus on how too much light at night is bad; it's also bad not to get enough light at the appropriate time during the day," Zee said.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, people should be encouraged to get more appropriate exposure to light. Workplaces and schools should have windows. Employees should be encouraged to go outside for lunch or breaks, and indoor lighting should be improved in the school and workplace "This is something we could institute early on in our schools to prevent obesity on a larger scale," Zee said.

While duration and timing of sleep was not linked to the results, "owl" chronotypes, who stay up later and sleep later, would be a population affected by later light exposure. But even "larks," those who wake early, would be affected by lack of early light if they stayed inside in the morning.

While the study wasn't designed to examine how light exposure affects body fat, previous research at Northwestern and elsewhere shows light plays a role in regulating metabolism, hunger and satiety.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Emissions from diesel can damage children's brains and increase the risk of autism and schizophrenia, scientists warn

This is an old chestnut.  This appears to be a bureaucratic claim rather than a systematic meta-analysis.  I have looked at plenty of these studies before and they are all correlational

An environmental report has blasted diesel cars  - despite earlier government efforts to encourage drivers to switch from petrol to diesel.

Separate research has also revealed that diesel fumes could cause children to develop autism and schizophrenia.

Nitrogen dioxide, a chemical present in diesel emissions, causes eye, nose and throat irritation and is said to cause breathing problems in young children.

But scientists have warned that as well as damaging the lungs, the fumes could cause autism and schizophrenia to develop within children living near busy roads.

Long-term exposure to the fumes changes the way that a child's brain develops, it has been revealed.

The danger of the fumes has been compared to the effect of lead in petrol.

In 1999, lead in petrol was banned after scientists revealed that lead additives caused brain damage in children.

The concerns over the fumes have been raised in a report by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Ian Mudway, a researcher in respiratory toxicology at King's College, and a co-author of the report told The Sunday Times that there is 'strong evidence' that diesel pollutants have an effect on cognitive function in children.

Dr Mudway said the organisation planned to carry out more research on the theme in London because the original study was conducted in California where diesel vehicle use is significantly lower.

The study, from California, reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 525 children, 279 of the children had autism.

Results found that the pollution levels experienced by mothers' during pregnancy and by the babies the first year of their life were strongly linked to the risk of developing autism.

A further two American studies found that older men and women exposed to high levels of pollution experienced higher memory loss compared to others of the same age.

Much of the research on the topic has come from the United States - despite the fact that diesel is mainly used in buses and heavy goods vehicles there rather than normal cars.

On Wednesday in London, there was a surge in 999 calls after a cloud of smog caused breathing problems across the city.

Now a warning from the Air Quality Expert Group in report by commissioned by the UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has raised concerns that nitrogen dioxide emissions, created by diesel cars, have continued to rise over the past decade.

In the study, scientists have urged ministers to make a u-turn back to petrol vehicles.

The air quality group, which provides independent scientific advice to the government, told ministers that it would be easier to promote petrol rather than attempt to clean up diesel.

One of the authors of the report, David Carslaw, blasted the European Union for the 'complete failure' of the way emissions are regulated.

Mr Carslaw told The Sunday Times that European guidelines on testing cars were 'too lenient'. Tests did not reflect how vehicles perform on real roads, where they produce four to five times the number of emissions, he said.

Mr Carslaw said: 'Switching to petrol is the best idea for light vehicles', which includes cars, taxis and small vans.

This is the third time that scientists have recommended a move from diesel to petrol. The two previous warnings were both archived by DEFRA.

A government spokesman said that there was no 'single magic bullet' to tackle air pollution and one form of transport could not be linked to pollution levels.


How a portion of beans a day could keep heart disease at bay: Pulses, lentils and peas help reduce 'bad' cholesterol

The journal article is: Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.  The data appear sound but the effects observed were weak. No findings on morbidity or mortality were given.  It's about cholesterol only

They are one of our favourite convenience foods. And now it seems that a daily serving of baked beans could make you live longer as well.

Beans can significantly reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart diseases, according to a study by medical experts.

They are among foods including another British staple, peas, which have been found to cut LDL, commonly known as bad cholesterol, by up to 5 per cent.

All it takes it a daily portion of pulses, said the report for the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

However, there could be one drawback – wind and bloating were among the side effects of those eating the daily portion, although this subsided after a while, said lead researcher Dr John Sievenpiper from St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto.

Pulses are a low fat source of nutrition and fibre. They include most varieties of beans as well as peas, lentils – which go into many curry dishes – and chickpeas, which are the key ingredient of hummus.

The pulses break down slowly in the body’s system and reduce LDL, more so in men than in women but this may be because men’s LDL levels are higher to start with.

Urging people to eat more pulses, Dr Sievenpiper said: ‘We have a lot of room in our diets for increasing our intake to derive the cardiovascular benefits. As an added bonus, they’re inexpensive.’

‘The five per cent reduction in LDL cholesterol observed with the dietary pulse diets can be considered in addition to the five per cent – five per cent reduction in LDL cholesterol expected from the heart-healthy diets alone,’ he added.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oral Zinc for the Common Cold

The Cochrane study below is properly cautious but it seems that zinc does do some good.  The result when zinc was used to prevent colds among children was particularly impressive

By Rashmi Ranjan Das, MD, FCCP1; Meenu Singh, MD, FCCP2


Clinical Question

Is oral zinc associated with a shorter duration, decreased severity, and reduced incidence of the common cold compared with placebo ?

Bottom Line

When initiated within 24 hours of symptom onset, oral zinc is associated with a shorter duration of the common cold in healthy people. However, there is no association between oral zinc and symptom severity, and the prevalence of adverse effects with zinc lozenges is high.

Given the high heterogeneity of data, these results should be interpreted with caution. Used prophylactically, oral zinc is associated with a reduced cold incidence in children. Prophylactic use has not been studied in adults.

Human rhinoviruses attach to nasal epithelium via the intracellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1). 1 Zinc ion blocks the ICAM-1 receptor, thereby exerting an antiviral effect. 2 This JAMA Clinical Evidence Synopsis summarizes an updated Cochrane Collaboration review 3 comparing outcomes between zinc vs placebo for reducing the duration, severity, and incidence of the common cold.

Summary of Findings

The mean supplementation duration was 7 days in therapeutic trials and 6 months in prophylactic trials.

Therapeutic Use

Treatment started within 24 hours of symptom onset in 14 trials, and within 48 hours in 2 trials. The mean duration of cold symptoms was 6.75 days in the lozenge group and 7.5 days in the placebo group (mean difference, −1.04 [95% CI, −2.02 to −0.05). The mean duration was 5.1 days in the syrup group and 5.9 days in the placebo group (mean difference, −0.63 [95% CI, −0.84 to −0.43]).

There was no difference in the symptom severity score between the 2 groups. The overall mean score (of 10 symptoms each measured on a 0-3 scale, 3 = worst) was 2.52 in the lozenge group and 4.17 in the placebo group (mean difference, −1.55 [95% CI, −3.62 to 0.52]), and 0.25 in the syrup group and 0.55 in the placebo group (mean difference, −0.27 [95% CI, −1.51 to 0.97; Table).

Zinc lozenges were associated with a higher incidence of adverse events compared with placebo (46.5% for lozenges vs 36.4% for placebo; number needed to harm [NNH], 10). The most common adverse events included bad taste (29.2% for zinc vs 16.4% for placebo; NNH, 8) and nausea (22.3% for zinc vs 10.6% for placebo; NNH, 8).

Prophylactic Use

Prophylactic use of zinc syrup or tablets at onset of cold season was studied only in children. Cold incidence was 38.2% in the zinc group and 61.8% in the placebo group (2 trials, 761 total children; number needed to treat [NNT], 4; Table).


Zinc was associated with shorter duration of the common cold, but not reduced severity. The prevalence of adverse effects associated with zinc lozenges is high. In the prophylactic trials, zinc was associated with a reduced cold incidence for children, but no data on prophylactic use are available for adults.

After the publication of this updated Cochrane review, a randomized clinical trial using zinc bisglycinate tablets for 3 months prophylactically in children was published. 4 The primary outcome was incidence of cold symptoms. The results were as follows: 1 symptom (84% for zinc vs 82% for placebo), 2 symptoms (38% for zinc vs 54% for placebo), and 3 symptoms (12% for zinc vs 26% for placebo). When the 2-cold symptom result was included in our analyses, our conclusions were unchanged.


The release of ionic zinc varies across formulations. Thus, the dose of zinc associated with improved outcomes varied across the included trials. A higher incidence of bad taste with zinc lozenges might have compromised blinding. No trials were conducted among high-risk participants with chronic illness, immunodeficiency, or asthma. Results may not be generalizable to these populations.

Because of a significant potential for publication bias and high heterogeneity among the lozenge trials, results should be viewed with caution. The prophylactic data in children included only 2 studies and there was a high degree of data heterogeneity.

Comparison of Findings With Current Guidelines

Our findings are consistent with 2012 American Family Physician Guidelines and with the 2013 dietary supplement fact sheet of the National Institutes of Health. Both support use of zinc supplementation within 24 hours of onset of the common cold.

Areas in Need of Future Study

Future trials should focus on patients with underlying comorbidities (chronic illness, asthma, immunodeficiency) and comparisons between syrup, tablet, or both formulations. Further information on the association of zinc dose with toxicity is needed.

JAMA. 2014;311(14):1440-1441. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.1404.

Homeopathic treatments 'no better than a placebo': Study of alternative medicine on 68 conditions found 'no evidence it was effective'

Homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo, a national medical agency has concluded in a hard-hitting report.  Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) analysed research into the effectiveness of alternative medicines on 68 health conditions and found ‘there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective’ on any of them.

The review, conducted by a working committee of medical experts, said homeopathy had no impact on a range of conditions including asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction.

The authors of the report said: ‘No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance with no effect on the health condition [placebo], or that homeopathy caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.’

They went on to dismiss anecdotal support for the effectiveness of homeopathy, and urged health professionals to take account of scientific evidence when informing patients.

‘It is not possible to tell whether a health treatment is effective or not simply by considering individuals’ experiences or healthcare practitioners’ beliefs,’ they said.

Homeopathy is a complementary medicine, the central principle of which is that ‘like cures like’ – that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to remove them in tiny doses.

In England there are several NHS homeopathic hospitals and some GP practices offer the treatment but it is not widely available.

The report prompted medical professionals to call for governments to stop legitimising homeopathy.

Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and emeritus professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia the report was long overdue and said homeopathic treatments should now be ‘put away’ once and for all.

He said: ‘Obviously we understand the placebo effect. We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in trap that because they did A, B follows.’  He added he did not think it ethical to prescribe a placebo.

Dr Richard Choong, Western Australia president of the Australian Medical Association, also welcomed the report and said his organisation has long held there is no evidence to support homeopathy.

‘Homeopathy is not a science. It is not based in science,’ he said. ‘In a lot of cases it can be considered dangerous and can risk people’s lives,’ said Dr Choong.

Submissions from homeopathy interest groups and the public were among the studies assessed by the NHMRC, but did not alter the conclusions of the Council, in some cases due to the poor quality of the studies submitted.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Cochrane condemns antivirals

Cochrane evaluations are not foolproof.  There is always the GIGO problem.  But Cochrane surveys are normally as good as we get

The £653million spent on drugs to stave off a flu pandemic was ‘money thrown down the drain’, a damning report found yesterday.

The drugs – Tamiflu and Relenza – were stockpiled at huge cost by health chiefs in the hope they could stem the effects of a pandemic.

The mass purchase was triggered in 2005 when Government scientists warned that as many as 700,000 Britons could die from deadly bird flu.

After millions of doses were stockpiled, spending on the drugs escalated still further with the outbreak of swine flu (H1N1 virus) in 2009, the first pandemic in 40 years.

The anti-viral medicines were purchased to reduce admissions to hospital and dangerous complications from flu such as pneumonia.

But the drugs work no better than remedies such as paracetamol, according to an analysis by researchers. There are also claims that vital information from clinical trials was withheld from regulators, researchers and doctors.

The report, which analysed data from published and unpublished trials, concludes there is no evidence to show that the drugs reduce hospital admissions or complications.

It also says the two drugs do shorten the symptoms of flu but only by half a day – about the same as some over-the-counter drugs.

The review by Cochrane, an independent, international network of researchers, also found Tamiflu had side effects including a higher risk of psychiatric and kidney symptoms.

The authors of the report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), called for an immediate end to stockpiling of the drugs on the basis of the evidence.

Dr Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, said: ‘The money spent has been thrown down the drain. There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic.’

The drugs worked no better at relieving symptoms than over-the-counter medicines but had potential to ‘cause great harm’, he said.

A second author, Dr Tom Jefferson, a clinical epidemiologist, said: ‘The evidence doesn’t justify stockpiling – we should stop it.’

The investigators said there had been ‘multi-system failure’ which included the role of regulators, the European Medicines Agency – which approved licensing of the drug in Europe – and the drugs watchdog Nice.

Investigators from Cochrane say the original evidence the drug companies gave to the Government was incomplete. They used a huge amount of data only made available by manufacturers Roche and GlaxoSmithKline after ‘years of struggles’, said BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee.

The findings, based on 46 trials involving more than 24,000 people, cast doubt on whether the drugs are worthwhile fighting flu and suggest ‘insufficient grounds’ for using Tamiflu as a preventive measure.

Roche said it ‘fundamentally disagreed’ with the findings.

But Professor Wendy Barclay, chair in influenza virology at Imperial College London, said other evidence showed the drugs benefited sick pregnant women and stockpiling had been ‘prudent’.

Roche UK medical director Dr Daniel Thurley said: ‘Roche stands behind the wealth of data for Tamiflu.

The report’s methodology is often unclear and inappropriate, and their conclusions could potentially have serious public health implications.’

The Department of Health said: ‘Tamiflu is licensed around the world for the treatment of seasonal flu and is a licensed product with a proven record of safety, quality and efficacy. We regularly review all published data and will consider the Cochrane review closely.’


Viagra increases the risk of skin cancer: Men who used the drug were 84% more likely to get melanoma, study claims

There could be something in this.  Viagra users are presumably less robust generally but that does not explain that the ill-effects were confined to melanoma

It has boosted loved lives across the world - but new research suggests men who take Viagra may significantly increase their risk of skin cancer.

American researchers found those who took sildenafil, more commonly known as Viagra, were 84 per cent more likely to get melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease.

It is thought the impotence drug may affect the same genetic mechanism that enables skin cancer to become more invasive.

However the researchers add that because the study is preliminary, it is too early to advise men to stop taking the little blue pill.

'Because it’s just one early study, no one is suggesting that men stop taking Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction,' study co-author Dr Abrar Qureshi, professor of dermatology at Brown University, told NBC News.

But he advised those taking Viagra who have a high risk of melanoma should think about speaking with their doctor.

He added that the risk of less dangerous - and more common skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell cancers - was no higher in men who took the drug.

The study, of 26,000 men in the U.S and China, analysed information from the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, which collects data about male healthcare workers (including doctors).

Of those included in the study, the average age was 65 and six per cent had taken the erectile dysfunction drug.

The research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine this week, showed that men who took Viagra even once had double the risk of developing melanoma.

Dr Qureshi added that risk factors for skin cancer - such as the amount of sunlight exposure a man had and family history of the disease - had been taken into account.

Other well-known side-effects of Viagra include heartburn, nausea and headaches.  The drug is also unsuitable for men with angina or very high blood pressure


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Painkillers linked to higher risk of stroke: Alert over prescription medicines used by millions

I am afraid that this is just another correlational study which takes no account of WHY some people were on NSAIDS and some were not.  It could be the pre-existing conditions of the NSAIDS takers that led to the vascular problems.  When will they ever learn?

Painkillers used by millions of Britons have been linked to higher risk of irregular heartbeat that could trigger a stroke.  The extra chance of developing atrial fibrillation is as high as 84 per cent, Dutch researchers say.

The condition – a leading cause of first-time strokes – means the upper chambers of the heart are out of rhythm and beat much faster than normal, which allows blood to pool and clot.

At least seven million Britons with arthritis take prescription painkillers, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac and ibuprofen, and newer medication called coxibs.

In the study, the heart health of 8,423 people aged 55 and older was tracked since 1990 in Rotterdam.

Cases of atrial fibrillation were diagnosed using heart tracer recordings, while the details of drugs prescribed were gathered from pharmacies.

The average age of the study participants was 68, and just over half were women, says a report in the online journal BMJ Open.

During the average monitoring period of just under 13 years, 857 participants developed atrial fibrillation. Of these 261 had never used NSAIDs when they were diagnosed, while 554 had used NSAIDs in the past, and 42 were currently taking these drugs.

Current use was associated with a 76 per cent greater risk of atrial fibrillation than for those who had never taken NSAIDs. Age, sex and underlying heart problems were taken into account.

Use of the painkillers within the preceding 30 days was linked to an 84 per cent greater risk of atrial fibrillation. While there was a trend for higher doses to be linked to higher atrial fibrillation risk, the finding was not statistically significant.

It is thought NSAIDs may contribute to heart rhythm problems by increasing blood pressure as a result of fluid retention.

Bruno Stricker, of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said previous research had thrown up a link between atrial fibrillation and these painkillers.  ‘Our results also suggest that the increased risk occurs shortly after starting treatment and may disappear over time,’ he added.

NSAIDs work by blocking the COX-2 enzyme which reduces pain and inflammation, but is also important in regulating heart function.

There were 17million prescriptions for NSAIDs in the UK in 2010. Ibuprofen can be bought from pharmacists and supermarkets, along with Voltarol tablets containing diclofenac but at far lower doses than on prescription.

Around ten years ago the anti-arthritis drug Vioxx was voluntarily taken off the market because of an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Professor Colin Baigent, of the clinical trial service unit and epidemiological studies unit at Oxford University, said: ‘This study is consistent with previous reports indicating that some NSAIDs increase the risk of atrial fibrillation.

‘Atrial fibrillation is just one of several cardiac hazards associated with NSAIDs, the most important of which is an increased risk of heart attacks.

‘Although NSAIDs are very effective for the treatment of pain, it is important that both risks and benefits are considered carefully before they are prescribed.’

Oxford researchers last year found that high doses of NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.

Their study confirmed the existence of a ‘small but significant’ extra risk of dying from heart problems after prolonged use.

The research, published in The Lancet medical journal, found naproxen was the safest NSAID.

Researchers looked at the highest doses of painkillers prescribed by doctors, twice the daily amount recommended for headache and other minor ailments.

They said a short course of tablets bought over the counter for a muscle sprain was unlikely to be hazardous.

The study pooled the findings from 639 trials after numerous small trials showed a link between NSAIDs and heart side effects.


Dietary Committee’s Unpalatable Agenda

When the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee met last month in Washington, most Americans were unaware of the proceedings. But all Americans should know that the committee’s agenda may give them indigestion, as the government increases control over what they eat.

Every five years, the federal departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services convene the DGAC. The mission is clear: to make sound nutritional recommendations based on the best scientific research. But in recent years, the dietary committee’s activities and recommendations have gone far beyond that, to the point of vegan zealotry.

Food nutrition guidelines have taken a back seat to “sustainability,” “green practices,” “the long-term health of the planet,” and other green dreams. As a result, the committee increasingly pushes for all Americans to seek locally sourced, organic, plant-based diets.

The committee’s recommendations are used to calculate food allowances for the U.S. military, the food stamp program, the Women Infants and Children program, and the national school lunch program. This will reduce food options for millions of low-income families and students.

The committee agenda also will negatively affect farmers, ranchers, food processors, grocers and many others. Higher food prices will result, causing further hardship to those struggling. Reform is clearly in order.

The committee’s current agenda is driven by leaders such as Kate Clancy of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. In a recent committee presentation, Clancy advocated vegetarianism in order to achieve sustainability in the face of climate change. Clancy’s proposal drew rave reviews from committee member Miriam Nelson, nutrition professor at Tufts University and founder of the Strong Women Initiative, which seeks “social change by empowering women to be agents of change in the area of nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention.”

The committee needs to stick to its mandate of providing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. Moreover, such open advocacy needs to be balanced with more-practical considerations, especially from those with actual experience growing and producing food.

The guidelines should be based on the best available scientific and medical knowledge currently available. They should not be based on questionable studies and biased information carefully cherry-picked by the committee to support preconceived views.

The guidelines also should be thoroughly evaluated and streamlined—taking into account not only nutritional and health considerations, but food cost and consumer choice as well. Regional diversity also should be respected, not ignored. That means: hush puppies, black-eyed peas and sweet-potato pies are not to be scoffed at, just because our urbane know-it-alls in Washington don’t approve of such foods.

Like most of the federal bureaucracy, the committee lacks accountability and transparency. Reform can start by opening its subcommittee meetings to the public and broadcasting them online. Likewise, all research cited by the committee should be made public from day one, and not kept under lock and key until the committee has submitted its final report.

These common-sense reforms are long overdue but may not be enough to control the committee’s agenda. Meanwhile, taxpayers and legislators should be asking some hard questions.

The federal government is hardly the sole source of nutrition information. In the Internet age, such information abounds from multiple sources. Do Americans really need the committee to tell them that a high-fat, high-sodium diet is bad; that a balanced diet is good, and too many calories on a daily basis can lead to problems? Do we really need Washington to dictate what we eat?

Elimination of the committee is probably asking too much of an administration that adds new federal bureaus and entitlements, even in a recession. But a future administration might consider putting the committee on a starvation diet.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Why so-called 'superfoods' could be BAD for you: Nutritionist says kale can send your thyroid haywire and quinoa irritates the gut

They are hailed as the key to health, but so-called superfoods may do more harm than good, a nutrition expert has warned.

Foods such as Gillian McKeith's favourite goji berries, quinoa and kale can cause a host of problems from thyroid malfunction to arthritis flare-ups, says Petronella Ravenshear .

Writing in this month's Vogue, she says: 'My only comment about these foods is that they should be avoided'.

She goes on to explain that kale - a favourite among celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow - and increasingly used in 'green smoothies' can 'interfere with thyroid function' when eaten raw.

Eating too many grains such as quinoa, regardless of how healthy they are - can cause an overload of potentially gut-irritating compounds.

This may be because it may not be as wheat-free as originally thought.

Meanwhile goji berries are rich in a chemical compound that increases the risk of a digestive syndrome condition called 'leaky gut'.

Research last year found that 61 per cent of people have bought a food or drink because it had been labelled as a superfood.

But the British Dietetic Association has warned that many products give us false expectations of the benefits or are not fully substantiated.

For example, you would need to drink 13 servings of goji berry juice to get as many antioxidants as one red apple.

Ms Ravenshear adds that chia seeds - another celebrity favourite - can also cause gut problems.

Although high in protein and omega-3, they swell up to a gelatinous mass in the stomach.

While this may help curb the appetite, they are also high in phytates - (antioxidant compounds that have the potential to inhibit the absorption of certain mineral, says Ms Ravenshear.

And goji berries? 'Consume with caution, especially if you have arthritis, and instead eat blueberries, raspberries,strawberries and blackberries for antioxidants – and a better taste,' she advises.

Ms Ravenshear said: 'Their [superfoods] appeal is easy to understand: we all long for a magic bullet for weight loss, detoxification and general rejuvenation, and we worry about how much nutrition there is in modern farmed food, so we seek out superfoods to fill the potential nutritional gaps.'

'They might be exotic and packed full of promise, but do we need to eat little-known berries from far-flung places or the foods of ancient civilisations to stay well? Superfoods notwithstanding, their lives were short and brutal; the average Aztec lived for 37 years.

'And who’s to say they might not have preferred a comforting carrot and chicken casserole to another bowl of quinoa or chia seeds? They simply ate what they could find, and fished and hunted when they got the chance.'

So what should we be eating? Ms Ravenshear  goes on to explain that at the end of last year, experts at the Institute for Functional Medicine conference voted for the following foods: avocado, spinach, seaweed, pomegranate, blueberries, broccoli (and all cruciferous vegetables), grass-fed buffalo/beef, wild Alaskan salmon, almonds, coconut oil, olive oil and green tea.

However, some experts have an even stronger stance. Last year, a leading scientist said fashionable anti-cancer superfoods and supplements do not prevent the disease and may even cause it.

James Watson - who helped discover the structure of DNA - said the cure for many cancers will remain elusive unless scientists rethink the role of antioxidants, which include vitamin pills and food such as blueberries and broccoli.

It is widely believed that superfoods boost health and fight cancer by mopping up oxygen molecules called free radicals.

But Dr Watson argues these free radicals may be key to preventing and treating cancer – and depleting the body of them may be counter-productive.

He said a vast number of studies had found antioxidants including vitamins A, C and E and the mineral selenium, to have ‘no obvious effectiveness’ in preventing stomach cancer or in lengthening life.

Instead, they seem to slightly shorten the lives of those who take them, and vitamin E may be particularly dangerous.


Men who are circumcised after 35 are nearly HALF as likely to develop prostate cancer

Men circumcised  late in life would be a most unusual group.  Generalizing from them would be most incautious. Probably health fanatics

Men who are circumcised as adults are nearly half as likely to develop prostate cancer, a study has found.

Those who have the procedure after the age of 35 are 45 per cent less at risk than uncircumcised men, according to research published by a Canadian university.

As a whole, men who are circumcised are 11 per cent less likely to later develop prostate cancer compared to those who are not.

Prostate cancer is rare amongst Jewish or Muslim men, the majority of whom are circumcised.

While the specific causes of this cancer remain unknown, three risk factors have been identified: aging, a family history of this cancer, and Black African ethnic origins.

Researchers at the University of Montreal and the INRS-Institut-Armand-Frappier interviewed a group of Montreal men where half had been diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2005 and 2009.

Although men who had undergone the procedure as adults were significantly less likely to later develop prostate cancer, those circumcised before the age of one was 14 per cent less likely.

The study also found that circumcision had a particularly strong preventive effect among black men.

Among the black men interviewed in the study, the risk of prostate cancer was 1.4 times higher than the white men.

The risk of prostate cancer decreased by 60 per cent among black men who had been circumcised at any stage of their life.

This follows an American study published last week which found that the health benefits of male circumcision far outweigh the risks by more than 100 to one.

The study found that over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised men will contract an adverse medical condition caused by their foreskin.

In infancy, the strongest immediate benefit is protection against urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can damage the kidneys.

The study, by  Professor Brian Morris and co-investigator Dr Tom Wiswell, of the Centre for Neonatal Care in Orlando, Florida, showed last year that over the lifetime, UTIs affect one in three uncircumcised males.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Could watermelon reduce high blood pressure? Fruit could slash the risk of heart attacks in obese people

A very small experiment of unknown generalizability

Watermelon reduces high blood pressure in overweight people and could slash the risk of a heart attack, new research shows.

Scientists found that the fruit significantly reduces blood pressure in overweight people, even when they are exposed to cold weather.

More people die of heart attacks in cold conditions because the stress put on the body by trying to keep warm causes blood pressure to increase.

This forces the heart to work harder, meaning people face a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The study, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, revealed that eating watermelon is good for heart health and can reduce the risk of heart problems in cold conditions.

Professor Arturo Figueroa, from Florida State University, said: ‘The pressure on the aorta and on the heart decreased after consuming watermelon extract.’

Scientists looked at 13 middle-aged obese men and women who suffered from high blood pressure over a 12 week period.

Test participants’ hands were dipped into cold water to simulate cold weather conditions, while scientists took their blood pressure.

Then, every day half of the participants took watermelon extracts - four grams of amino acid L-citrulline and two grams of L-arginine per day.

The other half were given a placebo, and after six weeks the participants switched roles.

It was revealed that watermelon lowered blood pressure and reduced cardiac stress, even in cold conditions.

‘That means less overload to the heart, so the heart is going to work easily during a stressful situation such as cold exposure,’ said Professor Figueroa.

L-citrulline and L-arginine supplements are available from some health food shops but would have to be taken in high doses to reduce blood pressure.

The news comes just after it was revealed that working out in warm water can reduce blood pressure.

Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, found aquarobics in warm water can lower blood pressure even in people for whom medication has not worked.

It's not clear why warm water has this effect. One theory is that heat dilates blood vessels, improving the flow of blood through the body.


A daily aspirin may help beat bowel cancer: Patients who take painkiller were 50% less at risk from dying of the disease

Correlational evidence only

People treated for bowel cancer may have better survival prospects if they take aspirin, say researchers.

A new study found patients taking aspirin regularly after surgery were 50 per cent less at risk from dying of colon cancer, because it was less likely to have spread.

The study adds to mounting evidence of aspirin's anti-cancer properties, both in prevention of the disease and promoting survival in patients.

Aspirin blocks the effects of COX enzymes, proteins that help trigger inflammation and are associated with a number of different types of cancer.

The latest study examined tissue from tumours from 999 patients with colon cancer who underwent surgery between 2002 and 2008.

Most patients had colon cancer diagnosed at stage III or lower, when it might be expected to spread, and they were all registered on a Dutch cancer database.

Of the 999 patients, 182 (18.2 percent) were aspirin users and among them there were 69 deaths, around 38 per cent.

There were 396 deaths among 817 nonusers of aspirin, amounting to 48.5 per cent.

Patients taking aspirin use after colon cancer diagnosis had improved overall survival compared with non users, by around 53 per cent.

The potential survival benefit of aspirin was strongest among patients whose tumours expressed human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I genes.

It is thought that aspirin helps stop circulating tumour cells from developing into cancers elsewhere in the body in these particular patients.

However, aspirin had no effect in patients whose tumours had lost their HLA class I antigen expression, says a report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Study leader Dr Gerrit Jan Liefers, of the department of surgery, Leiden University Medical Centre, the Netherlands, said: 'Our data may have important clinical implications for both the dose and timing of aspirin as an anti-cancer agent.'

He said low dose daily aspirin may help prevent spread in patients with early-stage cancer.

'Because circulating tumour cells are found in the perioperative (pre-surgery) period, it could be argued that aspirin therapy should be initiated as soon as considered clinically appropriate after diagnosis,' he added.

Each year around 38,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer and the disease causes 16,000 deaths.

Dr Alfred Neugut, of Columbia University, New York, in a related commentary, said newly diagnosed patients often ask what more they can do besides medical treatment.

In future, he would be recommending aspirin as well because it's what he would take.  'When a patient or a patient's spouse asks, "What else should he be doing, Doctor?" - I will have a ready response,' he added.

A British-led study in 2011 found daily aspirin can cut the risk of developing cancer by as much as 60 per cent in a study of people with a family istory of the disease.

It suggested aspirin treatment could prevent up to 10,000 cancers over the next 30 years and possibly save 1,000 lives if taken by those with a genetic susceptibility to the disease.

Researchers say the biggest evidence for aspirin is in preventing bowel cancer, although it may lower the risk of other solid cancers.

Experts say healthy middle aged people who start taking aspirin around the age of 45 or 50 for 20-30 years could expect to reap the most benefit because cancer rates rise with age.

But there has been widespread concern that side effects such as stomach bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke would outweigh any advantage among healthy people.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Pot-smoking students 'perform better academically' than those who smoke tobacco

Because tobacco smoking is mostly working class

People traditionally think of the students who smoke cannabis behind the school bike sheds as trouble makers.  But new research suggests they outperform tobacco smokers academically.

In one of the largest ever studies of substance use among teenagers, Canadian researchers discovered marijuana smokers achieve better grades than cigarette smokers.

The University of Toronto scientists examined trends in tobacco and marijuana use from 1981 to 2011.

‘In the past, cannabis use was associated with more problematic behaviours, but this trend has flipped’, said Dr Michael Chaiton, assistant professor in epidemiology and public health policy at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

‘Youth tobacco users are likely to have poor academic performance and engage in socially deviant behaviours, like vandalism, theft or assault.’

The study, published in the Journal of School Health, saw researchers analyse survey data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, including a total of 38,331 students.

The researchers found that marijuana use peaked about ten years ago but that use of the drug has become more normalised in recent years.

As a result, they say teenagers often see it as safer than tobacco.

They believe that more intelligent students may be more likely to smoke marijuana as it is now less stigmatised than tobacco.

Tobacco smoking rates have also declined by about six per cent among teenagers in the last 10 years.

However, the researchers say smoking cigarettes has become a new signal of social deviation in this age group.

‘Youth smokers are becoming a more vulnerable population with high levels of substance use and mental health comorbidities,’ said Dr Chaiton, who is also a scientist at the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit.

The research also revealed that 92 per cent of teenage cigarette smokers also smoke marijuana and that 25 per cent of teenage marijuana users also smoke cigarettes.

However, 90 per cent of students in Ontario, Canada, do not use tobacco or cannabis and those who perform poorly academically are more likely to use both substances.

‘Drug prevention programmes should be aligned with student realities, which means acknowledging and addressing patterns of co-use,’ said Maritt Kirst, co-author of the study and assistant professor in social and behavioural health sciences at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

‘This study identifies which youth are most at risk and can help public health professionals tailor prevention programmes accordingly.’

Study authors also suggest that marijuana prevention programmes may take a renewed focus on the drug’s harmful effects instead of underscoring the drug’s illegal status – the traditional approach of such programmes.


How a healthy young heart could cut risk of Alzheimer's: People with low blood pressure and cholesterol in their 20s have better brain function 25 years later

Consistent with there being a syndrome of generally better health

Young people who keep their hearts healthy may be less likely to suffer Alzheimer's in later life, say researchers.

They found those with healthier levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol in their 20s had better brain function 25 years later.

People with small signs of deteriorating heart health when young were less likely to score well in cognitive tests in middle-age.

Study author Dr Kristine Yaffe, a neuropsychiatrist, epidemiologist and professor at the University of California-San Francisco, said: 'It's amazing that as a young adult, mildly elevated cardiovascular risks seem to matter for your brain health later in life.  'We're not talking about old age issues, but lifelong issues.'

There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK - a figure expected to rise to a million by 2021.

The report is one of the first comprehensive long-term studies looking at the effect of key risk factors for heart disease and stroke on brain function.

Altogether 3,330 18 to 30-year-olds had their blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked every two to five years. Researchers analysed each person's cumulative cardiovascular health over 25 years.

At the end of the study, published in the journal Circulation, the participants took three tests measuring memory, thinking speed and mental flexibility.

Those with blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels slightly higher than recommended guidelines when they were young, had lower scores in cognitive function tests in their 40s and 50s.

The average differences found, although small, were considered statistically significant by the researchers.

Elevated blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are three major risk factors for atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the artery walls leading to the brain and heart.

Dr Yaffe said the narrowing of the arteries leading to and in the brain was the most likely explanation for the link between cardiovascular health and cognitive function.

She said: 'Our study is hopeful, because it tells us we could maybe make a dent in the risks of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by emphasising the importance of controlling risk factors among younger people.'

Previous research suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet can help prevent memory loss and may stave off Alzheimer's.

The diet rich in plant foods and fish, and low intake of red meat, appears to improve vascular function, the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, which help keep arteries supplying heart and brain healthy.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'There is mounting evidence to suggest that keeping healthy when we are younger may help preserve memory and thinking skills in later life.

'Previous research has shown that high blood pressure, high blood sugar and raised cholesterol may all be linked to an increased risk of dementia.

'While there's currently no certain way to prevent dementia, evidence suggests that eating a healthy diet, doing regular exercise, not smoking, not drinking too much and keeping blood pressure in check could help reduce the risk of the condition.

'Research to build a more detailed picture of the risk factors for dementia is vital, as the better we understand these factors, the more able we will be to take action to lower our risk.

'If we could delay the onset of Alzheimer's, the most common cause of dementia, by five years, we could halve the number of people living with the disease - that means investment in research is crucial.