Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mother love gives kids a head start?

Groan! More epidemiological naivety. Middle class mothers probably treat their kids better and also have higher IQs. And high IQ tends to go with bigger brain size. No effect of "mother love" is shown in this research at all

THE power of a mother's love is so great it can cause a child's brain to grow larger. Scientists found that love and nurturing in a child's first years can be measured in the size of the hippocampus, the brain's centre of learning.

That part of the brain, also linked to memory and dealing with stress, is up to 10 per cent larger in children raised in a loving environment.

Using MRI scans in a study of 92 children, US researchers from Washington University in Missouri found emotional support was "strongly predictive" of the size of the hippocampus by school age.

"The finding that early parenting support is directly related to healthy development of a key brain region opens an exciting opportunity to impact the development of children in a powerful and positive fashion," the study said.


Sleeping pill users 'up to five times more likely to die early'

Probably because people who are unwell to start with often need pills to get to sleep. Some healthy skepticism expressed towards the end of the article below

Sleeping pills used by millions of Britons may increase the risk of early death more than five-fold, warn researchers. The higher the dose, the greater the risk. Those on higher doses also have an increased risk of cancer.

But a study suggests even patients taking fewer than 18 pills a year are more likely to die prematurely than those not on medication.

The findings come from U.S. research, but most of the drugs involved are commonly prescribed in Britain. They include benzodiazepines such as temazepam and diazepam, newer sedative hypnotics zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon, and barbiturates and sedative antihistamines.

British experts said worried patients should not stop taking the pills but talk to their GPs first.

The study found those prescribed sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely to die during a two-and-a-half-year period compared with those not on the drugs.

Those taking the lowest doses – four to 18 pills a year – had a 3.6 times higher risk of dying compared with non-users.

But the study, conducted by researchers at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, found the risk was greater at higher doses.

Those taking 18 to 132 pills a year had a 4.4 times higher risk of dying, while those on more than 132 pills a year were 5.3 times more likely to die.

Those taking the highest doses each year accounted for 93 per cent of prescriptions in the study.

This group was also 35 per cent more likely to develop a major cancer. For the drug zolpidem, the risk of death was 5.7 times higher, and for temazepam 6.6 times higher.

The effects were greatest among 18 to 55-year-olds, although the reasons are not clear. Just over 10,500 patients taking sleeping pills were compared with 23,500 not on the drugs, and the study took into account pre-existing illnesses.

The researchers concluded non-drug treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy may be more successful and NHS guidance backing 'even short-term use of hypnotics' should be reconsidered. Writing in BMJ Open, they said: 'The meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks.'

The journal's editor-in-chief Dr Trish Groves added: 'Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death... these findings raise important concerns.'

Insomnia prescription figures show that in 2010 in England, 2.8million were given for temazepam and almost 5.3million for zopiclone. There were also more than 725,000 prescriptions for zolpidem and more than 9,400 for zaleplon.

Malcolm Lader, professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said patients should discuss any concerns they had with their GPs but 'should not under any circumstances stop taking their medication' suddenly.

He added: 'I agree these drugs do have problems, but I find some of these results difficult to accept. 'The main one is that with 18 doses a year you have three times the mortality – that's quite incredible, because you would have people dropping like flies. 'We need to hold judgment until we have further studies.'


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cellphones cleared again

Some pesky findings for the freaked-out brigade. Since 1987, brain tumors have actually DECREASED among young men, for instance -- despite the big rise in mobile phone use over that period. Maybe cellphones are actually GOOD for your health! Students of hormesis would find that plausible
Mobile Phone Use and Incidence of Glioma in the Nordic Countries 1979–2008: Consistency Check

By Deltour, Isabelle et al.


Background: Some case-control studies have reported increased risks of glioma associated with mobile phone use. If true, this would ultimately affect the time trends for incidence rates (IRs). Correspondingly, lack of change in IRs would exclude certain magnitudes of risk. We investigated glioma IR trends in the Nordic countries, and compared the observed with expected incidence rates under various risk scenarios.

Methods: We analyzed annual age-standardized incidence rates in men and women aged 20 to 79 years during 1979–2008 using joinpoint regression (35,250 glioma cases). Probabilities of detecting various levels of relative risk were computed using simulations.

Results: For the period 1979 through 2008, the annual percent change in incidence rates was 0.4% (95% confidence interval = 0.1% to 0.6%) among men and 0.3% (0.1% to 0.5%) among women. Incidence rates have decreased in young men (20–39 years) since 1987, remained stable in middle-aged men (40–59 years) throughout the 30-year study period, and increased slightly in older men (60–79 years).

In simulations, assumed relative risks for all users of 2.0 for an induction time of up to 15 years, 1.5 for up to 10 years, and 1.2 for up to 5 years were incompatible with observed incidence time trends. For heavy users of mobile phones, risks of 2.0 for up to 5 years' induction were also incompatible.

Conclusion: No clear trend change in glioma incidence rates was observed. Several of the risk increases seen in case-control studies appear to be incompatible with the observed lack of incidence rate increase in middle-aged men. This suggests longer induction periods than currently investigated, lower risks than reported from some case-control studies, or the absence of any association.

Epidemiology. 23(2):301-307, March 2012.

How walking the dog can be harmful to your health: 'Man's best friend' may cause high number of injuries

I don't this will make many dog-owners give up their dog, however. I must say, though, that tripping over cats and dogs is a regular hazard if you have them around the house

The regular walks and companionship that come with owning a dog are known to aid fitness and wellbeing. But it turns out that man’s best friend may be more likely to harm health than help it.

They may be responsible for a worryingly high number of injuries needing emergency hospital treatment, researchers say.

Over only two months, doctors at one hospital noted 37 cases of patients needing treatment for broken bones, soft tissue injuries and head wounds caused by dogs.

Sixteen of them needed surgery. Most were pulled over by their pet while it was on a lead, while others tripped while out walking, fell over leads or were knocked over as their dog ran towards them.

Doctors were so surprised by the results – which suggest the hospital deals with more than 200 dog-related injuries a year – that they concluded the risks to dog owners’ health may ‘offset any benefits’.

‘We have shown that dog-related injuries are common, particularly in the elderly,’ said Dr Henry Willmott of the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, East Sussex.

‘The presence of a dog in the house should be taken into consideration when the risk of falls is being assessed and dog obedience training should be considered. I am sure that this is a common phenomenon across the UK.’

He added: ‘Elderly women walking their dog on uneven ground were most at risk of injury. Some of the injuries were serious and resulted in considerable morbidity.’

Dr Willmott suggested more elderly women than men were hurt because they are more likely to have weaker bones due to osteoporosis.

The study, published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, is the first to look at how many injuries – other than biting – dogs cause. Previous research has shown owning a dog can ward off depression, lower blood pressure and even combat obesity.

Dogs have been shown to reduce the risk of developing eczema and may be able to sniff out cancer before symptoms develop.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Fish oil could save billions (?)

This just assumes what it has to prove

GIVING fish oil supplements to patients with cardiovascular disease could save the economy up to $4.2 billion, an economic report from Deloitte Access Economics says.

Researchers analysed the cost benefit of using fish oil supplements taking into account the cost to the economy of the number of years lost due to ill health, disability or death.

The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia, which commissioned the report, believes the findings will help make the case for making fish oil exempt from GST or a candidate for subsidy under the federal government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

"Fundamentally that would be a very good outcome for the general population health and a great outcome for the health budget," the council's consumer affairs director, Justin Howden, said. No complementary therapies are GST free or available on the PBS.

The Deloitte report, which will be released on Tuesday, found that patients spent an average of $112.15 a year on fish oil treatments.

Mr Howden acknowledged that a PBS subsidy or GST exemption for complementary medicines would require a radical shift in government policy. "This report is just part of public policy discussion," he said. "It is the start of a very long process, probably up to five years."

Dr Steve Hambleton, the president of the Australian Medical Association, said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee would require conclusive evidence that fish oil supplements work before considering them for inclusion in the scheme.

Organisations that have endorsed the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil include the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, and the WHO.


Workers who burn calories at the gym are less depressed

Exercise does seem to have an antidepressive effect but the study below is just epidemiology so doesn't prove it. Some people who did little exercise were probably in poor health -- and that can be pretty depressing

The last thing you may want to do after a long day at work is to pull on your tracksuit and pound out a few miles on the treadmill. But making the effort to head to the gym a few times each week can dramatically improve your mood on the job, say scientists.

A team from Tel Aviv University found that employees who managed to exercise for a few hours a week were half as likely to experience a decline in mental health than those who did no physical activity.

The researchers, led by Dr Sharon Toker, discovered that working out for four hours a week provided the most benefit in reducing the risk of burning out or developing depression.

Depression is a clinical mood disorder while burnout is defined by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. However, Dr Toker said both contribute towards a 'spiral of loss' where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could have a domino effect and lead to the loss of other resources such as one's home, marriage, or sense of self-worth.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, assessed the personal, occupational, and psychological states of 1,632 healthy Israeli workers in both the private and public sectors.

The participants were divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity; a second that did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity a week; a third that did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week.

They completed questionnaires when they came to medical clinics for routine check-ups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.

Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years.

The team found those who engaged in at least four hours of exercise displayed almost no symptoms of mental strain. But Dr Toker said even 150 minutes a week helped workers improve their self-esteem and ability to work.

She added that far-sighted employers would benefit by building a gym on company grounds or subsidising memberships to gyms in the community, and by allowing for flexible work hours to encourage employees to make physical activity an integral part of their day.

Such a strategy, she concluded, pays business dividends in the long run.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nursing a broken heart? How taking a paracetamol could dull the pain of rejection

I've heard of people taking aspirin to get to sleep but this is a surprise. The evidence they offer seems fairly good but a lot more exploration would seem needed

It's what songwriters have been saying for years, and now scientists agree – love really does hurt. But what the ballads don’t tell us is that a simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.

The rather prosaic cure emerged in a study by neuroscientists which found that emotional pain is processed in the same area of the brain as physical pain. They also discovered that hurt feelings – such as being dumped by a partner – can respond to painkillers.

In a three-week trial at the University of California, 62 people were told to take either Tylenol – the American name for paracetamol – or a placebo and then record how they felt every night.

The study found those who took 1,000mg of the painkiller, or around two tablets, showed a ‘significant reduction in hurt feelings’ compared to those taking the placebo.

Another test involved participants taking part in a computer game which was devised to make some of them feel rejected.

At the same time they had brain scans, which showed the pain of being socially rejected was processed in the same area of the brain as physical pain – in the anterior cingulate cortex.
noticed a correlation between brain activity in people who had experienced social rejection and others who had experienced physical pain.

The scientists saw a correlation in the brain activity of people who had experienced social rejection and physical pain. The test was then repeated, with some of the group on painkillers. This group had less pain-related activity in their brains than those on a placebo.

Dr Naomi Eisenberger, an assistant professor of social psychology, said: ‘Rejection is such a powerful experience for people. If you ask people to think back about some of their earliest negative experiences, they will often be about rejection, about being picked last for a team or left out of some social group.

‘It follows in a logical way from the argument that the physical and social pain systems overlap, but it’s still kind of hard to imagine. We take the drug for physical pain; it’s not supposed to work on social pain.’

While the findings could help develop treatment for bereavement, for example, Dr Eisenberger said we should not start taking painkillers after a traumatic experience. Emotional pain is probably a healthy response which tells us not to repeat the behaviour, she said, and dulling it could impair recovery.


A natural recovery from spinal injury!

A teenager who feared she would never walk again, is now preparing for a ballet exam after her spine miraculously healed itself.

Megan Kershaw, 14, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer in 2008, which caused her to collapse at school. During a nine-hour operation to remove three-quarters of the tumour, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her spine, causing spinal fractures, and for years she was confined to a wheelchair.

It was during treatment that Professor Nick Bishop from Sheffield Children’s Hospital suggested they should try and let the spine heal naturally. Now Megan's back is fully healed and doctors have been amazed by her speedy recovery.

Professor Nick Bishop said: 'The speed of recovery is fantastic and just shows how well children’s bones can recover in this kind of situation. 'Her spine is healing itself without any special treatment from us. The spine’s building blocks, the vertebrae, have growth plates on their upper and lower surfaces. “It is these growth plates that have restored Megan’s vertebral architecture in such an exemplary fashion. 'Megan no longer needs to see me now her spine has healed.'

Her mother Deborah, 48, from Misson, near Doncaster said: 'She is a miracle. It is incredible what has happened and what the body can do. 'She’s back to being a normal healthy child and can do all the things her friends do. 'She has shown tremendous courage through everything and she’s back to her dancing which has helped her very much.'

Megan still needs regular check-ups and is having a scan at the end of March to check on her progress.

The youngster previously hit headlines when Simon Cowell paid for her to go on a trip to Disneyland in Florida for her 13th Birthday. He stepped in when he heard she had made a 'wish board' that included meeting him, Girls Aloud and the dream trip to Disney.

Megan is now preparing for a Royal Academy of Dance ballet exam next month.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

How eating oranges and grapefruit can cut the risk of a stroke by their anti-inflammatory properties

This appears to be just data dredging. "The researchers did not find a beneficial association between total flavonoid consumption and stroke risk", so they looked and looked until they found just one flavonoid with a significant correlation -- which was probably just a random fluctuation

Eating oranges and grapefruit could cut your risk of stroke, claim researchers. Both the whole fruit and breakfast juices appear to protect against having a ‘brain attack’, probably due to their high content of a certain type of antioxidant.

A new study looked at citrus fruit for the first time, rather than a range of fruit and vegetables which have been linked to stroke protection.

The study involved thousands of women taking part in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study in the US, but experts believe the benefits may also apply to men.

Every year in the UK, approximately 120,000 people have a stroke and 20-30 per cent die within a month, while 300,000 people are living with disabilities as a result.

A research team based at Norwich Medical School in the University of East Anglia investigated the strength of protection from flavonoids, a class of antioxidant compounds present in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate and red wine.

The study used 14 years of follow-up data provided by 69,622 women who reported their food intake, including details on fruit and vegetable consumption every four years.

The research team examined the relationship of the six main subclasses of flavonoids - flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonoid polymers, flavonols and flavones - with risk of ischemic, hemorrhagic and total stroke.

The researchers did not find a beneficial association between total flavonoid consumption and stroke risk, as the biological activity of the sub-classes differ.

But women who ate high amounts of flavanones in citrus had a 19 per cent lower risk of blood clot-related (ischemic) stroke than women who consumed the least amounts.

The highest level of flavanones was around 45mg a day compared with 20mg a day. A glass of commercial orange juice can provide 20-50mg depending on processing and storage conditions.

In the study, reported in the medical journal Stroke flavanones came primarily from oranges and orange juice (82 per cent) and grapefruit and grapefruit juice (14 per cent).

However, researchers recommended that consumers wanting to increase their citrus fruit intake should eat more whole fruit rather than juice, due to the high sugar content of commercial fruit juices.

Lead researcher Aedin Cassidy, proessor of nutrition, said ‘Studies have shown higher fruit, vegetable and specifically vitamin C intake is associated with reduced stroke risk.

‘Flavonoids are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect.”

A previous study found that citrus fruit and juice intake, but not intake of other fruits, protected against risk of ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage.

Another study found no association between yellow and orange fruits and stroke risk, but did link increased consumption of white fruits like apples and pears with lower stroke risk.

An additional study found that Swedish women who ate the highest levels of antioxidants - about 50 percent from fruits and vegetables - had fewer strokes than those with lower antioxidant levels.

More studies are needed to confirm the association between flavanone consumption and stroke risk, and to gain a better understanding about why the association occurs, said Prof Cassidy.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, Research Liaison Officer at The Stroke Association said ‘We all know that eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg is good for our health. This study suggests that eating citrus fruits in particular, such as oranges and grapefruits, which are high in vitamin C could help to lower your stroke risk.

‘However, this should not deter people from eating other types of fruit and vegetables as they all have health benefits and remain an important part of a staple diet.

'More research is needed in this area to help us understand the possible reasons why citrus fruits could help to keep your stroke risk down.

‘Everyone can reduce their risk of stroke by eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and salt, exercising regularly and ensuring that your blood pressure is checked and kept under control.’


The moron act of branding normal healthy kids as "obese" has now spread to Australia

A MELBOURNE mother is horrified after a child and maternal health nurse labelled her healthy three-year-old daughter "obese".

Helen Karalexis said the incident occurred when she took Viktoria to the Sunshine Child and Maternal Health clinic for a routine check-up on Wednesday.

Ms Karalexis was concerned this was not an isolated case, and that it was sending children the wrong messages.

Her daughter is 108cm tall and weighs 21.1kg - when the nurse put these measurements into the computer, she told her Viktoria was obese. "I said, 'how can you tell me my daughter is obese? Look at her'," Ms Karalexis said. "She's very energetic, she's always outside playing, she's got a lot of muscle, which is heavier than fat."

The nurse recommended Ms Karalexis switch her daughter to low-fat milk, reduce her meal portions and not give her any cordials, soft drinks or fruit juice. "She almost convinced me my daughter was obese," Ms Karalexis said.

Nurses should not be relying solely on a computer program to determine whether a child was obese, but also use discretion and common sense, she said. "It's hard enough trying to get kids to eat as it is, but this could make them start thinking 'I can't eat this because I'm going to get fat'," she said.

Ms Karalexis urged parents suffering a similar experience to seek a second opinion.

A Brimbank City Council spokesman said discussions were being held with Isis Primary Care, which provides maternal and child health services in the area on its behalf, over Ms Karalexis's allegations.

Isis director of community services Michael Girolami said body mass index (BMI), which took into account a child's age, height and weight, was used to determine if a child was in a healthy weight range.

The online BMI assessment tool was available from the US Government's National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Mr Girolami said. "In this particular case, the child was placed in the 95th percentile, which is defined as "obese" in the chart," he said.

Dietitian Karen Inge said the BMI system had limitations because it measured only height and weight, not body composition, and muscle weighed more than fat.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Damn your low fat diet: How a reformed vegan gorges on all the foods his granny enjoyed... and has never felt better

As the kitchen filled with the smell of caramelised meat, my mouth watered in anticipation of the coming feast: a thick cut of tender steak, fried in butter and olive oil. This was not a regular treat. In fact, for the previous 26 years I’d been a vegan, eschewing not just meat but all animal products.

My diet was an extreme version of the NHS Eat Well regime, which recommends lots of starchy foods and smaller quantities of saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar and red meat.

According to government advice, I was doing everything right — and yet my health had never been worse. My weight had crept up over the years, until in 2008 I was 14½ stone [203lb] — which is a lot of blubber for someone who is 5ft 10in — and was classified as clinically obese.

I waddled around, sweating and short of breath, battling extremely high cholesterol and suffering from chronic indigestion. I was always tired and needed to take naps every afternoon. I had constant headaches and swallowed paracetamol and sucked Rennies like they were sweets.

Worst of all, I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which left me feeling as if I had lead weights in my gut. My belly was bloated and distended after every meal. I was, to use a technical term, knackered.

But that was about to change. In 2010, I decided to give up my supposedly healthy lifestyle and embrace good old-fashioned meat.

From that day on, I ate red meat four or five days a week. I gobbled the fat on chops, chicken skin and pork crackling. I feasted on everything we’re told to avoid. The effects were instant.

Twenty-four hours after eating meat again, all my IBS symptoms had gone. As the weeks and months passed, every aspect of my health improved dramatically. I became leaner, shedding body fat and becoming stronger and fitter. My headaches went away, never to return. Even my libido increased.

It felt like being young again, like coming back to life. But though I felt energised, I was also furious. Furious with myself for sticking to the ‘healthy’ eating advice, which was actually far from a sensible diet. But also furious with the so-called experts who have been peddling this low-fat, high-carbohydrate claptrap for so long that no one thinks to question it.

My maternal grandmother would certainly have challenged it. Like my grandfather, she was born into a poor family in East Yorkshire at the turn of the century and their eating regime was simple: meat and at least two vegetables at every meal, lots of butter and full-cream milk (they would have scorned yogurt as little more than ‘off’ milk), bread, potatoes, cake and puddings.

Nothing would have swayed them from that lifestyle. Had a low-fat diet been suggested by a doctor, Gran would have told him to his face that it was all rubbish and that you needed fat to ‘keep the cold out’.

If she could have seen people buying skimmed milk today, she would have thought they had lost their minds. Getting rid of the best bit of milk? Lunacy.

Late in her life, I recall her scorning the advice on limiting the consumption of eggs because of concerns about cholesterol. On one occasion, she watched in astonishment as a celebrity TV chef made an egg-white omelette. ‘He’s a bloody fool, that man,’ she said.

She was right to be sceptical, it turns out. For years the authorities told us cholesterol-rich foods would kill us — but we’ve since learned that is utter drivel.

While Ancel Keys, the scientist whose research in the Fifties first raised concerns about cholesterol levels, suggested that heart disease was linked to large amounts of cholesterol in the blood, he never claimed those levels were linked to the amount of cholesterol we eat.

‘There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood,’ he said in a magazine article in 1997. ‘And we’ve known that all along.’

Since then, the NHS’s paranoia about cholesterol in food has been replaced by concerns about saturated fat — found in everything from butter, cheese and cream to pies, cakes and biscuits.

They suggest saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. But this is open to debate. France has the lowest rate of death from coronary heart disease in Europe, yet the country has the highest consumption of saturated fats.

Gran survived into her 80s and Grandad into his 70s, despite labouring down the pit his whole working life. Did they achieve this by gobbling low-fat spreads, soya oil or skimmed milk? No, they lived on old-fashioned foods such as butter, lard and beef fat. Indeed, a growing body of opinion suggests that the factory-made products that have replaced these staples — vegetable oils, polyunsaturated margarine and spreads — are the real cause of the degenerative diseases that are so common today.

Findings by the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit-making research organisation in America, show most cases of heart attack in the 20th century were of a hitherto little-known form known as myocardial infarction (MI) — a huge blood clot leading to the obstruction of a coronary artery.

MI was almost non-existent in the U.S. in 1910 and was causing no more than 3,000 deaths a year by 1930. However, by 1960, there were at least 500,000 MI deaths a year across the country. It surely can’t be a coincidence that this happened as the U.S. embraced a new diet based on increasingly large portions of highly processed foods and vegetable oils?

Similar changes in the national diet took place in Britain during the early years of my life and I can’t help wondering whether my father might still be alive today if it had not been for this shift.

I grew up in the North-East during the Sixties and had no idea about ‘healthy eating’. Those few people who did fret about their diet were thought of as fussy.

No one thought food was a problem, unless the chip shop ran out of battered sausage on a Friday. We ate suet puddings every week, our bacon and eggs were fried in lard, milk was full-fat — I’m not sure skimmed milk even existed in the Sixties — and we ate eggs every day.

Then, in the Seventies, things changed. We got wealthier and food became cheaper. Mam began buying more cakes and confectionery instead of home-baking. We ate more shop-bought food in general.

She also stopped using lard in the chip pan, opting for Spry Crisp ’n Dry instead. Gran wasn’t pleased. She thought vegetable oil was a new-fangled fad — it was, and that was precisely why Mam liked it. She saw it as moving on, modern and fashionable.


Hope for Hep C vaccine

Hepatitis C is mostly a disease of druggies so there is already a good way to avoid it -- stick to legal highs

The disease has caused a 'silent epidemic' in western countries. Figures published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed more people died as a result of Hepatitis C than from Aids in the U.S in 2007. 'One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection,' said CDC's Dr John Ward.

Left untreated it can cause scarring of the liver and ultimately to life-threatening cirrhosis. The U.S figures revealed there were 15,000 deaths related to the condition in 2007 - three-quarters of whom were middle aged.

The condition is unpredictable - while some may live with the condition their whole lives with only mild symptoms, others can develop serious liver disease even with treatment.

There is currently no vaccine in use to prevent infection in the first place. But, speaking at the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Summit in Vancouver yesterday, Dr Houghton revealed his team is just five years away from creating a useable vaccine.

Dr Houghton and his co-investigator John Law discovered that they could use a single strain of the virus to draw out broad cross-neutralising antibodies against all the different major strains. 'This tells us that a vaccine made from a single strain can indeed neutralize all the viruses out there,' he said.

'It really encourages the further development of that vaccine. This is a really a big step forward for the field of HCV vaccinology.'

Hundreds of thousands of people are infected with hepatitis C annually around the world, with between 20 to 30 per cent developing some form liver disease.

However, Dr Houghton cautions that further testing is required, meaning that it may be five to seven years before the vaccine receives approval.

He added that while it may make some difference in those currently suffering from hepatitis C, the vaccine will mainly be a preventative measure against acquiring the disease.

Lorne Tyrrell, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute at the University of Alberta, said: 'We have a long way to go, but this is a great step.'


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Study questions antidepressant-suicide link

I have always thought this is a problem of taxonomy. Drugs that perk up true depressives may perk up anxious depressives far too much, worsening rather than alleviating their symptoms. So Prozac etc should be given to true depressives only. That it is sometimes foolishly given to anxious depressives as well therefore explains the conflicting findings about suicide etc. A study that made sure that only true (sluggish) depressives got Prozac (etc) would likely show benefit at all ages

The Food and Drug Administration has a blanket warning on antidepressant medications stating they increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among kids and young adults, but a new review of clinical data finds no link between suicide and at least two of the medications.

The new analysis, based in part on previously unpublished data, also concludes that treatment with antidepressants decreases the risk of suicide among adults of all ages.

“These results have to instill some additional confidence that prescribing these medications is not necessarily going to lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior,” said Robert Gibbons, a professor at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings — based on data for kids and adults using fluoxetine (Prozac) and for adults on venlafaxine (Effexor) — are not enough to change everyone’s view of the risks of antidepressants, especially to kids.

“The authors in this study examined the risk of suicidal thinking or behavior associated with one drug, fluoxetine,” said Jeff Bridge, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “My view is that the weight of evidence shows a small but significant increased risk of suicidal ideation/suicidal behavior in pediatric patients treated with antidepressants.”

Bridge’s position is in line with the FDA’s current stance on suicide risk for children taking antidepressants.

In 2004, the agency asked manufacturers of antidepressants to include what’s called a “black box” warning on its packaging for the medications, alerting physicians, patients and parents to an increased risk of suicide among children taking the drugs. Three years later, the FDA expanded that warning to include young people up to age 25.

Gibbons has long been opposed to the labeling. As an advisory board member to the FDA, he voted against adding the warning to antidepressant packaging. “I didn’t think the data were very convincing, and I was concerned physicians would stop prescribing antidepressants,” he told Reuters Health.

The FDA had looked for any reports of suicidal thinking or action among 4,400 children who were in clinical trials comparing an antidepressant drug to a fake drug called a placebo.

They found that suicidal thoughts or attempts were twice as common among the kids taking an antidepressant, although none of the children had committed suicide.

To get a better handle on the risk of suicide over the course of treatment, Gibbons’ team gathered data from experiments that compared the antidepressants to placebo and that had measured suicide risk from the get-go.

Some results came from a study of adolescents by the National Institute of Mental Health and the rest came from two drug makers, Eli Lilly, which markets Prozac, and Wyeth, whose parent company markets Effexor.

The authors have served as consultants or have received research money from drug makers in the past, but Gibbons said neither company had access to this study — which was funded by the federal government — before it was published.

The analysis found that among the 708 children in the reviewed studies, the risk of having suicidal thoughts or attempts after eight weeks was no different between the kids who took Prozac and the kids who took the placebo.

Although fluoxetine is the only antidepressant drug approved for use in children, doctors can prescribe other drugs “off-label” to treat depression in kids.

“I think it’s premature to extrapolate these findings to other antidepressants,” Bridge told Reuters Health in an email.

The studies in the FDA review that found an increased risk of suicide looked at fluoxetine and eight other drugs.

In Gibbons’ review, treatment with fluoxetine or venlafaxine resulted in a 90 percent decreased risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors after eight weeks among adults and the elderly, compared to a 79 percent decrease after eight weeks of taking a placebo.

Gibbons said the drop in suicide risk seen in adults was tightly linked to the improvement in depression symptoms. “What that means — and it’s not a surprising result – is if you don’t treat depressive severity, you continue to have a high rate of suicide,” he said.

At the beginning of the studies, children had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors overall than adults; about 20 percent of kids and three to five percent of adults started out thinking about or attempting suicide.

Gibbons said it was interesting that the kids’ suicide risk didn’t fall like the adults’ did, even though the results indicated the antidepressants did work to relieve the kids’ depression symptoms too. “Suicide and depression are very strongly linked in adults and the elderly, and apparently not so strongly linked in children,” he said.

Bridge said he’d like to see future studies examine whether antidepressants are tied to behavioral problems, such as hostility and agitation, and if an increased risk of those behaviors is related to more suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

As for the black box warning, Gibbons said he would support the FDA in gathering more data to better evaluate whether the warning is warranted, but he would not say whether it should be removed.

The FDA did not respond to requests for comment.

Keri McGrath-Happe, a communications manager at Eli Lilly and Company, wrote in a statement to Reuters Health that “at this time, we do not plan to discuss this matter further with the FDA.”

She added that “some depressed individuals, on treatment and off, have worsening suicidal ideas and acts. It is prudent for clinicians and patients to remain vigilant for this possibility.”


When it comes to food, think global

Becoming a ‘locavore’ won’t save the planet, make you healthier, revive communities or improve food security

Earlier this month, spiked’s deputy editor Rob Lyons took part in a debate at the Canadian Food Summit on the motion ‘The local food movement: good for us and good for the environment’. The other panelists were New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, author and food blogger Sarah Elton, and business journalist Andrea Mandel-Campbell. This is an edited version of Rob’s opening comments.

Let me state my position baldly: there is no problem to which local food - or at least buying your food within some predetermined distance of home - is a good solution. Despite the claims of some campaigners, local food won’t save the planet, it won’t make us healthier, it won’t restore traditional communities and it doesn’t offer greater food security.

The big claim usually made in terms of the environment and local food is that we should be trying to reduce our ‘food miles’. It seems to make sense that the shorter the distance between fork and fork - between the one in the soil and the one on our plate - the better. The trouble with that theory is that transport from field to warehouse to shop is just one small part of the total environmental impact of our food.

Insisting on local food could actually increase the environmental impact of what we eat. Frequently, less energy is used when producing a food crop under ideal growing conditions and then transporting it long distances rather than using extra energy to produce it locally. The classic example is New Zealand lamb, which is produced in that country’s plentiful pasture and then shipped to the UK. Lamb produced in the UK often needs to be fed with grain when pasture is inaccessible, which adds to the cost and environmental impact. On the other hand, filling a huge container ship with frozen lamb and shipping it round the world means the fuel costs for each unit of lamb are actually small. As a result, New Zealand lamb probably has a lower environmental impact than the UK variety and is cheaper, too. Another example would be tomatoes that are grown in hot countries and then shipped to countries with temperate climates. The energy required to grow tomatoes in the UK is often greater than the energy required to ship them from Spain, for example.

Some locavores respond by giving up food that doesn’t grow well in their neck of the woods. Fine, but if you live in a big city like London, for example, you need a pretty broad definition of what ‘local’ means in order to feed yourself. If you come from a region with great agricultural variety that might not be too bad, but the truth is that any local diet must forgo some kinds of food or simply not be terribly local. I’m not aware that Canada or the UK are big producers of tea, coffee, bananas, spices and a whole variety of other foods.

Would people who really care about food, who revel in the joy of discovering new foods from around the world, really now turn their noses up at food products because those foods come from too far away? That seems mad.

This speaks to a major problem with environmentalism, which approaches environmental problems by simply insisting we stop doing certain things, whatever the advantages. In this case, because food that has been transported a long way is seen as a problem, we should just stop importing it. A far better approach is to find ways of getting the advantages without the side effects. If greenhouse gas emissions really are going to become a major problem in the future – and my feeling is that the problem has been overstated – we need to find ways of transporting goods with fewer emissions or adapting to rising temperatures. Sadly, greens seem more intent on finding problems caused by humanity than in finding solutions.

One more thing on this point: if we don’t have specialisation of production, then a return to localised food production would mean using more land to grow food. If we’re not growing food in the most ideal conditions, then to get the same amount of food would mean using more land. That’s particularly true if we also have a return to organic farming methods and crop rotations, as many environmentalists and local-food advocates call for. Where would that land come from? Bringing uncultivated land into production seems to fly in the face of allowing nature to flourish. What’s so ‘green’ about that?

But isn’t local food healthier? Some claim that if you buy direct from the farmer, for example, then perhaps the food is fresher and that may have benefits in terms of retaining nutrients. However, the fact is that those of us who live in countries with cold (or coldish) winters cannot eat fresh food all year round if we restrict ourselves to what can be produced locally. Most of the food we eat is harvested and stored in one way or another for at least three months per year when little food production is possible.

As it happens, freshness is the least significant factor in nutrition. Most people in the developed world have no problem getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, even from that ‘industrialised’ food some people seem to hate. Nutrition is not an issue if people get enough to eat and have some reasonable variety in their diet. It really doesn’t matter how far the food travelled or whether it came from the supermarket or the farm shop. The question of whether food is local or not is a side issue when it comes to health.

Of course, it would clearly be difficult to eat a lot of processed foods if you only did your shopping at the farm gate or the farmer’s market, so you could cut out a lot of sugary, stodgy food in favour of more fruit and vegetables. But if that was a concern for you, it would still be easier and cheaper to cook from scratch using supermarket food. There’s mountains of fruit, vegetables, meat and other ingredients in every store. There’s nothing that is inherently healthier about local food.

But what about local food as a way of reviving community? It just sounds so great: you get together with your neighbours to grow food or to develop relationships with food suppliers and producers and in the process gain a sense of belonging. No more would you be dependent on The Man. Working together with other people towards common goals can be a very liberating thing. But do we really need to get together around food, a problem most people would see as solved by a weekly and relatively inexpensive trip to the supermarket? Why would you spend more money or devote more time and energy to something that already works well?

Moreover, this reveals a narrow conception of community, which ties it to a particular geographical area rather than around sharing ideas and common interests. While many people would like to feel a stronger connection with other people in society, simply rehashing old forms of community seems like a backward step to me.

A good example of this is The People’s Supermarket. This is a store near where I work in London which was set up with great fanfare and a four-part TV series. The idea was to try a different model of shopping. People who live in the local area staff the shop and get discounts in return for their work. It’s modelled on the Park Slope Co-op in New York. The trouble is that people can get those low prices and a wider selection of foods at the branches of mainstream supermarket chains like Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose that already operate nearby. Where is the material incentive for people to work to get what is, to all intents and purposes, a poorer service?

Despite the fact that The People’s Supermarket has received not inconsiderable public subsidy, it is struggling to survive because it can’t staff itself from the local community it claims to represent. On the other hand, there are people who hate the supermarkets and Big Food who are prepared to travel from further afield to work there or to support The People’s Supermarket in different ways. In other words, they share a common interest in changing the way we buy food that can’t be reduced to a particular geographical area. Once again, ‘local’ is a side issue.

But what about food security? If we can grow all our own food, then why wouldn’t we? That would make us secure, no matter what else went on in the world, right? Yet we have far more food security now than we did in the past precisely because we trade with the rest of the world. In recent years in the UK, we’ve had summers with low rainfall, so crops were parched and harvests reduced. In years with floods, crops have rotted in the fields under water. In those circumstances, it’s rather a good thing to be able to buy food from places that had better harvests. It is poverty and a lack of access to markets that really create food insecurity.

There’s another important question underlying the debate motion: who, exactly, is ‘us’? Does ‘us’ include, for example, the Kenyan farmer producing green beans for export to the UK or a Caribbean banana grower sending fruit to Canada? If those people do count as ‘us’, then banning imports of their products won’t be very good for ‘us’ at all. In the long run, it is better for farmers in poorer countries to produce valuable food crops for export, and use the money to help develop their own farms and their societies, than to demand that they go back simply to feeding themselves.

To me, locavorism is like survivalism for eco-warriors, though at least you avoid the hassle of learning to use a crossbow or hiding in the woods. Locavorism seems to me to be a backward idea, a way of running away from the world rather than embracing the best aspects of globalisation and trying to solve the teething troubles that arise. Going local certainly won’t ‘save the planet’ and it definitely isn’t good for anyone.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drinking four cups of coffee a day 'cuts risk' of developing diabetes

The Journal article is Coffee consumption and risk of chronic disease in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)–Germany study.

The effects observed were small and were obtained only by comparing extreme quartiles -- a rather desperate type of analysis that ignores curvilinearity and most of the data. The obvious inference is that there was no overall relationship between coffee consumption and anything else.

And the basic dietary data was from a self-report questionnaire! Not findings to be taken seriously. Epidemiology at its most rubbishy

Moderate consumption of coffee - four to five cups of coffee a day - may lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those drinking it occasionally or not at all. A new study suggests a cut in risk of around 30 per cent from regular consumption of coffee - whether it was caffeinated or decaffeinated.

The findings, which are the latest from a major European investigation into the effects of diet and lifestyle on health, also reveal that coffee drinking does not appear to increase the risk of heart disease or cancer.

Altogether 42,659 people taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Germany study were followed up for almost nine years on average.

During that time, there were 1,432 cases of type 2 diabetes diagnosed, 394 heart attacks, 310 strokes cases and 1,801 cancer cases.

Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day - caffeinated and decaffeinated - compared with less than one cup was not linked to a higher risk of developing a chronic disease.

A lower risk of 20-30 per cent of developing type 2 diabetes was linked to moderate consumption of both kinds of coffee, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Ten countries contribute to the EPIC study, including two centres in Germany which carried out the latest analysis.

It had been previously thought diabetes risk may be cut by drinking coffee but there have been conflicting results on whether it protects or promotes chronic diseases such as heart problems and cancer.

Research last year suggested each additional cup of coffee a day was linked to a cut of seven per cent in risk of diabetes and four cups a day equivalent to a cut of around 25 per cent compared with those drinking no coffee.

Studies on decaffeinated coffee have made similar findings with the protective effect due to ‘direct biological effects’ such as antioxidants and magnesium. Because of the benefits from decaffeinated coffee, it is unlikely caffeine is solely responsible for the effect.

Dr Euan Paul, executive director of the British Coffee Association, said: ‘This study adds to the growing scientific data that suggests moderate coffee consumption, four to five cups of coffee per day, is safe and does not increase the risk of a range of chronic disease.

‘It is particularly encouraging to see that coffee consumption may lower the risk of type II diabetes given that around 90 per cent of all adults in the UK with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.’

He pointed out that pregnant women are advised to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy to 200mg a day from all sources. This includes caffeine intake from tea, coffee, cola, and chocolate.


Super avocado could help combat antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals

A very early announcement based on research in laboratory glassware only but we can certainly wish that it eventually pans out in humans

A Chilean avocado may contain the secret to fighting aggressive, antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals all over the world. A natural substance found in the Chilean rainforest fruit blocks yellow staphylococci bacteria's ability to reject antibiotics.

These specific bacteria are the most common cause of infection in wounds from an operation. They develop a resistance particularly quickly - strains that do not respond to treatment have already been found in the USA and Greece.

PhD student Jes Gitz Holler, from the University of Copenhagen, worked with the Mapuche people in Chile to make the discovery. He said: 'I have discovered a natural substance in a Chilean avocado plant that is active in combination treatment with traditional antibiotics.

'Resistant bacteria have an efflux pump in their bacterial membrane that efficiently pumps out antibiotics as soon as they have gained access. 'I have identified a natural substance that inhibits the pumping action, so that the bacteria's defence mechanisms are broken down and the antibiotic treatment allowed to work,' explains Jes Gitz Holler.

The student gathered specimens of the plant in Chile, where the Mapuche people use the leaves of the avocado to heal wounds. The results have been published in the Journal of Microbial Chemotherapy.

Gitz Holler said: 'The natural compound has great potential and perhaps in the longer term can be developed into an effective drug to combat resistant staphylococci. 'At this time there are no products on the market that target this same efflux-inhibitor mechanism.

'We want to improve the active substance using synthetic chemistry in the laboratory. That will also ensure sustainable production of a potential drug while protecting rainforest plants.'

The student emphasises that a commercial product will also benefit the Mapuche people. At present there is a written agreement between the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the representative of the Mapuche people, Alfonso Guzmán, PhD, who helped procure the plant material.

Yellow staphylococcus – Staphylococcus aureus – is the most common cause of infection in wounds from an operation. However, the bacteria can be the cause of many diseases, from abscesses and food poisoning to life-threatening infections such as infective endocarditis and sepsis.

The bacteria have been a major problem in hospitals worldwide since the 1940s, and up to now the drug industry has managed to develop new antibiotics in step with the increasingly aggressive behaviour of the bacteria.

Unfortunately, that development appears to be turning: 'For all intents and purposes, the drug industry is not pursuing research into new antibiotics. It is simply too expensive relative to possible earnings, and there is more money in drugs to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes.

'Therefore, the bacteria are winning the race – resistance increases and treatment options are scarce. Research will have to find new paths and natural substances are one of them,' writes Gitz Holler.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Three cups of tea a day ‘protects against heart problems and diabetes’

This appears to be a rather casual look at existing epidemiological findings, and the authors themselves note the limitations in drawing inferences from such data. And the blather about antioxidants is just fashionable crap that goes against the evidence. A not very impressive job of work on behalf of the tea industry but it's probably the best they could do

Drinking just three cups of tea a day may protect against heart attacks and type 2 diabetes, claim researchers. A review shows regular drinking of black tea, with or without milk, can reduce the risk of heart problems by cutting levels of bad cholesterol and blood sugar.

Experts say the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content – antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardiovascular disease.

One cup of tea provides 150-200mg of flavonoids and it is the best source of antioxidants in the nation’s diet. In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables.

A review in the journal Nutrition Bulletin found drinking three or more cups of black tea a day protects against heart disease and two or more cups a day may protect against type 2 diabetes.

In addition, a 12-week study in 87 volunteers found that drinking three cups of tea a day produced a significant improvement in various cardiovascular risk factors.

Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers and 165million cups are drunk every day.

Overall, flavonoids found in tea are thought to control inflammation, reduce excess blood clotting, promote blood vessel function and limit furring up of the arteries.

Nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, co-author of the latest review and a member of the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel (TAP), said: 'There is far more to the nation's favourite drink than we realise. 'With its antioxidant flavonoids, black tea packs a powerful punch with many health benefits particularly for the heart. And recent studies show that the flavonoids work their magic whether or not we choose to add milk.'

Dr Tim Bond also from TAP, added: 'Black tea flavonoids are thought to be the compounds responsible for the protective effects of black tea on health. 'Chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes are associated with inflammatory processes and the presence of excessive pro-oxidant free radicals in the body. 'The proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of black tea flavonoids may therefore be responsible for the positive health effects of black tea.'

Is black tea consumption associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes?

C. H. S. Ruxton & P. Mason


Type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease represent major causes of morbidity, which impact greatly on healthcare expenditure. Clinical studies suggest that ingestion of black tea, which contains a range of bioactive compounds, can inhibit oxidative damage and improve endothelial function. The objectives of this review are to: (1) evaluate observational evidence linking black tea consumption with the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes; (2) consider the mechanisms by which black tea may have a protective effect; and (3) examine the potential role of tea drinking in relation to public health.

The findings from epidemiological studies suggested a significant association between regular black tea consumption and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease at around three or more cups per day. For diabetes risk, the data are restricted to a few large cohort studies that suggested a beneficial association at one to four cups daily. These findings need to be confirmed by intervention trials. While some studies suggest that drinking black tea may reduce the risk of stroke, likely mechanisms remain unclear, highlighting the need for more human intervention studies. Disparities found involving studies may have been influenced by variations in reported tea intakes, limited sample sizes in intervention trials and inadequate control of confounders. In conclusion, drinking black tea may have a role in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Future research should focus on controlled trials and studies to elucidate likely mechanisms of action.


Study: Diet soda tied to heart attack, stroke

Pesky! But it's just working class habits being picked up again

Diet soda may benefit the waistline, but a new study suggests that people who drink it every day have a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke.

The study, which followed almost 2,600 older adults for a decade, found that those who drank diet soda every day were 44 percent more likely than non-drinkers to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

The findings, reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, don’t prove that the sugar-free drinks are actually to blame. There may be other things about diet-soda lovers that explain the connection, researchers say.

“What we saw was an association,” said lead researcher Hannah Gardener, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “These people may tend to have more unhealthy habits.”

She and her colleagues tried to account for that, Gardener told Reuters Health. Daily diet-soda drinkers did tend to be heavier and more often have heart risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

That all suggests that people who were trying to shed pounds or manage existing health problems often opted for a diet soda over the sugar-laden variety.

But even after the researchers factored in those differences — along with people’s reported diet and exercise habits — they found that daily diet soda was linked to a 44-percent higher chance of heart attack or stroke.

Nevertheless, Gardener said, it’s impossible for a study to capture all the variables that could be at work.

The findings do build on a few recent studies that also found diet-soda drinkers are more likely to have certain cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure or high blood sugar.

This is the first study, Gardener said, to look at actual “vascular events” — that is, heart attacks, strokes and deaths from cardiovascular causes.

The findings are based on 2,564 New York City adults who were 69 years old, on average, at the outset. Over the next decade, 591 men and women had a heart attack, stroke or died of cardiovascular causes.

That included 31 percent of the 163 people who were daily diet-soda drinkers at the study’s start. In contrast, 22 percent of people who rarely or never drank diet soda went on to have a heart attack or stroke.

There was no increased risk linked to less-than-daily consumption. Nor was regular soda tied to heart attacks and strokes.

If diet soda, itself, somehow contributes to health risks, it’s not clear how, Gardener said.

There’s research in rats suggesting that artificial sweeteners can end up boosting food intake and weight. But whether results in rodents translate to humans is unknown.

“I don’t think people should change their behavior based on this study,” Gardener said. “And I wouldn’t advocate drinking regular soda instead.”

Regular soda is high in calories, and for people who need to shed pounds, experts often suggest swapping regular soda for the diet version.

A study out this month found that the advice may be sound. Obese people who were randomly assigned to drink water or diet drinks in place of sugary ones lost about five pounds over six months.

Gardener said that further studies such as hers are still needed to confirm a connection between diet soda and cardiovascular trouble.

Ultimately, she noted, clinical trials are considered the “gold standard” for proving cause-and-effect. That would mean randomly assigning people to drink diet soda or not, and then following them over time to see if there were differences in their rates of heart problems or stroke.

A study like that, Gardener said, would be “difficult and costly” — since it would have to follow large groups of people over many years, and rely on people to stick with their assigned beverages.

SEE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, online January 27, 2012.


Monday, February 20, 2012


Big meals correlate with "mild cognitive impairment" in the elderly. I am glad to see that there is some humility below in interpreting the correlation concerned. I would suspect that the "mild cognitive impairment" is nothing more than low IQ and that class is again the mediator. Lower class people eat more and have lower IQ. I also note that food intake appears to have been judged from a dietary questionnaire -- which is pretty low grade data that may have a very shaky link to reality

A link between memory loss and a high calorie diet has been suggested by researchers in the US. They were investigating mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be an early sign of dementia.

Research, presented at a conference, claimed a high calorie diet was linked to having twice the risk of MCI, compared with a low calorie diet.

Alzheimer's Research UK said a healthy lifestyle was known to help protect against dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment has become increasingly interesting to researchers as it may help predict who will go on to develop dementia, such as Alzheimer's.

A team at the Mayo Clinic in the US has investigated the effect of diet in 1,233 people aged between 70 and 89. None had dementia, but 163 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The patients were divided into low calorie intake (600 to 1,526 calories a day), middle (1,526 to 2,142.5) and high (2,142.5 to 6,000) and the incidence of mild cognitive impairment was compared.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. They showed no difference in the low and middle groups, however, the high intake group had more than double the incidence of MCI.

Researcher Dr Yonas Geda said: "We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI."

The study cannot say that a high calorie diet causes MCI, people who are cognitively impaired could end up eating more food or there could be another factor involved which increases the risk of both. It has also not yet been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

But Dr Geda did suggest there was potential for therapy: "Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age."

Dr Marie Janson, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said the findings were interesting, and fitted in with "the bigger picture of a healthy lifestyle preventing Alzheimer's in later life".

She said it was "difficult" to work out what a mechanism linking calories and cognitive impairment would be. But she added: "We know that age is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, but adopting a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is beneficial in protecting against dementia along with a number of other chronic diseases."


Stem cell therapy could regenerate damaged heart muscle after heart attacks

This is very preliminary research but would be a huge advance if it pans out

A promising stem cell therapy approach could soon provide a way to regenerate heart muscle damaged by heart attacks.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and The Johns Hopkins University harvested stem cells from the hearts of 17 heart attack patients and after prepping the cells, infused them back into the patients' hearts. Their study is published in the current issue of The Lancet.

The patients received the stem cell infusions about three months after their heart attacks.

Researchers found that six months after treatment, patients had significantly less scarring of the heart muscle and also showed a considerable increase the amount of healthy heart muscle, compared to eight post-heart attack patients studied who did not receive the stem cell infusions. One year after, scar size was reduced by about 50 percent.

"The damaged tissue of the heart was replaced by what looks like healthy myocardium," said Dr. Peter Johnston, a study co-author and an assistant professor of medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's functioning better than the damaged myocardium in the control subjects, and there's evidence it's starting to contract and generate electrical signals the way healthy heart tissue does."

While this research is an early study designed to demonstrate that this stem cell therapy is safe, cardiologists say it's an approach that could potentially benefit millions of people who have suffered heart attacks. Damage to the heart muscle is permanent and irreparable, and little can be done to compensate for loss of heart function.

"In the U.S., six million patients have heart failure, and the vast majority have it because of a prior heart attack," said Johnston. The damaged scar tissue that results from a heart attack diminishes heart function, which can ultimately lead to enlargement of the heart.

At best, Johnston said, there are measures doctors can try to reduce or compensate for the damage, but in many cases, heart failure ultimately sets in, often requiring mechanical support or a transplant.

"This type of therapy can save people's lives and reduce the chances of developing heart failure," he said.

Cardiac Regeneration A Promising Field

Other researchers have also had positive early results in experiments with stem cell therapy using different types of cells, including bone marrow cells and a combination of bone marrow and heart cells. "It's exciting that studies using a number of different cell types are yielding similar results," said Dr. Joshua Hare, professor of cardiology and director of the University of Miami Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute.

The next steps, he said, include determining what the optimal cell types are and how much of the cells are needed to regenerate damaged tissue. "We also need to move to larger clinical trials and measure whether patients are improving clinically and exhibiting a better quality of life after the therapy."

In an accompanying comment, Drs. Chung-Wah Siu amd Hung-Fat Tse of the University of Hong Kong wrote that given the promising results of these studies, health care providers will hopefully recognize the benefits that cardiac regeneration can offer.

And Hare added that someday, this type of regeneration can possibly offer hope to others who suffered other types of organ damage. "This stategy might work in other organs," he said. "Maybe this can work in the brain, perhaps for people who had strokes."


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Food Fascism still hitting little NC kids

Harassing little kids is really reprehensible. But everyone is ducking for cover. No one will own up to having done it

North Carolina officials have said there was a misunderstanding when a preschooler’s homemade lunch was sent home for not meeting certain nutritional requirements, but now a second mother from the same school has come forward exclusively to The Blaze to say the same thing happened to her daughter.

Diane Zambrano says her 4-year-old daughter, Jazlyn, is in the same West Hoke Elementary School class as the little girl whose lunch gained national attention earlier this week. When Zambrano picked Jazlyn up from school late last month, she was told by Jazlyn’s teacher that the lunch she had packed that day did not meet the necessary guidelines and that Jazlyn had been sent to the cafeteria.

The lunch Zambrano packed for her daughter? A cheese and salami sandwich on a wheat bun with apple juice. The lunch she got in the cafeteria? Chicken nuggets, a sweet potato, bread and milk.

“She never eats breakfast or lunch at the school,” Zambrano said of her daughter during an interview with The Blaze. “We always wake up early and make her lunch.”

That day, Zambrano said she picked Jazlyn up from school and asked if she ate her lunch. “She’s not picky about food but you have to be on top of her,” she explained.

When Jazlyn said she didn’t eat what her mother had made her, Zambrano went to her teacher and demanded to know what happened. She said the teacher told her an official had come through that day to inspect students’ lunches and that those who were lacking certain food groups were sent to the cafeteria. After she received her cafeteria food, the teacher told Zambrano, Jazlyn was told to put her homemade lunch back in her lunchbox and set it on the floor.

Zambrano said the teacher told her it was not the first time student lunches have been inspected, and that officials come “every so often.”

The policing of children’s food at West Hoke has been portrayed as an isolated incident, but a curious memo Jazlyn brought home to her mother seems to point to something more.

The memo Jazlyn brought from the school outlines the necessary nutritional requirements students’ homemade lunches must contain: two servings of fruit or vegetables, one serving of dairy, one serving of grain and one serving of meat or meat substitute. Included with the memo was a separate sheet, this one a bill for the cafeteria food Jazlyn was served.

The memo, dated Jan. 27 with the subject line “RE: Healthy Lunches,” was signed by school principal Jackie Samuels and said, while “we welcome students to bring lunches from home … it must be a nutritious, balanced meal with the above requirements. Students, who do not bring a healthy lunch, will be offered the missing portions which may result in a fee from the cafeteria.”

Zambrano, who’s volunteered at the school in the past, said she was never told about any such nutritional requirements before her daughter’s lunch was replaced.

“That‘s not really the school’s responsibility,” she said, adding she’s extremely health-conscious and doesn’t feed her daughter junk food or let her drink soda — or even eat the tater tots or other fried foods often served in the cafeteria. “They give the choice of pizza and hot donuts…none of that is healthy,” Zambrano said.

According to the program requirements for North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten program, schools “must provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements during the regular school day.”

The partial or full cost of meals, the requirements state, “may be charged when families do not qualify for free/reduced price meals.
When children bring their own food for meals and snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”

The school’s reaction

Reached Friday morning, a representative from the Hoke County School Superintendent‘s office denied knowing anything about what happened with Jazlyn’s lunch and said they had no record of a complaint. Reached again, a different representative said they had “no information at this time” about the situation. A West Hoke Elementary official similarly denied any knowledge and referred all questions to the school district.

Principal Samuels previously told the Carolina Journal he “didn’t know anything about” parents being charged for cafeteria meals after the first preschooler’s mother — who has not been identified — came forward.

Bob Barnes, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, told the McClatchy News Service Thursday that the first preschooler to make headlines just misunderstood her teacher when she thought she was told to ditch her homemade lunch for one from the cafeteria: the cafeteria items were only meant to supplement the food groups missing from the homemade lunch.

“We are not the lunch bag police,” Barnes told McClatchy. “We would never put a child in any type of embarrassing situation. But we are responsible to see that every child gets a nutritious meal.”

Barnes confirmed there was an agent from Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child Development and Early Education at the school Jan. 30 who examined six student lunches and determined one did not make the nutritional cut — presumably the first little girl whose story made news.

Zambrano said she‘s not positive which day Jazlyn’s lunch was inspected, whether it was Jan. 27 — the date the memo was issued — or Jan. 30. Either way, one of two conclusions seem plausible: more than one student’s lunch was changed, or an official inspected student lunches on more than one occasion — which Zambrano said Jazlyn’s teacher told her had been the case.

In a statement to The Blaze, the Division of Child Development and Early Education said it is investigating what happened but flatly denied any of its employees or contractors “instructed any child to replace or remove any meal items.” The division issued a similar statement to McClatchy even after Barnes said it was one of their agents who examined the lunches.

“It is not DHHS’ policy to inspect, go through or question any child about food items brought from home. The facts we have gathered confirm that no DHHS employee or contractor did this,” the statement said.


'Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with pills': Doctors hit back at creeping medicalisation of life events

Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with anti-depressants, experts say. In an unsigned editorial in the influential medical journal The Lancet, experts argue that grief does not require psychiatrists and that 'legitimising' the treatment of grief with antidepressants 'is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed.'

The debate follows a decision by the American Psychiatric Association to classify grief as a mental illness in a bid to allow to doctors to be more flexible about how early patients can be treated for depression after the death of a loved one.

The lead editorial states: 'Grief is not an illness; it is more usefully thought of as part of being human and a normal response to the death of a loved one.'

The Lancet's comments follow the APA's decision to add grief reactions to their list of mental illnesses in their fifth edition of the psychiatry 'bible', Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5), which is due out in 2013.

But The Lancet, along with many psychiatrists and psychologists have called for the changes to be halted - saying they would lead to a 'tick box’ system that did not consider the wider needs of patients but labelled them as 'mentally ill’.

They agree that in rare cases, bereavement will develop into prolonged grief or major depression that may merit medical treatment. However, they suggested that for the majority of the bereaved, 'doctors would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance and empathy, than pills.'

The DSM-5 proposal - which has been opposed by The Lancet's editorial writers - would eliminate the so-called 'grief exclusion.' This 'exclusion' means that anyone who has experienced bereavement cannot be diagnosed as depressed for a certain period of time. In a previous edition, DSM-III, that period of time was set at one year. The DSM-IV reduced that period to two months and DSM-5 plans to reduce the period to just two weeks.

Although the proposed changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) would not directly affect clinical practice here, where doctors tend to use different international guidelines, experts say it would eventually influence research and thinking in the field.

Defending the change in timeframe, Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a member of the DSM-5 Mood Disorder Working Group, said it would allow for an earlier diagnosis but would by no means force it.

Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, said 'We need to be very careful before further broadening the boundaries of illness and disorder.'

'Back in 1840 the Census of the United States included just one category for mental disorder.

'By 1917 the American Psychiatric Association recognised 59, rising to 128 in 1959, 227 in 1980, and 347 in the last revision. Do we really need all these labels? Probably not. And there is a real danger that shyness will become social phobia, bookish kids labelled as Asperger’s and so on.’

Whereas people who are bereaved are currently given help where necessary, in future they might find themselves labelled as having a depressive disorder if their symptoms lasted longer than a certain period of time, he added.

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool, said 'It will exacerbate the problems that result from trying to fit a medical, diagnostic, system to problems that just don’t fit nicely into those boxes.

'Perhaps most seriously, it will pathologise a wide range of problems which should never be thought of as mental illnesses. Many people who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labelled as 'mentally ill’.

Dr. Arthur Kleinman, a Harvard psychiatrist, social anthropologist and global health expert, says that the main problem is the lack of 'conclusive scientific evidence to show what a normal length of bereavement is.'

According to the Lancet writers, 'it is often not until 6 months, or the first anniversary of the death, that grieving can move into a less intense phase.' They added that grieving is individual, shaped by age, gender, religious beliefs and the strength of the relationship with the lost loved one.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Just 40 hours of video gaming 'can cure cataracts', claims psychologist

What rubbish! When the lens of your eye goes cloudy instead of clear you have to replace it. What this woman may have done is to teach people to make better use of what vision they have left

Playing video games could improve the vision of people born with cataracts, according to new research.

Surgery and contact lenses do not always work - and people experience visual difficulties into adulthood. However, some of these effects can be reversed if the individual follows a short course of 'game therapy'.

Doctor Maurer, of McMaster University in Canada, said: 'After playing an action video game for just 40 hours over four weeks, the patients were better at seeing small print, the direction of moving dots, and the identity of faces.' Psychologist Daphne Maurer has researched how vision develops in individuals born with cataracts in both eyes.

Previous research found that a 40-hour 'course' of video gaming could be used to treat 'lazy eye' or amblyopia, a brain disorder in which the vision in one eye fails to develop properly. 'Those improvements tell us that the adult brain is still plastic enough to be trained to overcome sensory deficiencies,' says Maurer.

Dr Maurer is internationally known for her work on "synaesthetes" - a condition that makes people's brains link different senses.

Dr Maurer is due to present her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, in a session called The Effects of Early Experience on Lifelong Functioning: Commitment and Resilience.


Aspirin may have a role in stopping the spread of cancers

This is early-stage research so should be treated with caution

THE humble aspirin may be a powerful weapon against cancerous tumours. Melbourne scientists have discovered how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin prevent tumours spreading.

The breakthrough by Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researchers paves the way for new treatments to halt cancer in its tracks.

Co-lead author Dr Tara Karnezis said tumours secreted proteins and compounds called growth factors attracting blood and lymphatic vessels to their vicinity, allowing the cancer to flourish and spread. These growth factors also encouraged lymphatic vessels - or "supply lines" - to widen, which enabled the spread of cancer, Dr Karnezis said.

"But a group of drugs reverse the widening of the supply line and make it hard for the tumour to spread - at the end of the day that's what kills people," he said.

"This discovery unlocks a range of potentially powerful new therapies to target this pathway in lymphatic vessels, effectively tightening a tumour's supply lines and restricting the transport of cancer cells to the rest of the body."

While oncologists may include aspirin in patients' treatment, this discovery enabled the development of better and more efficient drugs, she said. While the benefits of non-steroid anti-inflammatories on cancer were known, the biological processes involved had never been fully understood.

This breakthrough would create new directions for research and management of cancer patients. "I hope this information is one bit of the puzzle that will lead to a cure for cancer," Dr Karnezis said.

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Mediterranean diet can cut risk of developing age-related brain disorders, says new study (?)

Diet questionnaires are about as low-grade data as you can get. This proves nothing. Being conducted in Manhattan, there could have been in this study a sub-population of Ashkenazi Jews in the sample and they are known for good health into late old age despite smoking and other "incorrect" behaviours. If anything, it may simply be their diet that was being detected and associated with good mental functioning -- which they tend to have anyway

Eating a Mediterranean-style diet helps keep the brain healthy, reducing age-related damage, say researchers. Brain scans suggest a diet rich in plant foods and fish, along with moderate drinking, cuts the risk of developing lesions that are linked to the development of cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s.

The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the classic eating habits of populations from countries such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy.

It has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and ‘healthy’ fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.

But a new US study shows further benefits to the brain where it is linked to lower levels of white matter hyperintesity volume, a marker of damage to the small vessels.

Some researchers believe the diet keeps the grey cells healthy by cutting inflammation, while others say the high intake of antioxidant vitamins may also protect the brain.

A report in the Archives of Neurology medical journal examined for the first time the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and lesions in the brain, known as white matter hyperintensities (WHM).

Study leader Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and colleagues looked at data on almost 1,000 people with an average age of 72 years taking part in the Northern Manhattan Study.

Participants were given a food frequency questionnaire to assess dietary patterns during the previous year, and answers were used to determine a score from 0-9 indicating how much they stuck to a Mediterranean diet, with a higher MeDi score showing greater compliance.

The volume of chronic age-related white matter damage was measured using brain MRI scans.

Results of the survey showed that 11.6 per cent of participants scored 0 to 2 on the MeDi scale, 15.8 per cent scored 3, 23 per cent scored 4, 23.5 per cent scored 5, and 26.1 per cent scored 6 to 9.

Women had lower scores than men and those engaged in moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had higher scores. Those scoring 6 or higher also had lower Body Mass Index scores, suggesting healthier weights.

The results show a lower burden of WMHV among people sticking to a Mediterranean diet, even after allowing for risk factors including physical activity, smoking, blood lipid levels, hypertension, diabetes, history of cardiac disease and BMI.

The only component of the MeDi score showing independent benefit with less brain damage was higher consumption of monounsaturated fat such as olive oil compared with saturated fat, including butter.

Dr Gardener said ‘Although diet may be an important predictor of vascular disease, little is known about the possible association between dietary habits and WMHs.

‘Studies have suggested that consumption of a Mediterranean Diet is associated with a reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, stroke and cognitive disorders, but no studies to date, to our knowledge, have examined the association with WMH volume.’

She said: ‘In summary, the current study suggests a possible protective association between increased consumption of a MeDi and small vessel damage.’

The results suggests the overall dietary pattern, rather than any of the individual components, was the most important factor, said the report. Eating healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but in the UK higher levels of animal or saturated fats are eaten.

Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of ‘healthy’ polyunsaturates which blocks the body’s response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis. It also reduces blood pressure and improves the ratio of good to bad blood fats.

Dieticians say the Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function, the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.

The diet is known to fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage.

Previous research has found strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet could help stave off memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Even those people already suffering from memory loss were half as likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s if they stuck to a Mediterranean-style diet.


Eating curry could stave off dementia

If you are a fruit-fly

Few of us need too much encouragement when it comes to heading off to the curry house. But scientists have come up with one of the best excuses ever: a spicy ingredient in curry could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

Tests on fruit flies with a nervous disorder similar to the neurodegenerative illness found those given curcumin - the key chemical in turmeric used in everything from mild Kormas to the hottest Vindaloos - lived 75 per cent longer.

Alzheimer's is linked to the build up of knots of protein in the brain called amyloid plaques, damaging the wiring in brain cells.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS One, could help explain why rates of dementia are much lower among the elderly in India than in their Western peers. Previous research has found Alzheimer's affects just one per cent of people over the age of 65 living in some Indian villages.

Drugs with similar properties to curcumin could potentially be used as preventative treatments.

In the study Professor Per Hammarstrom and colleagues also found five groups of fruit flies genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's-type symptoms manipulations maintained their mobility longer when given curcumin.

The scientists saw no decrease of amyloid in the brain or eyes of the insects.

Curcumin did not dissolve the plaque, but accelerated the formation of nerve fibres by reducing the amount of their precursor forms, known as oligomers, from which they were formed.

Prof Hammarstrom, of Linkoping University in Sweden, said: 'The results confirm our belief that it is the oligomers that are most harmful to the nerve cells.'

Several theories have been established about how oligomers can instigate the disease process. According to one hypothesis they become trapped at nerve junctions inhibiting impulse signals. Others claim they destroy brain cells by puncturing membrane.

Curcumin is extracted from the root of turmeric and has been used as medicine for thousands of years. It aids digestion, helps fight infection and guards against heart attacks. More recently it has been tested against pain, thrombosis and cancer.