Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer

This appears to be a meta-analysis and while such analyses are important their results can very easily be swung in the direction expected by the researchers.  The data input seems to  have been epidemiological so proves nothing anyhow.  Alcohol drinking may be simply a proxy for how careful people are about their health generally.

Just one good double blind study is needed for firm conclusions.  Given that, all the meta-analyses would be superfluous.  The journal article is "Epidemiology and Pathophysiology of Alcohol and Breast Cancer: Update 2012"

Women should stick to just one glass of wine a day and those with a family history of breast cancer should abstain altogether as researchers find even moderate alcohol consumption increases chances of developing the disease.

A review of research on alcohol and breast cancer has found that just one drink a day can increase the risk of breast cancer by five per cent.  Women drinking 'heavily' by having three or more drinks a day are up to 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who abstain, it was found.

It could mean that thousands of cases of breast cancer in Britain each year are caused by alcohol.

The link between breast cancer and alcohol is already known but it has not been clear if there was an the increased risk with low levels of consumption or a 'safe' threshold, below which there was no effect on breast cancer.  There are around 48,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Britain each year and just under 12,000 women with the disease die annually.

The analysis of 113 research papers was published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

The researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Milan, in Italy, wrote in the journal: "Since several populations show a high prevalence of light drinkers among women, even the small increase in risk we reported — in the order of five per cent — represents a major public health issue in terms of breast cancers attributable to alcohol consumption."

In the research, a drink was defined as 10 to 12 grams of ethanol, the equivalent of up to 1.5 UK units, or around one 125ml glass of average strength red wine or a pint of lager.

The researchers found that the more women drank the higher their risk of breast cancer, and calculated that each 10g of alcohol per day was linked to a ten to 13 per cent increased risk of cancer.

For every 200 women, 20 are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime. If they all drank 1.5 units every day, an extra one woman would develop cancer because of alcohol, the research suggests.

Lead author Prof Helmut Seitz wrote: "Since there is no threshold level of ethanol for breast cancer risk, the breast is one of the most sensitive organs for the carcinogenic action of alcohol. Healthy women should not exceed one drink a day (equivalent to 10–12g of ethanol).

"Women at an elevated risk for breast cancer such as those with a positive family history, or conditions associated with an increased breast cancer risk should avoid alcohol or consume alcohol only occasionally."

It is thought alcohol affects the female hormone oestrogen which can fuel certain forms of breast cancer.

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research has already shown that the risk of breast cancer increases the more alcohol a woman drinks.  "But this new study adds to the evidence that drinking even small amounts of alcohol – about one drink a day – can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.

"Women can help reduce their risk of breast cancer by reducing the amount of alcohol they drink, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.”


One-a-day heart pill to stave off stroke is given the green light

Warfarin (rat poison) is very dangerous so an alternative is good news

The first once-a-day anti-clotting drug for patients with an irregular heartbeat has been given the green light for use on the NHS.  Rivaroxaban works as well as warfarin, a treatment based on rat poison which has been used since the 1950s, but with fewer side effects.

Hundreds of thousands of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) could be eligible, which may prevent 5,000 strokes a year.

The drug is the second new anti-clotting agent to get the go-ahead from the NHS rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which recently approved Pradaxa.

AF is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting up to 1.2 million Britons and causing 12,500 strokes a year.  In AF, the upper chambers of the heart are out of rhythm and beat much faster than normal, which allows blood to pool and generate tiny blood clots which can trigger a stroke.

Rivaroxaban is expected to become a blockbuster drug. As a daily pill, it has a key advantage over Pradaxa, which must be taken twice a day.

AF patients have to take anti-clotting agents for life, but Nice says the new drugs offer value for money either as a replacement for warfarin or for patients who cannot take it.

At £2.10 a day, Rivaroxaban is slightly cheaper than Pradaxa (£2.50), but there is still a big price differential with warfarin. The new drug costs £64 for a month’s supply, compared to warfarin’s cost of only £1, plus clinic visits. Some of the clinic costs associated with monitoring warfarin may be recouped, says Nice.

Warfarin, which is still used in large doses to kill vermin, has been given routinely to AF patients for decades, reducing the rate of stroke by up to two-thirds at the cost of increased bleeding.

But it is inconvenient for patients because careful monitoring and regular blood tests are needed to prevent excessive bleeding from cuts or stomach ulcers.

A consensus conference by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh estimated 5,000 strokes and 2,000 premature deaths a year could be avoided through effective detection and treatment of AF, with only half of patients currently receiving drugs.

Trudie Lobban, chief executive and founder of the Atrial Fibrillation Association, said prevention and treatment of strokes should be an NHS priority.

She added: ‘After 60 years when warfarin was the only option for patients we now have a choice of agents that will have a significant impact on strokes and quality of life. They are opening the way for raising awareness and education, and encouraging GPs to check for AF.’

Rivaroxaban was developed by Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson and is expected to make peak sales worth two billion euros a year in Europe.

Dr Peter Coleman, of The Stroke Association, said: ‘Warfarin is a highly effective treatment for stroke prevention, but it is not suitable for everyone.  ‘We’re pleased to hear that GPs will have another safe medication in their armoury to treat patients with atrial fibrillation.’

Professor Carole Longson, of Nice, added: ‘We know that people taking warfarin can find it difficult to maintain their blood clotting at a proper level and are often not within the target therapeutic range.

‘Rivaroxaban, like dabigatran etexilate, which Nice recently approved as an option for this indication, can benefit people with AF in these circumstances.’


Friday, March 30, 2012

Sniffles could be snuffed out in asthmatics

This may be good news for asthmatics but for others the effect would seem to be similar to Tamiflu or Relenza

 Melbourne drugmaker Biota yesterday reported the stunning success of its antiviral compound named Vapendavir.  Tested in 300 asthmatic patients infected with the cold-causing human rhinovirus, the clinical trial showed that cold symptoms eased quickly and the duration of the infection was shortened considerably.

Patients given a placebo experienced the worst cold symptoms at 2.5 days, whereas those dosed with Vapendavir began rapid recovery after just 1.7 days. Alfred Hospital senior specialist in respiratory medicine Dr Robert Stirling said Vapendavir had the potential to "significantly impact the disabling symptoms of the rhinovirus bug".

"If this reduces the intensity and duration of a respiratory cold, especially in asthmatics, it is an important finding," he said. "I think eventually we will be able to incorporate this treatment into our usual practice and we will find the economic benefits will outweigh health costs of treating infected patients. This could signal the death of the sickie."

Colds and flu cost Australian companies more than $7 billion a year in lost time.

But the cure has to be tested in a bigger group of patients and Biota needs to satisfy regulators that it will fill an unmet need in healthcare before it is available to the public. Market experts estimate this may take only a few years.

And even if the product is marketed specifically for asthmatics, it would be possible for healthy people to access it to cure colds quicker, RBS Morgans analyst Scott Power said.

Biota chief executive Peter Cook said the trial was designed for asthma patients whose breathing deteriorates when they catch cold.


Congressional Blowout Over Cosmetics Law Reform

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on cosmetics regulation to consider whether Congress should beef up federal law to ensure public health and safety. Ironically, many calls for federal action came from industry, mostly small firms that simply want the freedom to innovate and market products across state lines without running up against 50 different sets of rules and who want to restore consumer confidence about the safety of their products.

Unfortunately, federal action may move the debate in a different, not-so-positive direction, particularly given the viewpoints expressed by lawmakers who will craft the “reforms.”

The ultimate problem is that these lawmakers focus on hazard rather than risk and they downplay, if not largely ignore, the benefits of the products. Hazard-based standards only consider whether something has the potential for harm at some level or under some specific circumstance. A chemical may be dubbed “hazardous,” even if it poses little risk at existing exposure levels. For example, water can be considered hazardous because excessive consumption can produce fatal “water intoxication.”

Risk involves the probability that something will happen. For example, the risk of water intoxication is low from taking a few sips of water, but the risk level increases an individual continues to consume the water at higher and higher levels. But the hazard posed by the water remains the same in all instances. Likewise, we have many “hazardous” chemicals in our homes — everything from cleaning supplies to bug spray to olive oil (which can make you slip if spilled on the floor). Each can be a hazard, but the risk depends on how we use them. Fortunately, we can benefit from each of these products while managing the risks to keep them low.

Accordingly, hazard assessment alone is not a good justification for regulation, but instead is usually one step in the risk assessment process. To determine actual risk, regulators must then consider actual or estimated exposures. Yet current regulatory trends are moving toward a focus on using hazard alone as a justification for regulation.

Rep Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), sponsor of the cosmetic law reform bill–the so called “Safe Chemicals Act” (H.R. 2359) — repeatedly focused on the “hazards” posed by chemicals during the question and answer session. Rep. Schakowsky’s arguments gained support from Dr. Michael DiBartolomeis, who gave testimony representing the California Department of Public Health. During the question and answer session, he stated that no cosmetic product should contain any “carcinogen.”

DiBartolomeis completely disregards the fact that it’s the dose that makes the poison. Many chemicals are classified as carcinogens simply because extremely high levels give lab rats cancer, even when there is no measurable impact on humans exposed to trace levels. If we followed his advice, we would have to also ban broccoli, carrots, and coffee because high levels give lab rats cancer.

Given such nonsense from members of Congress and government regulators, “reform” could be dangerous for the industry and consumers who might see lower-quality products as a result. In fact, Schakowsky’s bill would impose a host of information mandates and taxes on the industry that will be expensive — particularly for the many small businesses selling specialty products — simply because lawmakers want to regulate all possible “hazards.”

There have been few problems caused by cosmetics under existing law to warrant such an extreme regulatory approach. Still bill supporters point to one case where a hair product — the Brazilian Blowout — caused irritations and other health problems. But the problem did not result because existing law is too weak but because the product did not comply with it. Fortunately, the issue was resolved using existing regulatory authorities. See more on that the “Brazilian Blowout” in CEI’s paper on cosmetics, which addresses the issue in detail within the appendix.

In addition, the bill would demand that companies prove that their products pose “reasonable certainty of no harm,” which essentially amounts to a zero risk standard — technically impossible to meet. EPA applies that standard to pesticides, and as a result, has removed many valuable pesticide uses despite little evidence of any problems.

The final result of the cosmetics “reform” may be the elimination of valuable products, increasing health risks. For example, what might happen if regulators ban formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative in cosmetics? Some products may spoil exposing consumers to infectious agents. That’s exactly what happened with one company, Arbonne International, who removed it from their products in an effort to be “green” (see CEI paper for details).


Thursday, March 29, 2012

A diet that works? Fat chance

Not only are weight-loss programs a waste of time, they can play havoc with our normal metabolisms.

A year is a long time in the life of a Hollywood starlet. One day you're thin, the next you're not. Just ask Mila Kunis. In August last year the Black Swan actress upset women everywhere with her less than helpful observation that "people who say they can't lose weight are lying".

Kunis shed nine kilograms for her role in Black Swan and celebrated her weight-loss "victory" by trampling her gym-toned legs all over the self-esteem of her sisters.

High on her success, Kunis told the Daily Mail: "When people say 'I can't lose weight', no, no, no, you can. Your body can do everything and anything, you just have to want to do it."

It's bad enough that women the world over are taught to believe that anyone larger than size 0 is undisciplined and lazy, but, according to Kunis, we can add "liar" to the list of character flaws.

Fast forward eight months, and Kunis has changed her tune. In the April edition of Harper's Bazaar she lets slip that not only has she regained the weight she lost on her way to becoming a swan, but her body has changed shape, and not in a good way.

"When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas. Not my rear … I'd be happy if my arse got bigger. All the weight that left my chest went to my side hip, my stomach."

Kunis' belated realisation that diets don't work will not surprise the average woman who spends 31 years of her life trying to lose weight.

It also won't surprise anyone acquainted with weight loss science. More than 50 years of research confirms that diets have a failure rate of between 95 to 98 per cent. That's right - of every 100 people who diet, 98 of them will either lose no weight or will soon regain any weight they do lose.

According to the US National Institute of Health technology assessment conference, "[weight-loss] interventions produce short-term losses followed by weight regain, and no current treatments appear capable of producing permanent weight loss".

Not a single diet or weight-loss treatment works. Not one. And that doesn't apply just to extreme fad diets that come and go as quickly as a bread roll to a carb-starved ex-Dukan Dieter. What decades of research tells us is that diets do not work. Full stop.

Worse, Columbia University researchers suggest that our bodies may burn fewer calories than normal for as many as six years after we diet because the metabolisms of people who have lost weight through dieting are slower than people of the same weight who did not diet.

Imagine that your friend is naturally a size 10 and you're a size 12. You may be able to diet to get down to the same weight as your friend, but once you're there you cannot eat what she eats.

If you eat the same number of calories as your non-dieting friend, you will most likely gain weight and she won't. That's because you've screwed up your metabolism for six years - possibly longer - and your friend's metabolism is still operating normally. This is your reward for the joy-sapping, soul-destroying, life-consuming deprivation of dieting. Worse still, you will regain more weight than you started out with.

Melbourne University professor Joseph Proietto, head of the weight control clinic at Austin Health, has found that dieters' bodies behave like they are starving, still trying to regain the lost weight a full 12 months after the diet has ended.

Participants in a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine reported feeling hungrier and more preoccupied with food than before they lost weight. This is not surprising because the researchers found that the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, was about 20 per cent higher than at the start of the study and that the hormones that suppress hunger and stimulate metabolism were abnormally low.

"What we see here is a co-ordinated defence mechanism with multiple components all directed towards making us put on weight," Proietto says. "This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment." And if you don't believe the scientists, then just look to our celebrity experts such as Mila Kunis. By her own admission, dieting has permanently changed her body.

With such a high failure rate, it's time to stop perpetuating the lie that losing weight is just about wanting it enough. Because it's not us who have failed. It's the diets. And every time a smug skinny mini makes a catty comment in the press, she fails us all.


Eating a small amount of chocolate regularly could actually help you lose weight

These results are from a self-report questionnaire so are far from conclusive

For chocolate-lovers feeling guilty about their indulgence it is the best kind of news – eating more can help keep you thinner.

Although chocolate contains more calories than many other foods, those who eat it regularly have less body fat than those who don’t, a study shows.

Researchers suspect the calories in chocolate are not like ‘normal’ calories.  The ingredients in chocolate appear to make your metabolism work harder, which means they offset the fat that might otherwise have stayed around.  As a result, the metabolic effects of certain ingredients make chocolate a good slimming food because it is calorie- neutral, says the U.S. study.

The study, published last night, did not specify which type of chocolate was best.

But it appears to back up the claim by Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn about her slim physique when she said: ‘What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.’

Study leader Dr Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California at San Diego, said: ‘Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight.

‘In the case of chocolate, this is good news, both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who wish to start one.’

The scientists investigated the chocolate-eating habits of 972 men and women with an average age of 57 for a study of statins – cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The participants did not have any known heart problems but were asked diet and lifestyle questions including: ‘How many times a week do you consume chocolate?’ Their Body Mass Index, which relates weight to height, was also recorded.

The surprising findings showed those who ate chocolate on more days of the week than average were statistically likely to have a lower BMI.

This was despite the fact that people who ate more chocolate did not consume fewer calories overall, or take more exercise. In fact they ate more. Chocolate consumption was associated with greater overall saturated fat intake from other sources.

Volunteers had an average BMI of 28 – meaning they were overweight – and ate chocolate on average twice a week.

The study did not look at what type of chocolate the participants ate or how much. As a result, no link was seen between the amount of chocolate eaten and either higher or lower BMI.

The researchers warn the study’s findings may not apply to all products containing chocolate and do not rule out the possibility that some people can put on weight with frequent modest chocolate consumption.

But the results, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, broadly fit with previous research on rats showing benefits from some chemicals found in chocolate, including speeding up the metabolism.

Epicatechin, one chemical derived from the chocolate ingredient cocoa, has been shown to boost numbers of mitochondria, the cells’ energy-generating ‘power houses’.

Mitochondria burn up calories and epicatechin reduced weight in rats whose calorie intake and exercise levels were unchanged. Another antioxidant ingredient theo bromine is a stimulant.

Other studies have found that the benefits of chocolate can include a drop in the risk of heart disease and strokes, a reduction in blood pressure and a cut in the risk of diabetes.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The expert branded a woman hater for saying breast cancer screening ruins lives

A rare medical researcher who looks at the big picture

What could be more sensible than having a mammogram?  If a tiny tumour is growing in your breast, you want to find it as soon as possible and treat it before it has a chance to spread and become life-threatening.  This simple idea is the basis of a worldwide breast scanning industry that costs billions every year.

The UK programme was launched in 1988, and according to triumphant figures released last week it is screening more women than ever before — nearly 1.9million a year (at a cost of around £96 million).

‘By bringing forward detection and diagnosis, screening helps us find those cancers that might otherwise not be caught until later in life,’ said Sarah Sellars, assistant director for the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.

However, some experts question whether national screening programmes for breast cancer are such a good idea.  For more than a decade, Peter Gotzsche, a leading Danish professor and statistician, has argued they are a serious mistake: not only do they do little to reduce the death rate from breast cancer, but because women haven’t been told the truth about the risks of mammography, some endure painful disfigurement and completely unnecessary treatment that may have shortened their lives.

Two years ago, when he looked at the figures produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the UK screening programme, Professor Gotzsche’s analysis suggested that for every 2,000 women screened regularly for ten years, just one will benefit from the screening.   At the same time, ten healthy women will, as a consequence, become cancer patients and be treated unnecessarily.

The director of the NHS cancer screening programme, Julietta Patnick, says Gotzsche’s analysis is ‘inaccurate’.  Rather than one life being saved for every ten women who received unnecessary treatment, she says, the true figure was much closer to a one-to-one ratio.

But Gotzsche has blue-chip credentials — he is professor of clinical research design and analysis and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Center at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, and an expert in the statistics needed to assess the risks and benefits of screening.

Yet for almost ten years there has been a concerted campaign to discredit him, while scanning authorities in the UK, U.S. and Europe have done little to address his criticisms.

Many women will be vaguely aware that recently there have been some criticisms of mammograms.  Some may recall the news last October that the NHS leaflet on scanning given to women is to be reviewed following claims it exaggerated benefits and did not spell out the risks.

Analysis of the problems quickly becomes technical and is only available in hard-to-obtain, specialist journals.  Which is why Professor Gotzsche has written a book, Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies And Controversy.

He claims there has been a shocking campaign by the authorities to keep his alternative analysis from women.

The first time he raised concerns was in 2000.  Professor Gotzsche set out his case in an explosive article in the medical journal The Lancet.

Based on analysis of the results of the screening programme in Sweden it concluded mammography was ‘unjustified’ — and it generated a furious response.  Experts in the screening industry expressed ‘dismay’ that it would erode public confidence in screening and urged women to ignore it.

The Department of Health issued a press release saying the NHS Breast Screening programme was a success and there was no new evidence in The Lancet report.

‘Our review was described as riddled with misrepresentations, inconsistencies and errors of method and fact,’ says Professor Gotzsche.  ‘But often the attacks didn’t even challenge my research — they were simply personal. I was said to be ignorant, careless and on a crusade against screening.’

His report was originally commissioned by the Danish Board of Health, but when it was delivered the board tried to classify it as a ‘non-paper’, so it couldn’t even be accessed through the country’s Freedom of Information Act.

One of Professor Gotzsche’s chief opponents, Laszlo Tabar, was the author of one of the Swedish trials analysed in The Lancet.  He claimed it showed scanning to be effective and safe and still holds that view.  Recently Tabar said scanning was the best thing to happen for women in 3,000 years, adding: ‘There are still people who don’t like mammography.  'Presumably, they don’t like women.’

Professor Gotzsche says: ‘People who like women, and women themselves, should no longer accept the pervasive misinformation they’re consistently exposed to.’

But what can be wrong with checking to catch breast cancer as early as possible?  If every tumour that showed up on a mammogram eventually spread around the body, no one could object. But cancer isn’t like that.

‘It is a biological fact of life that we cannot avoid getting cancer as we get older,’ says Professor Gotzsche.  ‘It’s so common nearly all middle-aged people will have some sign of it and most of them will die without having had any symptoms as a result.’

In other words, scanning finds cancerous changes that would otherwise never have caused a problem in your lifetime.

But once a mammogram picks up something that might be a tumour, you’re on your way to becoming a cancer patient because there are no reliable ways of telling if you’ve got the slow-growing or disappearing type, or if it is going to become dangerously invasive.

You will be sent for a biopsy and, if it’s cancerous, you get the full cancer works — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and possibly have your breast removed.  Thousands who would otherwise have remained perfectly healthy — because their cancers would never have caused a problem — become cancer patients.

In his book, Professor Gotzsche quotes a British woman who described what it could involve.  Her scan found a carcinoma in situ — a type of cancerous change in a cell that, in most cases, does not develop into the potentially lethal, invasive form of the disease. 

‘I expect I have been classified a screening success,’ she said.  ‘Yet everything about my experience tells me the opposite. Screening has caused me considerable and lasting harm.  'Two wide excisions, one partial mutilation (sorry, mastectomy), one reconstruction, five weeks’ radiotherapy, chronic infection, four bouts of cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection), several general anaesthetics, and more than a year off work.’

Thousands of women don’t go through anything as gruelling, but the sheer number overdiagnosed comes as a shock.  Professor Gotzsche has calculated that each year about 70,000 British women are recalled after a ‘false positive’ mammogram result.

In some cases, the cell changes detected by the mammogram weren’t cancerous.  But Professor Gotzsche is really concerned about cells that are cancerous but would never have caused problems.

Known as overdiagnosed cancers, they result in women treated unnecessarily.  Working out how many women had this unnecessary treatment is very complicated, which is why the debate gets so fierce.

‘The crucial question is, how many lives does it save?’ Professor Gotzsche adds.  ‘Is it enough to justify the harms inflicted on the healthy population?’

The screening programme officially saves an estimated 1,400 lives every year, but the professor found this couldn’t be true.

By using these figures, says Professor Gotzsche, the NHS has failed to give women honest information on which to make a decision and that just one life is saved while 10 women will be treated unnecessarily.

Some scanning experts have launched vicious personal attacks in response to Professor Gotzsche’s statistical analysis.

‘What is remarkable to me,’ wrote one, ‘is that this man calls himself a scientist since he obviously, knowingly ignores the scientific method to further his own agenda. I cannot believe his is so intellectually deficient.’

Professor Gotzsche has never said women shouldn’t be scanned — he believes women should get a realistic estimate of the benefits and risk, which, right now, they aren’t. That, he says, is a scandal.


More cholesterol needed

ONE patient persuaded John Kastelein to explore the radical idea that would anchor his future career. The cardiologist was at work in an Amsterdam hospital when a 36-year-old was brought into emergency. Tall and lean, non-smoking and physically fit, the man had collapsed with a heart attack.

"All his coronary arteries were terribly obstructed and he got operated on right away," said Professor Kastelein, now chairman of the genetics of cardiovascular disease at the University of Amsterdam. The damage was so severe that seven of his arteries had to be bypassed.

"In young people, surgeons often use the mammary artery that runs parallel to the breastbone on both sides, to patch into the heart,'' he said. "That artery never has atherosclerosis [blockages] so the surgeon was totally amazed to find both mammary artery walls had become diseased."

Investigations revealed the patient, Piet Snoek, had a gene mutation that blocked all production of high density lipoprotein (HDL) - the "good cholesterol".

His case "completely convinced" Professor Kastelein that the protective effects of HDL were as significant a part of the heart disease story as the well-known damage wrought by low density lipoprotein "bad" cholesterol. He set out to demonstrate a heresy: that raising cholesterol could help the heart, provided the cholesterol in question was HDL.

"Every manipulation that raises HDL in a mouse or a rabbit is beneficial," said Professor Kastelein, who will deliver a plenary address in Sydney today at the International Symposium on Atherosclerosis.

Fifteen years later, Mr Snoek is still alive. Professor Kastelein and colleagues have used drugs to completely eliminate LDL from his body, compensating for the absence of HDL. "Heart disease is the result of the balance of these two," he said.

Several drug companies have begun synthesising HDL - which attaches to cells that mop up LDL, steering them into the circulation - following a heart attack.

"We have shown we can mobilise cholesterol from the arterial wall. We can move amounts of cholesterol that in my mind are very clinically significant," Professor Kastelein said. The next step is to use heart scans to evaluate whether this reverses artery damage.

Philip Barter, of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, said raising HDL had ''the potential to be as important on top of [cholesterol-lowering] statins as statins were on nothing".


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Paracetamol (Tylenol): The stealthy killer lurking in every home

This can hardly be emphasized enough

Paracetamol is one of the most common painkillers we use — every day thousands of packs are sold in supermarkets and chemists, and it’s our favourite remedy for dealing with a headache.

But should there be tighter controls over its sale, when one of the hidden side-effects can be devastating liver damage?

The family of Desiree Phillips certainly thinks so — the 20-year-old single mum died last August of acute liver failure caused by paracetamol poisoning.

In pain after an operation to remove non-cancerous lumps in her breasts nine days earlier, Desiree was recovering at home, taking ‘a few more’ tablets than the recommended maximum daily dose of eight 500mg tablets, when she was found unconscious and rushed back to hospital.

She underwent a liver transplant but it was not successful.

Paracetamol had built up in her body without anyone noticing — the drug produces a by-product known as NAPQI, which attacks the liver. As it gradually accumulates, it can result in a ‘staggered’ overdose.

Last November, a medical journal published research showing that just a few extra paracetamol daily can be fatal and that a staggered overdose is much more likely to be fatal than a deliberate one. Doctors say that when the danger levels of toxicity are reached, many patients show no symptoms for 24 hours, by which time it may be too late.

The Government is rightly concerned about the effect of binge drinking on our livers — hence David Cameron’s campaign to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol — but overdosing on paracetamol, not booze, is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the UK.

Yet still the National Health Service say there’s no cause for concern. Millions of us use the drug with no side-effects. But when you are in chronic pain — the elderly with aching joints or a workaholic suffering from repetitive headaches — more and more of us think: ‘To hell with the stated daily dose, I’ll just take a couple more.’

I’ve written before about the dangers of addiction to over-the-counter drugs such as Nurofen Plus, but paracetamol is available in so many combinations, as well as a hot drink, it’s easy to see how someone could unwittingly be building up toxic levels in their system.

There are no checks when you buy a packet of paracetamol, unlike codeine. That needs to end. All painkillers should be carefully controlled — because we have become a nation of massive pill-poppers. An ageing population is being handed huge amounts of prescription drugs to deal with arthritis and spinal degeneration. These drugs are often supplemented with over-the-counter preparations which no one is monitoring.

The number of people addicted to non-prescription painkillers is soaring and still the Government doesn’t intervene. Now, there’s a new danger — 39,000 packs of co-codamol, containing paracetamol and codeine, which are three times stronger than the dose stated on the packet, have gone on sale by mistake.

A spokesman for the UK medicines regulator said: ‘If you feel you have taken the wrong strength tablet, and in the unlikely event you feel unwell, speak to your GP.’ That sounds pretty complacent to me.

Finally, I tried an experiment. I stopped taking two paracetamol for a headache a year ago. One 500mg pill works perfectly. So why are manufacturers still telling us to take two, four times a day?


Popcorn has more antioxidant levels than fruits and veggies, study claims

A nasty one for the food freaks, who all seem to believe in the failed antioxidant gospel. Anything people enjoy is BAD, according to them

POPCORN, when it's not slathered in butter and coated in salt, is already known to be a healthy snack food and now a group of scientists say it may even top fruits and vegetables in antioxidant levels.

The researchers said they found great amounts of antioxidants known as polyphenols in popcorn and explained that the substances are more concentrated in the snack, which is made up of about four percent water, while the antioxidants are more diluted in fruits and vegetables, many of which are made of up to 90 percent water.

That's the same principle that gives dried fruits an antioxidant edge over their fresh counterparts.

One serving of popcorn has up to 300mg of polyphenols, which is much higher than previously believed and nearly double the 160mg for all fruits per serving, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.

They also found that the crunchy hulls of the popcorn have the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

"Those hulls deserve more respect," said researcher Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

The scientists warned, though, preparation is key to culling popcorn's health benefits. "Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course," Vinson guided.

"Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself."


Monday, March 26, 2012

Two cups of tea a day boost your chances of having a baby (?)

Good to see an admission below that tea itself may not be the causative factor

Two cups of tea a day may help boost a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant, according to a study. It found women were 27 per cent more likely to become pregnant if they regularly drank tea compared with those who did not.

However, the same research found consuming two cola-style fizzy drinks daily seems to reduce a woman’s prospects of conceiving – and it makes no difference if the cola is a diet or sugary version. Women who drank these soft drinks at least twice a day reduced their chances of becoming pregnant by 20 per cent.

There was no effect on the chances of pregnancy for women who preferred to drink coffee.

The findings were based on a group of 3,600 women who were actively trying to have a baby.

The study’s author, Professor Elizabeth Hatch, of Boston University in the United States, wanted to determine if caffeine intake had any effect on women trying for a baby. While there have been other studies on the subject, their results have not been conclusive.

They have also used methods which are thought to be unreliable, based on interviews with pregnant women who were asked to remember the amounts of tea, coffee and soft drinks they consumed before they conceived.

Instead, Prof Hatch monitored each of the volunteers for a year.

Danish women were chosen for the research because every Danish citizen is given a civil registration number at birth, allowing health officials to recruit and then screen individuals through the internet.

The women, with an average age of 28, formed the largest group ever studied to evaluate a link between caffeine consumption and pregnancy.

Prof Hatch said: ‘We found that women who drank tea two or three times a day did have a 27 per cent increased chance of becoming pregnant. We don’t know how they took the tea or if they added milk or lemon, but they had this increased chance of getting pregnant over women who did not drink tea at all.

‘It may be linked to caffeine but clearly there may be other factors linked with the women’s lifestyle or there may be beneficial properties in tea itself.’

She added: ‘I think drinking two or three cups of tea a day for anyone wishing to get pregnant will be fine. I would love to say tea is a miracle cure to get pregnant but that is not realistic. There may be other factors. The tea drinkers tended to be older women and there may be something else in their diet or lifestyle that helped.’

'Tea contains a lot of antioxidants which are very good for male and female fertility'

Green tea has previously been linked with increasing women’s chances of becoming pregnant.

However, in this study women were asked to record their consumption of green or herbal tea in the same section and no link with increased chance of pregnancy was found.

Further research will seek to identify whether drinking green tea helps women became pregnant.

Follow-up work will establish more about the health and size of the babies born to the tea-drinking mums and if the women endured shorter or longer pregnancies or suffered miscarriages.

Maha Ragunath, consultant in reproductive medicine at the Care Fertility Centre in Nottingham, said special properties in tea aided fertility. She added: ‘Tea contains a lot of antioxidants which are very good for male and female fertility. ‘But I don’t think women trying for a baby should now drink lots of tea – it’s everything in moderation.’

Laurence Shaw, associate director at the Bridge Fertility Centre in London, said: ‘I would say to any woman over 35 trying to become pregnant to get proper advice and don’t start drinking ten cups of tea a day.’


British scientists develop 80p-a-day pill that can slow progress of osteoarthritis to some degree

Even a little helps

A pill that slows the progression of crippling arthritis has been developed by British scientists.

The 80p a day costing treatment has been found to reduce the damage caused to knee joints by osteoarthritis by a third. Studies have also shown that it drastically lowers pain and improves patient's movement.

Oxford scientists behind the treatment believe it may be available on the NHS within the next year.

Around eight million people in Britain suffer from osteoarthritis and 140,000 hip and knee replacements are performed on the NHS as a result of the illness. It causes the cartilage lining the bones to wear away which leads to damage to the joints, particularly the knee and hip. There is no cure at present and patients with mild symptoms are normally given exercises or painkillers. Those with more severe forms of the disease may need hip or knee replacements.

Scientists at the University of Oxford and University of Southampton carried out a trial on 1,683 patients with osteoarthritis that had caused damage to their knee.

Half were given this new pill called Protelosa and the other half a placebo. Over the next three years the scientists measured their pain, their ability to move the knee joints and any deterioration of the cartilage.

They found that those on the pills suffered an average of a third less damage to the cartilage. So if they were taking them for three years the progression of the disease would be slowed by one year.

The pills contains the chemical strontium ranelate which is thought to encourage the body to produce cartilage.

Professor Cyrus Cooper who presented his findings at the European Congress on Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis in France said: 'This is a major breakthrough.

'Osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating condition, and for over 20 years we have been searching for a treatment that would allow us to alter the course of the disease, rather than just manage the symptoms.

'The results today are it, and could totally change the way we treat osteoarthritis.

'For the first time we have a treatment that can slow the development of this debilitating disease and could reduce or even eliminate the need for expensive and painful joint replacement surgery.'

The drug is already used to treat osteoporosis - thinning of the bones.

But it is expected to be licensed by the drugs watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for use on arthritis patients within the next few months.

After that the NHS rationing body NICE will consider whether it should be available on the NHS.

But as the drug is so cheap and it has been found to be so effective, the scientists are confident it will be given the green light.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Parents don't need to worry about TV dulling their kids' senses as Harry Potter movies make them MORE creative, say researchers

Another blow to the stupid "fears" of "Baroness" Greenfield

Watching Harry Potter films could make young children more creative, claims a study. Carried out by Lancaster University, it’s the first attempt to study whether there are any educational benefits in exposing children to magical content like witches and wizards, Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.

The study examined if there was a link between magical thinking and creativity in preschool children – and it found that there was.

The small-scale study involved 52 four to six-year-old children. The youngsters were split into two groups and shown two 15-minute clips from Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.

The findings show that after watching the clips, the group who watched the magical scenes in general scored ‘significantly better’ in all three areas than their peers in the other group.

Researchers Dr Eugene Subbotsky, Claire Hysted and Nicola Jones from the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University concluded that: ‘Magical thinking enables children to create fantastic imaginary worlds, and in this way enhances children’s capacity to view the world and act upon it from multiple perspectives.

‘The results suggested that books and videos about magic might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively.’

Magical thinking involves believing in supernatural events like animals speaking human languages, or a witch flying on a broomstick.

This involves the ability to construct an alternative world and research has shown that most four to six-year-olds think magically in everyday life.

Some of the scenes include animals talking and witches and wizards performing spells and using wands, while other scenes featured the same characters but without any magical content.

The children were then tested for creativity which included being asked to pretend they were a rabbit or driving a car. They were also asked to think of different ways of putting plastic cups in a bin and for alternative uses for the cup.

The children who had watched the magical scenes performed significantly better on the creativity tests.

The researchers concluded that rather than just being used for entertainment, ‘magical thinking can be viewed as an additional source of development of imagination and divergent thinking in children.’


A sustained critical assault could not keep Maccas down

The fact that the second biggest profit centre for McDonalds (after the USA) is France is both amusing and thought provoking: Delivering tasty food at a low price is a major and very popular achievement

We started to get more worried about our waistlines. Maccas and the fast food industry got the blame. We became more sophisticated in our taste in food. And we’re a nation of caffeine addicts. So we weren’t lovin’ the shortage of short blacks.

But when confronted with every fear we’ve had that could’ve damaged their business, McDonalds have made sure that our Happy Meals still make us happy.

“Do you want fries with that?” became “do you want a fries or a salad with that?” As Masterchef altered our perceptions of good food and Wagyu steaks became popular, Ronald introduced us to the Angus burger. And many people love a good cafe, so Maccas became one. One that’s “a little bit fancy” at that. There’s a big but though.

Maccas have become a sophisticated brand. But the truth is their core business has barely changed. It’s still all about keeping us hooked on generally fatty fast foods. Case in point: Maccas are trialling selling six-packs of Krispy Kreme’s glazed donuts

Krispy Kreme’s signature donuts are notoriously addictive. It’s impossible to just have one. They consist of “a potent mix of sugar and fat that we know primes the brain to seek out more and more sweet and fatty food,” nutritionist Susie Burrell said yesterday.

But that’s only one ingredient in cooking up a successful fast food chain. Maccas have had enduring popularity for more than 40 years now.

When you think of Krispy Kreme donuts you think of big globs of fat. Especially when they’re covered in a mountain of sugary coating, covered in more sugar, with sugar on top. You think of Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons.

That’s not the only reason Maccas has survived though. McDonalds have tried to remain appealing to us at each stage of our lives.

I’d say a high percentage of us went to a Maccas birthday party when they were young. Probably with an ice cream cake. Kids have long been fascinated by their Happy Meals.

Maccas have sponsored a number of adolescent sports through the years. I remember receiving McDonalds vouchers as prizes for Little Athletics. Another Puncher remembers a Big Mac voucher being the prize for winning a teenage tennis comp in the 1980s.

An inordinate number of adolescents have been known to use Maccas play equipment. Many adults develop a Maccas habit for life. And when kids start growing up and drinking alcohol, they soon learn that a vat of grease from McDonalds is the best hangover prevention tool or hangover-easing solution.

And all along Maccas has adapted with the winds of change. When their competitors started telling us to Eat Fresh, Maccas brought out fresh products and fresh uniforms themselves.

The uniforms might be different, your burger might consist of a higher quantity of lettuce and the “restaurants” might just a little bit fancier than they used to.

But Ronald’s still laughing all the way to the bank for the same reasons he was a decade ago.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Diets and exercise are unnecessary, new book claims

Big Fat Lies, by Australian writer David Gillespie, offers a devastating critique of the commercial diets followed by millions of Australians, including Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.

He also offers a successful weight loss solution that doesn’t cost a cent.

After assessing decades of medical research, Gillespie concludes that many people end up putting on weight when following popular diet plans. Or they end up losing just a couple of kilos despite years of deprivation, expense and calorie-counting, he finds.

Some techniques, such as shake meal replacements, do help people lose weight, but are very hard to stick to, he says.

However, Gillespie - a former lawyer turned home-grown food expert - does suggest a way forward for those who need to lose weight.

Gillespie also argues that exercise alone won’t help people lose weight, as working out makes us hungrier and burns through relatively few calories

He says people can lose weight and improve their health by cutting two things from their diet: sugar (particularly fructose) and polyunsaturated seed oils such as canola, sunflower, soy and rice bran.

“By doing nothing apart from avoiding two ingredients, you’ll lose weight, skip past a list of chronic diseases … and save yourself a bucket of money while you are at it,” he says. “It will cost you nothing."

In the book, just released by Penguin, Gillespie also argues that exercise alone won’t help people lose weight, as working out makes us hungrier and burns through relatively few calories.

Gillespie also launches a tirade against the multi-billion dollar vitamin industry, suggesting that expensive vitamin supplements are not necessary for people with a balanced, healthy diet – and may even be dangerous.

Yesterday a spokeswoman from the Dieticians Association of Australia said there was no “one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss”.

“DAA suggests seeking expert advice and support from an accredited practising dietitian,” she said.

Emma Stirling, a nutrition advisor from Weight Watchers, disputed Gillespie’s findings. She said more than 100,000 Weight Watchers members “have lost weight with us, reached their goal and maintained a healthy weight”.

And a spokeswoman for the Celebrity Slim meal replacement plan said the program had “helped tens of thousands of people lose weight in a healthy, effective and sustainable way”.

“We wholeheartedly believe in meal replacement programs as an efficacious and sustainable way to lose weight,” she said.

Australians spent almost $800 million on diet programs, diet foods and weight-loss surgery in 2010-11.


Listening to Mozart doubles survival rates after a heart transplant

If you are a mouse

Listening to Mozart improves the outlook for mice undergoing heart transplants, a study has found. Verdi had the same effect, increasing the time before the organs failed - but New Age music from Enya had no impact.

Scientists traced the response to the spleen, where changes occurred to levels of immune system signalling molecules and cells.

The Japanese researchers were unable to say whether music could influence organ rejection in humans.

But they pointed out that music was known to reduce stress, enhance relaxation, distract from pain and improve the results of clinical therapy.

For the study, laboratory mice were given heart transplants and exposed to one of three types of music - Verdi's opera La Traviata, a compilation of Mozart performances, and New Age music by Irish star Enya.

A number of mice were made to listen to non-musical monotone sounds. Exposure was for six days from the time of surgery.

Compared with Enya and monotone sounds, Verdi and Mozart significantly prolonged transplant organ survival, in some cases more than doubling it.

Immune system effects in the spleen were found to be the cause.

Listening to classical music was associated with lower levels of immune system signalling molecules interleukin-2 and interferon gamma. Levels of the anti-inflammatory molecules interleukin-4 and interleukin-10 were increased, together with numbers of immune response-regulating white blood cells.

The scientists, led by Dr Masanori Niimi, from Teikyo University in Tokyo, wrote in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery: ‘Our findings indicate that exposure to opera music, such as La Traviata, could affect... aspects of the peripheral immune response... resulting in prolonged allograft (transplanted organ) survival.’


Friday, March 23, 2012

The anti-meat campaigners won't like this

Women who cut out red meat 'twice as likely to suffer from depression or anxiety'. Red meat is a normal part of the human diet so cutting it out could run many risks

Women who cut red meat out of their diet are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to a study. Those who eat less than the recommended amount of lamb and beef were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the mental health disorders, researchers in Australia have found.

The study of more than 1,000 women showed that completely switching to protein such as chicken and fish is not as healthy as many believe.

'We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health, as studies from other countries had found red meat consumption to be associated with physical health risks, but it turns out that it actually may be quite important,' said Felice Jacka, from Deakin University, Victoria.

'When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.'

The associate professor added: 'Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socio-economic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.

'Interestingly, there was no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins, and mental health.

'Vegetarianism was not the explanation either. Only 19 women in the study were vegetarians, and the results were the same when they were excluded from the study analyses.'

But the professor, whose results have been published in the journal Psychotherapy Psychosomatics, advised women not to exceed the recommended amount of red meat either. 'We found that regularly eating more than the recommended amount of red meat was also related to increased depression and anxiety,' she said.

'We already know that the overall quality of your diet is important to mental health. But it seems that eating a moderate amount of lean red meat, which is roughly 3-4 small, palm-sized serves a week, may also be important.'

The study by Deakin’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit took place in the Geelong region.

Associate Professor Jacka also suggested that women should stick to organic, grass-fed meats whenever possible. 'We know that red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are important to mental and physical health,' she said.

'This is because cattle and sheep in Australia are largely grass fed. In many other countries, the cattle are kept in feedlots and fed grains, rather than grass. This results in a much less healthy meat with more saturated fat and fewer healthy fats.'

The Department of Health recommends consuming no more than 70g of red meat a day.


An aspirin every day 'cuts cancer death risk by 37%' and can stop disease from spreading

Without looking at the details, these findings seem sound. But in taking it daily the real issue is side effects -- effects which may not be evident with occasional use. Does it reduce all-cause mortality is the only important question

Taking a daily dose of aspirin lowers the chance of dying from cancer by more than a third, major research shows today.

It reveals that the pills not only reduce the likelihood of contracting the illness, they also protect against it spreading. Oxford scientists say the evidence is so strong that in future the NHS watchdog NICE may issue guidelines telling doctors to prescribe aspirin to cancer sufferers.

In one of a series of studies involving 200,000 patients, the academics found aspirin cut the risk of dying of cancer by 37 per cent if patients took it every day for five years.

Another study found that taking aspirin for three years reduced the chance of men developing cancer by 23 per cent, and women by 25 per cent.

Researchers also found that once patients had been diagnosed with cancer, their chance of it spreading was cut by 55 per cent if they took daily doses of aspirin for at least six and a half years.

For some time scientists have known that aspirin protects against certain types of cancer, particularly those affecting the bowel and throat.

But this is the first time they have revealed it could also treat the illness by preventing tumours spreading to other organs – or ‘metastasising’ – which is often fatal.

Professor Peter Rothwell, whose studies are published today in the Lancet, said extra research needed to be carried out ‘urgently’.
Wonder drug

Professor Rothwell who is based at the University of Oxford and John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, said: ‘If NICE were to prioritise it, it would certainly be influential. ‘It’s certainly time to add prevention of cancer into the analysis of the balance of risk and benefits of aspirin.

‘So far, all the guidelines have just been based on the prevention of strokes and heart attacks. ‘This research really shows that the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes. ‘It does change the equation quite drastically.’

Aspirin is known to reduce the effectiveness of key cells, called platelets, which cause the blood to clot. For this reason it is prescribed to patients who have had heart attacks and strokes to reduce the chance of blood clots and try to prevent it happening again.

Scientists think that platelets are also involved in the formation of cancerous tumours. And they believe that they spread the illness to other areas of the body. So by making these cells less effective, aspirin helps prevent and treat cancer.

But despite this compelling evidence, Professor Rothwell urged patients not to start taking aspirin every day purely to try to prevent cancer. Aspirin can have harmful side effects including stomach ulcers and internal bleeding in the intestines.

Other risks in adults include kidney disease and tinnitus – or ringing in the ears.

But he said that the thousands of patients currently taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke would almost certainly be also reducing their risk of dying from cancer.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘This is an exciting development. ‘It adds to the other established ways of reducing cancer risk – not smoking, keeping a healthy bodyweight and cutting down on alcohol.

‘It’s a good idea for people thinking of taking aspirin to discuss it with their GP, as it can sometimes have side effects such as internal bleeding especially in people over 70.

‘The research also suggests that aspirin may help to prevent cancer from spreading in the body, so it could be beneficial for people already diagnosed with cancer.

‘However, because of the risk of bleeding, patients should discuss this with their specialist before starting to take aspirin, and be aware of the potential for increased complications before surgery or other treatments such as chemotherapy.’


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Raw milk not banned in England -- so far

Department store sells it

Upmarket store Selfridges has been accused of potentially putting customers at risk and breaking the law by selling ‘raw’ milk.

It is selling the milk, produced on an organic farm in Sussex, from a vending machine and insists it is hugely popular and regularly sells out.

Many traditionalists enjoy raw milk, believing it tastes nicer and may even be better for them.

However the Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its experts insist that raw milk, which is not heat-treated or pasteurised to kill off harmful bugs, is a public health threat.

Its health and legal experts have put the store and the farmer involved on notice that they are at risk of prosecution.

Historically, consumption of raw milk was associated with the spread of TB in humans, plus food poisoning bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli O157.

As a result, raw milk has been banned outright in Scotland as a health threat since 1983. There are various exemptions in the rest of the country which allow sales direct by farmers to the public at the gate, at farmers’ markets and via the internet.

At the same time retailers are freely allowed to sell cheese made from unpasteurised milk.

The future of controls on the sale of raw milk were discussed by the FSA board yesterday, where members were divided on the need for action.

An expert paper submitted to the board warned: ‘The potential risks associated with the consumption of raw drinking milk have long been recognised.

‘Between 1912 and 1937, about 65,000 deaths from bovine tuberculosis were reported in England and Wales. In addition, raw milk was associated with many cases of brucellosis, food poisoning and other diseases.’ However, these same experts accepted that there have been no reported cases of illness associated with the milk for the past ten years.

Board members said the lack of known cases of illness in recent years might be due to the low numbers drinking the milk. Others suggested the absence of evidence that people are falling ill means the FSA need not spend time and money investigating the issue.

Member for Northern Ireland, Dr Henrietta Campbell, said the time has come for an outright ban across the entire country. She said: ‘We have to make absolutely clear in our message to the young, the old and the immune-compromised that they should not drink raw milk. Anyone else who does it is foolish. ‘I would go further and look for a ban on the sale of raw milk.’

Colleague, Clive Grundy, said: ‘It only takes one incident for this to be a very serious issue. We would be discussing this in very different terms if that one were a fatality. That deeply concerns me.’

The FSA board has given approval for a research and consultation project on whether new controls, including a ban, should be introduced.

After the meeting, a spokesman said: ‘Both Selfridges and the farmer have been informed that the FSA believes sales of raw cows’ milk from retail premises are an offence under the food Hygiene regulations. Enquiries are on-going.’

Selfridges began selling the raw milk supplied by Hook & Son, from Longleys Farm in Hailsham, Sussex, in December.

The farm insists it contains beneficial bacteria that are destroyed by pasteurisation and that consumption could reduce children’s risk of suffering allergy-related conditions such as eczema and hay fever.

Selfridges said the FSA has failed to provide clear information on whether its sale of raw milk from a vending machine is illegal.

Selfridges food director, Ewan Venters, said: ‘We have always supported unique products like raw milk. We see ourselves, like many farmers markets, as a platform to launch a variety of choice for our customers to enjoy. ‘We have stringent checks in place to make sure that the products we sell meet the standards of governing bodies, we feel raw milk should be available to everyone.’

Its senior technical manager, Melisa Clottey, said: ‘So far we have not received any indication this form of sale is illegal. If this position changes, we will of course ask Hook and Son to remove the vending machine and cease trading.’


Scientists finally solve 75-year-old riddle of how controversial electric shock treatment can treat severe depression

I doubt that this is the whole story. Social factors in the process were identified by H.J. Eysenck about 60 years ago

Scientists have finally discovered how one of psychiatry's most controversial treatments can help patients with severe depression.

Researchers at Aberdeen University have discovered that ECT - or electro-convulsive therapy - affects the way different parts of the brain involved in depression 'communicate' with each other.

They found that the treatment appears to 'turn down' an overactive connection between areas of the brain that control mood and the parts responsible for thinking and concentrating.

This stops the overwhelming impact that depression has on sufferers' ability to enjoy normal life and carry on with day-to-day activities.

This decrease in connectivity observed after ECT treatment was accompanied by a significant improvement in the patient's depressive symptoms.

The ECT treatment, which is 75-years-old, involves an electric shock being passed through the cortex of a severely-depressed patient to 'cure' them.

Its graphic portrayal in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.

The controversial treatment was introduced in 1938 by an Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was allegedly inspired by watching pigs being stunned with electric shock before being butchered in Rome. The animals would go into seizures and fall down, making it easier to slit their throats.

At the time psychiatric orthodoxy held - wrongly - that schizophrenia and epilepsy were antagonistic and one could not exist in the presence of the other.

Deciding to try the stunning technique on his patients, Dr Cerletti found electric shocks to the head caused his most obsessive and difficult mental patients to become meek and manageable.

Later the treatment was found to be effective in treating severe depression but its mode of action has remained until now a complete mystery.

The study involved using MRI to scan the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after ECT, and then applying entirely new and complex mathematical analysis to investigate brain connectivity.

Professor of Psychiatry at the university Ian Reid, who is also a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, said: 'We believe we've solved a 70 year old therapeutic riddle.

'ECT is a controversial treatment, and one prominent criticism has been that it is not understood how it works and what it does to the brain.

'For all the debate surrounding ECT, it is one of the most effective treatments not just in psychiatry but in the whole of medicine, because 75 per cent to 85 per cent of patients recover from their symptoms.

'Over the last couple of years there has been an emerging new perspective on how depression affects the brain.

'This theory has suggested a 'hyper-connection' between the areas of the brain involved in emotional processing and mood change and the parts of the brain involved in thinking and concentrating.

'Our key finding is that if you compare the connections in the brain before and after ECT, ECT reduces this 'hyper-connectivity'.

'For the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed.'

Although ECT is extremely effective, it is only used on people who need treatment quickly: those who are very severely depressed, who are at risk from taking their own lives, and perhaps cannot look after themselves, or those who have not responded to other treatments.

Professor Reid said: 'The treatment can also affect memory, though for most patients this is short-lived.

'However if we understand more about how ECT works, we will be in a better position to replace it with something less invasive and more acceptable.

'At the moment only about 40 per cent of people with depression get better with treatment from their GP.

'Our findings may lead to new drug targets which match the effectiveness of ECT without an impact on memory.'

Professor Christian Schwarzbauer, chair in neuroimaging at Aberdeen, who devised the maths used to analyse the data, said: 'We were able to find out to what extent more than 25,000 different brain areas 'communicated' with each other.

'The method could be applied to a wide range of other brain disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, or dementia, and may lead to a better understanding of underlying disease mechanisms and the development of new diagnostic tools.'

The team's findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nanny State Run Amuck: Bloomberg Bans Food Donations in New York City

Food Might Be Salty or Too High in Calories, City Explains

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is now banning all food being offered to the city's homeless shelters. New York City's bureaucrats have become so singularly focused on what people eat, says the National Center for Public Policy Research, that they've lost their common sense.

"So much for serving the homeless: The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term 'food police' to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city's homeless," writes Jeff Stier, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research's Risk Analysis Division, in an op-ed in Monday's New York Post.

"In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services has recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can't assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans," writes Stier.

New York City DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond told the National Center's Stier that the complete ban on food donations is consistent with Mayor Bloomberg's emphasis on "improving nutrition for all New Yorkers."

As Stier writes, "A new inter-agency document controls what can be served at facilities -- dictating serving sizes as well as salt, fat and calorie contents, plus fiber minimums and condiment recommendations."

"Diamond insists that the institutional vendors hired by the shelters serve food that meets the rules but also tastes good; it just isn't too salty, " writes Stier. "So, according to the commissioner, the homeless really don't need any donated food."

Stier's research reveals that there's more to the story.

"For over a decade, Glenn Richter and his wife Lenore have led a team of food-delivery volunteers from Ohab Zedek, the Upper West Side orthodox congregation. They've brought freshly cooked, nutrient-rich surplus foods from synagogue events to homeless facilities in the neighborhood," explains Stier. " The practice of donating such surplus food to homeless shelters is common among houses of worship in the city," he writes in the op-ed.

Mr. Richter's experience suggests Commissioner Diamond and the Bloomberg administration are out of touch.

"[Glenn Richter] says the beneficiaries -- many of them senior citizens recovering from drug and alcohol abuse -- have always been appreciative of the treats he and other OZ members bring. It's not just that the donations offer an enjoyable addition to the 'official' low-salt fare; knowing that the food comes from volunteers and from community members warms their hearts, not just their stomachs," writes Stier.

"So you can imagine Richter's consternation last month when employees at a local shelter turned away food he brought from a bar-mitzvah," says Stier in the piece.

Richter, Stier writes, "is a former city Housing Authority employee, while his wife spent 35 years as a South Bronx public school teacher, so they're no strangers to bureaucracy and poverty. But an exasperated Richter says, 'this level of micromanagement is stunning.'"


Concern about listeria means pregnant women miss out on nutrition

SOME pregnant women are being overly cautious about avoiding what are traditionally considered "no-no'' foods, such as soft cheeses, pates and sashimi, a researcher says.

Professor Clare Collins, of the University of Newcastle, studied the eating habits of 7000 Australian women to see if they were missing out on important nutrients as a result of avoiding "risky'' foods that potentially carried listeria.

Oysters, smoked fish, delicatessen meats, salad bar salads and pre-cut fruit are also considered high risk for carrying the listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

The bacteria can lead to listeriosis, a rare form of food poisoning that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal infection.

Because of hormonal changes during pregnancy, mums-to-be are at particular risk of infection, Prof Collins says.

Reporting her findings in the journal Public Health Nutrition, Prof Collins said her study found that women who ate the most listeria foods reported more frequent miscarriages, but had high levels of the nutrients needed to have a healthy baby.

Conversely, those who ate moderate or low amounts of listeria foods had less miscarriages but also lower levels of nutrients like calcium, folate and Omega 3 acids.

"In those with moderate and low exposure there was no excess risk of miscarriage but the problem was their nutrient intakes were then worse,'' Prof Collins said. "We're saying pregnant women need to be given more advice on how to eat healthy.

"If all they hear is risky foods, and they drop out all the potential listeria foods, their micro-nutrient intake is going to be really bad. "They will potentially then be at risk for things like neural tube defects. Or they'll put their own health at risk.''

She said existing listeria guidelines for pregnant women were entirely legitimate but needed to be rewritten to provide more information about what could be eaten, as well as what should be avoided.

"It would be nice to see the guidelines coupled with evidence of what pregnant women can eat to meet their nutrient requirements,'' she said.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homeopathy is worthless... says an expert in the subject as he claims it is unethical to prescribe treatments on NHS

Homeopathic potions do not work and it is unethical to give them on the NHS, a leading scientist has claimed. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine, also described the logic behind homeopathy as bizarre and accused homeopaths of lying to their patients.

The NHS spends around £4million a year on homeopathy, despite calls from the British Medical Association for the funding to end.

The discipline – which has won the backing of Prince Charles – claims to prevent and treat diseases by using dilute forms of materials that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition.

Homeopaths also believe that the greater the dilution of the medicine, the more potent the potion, and so ingredients are mixed in tiny amounts with water or alcohol.

A typical remedy could have one part of an ingredient to one trillion, trillion parts of water. Although scientists argue the potions are so dilute they are unlikely to contain any of the original substance, homeopaths claim the water retains a ‘memory’ of the active ingredient, which it passes to the body to help fight the illness.

But Professor Ernst said that even if an ultra-dilute homeopathic solution was somehow different from pure water, this would not make it an effective drug.

Writing in the Society of Biology’s magazine, The Biologist, he said: ‘How would this difference explain positive health benefits? The water in my kitchen sink also differs from pure water after the washing up but this does not mean it is good for my health.’

Professor Ernst, a former homeopath who now researches complementary medicine at Exeter University, said the treatments could be dangerous if people chose them over conventional medicines with proven benefits. He accused homeopaths who cite studies showing the treatments work of ‘cherry-picking’ results.

However, the professor saved his most scathing criticism for the Government. He said if a homeopath doesn’t tell a patient that the treatment is worthless, he is not telling the truth. Modern medical ethics state that patients must be fully informed and telling lies to patients is not acceptable. ‘It follows that the Government’s decision to continue offering homeopathy on the NHS is not ethical.’

The Commons science and technology committee recently criticised state funding of the treatments, saying it conferred scientific legitimacy.

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: ‘The UK spends literally billions of pounds every year ensuring that the new and existing conventional medicines we take are effective, safe and fit for purpose. ‘It makes no sense to allow other treatments through public expenditure to be made available without application of the same standards.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatment, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances, which may include complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.’ He said that in 2010 around 0.001 per cent of the overall drugs bill was spent on prescriptions for homeopathic medicines.


Alternative medicine crackdown in Australia

Tests required for scientific medicine should be required "a fortiori" for quack medicine too

Homeopaths are facing a fight to defend their practice in Australia after the National Health and Medical Research Council flagged it might declare their work baseless and unethical.

A draft public statement seen by The Age concluded it was "unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy (as a medicine or procedure) has been shown not to be efficacious".

The confidential statement, which was not meant to be distributed, is based on a 2010 evaluation of homeopathy by the British House of Commons science and technology committee, which declared it was no more efficacious than a placebo.

Homeopathy is based on the principles of "like-cures-like" and "ultra-dilutions". The first says substances that can cause symptoms can be used in diluted form to treat the same symptom in an illness, and the second says the more dilute a substance is, the more potent it is.

While homeopathy continues to enjoy the support of Britain's royal family and is funded through the UK's National Health Service, the House of Commons report found its principles were "theoretically weak" and "scientifically implausible".

The draft statement by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council said that although homeopathy was not harmful in its own right, it might pose a risk to patients if safe and efficacious conventional treatments were delayed in favour of homeopathic treatments.

It said homeopathy, which uses a large range of animal, plant and mineral products, should not be confused with herbal remedies.

A council spokesman would not comment on the draft, but said it was reviewing the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines, including homeopathy, and would release its findings in due course.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton backed the council's draft statement. He said he hoped it would force health insurers to reconsider their funding of homeopathy, as well as other "questionable" therapies such as iridology and reflexology.

"I think it will put them in a very difficult situation … If the NHMRC looks at the evidence and says this doesn't work, we can't support it, you'd have to ask the insurers if they will continue to fund something that a very reputable body disagrees with," he said.

The Australian Association of Professional Homeopaths Inc says 47 health insurers, including Medibank Private and NIB, cover homeopathic consultations and medicines.

Australian Homeopathic Association president Greg Cope said there was strong evidence to support the practice, including clinical trials that were now being submitted to the NHMRC for consideration.

He said there were about 700 registered homeopaths in Australia under a self-governed registration model, and they worked to a code of conduct. Consultations typically cost $50 to $100, with medicines usually costing a further $10.

Mr Cope said he had been lobbying Canberra to set up a formal registration scheme, similar to those for doctors and nurses. He said health insurers were wise to fund homeopathy, which was used by thousands of Australians. "It's a very popular therapy and I imagine it would reduce their expenses because it attracts people using low-cost healthcare," he said.

Writing in the Journal of Law and Medicine this week, Melbourne barrister Ian Freckleton, SC, said several recent deaths involving homeopaths highlighted the dangers involved when they steered people away from conventional medicine.

Dr Freckleton cited the case of Perth woman Penelope Dingle, who died from bowel cancer in 2005 after spending about $30,000 on unsuccessful homeopathic treatments, including extracts from the venus flytrap plant.

He also cited the death in 2009 of Gloria Thomas, age nine months, after her parents favoured homeopathy over conventional medicine for severe eczema.

Dr Freckleton said although many aspects of Western medicine had not been able to stand up to full scientific analysis of their underpinnings over time, there was an "urgent need" for the health sector, consumer protection authorities and policymakers to protect the community from dangerous homeopathic practices.

He said homeopaths had used crushed-up pieces of the Berlin Wall to treat depression.

And in the latest edition of the journal Spectrum of Homeopathy, the authors detailed the use of wolf's milk for eczema and bulimia, cheetah's blood for multiple sclerosis and tiger's blood for depression. "It's quite remarkable," he said.


Monday, March 19, 2012

A blast from the past about Alzheimer's

The OPTIMA project has been going as long as I can remember but its founder (below) still seems to think vitamins are a way forward. There must be an awful lot of vitamin deficiency around if that is true

The fundamental problem with Alzheimer drug research is that it is almost entirely based on the ‘amyloid hypothesis’, a theory about what causes AD that appears increasingly invalid.

Amyloid is an insoluble toxic protein deposited between the nerve cells of the brain that has been shown to kill them. In 1991, scientists in London discovered that a mutated gene in the precursor protein to amyloid (beta-amyloid) caused a rare genetic form of AD. Since then, drug companies have considered that manipulating amyloid lies at the heart of dealing with AD.

But this puts all their eggs in one basket. Billions of pounds have been spent, and every single trial has failed. Some drugs made the symptoms of dementia worse.

Research should be geared towards intervening at an early stage. This is key to slowing down or stopping nerve cell death associated with AD. Once the nerve cells have died and the brain has shrunk, it’s too late.

I am the founding director of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), which studies the causes of dementia. Last year we recruited 270 elderly people with memory problems and gave them Vitamin B tablets – folic acid (800 micrograms), B12 (500 micrograms) and B6 (20 milligrams).

The supplements, which cost as little as 10p a day, were found to slow shrinkage of the brain by an average of 30 per cent a year – and slow the rate of cognitive decline – in people with high blood levels of homocysteine. Raised levels of this amino acid can increase the risk of developing AD three or four-fold.

By regulating homocysteine with B vitamins, we showed for the first time it is possible to slow the progress of the disease, if you start early. More trials are needed to test whether continued treatment can delay its progress indefinitely, but B vitamins have been shown to be as good clinically as Aricept – and better in that they slow the disease progression rather than ease the symptoms.

There is no way of knowing who is predisposed to AD, apart from extremely rare familial forms of AD.

But those with memory problems should have their homocysteine measured and be started on B vitamins, under medical guidance. Normal dietary intake isn’t enough. One (200ml) glass of semi-skimmed milk contains 2.5 micrograms of B12, and most manage to eat five micrograms a day. But we do know people with high Vitamin B intakes are less likely to develop dementia, so every little helps.

Large-scale studies are needed to see if nutrition and exercise can slow the conversion of memory impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. We also need to know if they improve the response to drugs such as donepezil.

For OPTIMA, the next step is a trial of 1,000 people with MCI to see if B vitamins prevent the conversion to dementia over a two-year period. Can AD be beaten? I am optimistic.


Thousands of British MS sufferers to be offered world-first daily pill to battle disease

It's obvious that nothing works terribly well but some relief is better than none

Thousands of people with MS could benefit from the first pill to treat the disabling disease. The NHS rationing body has approved the drug fingolimod which can halve relapses compared with standard interferon injections.

Experts hoped the once-a-day pill will replace injections and hospital infusions for at least 5,000 sufferers a year.

In its initial assessment, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said the drug was not value for money despite admitting it works. But after considering extra evidence on its effectiveness Nice decided to give the go-ahead for use on the NHS.

Dr Eli Silber, a consultant neurologist who leads the MS service for South London based at King’s College Hospital, and was involved in trials, said: 'We’ve waited a long time for an effective oral treatment to offer patients who are continuing to relapse on first line injections. 'Today’s decision increases treatment choice. Because it is a highly effective oral agent it may change the way MS is managed in the UK forever.

'With more active forms of MS, we have a limited window of opportunity to make a difference to patients’ lives - many are young people who are raising families and starting their careers. 'I want to get appropriate patients onto this therapy as quickly as possible.'

MS is the most common disabling neurological condition, affecting almost 100,000 Britons - 50 young people are diagnosed each week.

It involves damage to myelin, a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system which means the body’s immune system attacks itself.

Symptoms range from mild, occasional illness involving numbness, muscle weakness and eye problems to rapid and severe deterioration, resulting in serious disability.

Trial results in the New England Journal of Medicine last year showed fingolimod, also known as Gilenya, cut relapse rates and progression of the disease. Patients treated with fingolimod had a 50 per cent cut in disabling relapses compared with commonly used injections of beta interferon.

The chances of progressing to a worse form of the disease were cut by about a third, without significant side effects.

The new drug appears to dampen the immune response that causes nerve damage in multiple sclerosis.

The £19,000 annual cost of the drug compares with the £21,000 annual cost of hospital infusions using Tysabri, and manufacturer Novartis has devised a patient access scheme that cuts the price.

MS specialists say the drug could make overall savings for the NHS, because fewer patients would need hospital treatment costing £3,000 a time after relapse and disability is lessened.

The draft guidance from Nice means it will be funded by the NHS in England and Wales after final guidance is issued next month. The drug, made by Novartis, was rejected for NHS use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).

Nick Rijke, Director of Policy & Research at the MS Society, said: 'We are delighted; this decision signifies a major step forward in the treatment of this devastating condition. 'Gilenya has been found to be highly effective in trials and taking a daily tablet will come as welcome relief from frequent, often unpleasant, injections.

'Making this new treatment available will increase patient choice for thousands of people with MS across England and Wales, but we’re deeply disappointed by the SMC’s decision in Scotland - and urge them to reconsider.'

Professor Carole Longson, Director of the Health Technology Evaluation Centre at NICE said: 'Following new information provided during the consultation, the analyses show that for these people (with highly active MS), treatment with fingolimod will be a cost effective option for the NHS, if Novartis provides the drug at a discounted price, as proposed in its patient access scheme.'