Thursday, December 31, 2009

British parents to be banned from parking near school gates to tackle childhood obesity

Get kids to walk to school so pedophiles can attack them? Brilliant!

Parents face being banned from the school run as part of a controversial attempt to combat childhood obesity. Health chiefs hope introducing residents-only parking areas near schools will encourage pupils to walk or cycle instead. The plans were criticised as 'absolute nonsense' by parents' groups, who claim the Government is at fault for the rise in overweight youngsters. They point to physical exercise classes being cut from the national curriculum and school playing fields being sold off.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of and former chairman of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: 'Children are not obese because they are driven to school and walking a mile to school every day is not going to make any real difference.'

The proposals have been drawn up by the Greater Manchester Health Commission and could be rolled out nationwide. One in ten four and five-year-olds and 18 per cent of ten and 11-year-olds in Greater Manchester are classified as being dangerously overweight or obese. Will Blandamer, director of the Greater Manchester Public Health Network, said: 'It's about exploring as many opportunities as possible because we cannot continue to have obesity figures at the levels they are.' The Greater Manchester Health Commission, a quango of health, education and council bosses, plans to lobby the region's ten local authorities over a parking ban, which could affect around 1,100 schools.

Forecasts predict that more than 1.7million men and women in Greater Manchester will be overweight by 2020. GMHC's report also recommends more 20mph zones in residential side streets to create more spaces to allow safe outdoor play. Mr Blandamer added: 'The basic idea is to try and make walking and cycling and active travel as easy as possible and particularly to promote it among children. 'Twenty mile-per-hour zones have had success elsewhere and now we are asking what else can we do to make areas around schools as safe and pleasant for children as possible? 'Walking buses are already in use at a lot of schools but it's about exploring as many opportunities as possible because we cannot continue to have obesity figures at the levels they are.'

Now the report on the parking ban has been sent to the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, the GMHC will lobby councils to introduce the measures.


Hunger hormone ghrelin causes us to eat more cake

This is a very dubious mouse experiment only -- employing very indirect inferences

NO matter how much you've eaten or how full you feel, the prospect of an extra slice of cake can sometimes be too tempting. Now scientists have discovered why some people crave sugary, fatty food - even when they are stuffed. A study has shown the hunger hormone ghrelin - which the body produces when it feels peckish - encourages the brain to seek out high-calorie food, no matter how much one has eaten. The finding helps explain why Christmas lunch all too often turns into an orgy of overeating.

Ghrelin acts on the brain to make certain foods more attractive. It has also been shown to intensify the pleasurable feelings animals get from cocaine or alcohol.

An experiment at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre suggests ghrelin also makes people crave fatty foods when they are already full. Dr Jeffrey Zigman, a coauthor of the study, said: "What we show is that there may be situations where we are driven to seek out and eat very rewarding foods, even if we're full, for no other reason than our brain tells us to."

The researchers tested the role of the hormone on mice given a large meal. Once the creatures were full, they tested whether they preferred a room where they had previously found high-fat food over one that had offered only bland snacks. When the mice were injected with ghrelin, they preferred the room they associated with high-fat food.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Open wide: Dentists now offer quick HIV testing

"Don't forget to floss" may soon be followed by "and don't forget to wear a condom," as dentists and clinics have started to administer state-of-the-art saliva tests that can detect HIV in minutes.

"The surprise factor is you are offering this," said Dr. Catrise Austin, who has tested some 100 patients for HIV at VIP Smiles, her New York City clinic, since July. "The topic of HIV can be uncomfortable for some, so we decided we would talk about it with patients in a matter-of-fact way, the way we talk about cavities and gum disease."

To test for the AIDS-causing virus, all Austin needs to do is swipe a patient's upper and lower gums with a $15 OraQuick Advance kit. Within 20 minutes, the swab will change colors to indicate a positive or negative result — just like a home pregnancy test.

Nationwide, a handful of public health agencies, including in New York City, are trying to bring HIV testing to the dental chair. Approximately one in 10 Americans visit a dentist but not a physician each year, and about a quarter of HIV-infected people don't even know their status, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The city is funding dental HIV testing programs at Metropolitan Hospital, Harlem Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center, as well as small community dental clinics.


Antibody hunts, kills prostate cancer

This could be VERY good news if replicated in humans

US RESEARCHERS have found an antibody that hunts down prostate cancer cells in mice and can destroy the killer disease even in an advanced stage. The antibody, called F77, was found to bond more readily with cancerous prostate tissues and cells than with benign tissue and cells and to promote the death of cancerous tissue, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found.

When injected in mice, F77 bonded with tissue where prostate cancer was the primary cancer in almost all cases (97 per cent) and in tissue cores where the cancer had metastasised around 85 per cent of the time. It recognised even androgen-independent cancer cells, present when prostate cancer is incurable, the study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed. F77 "initiated direct cell death of prostate cancer cells ... and effectively prevented tumour outgrowth,'' it said.

But it did not target normal tissue, or tumor tissues in other parts of the body including the colon, kidney, cervix, pancreas, lung, skin or bladder, the study showed.

The antibody "shows promising potential for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer", which often spread to the bones and was difficult to treat, the researchers wrote.

The five-year survival rate for metastatic prostate cancer was just 34 per cent, according to the study. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, claiming half a million lives each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Disinfectants boost bacteria resistance - study

This study illuminates the importance of aseptic practices ("cleanliness", for short) -- now largely abandoned in British government (NHS) hospitals. No wonder so many people die of "superbugs" acquired in NHS hospitals

DISINFECTANTS commonly used in homes and medical facilities can boost the resistance of some bacteria to life-saving antibiotics, according to a study.

The findings shed light on how at least one pathogen - Pseudomonas aeruginosa - spreads and could apply to other hospital superbugs as well, the authors said. P. aeruginosa, responsible for one-in-10 hospital-acquired infections, is a so-called "opportunistic" bacteria that attacks people with weakened immune systems. It typically infects the pulmonary and urinary tracts, as well as burns and puncture wounds.

In laboratory experiments, researchers showed that the bug can rapidly mutate, building resistance to progressively higher doses of a disinfectant known as BSK, or benzalkonium chloride. Safe for humans, BSK is widely-used in cleaning and disinfecting products to kill bacteria, fungi and algae. The DNA-altered bacteria were able withstand concentrations of BSK up to 400 times greater than the non-mutated strain.

More critically, they also developed a resistance to an antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, even though they had never been exposed to the drug. Ciprofloxacin is a front-line medication in the fight against several bacterial infections and is also the drug of last-resort against the deadly disease anthrax.

"This is very, very worrying," Gerard Fleming, a professor at the National University of Ireland in Galway, said. "We found that in both cases - for the disinfectant and the antibiotic - the (mutated) bacteria was taking them in but expelling them just as quickly. "It would be like trying to pump air into a bicycle tyre with a huge hole in it."

The disinfectant-resistant strain of P. aeruginosa built up immunity against ciprofloxacin up to 10 times more effectively than did the baseline bacteria, the study reported.

In further experiments, the two strains were put together in an environment containing a diluted dose of disinfectant, such as might be found in a hospital or home. The mutated bugs were "highly competitive" with the non-mutated ones, Mr Fleming said. "They outgrew the so-called 'sensitive' strains so rapidly it was hard to believe. "That means that we have a problem - disinfectant may proliferate antibiotic resistance."

Mr Fleming hastened to add that this did not mean that disinfectants should not be used at all. "They are quite important as a first-line defence," he said. "The message is to use them properly - don't water them down to concentrations where they are no longer effective."


Blame your genes for debt binge

SO how's the credit card looking right now? Or are you still in denial for the moment? The orgy of Christmas spending is over, but for many the post-Christmas sales still beckon, and the annual "Jesus Christ" moment can arrive not so much on December 25, but early next month when mail from the likes of Visa and Mastercard starts to lob.

Relax though, for in this brave new era of blame-shifting and absence of personal responsibility, a propensity to overspend may not be your fault, but rather the result of a genetic condition. According to recent research from the London School of Economics and the University of California, some of us may actually have a debt gene which makes us predisposed to over-extending on the credit front.

OK, it's not quite a debt gene as such, but according to co-author Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the LSE (and quoted on, humans have "a set of genes whose expression, in combination with environmental factors, influences financial decision-making". This little bit of DNA is called the MAOA gene, which apparently can degrade neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate such things as impulsive behaviour.

A study involving some 2500 US young adults (18-26) found that those with a "low efficiency" MAOA gene were more likely to be saddled with credit card debt. In other words, they were more likely to seek immediate gratification rather than weighing up the consequences first.

Apparently, if you carry the wrong variants of this gene (which is also linked to addictive behaviour), the chance you have unpaid bills on the plastic can increase by up to 16 per cent. Whether this means banks in years to come will demand a DNA sample before giving you a credit limit is doubtful, but based on this study it appears some of us may be hard-wired for profligacy. As with most genetic conditions, there is no easy cure. Happy New Year bill paying.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Hot stuff for slimmers: The chilli pill that burns off as many calories as a 25-minute jog

Even accepting the claims below as read, you could get a much bigger effect by skipping dessert

A slimming pill whose creators claim can burn calories while you sit at your desk goes on sale today. Capsiplex's makers say the capsule, which is made from hot peppers and capsicum and is used by Hollywood stars Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Britney Spears, can eat up as many calories as 80 minutes of walking or a 25-minute jog.

Trials at the University of Oklahoma showed adults taking Capsiplex burned off 278 more calories before, during and after a bout of exercise than those on placebos. Experts who developed it had to overcome the fact that capsicum extract is unbearably hot and would cause irritation if eaten in large quantities. A spokesman for Capsiplex said: 'For decades, scientists have known about the weight-loss potential of red-hot peppers. The problem has been the ability to consume such a highly concentrated amount, but we have overcome this by putting a protective coating on the ingredients which stops any gastric irritation. [And stops its absorption??] 'At last we have a safe and healthy supplement to help weight loss.'

A month's supply of the one-a-day capsules costs £29.99. The production of the tablet follows years of medical research into hot peppers and capsicum and their benefits to slimmers. Several studies have found that hot peppers and their extracts are a safe option for nutritional supplements aimed at regulating diet.

The pills are already used in the United States by personal trainers because chilli and capsicum help speed up the metabolism, meaning people can lose weight more rapidly.


Pomegranate lotion offers new hope in war on superbugs

How is an ointment going to be useful against MRSA? For topical use, iodine would probably be just as effective

The secret to beating the superbug MRSA could be found in the pomegranate. Scientists have created an ointment that tackles drug-resistant infections by harnessing chemicals that are contained in the fruit's rind. They found that by combining pomegranate rind with other natural products they created a strong, infection-busting compound. It is hoped that this could lead to the creation of a lotion for hospital patients, or even an antibiotic.

The need for a new method of tackling superbugs is growing more and more desperate as they continue to develop resistance to common antibiotics. Professor Declan Naughton, biomolecular scientist at the University of Kingston, Surrey, said the breakthrough by his team was significant and argued that one way to solve the problem of growing drug resistance was to investigate natural products. He added: 'A great deal of medicines come from plants, but the normal approach taken by the pharmaceutical industry is to try to find one particular active molecule.

'We found that combining three ingredients - pomegranate rind, vitamin C and a metal salt - gave a much more potent effect; killing off, or inhibiting, drug-resistant microbes from growing. 'It was the mix that fantastically increased the activity - there was synergy, where the combined effects were much greater than those exhibited by individual components. It shows nature still has a few tricks up its sleeve.'

Professor Naughton said he hoped the fact that natural products were being used would mean patients would suffer fewer side-effects. [Silly dream. Many natural molecules are highly toxic]

However, it will be a long time before any pomegranate- derived lotions come on to the market. Despite three years of research, the Kingston scientists are still at the stage of testing the fruit's actions on MRSA bacteria in the lab. More testing will be needed to see if it would work on a patient in the ward.

Professor Anthony Coates, a medical microbiologist at St George's Hospital in London, urged caution. He said: 'This observation - the fact it has acted against MRSA and other drug-resistant infections - is potentially significant. 'But we need to remember it is early research, of an observational nature, in vitro [in laboratory glassware].

'The need for new antibiotics is acute. To put it in context, about 20 new classes of antibiotics were marketed between 1940 and 1962 yet only three have been marketed since. 'In all classes, resistance has arisen. Most antibiotics come from nature, so it is very valid to look at natural sources.'


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gene found that raises child asthma risk by half

Those pesky genes again. As it was always known to be highly heritable, this is no surprise. The claim that there are also environmental causes is mere assertion, as far as I can tell -- now that the "excess hygeine" hypothesis is looking shaky

A gene that increases the risk of childhood asthma by 50 per cent has been discovered by scientists in one of the largest studies into the disease. The discovery could lead to new treatments for the conditions which affects one million children in Britain.

Scientists in America found the gene called DEBNND1B sets off a chain reaction that causes the immune system to overreact to irritants, triggering symptoms such as difficulty breathing and wheezing. The findings are published online by the New England Journal of Medicine. Only one other gene has been found that increases the chances of developing asthma.

Lead author Dr Hakon Hakonarson, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, compared the genes of 793 children with persistent asthma to those to 1,988 children without to discover those with the disease had a variation in their genetic code.

Dr Hakonarson said: "We now know that the DENND1B gene and its protein are involved in the release of cytokines, which are signalling molecules that in this case tell the body how it should respond to foreign particles. "Many of these particles are well-known triggers of asthma. In asthma, patients have an inappropriate immune response in which they develop airway inflammation and overreaction of the airway muscle cells, referred to as airway hyperresponsiveness. "The gene mutations in DENND1B appear to lead to overproduction of cytokines that subsequently drive this oversensitive response in asthma patients." He added: "Because this gene seems to regulate many different cytokines, intervening in this pathway has great potential for treating asthma.

"Other asthma-related genes remain to be discovered, but finding a way to target this common gene variant could benefit large numbers of children if researchers can develop drugs to contain this signalling pathway. ."

Leanne Metcalf, Director of Research at Asthma UK, said: "A person’s likelihood of developing asthma is a combination of their genetic make-up and the kind of environment they are exposed to, especially in early life. "This large scale and well designed study has shed more light on the link between genetics and the overreaction of the immune system which is responsible for asthma symptoms, and opens up an exciting potential avenue for new treatments for the 1.1m children in the UK with asthma. "It is essential to remember, however, that genetics forms only one part of a much bigger picture, so further research is needed to understand exactly how genetic and environmental factors influence asthma."


Surgical cure for high blood pressure

Sounds good but one wonders what the long-term side-effects will be. Might be disastrous if applied to people where the cause is not neurological

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and in general the higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk. LIfestyle improvements such as weight loss if necessary, exercise, stopping smoking and a low salt diet can reduce high blood pressure but many will require medication.

There are an estimated 15 million people in Britain with raised blood pressure and drugs to treat the condition are amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs.

For some people their blood pressure remains high even though they eat little salt and take medication.

In these patients the nervous system keeps sending signals from the brain to the kidneys to leave large amounts of salt in the blood which increases the volume of blood, causing a rise in pressure. The kidneys also produce hormones which cause the blood vessels to contract or dilate which also affects blood pressure.

The new procedure interferes with the signals to the kidneys by damaging the nerves carrying them.

The procedure involves passing a wire into the blood vessel in the groin and up into the main artery leading into the kidneys. From there the wire is used to make a series of tiny burns on the inside of the blood vessel which damages the nerve running along the outside of it.

The tiny burns just one millimetre across are the equivalent of snuffing a candle out between the fingers. A series of four or five burns are carried out in a spiral pattern along the inside of the artery to each kidney.

The blood vessel itself does not sustain serious damage as the blood flowing along inside it cools the burn, like running a burned finger under a tap. But the burn is deep enough to affect the nerve on the other side of the vessel.

Once the connection between the brain and kidneys is distrupted the signals to raise blood pressure should stop.

Early results show it can take between one and three months for the procedure to have an effect on blood pressure.

For some patients it will mean their blood pressure will respond to medication and for others it will mean they can reduce their dose or even stop taking them altogether.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Myrrh helps lower your cholesterol levels

One awaits replication of this result

The Three Wise Men were actually being cleverer than they thought - scientists have discovered that myrrh is good for your heart. Myrrh is a rust-coloured resin obtained from several species of Commiphora and Balsamodendron trees, native to the Middle East and Ethiopia. It is best known as one of the gifts of the Three Wise Men offered to the infant Jesus, along with gold and frankincense. At the time, myrrh was revered as an embalming ointment and as a perfume but it seems that as well preserving you in death it can preserve you in life too.

In the study, published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, Nadia Saleh Al-Amoudi, a researcher from King Abd Al-Aziz University in Saudi Arabia noted that myrrh has long been used as a medicinal treatment for sore throats, congestion, and cuts and burns. The researcher fed myrrh resin, among other plant materials, to albino rats, and found that levels of "bad" cholesterol fell and levels of "good" cholesterol went up while the rodents were on the diet.

The discovery opens new doors for research into fighting high cholesterol, a health problem that is closely linked with the rise in obesity. "Of all nutrients, fat is implicated most often as a contributing factor to disease," explains the researchers.

This is not the first time that myrrh has been shown to have health giving properties. A study by Rutgers University in New Jersey found a substance found in the plant extract could be used to fight prostate and breast cancers.


Woman allergic to Christmas trees

A woman who becomes ill at the end of each year has found she is allergic to Christmas trees. Lisa Smith, 26, from East London, has suffered from a mysterious recurring condition since she was a teenager. Initially it was put down to the usual annual bout of winter flu. But now doctors have finally identified that she suffers from a rare allergy to chemicals found in pine needles.

Miss Smith, a swimming instructor, said: "From the moment the first Christmas trees went up in the shops, I'd plunge into what felt like a constant flu. Even on Christmas Day I found it impossible to feel excited about opening presents and would sneeze and cough and blow my nose throughout dinner."

After her fiancé, City worker, Phil French, 27, suggested she may be allergic to Christmas, she did some internet research and discovered it was a genuine condition. A strong smelling sap contained in pine needles can trigger allergies similar to those experienced by hay fever sufferers.

Miss Smith's GP confirmed the diagnosis and she has now replaced her traditional real Christmas tree with an artificial one. She said: "This will be the first time in over a decade I will be able to have a normal Christmas. It will be a relief to open my presents and have a Christmas Dinner without feeling unwell."


Friday, December 25, 2009

When herbs are bad for you

Urinary tract cancer associated with Chinese herbal products containing aristolochic acid

The carcinogen aristolochic acid, which was found in many prescribed Chinese herbal products including Guan Mu Tong, is associated with an increased risk of urinary tract cancer, according to a new study published online December 21 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Many countries, such as Taiwan, have banned products containing aristolochic acid (Taiwan did in 2003), because of clinical cases of urothelial cancer in association with aristolochic acid use. However, no such associations, to the authors' knowledge, have been documented in herbal products containing aristolochic acid.

To examine this association, Jung-Der Wang, M.D., ScD, of the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene, College of Public Health, at the National Taiwan University, and colleagues conducted a population-based case-control study of Taiwanese patients newly diagnosed with urinary tract cancer from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2002. They also looked at a random sample of the entire insured population from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 2002. There were 4,594 case patients and 174,701 control subjects in the final analysis. The authors examined the association between having been prescribed Mu Tong, an herb that contains aristolochic acid, and urinary tract cancer using data from the National Health Insurance reimbursement database.

Having been prescribed more than 60 g of Mu Tong (possibly adulterated by Guan Mu Tong before banned), or consumption of an estimated amount of more than 150 mg of aristolochic acid was associated with an increased risk of urinary tract cancer in a dose-dependent manner. The increased risk was independent of arsenic exposure (another risk factor for urinary tract cancer).

"In addition to a ban on products that contain any amount of aristolochic acid, we also recommend continued surveillance of herbs or Chinese herbal products that might be adulterated with aristolochic acid-containing herbs," the authors write. "Finally, patients with a history of aristolochic acid nephropathy or consumption of Mu Tong or Fangchi before they were banned should be monitored regularly for urinary cancer."

Study limitations: Not all of the diagnoses were confirmed by histopathology reports. Subjects may have taken additional nephrotoxic herbs or agents that were not prescribed. Actual intakes of the prescribed herbal products recorded in the National Health Insurance reimbursement database were not validated. Smoking history was not taken into account.


Babyface wins race in longevity study

Good looks do have a general relationship with good health -- The possibility that it might reflect good genes is however avoided below -- predictably

PEOPLE who look young for their age are already the envy of their peers. But those holding back the years haven't just been blessed in the looks department. Scientists have shown looking younger than you are also means you will live longer. They suggest patients could give GPs a photograph of themselves since this would be as good a guide to their longevity as complicated testing.

University of Southern Denmark Professor Kaare Christensen tested the belief that a person's perceived age gave a general indication of health. His team looked at twins to see whether perceived age, or how old others think you are, was linked to survival and age-related traits such as physical functioning and brainpower.

"It's probably easy to explain because people who've had a tougher life are more likely to die early and their life is reflected in their face."


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Having sex at an early age can double risk of cervical cancer (?)

Or is it that the type of people who have sex at an earlier age are more likely to get cancer anyhow? Who knows? The study authors admit that it is poverty-related and poverty is health-related

Women having sex at an early age can double the risk of developing cervical cancer, according to researchers. A study shows women are at greater risk from the disease by becoming sexually active at a young age, prompting campaigners to call for the screening age limit to be lowered. The study published in the British Journal of Cancer into why poorer women have a higher risk of the disease found they tended to have sex four years earlier than more affluent women.

In England, women do not qualify for NHS screening until they reach 25, perhaps ten years after they may have contracted HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

The age at which a woman had her first baby was also an important factor, according to the study of 20,000 women by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. But smoking and the number of sexual partners did not account for any of the difference.

Dr Silvia Francheschi, who led the study, said the risk of cervical cancer was higher in women who had their first intercourse aged 20, compared with 25. She said: “In our study, poorer women become sexually active on average four years earlier. So they may also have been infected with HPV earlier, giving the virus more time to produce the long sequence of events that are needed for cancer development.”

Women aged between 25 and 49 are offered checks every three years in England, while women aged 50 to 64 get five yearly checks for pre cancerous changes that could develop into cancer without treatment.

Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, said: “These results back up the need for the HPV vaccination to be given in schools at an age before they start having sex, especially among girls in deprived areas.”


Bourbon gives you worse hangovers

Wine, whisky and beer cause more problems for drinkers the next day than beverages like vodka, a new study suggests. Researchers say that the problem lies in organic byproducts created by the fermenting process. Drinks which contain more of these compounds appear to produce worse hangovers, scientists found.

They tested the theory by comparing the hangovers of a group of almost 100 people who had drank either vodka, bourbon, an American whisky made mainly from corn, or a placebo.

Although there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that some drinks trigger worse hangovers, the researchers said there had been little scientific study into the area. Much that had been done had failed to exclude the effects of the alcohol itself, they added.

For their research the team took blood tests from volunteers to ensure that all alcohol had left their body before interviewing them about how they were feeling. Damaris J. Rohsenow, from Brown University, in Rhode Island, who led the study, said: "While alcohol in the beverage did increase how hungover people reported feeling the next morning compared to drinking a placebo, bourbon made people feel even worse than vodka did." Typical symptoms included a headache, nausea, thirst, tiredness and generally feeling unwell.

Despite having less of a hangover, those who had drunk vodka performed no better on tests requiring them to concentrate than the bourbon drinkers, researchers also found.

Previous studies have shown that these byproducts in alcohol, called "congeners," can have slight toxic effects. They are more plentiful in darker coloured drinks, including whisky and red wine. Bourbon is thought to contain around 37 times more congeners than vodka. “While the alcohol alone is enough to make many people feel sick the next day, these toxic natural substances can add to the ill effects as our body reacts to them," Mr Rohsenow said.

The findings are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The secret to a healthy life? Try tomato seeds

Maybe there's something in it. I would like to see the double-blind trials, though. What control groups were used? How strong was the effect? The validation studies were supposedly published in the ACJN but a search on "fruitflow" there gives nil results. Possibly due to a more technical name, of course

A natural ingredient found in tomato seeds has been identified by British scientists as a key component to a long and healthy life. The gel prevents the blood from becoming sticky and clotting and so is being promoted as a natural alternative to aspirin. It was discovered by food researchers investigating the [non-existent] benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

Patented as Fruitflow, it is already being used in one fruit juice product and is now expected to be added to dairy drinks, spreads and other foods. EU health watchdogs have accepted that the ingredient does improve blood flow and have approved the use of such claims on packaging.

Fruitflow was discovered in 1999 by Professor Asim Dutta-Roy at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. It is derived from the gel around tomato seeds. Clinical trials have shown it can help maintain a healthy blood circulation by preventing the clumping of blood platelets which can lead to clots.

Both Fruitflow and aspirin work by changing the characteristics of platelets, which are tiny cells in the blood. Normally they are smooth, but inflammation in the blood vessels - linked to smoking, high cholesterol and stress - causes them to become spiky and so stick together, forming clots. Aspirin strongly blocks one set of signals that causes this to happen. Fruitflow more gently damps down three others, enough to reduce the risk of clotting.

Currently, millions of older people take small doses of aspirin daily to improve blood flow. However this can have unwelcome side effects such as bleeding in the stomach and the creation of ulcers. Professor-Dutta-Roy said: 'To date, no side effects have been demonstrated during the development of Fruitflow.'

Research shows that a smoother blood flow can be seen within three hours of taking Fruitflow and the results can last up to 18 hours, making it ideal for daily consumption. The gel, which is colourless and tasteless, is extracted from tomato seeds and can then be added to a range of foods without changing their characteristics. It is currently added to Sirco, a range of 100 per cent pure fruit juices available from Waitrose, Ocado and some health food shops.


'World first' junk food tax flagged

Legal enforcement for a hatred of food that people enjoy. There is no such thing as junk food. What makes you fat is the total amount that you eat. You can get slim on McDonald's food. Some have. And you can get fat on milk. Is milk a junk food? What makes a food junk? Fat? Are roast dinners junk food, then? What about butter, margarine and cheese? They are full of fat. Are they junk too?

TAIWAN is planning the world's first tax on junk food in a bid to encourage the public to eat healthily and cut obesity rates. The Bureau of Health Promotion is drafting a Bill to levy the special tax on food deemed unhealthy, such as sugary drinks, candy, cakes, fast food and alcohol, said the Apple Daily.

Revenue from the tax would finance groups promoting health awareness or subsidise the island's cash-strapped national health insurance programme, the report said.

The Bill is expected to be submitted to the Parliament for approval next year and could take effect around 2011, it said, citing the bureau's director Chiou Shu-ti.

Taiwan would be the first government in the world to impose junk food tax if the Bill is passed, according to local health advocacy group John Tung Foundation. "Overweight problems are getting worse in Taiwan with 25 to 30 per cent of children obese, and it will cause more strain on our national health system," Beryl Sheu, chief of the foundation's food nutrition division, said. "Hopefully the tax will dissuade people from eating junk food and snacks and prompt food companies to make healthier products."


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

San Francisco folly -- but who expects anything else?

Gavin Newsom is at it again. The San Francisco mayor's latest foray into annoying nanny statism is a proposal, reported in The Chronicle last week, to require the city's cell phone retailers to post the radiation levels of their products. Where to begin?

In other cities, mayors usually try to make it easier for local businesses to prosper. But in The Special City, the mayor somehow manages to find ways that, if anything, make it harder for commercial enterprises to compete with out-of-town retailers. In San Francisco, that's not a priority. Newsom wants to require cell phone companies to post warnings for an ostensible cancer threat that has not been established.

Don't take my word for it. The Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration say cell phones sold in America are safe. The World Health Organization says they are not a health risk.

The Environmental Working Group has found studies that suggest that there could be problems from long-term cell phone use.

On the other hand, the American Cancer Society -- which isn't afraid to cry "carcinogen" -- looked at studies on cell phone use and cancer and found the following: "Patients with brain tumors do not report more cell phone use overall than the controls. This finding is true when all brain tumors are considered as a group, when specific types of tumors are considered, and when specific locations within the brain are considered. In fact, most of the studies show a trend toward a lower risk of brain tumors among cell phone uses, for unclear reasons." (My italics.) The Cancer Society did warn that there has not been enough research to determine if cell phones might affect children differently than adults.

Now, I would not suggest that Newsom require that cell phone retailers post signs that say that adult cell phone users may be less likely to get cancer.

For one thing, at some point, researchers probably will find some kind of link between gluing one's ear to a mobile device and a disease -- if only because cell phone addicts often work nonstop, talk too loudly and sometimes walk in front of moving cars. These days, everything eventually gets linked to cancer. But couldn't the mayor wait until a health authority or cancer-fighting organization deemed cell phones to be carcinogenic?

Of course not. Why, the French Senate is considering restrictions on the promotion and sale of cell phones to children. And as Newsom told The Chronicle's Heather Knight, "If we prevail, and I believe we will prevail, other cities will follow suit." The siren call -- a Model for Other Cities -- is ineluctable to a mayor who cannot resist the whiff of bragging rights at the Davos Economic Forum annual confab. Newsom can point to the city's Precautionary Principle Ordinance, which cites "a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm." That's EssEff-ese for: more mandates for warning signs.

After all, who possibly could object to signs that simply inform consumers? Problem is, after the passage of Proposition 65, which mandated warning signs for anything remotely toxic, in 1986, Californians don't even notice warning signs. You see them in buildings, on line, in elevators -- even at the cell phone store -- except you don't notice them because they're like background noise.

So an Outline by Team Newsom proposes to get around warning-blindness by requiring that stores post a phone's SAR -- or Specific Absorption Rate, a new term you can learn and forget -- in type as large as the font for the phone's price. (Talk about your invitation to small print.)

The most annoying part of all: Newsom and city supervisors spend too much time trying to do other people's jobs -- when they ought to be working on improving the quality of life in San Francisco. There's no need to be a fill-in for the FDA. If Newsom thinks it is his job to reduce risky behavior, he instead could focus on the estimated 900-plus new cases of HIV in the city each year.

Closer to home, if Newsom feels the urge to warn people of potential threats, he might want to put up a warning signs under Welcome to San Francisco banners -- that disclose the city's 99 homicides in 2008. As the precautionary principle ordinance notes, the public has a "right to know."


Breakfast cerals get a small reprieve

Adding raisins to sweeten children's cereal is not bad for their teeth, research has found. If no sugar is added to food containg the sweet dried fruit it is rapidly cleared from the surface of teeth, meaning it poses no serious risk of cavities. Higher dental plaque acid levels contributes to cavities in children - but eating bran flakes with raisins containing no added sugar does not increase acid in dental plaque than just bran flakes alone, according to the study.

Christine Wu, professor and director of cariology research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead investigator of the study, said: "Some dentists believe sweet, sticky foods such as raisins cause cavities because they are difficult to clear off the tooth surfaces." "But studies have shown that raisins are rapidly cleared from the surface of the teeth just like apples, bananas and chocolate."

In the study, published in the journal Pediatric Dentistry, children ages 7 to 11 compared four food groups - raisins, bran flakes, a commercial raisin bran cereal, and a mix of bran flakes with raisins without added sugar. Children chewed and swallowed the test foods within two minutes. The acid produced by the plaque bacteria on the surface of their teeth was measured at intervals.

Plaque bacteria on tooth surfaces can ferment various sugars such as glucose, fructose or sucrose and produce acids that may promote decay. But sucrose is also used by bacteria to produce sticky sugar polymers that help the bacteria remain on tooth surfaces, Wu said. Raisins themselves do not contain sucrose.

In a previous study at UIC, researchers identified several natural compounds from raisins that can inhibit the growth of some oral bacteria linked to cavities or gum disease.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Another anti-ageing pill

On the evidence offered, the benefits are slight. And being full of antioxidants, it will probably shorten your life, perhaps by encouraging cancer. The big picture is obviously out of sight below -- as in much medical research

Forget all those tubs of cream clogging up the bathroom cabinet. If scientific claims of an anti-wrinkle breakthrough are to be taken at face value, the secret of young-looking skin could soon be to pop a pill. Scientists have designed a sugar-coated tablet the size of a Smartie that they say has been shown in trials to bring a dramatic slowdown in ageing of the skin. It has been developed by the confectionery giant Nestlé and L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company. Combining nutritional and dermatological science, they have used a compound found in tomatoes to promote the regeneration of new skin cells and protect old ones from damage.

The anti-wrinkle pill belongs to a rapidly developing class of products called cosmeceuticals, beauty treatments that are swallowed and work from within, instead of being rubbed on the skin or hair. The manufacturers hope its sugary flavours will mean women — and men — see it as a lifestyle product rather than medicine.

The sweet red pill, called Innéov Fermeté, has already gone on sale in parts of Europe and South America. A British launch is planned, although the companies this weekend declined to confirm a date. Before this can happen, teams of skincare consultants will have to be trained to help customers with advice on taking the pill.

Hundreds of anti-wrinkle products claim to slow ageing of the skin, but produce disappointing results. The developers of the new pill, however, say trials were so successful that it has the potential to sweep the market for anti-ageing products, worth more than £700m a year in Britain. Sales of anti-ageing treatments have held up well during the recession, with Boots reporting a 3.4% rise this year, due largely to demand for its No 7 Protect and Perfect anti-ageing cream.

Patricia Manissier, head of research and development at Innéov, the L’Oréal/Nestlé joint venture producing the new drug, said: “We have done a lot of research which shows this product works and now we’re looking for ways of improving it. We know that good nutrition can prevent the skin from ageing and that there are clear links between certain nutrients and skin health.”

Scientists developing the pill based it on lycopene, the red carotene pigment found in tomatoes. They modified it into a form more readily absorbed by human cells, then combined it with a form of vitamin C and with isoflavones — chemicals extracted from soya beans. All three ingredients are powerful antioxidants which, scientists believe, help protect tissue against damage.

The developers have tested their wrinkle drug with two groups of female volunteers: 90 post-menopausal women aged 51-69 and 70 others with an average age of 45. In each study, the women were divided into those who took the new pill and those who swallowed a placebo. After six months, the skin of those taking the real drug showed an 8.7% better rate of elasticity — the rate at which it sprang back into place after being stretched or twisted rather than leaving wrinkles.

One drawback, however, is the cost. The new drug will cost about £25 for a 10-day supply. In addition, manufacturers say women may not notice a difference for three months.


Soothing sounds play part in healing

There may be something in this aside from a placebo effect. Music can have a strong positive emotional impact and psychosomatic effects are well-known. One would think it to be important to get the right music for the person, however.

MUSIC can soothe the mind but it can also heal the body. Studies into the restorative powers of Mozart, Beethoven and even Beyonce have found regular exposure to music, particularly live performance, can lower blood pressure, ease anxiety and alleviate pain.

According to Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia - which conducts therapy, training and research at the Golden Stave Music Therapy Centre, at the University of Western Sydney - music can benefit children, teens and adults with a range of health issues. Music can help treat autism spectrum disorders, dementia, intellectual and learning problems as well as people with limited verbal skills.

Studies by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London found that hospital patients who had regular exposure to visual art or music experienced a 48 per cent reduction in their stress levels, measured by the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Live music in particular was found to be highly effective in combating anxiety, with a 32 per cent improvement reported in those patients.

Bonnie Nilsson, one of four music therapists based at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, recently visited a 10-year-old girl who was due to have a needle inserted into her spine and composed a funny song about the doctors and needles. "Last week it took them two hours to calm her down and I went in and it took them 40 minutes," she said.

Ms Nilsson said choice of music was one of the few luxuries afforded to sick children who could find themselves confined to the hospital for long periods. "They lose a lot of control over everything to do with their body and their treatment, so … with music they get to choose, they have control in the session, they can choose which instrument to play … and it increases their moods and stimulates them," she said.

At Westmead, the Sydney Symphony participates in the music4health program in partnership with health insurer MBF. Members of its brass section led about 50 sick children and their parents in a Christmas carol singalong this month.

Kayla Coppe, 13, has been in and out of the hospital since she was born because of a rare condition that caused her to suffer several strokes. Her mother Rebecca said music had been Kayla's lifeline. "She goes into a different world when she listens to music. It is wonderful to see her escape like that." During her last stay at hospital, Kayla was in the isolation ward where her only company was a music therapist, who took instruments and played with the teenager for more than an hour. "It lifted her mood greatly," Mrs Coppe said.

Adolescent psychiatrist Sloane Madden said live concerts provided sick children with the chance to meet their idols and do things ordinary kids do. "We know that when kids are feeling better about themselves, they're likely to be more motivated around their treatment."

Symphony trombonist Ron Prussing said the concerts - there have been eight at Westmead this year - provided some welcome respite for the parents as well. "It must be very draining for the parents who are there day in, day out and to see their kids away from their troubles must be wonderful."


Sunday, December 20, 2009

A sly bit of propaganda

A cancer research organization says below that it is a myth that people of middling weight are healthier and claims instead that "Extra weight means extra risk for chronic diseases like cancer". That may be true but it is OVERALL mortality that matters. Extra weight may increase some risks but it decreases others -- e.g. fat women get less breast cancer. It is of course true that BMI can be misleading but it is BMI that most of the alarmist "findings" are based on so they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. I also note that they are willing to control for smoking history but not for social class. They are in other words ready to admit the influence of third factors when it helps their case but other factors are ignored

Last year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that being moderately overweight was not associated with the increase in death rates that was observed among the obese. In fact, that study found that the moderately overweight even had a lower death rate than individuals at normal weight.

This surprising finding bolstered a belief that being 10 or 15 pounds overweight was healthy. One sociology professor interviewed about the study in the New York Times went to so far as to assert that the study proved that what most people consider overweight is actually “the optimal weight.”

Another study appeared late this summer in the British medical journal The Lancet. This study was a review of previous studies on obesity and cardiovascular health among patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). Once again, the conclusion was surprising: as of four years (on average) after being diagnosed with CAD, subjects who fell into the overweight or mildly obese categories had the lowest risk for dying. The authors of the study did not conclude, however, that being overweight is “healthy.”

Instead, they strongly suggested that the most widely-used method to classify overweight and obesity (the body-mass index (BMI), which expresses weight in proportion to height) is simply an imperfect tool. They noted that “these findings could be explained by the lack of discriminatory power of BMI to differentiate between body fat and lean mass.” An accompanying Lancet editorial went further, saying flatly that BMI should be “left aside” as a clinical tool.

Only one week later, in the August 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a major study appeared that shed new light on those much buzzed-about studies. In the new study, 527,265 men and women who were between 50 and 71 years old at the start of the study had their diets, medical histories and other factors tracked by researchers. After 10 years, 61,317 participants had died. When researchers analyzed the data, they looked at death rates among healthy people who had never smoked. (It was important to eliminate the effect of smoking on weight, because smokers are a paradox: they have higher death rates, but tend not to be overweight or obese.)

When the researchers did this, the effect of overweight and obesity at midlife (age 50) became much easier to measure: overweight people had a 20 to 40 percent higher death rate. (The death rates among obese individuals, depending on their degree of obesity, were double or triple the rate of healthy participants.)

Even so, Collins points out that studies that examine death rates alone are missing something. “Advances in medical care are lessening some of the impact that moderate obesity plays on death rates, but moderately obese individuals are more likely to develop other conditions that lessen quality of life and require multiple medications that come with their own side effects. “Studies link even moderate amounts of excess weight to increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the demand for long-term medications.”

A 2005 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health followed 6798 middle-aged British men and showed that, after 20 years, subjects who became moderately overweight had a 24% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and twice the risk of diabetes, than subjects at normal weight. Men who became considerably overweight had 41 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 4 times the risk of diabetes than normal-weight subjects. And those men who became obese over the course of the study increased their risk of cardiovascular disease by 78 percent, and were nearly 8 times as likely to develop diabetes.

The evidence that overweight and obesity increase risk for certain cancers (especially post-menopausal breast cancer) is growing. Carrying extra weight also increases the odds for arthritis, gallstones, gout, sleep apnea and similar conditions caused, directly or indirectly, by the stress of extra weight on the body.


Natural swine flu defence found

Sounds interesting

A previously unknown natural defence against swine flu and other viruses has been discovered which could lead to new treatments. Scientists found that the virus-fighting proteins protected against swine flu when levels were increased. When the proteins were removed the swine flu virus was able to multiply in the body unchecked. The accidental discovery may help to explain why some people develop serious symptoms when they contract flu and others do not.

The protein, IFITM3, and although it appeared to be connected to the functioning of the immune system, how it worked and what it did had never been understood. Professor Stephen Elledge, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, who led the research, said: "We've uncovered the first-line defence in how our bodies fight the flu virus. "The protein is there to stop the flu. Every cell has a constitutive immune response that is ready for the virus. If we get rid of that, the virus has a heyday."

The findings, reported in the journal Cell, could pave the way to new kinds of antiviral treatment, say the scientists. However, it remains to be seen what the long-term side effects of boosting levels of the proteins might be.

The news comes as Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, announced the latest swine flu figures showing a further drop in cases with an estimated 9,000 new diagnoses last week. It is thought over 800,000 people have suffered symptoms of swine flu since it first emerged in England in April. It appears that the second wave of the disease is coming to an end but he warned that it is not know what will happen in the New Year. Sir Liam said the NHS had coped 'brilliantly' with swine flu this year.

The vaccination programme is also progressing with three million people out of the nine million in the first priority groups already immunised. More than 100,000 pregnant women have so far been vaccinated, Prof David Salisbury, head of immunisation said, out of around 550,000 women who are pregnant at any one time in England. Two thirds of local NHS organisations have now reached agreements with GPs to start vaccinating children aged between six months and five years.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Overeating prevention hormone 'may protect against Alzheimer's'

Journal article here. A study of 89 Alzheimer's sufferers. There may be something in this but the sample is of unknown representativeness, the effects are weak and extreme-group analyses are not very persuasive. And confounding factors do not appear to have been explored

A hormone that helps to prevent overeating may also protect against Alzheimer's disease, researchers have discovered. Scientists discovered that higher levels of leptin are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's.

Leptin is produced by fat cells and sends a "feeling full" signal to the brain that reduces appetite. But there is growing evidence that the hormone also benefits brain development and function, and memory. Earlier research has shown that it reduces levels of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a major component of the sticky deposits that are a key hallmark of Alzheimer's.

In the latest study, scientists carried out regular brain scans on 198 older volunteers after measuring their leptin levels. Over a 12-year follow-up period, a quarter of those with the lowest levels of leptin developed Alzheimer's compared with six per cent of those with the highest levels. Higher leptin concentrations were also associated with greater total brain volume. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Study leader Dr Sudha Seshadri, from Boston University Medical Center in the US, said: "If our findings are confirmed by others, leptin levels in older adults may serve as one of several possible biomarkers for healthy brain ageing and, more importantly, may open new pathways for possible preventive and therapeutic intervention."


Drinking three cups of tea or coffee a day cuts risk of age-related diabetes by 23%

Good to see a metanalysis of this crowded field but the overall effect they come up with is too slight to be taken very seriously. Lots of diabetics DO drink tea and coffee, so where does that lead us?

Drinking more than three cups of tea a day cuts the risk of diabetes, say researchers. Studies show that regular tea drinkers have a 25 per cent lower chance of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those drinking tea occasionally or not at all. Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers, getting through 165million cups a day. Diabetes affects 2.3million. Researchers are suggesting doctors tell patients most likely to develop the condition to step up their tea consumption.

The seven studies involved almost 300,000 tea drinkers, while further studies included information on those who drank regular coffee and decaffeinated coffee. They showed coffee drinking was also linked with a reduced risk of developing diabetes, says a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.

The researchers from the University of Sydney collated studies involving 286,701 people which looked at the association between tea consumption and diabetes risk published between 1966 and 2009. In addition, 18 studies on coffee and diabetes found that drinking four cups cut the risk of getting diabetes by 25 per cent compared to those drinking no coffee.

Dr Rachel Huxley, who led the research team, said the protection appeared to be due to 'direct biological effects' A link was also found with decaffeinated coffee, so caffeine was unlikely to be solely responsible for the effect. She said: 'The identification of the active components of these beverages would open up new therapeutic pathways for the primary prevention of diabetes.'

Dr Carrie Ruxton, scientific adviser to the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said: 'The authors found that individuals who drank three to four cups per day had a 25 per cent lower risk than those who drank between zero and two cups per day. 'This protective effect may be due to the variety of compounds present in tea, including antioxidants.'


Friday, December 18, 2009

The health freaks are now gunning for Santa

One wonders if this is entirely serious. Anybody who talks of "giant multinational capitalists" is probably cross-eyed with hate, however

SANTA Claus has been accused of acting in ways that could "damage millions of lives". As the mythical man in red zooms around the planet delivering gifts, he is an unwitting promoter of obesity, unhealthy products, disease and even drink driving, according to an Australian academic. "Other dangerous activities that Santa could be accused of promoting include speeding, disregard for road rules and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping," said Dr Nathan Grills, public health fellow at Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine. "Despite the risks of high speed air travel, Santa is never depicted wearing a seatbelt or helmet."

In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, Dr Grills said Santa Claus' contemporary image became cemented in the public consciousness through a series of Coca Cola advertisements that began in the 1930s. His image was subsequently used in tobacco advertising and, while most countries had moved to ban this, it was common to still see Santa pictured on Christmas cards with a pipe in hand.

A study found Santa Claus was the only fictional character that was more highly recognised by US children than Ronald McDonald. "If Ronald McDonald can be so effective at selling burgers to children, we might expect Santa to be equally effective at selling other goods," Dr Grills said. "... Public health needs to be aware of what giant multinational capitalists realised long ago, that Santa sells and sometimes he sells harmful products."

Dr Grills said countries like India were increasingly celebrating Christmas, and Santa's image could again be used to sell harmful products where there was less regulation of advertising.

Santa's "rotund sedentary image" also had the effect of making "obesity synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality" around the world, he said. Children were also encouraged to leave out brandy, or other hard liquor, for a man who had to do a lot of travel and visit a lot of houses all in one night.

Amid a global swine flu pandemic, Dr Grills said most people who stood in as Santa impersonators were not required to undergo a health check - and they get "kissed and hugged" by a succession of "snotty-nosed kids". "We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour," he said. "Given Santa's universal appeal, and reasoning from a public health perspective, Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."

Instead using a sleigh, Santa should be "encouraged to adopt a more active method to deliver toys - swapping his reindeer for a bike or simply walking or jogging", Dr Grills said.


Soy products may help 'prevent breast cancer returning'

Just the old social class effect again. The workers wouldn't be seen dead eating all that tofu crap

A study on women with breast cancer found those with the highest consumption of soy foods had lower recurrence of the disease. The finding is controversial as some studies have suggested soy foods, which contain chemicals which mimic female hormones in the body, may encourage cancer or interfere with medicines used to treat it.

Lead author Dr Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, in America, found patients with the highest intake of soy protein had a 29 per cent lower risk of death during the study period, and a 32 per cent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to patients with the lowest intake of soy protein.

An accompanying editorial by Dr Rachel Ballard-Barbash, of the National Cancer Institute, in Bethesda, Maryland, and Dr Marian Neuhouser, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, wrote: "Even though the findings suggest that consumption of soy foods among breast cancer patients is probably safe, studies in larger cohorts are required to understand the effects of these foods among diverse clinical subgroups of breast cancer patients and survivors.

"In the meantime, clinicians can advise their patients with breast cancer that soy foods are safe to eat and that these foods may offer some protective benefit for long-term health. "Moreover, the potential benefits are confined to soy foods, and inferences should not be made about the risks or benefits of soy-containing dietary supplements.

"Patients with breast cancer can be assured that enjoying a soy latte or indulging in pad Thai with tofu causes no harm and, when consumed in plentiful amounts, may reduce risk of disease recurrence."

The study, carried out on 5,042 patients aged between 20 and 75 who were diagnosed between 2002 and 2006. They were followed up for an average of four years. High soy intake was defined as 11 grams per day.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

British headteacher rapped for keeping a box of Kit-Kats to reward well-behaved pupils

Food fads are not harmless. Here we see good educational practice undermined by them. The sheer dogmatism of it all is unnerving. There are frequent claims from researchers to say that chocolate is beneficial but these killjoys just KNOW it is bad

A school headmaster has been criticised for breaching healthy food guidelines by handing out chocolate bars to reward pupils for effort. John Waszek, of St Edward’s College, Liverpool, was pulled up by a joint team of NHS and town hall healthy eating inspectors tasked with eradicating junk food and excess sugar and salt in schools.

Mr Waszek’s methods were called into question when an auditor from the city’s Transforming School Food Strategy unit inspected the school and spotted a box of KitKats in his office. He was sent a warning that the school was in breach of guidelines which have banned such items since 2007. The warning stated ‘There are a number of non-permitted school meal items in stock. These include confectionery items – sweets and chocolate.’

Mr Waszek confirmed the school operates a policy to promote healthy eating. He said: 'The person came into school and I was told that chocolate should not be allowed and we were in breach of the regulations. 'I asked “Do you mean the box of KitKats?” and I was told yes. I just laughed.'

Mr Wazsek often holds informal 'pastoral' meetings to discuss and problems and progress with pupils. He added: 'I ask the students would they like a tea, coffee or hot chocolate and they can have a KitKat with the drink. 'That's why we have a box of KitKats in school.'

He also revealed the school had also been warned against handing out sausage rolls to members of sports team after a game. However, he pointed out that St Edward's has achieved National Healthy School Status, awarded for excellence in physical activity, healthy eating and emotional health.

Mr Waszek added: 'The motives are fantastic. I don't have a problem with the healthy schools sentiment and a lot of the guidelines are absolutely right. 'But our job is made more difficult by legislative requirements.'

The Transforming School Food Strategy unit is run in partnership by Liverpool NHS Primary Care Trust and Liverpool City Council. Liverpool City Council said the team was working with schools to advise and help them meet national healthy eating targets set out by the Food Standards Agency. A town hall spokesman said: 'We have had a fantastic response from schools, who tell us how useful this service is in helping them meet these targets. 'The government says all students are entitled to a broad and balanced diet. We are there to support schools in achieving this. 'This work is having a real impact, with the quality of school meals and food in general improving dramatically in recent years. 'Eight out of every 10 schools have now achieved National Healthy School status which means the vast majority of our schools are providing the very best for students, helping to fight obesity and building a healthier future for our young people.'


Drink to health with champagne

The usual old polyphenol speculation. NO apparent research on people at all below

IF you need an excuse to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly this festive season, here it is: It's good for your heart. British academics have found that champagne is packed with polyphenols – plant chemicals thought to widen the blood vessels, easing the strain on your heart and brain. And researchers believe the health benefits aren't limited to the expensive stuff, but are also found in cheaper alternatives, such as cava and prosecco.

The Reading University study builds on earlier findings that two glasses of red wine a day help keep heart and circulatory problems at bay.

Polyphenols are believed to boost the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which then widens the blood vessels. They are found in relatively high levels in red wine, but not in white. Champagne, however, is most commonly made from a blend of red grape varieties pinot meunier or pinot noir and white chardonnay.

Polyphenols are also found in tea, olive oil, onions, leeks, broccoli and blueberries.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Food sweetener could be 'fuelling' childhood diabetes, study finds

Journal article here. A sample of 16 fatties is a joke. And a 10 week trial is pretty weak too

The sweetener fructose, a cheap sugar substitute found in thousands of processed foods and soft drinks, may be increasing childhood diabetes and the obesity crisis, new findings suggest. In a study by researchers at the University of California, 16 volunteers were put on a controlled diet with high-levels of fructose – a sweetener derived from corn.

After 10 weeks, the volunteers had developed more fat cells around the heart, liver and other major organs as well as showing signs of food processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease.

Another group of volunteers, who were also on a controlled diet but without the fructose, did not show the fat cell increase or the food processing abnormalities. Both groups put on the same amount of weight.

Children are said to be in a higher risk group as they are more likely to eat products with high-levels of sweeteners over longer periods of time. "This is the first evidence we have that fructose increases diabetes and heart disease independently from causing simple weight gain," Kimber Stanhope, a molecular biologist who led the study, told a Sunday newspaper.


Breast cancer drug combination offers new hope to women

Comment from Britain

A new breast cancer drug has been shown to shrink tumours in women for whom all other treatments have failed. Forty per cent of women with an aggressive and advanced form of breast cancer who were given the treatment in clinical trials saw their tumours reduce. The new drug - a combination of Herceptin with a particular type of chemotherapy - slowed the spread of disease in more than half of women with HER2-positive cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. In 40 per cent of cases, tumours were reduced for at least six months.

The results are particularly significant because the research was carried out on women whose cancer was progresssing despite the fact they had already tried many other drug treatments. Charities described the study's findings as "promising" and called for rapid major trials to test the drug on larger numbers of women.

Around 10,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with HER2-positive cancer each year, making up around 20 to 30 per cent of all breast cancer cases. The diagnosis means women have been found to have large quantities of a protein known as HER2 on the surface of the tumour cells, which makes the disease more aggressive.

In recent years, the "wonderdrug" Herceptin, which targets this protein, has been hailed as the best solution for such women. The new trial found that for those women whose disease had continued to progress, the combination of Herceptin with a type of chemotherapy called DM1 - which prevents the cell division which spreads cancer - could offer a last hope.

On average, the 110 women in the study had already undergone seven types of different drug treatments, which had failed to stop the spread of their cancer, before they were given the "two-in-one" treatment, called TDM1. Tumours were shrunk in 40 per cent of cases, while a further 12 per cent of women saw their disease stabilise for six months or more, according to the study, which will be presented later today [Sunday] at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, in Texas.

Experts said the new treatment - which is not yet licensed in this country - could offer hope to women who had exhausted all other options. Charities called for rapid large scale trials to see if the new drug was as effective as the US study suggests.

Dr Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support said: "These findings are definitely promising. What we need is more work quickly to see if the results are as good using large scale, randomised control trials." The combination drug is not yet licensed, and TDM1 could take three to five years to be available in this country.

Dr David Miles, from the Institute of Cancer Research, said it was rare to see a drug work so dramatically on women whose disease was so aggressive. He said: "These results are promising news for the thousands of women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer who have already received many rounds of new treatment, and need new options to be available. To see such efficacy in such a large proportion of women with this aggressive type of cancer is unusual".


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coffee Guards Against Prostate Cancer?

More details here. The study is unpublished so is difficult to evaluate but it appears that only aggressive cancers are affected. The finding is of course epidemiological so the causal path is unknown -- something the researchers admit. A next step might be to look at what characterizes people who need a lot of artificial stimulation. A low metabolic rate? A low metabolic rate could quite conceivably lead to slower cancer development. In which case it is the metabolic rate, not the coffee, producing the effect

Men who are java junkies could be protecting themselves against the most deadly forms of prostate cancer. A study from Harvard Medical School found that men who drank the most coffee slashed their risk of developing the fastest growing and most difficult to treat prostate cancers by more than half when compared to men who drank no coffee.

This is the first study to associate coffee with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Researchers examined the overall risk as well as the risk of localized, advanced and lethal disease. No previous studies looked at coffee and its relationship to the outcomes of various prostate cancers. "We specifically looked at different types of prostate cancer, such as advanced vs. localized cancers or high-grade vs. low-grade cancers," Kathryn M. Wilson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Men who drank the most coffee—six or more cups daily—reduced their risk by 60 percent. The risk was 25 percent lower for men who drank four or five cups, and 20 percent lower for those men who consumed one to three cups daily.

The researchers, who studied nearly 50,000 men over a 20-year period, believe that ingredients other than caffeine provide the benefit since men who drank decaffeinated coffee enjoyed the same reduction in risk. The advantage, they theorize, probably comes from the many antioxidants and minerals found in coffee.

"This research does provide a clue that coffee drinking might reduce the likelihood of a man being diagnosed with a more advanced prostate cancer, although there is still more research to do to confirm this and to uncover which component of coffee could be responsible," Helen Rippon of the U.K.'s Prostate Cancer Charity, told the Daily Mail. "Coffee has effects on insulin and glucose metabolism as well as sex hormone levels, all of which play a role in prostate cancer," the Harvard researchers told a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Very few lifestyle factors have been consistently associated with prostate cancer risk, especially with risk of aggressive disease, so it would be exciting if this association is confirmed in other studies."


Cigarette pack health warnings 'could encourage people to keep smoking'

According to a study, smokers who are continunally confronted with warnings that cigarettes kill actually develop coping mechanisms to justify continuing their habit. Comparatively, if smokers are shown warnings suggesting the habit could make them unattractive, they are more likely to give up. Teenagers who took up the habit to impress or fit in with their peers were more likely to be influenced by warnings about their appearance, the study found.

"In general, when smokers are faced with death-related anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behaviour," the study said. "To succeed with anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke."

The study from the United States, Switzerland and Germany, led by Jochim Hansen of New York University and the University of Basel, asked 39 psychology students who said they were smokers, aged between 17 -41. Participants filled in a questionnaire determining how much their smoking was based on self-esteem, before being shown cigarette packets with different warnings on them. Half of them read warnings such as "Smoking leads to deadly lung cancer", while the other half had warnings about attractiveness. After a 15-minute delay the students were asked more questions about their smoking behaviour and if they intended to quit.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that cigarette packets with death-related warnings were not effective and even caused more positive smoking attitudes. "On the other hand, warning messages that were unrelated to death effectively reduced smoking attitudes the more recipients based their self-esteem on smoking.

"This finding can be explained by the fact that warnings such as 'Smoking brings you and the people around you severe damage' and 'Smoking makes you unattractive' may be particularly threatening to people who believe the opposite, namely that smoking allows them to feel valued by others or to boost their positive self-image."

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Health warnings on tobacco packaging have played an important role in helping smokers understand the risks of tobacco use and where to get help to quit. Research from around the world has shown that different people react to different types of messages to motivate them to attempt to quit. “In October 2008, the UK was the first nation in the European Union to introduce graphic picture warnings to cigarette packets that showed smokers the grim reality of the effects smoking can have on their health. We are now currently working with the European Commission to develop new pictorial warnings for tobacco packaging, including testing different types of messages with smokers.”


Monday, December 14, 2009

Another government-sponsored iatrogenic disaster?

MS is no joke and there is no known cure. The comparative life-expectancies of those vaccinated and those not vaccinated will one day be an interesting study

THE cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil has triggered multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms in some girls after being inoculated. Doctors said the victims were either teenagers or women in their early 20s who may have been predisposed to MS or who had a prior history of symptoms.

St Vincent's Hospital neurologist Dr Ian Sutton reported five cases in a journal article in January. Another five have since emerged. "Gardasil vaccination is not the cause of MS; whether or not it was a trigger for episodes of inflammation in the brain in these rare cases is unclear," Dr Sutton said. All cases were in women aged under 26, the target group of a vaccination program that began in 2007.

Symptoms began within three weeks of vaccination and lasted from weeks to months. "We have raised the question: has the vaccine modified what may have occurred anyway or just been an additional trigger?" Dr Sutton said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last week said six million doses of Gardasil – created by scientist and former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer – had been distributed in Australia, and 1476 suspected adverse reactions had been reported to the regulator. "The TGA is also aware of a small number of cases in which neurological symptoms, similar to those experienced in patients with a dedemyelinating disorder such as multiple sclerosis, have been reported shortly after HPV (human papillomavirus vaccination)," the regulator said.

The cases involving neurological symptoms have been investigated by an independent panel.

The vaccine has been tested on more than 30,000 women worldwide, its manufacturer CSL said. "In spite of reports of some neurological symptoms occurring after vaccination, when those have been investigated no causative relationship with the vaccine has been determined," company spokeswoman Rachel David said.


British Boy, 12, suspended for 'crisp dealing' in school that banned junk food

Definitely a kid with a future in business

A schoolboy has been suspended for 'crisp dealing' at a school which has banned fatty drinks and snacks. In sign of pupil disgruntlement over school meal reforms spearheaded by TV chef Jamie Oliver, 12-year-old Joel Bradley was caught allegedly selling a packet of Discos at a marked-up price of 50p. He was suspended from Liverpool's Cardinal Heenan High School because it was the second time he had been caught.

His father, Joe, said the boy had been 'victimised' for an enterprise which could earn him as much as £15 a day. 'I think the school has made a beeline for him because of what I've done,' he told the Liverpool Echo. Mr Bradley, from Liverpool's Norris Green district, admitted he too had once been caught selling canned drinks, chocolate bars and crisps from a van outside the school - saying he was filling a void left by the closure of a local shop.

But headmaster Dave Forshaw said parents and pupils must abide by the school rules or go elsewhere. 'We are a healthy school and proud of it,' he said. 'If parents are not happy then they are perfectly free to take their children to a school that allows pupils to sell these things and allows a father to sell them outside on the pavement.'

Mr Forshaw said pupils were caught around 'three or four times a week' selling snacks at the school. 'We have six to seven regular sellers we pinpoint', he said.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

The marigold extract that appears to have saved one man's sight

Worth a try in the absence of anything else, I suppose. Could be a spontaneous remission though

As a retired optician, Harry Marsland knew better than most how serious it was when he was diagnosed with an untreatable eye condition. But his tale of despair has turned into an astonishing story of recovery - thanks to the marigold plant. Mr Marsland, who at one stage needed help just to walk, could be the first person in the UK to have recovered from a devastating condition that causes blindness.

Within months of starting to take a food supplement containing marigold extracts he is driving a car again, reads without a magnifier and has near-perfect vision in the affected eye.

Mr Marsland, 73, suffered from age-related macular degeneration, which is responsible for half the cases of blindness in the country. After a number of standard vitamin treatments, which can only slow decline anyway, failed to work, he was handed a flyer that had been gathering dust in a doctor's drawer for almost a year. It promoted a vitamin supplement called Macushield, which contains mesozeaxanthin, derived from marigolds. 'I now know, professionally that I have recovered almost completely from the effects in my left eye,' he said yesterday. 'I am the first person to have such good fortune.'

Mr Marsland, from Oundle, Northamptonshire, started taking a 2mg capsule daily in April 2007. He paid £150 for it as it is not available on the NHS.

He has been blind in one eye since gambling on an experimental laser treatment in 2001, but the vision in his other eye is now 95 per cent as good as it was before. 'It was in August my wife Nina picked up my magnifying glass and realised it was dusty,' he said. 'She was the first to realise I no longer needed to use it. 'A few months later we were walking in the dark and I suddenly realised I was no longer holding on to my wife. It's miraculous, considering at one point I was literally blind in the dark.' Dry age-related macular degeneration happens when light-sensitive cells slowly break down.


Swine flu panic subsides

Like many similar panics before it

The swine flu pandemic is "considerably less lethal" than feared, with a death rate lower than 0.1 per cent, research by England's chief medical officer showed today. Twenty-six people have died for every 100,000 cases in England, an analysis of deaths to November 8 revealed. About 1per cent of the population in England has had swine flu with symptoms, of which 0.026 per cent died, the research added.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer for England, led the study, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which described the low death rates as "fortunate". His study concluded: "The first influenza pandemic of the 21st century is considerably less lethal than was feared in advance."

Sir Liam wrote, however, that a lower impact than feared was not justification for "inaction". It was right to vaccinate people at risk - such as those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and pregnant women - and to extend the programme, he went on.

"Viewed statistically, mortality in this pandemic compares favourably with 20th century influenza pandemics," he said. "A lower population impact than previous pandemics, however, is not a justification for public health inaction. "Our data support the priority vaccination of high risk groups. "Given that a substantial minority of deaths occur in previously healthy people, there is a case for extending the vaccination programme and for continuing to make early anti-viral treatment widely available."

The paper showed the estimated death rate was lowest among children aged five to 14, with around 11 deaths per 100,000 population. It was highest for those aged over 65, with 980 per 100,000. In the 138 people in whom the confirmed cause of death was pandemic flu, the typical age at death was 39. The analysis showed many of the patients who died were high risk and would have been eligible for vaccination.

"Two thirds of patients who died (92 or 67%) would now be eligible for the first phase of vaccination in England. "Fifty (36%) had no, or only mild, pre-existing illness. "Most patients (108, 78%) had been prescribed anti-viral drugs, but of these, 82 (76%) did not receive them within the first 48 hours of illness."

Sir Liam compares the pandemic with previous ones, saying "improvements in nutritional status, housing and health care availability might explain some of the apparent decrease in case fatality from one pandemic to the next". He added: "Since the most recent pandemic there have been major advances in intensive care medicine. "Many more patients may have died in England without the ready availability of critical care support, including mechanical ventilation."


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Three glasses of wine a week 'increases risk of breast cancer returning by 30%'

It is not linked to risk of death but increases breast cancer? Must be a jolly nice sort of cancer! It's just epidemiolgical rubbish, of course -- picking out a correlation and assuming a direct causal link

Drinking just three glasses of wine a week increases by 30 per cent the risk of breast cancer returning, warn researchers. Women who have been successfully treated should limit their alcohol consumption to cut the chances of the disease coming back, they claim. Overweight and post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol on recurrence, according to US researchers at the Kaiser Permanent Division of Research in Oakland, California.

Dr Marilyn Kwan, a staff scientist who led a new study, said 'Women previously diagnosed with breast cancer should consider limiting their consumption of alcohol to less than three drinks per week, especially women who are postmenopausal and overweight or obese' she said. The impact of drinking on the risk of developing breast cancer is well established. Scientific studies rank the scale of increased risk from four to seven per cent per drink, or unit of alcohol - the amount contained in a small glass of wine. But there have only been limited studies about alcohol's role in affecting the risk of recurrence.

The latest study looked at 1,897 breast cancer survivors diagnosed with early stage disease between 1997 and 2000. The researchers compared breast cancer recurrence in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer who drank, with a group of women previously diagnosed with the disease who did not drink. Women completed a questionnaire on wine, beer and liquor consumption over the past year, and medical records were checked. After eight years of follow-up there were 349 breast cancer recurrences and 332 deaths from cancer and other causes. Among drinkers - who comprised 50 per cent of those involved - wine was the most popular choice of alcohol among 90 per cent of women. Liquor was also chosen by 43 per cent of drinkers and beer by 36 per cent.

The overall increase in risk was 30 per cent for women drinking three or four drinks a week, with postmenopausal, overweight and obese women at greatest risk. The type of alcohol drunk did not affect the risk.

Alcohol consumption was not linked to risk of death, said Dr Kwan, presenting the data at the San Antonio Breast cancer Symposium in the US. She said 'These results can help women make more informed decisions about lifestyle choices after a diagnosis of breast cancer.'

Other research at the same conference shows breast cancer patients who are obese have poorer chances of beating the disease. Their treatment effect does not last as long and their risk of death increases, said Danish researchers at Odense University Hospital, who looked at medical records on 54,000 breast cancer patients.

Arlene Wilkie, director of research and policy at the Breast Cancer Campaign charity said 'This research adds to the growing evidence of a link between alcohol and breast cancer. To reduce breast cancer risk, as well as breast cancer recurrence we advise all women to limit their alcohol intake. 'Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life, along with regular exercise will reduce the risk of many health problems including breast cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and other types of cancer.'


The CCF Challenge (Will food and science reporters take the bait?)

If you swallow the scary stories anti-food activists are constantly pushing to the media, you might be worrying about trace amounts of mercury in the fish you eat. But new research shows that levels of mercury in fish might be irrelevant after all. Since 2006 when we published “The Flip Side of Mercury,” we've been saying that selenium levels in seafood might actually be canceling out the negative effects of mercury, in an all-natural conspiracy to make fish the “brain food” your mom always said it was. (Selenium is a key antioxidant that helps guard against heart disease and boosts your immune system.) The News-Press in Fort Myers has the details:
Selenium -- an essential mineral found in all saltwater and many freshwater fish -- counteracts the toxic effects of mercury when it is present in equal or greater amounts than mercury, according to University of North Dakota environmental scientist Nicholas Ralston. If a fish has a higher selenium value than mercury, it would have a health benefit. If a fish were to have more mercury than selenium, it could be harmful….

Of 15 oceanic fish for which Ralston has tested, only mako shark had more mercury than selenium. Swordfish had only slightly more selenium than mercury, and all other fish, including thresher sharks and four tuna species -- the most commercially popular fish -- were considered strongly beneficial.

That’s big news. Even the much-maligned swordfish could be fully vindicated from mercury scaremongering. And tuna, the poster-fish for green scare campaigns, appears to have been unfairly singled out since it’s plentiful in selenium.

Here’s the catch, as the News-Press notes: Today’s fish consumption warnings are based only on the levels of mercury in fish. (Click here for more information about how supposed dangers from mercury in fish are often hyped by environmental alarmists and government regulators.)

After all, there has never been a single medically proven case of mercury toxicity related to commercial seafood in the United States (unless you take Jeremy Piven’s word for it). In fact, our wildly popular seafood calculator shows that an average-sized man could eat more than 10 pounds of canned light tuna every week before he would have any hypothetical new health risks from mercury.

We have to wonder: How many more newspapers will report on this important new research? The benefits of eating fish are well-documented, especially for pregnant mothers, but for too many years to count, activists have been telling people to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So we’re issuing a challenge to health and science writers and bloggers: Take a look at Dr. Ralston’s research. See if it passes the smell test. And allow yourself to challenge the conventional wisdom in print.

Can you imagine how the news about fish would change if everyone knew about the relationship between selenium and mercury? We sure can. Now it's up to you, reporters. We know you're out there.