Friday, January 31, 2014

Does Vitamin E FUEL cancer in smokers? Supplements may speed growth of tumours

Supplements are getting a pounding lately.  Long overdue  -- JR

Vitamin E and other common supplements fuel lung cancer in smokers, researchers fear.

They say that rather than preventing tumours, popular antioxidant pills may speed their growth and spread and hasten death.

The experiments were done on mice, but the Swedish researchers believe they are relevant to people.

Cancer Research UK recently said that we should be able to get all the vitamins we need from a healthy diet, without resorting to supplements.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, are credited with protecting against a host of ills, including cancer.  However, recent studies have hinted that in some cases they may actually fuel the disease.

When the University of Gothenburg researchers give vitamin E to mice in the very early stages of lung cancer, the disease grew and spread more quickly and the animals died twice as fast.

Experiments on human cells confirmed the finding.

A second antioxidant, a drug used to treat smoking-related lung conditions, had a similar effect.

Vitamin E and other antioxidants are credited with boosting health by mopping up harmful molecules called free radicals, which are unstable and highly reactive so that in animal tissues they can damage cells.

But it is thought that if cancer has already started to develop, antioxidants may actually feed the disease by switching off the body’s natural defences.

Although anyone can have small lung tumours that are yet to be spotted by doctors, they are most common in smokers.

The researchers said the amounts of vitamin E used were similar to those found in supplements.

They advised that the vitamin and other antioxidants are ‘used with caution’ by smokers, lung cancer patients and people with bronchitis, emphysema and other smoking-related lung conditions known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

They said it is too early to give any advice to healthy people – or to say if vitamins speed the spread of other cancers.

The warning, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, is unlikely to apply to vitamin-rich ‘superfoods’ such as blueberries as they would have to be eaten in huge amounts to provide the levels of antioxidants contained in supplements.

Dr Emma Smith, of Cancer Research UK’s senior science communications officer, cautioned that the study was done on mice and it is not clear what it means for people.

However, she added: ‘There’s no strong evidence that antioxidants or vitamin supplements could reduce cancer risk, and some types of supplement can actually raise the risk.

‘There have also been concerns raised that antioxidants may interfere with cancer treatments.  ‘We recommend that people stick to a healthy, balanced diet, which should provide all the nutrients you need without taking supplements.’


Taking multivitamins 'can raise risk of a miscarriage'

Women who take multivitamin tablets while trying to become pregnant are more at risk of having a miscarriage, research shows.

A study of 35,000 mothers-to-be found they were 32 per cent more likely to lose their baby early on if they had taken the supplements regularly in the six weeks before conceiving.

Millions of women rely on the pills to boost their body’s stocks of vital vitamins and minerals and so increase their chances of having a successful pregnancy.

The researchers say in the International Journal of Epidemiology: ‘Women are advised to take multivitamins when they plan to conceive, believing it can do no harm.

‘We found a modest but consistent increased risk of early foetal death in multivitamin users, especially in women with a regular preconceptional intake.’

They said the finding ‘causes concern’ but were unable to explain why multivitamins raised the risk.

The NHS supplies women with multivitamin tablets after the ten-week point of their pregnancies as part of the Healthy Start scheme.

They contain vitamins C, D and B9 (also known as folate), which helps protect babies from spina bifida.

Many women begin taking pills while trying to conceive. But official advice warns only against consuming too much vitamin A.

The latest study, which is the largest of its kind and focused on mothers-to-be in Denmark, was conducted by the universities of Southern Denmark, Aarhus and Pittsburgh in the US.

Taking folate supplements on their own or multivitamins while expecting had a slight beneficial effect. But the study isolated a particular risk of miscarriage among those who took the all-in-one tablets several weeks before conception, around a third of the women.

Compared with taking no pills at all, regular multivitamin use for three or four weeks beforehand saw the chances of losing the baby rise by 23 per cent. For the period of five to six weeks, it was 32 per cent.

Although the authors couldn’t find a reason for the trend, they were able to rule out links with obesity, smoking, poverty, previous miscarriage or difficulty in conceiving.

Professor Lucilla Poston, head of the Division of Women’s Health at King’s College, London, urged women not to panic.

She said: ‘It is critical that the data are not interpreted as evidence against current recommendations for folate supplementation.

‘The authors rightly recommend that further studies are needed. In the meantime, supplements should be taken in accordance with current clinical guidelines.’


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Drinking during pregnancy 'worse than smoking tobacco or cannabis' and 7,000 babies a year are harmed, warn senior medics

This is not a well-supported judgment.  See  here and here.  There are even findings that mothers who drink moderately  have healthier babies.  The data on which the mavens below base their judgments will almost certainly be epidemiological and class-confounded

Drinking during pregnancy causes more harm to the unborn child than tobacco smoke or cannabis, according to senior doctors.

They want Government guidelines to be changed to tell women to avoid alcohol altogether rather than once or twice a week.

Paediatricians - who specialise in the care of children - say as many as 1 per cent of babies born in England suffer behavioural or developmental problems due to alcohol exposure.

There are 730,000 births in this country a year meaning as many as 7,000 could be affected.

One consultant said that if women must have one bad habit while pregnant, it would be safer to smoke tobacco or cannabis than drink alcohol.

Dr Neil Aiton, a paediatrician at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘If it is a choice between a drink, a smoke or a spliff then ‘don’t drink’, would be my recommendation.

‘We have firm evidence that drinking alcohol regularly is damaging.  ‘Cigarettes cause babies to be born a bit on the smaller side.

‘There is other evidence but it is minor compared to the long-term neurological and psychological damage that alcohol causes to the nervous system.’

Doctors are calling for government advice to be changed to state that women should not drink alcohol at all either while pregnant or trying to conceive.

The current guidelines state that women should avoid it - but if they do choose to drink to limit it to one or two units a week.

But there are concerns this is misinterpreted by women who assume they can safely have one or two glasses of wine once or twice a week.

A large 250ml glass of wine contains about three units of alcohol and doctors say that women are unwittingly putting their foetuses at risk.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, head of the British Medical Association Board of Science, said: ‘That is quite difficult advice to follow. People don’t know what a unit is.

'The BMA’s advice would be that the elimination of drinking during pregnancy is safest because of the uncertainties of drinking at low to moderate levels.’

The chief medical officer for England Professor Dame Sallie Davies is currently reviewing the guidelines and may change them later this year.

Dr Raja Mukherjee runs for a clinic children and adults with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of symptoms caused by alcohol damage in the womb, which is part of the NHS
She says that although many children are diagnosed as having foetal alcohol syndrome - which has clear physical characteristics - foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are rarely picked up.

Her clinic estimates that between 1 per and 3 per of the population is affected by FASDs but many grow up unaware of the cause of their condition.



Want to avoid the office cold? DITCH the Vitamin C: Washing hands and taking zinc is better at preventing infection

If you are suffering from a cold, read this before reaching for the orange juice.

Consuming vitamin C does little to help your symptoms, a new study suggests.

It found that washing your hands is one of the best defences against the common cold - while zinc tablets can also prevent it.

But they dismiss vitamin C supplements as having no effect.

The new review -  looking at medical and non-medical remedies to prevent and treat the common cold - also shows natural remedies often suggested for winter bugs have little evidence supporting them.

Ginseng, gargling, vapour rubs and homeopathy have ‘unclear’ benefits, according to a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Antibiotics were also ineffective, because they only work on bacteria when colds are caused by viral infections.

The common cold strikes 930,000 Britons, on average, on any day in winter, with more than 200 viruses to blame.

Adults can expect to suffer between two and five colds a year, although they don’t always lead to symptoms.

Symptoms such as sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, cough and malaise are usually worse for the first three days but can last up to three weeks.

A new review by Dr Michael Allan, of the University of Alberta in Canada, and Dr Bruce Arroll, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, concludes that clean hands, along with alcohol rubs and gloves, is the best prevention based on findings from 67 trials.

Zinc supplements of 10 or 15mg a day works for children, resulting in lower rates of colds and less time off school caused by colds, they say.

The doctors believe the evidence suggests adults would also benefit from taking zinc.

Researchers also found paracetamol, ibuprofen and perhaps antihistamine-decongestant combinations are among best treatments for a cold.

Ipratropium, a drug used to treat allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, may alleviate a runny nose when used in a nasal spray but has no effect on congestion.

Cough medicines show no benefit in children, but may offer slight benefit in adults, while honey has a slight effect in relieving cough symptoms in children over the age of one.

The long-held belief that vitamin C assists in preventing and treating colds,  largely comes from research studies of poor quality and inconsistent results, says the review.

Dr Allan said ‘Much more evidence now exists in this area, but many uncertainties remain regarding interventions to prevent and treat the common cold.

‘We focused on randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews and meta-analyses of trials for therapy, but few of the studies had a low risk of bias.

‘However, many of the results were inconsistent and had small effects - for example, vitamin C - which arouses suspicion that any noted benefit may represent bias rather than a true effect.’


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fish oil - a healthy choice for men or not?

There have been question marks about taking supplements to prevent health problems ever since research into beta-carotene in the 1990s dropped a bombshell. Back then beta-carotene, the red-orange pigment that colours plant foods like mango and carrots, was a rock star of the nutrient world, with studies suggesting that a beta-carotene-rich diet reduced lung cancer risk. But research giving beta carotene to smokers in the form of supplements, not food, delivered a nasty shock – these supplements appeared to increase lung cancer risk, not reduce it.

There was another surprise last year when US researchers linked a high intake of fish oil from both fish and fish oil supplements to a higher risk of prostate cancer. Until then fish oil had one of the shiniest haloes of any supplement on the shelf - along with evidence that it could help protect the heart and reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, it was considered generally safe.

This study left many men wondering what to do with their fish oil capsules – keep taking them in the hope of a health benefit or toss them out? Complicating things even more was another smaller study reported last November suggesting that fish oil might help slow prostate cancer growth. So what's a man to do?

Both studies do more to raise questions about fish oil than provide any answers, says Dr David Winkle, President of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand.

"Neither study tells us whether fish oil supplements are good for us or not in respect to prostate cancer - they just demonstrate that we need more research," he says, adding that the study linking fish oil to more prostate cancer didn't prove fish oil caused the disease, just that the men in the study with the highest level of fatty acids from fish oil  in their blood also had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

"The study underscores the importance of looking critically at whether you need to take supplements generally and also the value of talking to your doctor to help assess what the risks and benefits of taking any supplement, including fish oil, are. Most men who have prostate cancer don't die of that disease and they often have a higher risk of dying from heart disease rather than prostate cancer."

Meanwhile, Dr Garry Jennings Director of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Research Institute has stopped taking fish oil capsules himself  – not because of concerns about  prostate cancer but because the current evidence shows little benefit for people with a low risk for heart disease.

"However for people with high levels of triglycerides (unhealthy blood fats), fish oil in both supplements and food can help bring these levels down. Fish oil also has a mild blood thinning effect, although not as potent as aspirin," he adds.

Like David Winkle, Jennings was surprised at the finding linking fish oil with cancer.

"Most work I've seen in this area suggests fish oil is generally protective against cancer. But it can be difficult to nail down the reason for associations in some studies. We know that many lifestyle factors associated with heart disease, including being overweight, also increase cancer risk – so it may be that the men with a high intake of fish oil also had risk factors like being overweight.  I'm being very speculative but often this can be a reason for a surprising finding in a study.

"But where there is consistent evidence is that people who eat fish appear to be less at risk from heart disease and cancer than people who don't," he says.

As for lifestyle measures that might lower prostate cancer risk, the Urological Society recommends regular exercise and sticking to a healthy weight.

"Poor exercise habits and a poor diet can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms including obesity and pre-diabetes that can increase the risk of cancer generally," says Dr Winkle.


Do medical scientists deserve respect?

By Rich Kozlovich

Recently Dan Moreland of Pest Control Technology published an article on September 26th, 2013, declaring, “Scientists Deserve Our Respect, Not Our Ridicule”!  The truth is there are so many logical fallacies in this article I can’t list them all, but I’ll do my best.

Dan goes on to tell us about a scientist by the name of Dr. John Eng, who received the ‘Golden Goose Award’ because of his research to help diabetics.  Anyone who knows someone who suffers from this affliction has to be grateful for his efforts, because these people truly suffer as they age.  He and his associates “discovered that the venom of some animals can impact the human pancreas”.  In the end the work he and his colleagues did with the saliva of Gila allowed them to develop a compound that stimulated the pancreas, helping to prevent those “debilitating health problems from blindness and nerve damage to kidney failure and heart disease.” And they should be commended!  He clearly deserved the recognition he received.  So what’s fallacious about that?  Nothing, if that was all there was to the article.  Let’s explore this.

After outlining the recognition this man so richly deserved Dan goes on to discuss the “Golden Fleece Award” that Senator Proxmire (I know, most of you are too young to remember him) presented to those whom he felt wasted government money, including grant money to academia.   While the “Golden Goose Award” is presented positively, The “Golden Fleece Award” is presented negatively in this article.  That’s a logical fallacy known as an  “incomplete comparison – “in which insufficient information is provided to make a complete comparison.”

The comparison made between the Golden Goose Award and the Golden Fleece Award also gives way to a fallacious logic known as “fallacy of division – assuming that something true of a thing must also be true of all or some of its parts.”

Just because Eng was deserving doesn’t mean everyone else who portrays themself as a 'scientist' is deserving - of awards that is.  They are certainly deserving of things commensurate with their work - which I will discuss in a later article - and receiving awards isn't among them.   The implication from Dan is that scientists as a whole are being treated unfairly. You may wish to view the “false dilemma fallacy (false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, black-or-white fallacy) – two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are more.

Then to further enforce this line of false logic Dan states;
“Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and forward-thinking legislators like Congressmen Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), as well as our industry’s own Robert Dold Jr., who represented Illinois' 10th Congressional District from 2010-12, Eng’s work was honored at the “Golden Goose” Awards earlier this month in Washington, D.C……. “This was a bi-partisan effort to highlight the benefits of science,” Dold told PCT. “Frankly, we need to highlight all the great things that are occurring in the sciences so we are encouraging our young people to pursue careers that find solutions to problems.”

“Dr. Eng’s research demonstrates the necessity of federally supported basic research,” added Rep. Dent. “In 1992, there was no way of knowing that Gila monster venom contained a compound that would one day change the lives of millions of diabetics. We owe it to future generations to lay the groundwork now for tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”

“Dr. Eng’s research shows that we can’t abandon science funding only because we don’t know where it might lead,” said Rep. Cooper.
While Cooper acknowledges that ‘not every dollar’ is spent worthily he claims he chooses to “support those men and women who think differently about the world, who look at a Gila monster and don’t simply see a common lizard, but a creature with untapped scientific possibilities that could have a positive impact on the health of millions of people around the globe.”

Okay, let’s explore this.  First of all claiming that “legislators like Congressmen like Cooper, Dent and “our industry’s own Robert Dold Jr.,” support this is a logical fallacy known as an “appeal to authority, “where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it”    Perhaps all these politicos also believe in standing on a hill and waving a flag that says “I stand foursquare for consensus”.  Well quite frankly, I don’t care what they think because - it isn’t their money.  Its money we don’t have, and the most disturbing thing is most of this borrowed money we give to academia is wasted in a big way, which I will demonstrate in a follow up article.  And consensus isn’t science, its politics.

He goes on to call them “forward-thinking”, which clearly implies that those who disagree are backward thinking.  And naturally, that makes him and those who agree with him just a little better than those who don’t agree, committing another logical fallacy known as “moral high ground fallacy – in which a person assumes a "holier-than-thou" attitude in an attempt to make himself look good to win an argument.”  Is this rhetoric of going “forward” in fact steps backward?  I will address this later in the article.

The reality is the very foundations for Dan’s article, and apparently his views on this subject, are founded on another fallacy known as “cherry picking (suppressed evidence, incomplete evidence) – act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.”

The basis for this article is a false analogy – an argument by analogy in which the analogy is poorly suited, and he clearly made a hasty generalization (fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, leaping to a conclusion, hasty induction, secundum quid, converse accident) – basing a broad conclusion on a small sample.”

While I think research grant money can be an important step toward human progress in medicine, as well as other disciplines; it’s my contention that the vast majority of it amounts to nothing more than academic welfare.  

Many years ago 60 Minutes Morley Safer interviewed a ‘scientist’ who received a $100,000 grant ( that was when $100,000 was really a lot of money) to show that people really liked parks, especially when they had grass, trees, streams, rocks, etc.  Safer said that to him this appeared to be nothing more than academic welfare?  I could have told them all of that without charge.  But even more important, just how valid are all these studies on which we have spent billions and impact public policy?

A friend of mine, Dr. Jay Lehr, one of the original group that helped create the EPA and its foundational pieces of legislation, co-wrote the book titled, The Fluoride Wars.  He noted over the years there had been thousands of studies regarding fluoride and the impact it may play on human health, many of them conflicting, and many of them with methodological flaws.  A team of researchers attempted to establish a minimum acceptable set of standards for the inclusion of a study in their assessments.  Among those from York University found only 214 studies out of the thousands that have appeared in print during the period 1951 – 1999 that met their acceptance criteria, and of these, only 26 provided a defensible analysis of the direct impact of fluoridation on dental caries.

Twenty six out of literally thousands were found worthwhile.  There are two questions that need to be asked now.  First, what was the reaction from the anti-fluoride crowd, and secondly, is this pattern repeated over and over again.

First of all, no study – no matter how well done, no matter how many times it’s replicated, no matter how much evidence we see with our own eyes that supports its conclusions will be acceptable to activists, if it doesn't support their views.  One of the anti-fluoride activist leaders, Don Caron, stated:

“I guess the York study wasn’t actually a study as studies go,” he wrote, “because this study didn’t study animals or people, it simply studied studies.  Although this was touted to be the study to end all studies, almost immediately both the green party and Fluoride Action Network published their studies of the York study that studied the studies pointed out that this study that studied the studies had left some 3000 studies unstudied, and they called for a study of studies that would study all studies and therefore not necessitate a further study of the study of the studies as the study had done.”

The authors of this study expected kudos for taking a network of foggy studies and creating as system that would lend clarity to this issue in hopes of developing understanding.  Instead they received ridicule.  The point is this – studies may generate money – but they don’t necessarily generate facts or understanding, and there sure seems to be a large majority within the scientific community that doesn’t care, because 'truth' isn't the holy grail of science.  Its grant money!

So then, who are the forward thinkers here, and what award should the majority of these people of science receive?   The Golden Goose or the Golden Fleece?   Respect or ridicule?  I will deal with that in a much larger way in following articles.  And the answer to the second question – Yes! 


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Australian scientist to use population data to examine vitamin D claims

THE potential general health benefits of vitamin D supplements will at last be clear to Australians but it is going to take five years to find out. The answer will come from a study of 25,000 people aged 60 to 79, one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

That vitamin D is important for bone health is accepted, but it is not known what level is needed, says study leader Associate Professor Rachel Neale of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Centre.

"People receive conflicting advice about how much sun exposure they need," she says.  "Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. It may be that a vitamin D supplement is enough."

Prof Neale says the jury is still out on whether vitamin D helps prevent cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.  "There has been enormous hype.

"We know a moderate level of vitamin D is important for our bone health. What we don't know is how much people need and whether supplementing people improves conditions like cancer.

"We hope this study, linking with Medicare records and cancer registries, will provide some definitive answers and advice.

Prof Neale says Australia spends $150 million a year on vitamin D testing, despite the fact that testing is unreliable and "we don't even know what blood level to aim for".

The present recommendation is that people will achieve enough vitamin D with moderate sun exposure, but people who receive no sun exposure should supplement their vitamin D intake with about 400 international units a day, she says.

The outcome of the study could improve the case for mandatory fortification of foods such as bread, Prof Neale says.

Royal College of Pathologists spokesperson Dr Paul Glendenning said the study would help answer important questions.  "It will help determine if there is a case for routine supplementation and routine monitoring of vitamin D.

"We understand that vitamin D has an action in many different parts of the body. This study will help answer whether the amount of vitamin D circulating in the blood is important to those diverse functions.


Study: Coffee may boost long-term memories

People who had caffeine after looking at images apparently better at distinguishing them from similar ones the next day.  Longer term effects were not examined

A cup or two of coffee could boost the brain’s ability to store long-term memories, researchers in the US claim.

People who had a shot of caffeine after looking at a series of pictures were better at distinguishing them from similar images in tests the next day, the scientists found.

The task gives a measure of how precisely information is stored in the brain, which helps with a process called pattern separation that can be crucial in everyday situations.

If the effect is real, and some scientists are doubtful, then it would add memory enhancement to the growing list of benefits that moderate caffeine consumption seems to provide.

Michael Yassa, a neuroscientist who led the study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the ability to separate patterns was vital for discriminating between similar scenarios and experiences in life.

“If you park in the same parking lot every day, the spot you choose can look the same as many others. But when you go and look for your car, you need to look for where you parked it today, not where you parked it yesterday,” he said.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Yassa describes how 44 volunteers who were not heavy caffeine consumers and had abstained for at least a day were shown a rapid sequence of pictures on a computer screen. The pictures included a huge range of items, such as a hammer, a chair, an apple, a seahorse, a rubber duck and a car.

When each image flashed up on the screen, the person watching had to say whether the object was normally found indoors or outside, but they were not asked to memorise the pictures. At the end of the task, each volunteer was randomly assigned either a 200mg caffeine pill or a placebo. A typical cup of coffee contains around 150mg caffeine.

The next day, the scientists brought the volunteers back and sat them down at the computer again. This time, the sequence of images included many they had seen the day before, but some were new and others were similar. The similar images varied in how close to the originals they were. Some showed the same object from a different angle, while others were a similar type of object, such as a different design of hammer to the one they had seen before.

For this part of the study, the volunteers had to say whether each image was either new, old or similar to one they had seen the day before. According to Yassa, the caffeine and placebo groups scored the same except when it came to spotting the similar images. In this task, the caffeine group scored around 10% higher, he said.

“What I’ve taken from this is that I should keep drinking my coffee,” Yassa told the Guardian. “Our study suggests there’s a real learning and memory benefit, but other studies suggest caffeine is associated with increased longevity, and a resistance to Alzheimer’s disease. In moderate amounts, it could have beneficial effects for health.”

Yassa said it was unclear how caffeine might help the storage of memories, but one theory is that it leads to higher levels of a stress hormone called norepinephrine in the brain that helps memories get laid down.

Some scientists, however, say they need more evidence to believe the effect. George Kemenes, a neuroscientist who studies memory at Sussex University, said the statistical techniques used in the paper were not good enough to prove the effect was real. “I have reservations. If the statistics aren’t right the whole story, beautiful as it is, unravels,” he said.

“Even if this was solidly true, which in my view it isn’t, it wouldn’t prove that caffeine has a memory-enhancing property. It wouldn’t call this an improvement in long-term memory.”

Jon Simons, who works on memory at Cambridge University, said the study was interesting and carefully designed, but the effect needed to be shown in a larger number of people. “The claim that caffeine affects the consolidation of memories is based on quite a small effect that would really benefit from replication in a larger sample to be convincing,” he said.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Chocolate and red wine 'can beat diabetes,' study claims

This is just another correlational study and the data is self-report so much caution is in order.  There could well be a class effect at work.  There is a critical commentary on the study here

Eating high levels of flavonoids including anthocyanins and other compounds (found in berries, tea, and chocolate) could offer protection from type 2 diabetes - according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and King’s College London.

Findings published today in the Journal of Nutrition reveal that high intakes of these dietary compounds are associated with lower insulin resistance and better blood glucose regulation.

A study of almost 2,000 people also found that these food groups lower inflammation which, when chronic, is associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Prof Aedin Cassidy from UEA’s Norwich Medical School led the research. She said: “Our research looked at the benefits of eating certain sub-groups of flavanoids. We focused on flavones, which are found in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, and celery, and anthocyanins, found in berries, red grapes, wine and other red or blue-coloured fruits and vegetables.

“This is one of the first large-scale human studies to look at how these powerful bioactive compounds might reduce the risk of diabetes. Laboratory studies have shown these types of foods might modulate blood glucose regulation – affecting the risk of type 2 diabetes. But until now little has been know about how habitual intakes might affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and inflammation in humans.”

Researchers studied almost 2,000 healthy women volunteers from TwinsUK who had completed a food questionnaire designed to estimate total dietary flavonoid intake as well as intakes from six flavonoid subclasses. Blood samples were analysed for evidence of both glucose regulation and inflammation. Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, was assessed using an equation that considered both fasting insulin and glucose levels.

“We found that those who consumed plenty of anthocyanins and flavones had lower insulin resistance. High insulin resistance is associated with Type 2 diabetes, so what we are seeing is that people who eat foods rich in these two compounds – such as berries, herbs, red grapes, wine– are less likely to develop the disease.

“We also found that those who ate the most anthocyanins were least likely to suffer chronic inflammation – which is associated with many of today’s most pressing health concerns including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

“And those who consumed the most flavone compounds had improved levels of a protein (adiponectin) which helps regulate a number of metabolic processes including glucose levels.

“What we don’t yet know is exactly how much of these compounds are necessary to potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes,” she added.

Prof Tim Spector, research collaborator and director of the TwinsUK study from King’s College London, said: “This is an exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances. If we can start to identify and separate these substances we can potentially improve healthy eating. There are many reasons including genetics why people prefer certain foods so we should be cautious until we test them properly in randomised trials and in people developing early diabetes.”

‘Intakes of Anthocyanins and Flavones Are Associated with Biomarkers of Insulin Resistance and Inflammation in Women’ by Jennings A, Welch AA, Spector T, Macgregor A, and Cassidy A, is published in the Journal of Nutrition on Monday, January 20, 2014.


'Eggs contain formaldehyde and bananas have ethene gas': Teacher reveals the ingredients of normal foods to de-bunk the myth of 'chemical-free living'

They sound like horrific chemicals you'd find in processed food.  But aspartic acid, isoleucine and ethyl butanoate are in fact found in a banana.

Likewise - did you know that when you eat an egg, you're eating glutamic acid, E160e and even formaldehyde?

The images below and their list of ingredients were made by James Kennedy, a high school chemistry teacher from Melbourne, Australia.  He says the aim of the project was to dispel the fear that has become associated with the word 'chemicals'.

He told MailOnline: 'As a high-school chemistry teacher, I made these posters for my students as a visual introduction to our Organic Chemistry course.

'I wanted to erode the fear that many people have of ‘chemicals’, and demonstrate that nature evolves compounds, mechanisms and structures far more complicated and unpredictable than anything we can produce in the lab.

'These posters aim to show that chemistry isn't artificial and dangerous; but that chemistry is natural and everywhere.  'The chemistry of fun, friendly, everyday objects like bananas is more complicated and more fascinating than that of, say, a bomb.'

He added that chemistry has suffered in recent years from a negative image.

'Pesticides, poisons, drugs and explosives seem to dominate the public's perceptions of Chemistry while the other sciences bask in a much more positive light.

'Mostly, this is because chemistry lacks a charismatic, public teacher like David Attenborough or Brian Cox, who currently inspire students into Biology and Physics, respectively. Chemistry only has Walter White from Breaking Bad, and he's done the industry a great disservice".

He added that all of the information was from reputable sources.

'The constituent ingredients were found on a nutritional analysis website; the color and preservative components were from old botany books; and the flavor compounds were found in published, peer-reviewed gas spectroscopy analyses of the volatile aromatic compounds in each fruit.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why taking vitamin D is 'pointless': Review finds taking supplement does little to prevent chronic disease or early death

Good for Rickets but not much else

Scientists claim there is no evidence to support taking vitamin D supplements to stave off chronic disease and early death - and results of several multi-million dollar trials currently under way are unlikely to alter this view.

A new review examines existing evidence from 40 randomised controlled trials - the gold standard for proving cause and effect - and concludes that vitamin D supplementation does not prevent heart attacks, strokes, cancer, or bone fractures in the general population by more than 15 per cent.

In fact, vitamin D supplements probably provide little, if any, health benefit, according to the study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

In Britain, the supplements market is worth £700 million a year - a growth of 16 per cent in five years - and the most popular pills are multi-vitamins and fish oils, which contain vitamin D.

Some scientists assumed vitamin D, which is produced naturally by exposure to sunlight, could protect against disease because patients with cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, or who died prematurely, often had very low levels of the nutrient.

However, evidence from some trials suggests that rather than vitamin D deficiency leading to disease, these illnesses stop the body from producing vitamin D - so sufferers have lower levels.

Last month, a review of 462 studies involving more than a million adults said a lack of vitamin D was not a trigger for many common illnesses.

In the latest study, Dr Mark Bolland of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and colleagues used several types of review of existing studies, including a ‘futility analysis’, to predict whether future research results might sway existing evidence.

The results of their study suggest the effect of vitamin D, taken with or without calcium, on heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and total fracture lies below a ‘futility threshold’.

This means there would be no point in taking supplements as it would have little effect on health outcomes.

For hip fractures, the results of some trials even suggested an increased risk with vitamin D supplementation.

The authors’ analysis of whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce death rates by five per cent or more was inconclusive.

Professor Karl MichaĆ«lsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, writing in a Lancet commentary, said: ‘Without stringent indications - i.e. supplementing those without true vitamin D insufficiency - there is a legitimate fear that vitamin D supplementation might actually cause net harm.’

Two months ago the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, called for free vitamins to be given to children after it emerged that a quarter of youngsters are short of vitamin D. Presently it is only available on prescription to under fives from low income families.

In addition, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding are advised to take one vitamin D tablet a day - which they can get on prescription - to ensure their baby’s bones are healthy.

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service, said three quarters of Britons have vitamin D intakes which are below the recommended level, with children and older people at particular risk.’

She said: ‘Rickets, once thought to have largely disappeared in the UK, has returned, in particular among children of Asian and African descent who have darker skins, but the disease is also seen in Causasian children usually in areas of urban deprivation.

She said the new review did not look at vitamin D’s role in bone health, instead focusing on chronic conditions such as cancer.

She added: ‘Vitamin D supplements are not intended for treating any disease conditions, and it is disappointing this review did not address the essential role of vitamin D in bone and musculoskeletal health.

‘In the light of the findings that 75 per cent of the British population have below recommended intakes of vitamin D and that vitamin D is essential for bone health as well as a number of other physiological functions, consideration should be given to everyone taking a vitamin D supplement all year round.



Lingonberries 'halt the effects of high-fat diet' (?)

This is only a rodent study with the mice fed huge amounts of the stuff so generalizability is very weak.  Nonetheless, many sub-arctic people have very little in the way of fresh fruit and veg. available but do have the very hardy lingonberrries available.  That such people stay healthy has been attributed to their consumption of lingonberries. So they are clearly  nutritionally valuable

Everyone dreams of being able to eat chocolate and pizza all day without putting on a pound.  Now researchers could have found a simple way of making this dream a reality.  Scientists in Sweden found eating lingonberries could prevent weight gain in people with a high-fat diet.

The researchers, at Lund University, discovered the berries almost completely prevent weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.

They discovered the Scandinavian berries – which are sometimes known as cowberries in the UK - also lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

The research team conducted their study using a type of mouse that easily stores fat and, therefore, can be regarded as a model for humans who are overweight and at risk of diabetes.

Some of the mice were fed a low-fat diet, while the majority of the animals were fed a diet high in fat.  They were then divided into groups, where all except a control group were fed a type of berry – lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or acai berry.

When the mice were compared after three months, it could be observed that the lingonberry group had by far the best results.

The mice that had eaten lingonberries had not put on more weight than the mice that had eaten a low-fat diet - and their blood sugar and insulin readings were also similar to those of the ‘low-fat’ mice.

Their cholesterol levels and levels of fat in the liver were also lower than those of the animals who received a high-fat diet without any berries.

However, according to the Lund University researchers, people should not see the findings as an excuse to eat an unhealthy diet.

Lovisa Heyman told MailOnline: 'While the findings in mice are exciting, it should absolutely not be interpreted as a license to eat an unhealthy diet as long as you add lingonberries!  'But we certainly hope to investigate if lingonberries could be part of dietary strategies to prevent obesity also in humans.'

This is the first study of this kind using lingonberries.

‘That is probably because lingonberries are mainly eaten in Scandinavia. At international conferences, I always have to start by explaining what they are, and showing the audience a jar of them,’ said Ms Heyman, a PhD student in Experimental Medical Science.

Blackcurrants and bilberries also produced good effects, although not as pronounced as the lingonberries.

The acai berries, on the other hand, came last, although they had actually been included in the study for the opposite reason – the researchers wanted to see how well the Nordic berries would do in comparison with the Brazilian ‘super berry’.

‘Instead, the opposite happened. In our study, the acai berries led to weight gain and higher levels of fat in the liver,’ said Karin Berger, diabetes researcher at Lund University.

The good results from lingonberries may be due to their polyphenol content, according to the researchers.

The team will now continue to work on understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in the effect of lingonberries. They will also see whether the effect can be observed in humans.

‘Up to 20 per cent of our mice’s diet was lingonberries. It isn’t realistic for humans to eat such a high proportion.

‘However, the goal is not to produce such dramatic effects as in the “high-fat” mice, but rather to prevent obesity and diabetes by supplementing a more normal diet with berries,’ said Dr Berger.

However, the Lund researchers do not recommend people start eating large quantities of lingonberry jam.  Boiling the berries can affect their nutrient content and jam contains a lot of sugar. Frozen lingonberries on cereal or in a smoothie are considerably better.

‘If anyone wonders – yes, we now eat lingonberries on a regular basis,’ said Ms Heyman.

Lingonberries are edible fruit that are native to forests and tundra in northern Europe and North America.  They are very popular in Sweden and are commercially cultivated in some parts of the U.S. They are most commonly used in jams, compotes, juices, smoothies and syrups.

In the UK, they are not normally available in supermarkets but can be bought from IKEA and some specialist stores


Friday, January 24, 2014

Why shift work is linked to so many health problems such as cancer and diabetes: Study finds it damages 1,500 genes

Overinterpreted data.  Study showed that some genes have a circadian rhythm, nothing more

Shift work could damage almost 1,500 genes - explaining why it has been linked to a range of health problems, a study shows.

Disruption to the timing of sleep - also caused by jet lag - is feared to increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.

The researchers found disrupting the body’s natural 24 hour cycle disturbed the rhythm of genes.

To assess the effect on the body of this disruption, researchers placed 22 participants on a 28-hour day schedule without a natural light-dark cycle.

As a result their sleep-wake cycle was delayed by four hours each day until they were sleeping 12 hours out of sync with a normal day.

Blood samples showed that after this experiment the volunteers had a six-fold reduction in the number of genes that displayed a ‘circadian rhythm’ - a rhythm with an approximately 24 hour period.

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, said: ‘We have found about six per cent of genes have a circadian rhythm - this means their activity is higher at certain times of the day than others.

‘We think those triggered mainly by day could be concerned with the immune function and those at night are involved in regulating other genes.

‘The study has important implications because we now need to discover why these rhythms exist and think about the consequences of that.

‘If we put people through these protocols we are influencing very basic processes deep down which could explain why shift work has been implicated in increasing the risk of a range of health problems.’

The human body is believed to have about 24,000 genes - suggesting more than 1,400 could be vulnerable to a change in sleeping habits.

Professor Dijk said all the participants were in their 20s and the study was carried out in very carefully controlled lab conditions.

He said: ‘It would be nice to involve more people but you can see why this would be quite difficult. We were taking blood samples round the clock. It’s a trade-off.’

He hopes his findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will be a ‘stepping stone’ to larger studies in the future.

Professor Dijk said: ‘By disrupting sleep - and eating patterns - we are changing molecular processes by causing disturbances in the rhythm of genes.

‘This research may help us understand the negative health outcomes associated with shift work, jet lag and other conditions in which the rhythms of our genes are disrupted.

‘The results also imply sleep-wake schedules can be used to influence rhythmicity in many biological processes which may be very relevant for conditions in which our body clocks are altered such as in ageing.’

Doctors have been worried for years that our 24/7 culture could have unintended consequences for human health with more than four million people – 17 per cent of employees - in the UK now working shifts.

One study showed night shifts triple the risk of heart disease while mental health problems, cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity and strokes have also been linked to poor sleeping habits.

Study co-author Dr Simon Archer said: ‘Over 97 per cent of rhythmic genes become out of sync with mistimed sleep which really explains why we feel so bad during jet lag or if we have to work irregular shifts.’


Fish oil could help prevent Alzheimer's and also give you a bigger brain

Class effect probably.  The fish eaters were more middle class

Eating more fish could give you a bigger brain - and greater protection against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, claim researchers.

They found people with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also have larger brain volumes in old age.

This would be the equivalent to preserving one to two years of brain health, says a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Shrinking brain volume is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease as well as normal aging.

Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish.

One of the key omega-3 fatty acids is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is thought to help nerve cells communicate with each other.   The richest source of the nutrient is oily fish, such as herring, mackerel and sardines.

For the US study, levels of omega-3 fatty acids including DHA in red blood cells were tested in 1,111 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Eight years later, when the women were aged around 78, MRI scans were taken to measure their brain volume.

Those with higher levels of omega-3s had larger total brain volumes eight years later.

Those with twice as high levels of fatty acids (7.5 vs. 3.4 per cent) had a 0.7 per cent larger brain volume, with the increase measuring up to two inches (6cm).

Study author James Pottala, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. in Richmond, Virginia, said lower levels of fatty acids were linked to smaller-sized brains.

He said: ‘These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years.’

Those with higher levels of omega-3s also had a 2.7 per cent larger volume in the hippocampus area, the brain’s key memory centre.

In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms appear.

Dr Pottala said: ‘Our study suggests that a higher tissue reserve of omega-3 fatty acids may slow the loss of cognitive function that can accompany brain atrophy.

‘It adds to growing literature suggesting that higher omega-3 tissue levels, which can be achieved by dietary changes, may hold promise for delaying cognitive ageing and/or dementia.’ The best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids is oily fish because the human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids.

White fish is also a healthy food including cod, haddock and plaice although it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK charity, said: ‘There has been mixed evidence as to the benefits of omega-3 fish oils on the brain and whether they may protect against memory decline and dementia.

‘This study suggests that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in blood are linked to larger brain size but the possible reasons for this association need further investigation. ‘We know that the brain gets smaller in people with dementia, but it is unclear from the study what effect larger brain size would have on memory and thinking in the volunteers or their long-term risk of developing dementia.

‘The best way to assess whether omega-3 could protect against dementia is through clinical trials and so far, trials of omega-3 supplementation have not shown benefits in protecting against cognitive decline.’

Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s interesting to see that eating more fish could lead to larger brain volume, particularly in the hippocampus - an area of the brain that comes under attack in dementia.

‘We know that brain shrinkage can be linked to dementia and larger brain volumes could indicate a better ability to cope with the ravages of the condition, but it’s a big leap to draw this conclusion.

‘Whilst interesting, this study still leaves us in the dark about what effect eating fish has on the development of dementia.’


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Men in their 40s more likely to have children with mental disorders as biological clocks are ticking

Men who leave it to late in life to have children may be less well adjusted to start with  -- and pass that on to their children

CHILDREN born to dads in their 40s and older are significantly more likely to develop mental health disorders than those with much younger fathers.

A study led by University of Queensland psychiatrist John McGrath has found the offspring of older fathers are particularly at risk of mental retardation, autism or schizophrenia compared with those born to dads in their mid-20s.

Professor McGrath, based at the Queensland Brain Institute, said that overall, children born to fathers aged 45 or over had a 34 per cent higher risk of developing a mental disorder.

He said the study was further evidence the biological clock ticked for men as well as women.

The researchers used Danish health registers to study almost 2.9 million people born between January 1955 and December 2006, particularly looking at the age of their parents.

They then tracked the mental health history of those involved in the study over a 16-year period to the end of 2011, when more than 218,000 of them were treated for a first episode psychiatric disorder.

Professor McGrath said the risk for psychiatric disorders, particularly mental retardation, autism and schizophrenia, started increasing after a father's 29th birthday.

"It goes up steadily from that age," he said. "In Australian society, and in societies all around the world, we are delaying parenthood. If you look at the mean age of fatherhood, it's getting later.

"There may be some unintended consequences of this delayed reproductive pattern. It may be that the offspring have an increased risk of some brain disorders."

Professor McGrath said older fathers about to welcome a new child into the world should "not panic" given the infrequent nature of the disorders.

"By far, most kids of older dads are perfectly fine," he said. "There are many good things about having an older father as well; obviously, better socio-economic status and they tend to be better educated."

Professor McGrath suggested the new results lend weight to the hypothesis that sperm contained more DNA errors as men aged.

"The evidence is very strong that the offspring of older dads have an increased risk of genetic mutations," he said.

The Danish study, published in JAMA Psychiatry , found the children of teenage mums were also at increased risk of psychiatric issues, most commonly substance abuse, mental retardation and behavioural conditions, such as attention deficit disorder.

"Researchers believe this is probably due to psychosocial factors related to young parenthood," Professor McGrath said.


Could copper pyjamas stop you getting a hospital superbug?

It is hard to see how something outside the wound could affect what goes on in the wound

The birth of her first son Alfie in September 2012 should have brought nothing but joy to Gemma Wilby.

Instead, it left the 30-year-old barmaid from Caterham in Surrey fighting a life-threatening infection as the wound from her emergency Caesarean became infected with the drug-resistant superbug MRSA.

Even though she was given the most powerful antibiotics available, underwent surgery to remove the infected tissue and even had maggot therapy (where the disinfected fly larvae are used to clean the wound), six weeks later nothing had improved.

Her doctors said it was one of the worst cases of MRSA infection they had ever seen.

'I thought I was going to die,' recalls Gemma, who lives with her partner and Alfie's father Mark Minick, a 32-year-old chef.

'I was really scared. I was in so much pain and so feverish I couldn't even cuddle Alfie. I felt like a freak, and the wound was so badly infected you could smell it several feet away.'

Yet just six weeks later the infection had completely healed. As unlikely as it sounds, Gemma insists that the solution was a pair of pyjamas she bought for £49.99.

The pyjamas were made from fabric with fine strands of copper running through it.

Copper has a long history as an anti-bacterial agent. In 2,500BC, copper salts were used as wound dressings by the Ancient Egyptians. Roman and Greek sailors used to place a copper coin in their drinking water to prevent it fouling during long voyages.

But it is only in the past ten to 15 years, with the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, that copper's antimicrobial properties have attracted renewed attention. There have since been dozens of studies highlighting the extraordinary power of copper to destroy potentially lethal organisms such as MRSA, E.coli and Clostridium difficile.

When these bacteria come into contact with copper surfaces, they rapidly self-destruct. It is thought that copper effectively punches holes in the outer membrane of bacteria, viruses and fungi in such a way that the cells implode.

This makes it very unlikely that superbugs will learn to become resistant to the treatment.

'When bugs come into contact with a copper surface, they are like a boat that has sprung a leak - the copper floods in and engulfs the organism,' says Professor Bill Keevil, a microbiologist and director of the environmental healthcare unit at Southampton University.

Professor Keevil's experiments show that when bugs encounter a copper surface, they are killed off in under 90 minutes. His team placed ten million bacteria on a square centimetre of stainless steel (used for door handles, taps and other fittings in most hospitals), and on pure copper.

The results, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in 2008, showed bacteria survived on the stainless steel for several days. But within 90 minutes, there was no trace of them on the copper.

Last year, a study by scientists at the Medical University of South Carolina reported that MRSA infection rates among intensive care patients were more than halved if copper alloy surfaces replaced steel or plastic ones.

'When bugs come into contact with a copper surface, they are like a boat that has sprung a leak - the copper floods in and engulfs the organism'

Another study found that spraying steel fittings with a copper coating virtually eradicated bugs.

In the NHS, copper's use has been confined to a handful of hospitals taking part in bug-busting trials - yet these studies all found that copper led to a dramatic reduction in bacteria on surfaces.

At the moment, most NHS trusts try to combat superbugs through strict hygiene, mainly involving alcohol-based gels for hands, and chlorine products, such as bleach, for sterilising surfaces.

But evidence suggests chlorine provides only short-lived sterility, and corrodes surfaces, allowing bugs to 'hide' in grooves and cracks.

Meanwhile, repeated contact with alcohol-based hand gels can lead to dry and cracked skin.

Leading microbiologists confess they are baffled and frustrated by the NHS's failure to use copper.

'It's a great shame because the science is absolutely solid,' says Dr Vanya Gant, consultant in microbiology and infection at University College London Hospital.

Five years ago, Dr Gant and his colleagues helped to develop a range of gels and handwashes made from liquid copper to tackle hospital superbugs. The rationale was that although copper surfaces work well, they still have to be kept scrupulously clean to kill bacteria - and once a layer of residue builds up, perhaps from alcohol gels used by staff, the copper becomes less effective.

'We took copper and enhanced its antibacterial capacity in liquid form by over a thousand times,' says Dr Gant. 'In trials we took four wards and cleaned them either as normal, using chlorine or detergent, or with copper solution - and found a significant reduction in all known bacteria by cleaning with liquid copper.'

Dr Gant then joined forces with a company called Micron Clean to develop microfibre cleaning cloths pre-loaded with copper solution.

But the NHS trusts they approached preferred to stick with conventional cleaning methods.  'So we gave up,' says Dr Gant. 'I am not a businessman.'

When it comes to copper surfaces, hospitals often cite expense as a reason not to replace existing fittings, says Dr Tony Worthington, a microbiologist at Aston University in Birmingham.

Stainless steel currently trades for between £1,800 and £2,400 a tonne, while copper fetches nearly £4,500. But as Dr Worthington points out: 'We've got stainless steel which doesn't work and copper which does. It's a no-brainer.'

The costs of installing copper in hospital wards could be recouped within two months, due to fewer infections and patients leaving hospital sooner, according to a report in June 2013 by the York Health Economics Consortium, which is part of York University.They looked at installing copper in an intensive care unit on surfaces such as bedrails and chairs.

But can copper fabrics have the same benefits?

'Yes,' says Professor Keevil. 'When bacteria come into contact with copper in the clothing, it kills them.' Tests suggest that washing the fabric at any temperature doesn't weaken its effect.
'Copper fabrics are now being looked at for wound healing,' adds Professor Keevil. 'Copper stimulates several enzymes that promote healing. It has great potential for things such as diabetic ulcers that won't heal.'

Gemma Wilby found her copper pyjamas through a friend who works for the supplier Copper Clothing. Within days of her Caesarean at Croydon University Hospital, it was clear her wound was infected. Two weeks later Gemma was discharged, on high-dose antibiotics, as it was thought she would do better at home.

However, her GP sent her back for urgent hospital treatment. Under general anaesthetic, she was given a 'debridement', where rotting flesh is removed. But they couldn't remove all the affected tissue and, as a last resort, Gemma was given maggot therapy. Usually the maggots live for about five days: Gemma's wound was so toxic, they died within a day.

In desperation, after a month on antibiotics she turned to the copper pyjamas, which are made from 40 per cent copper-infused yarn and a fabric derived from bamboo.

Gemma wore the pyjamas virtually round the clock, and after two weeks she noticed that the wound was gradually shrinking.

'I was very cynical about them at the beginning, and the infection control nurses who came to my house warned it could take a year for the wound to heal properly.

'They were amazed at the speed of my recovery. After a few weeks, when there was no longer any sign of infection, they thought they must have made a mistake.'

Croydon University Hospital is now carrying out experiments with copper clothing for staff and bedding for maternity patients.

Experts agree that copper fabrics won't help most healthy people. But it may be worth investing in them if you need surgery and fear picking up a hospital infection.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Too many hands in the sugar bowl

IT can be a long time between global flu epidemics if you work at the World Health Organisation, where the struggle to fill the working day must seem interminable.

No wonder director-general Margaret Chan is constantly looking round for the next big thing. "It's not just Big Tobacco any more," Chan told a health conference in Finland last year. "Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol."

Gone are the days when the WHO would justify its existence trying to control Big Malaria or offer relief from Big Malnutrition. Today's pressing task is to eliminate the scourge of sugar and bring an end to the pandemic of podginess now sweeping the globe.

The nanny state has been recast as the nanny planet and the WHO has assumed responsibility for our diet as it seeks to turn back what Chan calls "the globalisation of unhealthy lifestyles".

The increase in global obesity, says Chan, "is not a failure of individual willpower," but "a failure of political will to take on big business".

Sugar is the new tobacco, say cloistered activists like Liverpool University's Simon Capewell who fear "sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry".

Ordinary people are held to be no more responsible for what they put in their mouths than curious toddlers who swallow brightly coloured beads.

Cheap and plentiful food contributes to what the activists call "an obesogenic environment". Toblerone is no longer a triangular treat that evokes happy images of the Swiss Alps; it is a "poor lifestyle choice" that has been determined by forces beyond your control.

Yet if we agree with the WHO that the world is -- so to speak -- getting rounder, it surely demonstrates the triumph of global capitalism in the war against want.

Global wealth and global health are inseparable. A baby born in 2014 can expect to live to 70 on average, twice as long as one born before World War I.

Yet this has not stopped the long campaign to turn obesity from a private to a public health issue from gathering momentum.

Chan compares it to the 19th-century sanitation movement that correctly identified open sewers running through household basements in rapidly industrialised cities as a health problem.

Convinced that diseases like cholera were spread by invisible airborne spores rising from the stinking drains, they thought it was enough to pump human effluence straight into the Thames.

A few kilometres down river, the water was pumped back out again for domestic use.

It took the cholera epidemic of 1854 and the forensic work of John Snow for the penny to drop. The parasitic micro-organism vibrio cholera spread through water.

The airborne miasma theory was fiction. In their ignorance, the do-gooders had made things worse, though it was not their style to admit it.

Now, as then, the illiberal tone of public health rhetoric and its contempt for the wisdom of common people should make us cautious.

Chan and her colleagues could be right, and the discovery of a causal link between excess sugar and Type 2 diabetes as strong as that between smoking, cancer and heart disease may be just around the corner.

A reasonable person, however, looking at the track record of those now demonising sugar, would conclude it is equally likely that they are wrong or have exaggerated the link to the point of absurdity.

Certainly, no reasonable observer would accept Chan's conspiracy theory about the malevolent behaviour of big corporations, which irredeemably colours her view.

Since the early 1960s, when the lipophobes seized the obesity debate and pushed the sucrophobes into a corner, food manufacturers have gone out of their way to market products lower in saturated fat that the so-called experts thought were the problem.

They did so not out of malevolence or benevolence, but because they thought they could make a profit marketing margarine with a healthy twist, to appeal to educated, affluent and health conscious consumers.

Yet, after more than 50 years of trying, scientists have failed to provide conclusive evidence that lowering fat intake reduces weight or reduces the risk of heart disease in the general population.

The variety of low-fat products has increased incrementally and consumption of full-fat products has declined. As we are constantly reminded, however, it has not stopped us getting fat.

Last year, the British Medical Journal editorialised: "The sugar-versus-fat debate is far from over, but the pendulum is now definitely swinging away from fat as the root of all evil."

The sucrophobes, derided and excluded from health conferences in the 1960s and criticised for their fat scepticism, are now in charge.

The WHO has cut its recommended daily sugar threshold from 10 teaspoons to five, yet an irrefutable link between sugar, obesity and disease is as elusive as ever.

Indeed, there are some awkward facts that the anti-sugar lobby would prefer us to ignore.

In common with other developed countries such as Britain and the US, sugar consumption per person is in long-term decline in Australia.

Between 1938 and 2004 annual sugar consumption fell from 55kg per person to 47kg. Since then it has fallen off even faster. Consumption in 2011 was about 42kg.

We may be larger than we used be, but the chances of dying from heart disease in Australia have halved since the 70s. Type 2 diabetes is far too common, but rates are still comfortably below the OECD average.

Nevertheless, Australian sugar growers like Paul Schembri are concerned at the escalating campaign. "We are very proud of the product we produce," he told Mackay's Daily Mercury last week. "We don't take kindly to having our brand trashed."


Energy drinks do as much harm as drugs: Ban them from schools, urges health expert

These drinks do seem rather problematical  -- though less so than alcohol

Energy drinks are as harmful as drugs and should be banned from schools, according to a government adviser.

Drinks such as Monster, Red Bull and Relentless combine sugar and caffeine in such high quantities that children are becoming hyperactive and difficult to control.

Some 500ml cans contain the equivalent of more than 13 teaspoons of sugar and 160mg of caffeine – which is about the same as in four cans of cola.

Yesterday government adviser John Vincent warned: ‘Energy drinks are effectively another form of drugs.’

Mr Vincent, who co-founded the Leon restaurant group, is part of a team recruited by the Government to improve the nutrition of meals served to youngsters. He said: ‘The amount of sugar and caffeine in these drinks is in our view effectively allowing drugs into schools.

‘We don’t do that and neither do we think that should be part of school life. It has a hugely damaging effect on their ability to concentrate, how they feel and it is having health effects.’

X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne also said yesterday that she blamed energy drinks for a seizure suffered by her daughter Kelly last year. The 29-year-old spent five days in hospital after having a fit and collapsing.

And evidence from teachers and pupils is that children who drink these cans may report feeling sick, shaky and dizzy.

Ian Fenn, headmaster of Burnage Media Arts College in Manchester, has banned the drinks following requests from staff.

He told the BBC: ‘Staff came to me and said – at a school where we are very conscious about the nutritional value of what they eat – we cannot allow boys to bring in drinks that are really unhealthy for them and consume not one, but two or three.’

Claire Duggan, a schools public health adviser, said some children report feeling unwell after downing the drinks. ‘They say the rush that it gave them could be quite scary if you drank it very fast,’ she added.

The Food Standards Agency advises that children limit their intake of drinks that are high in caffeine. A spokesman added that consuming the drinks ‘could potentially lead to short-term effects such as increased excitability, irritability, nervousness or anxiety’.

Some children are even opting to have an energy drink for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal. A survey published in the autumn found that one in 20 teenagers goes to school on a can of energy drink.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘They are in no fit state to be in the classroom. They can be hyperactive, and it can have a very negative effect on their behaviour.’

The British Soft Drinks Association code of conduct states that energy drinks should not be sold in schools. But a Freedom of Information request last year found some academies – which have the right to opt out of national standards on school food and nutrition – were selling the drinks.

An association spokesman said: ‘We are clear that energy drinks are not recommended for children, and we want to get that message across to young people and parents.’


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Smoking, drugs during pregnancy 'can turn baby gay', neuroscientist Dick Swabb claims

One would have to see the studies behind these claims but I suspect that a lot of them will be just epidemiological speculation.  His comments on alcohol during pregnancy are an extreme view.  Other writers come to the opposite conclusion  -- e.g. here and here

SMOKING and drug use during pregnancy can raise the chance of having a child who turns out to be gay, a leading neuroscientist claims.

Dr Dick Swabb, professor of neurobiology at Amsterdam University, argues the development of the brain during pregnancy and early childhood is directly linked to the kind of people we become in adulthood, according to Britain’s Sunday Times.

Dr Swabb’s new book, We Are Our Brains, cites multiple academic studies showing how an expectant mother’s lifestyle could possibly affect her baby.

One compared women whose mothers were given synthetic oestrogen during pregnancy between 1939 and 1960 in order to reduce the risk of miscarriage. The drug worked as it was intended, but it also turned out to increase the likelihood of bisexuality and lesbianism in the daughters of the women who took it.

"Pre-birth exposure to both nicotine and amphetamines increases the chance of lesbian daughters," Dr Swabb says.

"Pregnant women suffering from stress are also more likely to have homosexual children of both genders because their raised level of the stress hormone cortisol affects the production of foetal sex hormones."

Dr Swabb also links a mother's alcohol intake to possible lower IQ in her child.  "In women who drink a lot, cells that were meant to migrate across the foetal brain can end up leaving the brain altogether," he said.

"Even in women who drink just a glass of wine a day we see effects [such as] lower IQ and hyperactivity. There is no safe level."


Brain damaged teen  makes amazing recovery after fish oil treatment

A TEENAGER who was left with severe brain damage after a brutal hit-and-run has made an amazing recovery, which his parents attribute to fish oil.

Grant Virgin was left with a horrific list of injuries after being struck by the car in September 2012, including a torn aorta, a traumatic brain injury, compound bone fractures and spinal fractures. Doctors said the boy, then 16, probably wouldn't live through the night.

But Grant’s mother, JJ, wouldn’t accept their recommendation "to let him go".  "It's like, how dare you not fight for my son's life?" JJ told CNN. "It really took us ... getting very aggressive and assertive to save our son's life, because they weren't going to do it."

From then on, Grant’s family vowed to try everything they could to bring him back – even if it meant going against doctor's orders.

Grant underwent multiple surgeries to stabalise his body, but he remained in a coma with severe brain damage.

That’s when a friend suggested the Virgins try progesterone, an unorthodox treatment associated with reduced inflammation in the brain and improved brain function.

Grant’s parents started rubbing progesterone cream onto their son. Soon after, JJ says, he woke up and began speaking simple words and phrases: "Let’s go" or "I love you", repeated over and over.

Heartened, the Virgins thought fish oil might help speed his recovery after learning that the brain’s cell wall is partly comprised of the same omega-3 fatty acids.

"If you have a brick wall and it gets damaged, wouldn't you want to use bricks to repair it?" Dr Michael Lewis, founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, told CNN. "By supplementing using (omega-3 fatty acids) in substantial doses, you provide the foundation for the brain to repair itself."

While previous results were patchy, JJ said she put Grant on an aggressive 20-gram-per-day regimen of fish oil – the highest dose ever known to have been administered.

"If someone said to me, you know what, you can give him fish oil, you can give him better nutrition, you'll get maybe 5 per cent (improvement), I'll take that," she said.

Two days later, JJ was shocked to receive a late-night call from her son. "I get this call like midnight, and I'm asleep, and I wake up the next morning and go, 'Did Grant call me and did we have this whole conversation?" she said.  "I just remember waking up the next morning going, 'I must have dreamed that, that couldn't have possibly happened.’"

The family drove to the hospital the next day and found that Grant was not only able to talk, but focus his eyes and recognise people – just two months after doctors had written him off.

Grant is still a long way off making a full recovery and his family doesn’t expect him ever to return to his previous level of ability. But they say he is progressing every day.

"I think one of the saddest things is to get to a place and have someone tell you, 'You should just let your son die,' and you don't have the information to make the right decision," JJ said.

"There is such hopelessness about brain injury and there shouldn't be."


Monday, January 20, 2014

Chinese herbal medicine slows the development of type 2 diabetes, study claims

Restraint in eating is all that is needed to control pre-diabetes

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines can stave off the onset of diabetes, a new study has revealed.  A clinical trial found herbs were comparable to prescriptions for controlling pre-diabetes.

Researchers say their findings show traditional Chinese herbal medicines hold promise for slowing the progression from pre-diabetes to an official diabetes diagnosis.

Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when a person has developed elevated blood sugar levels, but glucose levels have not yet risen to the point of developing type 2 diabetes.

People who are pre-diabetic face a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke.

One of the study's authors, Doctor Chun-Su Yuan, of the University of Chicago, said: 'With diabetes evolving into a serious public health burden worldwide, it is crucial to take steps to stem the flood of cases.

'Patients often struggle to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels, and current medications have limitations and can have adverse gastrointestinal side effects.

'Traditional Chinese herbs may offer a new option for managing blood sugar levels, either alone or in combination with other treatments.'

During the trial, 389 people at 11 research sites in China were randomly assigned to take either a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines or a placebo.

For a year, they took capsules of either the Chinese herb mixture, called Tianqi, or the placebo three times a day before meals.

All the participants received a month of lifestyle education at the outset of the trial and met with nutritionists several times during the course of the study.  Their glucose tolerance was measured on a quarterly basis.

At the end of the trial, 36 participants in the Tianqi group and 56 in the placebo group had developed diabetes.

The analysis found taking Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent compared with the placebo, after adjusting for age and gender.

The overall reduction in risk was comparable to that found in studies of diabetes medications acarbose and metformin, and study participants reported few side effects from the Tianqi herbs.

Tianqi includes several herbs that have been shown to lower blood glucose levels and improve control of blood glucose levels after meals.

One of the study's lead authors, Doctor Xiaolin Tong, of Guang'anmen Hospital in Beijing, China, said: 'Few controlled clinical trials have examined traditional Chinese medicine's impact on diabetes, and the findings from our study showed this approach can be very useful in slowing the disease's progression.

'More research is needed to evaluate the role Chinese herbal medicine can play in preventing and controlling diabetes.'

The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).


First tobacco, then booze, then sugar: the control freaks who would happily ban everything

By James Delingpole

In this week's Spectator I have a rant about all those pressure groups you see quoted in all the papers pretty much every day. Some are small, obscure and marginal – Bright Blue, the think tank for Lib Dems who want to play at being Tories, comes to mind – while some sound superficially respectable – the British Medical Association, say. What they all have in common is that they tend, on the whole, to lend far, far too much credibility to a hardcore of professional activists whose tedious and unhelpful opinions we would most of us do better to ignore completely.

Christopher Snowdon is very good on this. In the last month, he has been fighting mano a mano against the health campaigners who think we're experiencing an "obesity epidemic", the meddlers who – on no solid evidence whatsoever – would have us impose a minimum price on alcohol, and Action On Sugar, the hysterics who argue that "sugar is the new tobacco" and who previously (under the name Consensus Action on Salt and Health) tried to stop food tasting of anything.

Can you imagine campaigns as ludicrous as this being launched, say, in the 1970s or 1980s? No you can't because not even the most extreme killjoy zealot would have dared. With bans, as with so many of the fascistic gestures you associate with the authoritarian left, it's a Pastor Niemoller thing:

First they came for the smokers, but I said nothing for I thought (like Jeremy Clarkson did) it might help me give up; next they came for the boozers and I thought "well I can always drink at home"; next they came for the salt and the sugar and anything deep fried…

Or to put it another way, it works according to the same principles as the "thin end of the wedge" or the "slippery slope."

Left-liberals often deny that slippery slope exists. "Well of course we're not interested in banning everything. Just the really dangerous stuff. Tobacco." Then, of course, when they've pretty much regulated tobacco out of existence their locust eyes turn to new territory. Mm: alcohol. Mm: sugar. Mm. salt… etc

Snowdon has found a perfect example of this in a pamphlet produced by the BMA in 1985

    The 'thin end of the wedge…'?

    A further deception is the industry's appeal: "Where will they stop?" The industry argues that if advertising is stopped because tobacco is dangerous, then advertising for cars, motor cycles, alcohol, sugar, aircraft travel and any other potentially dangerous product could also be banned.

    All of these products can endanger health, but they are dangerous only when abused. Tobacco is the only advertised product which is hazardous when used as intended.

Snowdon comments:

    With the BMA now demanding a total advertising ban not only on alcohol but also on a whole range of food, the author of this document must be feeling like a bit of a chump today.

Nope. He's still very much at it. Now a professor of public health based in Australia, Dr Simon Chapman is if anything more zealous than ever. As well as being the scourge of smokers he has also become the scourge of people who want a good night's sleep, arguing that anyone who complains about wind turbine noise is – essentially – just imagining it.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fat fathers-to-be 'have overweight daughters who are at greater risk of diabetes and premature ageing'

If you are a rat

Fat fathers-to-be could end up with overweight daughters who are at greater risk of diabetes and premature ageing, new research warns.  A father's diet, weight and health at the time of conception affects the baby’s genes and health.  The link is most pronounced in baby girls.

The impact of a mother's health on her children has been well documented but the effect of the health of fathers is new.

The study found that if male rats ate a high fat diet, had diabetes, and were obese, their offspring had altered gene functions in the fat and pancreas.

Two groups of male rats, one diabetic and on a high fat diet, and the other thin and on a normal diet, mated with thin female rats.

Researchers looked at their female offspring and found that the rats with obese fathers had trouble breaking down glucose, even while on a healthy diet.

Specifically, they showed gene function changes in the pancreatic islets, which are responsible for making insulin to control the blood glucose and fat tissue.

This altered gene function may increase the risk of future obesity and premature ageing.

Other genes that were different were those that have been linked to premature ageing, cancer and chronic degenerative diseases.

Dr Margaret Morris, a researcher for the Pharmacology School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney said: ‘While scientists have focused on how the maternal diet affects children's health, this study is part of exciting new research exploring the impact of paternal diet on offspring risk of obesity.

‘The fact that similar gene markers were affected in pancreas and fat tissue tells us that some of the same pathways are being influenced, possibly from the earliest stages of life.

‘It will be important to follow up these findings, and to learn more about when and how to intervene to reduce the impact of poor paternal metabolic health on offspring.’

Gerald Weissmann, editor of The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal added: ‘For a long time, we've known that the nutrition and health status of women who are pregnant or who want to get pregnant is critical to the health of her offspring, and we've also suspected that the same is true for fathers to a lesser degree.

‘This report is the first step in understanding exactly how the nutrition and health of fathers affects his children, for better or worse.’

The research was published in the FASEB Journal


To him that hath, more will be given him (and her too)

Another indication of general biological fitness

Middle class women have better sex lives than their poorer counterparts, according to new research.

A large scale study found those from the most affluent backgrounds reported more satisfying love lives than less privileged counterparts.

Being comfortable financially improves awareness of sexual needs as well as leading to greater control over the use of contraception, according to the academic study.

Dr Dolores Ruiz, of the Barcelona Public Health Agency, said: 'There is a need to introduce public policies which aim to reduce socioeconomic and gender inequalities we have found in sexual satisfaction, in the use of contraceptives and in abusive sexual relations within the Spanish population.'

The mainly Catholic country’s first national sex survey of almost 10,000 men and women found overall Spaniards are happy with the quality and quantity of their time in the bedroom with nine in ten ‘quite’ or ‘very satisfied’.

But a deeper analysis of the 2009 data also found a link between socioeconomic status and sexual enjoyment, especially among female respondents.

Dr Ruiz said: 'People of a lower socioeconomic status claim to be less satisfied sexually, which especially applies to women, who seem to be more influenced by these factors.'

The study published in the Annals of Epidemiology said those who were more well off appeared to have a 'better awareness of their own needs and a greater capacity for developing their sexuality in a way which is satisfying for them.'

Respondents likewise reported higher satisfaction when they had a stable partner (97 per cent of men, 96 per cent of women) rather than a casual partner and a series of hook ups (88 per cent men, 80 per cent women).

In terms of safe sex, 77 per cent of women and 73 per cent of men had used contraception habitually with a stable partner during the last year, whereas in the case of a casual partner these rose to 92 per cent for women and 86 per cent for men.

In this case, socioeconomic factors influence men as much as women, even with the different types of partner. Dr Ruiz said: 'Those people with a lower socioeconomic status are always those who use less contraception.'

Worryingly, more than 4 per cent of men and 6.5 per cent of women claimed to have had some kind of sexual activity against their will, with 1.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively alleging they had been abused or raped at some time.

Dr Ruiz said: 'Once again, it is particularly women of a lower socioeconomic status who suffer more experiences of sexual abuse. It is important to bear in mind these women also might have more problems when it comes to contacting the various organisations that can provide help for them.'

Although the general sexual health of the young adults was apparently quite good, the research found socioeconomic and gender inequalities in practically all of the aspects studied.

Dr Ruiz said: 'People that have a more disadvantaged socioeconomic status tend to have less satisfying and less safe sexual relations, as well as suffering more experiences of sexual abuse.

'Furthermore, women usually suffer more experiences of sexual abuse than men and they claim to have less sexual gratification during their first sexual intercourse.'

According to the World Health Organisation sexual health 'is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.

'Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.'