Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Australia: Food fanatic father

I suppose this is one endpoint of the "obesity" war. He sounds like a bit of a nut but you can't entirely blame him for believing all the tripe about "obesity" that is constantly poured out in the media these days

A COURT has banned a Victorian father from weighing his son. The Family Court orders also prevent the dad discussing the nine-year-old's weight with, or within earshot of, the boy, the Herald Sun reports. The man could face sanctions including fines or jail if he breaches the order and a series of others set by the judge.

Justice Nahum Mushin imposed the restrictions at the end of a bitter 16-day custody hearing where the child's health was a major flashpoint. The court heard the dad is fixated on the fact his disabled son's weight exceeds 40kg, and he blames his ex-wife for the blowout. The father - who can't be identified for legal reasons - accused the mother of allowing the boy to watch too much television, eat fatty foods and exercise little.

He was concerned the child's weight was having an impact on the effectiveness of various medications. The boy suffers from a range of medical problems. The mother accused the man of denigrating the boy about his weight, and of using his size as a reason to criticise her.

Doctors and teachers trying to care for the boy were alienated by the man's aggressive behaviour, the court heard. The man's conduct to the child's main doctor was "harassing, aggressive and confrontational", the court found in a judgment published last month. The dad - who wanted his son to change schools - also wrote "derogatory, dictatorial and sarcastic notes" in a diary to a teacher, the court heard.

The judge ruled the children should live with the mother and granted her sole responsibility for decisions about the boy's health and education.

Justice Mushin described the case as "extremely protracted and bitter". "There is enormous antipathy between the parties. Throughout this trial I searched for, and could not find, any point of convergence between them with regard to their parenting," he ruled.


Australian scientists claim swine flu vaccine breakthrough

Scientists at the University of Queensland have developed a vaccine for swine flu. The breakthrough against the influenza A(H1N1) virus will be announced at the university's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology tomorrow.

Five Australians with swine flu have died while more than 3000 have been diagnosed. "It's one of the first swine flu vaccines made but, unfortunately, it can't be used in Australia yet," a university spokesman said. "It's not registered for use in Australia yet."

Meanwhile, scientists from CSL say its Melbourne laboratory has created an effective sample of a vaccine against the influenza, but human trials are needed to determine the right dosage and may not be available until next winter. Fairfax Media says the federal government has ruled out releasing the vaccine early to vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with chronic illnesses.

Rachel David from CSL said results of the trial - involving 240 healthy adults from South Australia - would determine when the 10 million doses ordered by the government would be distributed. Dr David said the earliest the vaccine would be ready for use is mid- to late-August, but if the virus continued to produce mild symptoms the government might delay distribution until next year. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, the government and public health experts, not CSL, would control when the vaccine is available.

All five people who have died in Australia with swine flu - two Western Australians and three Victorians - had underlying health conditions.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Tasty food is bad for you(?)

Now the food Fascists want to make our food less tasty, apparently. Note that Kessler is too much of a nut even for California. He was unceremoniously fired last year as Dean of the medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. So treat his colourful assertions with caution. Food producers undoubtedly have some role in what we eat but your weight is mostly genetically determined

JUNK foods such as Snickers bars and ketchup really are irresistible. Manufacturers have created combinations of fat, sugar and salt that are so tasty many people cannot stop eating them even when full, according to America’s former food standards watchdog. David Kessler, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has warned that snacks, cereals and ready meals devised by food scientists can act on the reward centres of the brain in the same way as tobacco.

He argues that manufacturers are seeking to trigger a “bliss point” when people eat certain products, leaving them hungry for more. “It is time to stop blaming individuals for being overweight or obese,” said Kessler. “The real problem is we have created a world where food is always available and where that food is designed to make you want to eat more of it. For millions of people, modern food is simply impossible to resist.”

While at the FDA, Kessler was best known for his attacks on the tobacco industry, which he accused of manipulating cigarettes to make them even more addictive. In a new book, The End of Overeating, he suggests food manufacturers have achieved a similar result using precise combinations of fat, sugar, salt and texture to make foods “hyper-palatable”.

Kessler cites Heinz tomato ketchup and Starbucks white chocolate mocha Frappuccino as examples of the thousands of modern foods that have been engineered to stimulate feelings of pleasure. A study carried out by Kessler with researchers at Yale University using functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, showed that about 50% of obese people and 30% of those who are overweight were prone to so-called “excessive activation”. “The right combination of tastes triggers a greater number of neurons, getting them to fire more,” said Kessler. “The message to eat becomes stronger, motivating the eater to look for even more food.”

In other research, scientists have used rats to study how different combinations of fat, sugar and salt trigger the release of neurotransmitters in the brain’s pleasure centres. The most powerful combination involved sucrose (table sugar) mixed with chocolate and alcohol – the same mixture found in desserts such as tiramisu.

Kessler said: “Many of us have what’s called a ‘bliss point’ – the point at which we get the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat or salt. “As more sugar is added, food becomes more pleasurable until we reach the bliss point, after which it becomes too sweet and the pleasure drops off.” The same thing happens with fat and salt. At the optimum point, food stimulates many people’s appetites instead of suppressing it, according to Kessler, who ran the FDA from 1990 to 1997 and is now professor of paediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California.

There have been a series of warnings about obesity in Britain. A landmark report by the National Audit Office in 2001 found that 20% of adults were obese – a figure that has since risen to 25% – while a further 38% were overweight.

The findings alarmed Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, so much that he warned of a “health time bomb” – particularly among children. In 2007 the government’s science-led Foresight report said: “The wide variety and appeal of modern foods, with their increased palatability and ability to heighten sensory stimulation, drive us to reward ourselves with more food.”

Experts claimed that such evidence showed the need for state intervention. However, when Gordon Brown announced the Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy early last year, he said: “There should be no doubt that maintaining a healthy weight must be the responsibility of individuals first – it is not the role of government to tell people how to live their lives.”

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University and a government adviser, said politicians’ obsession with promoting “choice” was damaging public health. “If I walk to my local park for some exercise,” he said, “I pass more than 30 food outlets before I get there. It’s that combination of availability, advertising and seductive taste that makes modern food so addictive. ”


Obama's FDA wants to class a vitamin as a drug so it can ban it until it has undergone many years of testing

That it is therapeutically useful has already been established in proper double-blind studies -- e.g. here -- JR

Kidney disease causes almost 500,000 Americans to require dialysis or a transplant.22 Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease.23 With today’s epidemic of type 2 diabetes, the market for a drug that protects against diabetic complications is huge.

Based on scientific data documenting its remarkable biologic effects, a drug company paid for studies to prove the efficacy of pyridoxamine in protecting against diabetic complications.

One of these studies showed that pyridoxamine slowed the rate of rise of a marker of kidney failure (creatinine) by 68% and improved certain parameters of kidney function in humans. This company spent about $100 million funding various pyridoxamine studies before it ran out of money. The FDA wants to protect pharmaceutical financial interests, even if pyridoxamine is never approved as a new drug. According to the FDA, pyridoxamine cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement because: “pyridoxamine is authorized for investigation as a new drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been conducted and their existence made public…”

The FDA’s twisted position is that if vitamin companies can offer low-cost pyridoxamine supplements, then there is no incentive for a drug company to invest hundreds of millions of dollars getting it approved as a prescription drug. Said differently, to protect the financial interests of a pharmaceutical company, the FDA is willing to deny every health-conscious American access to the life-saving benefits of pyridoxamine, which include preventing the very disease the drug company is seeking to have pyridoxamine approved to treat!


Even under the FDA’s fast track program, obtaining new drug approval can take decades. In the case of pyridoxamine, which has been around since life evolved on earth, there are numerous hurdles that have to be cleared before it becomes an official “drug.”

Assuming successful completion of a Phase IIb trial—this assumes an end-of-Phase II meeting and formal vetting of Phase III (pivotal, registrational) trial design(s) and associated study endpoints—and assuming at least two Phase III trials involving 1,500 patients studied for at least six months (and at least 500 patients studied for at least one year, and at least 200 studied for two years), with estimates for Phase III trial recruiting of 12 months and a nine-month turnaround time from the FDA following NDA (new drug application) submission, an estimated timeline would suggest that pyridoxamine might be available around 2014.

Until these clinical trials are completed, an outside FDA review committee recommends approval, and FDA bureaucrats grant approval, pyridoxamine will never be available to American citizens. The death toll from heart attack, kidney failure, and a host of other diseases preventable with pyridoxamine may then reach into the millions.

The FDA pretends to “protect the public health.” This cruel hoax is once again exposed by this bureaucratic edict that seeks to deny Americans access to a critically important disease-fighting nutrient.

Pyridoxamine is Found Naturally in Our Food! Pyridoxamine occurs naturally in fish, chicken, walnuts, carrots, eggs, and other foods. People ingest small quantities each day. The FDA apparently feels so empowered that it thinks it can by proclamation ban an ingredient people obtain in their normal diet.

By defining the safest form of vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine) to be a “new drug,” the FDA has once again capitulated to pharmaceutical financial interests at the expense of the public’s health.

What if Pyridoxamine is Approved as a Drug? On March 25, 2008, the company seeking to have pyridoxamine approved as a “drug” stated that it will be conducting a Phase IIb study on diabetic patients with kidney disease. The estimated study completion date is August 2010.

If this study demonstrates a successful clinical outcome, it will then be submitted to the FDA for so-called “fast track” approval. It could take several years, if ever, before FDA approval is granted for pyridoxamine. In the meantime, according to the FDA’s Byzantine logic, no American is “allowed” to have pyridoxamine, effectively condemning millions to needless suffering and death.

If pyridoxamine is ever approved, it will only be for very limited indications, such as end-stage kidney failure and diabetic neuropathies. Unless you happen to suffer from these diseases, you will find it difficult to obtain a “pyridoxamine prescription.” Then again, the cost of “prescription pyridoxamine” will be so astronomical that few will be able to afford it anyway.

If pyridoxamine becomes a new drug, the federal government will spend millions of tax dollars paying full retail price for it via the corrupt Medicare Prescription Drug Act, which adds another absurdity to the FDA’s proposed ban.

More than 26 million Americans over age 20 suffer chronic kidney disease, which represents 13% of the adult population! Diabetes and poorly controlled blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney failure, meaning this epidemic is largely preventable with early detection. Annual blood chemistry tests and regular blood pressure checks can identify deteriorating kidney function early and enable one to initiate corrective actions. Unfortunately, millions of Americans do not have regular blood tests (or blood pressure checks), resulting in the silent development of end-stage renal disease. For too many victims, they don’t find out their kidneys have failed until admitted to a hospital emergency room with severe symptoms.

End-stage renal disease is the name for kidney failure so advanced that it cannot be reversed. End-stage renal disease means that kidney function is so poor that the patient cannot be kept alive without aggressive and often only partially effective treatment.

There are 336,000 Americans receiving chronic dialysis treatment right now. Another 136,000 Americans are surviving with a kidney transplant.22 These treatments can induce serous side effects that shorten the patient’s life span. The annual cost of dialysis alone is about $70,000, most of which is borne by Medicare (which is facing near-term insolvency)...

The FDA is seeking to ban pyridoxamine, which has been demonstrated to significantly delay the progression of kidney disease. Pyridoxamine has been shown to slow the elevation of creatinine, a blood marker of kidney function by 68%.24 These data indicate that many of those destined to perish from kidney disease will be dying prematurely because of the FDA’s draconian actions to keep pyridoxamine away from the public....

We know that pyridoxamine was used as a dietary supplement in the early 1990s. If we can prove that pyridoxamine was sold in the United States prior to October 1994, the FDA will not be allowed to ban it. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act protects supplements marketed prior to October 1994.

If you used pyridoxamine prior to October 1994, please let us know so we can add your name to an affidavit and use any evidence you have to overturn the FDA’s proposed ban on pyridoxamine.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chemical ban will not help kids

Activists and some politicians are exploiting parents' legitimate concerns for their children's health by trying to convince state governments to pass a ban on the safe and eminently useful chemical bisphenol-A (BPA).

BPA has been used in many familiar guises for decades, with absolutely no reliable evidence of harm to humans of any age. Considering its many uses, one might say it's almost ubiquitous. Among the most common uses: plastic bottles of many types--it's required in the manufacture of shatter-proof polycarbonate plastic, which is also invaluable in baby bottles, bike helmets and protective car-seats, eyeglass lenses, and medical devices of many kinds. The resin coatings that protect the integrity of canned food and beverages--as well as nearly all electronic circuit boards--also depend on BPA.

So what's all the fuss about? It has been claimed that low doses of hormonally-active substances in the environment may cause health problems, but this allegation is highly controversial. Multiple studies by both government and private researchers have not shown any evidence of adverse effects in humans. My organization, the American Council on Science and Health, published a peer-reviewed scientific assessment of the available data, including both animal and human studies, that found no compelling evidence that people are being put at risk by the trace levels of exposure to BPA.

Since BPA is found in our bodies--although at extremely minute amounts--some groups have seized upon this as an excuse to frighten parents and seek government and media attention. However, with our increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques, near-infinitesimal quantities of almost anything can be detected in our blood and tissues. Even the Centers for Disease Control have stated that the mere presence of a substance in our bodies does not mean that it's harmful.

Periodically, activists with an anti-chemical agenda pick up on these issues and start pressuring politicians at various levels of government to ban or restrict consumer products, based on nothing more than hypothetical dangers like this one.

Despite what's been painted as received truth in the activist blogosphere, the FDA's conclusions are based on the full weight of scientific evidence after their review of hundreds of studies from all sources, not just a few industry-funded studies. Official scientific analyses worldwide have comprehensively reviewed the actual data, and have reached similar conclusions: BPA in consumer products is safe as currently used.

If states take a stricter view of BPA than the U.S. FDA, and even the ultra-precautionary EU, what will be activists' next target? With a safety track record spanning more than fifty years, BPA is one of the best-tested substances in commerce. What would replace BPA in the many applications it is essential for? Will glass replace shatter-proof baby bottles? Will some other chemical replace it in bike helmets--only to come under activist attack in a year or two, since the safety record of any replacement will be more suspect than this well-known substance?

Let's not throw the baby bottles out with the bath water. There isn't a shred of scientific or medical sense in the proposed ban of bisphenol-A. If there were, wouldn't the regulators and their expert scientific advisors around the world have taken notice, after decades of its safe consumer use? Regulators should resist the political pressure to target BPA and follow the scientific and medical database supporting BPA's continuing safe use--for all ages of consumers.


Australia: Using taxpayers' money to save obese people from themselves is futile nanny statism

By Dr Jeremy Sammut

The Rudd government’s National Preventive Health Taskforce will next week call for obese people to be given tax breaks or cash subsidies to offset the cost of gym memberships and fitness equipment.

Public health lobbyists have hailed this step as a new dawn in the fight against obesity. But really, it highlights the mixed success of the last 40 years of public health promotion campaigns – on which Australian governments currently spend about $2 billion per year.

Despite what the misleading Body Mass Index statistics allegedly tell us about the nation’s expanding waistline, the healthy lifestyle message has seeped into the culture. First it was jogging and cutting red meat and dairy out your diet. Now it’s cutting out sugars altogether and going to the gym three times a week.

Many Australians order salad instead of chips. Snack on low-fat yoghurt instead of ice-creams. And pass when the cheese platter comes around. They even pay for gym memberships out of their own pockets so they can work out before or after work or during their lunch hours.

And for their trouble, the government is about to force them to subsidise the unhealthier habits of people who haven’t the will and self-discipline to follow their good example. And to pay for what? Ab-crunchers that will sit dusty and dormant in the garages of the slothful and indolent?

The high priests of the nanny state are at it again. As usual, bad behaviour is being rewarded and good behaviour is punished. And the importance of individual responsibility is being ignored entirely.

The above is a recent press release from the Centre for Independent Studies

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Scottish scientists raise hopes of new treatments for autism

This is pretty nutty. Only 5 out of 121 autistic kids had the gene abnormality and they think they have found THE autism gene. What a lot of bollocks!

Scottish scientists have discovered a gene linked with autism, raising the prospect of the development of new treatments for the condition. Drugs to control autism could be developed within five years as a result of the findings, according to the doctor who led the research team at the University of Aberdeen. The condition affects more than 500,000 people across Britain and there is no cure.

The study, published yesterday, began seven years ago with one child with severe autism. The boy attended the genetics clinic at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he was found to have a rare re-arrangement of chromosomes in which one had broken and swapped with another. By using genetic mapping techniques, researchers discovered that this realignment had disrupted a gene known to be important to memory and learning. When they extended the study to examine 120 other families with autism, they found that four other children — two siblings in two separate families — had faults in the same gene, known as EIF4E.

It is estimated that 1 per cent of the British population suffers from autism, a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way that a person communicates and relates to those around them. The condition occurs in varying forms of severity, and some people require lifelong care.

The research was led by Zosia Miedzybrodzka, reader in medical genetics at the University of Aberdeen and honorary clinical geneticist at NHS Grampian. She said that the study was a significant step towards the discovery of a treatment. “When I started doing genetics I believed that conditions such as autism, that people are born with or develop when very young, would be hard-wired and that there was little you could do about it,” she said. “But what we are learning now is that they are modifiable, and that is very exciting. I think we could be trying out drugs in five years. It is not a cure, but something that would potentially improve the condition dramatically.”

Dr Miedzybrodzka said that the work suggested that a correction of EIF4E abnormalities could improve symptoms in people whose autism did not result from a fault in the gene. “If you fix the problem at the endpoint then you also fix problems further upstream,” she said.

She paid tribute to the parents of the boy who prompted the research, pointing out that the study was an extra complication for the family as they struggled to cope with his condition. “It has been a long process and the family has been key to allowing us to get the blood samples we needed from the boy. With his condition, which was very severe, that was no trivial thing,” she said. The parents of the child, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are delighted that the work that started with our son brings so much hope for the future.”

Carol Evans, national director at the National Autistic Society Scotland, said that the research could shed new light on the condition. She emphasised, though, that much could be done to help to manage the condition until a treatment is found. “Various studies over many years have sought to identify candidate genes but so far inconclusively,” she said. “Whilst it is important that this research continues, it is also crucial that those living with the condition have access to appropriate advice and information, as the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition affecting the way that the brain processes information. The condition is on the rise in Britain, but many experts believe that the increase is because of improved diagnosis. While people can have varying degrees of autism, all sufferers share similar symptoms, including problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, difficulties with social interaction and repetitive behaviour, or narrow, obsessive interests. Boys are four times as likely to develop autism as girls. Research indicates that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may account for changes in brain development.


The "prevention" dream

When it comes to health care spending, an ounce of prevention is seldom worth a pound of cure. Take Mrs. Jones, a hypothetical 55-year-old obese woman at risk for diabetes. It costs $900 a year to hire a personal lifestyle coach to help her lose weight and prevent diabetes. Suppose that the coaching works for Mrs. Jones, and she is spared diabetes and all the resulting health bills. But research shows that for every person like Mrs. Jones, six other people just like her get nothing out of such a program. They either don't lose weight or get diabetes anyway or wouldn't have developed it in the first place. The yearly cost of the prevention program for those six people: $5,400. That's probably more than Mrs. Jones' health bills from diabetes would have amounted to. There goes your pound of cure.

The truth is, shockingly few prevention efforts actually save the health care system money overall, despite claims by the president and some in Congress. Discussing daily aspirin use with people at risk of heart disease does save money. So do vaccinations for children. When doctors talk to smokers and offer medication to help them quit, that, too, saves money. But those are the exceptions.

Prevention is a good deal, some experts say, if you can buy one year of perfect health for less than $50,000. The most-recommended prevention efforts - like flu shots for adults, Pap smears for women and colon cancer screening for people over 50 - meet that cutoff. But they certainly don't save money.

Some say cost is beside the point, since those things save lives at what's deemed a reasonable expense. Back to Mrs. Jones. Helping 100 people like her would cost $270,000 over three years, but also would prevent 15 new cases of diabetes, avoid the need for blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering pills in 11 people, avoid $65,500 in medical spending for all 100 people and prevent 162 missed days of work due to sickness.

Dr. Ronald Ackermann at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said recent studies suggest that offering the diabetes prevention program to groups of 10 people - instead of one-on-one coaching - can lead to similar benefits and cost as little as $15 per month. The YMCA is offering just such a group program. Retired accountant Paul Mullen, 66, of Indianapolis, has lost 18 pounds since May and brought his blood sugar down because of lifestyle changes he learned. He pays $115 for the yearlong program, on top of his Y membership fee. He feels better, his knees don't hurt as much and he can't wait to see his doctor's reaction when he gets his next checkup. "I should have done it years ago," he said. "My daughter-in-law got after me. The wife did, too. So far, it's worked."

Michael Maciosek of HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minneapolis found that of 25 highly recommended prevention strategies, 15 cost less than $35,000 for every year of perfect health gained. Those are definitely bargains if you're using the arbitrary cutoff of $50,000 per healthy year to decide what's a good investment in health spending. And some economists say Americans would be willing to spend even more than that, say $100,000 per perfect health year.

No one really knows how much of the U.S. health care dollar goes toward prevention. The most commonly cited number _ 3 cents of every health care dollar _ is based on 20-year-old data. An updated number _ nearly 9 cents of every health care dollar _ represents about $194 billion, said George Miller, who led the research for the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit consulting group.

Legislation pushed by Senate Democrats mentions "prevention" repeatedly. The Senate panel heading up health reform also calls for more research on prevention, creates a new interagency council to coordinate a national health promotion strategy and permits insurers to give incentives for health promotion and disease prevention.

President Barack Obama as recently as April said investing in prevention "will save huge amounts of money in the long term." And it has become almost an article of faith among Republicans, Democrats and business leaders that prevention reduces health care costs. But the Congressional Budget Office last week issued a statement on health care overhaul that dismissed the notion that prevention saves money. Prevention "would have clearer positive effects on health than on the federal budget," the CBO said.

The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease wants the budget office to be more generous with its review of prevention, to take a longer time frame and to calculate savings to the private sector in lower absenteeism and higher productivity. But researcher Peter Neumann of Tufts Medical Center said counting on disease prevention to save money "promises painless solutions to our health cost problems. I don't think they're going to be painless and they have to be done."

Supporters say each prevention effort should be held to the same standards as surgical techniques, drugs and medical devices, and not be expected to save dollars: Does it work and at a reasonable cost? Prevention efforts with high value, although not cost-saving, include flu and pneumococcal shots for adults, Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, colon cancer screening for people 50 and older, and screenings for vision problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and problem drinking. Each of those things costs less than $35,000 per year of perfect health.

Those strategies are a good place to start when money is limited, experts say. "Some preventive services save money and some don't. Many of the services that don't save money improve people's lives at relatively low cost," said Robert Gould, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Prevention. "I think that's what the American public wants from health reform."


Peanut butter 'wards off heart disease' among diabetics

This is just data dredging: To be ignored unless followed up by specific tests. The effect was weak (and therefore probably evanescent) anyhow but I suppose that they had to say something to justify their work. The findings CERTAINLY cannot automatically be generalized to non-diabetics

Peanut butter sandwiches could be the secret to beating heart disease, says a study. Snacking on peanuts or peanut butter at least five days a week can nearly halve the risk of a heart attack. The nuts are thought to lower bad cholesterol, help reduce inflammation in the body and boost the health of blood vessels around the heart.

Between 1980 and 2002, researchers at Harvard Medical School analysed the diets of more than 6,000 women who had type 2 diabetes, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. All the volunteers completed food questionnaires every two to four years. When the researchers matched up the results with data on how many went on to suffer heart attacks or strokes, they found those regularly eating peanuts had the greatest protection.

In a report on their findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition, they said the risk was reduced by up to 44 per cent. 'Consumption of at least five servings a week of one ounce of nuts or one tablespoon of peanut butter was significantly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease,' they said.

In the UK, poor diet and lifestyle has led to a surge in cases of type 2 diabetes, from 1.5million five years ago to 2.25million now. Ellen Mason of the British Heart Foundation said: 'It is beneficial to include nuts in our diets as they are low in the saturated fats that raise our cholesterol.

'However peanut products can be full of added sugar or salt so check the label first. Also don't forget that nuts are high in overall calories. 'Eating more of one food in isolation will not make a dramatic difference to your health if you are inactive and don't have a balanced diet.'


Friday, June 26, 2009

Do you want to live longer? Then put on weight

Has the obesity craze run its course? How long can the obesity warriors keep ignoring the facts? I see that there is a rearguard action in the last paragraph, though, so we may have to put up with the obesity warriors for a while yet. Note that it was BMI that most of the scare stories were based on. Now that BMI is not giving the results the fanatics want, they are pooh-poohing it

Those of us carrying around a few extra pounds should take heart - the slightly overweight seem to live longer than those of 'healthy' weight. Contrary to the much publicised message that you must be slim to be healthy, a study also found that those classed as obese fare no worse than those of normal weight. Researchers said it was clear that a person's weight was not the be all and end all of good health. It is better to be plump and exercise than slim and sedentary, the study found

For instance, a stressed-out, sedentary person of normal weight may be in worse shape than a plumpish individual who exercises and keeps stress levels under control. The researchers in the U.S. and Canada tracked the health and habits of more than 11,000 Canadians for 12 years. The men and women were divided into five categories based on their Body Mass Index, calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. Using pounds and ounces, the weight in pounds is multiplied by 703 and divided by the height in inches squared. This means that a 5ft 10in man weighing 11st 2lb would have a BMI of 22.3, placing him within the 'normal' weight range. A rating below 18.5 is regarded as underweight, above 25 is overweight and above 30 regarded as obese. Those with a BMI of above 35 were classed as extremely obese.

During the period studied, the underweight were 70 per cent more likely to have died than those of normal weight, followed by the extremely obese. However, the obese lived roughly as long as those of normal weight. Those classed as overweight, meaning they were carrying a stone or so too much for their height, were 17 per cent less likely to have died, the journal Obesity reports.

Researcher Mark Feeny, of Kaiser Permanente Northwest Centre for Health Research in Oregon, said: 'It's not surprising that extreme underweight and extreme obesity increase the risk of dying but it is surprising that carrying a little extra weight may give people a longevity advantage.'

Dr Feeny, who falls into the overweight category, said there could be several explanations for the result. For instance, concern about the health of the overweight and obese may mean that problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes are more likely to be spotted and treated, improving health. And those who start out slightly heavier will have more reserves to call on should they lose weight due to ill health as they get older. Finally, a person's lifestyle has to be factored in.

In Britain, Dr David Haslam, a GP and chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said that previous studies had come to similar conclusions - and that BMI was not an accurate indicator of health. He said: 'You can have a high BMI because you are made of muscle and bone but you are fit and athletic. 'Waist circumference is a much better predictor of risk. Abdominal obesity is bad for you, that is a cast iron fact. 'This study shouldn't be used as an excuse to put on weight.'


Miracle of the drug that mends your faulty genes

Christine Falleti has spent much of her life combating the crippling effects of cystic fibrosis (CF). Now 34, she is painfully aware that she's approaching the age when most people with CF die. Two friends with the disease already have. But last year she took part in a test of a new drug that led to a dramatic improvement in her symptoms. Suddenly, she had a reason to hope her chances of dying might be reduced. And it's not just patients with CF who might benefit. The drug Christine was trialling is one of a new generation that could revolutionise the treatment of far more common diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes. For the first time, instead of treating the symptoms, it looks as if these drugs actually repair the effects of genes that cause disease.

CF affects 8,000 people in the UK and is caused by a mutation in just one gene, known as CTFR. It results in the patient's lungs and gut becoming lined with thick mucus. Breathing can be difficult and digestion is poor because the extra mucus stops nutrients being properly absorbed. Like many CF sufferers, Christine needs more than 15 medications every day to treat her symptoms. 'It takes three hours to clear my airways,' she says. She uses a device like a life-jacket which, when inflated, vibrates her chest to shake the mucus free. Before going to bed, she does a dozen upside-down exercises while her partner slaps her upper back, sides and chest to loosen the phlegm.

Until now there haven't been any drugs that can treat CF - or indeed any of the thousands of deadly conditions caused by a faulty gene, such as haemophilia and Huntington's chorea. Doctors can only help patients deal with the symptoms. But that could change. The drug Christine took, called VX-770, promises a revolution because it is able to reduce the damage caused by the mutation in the gene. The result was less mucus clogging up her lungs. Within two weeks of starting the drug (as part of an American trial), she was breathing more easily.

'I felt completely different,' says Christine, a teacher from Ohio. 'I could laugh without it turning into a five-minute coughing fit. Exercise became so much more enjoyable and easier.'

But once she stopped the drug after the four-week trial, her breathing was soon as bad as it had been before. And that wasn't the only downside. 'It's frustrating knowing there is something that can make you feel better but you can't have it.'

There are three other similar drugs for treating CF being tested; again, these target the faulty genes rather than the symptoms. Being able to correct errors in the CF gene means it should be possible to do the same thing for patients who have harmful mutations in other genes. 'If these drugs fulfil their promise, it will be a major breakthrough,' says Professor Kate Bushby, of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, who has been involved in testing one of them.

CF has always been at the cutting edge of gene research. The CTFR gene was the first to be linked to a specific disease 20 years ago. 'That discovery caused huge excitement,' says Professor Bushby. 'Everyone thought we'd start replacing the faulty genes with healthy ones prepared in the laboratory - genetic diseases would be history. But it proved much trickier than we thought.' Putting the healthy genes into the cell came with side-effects. In some cases, the newly inserted genes were attacked by the patient's own immune system. Even worse, in one trial, children given replacement genes developed leukaemia. So rather than replacing these damaged genes, American scientists began searching for drugs that could repair them instead.

At the forefront of this was Dr Robert Beall, director of the American Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, who raised $175 million from various sources, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates's charity.

The problem for CF patients is that their faulty gene affects a protein which is vital for transporting water in the airways and other passageways - this causes a lack of water, which is why their mucus is so thick. Dr Beall and his team have identified two chemicals that can improve the way the protein works, and have turned them into two drugs (which could be used in combination). The drug Christine was given boosts the effectiveness of the protein needed to transport water around the body.

The drug based on the other chemical works in a different way; it corrects a mistake in the way the protein is made. In most CF patients, this protein is slightly the wrong shape. The second new drug, VX-809, is able to tweak it back into shape. This second drug opens up the possibility of treating other illnesses, such as Alzheimer's and cancer, where again a protein hasn't been made properly and is also slightly the wrong shape.

'Poor protein folding is one of the main things that goes wrong when a gene becomes faulty in all sorts of other conditions,' says Dr David Sheppard, a physiologist at the University of Bristol, who has been researching these two drugs. 'What we need now is a large-scale trial to prove that benefits outweigh risks.'

One of the conditions the drugs might help with is male infertility. 'It can be caused by thick mucus in the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm to the penis,' says Dr Sheppard. 'Patients have a faulty CF gene, but no other symptoms.'

Around 10 per cent of CF sufferers have none of the water-carrying protein at all. They could be helped by a third drug, called Ataluren, which tricks the cells into ignoring the faulty gene's message. In an Israeli study of the drug, the rate at which CF patients coughed dropped dramatically. Someone with CF coughs around 650 times a day (a healthy rate is fewer than 16 times); on Ataluren, the coughing rate dropped to 450 a day. Altaluren is being trialled in the UK as a possible treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the deadly muscle-wasting disorder for which there is no cure.

Meanwhile, Christine is keen to continue using the new drug. She says: 'Every Monday, I call the clinic to see if I'm going to be put on to another longer trial with VX-770. 'All I can do is cross my fingers and keep on with the other treatments, but none of them has the effect that VX-770 did.'


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Don't worry, be happy, health study says

Personality, chemical linked. They seem to have overlooked that extroverted people are probably more active and thus get more exercise. The positive effects could be just the result of more exercise

Say hello, get socializing and be happy. Medical researchers have established a direct link between a buoyant, outgoing personality and better health. A study released Wednesday by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that extroverts -- particularly those who are happily engaged in their everyday lives -- have dramatically lower blood levels of an inflammatory chemical linked to clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes. "The 'life force' is linked to [a] body's ability to withstand stress," the study said, suggesting that extroverts have a "survival advantage" over their less engaged peers.

"Our study took the important first step of finding a strong association between one part of extroversion and a specific, stress-related, inflammatory chemical," said Benjamin Chapman, lead author of the study and an assistant professor within the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research, part of the university's psychiatry department. He's talking simple, happy stuff, essentially. The potentially damaging levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin-6 can retreat in a person who has " 'dispositional energy,' or a sense of innate vigor or active engagement with life," the study said.

It followed 103 adults older than 40, gauging their personalities with a standard psychological test and measuring levels of interleukin-6 in their blood. Those who were heartily involved in life had measurably lower amounts of the inflammatory chemical. The study revealed that this tendency was particularly pronounced in older women. "If this aspect of personality drives inflammation, dispositional energy and engagement with life may confer a survival advantage," Mr. Chapman said. The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers speculated that the findings could have some impact on preventive medicine. "Beyond physical activity, some people seem to have this innate energy separate from exercise that makes them intrinsically involved in life," Mr. Chapman said. "It will be fascinating to investigate how we can increase this disposition toward engagement. Potentially, you might apply techniques developed to treat depression like 'pleasurable event scheduling' to patients with low dispositional energy, where you get people more involved in life by filling their time with things they enjoy as a therapy."


The cancer cream 'that gets rid of sun wrinkles'

Efudix has been around for years. It is basically a chemical burning agent. It is pretty unpleasant to use. Note the comment below about inflammation

A cream used to treat early signs of skin cancer can erase wrinkles and make skin look younger, claim researchers. There has long been anecdotal evidence of Efudix reversing ageing effects on patients.

So a University of Michigan team studied a group of 56 to 85-year-olds being treated for actinic keratoses - a form of precancer usually found on the face, neck and forearms. The 21 patients used Efudix twice daily for six months.

Study leader Dr Dana Sachs said: 'People's skin was much softer. The texture was improved. There were fewer wrinkles around the upper cheek and eyes. 'Not only were their precancers gone but the quality of their skin seemed to be improved.' The study, in the Archives of Dermatology, also reported skin was more toned, less yellow and with fewer brown spots. Almost all patients rated their skin as improved - even though it was left with inflammation some described as 'looking like raw hamburger meat'.

The researchers claimed the cream has potential as a cosmetic treatment because of its relative low cost compared with laser resurfacing, a widely available treatment for improving sun-damaged skin. The cream, which is prescription-only, costs the NHS around £18 for a 20g tube.

But leading consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe, of the Cranley Clinic, London, who also works in California, said he had stopped prescribing it for patients. He said: 'I stopped using it around five years ago in Santa Monica and London because the side effects heavily outweigh the benefits. 'It causes uncontrolled irritancy that is a major problem during the four weeks of initial treatment and sometimes for weeks afterwards. 'Patients would stop using it before they were supposed to because of the irritancy and redness of the skin.

'It produces its effect by peeling away the surface of the skin, which would make it appear younger, but only works on lines that are produced by sun damage. 'If your wrinkles are due to any other cause then it won't work. 'I use much better treatments now including lasers and Solareze, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cream that does not have the same side effect,' he added.


Bone density test for women on osteoporosis drug ‘pointless’

Because it is almost always beneficial. There certainly can be too much monitoring in some circumstances. Monitoring can be just bureaucratic ass-covering

Monitoring bone density in older women who are taking anti-osteoporosis drugs is a waste of time and money, scientists said yesterday. The bone disease osteoporosis is a serious problem for older women in particular because bone density falls as oestrogen levels dwindle during the menopause.

Some guidelines say that postmenopausal women’s bone density should be monitored, although experts have questioned whether the costly process can really show how a patient is responding to treatment by osteoporosis drugs.

Researchers in Australia and the US attempted to settle the debate by estimating how much the effects of alendronate, a widely-used osteoporosis drug, differed between individuals. Analysing data from a previous trial involving more than 6,000 women, they found that almost all — 97.5 per cent — of those treated with alendronate showed at least a “modest” increase in their bone mineral density and this effect did not vary much between individuals.

In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, the scientists said that this made monitoring individuals’ response to treatment unnecessary and, because of the potential to mislead, best avoided.

Commenting on the study, Juliet Compston, Professor of Bone Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the clear implication was that patients could be given inappropriate advice if changes in bone mineral density were used to monitor treatment. Routine monitoring during the first few years of treatment “cannot be justified because it may mislead patients, lead to inappropriate management decisions, and waste scarce healthcare resources”, she argued.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Study finds living near fast food outlet not a weighty problem for kids

A new study by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) researchers contradicts the conventional wisdom that living near a fast food outlet increases weight in children and that living near supermarkets, which sell fresh fruit and vegetables as well as so called junk food, lowers weight.

The IUPUI investigators in economics, pediatrics, geography and urban planning compared children's weights over time before and after one of these food purveyors moved near the children's residences. Living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight and living near a supermarket did not lower it.

The IUPUI researchers also report that residing near certain recreational amenities -- fitness areas, kickball diamonds, and volleyball courts -- lowers children's body mass indexes (adjusted for normal childhood growth). The researchers estimated that locating one of these facilities near the home of an overweight eight-year-old boy could lower his weight by three to six pounds. Surprisingly, living in proximity to a track and field facility (typically on the campus of a middle or high school) was associated with weight gain.

Reducing obesity in children is a high priority in health care and public policy, yet its causes and, consequently, what medical interventions might be effective, are not well understood.

"This study contradicts anecdotal information and provides scientifically verified insights into a wide range of variables that we hope will help physicians and public policy makers fight childhood obesity more effectively," said the study's first author Robert Sandy, Ph.D., professor of economics and assistant executive vice president of Indiana University.

The IUPUI research, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research's Economic Aspects of Obesity, utilized electronic medical records of visits over 11 years to pediatric clinics in inner city Indianapolis to determine the effects on body mass of environmental changes, such as the opening or closing of a convenience store or the installation of a playground or opening of a recreational trail.

The researchers looked at data for more than 60,000 children between the ages of 3 and 18. The children were 53 percent African-American, 30 percent Caucasian and 12 percent Hispanic. Most were poor, and publically insured.

The effect of each environmental change, for example the closing of a fast food establishment or installation of a baseball diamond, was studied at 0.10 mile, 0.25 mile, 0.50 mile and 1.00 mile from a child's residence.

Earlier studies typically have looked at one moment in time, the so-called snapshot approach, not a decade-long expanse of data. "Previous studies did not benefit from the wide range of information we acquired such as details of both sick and well doctor visits, changes in a child's address, annual food service establishment inspection data, aerial photographs of neighborhoods and crime statistics over time. And other studies have not taken into account, as we did, families self-selecting their locations - for example families who value exercise may be more likely to live near a park," said Dr. Sandy.


'No proof' for filling baby teeth

Filling rotten baby teeth may be an unnecessary trial for children to endure, experts say. Some 40% of five-year-olds in the UK have tooth decay and at least one in 10 of these are treated with fillings. But anecdotal evidence from 50 dentists gathered by Manchester University researchers suggests filling baby teeth may not offer significant benefits. Advisers to the NHS are now beginning a study on treatment options to provide dentists with clear guidelines.

Experts already know there is wide variation in care which means that a young child with signs of tooth decay could have no treatment, a filling or the tooth pulled out depending on which dentist they attend. Without any clear guidelines, dentists currently have to rely on their experience and judgement to decide whether or not to intervene. If the child is in severe pain and having sleepless nights, and the parent is confident that their child will cope with and benefit from the treatment, then the choice may be clear.

But when the decay is not causing symptoms, it can be difficult to decide what is in the child's best interests given that their tooth will ultimately fall out by the time they are 11 anyway. Indeed, anecdotal evidence gathered from the case notes of 50 dentists suggests filling baby teeth may achieve nothing but expose children to the discomfort of an injection and the sound of the drill.

Professor Martin Tickle, of the University of Manchester, found no difference in the numbers of extractions for pain or infection whether baby teeth had been filled or not. And when he surveyed the parents of all five-year-olds living in Ellesmere Port and Chester in 2003, he found only 6% would want their child to have a filling if they had symptomless decay in a baby tooth. In comparison, a third would want the dentist to monitor the tooth but provide no treatment.

Experts working for the Health Technology Assessment Programme plan to recruit over 1,000 children from across the UK to take part a study that will compare the outcomes of three treatment options. They are conventional drilling and filling, no fillings or a painless paint-on tooth treatment that merely seals and contains the decay.

Lead investigator Dr Gail Topping, of the University of Dundee, said: "This is a really big question to answer. "At the moment there is no clear winner and we do not know which is best to recommend. There is no guidance or mandate. "At the moment, dentists are doing what they believe is the right option for the child on a case by case basis." She said dentists would welcome evidence-based guidelines because the treatment decision can be a difficult one to make.

Kamini Shah, dentist and honorary secretary of the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry, said: "There are two schools of thought, one being that baby teeth can cause pain and sleepless nights and so dentists should fill. "The other is that actually the evidence around filling baby teeth is questionable. "Sometimes you need to adopt a pragmatic approach rather than go in with all guns blazing. "If a child is very uncooperative but has a mouthful of non-symptomatic holes you might decide to apply a fluoride varnish to stabilise the disease rather than to do conventional fillings." Painted on with a small brush, the banana-flavoured varnish is totally painless and can slow or even stop the decay if applied often enough.

Dr Shah said: "That way you gain the child's confidence and can work on prevention. You do not want to upset the child and make them phobic of future treatments. "The problem arises when children come in aged three or four and it is their first experience of the dentist and it is because they are in pain. "In that scenario you can well imagine that they might not be most cooperative."

She said in extreme cases, and when the decay was so bad it necessitated treatment, a child might be referred for anxiety management or have the teeth removed under general anaesthetic.

Recently, an eight-year-old girl starved to death because of an apparently severe dental phobia. Sophie Waller, from St Dennis in Cornwall, is thought to have been so traumatised by her phobia that she refused to open her mouth after having eight teeth removed under general anaesthetic.

The full trial will run for four years from 2011 across England, Scotland and Wales, with a feasibility study starting in the coming months.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some wide ranging food skepticism from Britain

Extracted from "Global Warming And Other Bollocks: The Truth About All Those Science Scare Stories" by Professor Stanley Feldman and Professor Vincent Marks. It reprises most of what I have been saying on this blog


Received wisdom, repeated by many doctors and public health professionals, says we can remain fit and avoid disease by cutting out certain 'bad foods' from our diets. Indeed, it is variously claimed that 35-50 per cent of all cancers are caused by the food we eat.

But while they are despised by the culinary elite, readily available hamburgers, sausages and pizzas have provided good nutritional value for many low-income families, who in previous days could afford only low-protein, high-carbohydrate, high-fat meals such as bread and dripping, and chip butties.

In fact, fears about hamburgers and sausages in Britain are especially irrational. Most countries have a national dish based on minced or processed meat - and none is suffering from an epidemic of junk food-inspired illness. For example, meatballs are used in many guises in the Middle East, chopped meat on a bed of onions is a national dish in the Balkans, and mince is also used in countless Italian sauces.

The terrines and pâtés of France and Belgium also contain processed chopped meat. Obesity is not caused by these foods, but by those who choose to gorge on them. Studies claiming to show the negative impact of a 'junk food' diet usually have little scientific validity.


A widespread belief has emerged that organic foods are better for you than others because they do not contain 'chemicals' used in large- scale conventional farming.

This dogma is wrong. All plant nutriment comes from the air, in the form of CO2, and from water-soluble chemicals in the soil. The composition of these chemicals is the same, whether they come from a plastic bag or from 'natural' manure or compost. They are certainly the same by the time they are on your plate.


Salt is an essential food. Without it, we would die. Land-based mammals-such as humans control their body temperature by sweating and panting. Sweating is impossible without sufficient salt. In fact, strenuous exercise in a person depleted of salt causes overheating and death.

The Government has caved in to the anti-salt zealots in its advice to reduce salt intake. However, there is, in fact, very little, if any, truly scientific evidence that cutting back on it will do you any good.


The much-disparaged Turkey Twizzler, bugbear of TV chef Jamie Oliver, is made of recovered turkey meat and provides the same amino acids as normal turkey breast.

Corned beef, now an unfashionable meat product, is also no less nutritious than any other beef, although, like Turkey Twizzlers, it is also a reclaimed meat product.

Turkey Twizzlers are fine: The recovered meat provides the same amino acids as regular turkey breast meat


The medical (and social) consensus is that cardiovascular disease is caused by being overweight, by having a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet and by unhealthy activities such as smoking.

While being morbidly obese, eating nothing but lard and smoking 60 a day will probably lead to an early grave, there is nevertheless a lot of confusion about the precise link between lifestyle and this, the biggest killer of all.

Many people with high cholesterol levels in their blood do not get heart disease. Many people with very low levels do.

The very low levels of heart disease recorded in some populations, notably the Japanese, may have more to do with cultural variation and prejudice than with medical reality (in many societies, what are, in fact, heart attacks are often listed on death certificates as 'strokes').

Furthermore, some of the lowest levels of cholesterol and arterial sclerosis are to be found in populations such as the Inuit and Siberian hunter-gatherers, who live on a diet which is incredibly high in saturated fat.


Everything seems to be bad for you these days, but there is also plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary. Eggs seldom contain salmonella, even if some chickens do. Cholesterol in the diet does not cause fatty deposits in your arteries. There is probably little difference between the effect of saturated and unsaturated fats.

In those with normal kidney function, salt does not cause high blood pressure. Those with a body-mass index of between 25 and 32 live as long as or longer than those with a lower BMI. And avoiding the sun causes vitamin D deficiency; a suntan is nature's natural sun block, although sunburn is to be avoided.


Anti-mercury campaigners believe that the mercury used in dental fillings will make you ill (mercury is a potent poison).

But a single amalgam filling provides just 0.03 micrograms/day of mercury, which is almost 3,000 times less than the safety level permitted for persons with occupational exposure to mercury, and is too small to be responsible for any symptoms.


Stupid and incomprehensible thinking behind EU rules on low-alcohol wines

It's just power-mad bureaucrats who get their jollies by saying "No'. There is no rational reason behind it

For years New World vineyards have been reducing the alcohol content in wines through technology - and, for years, their European counterparts have sniffily rejected such methods. Now French research has shown that the Americans and the Australians had it right all along.

Tests have proved that techniques previously dismissed as unworthy of European tradition can enable vineyards to lessen alcohol levels by as much as 3 per cent without putting off drinkers. Producers on the Continent are ready to market their bottles in Britain but there is a hitch: officials in Brussels appear intent on banning the new generation of de-alcoholised wines being developed by scientists and vineyard owners.

"It's absolutely absurd for Europe to prohibit this at a time when health officials are trying to persuade people to consume less alcohol," said Claude Vialade, who has developed a wine with 9 per cent alcohol, called So Light, on her Domaine Auriol estate in the South of France.

Traditionalists and modernisers continue to disagree over the two main methods for producing wine with a diminished alcohol content. The first involves harvesting grapes which are immature and have a low sugar level, giving rise to a wine naturally low in alcohol. It is authorised in the European Union, but produces bottles dismissed widely as imbuvables (undrinkable). The second uses fully matured grapes to produce a normal wine, from which alcohol is extracted through techniques such as reverse osmosis. This method - de-alcoholisation - is common in Australia and California, but banned under the EU's arcane winemaking regulations.

However, pressure for reform is building after work conducted by 12 scientific teams co-ordinated by Jean-Louis Escudier, director of the wine unit at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research. His study contradicted the belief that only wines containing between 12 and 14 per cent alcohol were acceptable, suggesting that Europe's dismissal of New World methods was based on little more than snobbery. Mr Escudier says tests on more than 1,000 people demonstrated that producers could reduce the alcohol content by up to three percentage points without an ordinary drinker noticing. "In blind tastings, French consumers like quality wines with a reduced alcohol content as much as standard wines," his report said.

"In other words, you can go from 14 per cent to 11 per cent or from 13 per cent to 10 per cent without a problem," Mr Escudier told The Times.

The issue is sensitive at a time when French wine consumption has slumped to 43 litres per head in 2008 - down from 47 litres the previous year and 120 litres in 1959 - largely as a result of health and drink-driving campaigns.

Andre Barlier, sales and planning director at FranceAgriMer, the French agricultural statistics office, said: "The situation ...can now be described as depressing and worrying."

Brussels is proposing a small change in EU regulations to authorise dealcoholisation for the first time - but only by a maximum of two percentage points.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Chubby people live longest: Japan study

Another confirmation that middling weight is best

Health experts have long warned of the risk of obesity, but a new Japanese study warns that being very skinny is even more dangerous, and that slightly chubby people live longer. People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found. "We found skinny people run the highest risk," said Shinichi Kuriyama, an associate professor at Tohoku University's Graduate School of Medicine who worked on the long-term study of middle-aged and elderly people. "We had expected thin people would show the shortest life expectancy but didn't expect the difference to be this large," he told AFP by telephone.

The study was conducted by a health ministry team led by Tohoku University professor Ichiro Tsuji and covered 50,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 over 12 years in the northern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi. "There had been an argument that thin people's lives are short because many of them are sick or smoke. But the difference was almost unchanged even when we eliminated these factors," Kuriyama said.

Main reasons for the shorter lifespans of skinny people were believed to include their heightened vulnerability to diseases such as pneumonia and the fragility of their blood vessels, he said.

But Kuriyama warned he was not recommending people eat as much as they want. "It's better that thin people try to gain normal weight, but we doubt it's good for people of normal physique to put on more fat," he said.

The study divided people into four weight classes at age 40 according to their body mass index, or BMI, calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their squared height in metres. The normal range is 18.5 to 25, with thinness defined as under 18.5. A BMI of 25 to 30 was classed as slightly overweight and an index above 30 as obese.


Revolutionary Australian Artificial heart design

Developed with no government support -- just as with the British inventors of IVF. Propping up failures is what governments do

QUEENSLANDERS have created the world's first artificial heart which fits inside a human body and can mimic the pumping fluctuations of a healthy heart. The titanium device – which is about the size of a fist – will provide an alternative to heart transplants, doctors say. It has the potential to save thousands of lives a year worldwide, and will provide significant savings for government-run and private health systems, its inventors believe.

The device – to be marketed under the name Bivacor – also will deliver an alternative for people with heart disease over the age of 65, who are currently considered by most doctors to be too old for heart transplants. The key element of the Bivacor's revolutionary design is a pump that can duplicate the function of both the left and right sides of the heart in a single, small device. Driven by tiny electromagnets, the pump's twin rotors can alter speed and position to suit blood-flow demands that fluctuate depending on a patient's activity.

Most existing artificial hearts or supportive pump devices are external, and usually pump through just one side of the heart. That places extreme limits on patient mobility and can reveal problems on the other side of a diseased heart.

The Bivacor allows patients to move around and reduces the risk of infection, by being secured inside the body and without external tubes.

A team of biomedical engineers, intensive-care specialists, cardiac surgeons and cardiologists has been working on the project for seven years at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital, one of Australia's leading heart hospitals. One of the group, engineer Dan Timms, 30, devised key elements of the design after watching his father die of heart failure at the hospital two years ago.

He perfected the artificial heart's impeller – a twin fan inside the pump that can spin at different speeds and also tilt to adjust blood flow and pressure. Dr Timms unveiled his invention at a recent heart conference in Paris.

Professor John Fraser, 40, director of the Critical Care Research Group (CCRG) at Prince Charles and the leader of the Bivacor development team, said the invention was lauded by heart experts. "After Daniel gave his presentation, the conference concluded that the device would revolutionise artificial heart technology," Prof Fraser said. "One of the world leaders in cardiology exclaimed, 'Within 10 years, all artificial hearts will be based on this revolutionary Queensland design'."

Once in production, the Bivacor, which has been patented, is expected to cost about $60,000 a unit. That compares with external heart machines – which cost up to $600,000 each – that are currently used on patients who can wait in hospital for up to six months for a heart transplant.

Remarkably, most of the funding for the Bivacor project – about $250,000 so far – came from the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation raising funds through selling ice creams at the Ekka. [Annual agricultural show] "Despite repeated attempts, there has been no money forthcoming from Queensland Health or Government," Prof Fraser said. "Jon Roberts (chief executive of Prince Charles Hospital) has been outstanding, but can only do so much to support us."

The Bivacor is expected to be in clinical trials in the next three years if the team can secure funding of $3 million. A German company has approached the team to fund development, which has both pleased and disappointed the research team. "It would be a shame to see such a Queensland home-grown project go overseas," Prof Fraser said. Representatives of the CCRG team are in Europe this week to discuss the development of Bivacor with international companies.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Organic nags: Michelle Obama, Marian Burros

Steve Milloy does a great demolition job below. Note particularly his comments in square brackets

Marian Burros, the New York Times’ fossilized, elitist, organic food nag, today tried to lampoon the crop protection industry and the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in a Politico.com article for defending conventionally produced food from Michelle Obama’s air-headed slander.

In a letter to the White House defending its products against the First Lady’s aspersions concerning their safety, the Mid-America CropLife Association referred to the pesticides and herbicides as “crop protection products” — a “euphemism,” according to Burros.

To the extent “crop protection products” is a euphemism, it’s a necessary one given that Burros and her ilk have spent the last 40 years publicly denigrating perfectly safe pesticides, feriltizers and other chemicals as dangerous. There is no evidence that any legally applied pesticide has ever harmed anyone.

Let’s keep in mind that it is only through “crop protection products,” conventional farming, and pesticides and herbicides — whatever name you want to use — that Western farmers have been able to supply the food that the burgeoning world’s population so desperately needs. In contrast, none of the food policies that Marian Burros advocates could come close to accomplishing what U.S. farmers have through the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Next, Burros tries to lampoon ACSH’s Jeff Stier because Stier said in an interview on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show that if only organic food were produced, obesity and starvation would increase. “Starvation and obesity simultaneously,” was Burros’ snarky comment.

Stier was right, of course, and Burros was, once again, way off base. If we only produced organic products, we’d have less and more expensive food. Organic products necessarily take up more land and require more inputs (water, fertilizer and labor) — and then run the risk of being wiped out by pests. In the U.S., people wouldn’t starve but, to save money, their diets would shift toward less expensive, but more calorie-dense processed foods — leading to more obesity. In the rest of the world, the reduced production of food could very well lead to shortages and starvation.

Dumber/more dishonest (take your pick) than Burros is Michelle Obama, whose political gardening at the White House this blog has noted previously. At yesterday’s Harvest Party for the politically exploited local school children, Michelle Obama continually showcased how ill-prepared she is to pontificate on diet and health:

Obama: “Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion each year.” [This is an absolutely made-up figure. There is no evidence that diet alone is responsible for the alleged conditions and cost.]

Obama: “Nearly a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese…” [Wrong. CDC says the figure is about 17%]

Obama: “…and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime.” [Less than 8% of Americans have diabetes, according to the NIH.]

Obama: “In Hispanic and African American communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children in those communities will suffer the same fate.” [False. The figures for minorities are generally significantly less than twice that of white children.]

Obama: “And for the first time in the history of our nation, a nation that is one of the wealthiest on the planet, medical experts have warned that our younger generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a direct result of the obesity epidemic.” [There is no basis in fact for this dire prediction.]

Obama: “So how did we get here? How did we get in this position where we have become such an unhealthy nation, and our children are at risk?” [Ridiculous. As a whole, the U.S. is not unhealthy and neither are its children. More Americans are living longer than ever before.]

Obama: “And the fact is there are a lot of factors, but some of the more simple ones are that too many kids are consuming high-calorie food with low nutritional value…” [Obama served cupcakes to the children at the event.]

Obama: “Well, I’ve learned that if [food is] fresh and grown locally, it’s probably going to taste better. [About locally produced food, should Washington, DC children be denied, say, Florida orange juice because it’s not local? Does Obama plan to construct a White House Orange Grove?]

Obama: “But unfortunately, for too many families, limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables is often a barrier to a healthier diet.” [This is typically due to their expense, especially when they’re locally grown and/or organic.]

Obama: “In so many of our communities, particularly in poorer and more isolated communities, fresh, healthy food is simply out of reach. With few grocery stores in their neighborhoods, residents are forced to rely on convenience stores, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, drug stores and even gas stations for their groceries.” [Poverty is the root problem, not fruit/vegetable availability.]

Obama: “And I want you guys to continue to be my little ambassadors in your own homes and in your own communities, because there are kids who are going to watch this. They’re going to watch this on TV, they’re going to read a report about it or maybe their parents will read a report, and they’re going to see through you just how easy it is for kids to think differently about food. And you’re going to help a lot of people.” [Yeah, you're going to help a lot of fast food, processed food, food transportation and food retail employees out of work for no good reason.]

Marian Burros should be put to an organic pasture where she can chew her crud. As for Michelle Obama, it makes you long for the days of Bess Truman when the First Lady was hardly ever seen and much less heard from.


Prostate cancer patients recover after using new drug ipilimumab

Sounds remarkable

Two men with advanced and inoperable prostate cancer have recovered after being treated with an experimental antibody drug. The patients, who are now free of cancer, were taking part in the trial of a drug called ipilimumab that boosts the immune system. Before treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, each of them had aggressive tumours that had grown into abdominal areas.

Eugene Kwon, the trial leader, said: “The goal of the study was to see if we could modestly improve upon current treatments for advanced prostate cancer. The candidates for this study were people who didn’t have a lot of other options. However, we were startled to see responses that far exceeded any of our expectations.”

First, the patients received traditional hormone therapy to remove testosterone, which fuels prostate cancer. Researchers then introduced a single dose of ipilimumab. The drug boosts the immune system’s response to the cancer. Both patients saw their prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels drop to the point where they became eligible for surgery. PSA is a protein in the blood that allows doctors to monitor prostate cancer.

When the surgeons made their incisions, they had a surprise. Dr Michael Blute, a Mayo clinic urologist, said: “The tumours had shrunk dramatically. I had never seen anything like this before. I had a hard time finding the cancer.”

Dr Kwon said: “This is one of the holy grails of prostate cancer research. We’ve been looking for this for years.” John Neate, chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “If these early and small-scale results are replicated in larger trials, this represents a potentially very exciting development.”


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Heart Attack Grill 'a taste worth dying for'

Here's what the health freaks do not want you to know: Cardiovascular disease is RARE in Eskimos who continue to eat their 'traditional' diet of seal meat, fat and blubber and who eat almost no greens, fruits and vegetables. Someone who ate regularly at the place below could well be PROTECTING his heart. The owner should rename his place "The Eskimo Grill"

A HOSPITAL-themed restaurant in the US is being criticised for serving up an extremely unhealthy menu, including massive burgers, and having waitresses dressed in sexy nurses outfits. Even before entering the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona, US, customers are warned of the unhealthy treats waiting inside by a large sign reading “Caution: This place is bad for your health”.

On the menu are burgers named after open-heart surgical procedures including Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, which range from half a pound (226 grams) to two pounds (900 grams) of beef. Also included is unlimited Flatliner Fries, which are cooked in lard, along will full sugar cola, cigarettes without filters, hard liquor and beer.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger contains around 8000 calories (33,600 kilojoules), fitting for a restaurant whose motto is “a taste worth dying for”. Those who are watching what they eat need not bother visiting – there are no diet options available.

At the restaurant customers are called “patients” and are banded for identification. Wheelchair service is provided to customers who finish the Quadruple Bypass Burger, where the "nurse" of their choice takes them back to their car.

The restaurant was founded in 2005 by "Dr Jon", who isn’t a real doctor but who has worked for years as a nutritionist. Dr Jon admits that eating at the restaurant can end up sending you to the emergency room, and thought it appropriate to give the restaurant the feel of a hospital. “I founded the Heart Attack Grill as a simple place where a guy can get a good burger, a cold beer, and not worry about being on a restrictive diet,” Dr Jon said. “I run perhaps the only honest restaurant in America: hey this is bad for you and it’s going to kill you.”

The restaurant has come under attack from activist groups and the government over the waitresses’ nurses outfits, including a threatened shut-down from the Arizona Attorney General in 2006. “Since I thought that it would be funny for a 'bad for you' place to have a hospital theme, it only seemed natural to me to put the waitresses into Nurse outfits,” ‘Dr Jon’ said. “I thought to myself, 'sex does sell, this could be a good idea'. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was about to set off a debate of epic proportions.”

Professional nurses took offence to what they saw as the “degradation” of nurses by the restaurant, igniting a battle which saw Dr Jon being arrested for attempting to open a live fire hose on a group of picketing nurses.

A compromise was reached when Dr Jon put a disclaimer on his website stating: "The use of the word 'nurse' above is only intended as a parody. None of the women pictured on our website actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services. It should be made clear that the Heart Attack Grill and all its employees do not offer any therapeutic treatments".

The future of the restaurant, according to Dr Jon, lies in its ability to successfully transition into a diet centre, competing with established weight loss giants such as Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, and Weight Watchers. "The new Heart Attack Grill Diet Centers will offer the American public something that no other program has ever been able to do... a diet program that you actually enjoy and can stick with for a lifetime," Dr Jon said.

The restaurant remains extremely popular with people looking for unhealthy meals, and is never out of the spotlight for long. “Not a single week has gone by without me having given an interview with some radio, magazine, or television station somewhere in the world,” ‘Dr Jon’ said.


British taste choices are defined by region, Nottingham food scientists find

In the Midlands they like the spicy flavour that triggers taste buds on the front of the tongue, while in Scotland it is rich, creamy flavours that linger on the palate

Research has indicated that people’s culinary preferences depend on where they were born. Scientists from the University of Nottingham found that taste preferences could be broken down like regional accents and were highly dependent on an area’s history. In the North East, for example, foods are enjoyed by taste buds on the tip of the tongue — which pick up sour flavours — because, claim the researchers, the region has a history of hungry industrial workers demanding meals that offer immediate sustenance.

The researchers, who surveyed 13,000 people on behalf of Costa Coffee, said that in contrast, across the Pennines in Manchester and Liverpool, foods with soft, rounded flavours that linger on the palate were popular, perhaps because of the region’s soft water.

Greg Tucker, a food psychologist, and Andy Taylor, Professor of Flavour Technology at the University of Nottingham and an adviser to Heston Blumenthal, the chef, said that the research was based on the fact that different parts of the tongue tend to pick up varying flavours. The front of the tongue is sensitive to sweet flavours and the back picks up the taste of bitter foods. The sides of the front of the tongue usually detect sour flavours, while the middle tastes salty foods and a little-known taste called umami, best represented by soy sauce.

Professor Taylor said: “Taste is determined by our genetic make-up and influenced by our upbringing and experience with flavours. “Just as with spoken dialects, where accent is placed on different syllables and vowel formations, people from different regions have developed enhanced sensitivities to certain taste sensations and seek foods that trigger these.” Mr Tucker, managing director of the Marketing Clinic, based in Cambridge, said: “I suspected that there might be some minor differences from region to region but I was quite surprised that the variations were so pronounced. “Taste preferences are predetermined by a combinations of economics, culture and genetics. ‘Taste dialect’ is a good phrase because just as you get dialects in any other countries, so you get taste dialects that are driven by different factors.”

The researchers found that those living in the South had the least defined taste dialect of all the regions. The Scots are the slowest eaters.

South West: Sweet flavours. Apples are a favourite and often used in Cornish pasties, as the region is rural and fruit-growing. Sage is often used in dishes from the region

South East: The region has perhaps lost its distinctive palate owing to the number of different ethnic groups that have moved here. People tend to be the most adventurous about food

Wales: An industrial past, so strong-tasting foods that have cut through the dirt and grime down mines have always proved popular. Onions and leeks are a hit, as is Worcestershire sauce

The Midlands: Curry is a favourite, but not necessarily because of the large Asian communities

North West: People here like to eat comforting food. Lancashire hotpot contains many of the flavours enjoyed in the region

North East: Food that provides an instant hit of satisfaction is appreciated most. Fish and chip shops serve scrapings of overcooked chips from the corner of the deep fat fryer to customers who use their incisors to crunch food and taste chips at the front of their tongues

Scotland: Scots like rich, creamy foods that are comforting and linger on the palate. A rich fudge known as tablet is a delicacy, perhaps replaced by deep-fried Mars bars


Friday, June 19, 2009

Is lack of vitamin D linked to swine flu?

This is an improbable speculation. Vitamin D is added to butter and margarine these days so everybody should be getting enough. Though I suppose that the anti-fat brigade may have reduced usage of butter and margarine among some people. As for the reason why health is unusually poor in Scotland, why are we not mentioning Scotland's rate of alcohol consumption and the inactivity that accompanies high rates of unemployment?

Scotland has a disproportionately high number of swine flu cases. There could be a simple reason. It was all very predictable, I suppose, that when the first UK death from someone suffering from swine flu came, it did not come from St Ives or St Andrews. Jacqueline Fleming lived on a rundown council estate in Glasgow; she came from the other Scotland, the bleak one we garland with jokes and statistics but ultimately prefer to ignore.

The H1N1 outbreak is an uncomfortable reminder that the health gap both between the rich and the poor in Scotland, and between Scotland and practically everywhere else in Europe, is not only inescapable - it is, sadly, one of the things that define this country. How symbolic that Ms Fleming, 38 - the first person with swine flu outside the Americas to die - lived of all places in poor little Carnwadric, a deprived council ward in the West of Scotland. She is, in death, a Scottish landmark, an unintended indictment of this country's disproportionately woeful health record.

Ms Fleming apparently suffered from strokes and seizures. She was described as “a good, quiet woman”; a full-time mother, who lived an existence constrained by lack of opportunity and income. She was expecting her third child. When she caught the illness, which had occurred at a local primary school, she was made doubly vulnerable through her chronic condition and by virtue of the pregnancy. She fell gravely ill, gave birth to her baby at 29 weeks and died two weeks later without regaining consciousness. Her child, Jack, who did not have the virus, died 24 hours later: a private double tragedy that echoed round the world.

The following day, I was invited on The Jeremy Vine Show. We want to ask, said the researcher, why Scotland? Why is swine flu cutting swaths across Scotland, and killing people? The unvoiced question hovered: what's wrong with you people that makes you the sickest in half the world? You can understand where they were coming from. Scotland has 530 confirmed cases of swine flu, 441 possible cases and 300 clinically diagnosed possibles - a total of more than 1,200. By comparison, bigger countries are relatively unscathed. England, with ten times the people, only has 1,062 cases, Austria 7, Portugal 3, France 80, Germany 170, Spain 488 and Ireland 12.

Beneath the soundbites, there are several answers. One can say with absolute certainty that there has been better monitoring here. NHS Scotland and its many limbs, Health Protection Scotland and Health Scotland and NHS Quality Improvement Scotland and the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate and the Information Services Division - I could go on - are just part of one of the most impressive health service data engines in the world. In this regard Scotland purrs along like a Rolls-Royce: few other nations have information that combines high-quality data, consistency, national coverage and the ability to link data to allow patient-based analysis and follow-up. No case of swine flu has a chance of getting away from that lot.

And yes, of course, there's much to monitor. Scotland possesses a health record that would make a Third World dictator wince: hospital admissions from alcohol up 7 per cent on the previous year and up 17 per cent on five years ago; chronic levels of disability from strokes, coronary heart disease and cancer; lung cancer; drug use; a diet built on fat and sugar; and soaring levels of obesity. Surely these endemic weaknesses are what makes us vulnerable to swine flu?

Yes - but it's not the whole answer either. Since devolution, and the pumping in of billions of pounds, NHS Scotland is a fairly magnificent operation. Rates of ill health are declining, although the gap between the most deprived areas and the most affluent is widening, and England's health, similarly blessed with extra funding in the good times, is improving faster than Scotland's.

Which brings us face to face with the disconcerting thing they call the health deficit: the unexplained gap between Scotland's health outcomes and that of the rest of Britain; a gap that still persists even when the epidemiologists factor in all the lifestyle issues; the gap, in other words, that makes the Scots sick no matter how much money is spent on them.

It was fashionable for a while to talk about the biology of poverty, explaining it away by poor housing and a history of deprivation; cooked up with low self-respect and expectation.

But could the puzzle have a simpler answer? Recently The Times has revealed astonishing research showing the links between low vitamin-D levels and poor general health. Multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetes are just some of the diseases linked to an immune system compromised by lack of the vitamin. And the Scots, living in a cloudy climate, are known to be twice as likely to be vitamin D deficient as the English. Increasing numbers of scientists suspect vitamin D could be the Scots' Achilles' heel.

Influenza, we know, strikes in the winter when vitamin D levels are naturally lowered - hence a possible reason why swine flu is at present widespread in Australia, where it's winter. Could the disproportionate prevalence of H1N1 in Scotland be related to endemic low levels of vitamin D among the population - especially those least likely to buy themselves supplements? It is a huge, intriguing question.


British Navy captain bans brussels sprouts

Good man!

A BRITISH navy captain has banned brussels sprouts from his ship, labelling them the "devil's vegetable". Commanding officer Wayne Keble delivered the order to his 390-strong crew on HMS Bulwark because he hates the vegetable, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported. But he denied speculation he imposed the ban because sprouts make the sailors suffer from flatulence in the cramped conditions on board.

Keble disclosed his order after he was asked to confirm reports he had banned fried foods from his ship on health grounds. He said: "The only thing I have banned on board is brussels sprouts. They are the devil's vegetable and the only thing I do not like, and the only thing I hate. "Brussels sprouts are absolutely banned on board HMS Bulwark. I do not eat them so I do not know what the after-effects are.'' The distinctive smell of sprouts is caused by sulphur compounds released when cooked.

A spokesman for the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence said sprouts had only been banned from the captain's table. But a source on board the ship said Keble was "very serious'' about the ban and refused to allow any sprouts on board. "This ban is no joke ... The MoD can say what they like but Captain Keble runs the ship and he has categorically said that sprouts are banned,'' the source said.

HMS Bulwark is at present deployed in the Mediterranean and Far East.