FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC
Monitoring food and health news
-- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war
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A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
A brief summary of the last 50 years' of research into diet: Everything you can possibly eat or drink is both bad and good for you
16 October, 2010
The collectivized responsibility of petty socialism
A fat tax is a vain attempt to contain medical costs that will spiral upwards regardless
Rising healthcare costs and continuing recession-related fiscal problems have impelled numerous world governments to introduce a "fat tax." Support for a similar policy is growing in the United States, which according to leading intellectuals suffers from a collective "weight problem."
Fast-rising weights and a general deterioration of health have increased the volume of weight-related medical issues. The implications for countries burdened with socialized medicine (including the United States, which suffers from a government-restricted insurance market that provides limited federal healthcare in the form of Medicare and monetary aid to the poor) consist in an increased monetary burden for society as a whole.
Fixed low costs to the consumer, whether free (universal healthcare ) or relatively cheap (limited welfare, like that of the United States), have caused a predictable increase in quantity demanded. While the consumer directly pays a below-market price for the service, the true cost is hidden since the rest of it is subsidized by the government. Therefore, the rising costs that come with a rise in quantity demanded are simply deferred to taxpayers. David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times, puts it simply,
"This extra weight has caused a sharp increase in chronic diseases, like diabetes, that are unusually costly. Other public-health scourges, like lung cancer, have tended to kill their victims quickly, which (in the most tragic possible way) holds down their long-term cost. Obesity is different. A recent article in Health Affairs estimated its annual cost to be $147 billion and growing. That translates into $1,250 per household, mostly in taxes and insurance premiums".
The solution to the problem is a tax on selected foods, based on the idea that a price floor on certain foods will lead to a fall in quantity demanded. However, this solution can be likened to building a barrier to regulate the height of the waterline in a swimming pool, yet leaving the hose on. In other words, a fat tax — of any and all variety — does not address the root problem.
The root of our current medical problem lies in the collectivization of the consequences of an individual's irresponsible choices. The issue is that the costs of one person's decisions are spread equally throughout society, to the point that that individual hardly feels the penalties of his value judgments — short of illness and death. Indeed, this socialization of responsibility effectively rids the individual from all incentive to reconsider his or her values and desires. The erosion of responsibility, operating with the understanding that the consequences of poor decisions will be mitigated by what is benignly called a "social safety net," is where the viability of socialized medicine falls apart.
Despite all the money and legislation thrown at fixing socialized medicine — including the current crusade to replace the bloated Medicare and Medicaid programs with a universal healthcare system in the United States — the fact is that temporary mends are just that, temporary. The system is bound to collapse given the nature of the problem. Worst of all, while the system is artificially maintained, the consequences — including corroding standards of living — must be borne by society as a whole.
The only solution is the one provided by the free market, where the consequences of one individual's actions are internalized lest he provoke some form of reaction from another individual. We can therefore derive that in a free market the costs of irresponsible choices related to one's health would be shouldered by the individual only.
Negative Externalities of Medicinal Socialism
An economic externality is a cost or benefit of an action that affects an individual unrelated to that action. A common example of a negative, or cost-related, externality is pollution. If a firm dumps its waste into a river, and the current manages to transport the waste onto another individual's property, the cost of the waste is said to be externalized to, or borne by, an individual who had not agreed to the action in the first place. Similarly, the cost of theft is not suffered by the thief but by the victim, and as such the cost of the act of theft has been externalized to the victim.
This is the fate that has befallen socialized medicine. The costs of health-related irresponsibility have been externalized to society through the mechanism of public subsidization of medical costs. The costs of an unhealthy lifestyle, manifested in the free market in the form of expensive hospital bills or rising insurance prices, are borne by the government and distributed among the population as a whole. Therefore, it follows that in a completely socialized market in medicine — a true universal healthcare system — all monetary costs are externalized to those coerced into paying for a system they never agreed upon.
Just as bad, socialism incentivizes irresponsibility. In the case of socialized healthcare, it does so by distorting or completely doing away with the price mechanism. The price mechanism can be seen as the market's process of balancing supply and demand of a certain good or service. It guarantees that generally speaking a particular good and service will never experience a notable shortage or surplus, as far as the entire market goes.
This is because, given the axiom of purposeful human action, people will economize their use of a particular good based on its price. For example, if the price of a short medical checkup is $35, an individual might decide his symptoms aren't worth the cost, whereas he might have gone if the price were $25. Simply put, the price of a good will allow an individual to decide whether or not he can garner the highest utility from a particular action, or whether he can reap greater utility from the alternative.
What socialized medicine does is artificially reduce the price of healthcare or do away with it altogether (if universal healthcare is completely subsidized by the state). This leads individuals to acquire the service when they would have otherwise abstained from it. In a situation in which the cost of the service is not subsidized by a third party, such price ceilings usually lead to severe shortages — one needs only to point at the effects of price ceilings in the gasoline market or those imposed on the utilities market. In the case of socialized medicine, since the cost is borne by the whole of society — masquerading as "public funding" or "government funding" — faux price ceilings simply lead to upward spiraling costs.
Government, determined either through power-driven self-interest or a distorted concept of utilitarianism, tends to attempt to solve cost-related problems by plugging holes in their system with ad hoc regulations. Such is the nature of this recent fat tax — and such will be the nature of all future regulations that attempt to control the way man lives his life.
The moral dilemma is clear: Does the provision of universal healthcare justify infringement upon individual liberty? More broadly stated, do the ends justify the means? Morality aside, it is nevertheless clear that, regardless of the means, the outcome of socialism — including socialized healthcare — is the same. One can plug a hole, but doing so will only cause the system to rupture elsewhere.
A fat tax might cause a marginal decrease in consumption of fatty foods; but it has absolutely no bearing on whether or not individuals may decide to cut down on exercise, eat too many calories worth of healthier food, etc. Each of these problems requires their own set of regulations. Not only does the end result of socialized healthcare remain the same, but the state itself slowly transforms into a police state in an attempt to enforce these regulations.
Unfettered Markets and the Internalization of Responsibility
That the United States and other governments are seriously considering implementing — or have already implemented — a fat tax should not be used to illustrate the problems of unhealthy behavior. Rather, it should be a clear sign of the problems that plague socialized healthcare. To the extent that the aforementioned is true, it therefore follows that given these empirical examples of economic theory at work, the correct path to take for the future of healthcare is toward privatization. Only through privatized healthcare, or a free market in medicine, can marginal costs be internalized.
The fact that markets are imperfect should not be a reason to substitute them with socialism. The market is a continuous process of entrepreneurship, driven by the profit motive and guided by the price mechanism. Economic competition and the insatiable desire for profit guarantees rising standards of living, as long as entrepreneurs are allowed complete liberty in exercisable action. Only through the free market can individuals innovate and labor to internalize both benefits and costs, and therefore only through the free market can externalities be resolved.
It is only through the free market that healthcare can ultimately be provided to all those who seek it. Much like automobiles, televisions, foodstuff, water, and countless other goods and services that have been left to the devices of the market, those who produce within the healthcare industry would be forced — by their own self-interest, in conjunction with competition — into providing greater supplies of healthcare along with augmenting quality.
To assume that a free market in healthcare would not provide demanded services to potential customers is to assume that the individuals who compose this market operate irrationally.
The rescued Chilean miners came out well DESPITE the therapy industry
Millions of people around the world will crack a smile today as they watch the 33 Chilean miners finally being hoisted back to life. But Those Who Know Better, the overlords of the therapy industry, see something different: not a happy ending to a two-month nightmare, but the start of an even longer nightmare of ill-health, craziness and PTSD for these unfortunate creatures from the dark. According to the experts, what we’re really witnessing in Chile today is a volcanic eruption of human instability, as 33 ticking timebombs of emotional frailty are raised to the surface.
One psycho-expert, echoing an army of others, told Fox News that the rescue of the men will release a ‘cauldron of emotions’; apparently ‘molten, churning reservoirs of emotion are about to emerge from that mine’. And there’s no telling what this geyser of two months worth of repressed feelings will give rise to. Fox’s fortune-teller says it could spawn ‘divorces, violence, terrible despondency, panic attacks, plays for celebrity that fall short and lead to suicide, addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs and gambling, and wild allegations levelled by one miner against another’. For the mental-health lobby, it seems, every silver lining has a cloud.
How will these men who coped remarkably well in a 32 degrees Celsius underground cavern for more than two months now cope with the temptation to descend into a drug-addled world of violence and backstabbing? On this question, the experts are unanimous: as one of them sums it up, the freed 33 will require ‘all the skill of the very best mental-health professionals available’.
Is it just me or does this look like a brazen job-creation scheme? At a time of recession and cutbacks, I guess even the mental-health lobby has to find ways to earn a crust - even if that means cynically re-presenting 33 fairly hard, robust miners as men on the verge of a nervous breakdown who will need professional help for the rest of their lives.
The most startling thing about the various psycho-pronouncements being made about the miners is not their undiluted miserabilism, their ability to see future suicides where most of us see a moment of joy, but their ignorance of the facts of the past two months. Because the inconvenient truth is that the 33 miners survived underground not as a result of psychological advice and intervention but by sometimes rebelling against the psychologists who kept a watchful eye on their every move. The real story of the Chilean miners, for anyone who cares to look, is that the interventions of the various wings of the trauma industry often make things worse rather than better, and people are mostly happier and healthier without them.
The on-site psychology team at the San Jose mine treated the trapped men with extraordinary mean-spiritedness. Driven by the conviction that they, as one headline put it, ‘know best’, and backed up by the dime-a-dozen profferings of every headline-hungry psychologist and therapist around the globe, the psychologists saw it as their duty to police the men’s thoughts and even to censor letters from their families in case they triggered ‘problematic emotions’. Such petty authoritarianism is the end result of the deep-rooted idea that life is way too hard and complicated to be negotiated without the words of wisdom of the therapy lobby.
One of the medical experts at San Jose - part of a team of 300 people that oversaw the men’s health and needs - said there was a ‘daily arm wrestle’ between the miners and the psychology team. That isn’t surprising. The mental-health experts overground used a system of ‘prizes and punishments’ to try to control the men’s behaviour - for their own good, of course.
So when the men assented to hour-long phone calls with the mental-health team, as they did when they were first found to be alive 17 days after getting trapped, they were rewarded with prizes such as access to TV shows. But when they refused to talk to the psychologists, as they started to do in mid-September when their health and body weight were improving as a result of sent-down food and they insisted that ‘we are well’, the psychology team would deprive them of luxuries. As one on-site doctor put it: ‘We have to say, “OK, you don’t want to speak with psychologists? Perfect. That day you get no TV, there is no music - because we administer these things.”’
The psychology team became judge and jury of what the men could do for enjoyment and even how they could communicate with their families. When the men asked for cigarettes and alcohol, saying that these small pleasures would help them cope better than their daily phone call with the experts, the psychology team begrudgingly agreed to send down cigarettes but not booze - because ‘the average miner consumes large quantities of alcohol’, one of the psychologists said, and there is no telling how they will behave when inebriated in hot, cramped conditions. The men were furious. But only because they don’t understand the dangers of drinking, one of the on-site doctors snootily declared. ‘These are not PhD scientists, they are rough-and-tumble miners’, he said, giving a glimpse into the experts’ deep disdain for the men they were supposed to be helping.
But the thing that really tore the miners and their mental-health betters apart - the thing that ensured ‘the honeymoon was over’, as the lead on-site psychologist put it - was the psychology team’s ‘widespread censorship’ of family letters to the men. Early on, every time a family member wrote a letter it had to be submitted for psychological evaluation first, before being sent down the so-called umbilical cord to the men underground, so that any material judged ‘psychologically inappropriate’ could be removed.
There was uproar when the families discovered that there was a backlog of letters waiting to be okayed. One of the miners had asked his wife during a video link-up: ‘Why don’t you write to me anymore?’ In fact she had been writing everyday, but her letters were awaiting ‘psychological approval’. Eventually government officials stepped in and ended the vetting of the letters.
The men rebelled against these measures in any way they could. At one stage they delayed taking vaccines that had been sent down until they got something they wanted. And as they regained weight courtesy of the food sent down the umbilical cord, ‘their antagonism to the daily psychology sessions increased’, as one report put it.
That is, the healthier they got, the closer they became through their own methods of bonding, the more they looked upon the psycho-sessions as an unnecessary irritation. Their decision to blank the mental-health team was not a result of stupidity, of their lack of a PhD in science - rather it sprung from a belief that they could cope better on their own, without videophone advice from on high. As a psychiatrist at Chile’s Catholic University put it, ‘If there is one group that is not exactly disposed to psychologists, it is miners’.
Indeed, the men instituted their own systems for coping: they had a leader, they set up a prayer room, they lunched together everyday, worked in shifts to clear rubble, and had a daily ‘showing your cards’ session at which they got things off their chests. That’s far healthier than sharing your problems with a faceless stranger who might ground you or deny you television privileges if you say the ‘wrong thing’. In working together rather than relying on external expert advice, the men reminded us of a truth often forgotten in today’s Oprahite age: mucking in, offering solidarity, is a far better guarantor of survival and happiness than being told how you should feel by aloof know-it-alls.
The way the men were treated was like a microcosm of today’s therapy industry. The censoring of letters spoke to the idea that people are psychologically fragile and easily harmed by other people’s words. The deprivation of certain ‘prizes’ if they didn’t speak to the mental-health team revealed the authoritarian dynamic behind today’s therapeutic interventions. The notion that they wouldn’t survive without external expertise highlighted the general view of all of us as needing guidance from the new gods of emotional correctness. That Fox News expert said the men are ‘just as subject to the laws of psychological gravity as you or I’. In truth, the men broke these so-called, actually non-existent laws of psychological gravity. And in doing so they have shown, implicitly at least, and contrary to every piety of the modern age, that we don’t need expert advice to survive and thrive.
15 October, 2010
Hispanics Outlive Whites and Blacks in US
For once there are some reasonable explanations below for the findings. Another factor may be inadequate food supply in the childhoods of the Hispanics concerned. Restricted calorie intake both lengthens lives and shortens stature!
U.S. Hispanics outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by more than seven, according to the government's first calculation of Hispanic life expectancy.
The startling report released Wednesday is the strongest evidence yet of the "Hispanic paradox" — long life expectancy for a population that has a large share of poor, undereducated members.
A leading theory is that Hispanics who manage to immigrate to the U.S. are among the healthiest from their countries.
A Hispanic born in 2006 could expect to live about 80 years and seven months, the government estimates. Life expectancy for a white is about 78, and for a black, just shy of 73 years.
Until recently, federal researchers didn't calculate life expectancy for Hispanics as a separate group; they were included among the black and white populations. The report is based on death certificates.
By breaking out the longer-living Hispanics, the life expectancies for non-Hispanic whites and blacks both declined slightly, said the report's author, Elizabeth Arias of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population are people born in other countries who immigrated here, and in some cases they arrived after arduous journeys to do taxing manual labor. It takes a fit person to accomplish that, suggesting that the United States is gaining some of the healthiest people born in Mexico and other countries, said Dr. Peter Muennig, an assistant professor at Columbia University's school of public health who has studied life expectancy in different countries.
Canada succumbs to the hysterics
Of course BPA is toxic. So is water if you drink enough of it. As always, the toxicity is in the dose. And with BPA, very few people get more than a few molecules of it at a time
CANADA has become the first country in the world to declare as toxic Bisphenol A, a compound used in many consumer products, despite opposition by the chemical industry. The move comes only two weeks after the European Food Safety Authority said the chemical, commonly referred to as BPA and used in some baby bottles and plastic and canned food packaging, poses no health risks. France and Denmark, as well as Australia and some US states, however, have independently limited its uses.
On Wednesday, the compound was formally listed without fanfare by the Canadian Government as being toxic to both the environment and human health in an official notice. "A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to Bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment," said the announcement in the Canada Gazette.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada is the first country to take such "bold action." "Canadians can rest assured that we are working hard to monitor and manage Bisphenol A," added Environment Minister Jim Prentice.
BPA is made from petroleum and, according to the Government, Canadians are exposed primarily through food packaging. Canada was also the first to ban its use in baby bottles in October 2008, after tests showed it can affect neural development and behaviour in laboratory animals exposed in the womb or very early in life.
As well, it may be concern for human fertility, as it has been shown to disrupt hormone systems in animals.
Over 130 studies over the past decade have also linked even low levels of BPA to serious health problems, breast cancer, obesity and the early onset of puberty, among other disorders.
The chemical industry has disputed its impact on humans, and it is still widely used in plastic water jugs, medical devices, hockey helmets, mobile phone housings, computers, car bumpers, carbonless papers and other consumer products.
Bisphenol A is also used in the manufacture of epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining on the inside of metal-based food and beverage cans.
Global production of the chemical was estimated at four billion kilograms per year in 2006. Approximately half a million kilograms was imported annually into Canada in products, but this has decreased substantially since 2006, according to an industry survey.
14 October, 2010
IVF kids taller than natural born tiddlers
Almost certainly a social class effect. Richer people tend to be taller and IVF has many costs
CHILDREN born via IVF are typically taller than those born naturally, a study has found. It also showed that newborn IVF children, created from a fresh embryo transferred back into the mother, also tended to be about 190g lighter than naturally conceived children.
Mark Green from the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute, who conducted the study, said up until now there had been no research conducted past the birth stage of IVF children. "There's been four million children born from IVF ... we wanted to see what the long-term implications were," he said.
Dr Green found that IVF children conceived with fresh, as opposed to thawed, embryos, were on average up to 2.6cm taller than children born without assisted conception.
The study involved healthy, pre-pubescent children aged between four and 11, of which 72 were born from IVF using fresh embryos, 43 IVF children from frozen embryos and 94 naturally conceived children.
And girls were noticeably more affected by height gains than the boys. "We've got no real hypothesis on why that might be, we do know that a lot of different things affect males and females in utero," he said.
Dr Green has called for more research into IVF born babies because scientists do not know if the treatment is beneficial or detrimental. "We need more long-term studies because we know some of the later diseases, such as diabetes and cardiac disease, can be affected by events that happen during gestation, and they don't really occur till the 40s or 50s," Dr Green said.
Memory booster pill: Hope for elderly who suffer 'senior moments'
Good news if it works but the side effects could be a concern. Cortisol is a stress hormone so reducing it could lead to apathy, lethargy etc.
A pill that prevents so-called ‘senior moments’ is being developed by British doctors. Taken later in life, it could put an end to forgetting where the car keys are, or not being able to remember names.
The drug, which is aimed principally at absent-mindedness rather than brain diseases, has already been tested on animals. It could go to human trials next year and, if these are successful, be on the market within five years.
Jonathan Seckl, who led the research at Edinburgh University, said: ‘A third of older people have what is euphemistically called mild cognitive impairment. ‘But it is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and it is also pretty frustrating if you can’t remember what you left the house to do or where you put your keys. ‘It is soul-destroying and memory clinics are full of patients who are deeply frustrated by being unable to remember things.’
Such problems are at least partially due to high levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, damaging the brain’s ‘memory hub’. Professor Seckl has shown that an enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 boosts levels of cortisol and he created the drug to stop that happening.
Known as UOE1961, it sharpened the minds of elderly mice to such an extent that they were as good as much younger creatures at performing tests of memory and learning. What is more, the animals were treated for only two weeks, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.
Professor Seckl, who was funded by the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘They were coming toward the end of their lifespan and had profound deficits in their ability to learn things. ‘We turned them back to being as good as young animals, which was very exciting. What that teaches us is that that sort of memory loss is not irreversible.’
It is too early to know what side-effects UOE1961 will have. But, on the plus side, reducing levels of stress hormones is likely to be good for the heart. It is thought the drug will work only on the ageing brain – meaning it will not help young people cram for exams.
13 October, 2010
HRT 'raises risk of kidney stones by 20 per cent'
This is juvenile rubbish. It is data dredging pure and simple. In a large correlation matrix, statistically significant effects will emerge by chance alone. And that's how this finding emerged: unexpectedly. This time it was kidney stones. Next it will be something else. And the size of the effect is in any case too small to permit causal inferences
Women who take hormone replacement pills for the menopause are far more likely to develop painful kidney stones, according to scientists.
Researchers from the University of Texas, studied 24,000 postmenopausal women over five years. They found those who took hormones had a 21 per cent higher risk of getting kidney stones compared to those who took a dummy pill. The risks were similar for women taking Prempro, pills containing estrogen plus progestin - or Premarin, estrogen-only pills.
Recent data suggest that overall, about six per cent of postmenopausal women develop kidney stones.
The kidneys remove waste products from the blood and transfer them into the ureter. Occasionally this waste can form into crystals that collect together into stone-like lumps. They can grow to the size of golf balls and cause severe pain. If the stones block the urinary system they can cause infection and kidney damage. Large stones are sometimes treated with noninvasive shock wave therapy or surgery.
Study leader Dr Naim Maalouf said women considering HRT to ease hot flushes and other symptoms such as mood swings should 'look at the bigger picture,' weighing those benefits against the risks for kidney stones. He added that HRT has also been linked with far more serious health problems such as breast cancer and heart attacks.
The U.S government recommends that hormone replacement pills only be used to relieve menopause symptoms, in low doses for the shortest possible time.
Victoria Davis, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Inc - which took over Premarin and Prempro maker Wyeth Pharmaceuticals last year - noted that the government research was not designed to examine kidney stone risk.
The studies analysed by the researchers were designed to examine hormones' effects on various ailments, but not specifically kidney stones. However, women were asked periodically if they'd been diagnosed with kidney stones during the multi-year studies.
The latest study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Botox helps with migraines!
Left bed-bound by up to 20 migraines a month, 12-year-old Harvey Jacobs has found an unlikely cure – Botox.
His mother Sue, 39, heard claims that the wrinkle treatment could put an end to the crippling headaches and arranged for her son to have the procedure eight weeks ago. For the first time in years he has not had a single migraine in weeks and is like a ‘new boy’, she said.
The mother of three added: ‘The difference is amazing. We were absolutely desperate. He used to have about three days a week off school and this term he has had no time off at all. We have even managed to take days out as a family. It is wonderful.’
Harvey, who also suffers from mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was first struck down by agonising migraines six years ago. At times he would be incapacitated five times in a week and be in such agony he would be screaming for 24 hours.
The Botox treatment works by relaxing the corrugator muscle – the small ‘frown’ muscle around the eyebrow – which can cause migraines by affecting the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face.
Harvey was booked into a private clinic where he was given an injection above his right eye. The £350 treatment lasts around two months.
Migraines affect one in seven people and cost the British economy billions each year.
12 October, 2010
US nutrition bureaucrats seek “simplicity” in new food pyramid
How about truth instead? NOTHING leads to permanent weight loss outside surgery and lifespan differs little for all but the extremes of the weight range. Good to see below however that it is all just politics
With most Americans overweight or obese and at risk of high blood pressure, policymakers are working to reinvent the familiar food pyramid and develop advice that is simple and blunt enough to help turn the tide.
Although most people do not read them, the guidelines have broad impact on Americans’ lives. They dictate what is served in school breakfast and lunch. They affect education materials for food stamp recipients and information on the nutrition labels of food packages. They also underpin nutritional information available in community centers, doctors’ offices, and hospitals.
The government updates its dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. [So what was right yesterday is wrong today?]
What the new guidelines will say when they are unveiled in December is still under wraps. But the interagency committee is searching for new ways to communicate lessons about healthful eating and is working to make the food pyramid “more meaningful and engaging,’’ said Robert Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion, which is leading the development of the guidelines.
Healthful eating has gained a high profile through Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move’’ initiative to fight childhood obesity. But historically, the government has shied away from offering controversial advice.
And with food, everything is controversial: A boost for one type of food in the guidelines can be viewed as a threat by providers of competing products. The result, critics say, is a nutritional education system so politically influenced that it is ineffective. This year’s process appears to be no exception.
In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.
The problem with “fat” taxes
States are increasingly looking to soda, candy, and other so-called “fat” taxes as a way to shore up their budgets. That’s happening despite a lack of evidence that these taxes have any significant effect on obesity rates, the usual rationale for these taxes.
As happened previously with alcohol and tobacco, special-interest groups are targeting these foods and beverages because they are relatively easy to demagogue and they allow lawmakers to promote the taxes as a public health initiative rather than a tax increase. These taxes, however, must be extremely high to have any effect on obesity rates; they are highly regressive (disproportionately affecting lower-income people); and they prop up government spending increases by allowing lawmakers to kick fiscal problems down the road.
Any number of legal products and services can have negative effects if used in excess, but that doesn’t mean heavy-handed government intervention makes for good tax policy. Studies show that states with high “sin” tax rates also tend to have higher overall tax burdens. Further hurting small business owners and taking more money out of the pockets of an already-strained citizenry is unnecessarily burdensome and does not help the state’s fiscal condition.
Lawmakers who genuinely want to get their budgets under control should avoid hiking sin taxes and instead focus on real budgetary reforms such as enacting a reasonable tax and expenditure limit, reforming unfunded liabilities, and privatizing non-core functions of government.
11 October, 2010
Those wicked fizzy drinks again
Fizzy drinks ("pop", "soft drinks") are regularly attacked by the obesity warriors because they are allegedly very calorific. Though milk, which is also highly calorific, gets a pass, for some reason.
The attack does not end there, however, there is also an unhappy band who attack fizzy drinks not only because they are sweet but because the particular sweetener in them is particularly naughty: Meet the fructose warriors. The article below is an introduction to the controversy and I will add a few further words at the bottom of it -- JR
Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, is the star of the video above. While he presents some material that’s scientifically sound, he also makes enough errors to warrant a healthy dose of criticism. There’s a ton of material he goes over, so instead of writing a multi-chapter opus, I’ll discuss the aspects that I feel are the most relevant and interesting.
Lustig’s delivery is clear, confident, charismatic, and engaging overall. I’m sure many would think that his style is annoyingly smug and preachy, but I find it entertaining. This is a good thing, since the video is about 90 minutes long. Amidst the folly that prompted this post, he offers a few good observations.
First off, he makes a valid point that the public health movement against dietary fat that started in the early 1980′s was a grandiose failure. The climb in obesity to epidemic proportions over the last 30 years is plenty of evidence for this. It was also accurate of him to cite the significant increase in overall caloric consumption over this same time period. Furthermore, he shows an interesting progression of Coca-Cola’s 6.5 oz bottle in 1915 to the 20 oz bottle of the modern day.
Lustig acknowledges the First Law of Thermodynamics as it applies to changes in bodyweight. He attacks the vague expression that “a calorie is a calorie” by pointing out that different nutrients impart different physiological effects and have different roles within the body. His concluding recommendations included kicking out liquid calories except milk, which is generally a good strategy for children. Okay, so far so good. But what does he say that’s so misleading? Let’s take a look.
While Lustig correctly points out that the nation’s overall caloric consumption has increased, he proceeds to blame carbohydrates as being the primary constituent. The thing is, he uses data spanning from 1989-1995 on children aged 2-17. Survey data is far from the gold standard of evidence, but if you’re gonna cite it, you might as well go with something more recent that includes adults.
Here’s the latest from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), which tracked the percent of total daily calories of the range of food groups from 1970-2007. The actual spreadsheet of the following figures can be downloaded here, click on the “Percents” tab at the bottom :
* Meats, eggs, and nut kcals decreased 4%.
* Dairy kcals decreased 3%.
* Percentage of fruit kcals stayed the same.
* Percentage of vegetable kcals stayed the same.
* Flour and cereal product kcals increased 3%.
* Added fat kcals are up 7%,
* Added sugars kcals decreased 1%
* Total energy intake in 1970 averaged 2172 kcal. By 2007 this hiked up to 2775 kcal, a 603 kcal increase.
Taking a hard look at the data above, it appears that the rise in obesity is due in large part to an increase in caloric intake across the board, rather than an increase in carbohydrate in particular.
Lustig insufficiently addresses the ‘energy out’ side of the equation. According to the research, it’s possible that over the last couple of decades, we’ve become more sedentary. King and colleagues recently compared the physical activity data in the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1988-1994 with the NHANES data from 2001-2006, and found a 10% decrease . From a personal observation standpoint, that figure seems conservative (internet surfing for hours after your desk job shift, anyone?). It’s safe to say that all 603 extra daily calories have been landing in the nation’s collective adipose depot.
It’s also safe to say that all this finger-pointing at carbohydrate is just as silly as the finger-pointing toward fat in the ’80′s. Lustig takes the scapegoating of carbohydrate up a notch by singling out fructose. Perhaps the most passionate point he makes throughout the lecture is that fructose is a poison. Well, that’s just what we need in this day and age – obsessive alarmism over a single macronutrient subtype rather than an aerial view of the bigger picture.
Fructose is evil, context be damned
So, is fructose really the poison it’s painted to be? The answer is not an absolute yes or no; the evilness of fructose depends completely on dosage and context. A recurrent error in Lustig’s lecture is his omission of specifying the dosage and context of his claims. A point he hammers throughout his talk is that unlike glucose, fructose does not elicit an insulin (& leptin) response, and thus does not blunt appetite. This is why fructose supposedly leads to overeating and obesity.
Hold on a second…Lustig is forgetting that most fructose in both the commercial and natural domain has an equal amount of glucose attached to it. You’d have to go out of your way to obtain fructose without the accompanying glucose. Sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to sucrose in structure and function. Here’s the point I’m getting at: contrary to Lustig’s contentions, both of these compounds have substantial research showing not just their ability to elicit an insulin response, but also their suppressive effect on appetite [3-6].
But wait, there’s more. In studies directly comparing the effect of fructose and glucose preloads on subsequent food intake, one showed no difference , while the majority have shown the fructose preload resulting in lesser food intake than the glucose preload [8-10]. A recent review of the literature on fructose’s effect on satiety found no compelling case for the idea that fructose is less satiating than glucose, or that HFCS is less satiating than sucrose . So much for Lustig’s repeated assertion that fructose and fructose-containing sugars increase subsequent food intake. I suppose it’s easier to sensationalize claims based on rodent data.
In the single human study I’m aware of that linked fructose to a greater next-day appetite in a subset of the subjects, 30% of total daily energy intake was in the form of free fructose . This amounts to 135 grams, which is the equivalent of 6-7 nondiet soft drinks. Is it really that groundbreaking to think that polishing off a half-dozen soft drinks per day is not a good idea? Demonizing fructose without mentioning the dose-dependent nature of its effects is intellectually dishonest. Like anything else, fructose consumed in gross chronic excess can lead to problems, while moderate amounts are neutral, and in some cases beneficial [13-15].
I’m obviously not in favor of replacing anyone’s daily fluid intake with soft drinks, but I can already see a number of straw man arguments headed my way. This is because people have a tendency to think in either-or terms that strictly involve extremes. I’ll quote an elegant review by independent researcher John White that echoes my thoughts :
Although examples of pure fructose causing metabolic upset at high concentrations abound, especially when fed as the sole carbohydrate source, there is no evidence that the common fructose-glucose sweeteners do the same. Thus, studies using extreme carbohydrate diets may be useful for probing biochemical pathways, but they have no relevance to the human diet or to current consumption.
Atkins, Japan, & alcohol – oh my!
One of Lustig’s opening assertions is that The Atkins diet and the Japanese diet share one thing in common: the absence of fructose. This is flat-out false because it implies that the Japanese don’t eat fruit. On the contrary, bananas, grapefruits, Mandarin oranges, apples, grapes, watermelons, pears, persimmons, peaches, and strawberries are significant staples of the Japanese diet . Lustig’s claim also implies that the Japanese do not consume desserts or sauces that contain added sucrose. This is false as well.
Another oversimplification Lustig makes is that fructose is “ethanol without the buzz,” and that fructose is toxic to the liver. This once again helps me illustrate my point that even in the case of alcoholic beverages, their risk or benefit to health is dose-dependent. Just like his extremist treatment of fructose, Lustig bases his case on the effect of chronic isolated ethanol consumption in large doses. It’s easy to examine ethanol out of its normal context within beverages such as wine, because then you can conveniently ignore the evidence indicating its potential health benefits when consumed in moderation .
Towards the end of Lustig’s lecture, he mentions that fructose within fruit is okay because its effect is neutralized by the fiber content. To a degree, this is a valid claim. However, in building this stance, he uses sugarcane to illustrate just how fiber-dominant natural sources of fructose are, and this is the exception rather than the rule. He claimed that, “Wherever there’s fructose in nature, there’s way more fiber.” That statement is far from universally true. Drawing a few common examples from the major fruits consumed in Japan, a midsize banana contains roughly 27 total grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fructose and 3 grams of fiber. A midsize apple contains 25 total grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fructose and 4 grams of fiber. Two cups of strawberries contains 24 total grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fructose, and 6 grams of fiber.
I would add that fiber is only one of the numerous phytochemicals in fruit that impart health benefits. Thus, it’s not quite as simple as saying that fructose is evil, but once you take it with fiber, you’ve conquered the Dark Side.
I have a great deal of respect for Lustig’s professional accomplishments, and I share his concern for the nation’s penchant for sitting around and overconsuming food and beverages of all sorts. However, I disagree (as does the bulk of the research) with his myopic, militant focus on fructose avoidance. He’s missing the forest while barking up a single tree.
So, what’s the upper safe limit of fructose per day (all sources considered)? Again, this depends on a number of variables, not the least of which are an individual’s physical activity level and lean body mass. Currently in the literature is a liberal camp reporting that fructose intakes up to 90 grams per day have a beneficial effect on HbA(1c), and no significant effects are seen for fasting triacylglycerol or body weight with intakes up to 100 grams per day in adults . The conservative camp suggests that the safe range is much less than this; roughly 25-40 grams per day . Figuring that both sides are biased, the middle figure between the two camps is roughly 50 grams for active adults.
Although the tendency is to get hung up on the trivial minutia of an exact gram amount, it’s not possible to issue a universal number because individual circumstances vary widely (this is a concept that baffles anti-fructose absolutists). The big picture solution is in managing total caloric balance with a predominance of minimally refined foods and sufficient physical activity. Pointing the finger at fructose while dismissing dosage and context is like saying that exercise should be avoided because it makes you fat and injured by spiking your appetite and hurting your joints.
SOURCE. Follow-up discussion here.
Canada has half the obesity incidence of the USA yet fructose is the main swetening agent in Canadian fizzy drinks too. And Australia uses sucrose (from sugarcane) almost exclusively in its drinks yet falls roughly half way between Canada and the USA in obesity.
Epidemiology is never positive proof of anything but is pretty persuasive as disproof and the comparison between the three rather similar countries that I have just quoted does not at all fit the pattern that the fructose fanatics would predict. Only a double blind study would settle the matter but the epidemiology hardly encourages such a study
I personally would be pleased if the fructose warriors were right. I come from sugarcane country in Australia and a ban on fructose would no doubt do wonders for my home town. Sugar from sugarcane is pure sucrose
UPDATE: I probably should note that sucrose is a naturally-occurring molecule in its own right. The fact that it can be analysed as a combination of fructose and glucose does not mean that it has to be produced that way nor does it mean that it has the same properties as those simpler molecules. If the lusty one wants to ban sucrose because fructose forms part of its chemical makeup he is in effect trying to ban all the major natural sweeteners -- which is nuts -- JR
Now it's beetroot juice!
It appears to give elite athletes a tiny extra edge but drinking a lot of it has unpleasant side effects
When Chris Carver ran an ultra-marathon in Scotland last year, which challenges athletes to run as far as possible within 24 hours, he ran 225 kilometres.
Determined to do better in this year's race, Carver added something extra to his training regime: beetroot juice. For a week before the race, he drank the dark purple juice every day. Last month, Carver won it by running 238 kilometres. "The only thing I did differently this year was the beetroot juice," said Carver, 46, a professional runner based near Leeds, in northern England.
He said more exercise would have improved his endurance, but to get the same result he attributes to the juice - an extra 13 kilometres - it would likely have taken an entire year.
Some experts say adding beetroot juice to your diet could provide a performance boost even beyond the blood, sweat and tears of more training.
In two studies conducted at Exeter University on 15 men, Stephen Bailey and colleagues found cyclists who drank a half-litre of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20 per cent longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice.
By examining the cyclists under a scanner that analyses how much energy is needed for a muscle to contract, Bailey and colleagues discovered beetroot juice allows cyclists to exercise using less oxygen than normal.
"The beetroot juice was effective even without any additional training," Bailey said. "It reduces the energy requirements on your muscles so you can last longer." While the beetroot juice was provided free by its manufacturer, Exeter University paid for the research.
Bailey said the high nitrate content of beetroot juice is responsible for its athletic benefits. Scientists aren't exactly sure how it works, but suspect having more nitric oxide in your body, a byproduct of nitrate, helps you exercise with less oxygen. Bailey said the same effects might be possible if people ate more nitrate-rich foods like beetroot, lettuce or spinach.
Bailey and colleagues calculated beetroot juice could translate into a 1 to 2 per cent better race time, a tiny improvement likely only to matter to elite athletes. They are still tweaking the dosage but say athletes should consume the juice a few hours before training so their body has time to digest it. Their latest study was published in June in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
"Drinking beetroot juice is not going to turn a recreational runner into an Olympic champion, but it might make tolerating more exercise easier so you can train more," said Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller, a sports medicine expert at the Centre for Human Performance in London. He was not connected to the research and has not received any funding from beetroot juice makers.
Franklyn-Miller said since people often reach an athletic plateau where more training doesn't help, beetroot juice could give you an extra edge you wouldn't get otherwise. "It's not banned, so there's no reason not to try it," he said. Still, he warned drinking too much of the juice could lead to side effects like abdominal cramps, diarrhea or purple urine.
Previous studies in Britain and the US have found beetroot helps the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Other experts warned manipulating your diet can't replace the benefits of training. "Certain foods can help you maximise the benefits from exercise, not reduce the amount you're doing," said Roger Fielding, director of the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at Tufts University. He was not connected to any research on beetroot or any other nutritional supplements.
For serious athletes, Fielding said changing your diet could help. "If a very small improvement is valuable to you, it's possible something like beetroot juice could do that," he said.
Other studies have shown drinking things like pickle juice or having a small carbohydrate snack during a marathon, can prevent cramps and improve performance. Scientists have also found cherry juice, which helps reduce exercise-induced swelling, could be strong enough to reduce some athletes' use of anti-inflammatory pain medication.
Fielding said the benefits of beetroot juice and other foods and drinks could have wider benefits and might one day be used to help elderly people with muscle weakness.
Some elite athletes warned beetroot juice may not be to everybody's taste. "A few of my friends think it's really disgusting," said Colin McCourt, 25, a British runner competing at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi this month.
In April, McCourt started drinking cherry and beetroot juice, which he credits with helping him train longer and more often. "I feel like I get a benefit from it, even if it's minimal," he told Associated Press Television.
McCourt said he will continue to adjust his training regimen in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, but plans to maintain his juice habit. "There will be a lot more beetroot juice if my stomach can take it."
10 October, 2010
The Government’s Weight-Loss Program
America is quickly becoming the fattest nation in the world. Results from the 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that about 34.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 years and over are overweight, 33.8 percent are obese and 5.7 percent are extremely obese.
But, as big of a problem as it may be, is it the right of the federal government to step in and begin regulating the diets of Americans?
Michelle Obama thinks that it is, and is busy launching an initiative that starts with America’s overweight children. Partnering even with Walt Disney, Mrs. Obama has pushed her initiative, “Let’s Move,” with Public Service Announcements, appearing with various Disney stars and even helped some of them plant a garden.
Though Mrs. Obama has recently touted the weight problem amongst school-aged children as her No. 1 priority while she’s in the White House, this isn’t the first time the issue has been discussed.
Eating a proper diet even became a topic at now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings. When Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma asked her during the hearings if the government can pass a law forcing Americans to eat fruits and vegetables, her answer wasn’t no.
So what does this mean? Does the government have more up its sleeve than just Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative?
Some state governments have already taken steps to make its citizens more aware of the fatty, high-calorie foods in restaurants.
In 2008, in California, for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that made it the first state in the nation to have its restaurant chains with 20 or more locations statewide post calorie information on menus and indoor menu boards for consumers. New York passed similar legislation for restaurant chains, but went a step further and ruled that some cities have to have nutritional information posted directly on the menus. New York has also banned the use of all artificial trans fat in restaurant foods.
The federal government followed suit and passed a federal-menu labeling law within ObamaCare. This new law will affect restaurants with 20 or more locations by forcing them to put nutritional information for menu items on the menus themselves, menu boards and even drive-thrus. This law also requires vending machine owners to comply by the same rules.
In April 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a plan to begin limiting the amount of salt allowed in processed foods. Though it does not know what the reduced sodium levels will be, the FDA hopes to implement the plan over a 10-year span.
There is no denying that today’s American diet has a penchant towards salt, but is it the role of the federal government to limit the intake?
“Not only does the federal government not have the Constitutional authority to regulate its citizens’ diets, how could it?” asks Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “The big-government policies of this Administration have failed. What would make the American people think that the government’s handling of their diets would be any different?”
Yet, the White House is still trying. Following the pleas of Mrs. Obama, the Senate passed the Child Nutrition bill — a good start for her “Let’s Move” initiative. This bill would provide $4.5 billion to school lunch and other federal child-nutrition programs.
An Associated Press article on the subject stated that schools wouldn’t do away with popular foods, like hamburgers, but would make them healthier — higher-quality meat and a whole wheat bun perhaps. Also, vending machines would be stocked with less candy and sugar-filled drinks.
The House has yet to pass the bill. Mrs. Obama hopes it might come up for a discussion during a lame-duck session in November.
It seems this Congress and Administration has forgotten that eating at McDonald’s is a choice. Whether the calories are posted on the menus or not, if someone is craving a double cheeseburger, they are probably going to get one.
The more the government intrudes on the lives of Americans, the less freedom its people have. Yes, America has a weight problem, but it’s not the federal government’s job to fix it.
IVF breakthrough helps pregnancy chances
This sounds very good news indeed
THE chances of having a baby through IVF may be hugely improved thanks to a Melbourne breakthrough that could also allow parents to choose their child's sex. Scientists from the University of Melbourne and Repromed have developed a groundbreaking way to measure the health of an embryo and the likelihood of a successful pregnancy through IVF treatment.
By measuring the level of glucose consumed by embryos in the first five days, the researchers can determine which are the healthiest and have the best chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The procedure has been tested in 50 patients, with 32 becoming pregnant and 28 babies born as a result. The research could significantly improve birth rates in IVF and help one in six Australian couples experiencing infertility to become parents.
Amazingly, it was pioneered by the university's head zoologist, Prof David Gardner. "The 28 babies resulted from the embryos which had the highest glucose uptake," Prof Gardner said. "Previous studies with animals have shown that the healthiest blastocysts are those with the greatest glucose consumption, indicating the likelihood of a successful pregnancy. "It is exciting to find that this process appears to be the same in people."
In the laboratory, fertilised embryos are kept in a glucose solution to mimic the conditions of the uterus to provide nutrients for the embryos to grow.
By measuring the precise amount of the solution each embryo consumes during the four to five days they are left to grow, the Melbourne team has discovered that those taking in the most solution also have the highest chance of resulting in a baby.
The scientists have also discovered that female embryos appear to take up more glucose than male embryos, providing a possible means of determining their sex before they are transferred to hopeful mothers - something that is causing ethical debate in fertility circles. "This is a very early observation, but it may have the potential to help identify gender at early embryo stage," Prof Gardner said.
The University of Melbourne and Repromed research will be detailed to world experts at the Fertility Society of Australia's annual scientific meeting in Adelaide next week.
9 October, 2010
Three cups of tea a day 'can protect against heart attacks' (?)
I drink tea regularly so I could be inclined to hail the findings below. But the tiny difference quoted is incapable of supporting causal inferences. It's all just another sermon of the stupid old antioxidant religion
Drinking just three cups of tea a day can protect against heart attacks and stroke, claim researchers. A new review shows regular drinking of either black or green tea can reduce the risk of heart problems by 11 per cent. It cuts the build-up of plaque in the arteries - a combination of dangerous fat and cholesterol.
In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables or two apples
The review by researchers at the University of Western Australia says 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. In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables or two apples.
The review published in the science journal Molecular Aspects of Medicine also found the flavonoid content of black tea is equal to that of green tea. Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers.
Dr Jonathan Hodgson, co-author of the review, said 'There is now consistent data indicating that tea and tea flavonoids can enhance nitric oxide status and improve endothelial function, which may be at least partly responsible for benefits on cardiovascular health.'
Dr Catherine Hood from the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel said 'Compared with US studies, the cardiovascular benefits of tea are particularly strong in European studies. This includes UK studies where most of the tea consumed is black.
'Plaques in the carotid artery (a marker of atherosclerosis) have been shown to be less common in both men and women who drink tea. 'Bearing in mind the number of studies, including human trials, data demonstrates that flavonoids in tea can inhibit the development of atherosclerosis.
'This review also highlights evidence from randomised controlled trials showing that tea consumption may improve the health of the inner lining of the blood vessels as well as evidence that tea may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and lower blood pressure.
'Adding milk to tea doesn’t affect the absorption of flavonoids from tea, according to several human research trials. In addition, the antioxidant effects seen in our blood following tea consumption are similar whether or not milk is added.'
She said 'Evidence is growing that three to four cups of black tea each day is good not only for general health, but also for cardiovascular health. 'Given the popularity of black tea in the UK, this is good news for those who enjoy regular cups of tea.'
Obesity war risking people's lives
Sustained (life-long) weight loss is virtually impossible without medical intervention so the "war" is pressuring people into taking drugs and having procedures that are far more risky to health than the "obesity" itself. Diets mostly end up making people fatter so in desperation some turn to these dangerous measures
A POPULAR weight loss drug has been withdrawn from sale following a review by Australia's medical watchdog and research showing it could cause overweight people to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Pharmaceutical company Abbott on Friday announced it would immediately cease distribution of its drug sibutramine, which is sold under the brand name Reductil.
Australians now using the prescription-only medicine should make an appointment with their doctor to seek advice on an alternative, a company spokesperson said in a statement.
"Abbott today announces that it has voluntarily ceased marketing and distribution of sibutramine in Australia," the spokesperson said. "Doctors should not issue any new prescriptions for sibutramine. "Patients who wish to stop treatment before seeing their doctor can do so at any time."
The spokesperson said 30 million people had used the drug worldwide since it was introduced in 1997, though it was a "modest-sized product for Abbott in Australia".
The European Medicines Agency suspended the marketing of sibutramine earlier this year, while Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) moved in June to tighten the conditions under which doctors could prescribe the drug.
This followed the release of preliminary results of the six-year and 10,000 patient SCOUT study, which showed the weight loss drug carried a potentially fatal cardiovascular risk.
"Analysis of the final results of the SCOUT study have since confirmed there is an increased ... risk of major cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke in obese and overweight patients," the TGA said in an update posted on its website on Friday.
"... It remains unclear whether the safety of sibutramine is acceptable even in those who respond to the medicine."
The Abbott spokesperson said the company still believed the drug had a "positive benefit/risk profile when used appropriately" although it would be pulled from sale following talks with the TGA.
Other known side-effects of the drug include trouble sleeping, constipation, a dry mouth, fast heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, headache, anxiety and dizziness.
8 October, 2010
LOL! Fish oil strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer
No, no no! Not the beloved fish oil!
Fish oil – long encouraged by doctors as a supplement to support heart and joint health, among other benefits – induced severe colitis and colon cancer in mice in research led by Michigan State University and published this month in the journal Cancer Research.
Jenifer Fenton, a food science and human nutrition researcher at MSU, led the research that supports establishing a dose limit for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil, particularly in people suffering from chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases.
"We found that mice developed deadly, late-stage colon cancer when given high doses of fish oil," she said. "More importantly, with the increased inflammation, it only took four weeks for the tumors to develop."
Specifically, the research team found an increase in the severity of the cancer and an aggressive progression of the cancer in not only the mice receiving the highest doses of DHA but those receiving lower doses as well. The mice used in the study were prone to inflammatory-like bowel disease; inflammation is an important risk factor for many types of cancers, including colon cancer.
"Our findings support a growing body of literature implicating harmful effects of high doses of fish oil consumption in relation to certain diseases," Fenton said. "Currently, there is a call by academics and the food industry to establish dietary guidelines for omega-3 consumption. This is primarily motivated by the fact that most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and there is substantial evidence supporting the beneficial effects of the consumption."
The findings were surprising, specifically because DHA has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory properties, according to Fenton: "We hypothesized that feeding fish oil enriched with DHA to mice would decrease the cancer risk; we actually found the opposite. These mice were less equipped to mount a successful immune response to bacteria that increased colon tumors."
Fenton cautions people may not need to avoid fish oil; what the research shows is needed are guidelines on dosing. With any nutrient, there is a "bell curve" effect. On the left of the curve are those deficient in a nutrient; on the right are those in excess.
She said people already receiving enough omega-3 fatty acids through their normal diet and foods have no need for added supplementation.
"With fish oil, we don't yet know how much is appropriate," said Fenton, also a researcher with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. "There are many examples of taking supplements, nutrients or chemicals in excess that can promote cancer (for example, beta-carotene supplementation in smokers). Supplementation is most useful when the person taking them is deficient in that specific nutrient."
The research team's findings could have an important preventive health impact, specifically in light of the high rates of colon cancer in the United States. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease have an increased risk of developing colon cancer, and when the cancer metastasizes it can be fatal.
The next step, Fenton said, is to test omega-3 fatty acid levels in people with inflammatory bowel disease. To that end, she is continuing to build relationships – via MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine campus in Macomb County – with gastrointestinal specialists to develop a cohort of patients.
"To help develop guidelines, we need to see how these findings correlate to human populations," she said.
Some food trivia
Generally, cooler environments preserve food best – apart from tropical fruit. Banana skins, for example, have evolved to survive in warm conditions, because that is where they grow best. Anything below 13.3C damages the membranes, releasing enzymes which lead to skin blackening. To avoid a mushy banana, keep it away from the chiller.
It is not just fears for our health that keep food scientists busy. They are also involved in the aesthetics of the dinner table. Everybody loves that first frothy splash of champagne into a flute, but why, on pouring the second glass, does the fizz seem to be less fizzy?
Don't worry – it's not the alcohol playing tricks. A dry glass has thousands of tiny nucleation sites on its inside surface, caused by scratches, irregularities and even dust. Like all fizzy drinks, champagne is supersaturated with carbon dioxide, which is just itching to convert back into gas from its liquid form. When champagne meets one of these nucleation sites, its liquid is repelled, allowing the dissolved gas to form a bubble. This quickly grows and heads towards the surface, while another forms in its place. That is why trails of bubbles in champagne appear to emanate from the same point on the glass's inner surface.
A wet glass, therefore, provides fewer nucleation sites – hence, less fizz. In fact, glass manufacture has become so precise that producers have to ensure that the inner surface is rough enough to create bubbles by deliberately introducing imperfections. Otherwise, your champagne would look more like a chablis.
Such precision has also been applied to beer – in particular, to the discovery that the optimum number of sharp pointy bits on a bottle cap is 21. Go on, count them. Years of trial and error led to the internationally accepted German standard DIN 6099, which ensures that almost every bottle cap is the same. This is because 21 is the ideal number when you take into account the circumference of the cap, the likelihood of its metal splitting, and the chances of it sticking in the capping machine. So when you open your next bottle of lager, pay homage to those who bothered to find out, starting with William Painter, in 1892.
Of course, some researchers do care about the more serious stuff, driven by fear of the future and an ever-increasing population on a warming, land-impoverished planet. Sadly, New Scientist's correspondents concluded that there was no one foodstuff that could feed the world on its own – even the ingenious suggestion that we resort to cannibalism, to recycle the necessary nutrients, was vetoed on the grounds that it would be subject to diminishing returns.
However, they did come up with a menu that could feed a family of four for 365 days a year, using only eight square metres of land. Rotating crops (so that the soil didn't lose one nutrient more than any other) would be vital, as would ploughing back dead plant matter and maintaining a vegetarian diet. After that, you would need to grow crops that take up very little space and grow vertically rather than horizontally, if possible.
So, come 2100, we'll be existing on a diet of runner beans, mangetout, parsnips, potatoes, blackberries, sprouts, tomatoes and radishes. The adventurous among us will grow herbs, while the more wealthy may have a few hens wandering about providing eggs (and, more pertinently, providing their own fertiliser).
The only thing that could relieve the tedium of such a diet would be a few drinks – another pet topic of New Scientist readers. My book, Why Can't Elephants Jump?, covers such weighty questions as whether fizzy water weighs less than still, and why certain cocktail garnishes float while others sink.
Yet we have to admit that science alone can't provide all the answers. In particular, the question of why James Bond prefers his vodka martinis shaken rather than stirred taxed researchers for some time. Most connoisseurs now agree that a stirred martini is superior to Bond's shaken one. So why was a man of impeccable taste drinking the wrong kind?
Various theories bounced around the science foodie community. Was shaking better because aldehydes oxidised the vermouth in the Martini, in the way that red wine oxidises while it "breathes", as researchers in France surmised? Not so, said scientists in Ontario, who thought that shaking a Martini broke down hydrogen peroxide in the drink, thus altering its flavour. Or were spicules of ice from the shaking process clouding the Martini? Or did shaking the Martini "bruise" the vodka?
In the end, the answer was more prosaic. When Ian Fleming was writing his novels, shortly after the Second World War, grain was expensive, so a lot of vodka was made from potatoes. Potato vodkas are markedly more oily than the grain vodkas we are used to today. As a very enjoyable blind taste test in our offices confirmed, potato vodka shaken with ice dissipates the oil, making for a smoother drink. Bond, being a man of sophistication, would have known this. So it was that oily potatoes played their part in the birth of one of movieland's most famous catchphrases.
7 October, 2010
Obesity is NOT a public health burden
Which removes the major rationale for government intervention. The comments below by economist Ross Gittins are based on conventional assumptions -- which are in turn based on dogmatic interpretations of epidemiological findings -- but if those findings are usable to condemn obesity, it seems equally reasonable to use those findings to exonerate it. What's good for the goose is good for the gander
I have bad news and good about the O-word. Although there has been a suggestion in some quarters that the media got over-excited about the "obesity epidemic", a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - unlikely to be a purveyor of faddish enthusiasms - has confirmed the seriousness of the problem.
The report says obesity is worsening throughout the developed world and becoming the top public health concern. One in two people is now overweight or obese in almost half the developed countries. In some, two out of three people will be in trouble within 10 years.
In Australia, 61 per cent of adults are overweight or obese, making us almost as fat as the Americans. In 20 years, our overweight rate has risen faster than in any other developed country. It is projected to rise another 15 per cent in the next 10 years.
And the good news? It's saving taxpayers money.
Although healthcare spending for obese people is at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight, and increases rapidly as people get fatter, severely obese people are likely to die eight to 10 years earlier, so their shorter lives mean they incur lower healthcare costs over their lifetime. It's even greater than the saving on smokers.
If you don't like that, try this. As measured by gross domestic product, obesity is a win-win-win situation. The more you eat the more you add to GDP and the profits of businesses. If the messages of advertising and marketing make you self-conscious about your overweight, everything you spend on fancy diets, gym subscriptions etc adds to GDP.
And then when you damage your health, everything you, the government and your health fund spend on trying to keep you going adds to GDP. Even when you die prematurely that won't count as a negative against GDP, although the absence of your continued consumption will be missed.
Two of our greatest campaigners on obesity are Garry Egger, the professor of lifestyle medicine at Southern Cross University and the founder of GutBusters, and Boyd Swinburn, professor of population health at Deakin University.
They've written a book, Planet Obesity, which takes a rather different tack. Since obesity is endemic, it can't be dismissed as the product of gluttony and sloth on the part of a few individuals.
Obesity has been rising since the 1980s. Before then it was rare. Clearly, it's a product of our modern lifestyle, of the way we organise our society.
We're getting fatter for a host of interacting reasons. According to the OECD report, the supply and availability of food altered remarkably in the second half of the 20th century, brought about by big changes in food production technologies and an increasing and increasingly sophisticated use of promotion and persuasion.
The price of calories fell dramatically and convenience foods became available virtually everywhere, while the time available for traditional meal preparation from raw ingredients shrank as a result of changing working and living conditions.
"Decreased physical activity at work, increased participation of women in the labour force, increasing levels of stress and job insecurity, longer working hours for some jobs, are all factors that, directly or indirectly, contribute to the lifestyle changes which caused the obesity epidemic," the report says.
See what this is saying? The rise in obesity is a product of the success of capitalism and the technological advance it fosters and exploits.
People in developed countries have been getting taller and heavier since 1800. For almost all that time, our weight gain has made us healthier but in recent decades it's greatly accelerated and is now making us unhealthy.
Until fairly recently, economic growth was making us unambiguously better off. Making us more secure, more prosperous and, because of scientific advances, improving our health. But now we've overshot the sweet spot and continued economic growth is starting to worsen our health.
Another bit of conventional wisdom bites the dust
Skipping 'kiss' during kiss of life may be better: research
Skipping the kiss when giving the "kiss of life" could help save more lives, doctors have discovered. People who suffer a cardiac arrest in the street are more likely to survive if bystanders carry out chest compressions without stopping to give "mouth-to-mouth".
The study found that the survival rate of people who received conventional CPR, including the kiss, was 7.8 per cent. This compared with 13.3 per cent for those who were given compression-only CPR.
It is thought the decline in blood circulation when people stop chest compressions to give rescue breaths causes some resuscitation efforts to fail.
The time taken to get adequate blood low going again after the pause is also detrimental.
Several other studies have also shown compression-only CPR may be better than the traditional method and experts say bystanders may be more willing to attempt it if no rescue breaths are required.
The study by the Arizona Department of Health Services in Phoenix was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr David Cone, of the Yale University School of Medicine, wrote in an accompanying editorial that further research should be conducted in this area.
International organisations on resuscitation are currently reviewing guidelines.
6 October, 2010
Light drinking in pregnancy makes the offspring smarter and better behaved
And what a tizzy that finding is provoking! "Experts" (i.e. believers in the conventional wisdom) don't want to believe the evidence. They do however eventually get around to realizing -- now that it suits them -- that correlation is not causation and that women who can drink in a controlled manner are probably smarter anyway -- and pass that on to their children genetically. The results do nonetheless suggest that moderate drinking is not harmful
Experts warn mothers-to-be should not raise a glass to new British research showing "light drinking" during pregnancy has no detrimental effect.
The study tracked the long-term health of more than 11,500 British children born at the start of the decade and it found no sign of harm - and perhaps even a benefit - from mums who drank low levels of alcohol throughout their pregnancy.
The finding runs counter to official advice for Australia's impending mums and experts say there were factors that may have skewed the data and abstinence remained the safest approach.
“The finding ... was that children exposed to light drinking in pregnancy had better cognitive ability at age five years in comparison to children of mothers who did not drink during pregnancy,” said Dr Lucy Burns, senior lecturer and chief investigator at the University of NSW's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. “This was, however, only one of the many outcomes in the report, the majority of which found no improvements in child functioning.
“Given the increasing body of knowledge now showing that alcohol disrupts brain development in the foetus ... it seems most sensible to continue to promote abstinence during pregnancy as the best approach.”
The study rated new mothers from either teetotal through to light drinkers (one or two standard drinks a week), moderate drinkers (three to six drinks weekly or five at any one time), and binge or heavy drinkers (seven or more drinks a week or six in any one sitting) during their pregnancy.
About 60 per cent of the mums abstained during pregnancy while one in four (26 per cent) were light drinkers, one in 20 (5.5 per cent) were moderate drinkers and 2.5 per cent were heavy drinkers.
Their children's development was assessed at ages three and five years.
Heavy drinking mums were more likely to have children who were hyperactive and with behavioural and emotional problems. But, in a surprise result, children of light drinkers were found to be 30 per cent less likely to have behavioural problems compared to mothers who abstained.
Professor Wayne Hall, from the University of Queensland's School of Population Health, said it was “highly unlikely” that light drinking alone carried a benefit for children.
“It is much more likely that women who report drinking these small quantities have children at lower risk of developing behaviour disorders because they have better diets, are healthier, use antenatal care, are better educated (and) probably drink alcohol with meals.”
These benefits were unlikely to have been completely factored out by the researchers, Professor Hall said.
The expert reaction came as an Australian study was also released showing low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy did not increase the risk of birth defect.
The study of 4,700 women who gave birth in Western Australia between 1995 and 1997 did however show drinking more than seven standard drinks a week during the first trimester carried a four-fold increased risk of birth defects.
“While this finding may provide some reassurance to mothers who unknowingly consumed alcohol before they knew they were pregnant, the best advice is still to follow the national guidelines that advise expecting mums to avoid alcohol in pregnancy,” said Dr Colleen O'Leary from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.
The official advice of NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) is “for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option”.
Is it REALLY organic?
By Mischa Popoff (who is an organic inspector)
Organic food is better for you. Right? It's more nutritious. It contains more vitamins, minerals and other good things like antioxidants, plus it's fresher and tastier. Right?
Hold that thought.
Organic food is also more pure and natural. It contains far less harmful pesticide residues than conventional food. It's also relatively free of herbicides, fungicides and other "cides" used extensively by conventional farmers. Right?
Again, hold that thought.
Perhaps best of all, organic agriculture uses natural sources for fertility like composted manure or clover plough-downs instead of synthetic ammonium nitrate. A whopping 50% of synthetic nitrates run off conventional fields into rivers and streams and end up in oceans where they cause algal blooms which are lethal to natural ecosystems. That in itself is reason enough for many consumers to pay healthy premiums for organic food. Right?
Yet again, hold that thought.
There are many good reasons why organic agriculture is supposed to be better for the environment and for your health. There are even some good studies that confirm, for the most part, many of the assumptions outlined above. But no one is bothering to prove whether the farm itself is organic in the first place.
Imagine how many world records would be broken at the Olympics if they quit testing athletes. Imagine if an athlete only needed a dated and signed list of all the things he ingested over the last four years to "prove" he was clean. See anything wrong with that? This is how the $46 billion organic industry runs. It's a bureaucratized honor system with piles of paperwork that are somehow supposed to prove no one is cheating.
Feel better now?
Sure, organic farmers are probably an honest bunch. But why not test to make sure? I worked for five years across the continent as an Advanced Organic Inspector, and the overwhelming majority of the 500 farmers I inspected asked me that very question when I dropped by to look at their audit trail. Indeed, what's the point of bothering to do studies to see how beneficial organic food might be if we don't even know if it's really organic in the first place?
With 80% of organic food being imported from places like China, Mexico, Brazil and Chile, you really have to wonder what steps are being taken to ensure full compliance with organic standards.
The problem lies with the ever-expanding matrix of players between the farmer and the consumer: private and state certifiers, federal regulators, review committees, sub-committees, local chapters, inspector review boards, international policy boards, accreditation committees, technical committees, and so on. Then there are all the broker/traders, wholesalers and retailers who bring organic food to the store shelf. None of them are about to jeopardize their revenue streams by demanding once-annual tests of organic farms. Indeed, 80% of their business relies on cheap imports.
Governments consulted with all of these players to come up with national organic standards, but forgot to ask farmers and consumers what they thought. The result is the biggest "feel good" system ever devised; a system which fails to promote sustainability and doesn't even begin to promote soil fertility, purity or nutrition. There's no effort to stamp out fraud and negligence, or to improve what it means to be organic.
"Adequate" hardly begins to describe it, and you're paying for it whenever you and your family fill up on organic groceries.
SOURCE. Popoff has a book on the subject here. The blurb at least is worth reading.
5 October, 2010
The autism/Mercury scare again
Brainless. A mercury compound in vaccines (Thimerosol) was for many years said to cause autism. But when the compound was withdrawn from vaccines, the incidence of autism still kept rising. It was a classic before-and-after experiment but no evidence is enough for some attention-seekers. What the guy below wants to do is just epidemiological rubbish anyway
A researcher who has found strong evidence that autism is caused by mercury poisoning has been refused access to data that could point to emissions from coal-fired power stations.
The director of the Swinburne Autism Bio-Research Initiative, David Austin, said the data on autism incidence by postcode could quickly answer the question of whether mercury emissions from power stations are implicated in babies and infants developing the disorder.
When Professor Austin requested the information after a review of international scientific literature confirmed "a mercury-autism relationship", the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs said it could not be released on privacy grounds.
"It's a fairly easy study to do and yet it is so important. We are keen to do it as quickly as possible in Australia because we are a big coal-burner," said Professor Austin. "If the information says there is no link, then we can go forward comfortably. If the answer is yes, there can't be much more important information than knowing the way structures in our society work like how power generators are impacting on our grandchildren."
The department rejected Professor Austin's request while the government was in caretaker mode and he has now called on the federal minister, Jenny Macklin, to override her department.
Researchers could have a full report ready within 12 months once they got the data, Professor Austin said. It would be easy to compare autism statistics from Tasmania, where there are no coal-fired power stations, with areas such as the Hunter Valley, where there are, he said.
"We are very lucky that we collect good data as a nation on this, so we have a good idea of autism rates available on the Centrelink database. The government privacy issues shouldn't be viewed as such an impassable obstacle when such a big thing is at stake," he said.
Professor Austin's research has already found elevated levels of porphyrins, a marker for mercury damage, in the urine of Australian autistic children.
A University of Texas study two years ago found a statistically significant link between the amount of mercury released from industrial sources such as coal-fired power stations and increased autism rates. The prevalence of autism in the community reduced by 1-2 per cent every 16 kilometres of distance from the pollution source, it concluded. [Yes. Because only the poor would want to live next to a power station]
"There is already major concern in the Hunter around respiratory concerns, but the US research suggests it may go beyond to neurological and developmental implications and I can't think of a more important question for research if that is so," Professor Austin said.
Calling for the information's release, a NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said the number of children with autism in NSW government schools grew from 2267 to 5995 between 2003 and 2009, a jump of 165 per cent.
"Coal-fired power plants are responsible for approximately one-third of all mercury emissions attributable to human activity," he said.
A department spokeswoman said that under government protocols, data referring to fewer than 20 individuals would not be released to protect privacy. "Professor Austin asked for specific data by postcode. Most of this data would refer to less than 20 individuals," she said.
Only manage five hours of sleep? It's the ideal amount for women who want to live longer
This is all very well but any causal inference is mere speculation. It could be that generally healthier people need less sleep. Saying that a certain amount of sleep is "best" is rubbish. It's an individual matter
Women who think they aren't getting enough beauty sleep shouldn't worry - resting for between five and six and a half hours a night are more likely to live longer, research claims. Those who get slightly less than the healthy recommended amount of seven hours tend to outlive those who sleep much more.
The researchers hope their findings will help dismiss the commonly-held belief that people aren’t getting enough sleep.
While adults are advised to have at between seven and nine hours a night to stay healthy, many end up getting much less.
This latest study involving 459 elderly women in America found that those who slept for between five and six and a half hours a night had the longest survival rates.
Researchers from the San Diego School of Medicine have been monitoring the participants aged between 50 to 81 since 1995 to try and establish a link between sleep and mortality.
In their first study they worked out peoples’ sleeping habits using wrist activity monitors, which are able to tell whether a person is awake or asleep by how much they move and then count up the overall hours of sleep a night. Last year the researchers tried to get back in touch with all the women 14 years later to find out whether they were still alive. They established that those who had more than six and a half hours sleep a night or less than five were far less likely to be alive today.
Professor Daniel Kripke said: 'The surprise was that when sleep was measured objectively, the best survival was observed among women who slept 5 to 6.5 hours.' 'Women who slept less than five hours a night or more than 6.5 hours were less likely to be alive at the 14-year follow-up.'
Professor Kripke said the study, published in the journal Sleep, should allay some people’s fears that they’re not getting enough sleep. He added: 'This means that women who sleep as little as five to six-and-a-half hours have nothing to worry about since that amount of sleep is evidently consistent with excellent survival. 'That is actually about the average measured sleep duration for San Diego women.'
Around one third of the UK adult population regularly sleeps five hours or less a night. But many celebrities and successful figures of the past have been known to get much less. Madonna, Margaret Thatcher and Florence Nightingale are amongst those who survived on four hours sleep a night, while scientist Nikola Tesla, who helped invent x-rays, had just two hours sleep a night.
Long term studies show that those who drop down to five hours or fewer face a 70 per cent extra risk of dying from all causes.
4 October, 2010
Women Who Get Dental Care Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study
The usual rubbish. Richer women are more likely to be able to afford dental care and rich people are healthier anyway
A new study led by a University of California, Berkeley, researcher could give women a little extra motivation to visit their dentist more regularly. The study suggests that women who get dental care reduce their risk of heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular problems by at least one-third.
The analysis, which used data from nearly 7,000 people ages 44-88 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, did not find a similar benefit for men.
Published online Sept. 29 in the journal Health Economics, the study compared people who went to the dentist during the previous two years with those who did not.
"Many studies have found associations between dental care and cardiovascular disease, but our study is the first to show that general dental care leads to fewer heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse cardiovascular outcomes in a causal way," said study lead author Timothy Brown, assistant adjunct professor of health policy and management at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.
In the world of health and medical studies, causality is typically determined through randomized controlled trials in which two or more groups of people are essentially equal, except for the receipt of a treatment or intervention, such as a new drug, a periodontal procedure or a health education class. The group that did not receive the treatment -- the control group -- is compared with the group that did. Differences in outcomes between the groups are attributed to the treatment.
But randomized controlled trials are not always possible, so researchers sometimes turn to a statistical approach called the method of instrumental variables to rule out other potential factors that could account for different outcomes between groups. The use of instrumental variables is common among economists to evaluate the effects of economic policies, but it is less well-known in the clinical setting.
"While relatively short randomized controlled trials of specific types of dental treatment are possible, we can't run long-term randomized controlled trials of whether general dental care reduces cardiovascular disease events like heart attacks and strokes," said Brown, a health economist. "Individuals randomized to the treatment group would enjoy general dental care and those randomized to the control group would get no dental care at all. Many, if not most, people in the control group would simply get dental care on their own, destroying the experimental design, and making the results of the experiment worthless. The method of instrumental variables allows us to avoid this problem."
The method helped researchers rule out self-selection bias, or the possibility that people who seek out dental care are different -- perhaps healthier in general -- than those who don't.
Data from the Health and Retirement Study had been collected every two years from 1996 to 2004. This longitudinal study followed the same individuals over time, and each biennial survey included questions on whether subjects had visited the dentist and whether they had experienced a heart attack, stroke, angina or congestive heart failure during the prior two years. Deaths from heart attacks or strokes were also included in the analysis. The study took into account other risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco use, high blood pressure and body mass index.
The fact that men and women did not benefit equally from dental care did not completely surprise the researchers. "To my knowledge, previous studies in this area have found that the relationship between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease markers varies by gender, but none have examined differences between men and women with regard to actual cardiovascular disease events," said Brown, who is also associate director of research at UC Berkeley's Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets & Consumer Welfare.
"We think the findings reflect differences in how men and women develop cardiovascular disease," said study co-author Dr. Stephen Brown, a first-year obstetrician/gynecologist resident at the West Virginia University Charleston Division School of Medicine. "Other studies suggest that estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease because it helps prevent the development of atherosclerosis. It's not until women hit menopause around age 50 to 55 that they start catching up with men."
The study authors suggest that for dental care to have a protective effect, it should occur early in the development of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers did not have data on the type of procedures used during the dental visit, but they pointed to other studies that indicated three-fourths of older adult dental visits involved preventive services, such as cleaning, fluoride and sealant treatments.
Death rates INCREASED by 20mph zone... and getting rid of cameras reduces accidents
Reducing the speed limit to 20mph in all residential streets does not significantly improve road safety, an official report has revealed.
Towns around the country [Britain] are planning to introduce the limit in the belief that lower speeds save lives. However, analysis of the first citywide scheme in Portsmouth has shown the number of people killed or seriously injured actually increased after the speed limit was reduced from 30mph.
While the 20mph limit has been widely implemented in specific streets, for example near primary schools, the case for reducing the limit in all residential streets appears to have been badly damaged by the Department for Transport report.
Analysis by consultants Atkins, on behalf of the Department for Transport, found the average number of people killed or seriously injured annually in Portsmouth rose from 18.7 to 19.9 after the scheme was launched in 2007.
Motorists' average speeds reduced by only 1.3mph to 18.5mph. The Portsmouth speed limit is not enforced by speed humps or cameras, instead relying on motorists obeying the law.
Previous studies have found that 20mph zones in which traffic-calming measures are also deployed produce bigger reductions in drivers' average speeds.
City centre 20mph zones have been introduced in Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford, Edinburgh and Bristol.
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, has given his backing to 20mph limits. Earlier this year he said: 'For a child being hit at 30mph and 20mph is the difference between life and death. 'But this is also about making our town centres more attractive places to live and work, and reducing carbon emissions by encouraging people to cycle or walk.'
A spokesman for the transport department said: 'This report by an independent contractor on the Portsmouth scheme is one of several research documents available to help councils decide whether they want to put in place 20mph zones or limits. 'It is up to local authorities to make these decisions using their knowledge of local roads and in consultation with local communities.'
Meanwhile a town where all the speed cameras were switched off has reported a sharp drop in the number of accidents. Over the past year there have been 14 minor and two serious accidents in the streets of Swindon monitored by cameras. This compared with 15 minor, five serious and one fatal accident in the same streets the previous year when cameras were operational.
Roderick Bluh, leader of the Tory-controlled council, said: 'it is beginning to look as though we were right all along when we said these cameras were revenue raisers.'
3 October, 2010
Think Saturated Fat Contributes to Heart Disease? Think Again…
Leading Scientists Re-Examine the Role of Saturated Fat in the Diet
For the past three decades, saturated fat has been considered a major culprit of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and as a result dietary advice persists in recommending reduced consumption of this macronutrient. However, new evidence shows that saturated fat intake has only a very limited impact on CVD risk -- causing many to rethink the “saturated fat is bad” paradigm.
A series of research articles published in the October issue of Lipids provides a snapshot of recent advances in saturated fat and health research, based on science presented at the 100th American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida (May 2009). During a symposium entitled “Saturated Fats and Health: Facts and Feelings,” world-renowned scientists specializing in fat research analyzed the evidence between saturated fat intake and health, and overall agreed upon the need to reduce over-simplification when it came to saturated fat dietary advice.
“The relationship between dietary intake of fats and health is intricate, and variations in factors such as human genetics, life stage and lifestyles can lead to different responses to saturated fat intake,” said J. Bruce German, PhD, professor and chemist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California at Davis. “Although diets inordinately high in fat and saturated fat are associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk in some individuals, assuming that saturated fat at any intake level is harmful is an over-simplification and not supported by scientific evidence.”
Professor Philippe Legrand of Agrocampus-INRA in France confirmed this by discussing various roles that different saturated fatty acids play in the body. His main conclusion was that saturated fats can no longer be considered a single group in terms of structure, metabolism and cellular function, and recommendations that group them together with regard to health effects need to be updated.
Effect of Saturated Fat Replacement on CVD Risk
Results from a research review conducted by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health, found that the effects of saturated fat intake on CVD risk depend upon simultaneous changes in other nutrients. For example, replacing saturated fat with mono-unsaturated fat yielded uncertain effects on CVD risk, while replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates was found to be ineffective and even harmful especially when refined carbohydrates such as starches or sugars were used in place of fat. Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat gave a small reduction in CVD risk, but even with optimal replacement the magnitude of the benefit was very small. According to Mozaffarian it would be far better to focus on dietary factors giving much larger benefits for CVD health, such as increasing intake of seafood/omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and decreasing intake of trans fats and sodium.
‘’Carbohydrate intake has been intimately linked to metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of risk factors that can increase CVD risk,’’ said Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut. His research showed that very low carbohydrate diets can favorably impact a broad spectrum of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors, even in the presence of high saturated fat intake and in the absence of weight loss.
Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, MPH. Cardiovascular Research Center and Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, focused on the role of carbohydrates and fats on atherogenic dyslipidemia – a new marker for CVD risk often seen in patients with obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. He showed that low-carbohydrate diets appear to have beneficial lipoprotein effects in individuals with atherogenic dyslipidemia, compared to high-carbohydrate diets, whereas the content of saturated fat in the diet has no significant effect.
Full-Fat Dairy: An Unnecessary Target?
As long as saturated fat targets remain firmly rooted in dietary advice, nutrient-rich foods that contribute saturated fat to the diet, like full-fat dairy products, will continue to be unduly criticized regardless of their health benefits.
A recent meta-analysis of epidemiological and intervention studies of milk fat conducted by Peter Elwood, DSc, MD, FRCP, FFPHM, DUniv, Hon DSc, Honorary Professor at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, found that milk and dairy consumption actually was associated with a decrease in CVD risk.
“It is clear that we have barely scratched the surface in our understanding about the biological effects of saturated fatty acids,” said Cindy Schweitzer, PhD, Technical Director, Global Dairy Platform. “Scientific meetings where researchers from different disciplines within the field of nutrition share information are extremely important to identify both the gaps in our knowledge and the studies that are needed to answer the important questions about diet and health.”
All of these recent research advances add to the growing body of science re-assessing the role of saturated fat in the diet. Whether it’s nutrient replacement or better understanding the role certain foods can play in CVD risk, saturated fat is definitely not be as bad as once thought.
To view the relevant papers from Lipids visit here
Cancer genes "turned down"
A new cancer vaccine concept developed by researchers at The University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute has been licensed to US-based developer of RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) therapeutics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc., through UniQuest, UQ's main research commercialisation company.
The intellectual property licensed exclusively to Alnylam relates to research from Associate Professor Nigel McMillan's molecular virology group, which was described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work investigated the use of RNAi to induce an effective immune response against tumours.
One of the most exciting aspects of this rapidly advancing frontier in biomedical research, according to Associate Professor McMillan, is the potential for treating diseases and helping patients in a fundamentally new way. “It's one of those holy grail areas of cancer research – finding a way for the immune system to ‘see' cancer cells, which are very good at hiding away," Associate Professor McMillan said. "Even current therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment ultimately need the immune system to ‘clean up' cancer cells.”
“RNA Interference is like the volume control on a radio – a way to turn down the expression (or volume) of single genes. "Cancer is often caused by certain genes being over-expressed (or turned up far too loud) and now that the sequencing of the human genome is complete we have begun to understand which genes need turning down.
“A surprising finding from our RNAi work is that not only can we turn down genes, but we can also alert the immune system to the presence of a cancer cell. "This means we can treat a few cancer cells and the immune system, now aware of the cancer, can attack and remove the rest of the untreated tumours.”
UQ's Diamantina Institute put Queensland in the spotlight in 2006 when Gardasil was launched globally - the cervical cancer vaccine developed from the research of Institute Director Professor Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou.
Associate Professor McMillan's RNAi research has used cervical cancer as a model system to test RNAi therapy. “In cervical cancer where genes from the human papilloma virus are driving the cancer, we have shown that turning off these genes by RNAi causes these cancer cells to stop growing and die," he said.
UniQuest also commercialised the intellectual property relating to Professor Frazer and Dr Zhou's discovery.
“This licensing agreement opens up new opportunities for RNAi-based products to be developed into vaccines for cancers and infectious diseases,” UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson said.
“Partnering with an international company such as Alnylam promotes collaboration and makes it possible for the Australian research community to contribute directly to global efforts in the fight against a range of terminal and chronic human illnesses,” Mr Henderson said.
Dr Stuart Pollard, Vice President, Scientific and Business Strategy at Alnylam, said the company was pleased to have secured key vaccine-related intellectual property, which describe opportunities for the advancement of novel RNAi-based vaccines in many human diseases. “While our primary focus remains on the development of RNAi therapeutics, Alnylam's strategy is to also explore the full breadth of RNAi applications in medicine," Dr Pollard said.
The role of RNA molecules has been under the microscope since nucleic acids were first discovered in 1868; however, RNAi and the implications gene silencing may have for drug discovery and development are widely acknowledged to represent one of the most significant biology breakthroughs already this century.
2 October, 2010
Just bad boys, or malfunctioning brains?
"Bad" has to be judged by its consequences, regardless of its cause -- JR
Antisocial boys who abuse drugs, break laws and act recklessly aren't just "bad": many of them may have malfunctioning brains, according to a new study.
"Brain responses to everyday rewards and punishments gradually guide most youngsters' decisions to conform with society's rules," said Thomas Crowley, a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and leader of the study.
A brain area known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is associated with decisionmaking, after receiving information about rewards and punishments from an inner part of the brain. (Image courtesy US Nat'l Center for Biotechnology Info/NIH)
But "when these seriously troubled kids experience rewards and punishments. their brains apparently malfunction," he added. "Our findings strongly suggest that brain malfunction underlies their frequent failure to conform to rules, to make wise decisions, and to avoid relapses back to drug use and antisocial acts."
The scientists, from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Maryland, studied 20 adolescent boys who on average had been on probation 139 of the previous 180 days.
Nineteen of the 20 had the psychiatric diagnosis of conduct disorder, and all had diagnoses of substance use disorder. They had been abstinent, however, an average of about five weeks when studied. They were compared with 20 other boys who did not have serious antisocial or drug problems, but who were of similar age, ethnicity, and home neighborhoods.
All were asked to play a computerized risk-taking game that repeatedly presented a choice between a cautious and a risky behavior: press the left button and always win one cent, or press the right button and either win five cents or lose ten cents.
Interestingly, the scientists said, the number of risky right presses was similar in the two groups. This might have occurred, they added, because the game forced the boys to deliberate for several seconds before pressing either button.
Yet there were dramatic differences in brain activity between the two groups of players, the researchers noted. They examined which parts of the brain were most active during play using a scanning technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Normally, a brain region called the the anterior cingulate cortex monitors changing rewards and punishments, and then sends that information to another brain region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which regulates one's choices among possible behaviors.
During decision-making, antisocial boys had significantly less brain activity than normals in both of those regions, and also in other decisionmaking areas, the investigators found. On the other hand, there were no parts of the brain in which the antisocial youngsters showed more activation.
As predicted by others not associated with the study, the antisocial boys also had dysphoria, a chronic sad-anxious state, the researchers said. They also displayed "reward insensitivity"; in the game their brains showed less response than the comparison boys' brains to wins. They additionally were found to have "punishment hypersensivity," with greater brain response to losses than comparison boys.
Why Are We Underusing a Cure for Drug Overdose?
If we came up with a sure cure for lung cancer, we wouldn't withhold it because it might encourage people to smoke. But something about heroin addiction tends to cloud our thinking on public health policy. On this subject, though, Los Angeles has enjoyed a moment of sunny clarity.
The federal Centers for Disease Control reported in July 2006 that more than 16,000 people died in 2002 from drug overdoses. Philadelphia loses more lives to heroin than to homicide. Chicago witnessed nearly 200 deaths in 18 months from overdoses of fentanyl, an exceptionally powerful opiate that is often mixed with heroin.
One way to prevent people from overdosing is to stop them from using drugs. But as smokers have demonstrated, knowing you should quit and actually quitting are two different things. Despite all our law enforcement and education efforts, there are nearly 120,000 heroin users in the United States.
Abstinence is best, but when it's not universal, other remedies are needed. Luckily, one has emerged. Naloxone is a medicine with one conspicuous attribute: It can stop a heroin overdose in its tracks.
In 2006, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to spend $100,000 to dispense naloxone to community organizations that offer treatment and other help to addicts. It's the latest government to acknowledge that the first step toward curing drug abuse is keeping the abuser alive.
The board has grounds to act. Fatal drug overdoses in Los Angeles have hit the highest level in a decade. Among whites between the ages of 25 and 44, they are the leading cause of death. In 2002 and 2003, there were more than 900 known deaths involving heroin, or more than one every day.
The fiercest critics of drug use may think overdoses are not such a bad thing, since they get rid of troublesome lowlifes. But even by that harsh logic, naloxone is worthwhile, if only because not all excessive ingestions are lethal. Hundreds of heroin users are admitted to Los Angeles County's public hospitals every year with nonfatal overdoses, at a typical cost of $16,000 apiece. Many others get emergency room care. All this means an overdose of tax burdens for local residents.
There is no question that naloxone (also known as Narcan) works. Emergency medical service providers in Los Angeles County already use it about 1,000 times a year.
In Cook County, Ill., a naloxone distribution program operated by the Chicago Recovery Alliance helped to bring down the number of deaths from 466 in 2000 to 324 in 2003. Dan Bigg, director of the program, says that between January 2001 and September 2006, it documented 478 episodes of reversed overdoses -- most or all of which would have been fatal.
But even though deaths for heroin overdoses are rampant in many places, we have held back from mass deployment of a medicine that can save lives. The federal government provides no money for overdose treatment efforts, though Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a bill to change that. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has been wary of naloxone, arguing, "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin."
No, we don't. But it's entirely feasible for governments to proselytize against drug use while trying to keep drug users alive, just as we preach against tobacco while providing medical care to smokers stricken by emphysema.
Naloxone has several great advantages beyond its capacity to instantly avert death. One is that it's very cheap -- about 26 cents a dose. Another is that unlike methadone, which is used to wean addicts off heroin, it has no recreational use. So there is no danger addicts will abuse it or sell it in the black market.
It also can be administered by minimally trained laypeople, which makes it ideal for treating heroin addicts. Many of them die because their fellow drug users are afraid to call 911 and invite an encounter with police. Giving naloxone to a user means he can inject a friend in severe distress, sparing a life without risking jail.
Saving heroin users from killing themselves is not as good as persuading them to give up heroin entirely. But naloxone is a priceless tool for addressing drug problems. After all, as Dan Bigg notes, you can't cure an addict once he's dead.
1 October, 2010
Study: Video games aid decision-making
This would seem to be one in the eye for the sensation-mongering Susan Gruenfeld
Playing action video games, the source of parent-child conflict, may improve a person’s ability to make quick and accurate observations, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Rochester found that video gamers who played 50 hours of the fast-paced role-playing games “Call of Duty 2’’ and “Unreal Tournament’’ made accurate decisions up to 25 percent faster than those who played a slow-moving strategy game.
The researchers recruited 20 young adults, none of whom was a frequent player of action video games, and measured their initial decision-making skills using a boring visual computer task.
Recruits staring at a static black-and-white screen were asked to watch a cluster of darkened dots and quickly say in what direction the dots were moving. Researchers noted how often the participants correctly perceived the dot movement and how quickly they responded with the correct answer.
The recruits then spent the next 10 weeks playing video games on computers at the research facility, five hours a week. The researchers had divided the group at random: Half played the action games, hunting foes or shooting up robots; half played “The Sims 2,’’ building and maintaining virtual communities. After 50 hours of game time, researchers measured how the players’ decision-making performance changed with a final moving-dot test.
The action gamers made decisions just as accurately as their strategy-gaming peers about the movement of the dots, but they also sped up their response time.
“The benefit is coming from enhancing the amount of information the brain of action-game trainees can pick up from the environment for the task at hand,’’ said Daphne Bavelier, a contributing author of the study.
A general syndrome of cancer susceptibility
Worth knowing if you have relatives who get early onset cancer of any type. Most of the women in my mother's family died of breast cancer so I should be wary. Onset was generally reasonably late in life, however. And at 67 my survival is already not too bad
Relatives of young breast cancer victims are at higher risk from other forms of the disease, research has found. Scientists believe entire families may be carrying faulty genes that make them up to seven times more likely to develop certain cancers.
It is known that some forms of breast cancer are caused by defective genes, which can be passed from a mother to daughter. But researchers believe other cancers are caused by groups of faulty genes which are inherited.
Scientists found if a woman develops breast cancer before she is 35, her parents and siblings are more at risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, bladder, and brain cancer.
Their study found that fathers and brothers of women diagnosed with what is known as ‘very early onset’ breast cancer were six and a half times more likely to develop prostate cancer.
Both parents and all her siblings had a four times higher risk of bladder cancer, three times greater risk of brain cancer and were seven times more likely to get lung cancer.
The mothers and sisters of these women were two and a half times more likely to get ovarian cancer and three times more likely to get breast cancer.
The University of Melbourne study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 2,200 parents, brothers and sisters of 500 women diagnosed with very early breast cancer. The scientists believe sets of faulty genes which make cells less resistant to cancer are being passed down through generations.
They hope eventually they will be able to pinpoint the exact defective genes responsible for each type of cancer, enabling people to have gene tests early on in their life. Once this is known patients would be able to have screenings and preventative treatment.
SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"
Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves
The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair
SALT -- SALT -- SALT
1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.
2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful
3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin
Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.
Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.
"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin
"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions
Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial
"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?
Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:
1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).
2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.
3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.
4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.
5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?
6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.
7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.
8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].
9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.
10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.
11). A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!
Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.
The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.
The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here
Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations
The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.
Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."
Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?
Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here
This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.
I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.
Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.
The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.
Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.