Friday, December 31, 2010

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, say scientists

The journal article is "Almond Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Adults with Prediabetes" by M. Wien et al. This does not appear to have been a double blind trial so expectations of both the subjects and their doctors could have influenced the results. We know from hypnosis that suggestion can have powerful effects on the body. It also does not follow that results found with prediabetics would generalize to any other group

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, according to a study. Researchers found that incorporating the nuts into our diets may help treat type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 per cent of all cases.

As well as combating the condition, linked to obesity and physical inactivity, it could tackle cardiovascular disease, said the report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Diabetics have a shortage of insulin or a decreased ability to use the hormone that allows glucose to enter cells and be converted to energy. When diabetes is not controlled, glucose and fats remain in the blood and over time, damage vital organs.

The study found that a diet rich in almonds may help improve insulin sensitivity and decrease LDL-cholesterol levels in those with pre-diabetes, a condition in which people have blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

The study – conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – looked at the effects of consuming an almond-enriched diet on 65 adults with pre-diabetes. The group on the almond-enriched diet showed greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol compared with the nut-free group.

Lead researcher Dr Michelle Wien said: ‘It is promising for those with risk factors for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease that dietary changes may help to improve factors that play a potential role in the disease development.’

An estimated 55 million people in Europe have been diagnosed with diabetes.


Who's to Blame for Weight Gain?

Now drinking water can make you fat?

It’s no secret that delicious holiday food can add a few extra pounds to the waistline. But recent studies are attempting to show that weight gain, especially as a young child, is not all the fault of too much food and not enough exercise.

A Newsweek article titled Born to be Big, states, “The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity," says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.” ’

What does this mean? That chemicals in the environment, newly termed obesogens, may lend a helping hand in the obesity epidemic, especially in babies and children. Studies show that these chemicals are found in the water and food supply as well as in other man-made chemicals.

As far-fetched as these new studies sound, one particular agency of the federal government is taking it very seriously — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An article in the New York Times stated, “U.S. EPA regulators convened with scientists last month to discuss how to design regulations for chemicals based on emerging science that connects exposures during pregnancy with disease much later in life.” Diseases including obesity.

The article went onto say that as this new information is coming out linking certain chemicals to diseases like obesity and cancer, it is even more critical that they quickly get through “200,000 chemicals in a European library of commercial compounds called REACH, to determine their toxicity.”

An article by Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) explains, “REACH stands for ‘registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals’ — the name of a massively bureaucratic program in the European Union. The EPA wants Congress to use it as a model for revisions to the Toxics Substances Control Act — and they even have started working on their version of the program while pushing for congressional authorization.”

Regulation of chemicals, whether man-made or natural, won’t solve America’s obesity problem — especially when handled by a government bureaucracy.

“This is just another excuse for the federal government to get further involved in our daily lives,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “We should not be putting blame on the environment or man-made chemicals for making America fat. Weight management is ultimately under the control of the individual, not a bunch of bureaucrats.”

The NIH isn’t the only one concerned with obesogens.

Adam Carey, a gynecologist, obstetrician and Professor of Nutrition at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. implied in an article that even water can make you fat. He wrote, “Thanks to the possible pollutants that are so difficult to remove from our water supply, it has been linked to a number of health complaints — and yes, it may even trigger weight gain. Even calorie-free water can affect our body fat levels if chemicals that disturb hormonal activity leach into our supply and drive up our chances of putting on weight.”

Now drinking water can make you fat? Even if there is a chance chemicals, whether we drink them, eat them, or are exposed to them in the womb, can possible make people more susceptible to weight gain, these types of studies and printed materials do nothing but discourage people from exercising and watching what they eat.

The U.K. article even states that plainly: “There’s no point in any of us trying to eat healthily and exercise if we don’t do something about our water.”

This is a troubling misconception that places the blame of being obese on anything and everything except personal habits.

“This research is a slippery slope,” says ALG’s Wilson. “Personal healthy practices like exercising and eating right should not be neglected just because of new research. Experts themselves have said it is too early to say if chemicals are really to blame for America’s obesity epidemic.”

Wilson is right. In the New York Times article, Ila Cote, a senior science adviser at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, speaking for herself, said, “The epigenetic data should be considered seriously but is not yet ready for risk assessment. It could be used in very preliminary stages to identify problematic chemicals but cannot be used in a quantitative manner.”

In other words, if you put on a few pounds during this holiday season, don’t blame it on the water or your development process in your mother’s womb. Perhaps the weight gain can be attributed to that 10th sugar cookie you ate or the extra serving of potatoes with dinner.

Americans need to take responsibility for their health, otherwise the government will — even more than it already has.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't feel guilty about that brandy butter - it's GOOD for you!

Not all the findings referred to below are sound -- but neither are the claims for the evils of butter

After the calorie-laden onslaught of the past few days, it’s no ­surprise that the health Nazis come out in force. Watch the ­alcohol. Go easy on the pudding. Think of all that saturated fat. Think of your body mass index.

This time of year, if the nannies are to be believed, is a killer. And butter, they say — the lovely, creamy ­butter which almost defines what is best about northern European cuisine — is about the worst thing you can eat.

A few days ago, Gordon Ramsay’s new cookbook was slated by an American health watchdog, the Physicians Committee for ­Responsible Medicine. It said his ­recipes would ‘wreak havoc’ with your health, as they contained too much cream and far, far too much butter.

Earlier this year, Shyam Kolvekar, a ­cardiologist practising in Britain, ­actually called for butter to be banned — yes, banned, like crack cocaine — to save the nation’s health. Mr Kolvekar trotted out the old canard that butter leads to clogged arteries and heart ­disease as it is full of saturated fats.

But scientists are increasingly ­challenging this view, and their work ­suggests that this call to ban butter is as wrong-headed as it is ludicrous. While it is true that we Britons eat too much fat and that our diets are far from ideal, butter is not the culprit.

For decades we have been told that animal fats (found in meat, butter, cream and cheese) are the dietary equivalent of the axis of evil, and ­responsible for the epidemic of cancers and heart disease that has swept the Western world in the past century.

But scientists claim that, far from being killer foods, butter and other dairy ­produce are — when eaten in ­moderation — good for us. They note that as butter consumption has declined over the ­decades, as a result of health concerns, the intake of margarine and other manufactured spreads has increased. But there has been no ­corresponding fall in cardiovascular problems. In fact, quite the reverse.

In a research paper looking at the ­relationship between health problems and butter, Professor Mary Enig, a ­biochemist from Maryland in the U.S., said: ‘Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from 18lb per person per year to 4lb.’

In another paper, published this year, Professor Peter Elwood, an expert in fat metabolism, said: ‘There appears to be an enormous mismatch between the ­evidence from long-term prospective studies and perceptions of harm from the consumption of dairy food items.’

This is not a message the food industry wants you to hear. For ­margarine and ­manufactured spreads have become a multi-billion-pound industry. Huge international companies now promote the message that ­animal-derived fats are the main causes of heart disease and cancer. But the Swiss, Swedes and northern Italians (who eat a great deal of butter) have very low rates of heart disease.

The anti-dairy propaganda machine has been highly successful. When I was a child, in the Sixties and Seventies, the ­middle classes all believed that ­margarine was good for us.

What only a few years before had been a detested wartime staple was suddenly rebranded by food industry conglomerates as a fashionable ‘health’ food. The labels on the tubs proclaimed how good margarine was — being ‘high in polyunsaturates’ and ‘low in ­saturates’. These phrases became repeated as a kind of holy writ of healthy living — but, like many religious mantras, were not totally understood.

Nevertheless, because people are obsessed with their weight and ­constantly looking for a new dietary ­panacea, somehow margarine acquired a bogus ‘slimming’ cachet as well.

The trouble is many margarines are packed with other unhealthy substances and chemicals. For example, they are rich (sometimes 15 per cent by weight) in trans-fats — synthesised unsaturated fats which increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising ­levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and ­lowering levels of ‘good’ high-­density lipoprotein cholesterol. A Harvard study found that trans-fat-rich margarines increase the risk of heart disease in women by nearly half.

Just as worryingly, a study published last year in New Zealand found that children who ate margarine every day scored, on average, three points lower in IQ tests than those who did not.

The researchers suggested that high trans-fat levels found in margarines could be to blame. Trans-fats have been linked to memory problems —­perhaps due to the way they affect absorption of other nutrients.

After an outcry from consumers and scientists, the use of trans-fat in ­margarines has now been cut. But then, many of us didn’t need the excuse to ­re-embrace butter — one of the ­purest, most natural foods you can eat. Of course, natural is not always the same as healthy, but, in this case, it really is — at least, in moderation.

Butter is a simple emulsion of ­milk-fat, ­protein and water, and is packed with nutrients. It is a high-energy food, ­containing 700 calories per 100g, slightly less than olive oil but exactly the same as most standard margarines.

Butter is rich in Vitamin A, which is needed for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. ­Deficiencies of this vitamin in pregnant women can result in babies with deformed hearts. In infants it can lead to ­blindness and skeletal defects.
Butter is also rich in Vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, and contains Vitamin E and selenium — essential for healthy nervous and immune systems.

Recent studies have also shown that butter can help to fight cancer, as it is rich in an anti-carcinogenic fatty acid obtained through cattle eating grass.

Butter, it is true, is high in dietary ­cholesterol, but the relationship between the cholesterol we eat and levels of this chemical in our blood stream is complex.

Butter — like all dairy products — is good for bone growth and repair and helps keep our joints supple. Unlike ­margarine, it promotes a ­feeling of being full when consumed in small amounts; like rich chocolate, ­butter is ‘fattening’, but you really don’t need to eat a lot of it to feel satisfied.

Increasingly, in Britain we want foods that not only look like food, but taste of food as well. A good butter — and I am thinking of the creamy ­wonders that come from Jersey and Normandy — is a gourmet food, to be savoured in small quantities.

Mashed potato cannot be made properly without butter. Ditto ­scrambled eggs. Toasted crumpets with marge? Unthinkable.

For thousands of years, butter has been recognised as one of the greatest ­culinary inventions of humankind. Those who cannot see this are ­simply missing out. So, forget the health Nazis and enjoy all those last scrapings of your brandy butter — without the ­slightest feeling of guilt.


The secret of keeping the doctor away: An iPod a day

Patients could be given Apple iPods loaded with their favourite music to help them recover from operations faster.

A £10,000 trial plans to test the theory that patients allowed to listen to music feel less pain, need less medication and leave hospital sooner after surgery.

If approved, the first to benefit will be new mothers, who will be exposed to music before and after they give birth, and those admitted for orthopaedic operations such as hip and knee replacements.

They will be monitored to see how music affects their anxiety levels, blood pressure and heart rate compared to those who don’t listen to music.

Although it is thought that the best music to use depends on each patient’s personal taste, the research will be used to create an original piece of music designed to have the most therapeutic effect.

The trial would involve about 120 patients at Barts and The London NHS Trust, and be run by The Public Engagement Foundation charity. Founder Tim Joss said: ‘This is not about art as fluff – it’s about saving the NHS money and I will not consider this to be a success unless that’s what it does. We want to get rid of that clinical, hospital feel and make wards feel more welcoming for patients.’

The music may be given to patients on iPods, or they may be encouraged to bring in their own devices or use the hospital’s in-house entertainment system.

Mr Joss added: ‘It may be that what helps a new mother recover from a birth is not the same thing that helps someone on an orthopaedic ward. It could be fascinating.’

The charity is seeking £10,000 funding for the project from the hospital’s charitable fund, rather than using NHS money.

Music psychologist Susan Hallam, from the London Institute of Education, said: ‘There is plenty of evidence that music can reduce anxiety. It can cut the time patients take to recover so could allow them to leave hospital quicker.’


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating "healthier" means living longer (?)

The heading above is something of a tautology but there are some non-tautologous findings (below) underlying it. We also see below, however, more epidemiological speculation. And, perhaps sadly, the differences in relative risk (40%) are too low to support inferences of causation anyway (200% conventionally required). But let us look at what the findings COULD mean anyway:

Note that diet was assessed via a self-report questionnaire rather than direct observation. That leaves a lot of room for "faking good" and high IQ people (who are healthier anyway) may be more able and inclined to do that.

Note that high IQ has been found elsewhere to be a strong predictor of "good" (conforming) behavior: We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order".

So the alleged enthusiastic eaters of fruit and vegetables (etc.) may simply be high IQ people saying what they know will earn approval. They may even actually eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, but we don't know that.

It could be objected that education was controlled for but the correlation between educational level and IQ is around .7 -- which leaves 50% of the variance in the two variables not explained by one another. Thus control for education may reduce the influence of IQ but certainly does not eliminate it.

And whether what is true of septuagenarians is true generally would also seem moot

The leading causes of death have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. These illnesses may be affected by diet. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers investigated empirical data regarding the associations of dietary patterns with mortality through analysis of the eating patterns of over 2500 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a ten-year period. They found that diets favoring certain foods were associated with reduced mortality.

By 2030, an estimated 973 million adults will be aged 65 or older worldwide. The objective of this study was to determine the dietary patterns of a large and diverse group of older adults, and to explore associations of these dietary patterns with survival over a 10-year period. A secondary goal was to evaluate participants' quality of life and nutritional status according to their dietary patterns.

By determining the consumption frequency of 108 different food items, researchers were able to group the participants into six different clusters according to predominant food choices:

"Healthy foods" (374 participants)
"High-fat dairy products" (332)
"Meat, fried foods, and alcohol" (693)
"Breakfast cereal" (386)
"Refined grains" (458)
"Sweets and desserts" (339).

The "Healthy foods" cluster was characterized by relatively higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. The "High fat dairy products" cluster had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

The study was unique in that it evaluated participants' quality of life and nutritional status, through detailed biochemical measures, according to their dietary patterns. After controlling for gender, age, race, clinical site, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calorie intake, the "High-fat dairy products" cluster had a 40% higher risk of mortality than the "Healthy foods" cluster. The "Sweets and desserts" cluster had a 37% higher risk. No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the "Healthy foods" cluster and the "Breakfast cereal" or "Refined grains" clusters.

According to lead author Amy L. Anderson, Ph.D., Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, the "results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality. Because a substantial percentage of older adults in this study followed the 'Healthy foods' dietary pattern, adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population."

The journal article is "Dietary patterns and survival of older adults" by Amy L Anderson et al., Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 111, Issue 1 (January 2011)


Some brains are more sociable than others

If your social life leaves something to be desired, it might be your brain structure that’s to blame. A ‘Facebook feature’ deep in the temporal lobe governs the number of friends you are likely to make, scientists have found.

The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure, has for some time been linked to empathy and fear responses. But a study suggests that the larger the amygdala, the wider and more complex is its owner’s network of friends and colleagues.

Volunteers aged between 19 to 83 were asked to complete questionnaires which measured how many regular social contacts they had, and in how many different groups.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans found a positive link between big amygdalas and the richest social lives. Professor Lisa Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, reported the findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

She said they were consistent with the social brain theory, which suggests the human amygdala evolved to deal with an increasingly complex social world. Other studies of primates have shown that those living in larger groups tend to have larger amygdalas.

The findings was published in a new study in Nature Neuroscience.

Dr Lisa Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, who took part in the research, said the amygdala got bigger to cope with mankind's more hectic social life.

She added: 'Further research is in progress to try to understand more about how the amygdala and other brain regions are involved in social behaviour in humans.'

Her colleague Dr Bradford Dickerson, an associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School said: 'This link between amygdala size and social network size and complexity was observed for both older and younger individuals and for both men and women.'


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hormone-treated beef off the shelves at a major Australian supermarket chain

This will undoubtedly segment the market -- with food freaks buying their meat at Coles and others buying cheaper meat elsewhere. Are there enough food freaks to make it worthwhile for Coles? We will see, I guess. Richard Goyder is a very smart man, however, so he has probably guessed right

BEEF pumped with growth hormones will be banned by supermarket giant Coles from New Year's Day in an Australian first, sending shock waves through the meat industry. Industry experts predict higher beef prices as more customers demand hormone-free meat, which makes up about half of all beef sold in Australia.

Farmers have used hormone growth promotants (HGPs) to speed up muscle growth in cattle for more than 30 years, backed by rigorous safety approval from health authorities.

But in a survey of 1000 people by Meat and Livestock Australia, leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, almost half said they would consume less meat if it had added hormones, while 16 per cent would "never touch it again" and 15 per cent would "actively warn others".

Industry experts now fear a "knock-on effect" from the Coles ban if other retailers were forced to fall into line.

Coles has vowed to continue spending tens of millions of dollars a year absorbing the extra costs incurred by farmers so that consumers would not pay more. HGPs for cattle have been approved in Australia since 1979, but were banned by the European Union in 1988.

Without the HGPs, industry experts said another two million head of cattle would be needed to make up a shortfall in meat, creating environmental problems. "This has the potential to be very damaging to the beef industry and its reputation," Sydney University Prof Ian Lean said.

But Coles ambassador Curtis Stone said the industry needed to listen to consumer concerns. "The goal of the food industry should be to produce food as Mother Nature intended with as little additives as possible," Stone said. "As consumers, we have the power to make sure this happen."

Australian Cattle Council chief David Inall accused Coles of needlessly frightening customers. And CSIRO livestock industry chief Alan Bell said HGPs were "very safe and backed by science". "The problem is that the word 'hormone' is an emotive one," Prof Bell said.


Now the humble spud is in the gun

Obama Administration Bans Potatoes from WIC Program

Chris Voigt lost 21 pounds and improved his health by living on a potato-only diet for 60 days. Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread, and “are a good source of vitamins.” They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana or an apple), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas).

But the Obama Administration, which does not understand nutrition, has banned white potatoes from the WIC program (for school lunches and poor mothers), based on the false belief that potatoes are unhealthy. (Yet critics of the Obama Administration’s food nannyism get lectures from liberal journalists).

Potatoes are critically important in providing the poor with cheap, nutritious food. As Voigt notes,”In 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the ‘Year of the Potato’. This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivering a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population.”

After they were brought from America to Europe, potatoes “rescued the Western World” from recurrent famines, and made the Industrial Revolution possible. They did this by radically increasing the amount of food that hungry peasants could grow per acre, and by enabling farmers to provide the agricultural surplus that would feed burgeoning industrial populations.

In addition to trying to take away poor people’s potatoes, the Obama Administration has pushed ethanol subsidies that turn food into fuel and contribute to a “global food crisis” by spawning famines overseas. The Obama Administration is also using federal funds to subsidize the opening of an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C., and the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically-connected agribusinesses.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Short Hiatus

This blog is suspended for a couple of days over the Christmas period. But as Macarthur said for the cameras: "I shall return"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Vitamins Cause Cancer?‏

More reason to question compulsory dosage of the whole population with folates

People with higher levels of folate in their red blood cells were more likely to have two tumor-suppressing genes shut down by methylation, a chemical off switch for genes, researchers report in the December issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

DNA hypermethylation, notes co-author Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., professor in MD Anderson's Department of Leukemia, is found in a variety of cancers and diseases of aging, such as heart disease. Methyl groups attach to genes at sites called CpG islands and protrude like tags or book marks from the promoter region, preventing gene expression.

"Our new finding is that having high levels of folate in the blood, as observed in a sensitive measure of red blood cell (RBC) folate, is related to higher levels of DNA methylation," Issa said.

Folate is a naturally occurring B-vitamin that plays a role in DNA creation, repair and function as well as red blood cell production. Pregnant women who have a folate deficiency are at elevated risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube defects, which are caused by the failure of the spinal cord or brain to fully close during development.

Folate is found in leafy vegetables, fruits, dried beans and peas. Since 1998 its synthetic version, folic acid, has been added to breads cereals, flours, pastas, rice and other grain products under order from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This has driven down the rate of neural tube defects in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Folate also is taken as a dietary supplement. The recommended daily requirement is 400 micrograms for adult men and women and an additional 400 for women capable of becoming pregnant.

Folate's effect on cancer, once thought to be mainly preventive, has become less clear in recent years, with scientists finding cancer-promoting aspects of folate intake in colorectal, prostate and other cancers.

The research team analyzed the association between folate blood levels and dietary and lifestyle factors on DNA methylation in normal colorectal tissue. They enrolled 781 patients from a parent clinical trial that compared folate to aspirin in the prevention of precancerous colorectal polyps.

They gathered demographic, lifestyle and dietary information and compared methylation of two tumor-suppressing genes between the first colonoscopy and one three years later.

The genes, ERĪ± and SFRP1, are expressed in normal colorectal tissue but silenced by methylation in colon cancer. The two genes also have been found to be methylated in breast, prostate and lung tumors.

Age was strongly associated with increased methylation – a finding that confirmed longstanding research. Methylation levels also varied between the rectum and right colon and among different ethnic groups for each gene.

Neither folate nor aspirin treatment were significantly associated with methylation levels. However, RBC folate was associated with methylation of both genes with significant differences emerging between the top quarter of patients with the highest RBC folate count and the bottom quarter with the lowest. RBC folate levels closely reflect long-term folate intake.

"These differences were not trivial, they were the equivalent of 10 years of extra aging for those with high RBC folate counts," Issa said.

"Today it's worrisome that taking extra folate over the long term might lead to more DNA methylation, which then might lead to extra diseases including potentially an increased chance of developing cancer and other diseases of aging," Issa said.

"The data for folate supplementation right now are very ambiguous and I personally think people taking folate should think twice about it," Issa said. "Also, these findings, added to other data, should trigger a rethinking of the U.S. position that everyone should be taking extra folate."


Secret to a smooth hangover – honey on toast

If you are planning to overindulge this Christmas then it would be a good idea to stock up on bread and honey as well as booze. Scientists claim that the natural sweetener is a great way to help the body deal with the toxic effects of a hangover.

The Royal Society of Chemistry claim that the fructose in the honey – which is also found in golden syrup – is essential to help the body break down alcohol into harmless by-products.

The reason why hangovers are so painful is that alcohol is first broken down into acetaldehyde, a substance which is toxic to the body, claimed Dr John Emsley of the Royal Society. This is then converted – using fructose – into acetic acid which is then burned during the body's normal metabolic process and broken down into carbon dioxide which is breathed out of the body. Serving the honey on toast adds potassium and sodium to the meal which is also helps the body cope with the alcohol.

Dr Emsley said: “The happiness comes from alcohol. The hangover comes from acetaldehyde. "This is the toxic chemical into which alcohol is converted by the body and it causes a throbbing headache, nausea, and maybe even vomiting. "The hangover disappears as the acetaldehyde is slowly converted to less toxic chemicals."

Dr Emsley, author of the Consumer’s Good Chemical Guide, said that the time was the greatest healer of a hangover but there were also ways to minimise it. He said that drinking a glass of milk first, sticking to clear alcohols such as gin and mixing in the occasional soft drink were helpful as was sinking a pint of water before you go to bed.

He said: "The milk slows down the absorption of alcohol, which means there is less acetaldehyde for the body to deal with at any one time.

"Gin is alcohol twice purified by distillation and the botanical flavours it contains are mere traces. Avoid dark coloured drinks which contain natural chemicals that can adversely affect you.

"Alcohol increases water loss, hence the frequent trips to the loo. This dehydration makes a hangover worse, so moderate your drinking with a soft drink now and again, and drink a large glass of water before you go to sleep."

He said that the traditional "hair of the dog" only worked if you have drank so much alcohol you suffer withdrawal symptoms, which suggests you are becoming addicted.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Complementary" medicine 'can be lethal for children'

Using complementary medicine on children can be fatal, experts warn today. Parents can be misled into believing treatments such as homeopathy are more ‘natural’, with fewer side effects than conventional drugs. But they may have direct dangerous effects, and even lead to death, when substituted for effective conventional medicines, according to a study.

It found the deaths of four children could be blamed on parents failing to use orthodox treatments for illness and using alternative remedies instead.

The study team from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, used data from 2001 to 2003 showing 39 separate incidents of side effects in children up to the age of 16 thought to be linked with complementary treatment, whether used as a substitute or alongside conventional medicine.

In three-quarters of cases the issues were ‘probably or definitely’ related to complementary medicine. In 25 cases (64 per cent), the adverse effects were rated as severe, life-threatening or fatal. In almost half of cases, including the four deaths, the patient was harmed by a failure to use conventional medicine.

One involved an eight-month-old admitted to hospital with malnutrition and septic shock following naturopathic treatment with a rice milk diet from the age of three months for constipation.

‘Another death involved a ten-month-old with septic shock following treatment with homeopathic medicines and dietary restriction for chronic eczema,’ said the report in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The third death was sudden in a child who had presented with multiple seizures. ‘A number of different complementary and alternative medicine therapies had been used instead of anti-convulsant therapy due to concerns about potential drug side effects,’ the report said.

The fourth death was of a child who needed blood-clotting drugs but was given complementary medicine instead.

Other reactions to complementary medicines included constipation, pain, seizures, vomiting, infections and malnutrition.

The report said: ‘Many of the adverse events associated with failure to use conventional medicine resulted from the family’s belief in complementary and alternative medicine and determination to use it despite medical advice.’

Alternative treatments are not subject to pharmaceutical testing as they are classified as food supplements. In the UK, homeopathy has been funded on the NHS since 1948. The Commons Science and Technology Committee earlier this year criticised state funding, saying it conferred scientific legitimacy.

Doctors at the British Medical Association’s annual meeting voted 3-1 in support of removing ‘scarce’ NHS funding for homeopathy, despite protests from patients.

Professor Edzard Ernst, from the department of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said parents must be very careful. ‘The ethics of using alternative remedies in children are complex,’ he added.

Cristal Sumner, of the British Homeopathic Association, said: ‘With millions in Britain using complementary medicines (CAM), this study only emphasises the importance of CAM being integrated into the healthcare system and delivered by statutorily regulated health professionals. ‘Most of the risks from CAM come from the failure to responsibly integrate therapies appropriately rather than a direct risk from treatments.’


Will Mrs. Obama Downsize Your Kid?

The first lady got a bit of a bum rap last week when some on the right wrenched her comment on the new school lunch program out of context. Justifying an expanded federal program to feed kids healthy breakfasts and lunches at school, Michelle Obama said, "We can't just leave it up to the parents." Some radio shouters let fly at her for that. But immediately before that statement, Mrs. Obama had said, "I meet parents who are working very hard to make sure that their kids are healthy ... They're trying to teach their kids the kind of healthy habits that will stay with them for a lifetime. But ... it's clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well. We can't just leave it up to the parents."

This is not to suggest that Mrs. Obama's initiative, which will cost an additional $4.5 billion over the $13 billion we're already spending, is a good idea. The thrust of the new federal law is to bring the wisdom of the federal government to the task of helping kids become healthier. The terms "wisdom" and "federal government" make uncomfortable sentence mates. Certainly, there is a problem to be addressed. Some 31 percent of children and teens, reports the CDC, are overweight or obese, triple the rate of 30 years ago. It isn't even crazy to suggest, as Mrs. Obama has, that when "one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, childhood obesity isn't just a public health threat, it's not just an economic threat, it's a national security threat as well." And yet, it requires a certain kind of stubborn obtuseness to ride into battle carrying the flag of subsidized school lunches when the problem was partly created by ... subsidized school lunches!

Mrs. Obama is correct that school meals are loaded with saturated fat, salt, and sugar. She notes that children receive half of their daily calories from school lunches. Most kids don't eat breakfast at school, which means that school lunches are larded up with calories.

How did this happen? Was it just that before the Obamas came to town, the feds were misguided about what was good for kids? Or was it something about the way government operates?

Is it an accident that school lunches are so heavy on cheese and meat? No. The National School Lunch program, enacted in 1946, was devised with two goals in mind. The first was to subsidize farmers by purchasing huge blocs of "excess" commodities in order to keep prices up. Only secondarily did the government intend to help feed hungry children. Subsidies are, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the closest thing to immortal life in this world. So while America's children were getting heavier and heavier, particularly low-income children, federal programs continued to heap pizza, French fries, and cheeseburgers onto their plates.

There have been episodic and quixotic efforts to kill the subsidies. In 2007, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; and Ron Kind, D-Wis., offered an amendment to the farm bill that would have reduced subsidies for unhealthy commodities like meat and cheese, cut subsidies to millionaire farmers, and increased funding for nutritional services to poor children. But Speaker Pelosi, fearing that her farm state members would pay a political price, urged a "no" vote.

Some 30 million American children (about 83 percent of the total) eat subsidized school lunches in America's schools, though only 17.4 million are low income. Mrs. Obama's reform will increase spending on the grounds that healthy foods are more expensive than unhealthy ones. But $2.2 billion of the $4.5 cost of the new program is to be offset by reductions in the Food Stamp program. Bad idea.

The amount of all of this food that winds up uneaten in the trash can only be guessed at (though anecdotal evidence abounds). Wouldn't it make more sense, economically, nutritionally, and (importantly) socially to eliminate school lunches altogether? Parents can pack a highly nutritious turkey, tuna, or peanut butter sandwich with an apple or an orange. Poor parents can afford to do this with help from the Food Stamp program. The older kids can pack their own lunches. (A child who repeatedly showed up at school without lunch would receive attention from child protective services.) Most of the parent-supervised lunches would be superior in nutrition and taste to anything the government could serve (some kids might even find an affectionate note from mom or dad in their lunch boxes). But more importantly, the principle that parents are responsible for their children would be ratified.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vitamin pills could damage your health by making misleading claims, says British watchdog

People who pop vitamin pills in an effort to boost their health could be jeopardising their wellbeing as well as wasting their money, according to the consumer watchdog.

A survey by Which? found two-thirds of us have taken supplements in the past year. But on closer study many products were found labelled with misleading or insufficient information.

Researchers who visited supermarkets, chemists and smaller health shops in London in October found numerous examples of unsubstantiated claims on supplements.

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said the worst culprits were those that claimed to maintain healthy bones and joints. Claims about key ingredients including glucosamine and long chain omega-3 fatty acids have all been turned down by the European Food Safety Authority. However, until the regulations have been fully implemented they will still appear on bottles.

Mr Vicary-Smith added: 'Researchers also found high-strength supplement products containing vitamin B6 and beta-carotene on sale, without the recommended warnings that taking too much of them could be harmful.'

In addition to visiting retail outlets, Which? conducted an online survey of 1,263 supplement takers across the UK. 'A third didn't realise that taking too much of some supplements could damage your health,' Mr Vicary-Smith said.

He called on the European Commission to address the issue. 'We're concerned that people are being taken for a ride, needlessly paying a premium for many products on the basis of health claims that haven't been backed up by scientific evidence,' he said. 'We want to see the European Commission release a list of accepted and rejected claims as soon as possible, so consumers won't continue to be bamboozled by health claims they can't trust.'

The NHS advises to always seek medical advice before taking supplements, stick to the recommended daily intake and don’t take them for too long. A spokesman added: 'Vitamin and mineral tablets are no substitute for a healthy diet. We tend to absorb nutrients more effectively if they’re in our food, rather than taken via a tablet.'

You can see which supplement health claims have been accepted or rejected at the EFSA website


New Drug May Ease Social Impairment of Autism

Since autism seems to be caused by some structural abnormality in the brain, I doubt that much will come of this

Researchers have launched a pilot clinical trial of a new medication aimed at relieving the sociability problems of adolescent and young adult patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The medication used, D-Cycloserine, originally was developed to treat tuberculosis, but previous studies showed, by chance, that it might change social behavior.

”What makes this important is you might have someone with a 125 or 130 IQ who’s unemployable” because of their social impairments, said lead investigator Maria R. Urbano, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). Their difficulties in social functioning significantly reduce quality of life for those with ASD.

Researchers say that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders are either disinterested in social interactions or find them unpleasant. “They often don’t understand what other people are thinking or feeling and misinterpret social cues,” said Stephen I. Deutsch, M.D., Ph.D., of EVMS. ”Sadly, persons with autism spectrum disorders are often painfully aware of their limited sociability, which can lead to profound feelings of sadness and frustration.”

The trial will show whether the medication, which is already known to be safe for use in humans, has similar effects on the sociability deficits of persons with autism as it does in mice. As part of their research, EVMS scientists verified that is a valid animal model of the limited sociability seen in persons with ASD.

EVMS scientists found that in the presence of another mouse, a specific mouse strain known as the BALB/c mouse moves as far away as possible and does not interact as normal mice do — just as people with autism often avoid making social contact with other people.

This finding gave researchers a way to test whether D-Cycloserine can alter the function of certain receptors in the brain known to affect sociability and help the animals be more at ease around others.

In preliminary studies at EVMS, the medication appeared to resolve the Balb/c mouse’s deficits of sociability; it behaved as a normal mouse would when placed near another.

EVMS’ laboratory studies with the Balb/c mouse led investigators to hypothesize that D-Cycloserine could ease the impaired sociability of people with autism, such as avoiding eye contact and personal interaction. Those traits can severely limit the possibility of employment and independent living.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Echinacea does not ward off colds according to research

On to the next fad!

The herbal remedy echinacea, which is taken to stave off colds, does not work, say leading doctors. They suggest that the plant extract has little or no effect on the length or severity of symptoms including coughs and sneezes.

Increasing numbers of Britons take echinacea supplements every year at the first sign of a cold in the hope that they will help boost their immune system. But a major study suggested that its effects are ‘minimal’, and for many people it will not work at all.

The research by the American College of Physicians compared the effects of the extract on 719 people experiencing the first sign of a cold. Half were given echinacea tablets to take once a day for five days and the other half took placebos and recorded their symptoms for a week.

Symptoms of the common cold – congestion, sore throat and fever – usually resolve within seven to ten days. The length of illness among the volunteers who took the echinacea was shorter by between seven and ten hours – a ‘statistically insignificant’ result, the experts said. The herb had no effect on severity of the symptoms.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that, for most people, taking the supplement was not ‘worthwhile’.

The team, led by Professor Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin concluded: ‘Any underlying benefit of echinacea is not large and was not demonstrated by our results. Individual choices about whether to use echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences.’

The herb, derived from a flowering plant native to North America, has become increasing popular in the past decade. It was first used by American Indians to treat snake bites.


Chemical in cocoa could be turned into a anti-cough medicine

Theobromine has caffeine-like stimulant effects and that may not be good at all in ill people

Chocolate could provide the key to tackling a persistent cough, researchers claim. They are carrying out the final stages of clinical trials on a drug that contains theobromine, an ingredient naturally present in cocoa and chocolate. If the trials are successful, the drug could be on the market within two years.

More than seven million Britons suffer from a persistent cough, defined as one that lasts for more than two weeks. Some have asthma-like symptoms while others suffer from heartburn.

But most widely available cough products soothe the symptoms rather than deal with the cause, and have been criticised for side effects such as drowsiness. There are safety concerns about side effects from other products that are codeine-based, which use a chemical called an opioid.

Previous research by London’s National Heart and Lung Institute found that theobromine is 33 per cent more effective than codeine at stopping coughing. It works directly on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for persistent coughing.

Research in South Korea has shown that theobromine has none of the side effects associated with standard drug treatments for persistent cough.

Professor Alyn Morice, a leading expert in the treatment of cough who is head of the Hull Cough Clinic, said: ‘Thousands of people across the UK suffer from persistent cough, and due to the drawbacks of current opioid drugs such as codeine, we are in desperate need of a non-opioid treatment with a drastically improved side effect profile for patients.’

A research project set to begin next year will be the final phase of clinical trials of a drug called BC1036. The drug is being developed by SEEK, a leading UK privately-owned drug discovery group.

Manfred Scheske, CEO of consumer health at SEEK, said: ‘Persistent cough is a very common condition, often lasting for weeks after a viral infection. It can be difficult to treat, especially since it is not possible to give large doses of opiate-based medication to patients due to side-effect issues.

‘This drug has the potential to dramatically impact the treatment of persistent cough and could greatly benefit the quality of life of persistent cough sufferers.’


Monday, December 20, 2010

Beetroot juice could give the elderly a new lease of life, say "experts"

It does appear that nitrates in beetroot juice induce temporary vasodilation but lots of things do that -- including alcohol. I know which one I would rather drink

Drinking beetroot juice could help the elderly lead more active lives, it has been found. In tests, they required less energy to carry out low-intensity exercises after drinking the juice. The amount of effort it took to walk was reduced by 12 per cent. This could enhance their lives by allowing the elderly to carry out tasks they might not otherwise attempt, the researchers said.

Beetroot juice widens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity. As people age, or if they develop conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, the amount of oxygen taken in during exercise can drop dramatically.

Writing in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Katie Lansley said: ‘What we’ve seen in this study is that beetroot juice can actually reduce the amount of oxygen you need to perform even low-intensity exercise.’

A team from Exeter University and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry gave subjects normal beetroot juice or juice with the nitrates removed. Professor Andy Jones said: ‘Each time the normal, nitrate-rich juice was used, we saw a marked improvement in performance which wasn’t there with the filtered juice – so we know the nitrate is the active ingredient.


Breastfeeding 'could make boys more intelligent'

This is an old one and again it is epidemiological speculation. More intelligent mothers are more likely to be conscientious about breastfeeding (We read: "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order") and such women would also have more intelligent sons. Why the effect was observed in boys only on this occasion also has to be speculative. Note that other studies such as the one linked above have found NO effect when IQ and other confounders are controlled for. One does rather wonder why this old ground is being replowed

Breastfeeding your baby could help them achieve academic success by the age of 10, a study has found. Researchers found that children who were predominantly breastfed for six months did better in mathematics, reading, writing and spelling. The effect was strongest in boys.

It is thought that the bonding between mother and baby fostered during breastfeeding may mean mothers are more attentive and supportive of their children. Boys are more responsive to maternal attention when learning which could explain why breastfeeding had a greater effect on them, the researchers said.

The authors, from University of Western Australia, also suggested that there may be substances in breastmilk that help the brain develop. This effect may be more pronounced in boys because they lack the female hormones which are known to protect the brain.

Women in Britain are recommended to exclusively breastfeed for six months but many drop it within the first month saying they lacked support when they had difficulties.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, said: "By looking at boys and girls independently, we found that predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer was significantly associated with increased mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling scores for boys, but no effect of breastfeeding was apparent on the educational attainment of girls for any subject. "We found significant interactions for mathematics and spelling revealing that boys were more likely than girls to have improved academic scores if they were breastfed for a longer period. "On average, boys had poorer numeracy and literacy scores than girls; however, the scores were improved if the child was breastfed for six months or longer."

Just over 1,000 children were involved in the study and were followed from when their mothers were 18 weeks pregnant until they reached ten years of age when they were assessed using standard mathematics, reading, writing and spelling scores.

The authors adjusted for other factors that could influence educational attainment, including mother's education and household income. However they could not fully account for mother's intelligence.

Lead author Dr Wendy Oddy, from the Centre for Child Health Research at University of Western Australia, in Perth, wrote in the journal: "The positive effect of predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer on academic achievement can be viewed as shifting the mean population score upward, particularly for boys. "Our study adds to growing evidence that breastfeeding for at least six months has beneficial effects on optimal child development. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed for six months and beyond."

Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "This is a difficult area to research because of the need to allow for all of the possible variables that influence educational attainment. "However this study has controlled for these as far as possible and adds to the growing body of evidence that breast feeding is the best way to feed babies from birth to six months of age and beyond.

"It is vital that in the light of this evidence women and their families are given the highest quality of information antenatally and excellent support to breast feed postnatally. It is worrying that recent reviews of the support women are getting suggest that this is one aspect of maternity services where resources are lacking and care provision needs to improve."


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The magic of Mistletoe

It's possible that there's something in this but we have no way of knowing at this stage

According to folklore, mistletoe 'magic' may seal romance, bestow fertility and bring peace to warring spouses. The plant has also been credited with the power of healing - an attribute currently being harnessed by a new outpatient unit at the independent Raphael Medical Centre in Kent, which offers integrated cancer care.

The centre uses mistletoe (known by its Latin plant name, viscum album) to combat undesirable effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, low mood and infections.

Advocates believe the herb boosts the immune system and may even help kill tumour cells - particularly breast, gynaecological, colo-rectal, pancreatic and lung cancer, along with lymphomas and leukaemia.

Results have been so promising that Professor Gene Feder, a GP and Professor of Primary Care at Bristol University, is initiating the UK's first pilot study.

From his GP experience he says: 'Patients receiving mistletoe during and after radiotherapy or chemotherapy appear to tolerate those treatments better. The university is planning a pilot double-blind randomised controlled trial, and hope to start recruiting in Bristol in April.'

Treatment is usually by injections - two a week for two years. Patients inject at home after initial treatment by medical staff to monitor effects.

Dr Maurice Orange MSc, who heads the integrated cancer care clinic at Raphael, explains: 'We look for inflammation at the injection site.

This may be itchy, tender or painful for a day or two. Like after-effects of a bee sting, redness indicates the body's immune response. For this treatment that's desirable. After weeks or months of treatment it settles down.

'Similarly, within 24 hours of an injection we expect patients to feel off-colour, fatigued, headachy with bodily aches and pains, and possibly raised body temperature - like mild flu, but lasting about 12 hours. Again it's a positive sign. The immune system is firing into action. Depending on reactions we adjust doses, increasing as patients get used to it.'

Dr Orange stresses that mistletoe is an adjunct to conventional cancer treatment. While patients sometimes want to avoid orthodox treatment, he sees his job as discussing best treatments, often referring patients to sympathetic oncologists.


The magic of garlic

Just epidemiological speculation so far

It may do no favours for your breath, but enjoying a diet rich in garlic, onions and leeks could reduce your risk of developing the most common form of arthritis. Researchers at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia investigated possible links between diet and the painful joint disease. They found that women who ate a lot of allium vegetables (in the garlic family) had lower levels of hip osteoarthritis.

The findings, published in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders journal, show the great potential garlic compounds have in developing new treatments for the disease. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in adults, affecting around 8 million people in the UK, with women are more likely to develop it than men.

It causes pain and disability by affecting the hip, knees and spine in the middle-aged and elderly population. Currently there is no effective treatment other than pain relief and, ultimately, joint replacement.

A relationship is known to exist between body weight and osteoarthritis but this was the first study to delve deeper into how diet could impact on development and prevention of the condition.

The study, funded by Arthritis Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and Dunhill Medical Trust, looked at over 1,000 healthy female twins, many of whom had no symptoms of arthritis. The team carried out a detailed assessment of the diet patterns of the twins and analysed these alongside x-ray images, which captured the extent of early osteoarthritis in the participants’ hips, knees and spine.

They found that in those who consumed a healthy diet with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, particularly alliums such as garlic, there was less evidence of early osteoarthritis in the hip joint.

To investigate the potential protective effect of allium vegetables further, researchers studied the compounds found in garlic. They found that that a compound called diallyl disulphide limits the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes when introduced to a human cartilage cell-line in the laboratory.

Dr Frances Williams, lead author from the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, says: 'While we don't yet know if eating garlic will lead to high levels of this component in the joint, these findings may point the way towards future treatments and prevention of hip osteoarthritis. 'If our results are confirmed by follow-up studies, this will point the way towards dietary intervention or targeted drug therapy for people with osteoarthritis.’

Professor Ian Clark of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Osteoarthritis is a major health issue and this exciting study shows the potential for diet to influence the course of the disease. 'With further work to confirm and extend these early findings, this may open up the possibility of using diet or dietary supplements in the future treatment osteoarthritis.’


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The BPA hysteria spreads

On the basis of "possible risks". They are not even sure it is a risk, let alone a real danger

The Massachusetts Public Health Council voted unanimously yesterday to ban the sale and manufacture of baby bottles and sipping cups containing the chemical BPA, but turned aside a push by environmental activists for more sweeping restrictions on use of the chemical linked to possible health risks in children.

Bisphenol A is used in a wide variety of products, including plastic bottles, children’s sipping cups, and the lining of canned food containers. Children and adults can ingest tiny amounts of BPA when they drink or eat from the containers, and studies of laboratory animals have suggested that the chemical could cause developmental problems for children if they are exposed to small quantities early in life.

Last year the state Department of Public Health warned parents of young children not to store infant formula or breast milk in plastic bottles containing the chemical and urged pregnant or breast-feeding women to avoid using food and drink containers made with it.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said there is some concern that the chemical could be harmful to children, and the federal government has launched a $30 million study of its health effects. Results are not expected until 2012.

The new state ban targets bottles and cups likely to be used by children 3 years old and under. It will take effect Jan. 1 for manufacturers and July 1 for retailers. There are no makers of these baby products in the state, but council member Paul Lanzikos suggested that the new date, earlier than the proposed date of April 1, as a symbol of the seriousness of the issue. To enforce the regulation, the state will conduct spot checks at stores and test any bottles or cups suspected to contain the chemical.

Environmental activists had urged a more comprehensive ban that included containers in which baby formula and food is sold, as well as anything a child could eat or chew on. They were disappointed after the vote.

“This regulation is a wholly inadequate response from the Patrick administration and will do little to protect children’s health,’’ Elizabeth Saunders, legislative director of Clean Water Action, said in a statement. “Manufacturers have largely removed BPA baby bottles and cups from the marketplace. This is a missed opportunity.’’

But Department of Public Health specialists said they presented a ban based on what science has shown about possible harms. “The Public Health Council is convinced that the scientific evidence is strong about the health impacts for infants and young children,’’ Geoffrey Wilkinson, senior policy adviser to the public health commissioner, told the council, an appointed panel of doctors, disease trackers, and consumer advocates.

“This is clearly a limited ban, and we know that this is much farther than industry would have preferred that the state go at this time,’’ Wilkinson said. “But it’s nowhere near as far as public health and environmental health advocates wanted the state to go. We think it is important to look at the research and to wait before considering further steps until research that is under way is reported.’’

Seven other states regulate the chemical, including Connecticut, whose ban also covers baby formula containers.

To critics who contend that bottles and sipping cups that contain the chemical have already been removed from store shelves, Wilkinson said that that may be true at large retail outlets, but is not necessarily the case at smaller stores in poorer neighborhoods. “This really extends the protection as a matter of policy, so it provides equal protection and addresses disparities that we are concerned may exist,’’ he said in an interview.


Junk food fan? Drinking tea could keep the pounds at bay -- if you are a mouse

Drinking tea may prevent weight gain caused by a junk food diet. Researchers found regular consumption of tea also suppressed damaging changes in the blood linked to fatty foods that can lead to type 2 diabetes. They said the research on mice could signal another set of health benefits from tea drinking if they are confirmed in trials on humans.

In the study some mice were given a high fat diet and others a normal diet. Each of these two groups were then split into smaller groups and given water, black tea or green tea for 14 weeks. Both types of tea suppressed body weight gain and the build-up of belly fat linked to a fatty diet.

But black tea, which is used in most ordinary cuppas, also counteracted the harmful effects on the blood normally associated with a high-fat diet. These included increases in cholesterol, high blood glucose and insulin resistance – a precursor to type 2 diabetes where the body does not efficiently use the insulin it produces. Rising obesity levels in Western countries have resulted in many more people having insulin resistance.

The study at Kobe University, Japan, was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Eight out of ten Britons drink tea. Dr Carrie Ruxton from the industry backed Tea Advisory Panel said: ‘This study is good news for tea drinkers, particularly those who drink black tea. ‘Though the findings need to be confirmed in human studies, this study found that tea helped to prevent weight gain and adverse changes in blood glucose, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and lipid regulation evoked by a high fat diet. ‘Black tea had particularly favourable effects on blood cholesterol and insulin resistance.’

Tea drinking has already been linked with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Other research shows drinking tea on a regular basis for ten or more years may improve bone density.

...but there's no miracle in goji berries. Trendy goji berries are not especially good for you – unless you believe in their healing powers. The goodness from the berries is mostly the result of a placebo effect, say researchers.

Hailed as a super food, their popularity has soared on the back of claims of anti-ageing and cancer-preventing properties but they have not yet been proven.

The berries do have the same nutrients as other fruits and vegetables, but the difference is the effect on those who truly believe in their wonder properties.

Professor Emilio Martinez de Victoria Muqoz at the University of Granada warned that the berries were simply ‘another fad’, adding: ‘Goji berries will not have any positive effect on people who do not follow a balanced diet’.


Friday, December 17, 2010

McDonald's sued over Happy Meals

Happy Meals are again under attack, this time in court. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., claiming that the company's meals with toys unfairly entice children into eating food that can do them harm.

The Washington advocacy group warned McDonald's in June that it would sue if the company did not stop providing toys with children's meals that have high amounts of sugar, calories, fat and salt. The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks class-action status.

"McDonald's offerings consist mostly of fatty meat, fatty cheese, French fries, white flour, and sugar — a narrow combination of foods that promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — and may lead to a lifetime of poor diets," Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, said in a news release.

The lead plaintiff in the suit is Monica Parham, a mother of two from Sacramento who said the company "uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald's," the organization said.

McDonald's spokeswoman Bridget Coffing said Happy Meals offer quality foods in smaller portions that are appropriate for children.

As the debate over Happy Meals and childhood obesity has raged in recent months, McDonald's has consistently pointed out that parents can choose apple slices instead of French fries for their children, and order milk instead of soda. "We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food," Coffing said Wednesday.

"We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals," Coffing said. "We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."

Last month, San Francisco banned promotional toys served with meals that don't meet nutritional standards. This was widely seen as an attack on Happy Meals.


Another reversal in official British health advice

Going out in the midday sun without sunscreen is good for you, health experts have said. The latest advice recommends ten to 15 minutes’ exposure to help boost vitamin D levels. It runs contrary to previous warnings over the dangers of spending time in the sun when it is at its strongest.

The change of opinion comes amid concern that people may not be getting optimal levels of vitamin D – around 90 per cent of the body’s supply comes from the action of sunlight on the skin..

Experts have long warned the risk of skin cancer from UV rays outweighs any potential good. However, the latest advice from a range of health charities says exposure to the sun at midday during summer months can help build a store of the essential vitamin. And it reverses warnings about using suntan cream with a high sun protection factor before going outside and avoiding exposure between 10am and 2pm.

The new message from Cancer Research UK is ‘Never be red at the end of the day’

Experts have reacted in response to the growing number of children developing rickets, which is caused by lack of vitamin D. Deficiency has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several cancers, as well as bone softening in adults.

According to a consensus statement from seven charities and professional bodies, in the summer people should expose their face, arms and legs for ten to 15 minutes, three times a week.
It is best done around noon, when the sun’s UVB rays are most effective at synthesising vitamin D.

In the winter, eating foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and bread can provide enough of the vitamin alongside the body’s own stores, says the Department of Health.

The body needs vitamin D for the absorption of calcium and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It is also important for the function of the immune system.

The organisations signing up to the consensus statement are the British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Heart Forum, the National Osteoporosis Society and the Primary Care Dermatology Society.

Professor Rona Mackie pointed out that the intensity of the sun’s rays in Australia, where the sun avoidance message originated, was not found in the UK. Oliver Gillie, who runs Health Research Forum, said: ‘The public has been seriously misled by advice to avoid the sun.’


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Smoking 'causes a third of severe rheumatoid arthritis cases' (?)

I've got no time for smokers but the report below seems rubbish. Smoking is correlated with all indices of social disadvantage -- including low IQ -- and high IQ people are known to be healthier and live longer. So was IQ controlled for? I doubt it. Just mentioning IQ would probably be classed as hate speech in nutty Sweden. So I suspect that all we have here is yet another example of the most reliable finding in epidemiology: That lower social class goes with poorer health.

The journal article is: "Smoking is a major preventable risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis: estimations of risks after various exposures to cigarette smoke"

Smoking is responsible for a third of all cases of severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a study of more than 2,000 people. In people who are genetically predisposed towards the debilitating condition it accounts for more than a half of cases, the Swedish study found.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the painful swelling of the joints, thought to be caused by the body's own immune system attacking itself. It often begins to affect people between 40 and 60, and is three times more common in women than in men. About 400,000 people suffer from it in Britain.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm asked 1,200 people with RA about their smoking habits, as well as almost 900 people without it. Both sets were matched for age, sex, and other factors.

They found people who had smoked heavily throughout their lives - at least 20 a day for at least 20 years - were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to test positive for a type of antibody, called the anticitrullinated protein/peptide antibody (ACPA), that is now closely associated with the most common and severe form of RA.

Based on this and other figures, they calculated that smoking accounted for 35 per cent of ACPA-positive cases of RA, and a fifth of cases of the disease overall.

Among people who were genetically susceptible to the disease, the researchers concluded that smoking was responsible for more than half (55 per cent) of ACPA-positive cases.

However, they found that in all but the heaviest smokers, the risk of developing RA diminished once a person stopped smoking.

The report is published today (TUES) online in the British Medical Journal's Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Jane Tadman, from Arthritis Research UK, commented: "We’ve also known for some time that lifestyle factors such as smoking, and also eating a lot of red meat and drinking large amounts of caffeine may also affect the risk of developing the disease.

"As there is little you can do about changing your genetic make-up, it seems sensible to reduce the other risk factors that you actually have some control over. So stopping smoking would be one obvious way of doing this."


Why can't I enjoy a glass (or three) of wine without the pregnancy police telling me I'm evil?

A well-informed mother battles the myths

Now, what can I get you?’ asked my friend politely. ‘Tea? Coffee ­­— decaf, of course? Or a soft drink?’ ‘Actually, I’ll have a glass of the red, please,’ I replied and, instantly, the room took on a decidedly Arctic chill. After a long silence my friend looked at me quizzically, not sure if I was joking or not.

It wasn’t ten o’clock in the morning and neither was I a recovering alcoholic ­threatening to fall off the wagon. No, it was far worse than that… I was at a dinner party and I’m eight months pregnant.

And before I’m reviled, hated and ­condemned as being a selfish woman who doesn’t care about the health of her unborn child, let’s have a grown-up conversation about it, shall we? Because the reality is you’ll struggle to find anyone without a medical licence who knows more than me about drinking during pregnancy.

I’m a proud 31-year-old mother of two wonderfully healthy, happy, smart and ­mischievous boys — Eddie, six-and-three-quarters (he’d kill me if I didn’t include the three quarters), and Sammy, aged two.

I drank through each of their pregnancies, mostly one glass of wine in the evening after dinner but, sometimes — if it was a ­special occasion — I would have two or three over the course of a meal.

I’m not advocating that pregnant women get drunk, just that they be allowed to drink responsibly without any inciting hysteria.

I’ve read practically every piece of ­literature and study on the effects of ­drinking during pregnancy and have come to the educated ­conclusion that my alcohol intake during each of my three ­pregnancies has not adversely affected either of my two children and won’t affect my third, due next month. In fact (as I’ll explain later), it may even have contributed to them being so bright.

In 2006, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concluded there was no ­convincing evidence of adverse affects of ­prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels of alcohol ­consumption — moderate being 10.5 units or seven small glasses of wine a week. Which means I can drink two glasses of wine with dinner at least three nights a week, or drink a glass or so a day, and do myself or my baby no harm.

Another study, carried out in October this year by University ­College London, monitored ­children over five years and ­concluded that light drinking in pregnancy does children ‘no long term harm’. So, if it’s OK with you, I’ll take the advice of medical experts rather than a bunch of hysterical ­housewives

Besides if we did­ ­everything to ‘be on the safe side’ we’d never leave the house in case we got hit by a bus. We’d never go on holiday in case the plane crashed and we’d never let our children play outside for fear of them being kidnapped.

The feeling of being collared by the self-appointed ‘pregnancy police’ will be familiar to Caroline Williams from Hove, Sussex. Last year, on a hot summer’s night, a six-months-pregnant ­Caroline thought she’d order a nice, cooling half pint of beer. The bar staff refused to serve her. When Caroline pointed out she was a paying customer and would like her beer, they threw her out. ‘I’m a respectable woman. I’ve never been thrown out of an ­establishment before in my life,’ said Caroline. ­‘I felt so humiliated.’

Every mother who’s ever thought about drinking ­during pregnancy is aware of Fetal ­Alcohol Syndrome — a mental and ­physical disorder which permanently affects the ­central nervous system of the ­developing foetus.

There’s no cure and it’s caused by excessive alcohol consumption d­uring pregnancy — meaning a large intake of ­alcohol over a sustained period of time. We’re talking a bottle a day, not a bottle a week. No study has ever found a ­correlation between the diagnosis of the condition and light to moderate alcohol ­consumption in expectant ­mothers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have all three doctors I’ve seen through each of my pregnancies tell me the truth; the current UK ­medical advice to abstain entirely comes from the medical ­profession’s distrust for the public.

In short, pregnant women aren’t trusted to know when light to ­moderate drinking stops and heavy drinking begins.

I could pretend that I drink ­during pregnancy to give my kids a higher IQ — one study found the children of mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy had a higher one than those that abstained.

I find it depressing that Myleene Klass’s agent felt compelled to deny she was drinking after she was ­spotted at Piers Morgan’s CNN party recently with a wine glass in her hand at six months pregnant. The pregnancy police were assured ‘it was 100 per cent Diet Coke’. Phew. Cancel that call to social services.

And when Gwyneth Paltrow dared to admit she was drinking Guinness and was spotted sipping red wine in 2006 while pregnant with her second child, Moses, she was lambasted.

All this hysteria does is encourage the evangelists who make pregnant women feel guilty about so much as sniffing a ­barmaid’s apron.

But I’m not a one-woman-­campaign against the Temperance League, out to advise all expectant mums to crack open the Sancerre and put their feet up. Far from it. I’d just like every mum to do their own research and come to their own — informed — conclusion. So you may not feel like drinking during your pregnancy. That’s fine — I’m not standing in judgment. All I ask is that you afford me the same courtesy.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A drug that could give you a longer healthy life?

Given its close similarity to thalidomide, I don't think anybody should be cheering yet

Until now it has merely been the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction. But a ‘fountain of youth’ drug which could help pensioners stay fit and healthy long into old age has been unveiled by doctors.

In tests, tiny amounts of the drug lenalidomide massively boosted immune system chemicals key to fighting off invaders from bugs to tumours. Concentrations of one of the protective compounds rose more than 100-fold.

Bolstering the body’s defences could also make vaccines such as the flu jab more effective in those whose immunity has weakened with age. The final years would be healthier and so theoretically happier and more productive.

Dr Edward Goetzl, who has hailed the drug as a ‘fountain of youth pill’, said: ‘We are definitely aiming for longer healthy lifespan and a shorter period of frailty.’

If the drug worked particularly well, users could work longer, removing some of the economic burden of an ageing society and lightening the care-giving load for their children.

And the minuscule amounts of the drug needed mean that treatment is likely to be side-effect free, the doctors behind the breakthrough believe.

Dr Goetzl, of the University of California, began by studying levels of immune system chemicals called cytokines in a group of elderly adults. He found that amounts in healthy pensioners mirrored those of much younger people. But in frail pensioners vulnerable to infection, levels were low. Further work showed that lenalidomide could raise their levels in a way that no other pill or potion could.

Dr Goetzl said: ‘No one is talking about longevity and lifespan now but about “health span”. ‘If, at age 50, your cytokine levels are the same as they were at 25, you’ll probably stay healthy as you age. ‘But if they’re heading downhill, we need to do something about it. ‘If you could take a low dosage pill with no side-effects, wouldn’t you do it?’

In the tests, tiny doses of lenalidomide boosted production of the cytokine interleukin-2 by 120 times, restoring concentration to youthful levels. The drug also raised levels of interferon-gamma, a second protective cytokine, the journal Clinical Immunology reports.

But Dr Goetzl said it would not automatically mean people living longer. Rather, their later years would be healthier.

Large-scale trials are planned for next year with a view to prescribing the drug widely in years to come. Dr Goetzl envisages it initially being given to men and women aged 65 and above when they receive vaccines such as the winter flu jab.

But its similarity to thalidomide, the most notorious drug of the 20th century, means that any such health drive is likely to be subject to tight controls. Thalidomide was marketed as a ‘wonder cure’ for morning sickness but withdrawn in 1961 after 10,000 babies were born with missing or deformed limbs and damaged organs. In some cases, their mothers had taken the drug just once.

Lenalidomide is a more modern drug and is considered safer than thalidomide. But its close structural similarity means that women of child-bearing age must use contraception while taking it. Dr Goetzl says that while the very low doses needed should not produce any side-effects, he would never advise giving the drug to young women.


Pomegranate juice 'could slow the spread of cancer'

An old faithful is trotted out again. The "new" findings sound speculative to me but I will await their passage through peer review

Scientists have found components in the juice which stop the movement of cancer cells, and weaken their attraction to chemical signals which cause them to spread. They found that particular ingredients in the juice - such as fatty acids - slowed the spread of the disease from prostate cancer to the bone.

The team from the University of California hope the fruit will have a similar effect on other cancers.

Previous research that claimed pomegranate juice could slow the disease was controversial as the UCLA researchers did not define the biological mechanism behind the the effects.

In September this year, the US Federal Trade Commission charged Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate company which supplied the juice for the research, with making false and misleading claims about the effect on health.

But the authors of the latest study said they had now identified the beneficial components which impact on cell adhesion and migration.

Presenting the findings at the American Society of Cell Biology's 50th annual meeting, Dr Manuela Martins-Green said: 'This is particularly exciting because we can now modify these naturally occurring components of the juice to improve their functions and make them more effective in preventing prostate cancer metastasis.

'Because the genes and proteins involved in movement of prostate cancer cells are essentially the same as those involved in movement of other types of cancer cells, the same modified components of the juice could have a much broader impact in cancer treatment.'


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Think yourself thinner with the fantasy diet

Interesting findings but I note that displacement effects were not allowed for. Eating less of one food might well mean that you eat more of another

Researchers have found that fantasising about your favourite food really can help you avoid eating it. Scientists showed day dreaming of a delicious meal actually reduces one's desire for it. The trick is to visualise gorging non-stop on the food, rather than conjuring up an appetite-whetting single image. This feeds into natural mechanisms that control consumption and prevent overindulgence, said the researchers.

Dr Carey Morewedge, the study leader from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said trying to suppress thoughts of desired foods to curb cravings was a "fundamentally flawed strategy".

"Our studies found that instead, people who repeatedly imagined the consumption of a morsel of food – such as an M&M or cube of cheese – subsequently consumed less of that food than did people who imagined consuming the food a few times or performed a different but similarly engaging task."

The researchers conducted tests in which groups of volunteers were asked to imagine repetitively placing coins into a laundry machine or popping M&Ms – sugar-coated chocolate buttons – into their mouths. Both involve similar actions and involved repetitions of around 30.

Some participants had to imagine eating more M&Ms while inserting fewer coins, while others did the reverse or only imagined inserting coins.

Later all the volunteers were presented with a bowl of the sweets and invited to eat their fill. Those who had previously imagined swallowing M&Ms many times over helped themselves to half as many sweets from the bowl than did members of the other groups.

Further experiments were carried out substituting cheese cubes for M&Ms. They confirmed that the effect was food specific – if volunteers thought about eating M&Ms or cheese cubes they were put off eating that food. But thinking of M&Ms did not reduce their appetite for cheese, and thinking of cheese did not lessen consumption of M&Ms.

The findings, published in the journal Science, showed that thoughts of eating a particular food tapped into a psychological effect called "habituation" which reduces motivation. "Across the experiments that measured actual consumption, we saw an approximate decrease of 50 per cent," said Dr Morewedge.

"That said, I do not want to blow out of proportion the efficacy of the imagery induction, as this meant that participants tended to eat 2-6 grams of candy when they imagined eating the food or cheese rather than 4-12 grams of candy or cheese.

"Our findings show that repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food reduces subsequent actual consumption of that food because imagining its consumption reduces one's appetite for it–how much one wants to eat more of the food at that particular moment."

The landmark discovery seems to reverses decades-old assumption that thinking about food causes you to eat more.


The Holy Grail in sight? A drug that makes hair grow!

All medicines have ­side-effects. These are often ­perceived as a bad thing, but sometimes they can bring unexpected benefits. When beta-blockers were first used to treat heart disease in the Sixties, patients who also suffered from migraines noticed a sharp drop in the number and severity of their attacks. As a result, beta-blocker drugs are prescribed for migraines.

Then there’s the story of Viagra, which started life as a potential angina treatment. When men involved in clinical trials reported pleasant side-effects, the manufacturer Pfizer developed it as a treatment for impotence.

Could drops used to treat the common eye condition glaucoma help women with alopecia? ­Luscious eyelashes emerged as an unexpected extra in patients using latanoprost eyedrops.

The drops work to tackle the pressure within the eyeball, a characteristic of ­glaucoma that causes visual distortion and blindness.

But in some patients, the drops also stimulated the growth of longer, thicker and darker lashes and eyebrows. Further research is under way in the hope that one day it may lead to new alopecia treatments.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Wholegrains reduce stroke by as much as drugs (?)

This small study is interesting but does not really encourage direct replication. The most marked change in symptoms that they observed was a 6 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure. A drop as small as that would certainly have no effect on mortality at all in most cases. By way of comparision, systolic blood pressure categories normally move upwards in steps of 20 mmHg. If the finding had emerged from a study of high-risk individuals, it would have been more impressive. But it did not. It concerned normals. Generalizing results obtained with normals to high-risk individuals may not work at all

Eating more whole-grain bread, rice and oats could be as effective at drugs at reducing the risk of stroke, research by Aberdeen University has found.

Researchers asked 200 people to eat a diet with three portions of whole grains per day or none. A diet high in fibre is known to reduce blood cholesterol and improve digestive health. It was found that the diet rich in wholegrains reduced blood pressure.

Dr Frank Thies, Senior Lecturer at The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health University of Aberdeen, who led the study, said: "We observed a decrease in systolic blood pressure in the volunteers who ate the whole-grain foods, and this effect is similar to that you might expect to get from using blood pressure-lowering drugs.

“This drop in systolic blood pressure could potentially decrease the incidence of heart attack and stroke disease by at least 15 and 25 per cent respectively."

A portion is counted as around 13 to 16g of whole grains, the equivalent of around half a cup of oats or brown rice or a slice of whole-grain bread.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial

By Paula Tighe et al.


Background: Three daily portions of whole-grain foods could lower cardiovascular disease risk, but a comprehensive intervention trial was needed to confirm this recommendation.

Objectives: We aimed to assess the effects of consumption of 3 daily portions of whole-grain foods (provided as only wheat or a mixture of wheat and oats) on markers of cardiovascular disease risk in relatively high-risk individuals.

Design: This was a randomized controlled dietary trial in middle-aged healthy individuals. After a 4-wk run-in period with a refined diet, we randomly allocated volunteers to a control (refined diet), wheat, or wheat + oats group for 12 wk. The primary outcome was a reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors by dietary intervention with whole grains, which included lipid and inflammatory marker concentrations, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.

Results: We recruited a total of 233 volunteers; 24 volunteers withdrew, and 3 volunteers were excluded. Systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure were significantly reduced by 6 and 3 mm Hg, respectively, in the whole-grain foods groups compared with the control group. Systemic markers of cardiovascular disease risk remained unchanged apart from cholesterol concentrations, which decreased slightly but significantly in the refined group.

Conclusions: Daily consumption of 3 portions of whole-grain foods can significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure–lowering mechanisms. The observed decrease in systolic blood pressure could decrease the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke by ≥15% and 25%, respectively.


Vitamin D and plenty of sun give a ray of hope in the breast cancer fight

This is rather a wacky set of results. It tells you that pill popping won't help you unless you live in the sunnier parts of France. Since the sunnier parts of France are more desirable we may therefore simply be seeing that richer and healthier people move there. There is a considerable association between wealth and health

An unmentioned implication of the finding is that, given the overall lack of association between pills and health, the benefit in sunnier areas must indicate that pill popping is BAD for you in the gloomier part of France. All rather absurd

A diet packed with Vitamin D combined with high levels of sunlight could reduce the risk of breast cancer in women by 43 per cent.

A new study of 70,000 women conducted over ten years revealed that a diet high in Vitamin D had no effect on its own. One theory is that consuming a diet rich in Vitamin D makes a difference only when there is already a sufficient amount produced from sun exposure. Therefore, when sun exposure is low, diet intake does not make any difference to risk of disease.

However, the study concludes that an increase in overall Vitamin D intake should be encouraged, including fortifying foods with it - a practice already under way in America.

Laboratory studies have suggested that Vitamin D may have a number of anti-cancer effects and has been shown to slow the spread of cancer cells.

Researchers at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France tracked 67,721 women aged 41 to 72 for a decade to see who developed breast cancer. Their diets and ultraviolet levels where they lived were then analysed to calculate the risks. At the end of the ten-year period 2,871 breast cancers had been diagnosed.

Some 45 per cent of their dietary Vitamin D came from fish and seafood, 16 per cent from eggs, 11 per cent from dairy products, ten per cent from oils and margarine, and six per cent from cakes.

Living in regions with the highest ultraviolet levels was associated with a significant - nearly ten per cent - reduced risk compared to those women in the areas with the lowest UV.

But the biggest effects were seen when the researchers examined the impact of both sources of the vitamin. In regions which had the highest level of daily ultraviolet, the women with higher level of Vitamin D in their diets or who took supplements had a breast cancer risk 32 to 43 per cent lower compared with those with the lowest vitamin intake. 'Our findings support a protective effect of sun exposure on the risk of breast cancer,' says Dr Pierre Engel, who led the study.

'It is difficult to have a simple public-health message without thinking about the risk of skin cancer. We must be very cautious but we think that increased Vitamin D levels by reasonable sun exposure and higher dietary intakes should be encouraged.

'As suggested by our results, diet alone seems unable to provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D.'

High dietary and supplemental Vitamin D intakes are associated with a reduced risk in women living in areas with higher UV exposure. When a sufficient Vitamin D level is secured through UV exposure, variations in dietary intake may become of importance. When the underlying level of Vitamin D photosynthesis is low, variations in dietary intake are insufficient to make any difference in disease risk.

'These results confirm other work we have carried out showing that women with high blood Vitamin D levels are at reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who have very low levels,' adds Dr Engel.