Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘medical research’

Michelle Malkin on Marijuana

Posted by Richard on May 31, 2017

No, not like that. Like this:

Let’s talk about marijuana.

Specifically, let’s talk about how and why I came to be one of the countless parents across America (and around the world) who have let their chronically ill children try it.

Read the whole thing. It’s excellent.

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How a persuasive scientist with poor evidence ruined our diets

Posted by Richard on May 6, 2014

ICYMI: Put away that box of breakfast cereal and have some ham and eggs. That’s the take-away from a fascinating essay by Nina Teicholz in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

“Saturated fat does not cause heart disease”—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.

The new study’s conclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

The persuasive scientist who derailed nutrition policy was Ancel Benjamin Keys, and it’s an interesting story. The unintended consequences of the adoption of Dr. Keys’ diet recommendations, chiefly the increased consumption of carbohydrates and vegetable oils, have not been good. For one thing, eating less fat and more carbs, ironically, makes us fatter:

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. …

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.

Read the whole thing. You may want to change your breakfast routine.

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Are vegetarians less healthy?

Posted by Richard on April 23, 2014

It’s only one study, and any single study such as this should be taken with a grain of salt. But an Austrian matched sample study of people with different dietary habits contradicts the conventional wisdom that vegetarians are healthier:

… Subjects were matched according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status leaving 1320 people – 330 vegetarians, 330 that ate meat but still a lot of fruits and vegetables, 300 normal eaters but that ate less meat, and 330 on a more carnivorous diet. 

After controlling for variables, they found that vegetarians did have lower BMI and alcohol consumption but had poorer overall health. Vegetarians had higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders, a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life. 

As a result, vegetarians take more medications than non-vegetarians.

I’m guessing that the vegetarians’ problem is insufficient alcohol consumption.

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Hepatitis C breakthrough?

Posted by Richard on July 20, 2012

Dexter Johnson, on the IEEE Nanoclast blog, reported a possible breakthrough nanotechnology treatment for the hepatitis C virus:

Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) have developed a nanoparticle that has shown 100 percent effectiveness in eradicating the hepatitis C virus in laboratory testing.

The nanoparticle, dubbed a nanozyme, consists of a backbone made from gold nanoparticles and a surface with two biological components. One biological component is an enzyme that attacks and destroys the mRNA, which provides the recipe for duplicating the protein that causes the disease. The other biological part is the navigator, if you will. It is a DNA oligonucleotide that identifies the disease-related protein and sends the enzyme on course to destroy it.

Y. Charles Cao, a UF associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Chen Liu, a professor of pathology at the UF College of Medicine published their research online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Nanoparticle-based artificial RNA silencing machinery for antiviral therapy“).

The basis of the work is mimicking the biological process of RNA interference, which researchers in the past have used effectively in the laboratory for treating HIV. In the UF research the nanoparticle mimics the function of RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), which mediates the RNA interference process.

Current hepatitis C treatments do attack the replication process of the virus but they are not entirely effective and only help about 50 percent of the patients treated with them. Cao and Liu along with their team wanted to see if they could improve upon that percentage. The researchers claim that their treatment (in cell culture and mice) led to a near 100 percent eradication of the hepatitis C virus without bringing on any side effects caused by the immune system attacking the treatment.

I have a good friend for whom this research could matter — a lot. So in the words of Glenn Reynolds, “Faster, please!”

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Malaria breakthrough

Posted by Richard on July 18, 2012

If this pans out, it could be the most important breakthrough in the fight against malaria since the introduction of DDT, saving literally millions of lives:

Researchers report they have found a way to kill malaria in mosquitoes by genetically modifying a bacterium commonly found in the insect’s mid-gut, according to a new study.

The bacterium, called Pantoea agglomerans, can be modified to secrete proteins that are toxic to the malaria parasite, but are not harmful to humans or the mosquito itself.  In fact, the bacterium is so specific to targeting malaria that it does not even affect other bacteria in the mosquito’s gut, according to the researchers from Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, who conducted the study.

Of course, it will be bitterly opposed by the same luddite environmentalists who got DDT banned 40 years ago — and thus sentenced tens of millions of inhabitants of tropical regions (mostly Africans) to death.

There are some 300 to 500 million reported cases of malaria each year, 90% occurring in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about two and a half million people die of the disease each year, again, mostly in Africa, the majority of them poor children. Indeed, malaria is the second leading cause of death in Africa (after AIDS) and the number one killer of children there (with about one child being lost to malaria every thirty seconds). Many medical historians believe malaria has killed more people than any other disease in history, including the Black Plague, and may have contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Malaria was common in places as far north as Boston and England until the twentieth century. Two thirds of the world lived in malaria-ridden areas prior to the 1940s.

That devastation all but stopped during the time that DDT use was widespread, around 1950-1970. Indeed, the discovery that DDT could kill malarial mosquitoes earned Dr. Paul Müller the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948. DDT, a chemical pesticide synthesized by Müller in the late 1930s, was initially used against houseflies, beetles, various farm pests, and typhus-carrying lice on the bodies of World War II soldiers and civilians. America and England soon became the major producers of the chemical, using it to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes, especially in tropical regions.

In all, DDT has been conservatively credited with saving some 100 million lives.

… In what is now Sri Lanka, malaria cases went from 2,800,000 in 1948, before the introduction of DDT, down to 17 in 1964 — then, tragically, back up to 2,500,000 by 1969, five years after DDT use was discontinued there.

Read the whole thing.

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Get high to lose weight?

Posted by Richard on February 25, 2010

Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? I mean, what about those infamous munchies? Oh, wait — they're talking about altitude! German researchers say that living at higher altitudes seems to increase metabolism, decrease appetite, and lower blood pressure:

Florian Lippl and colleagues at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich studied the effect of living in high altitudes for one week on the body weight of 20 obese males, while no other change was made to their exercise routine or food availability.

At the end of the week, their body weight, food intake, and diastolic blood pressure had been significantly lowered, effects that were still present four weeks after returning from high altitude.

The low levels of oxygen present at high altitudes could be responsible for an observed increase in leptin, a hormone thought to suppress appetite, though the causes of this need to be further studied, the researchers say.

The lasting weight reduction seen at high altitudes is primarily due to an increased metabolism and decreased food intake, though the reasons behind these changes remain unclear and may be a temporary effect of the body acclimatizing to new surroundings. 

This was a small, short-term study, so clearly there's more to learn. But the effect may not be so temporary. For some time, Colorado has had the lowest obesity rate in the nation and is the only state with a rate below 20%. Sure, there are significant lifestyle differences between the average Coloradan and Mississippian. But the altitude may be a factor. 

Either way, here's my advice: You'll be thinner and healthier if you decide that life's a mountain, not a beach.

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Protect your joints, have another drink

Posted by Richard on June 7, 2008

Need another reason to attend tonight's Blogger Bash? Well, just tell yourself that you need to drink more to protect yourself from a crippling disease. New research suggests that alcohol consumption can cut your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in half:

The Scandinavian researchers base their findings on more than 2750 people taking part in two separate studies, which assessed environmental and genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.

The results showed that drinking alcohol was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. And the more alcohol was consumed, the lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Among those who drank regularly, the quarter with the highest consumption were up to 50% less likely to develop the disease compared with the half who drank the least.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight let us drink a toast to those Scandinavian researchers! Maybe a toast to each of the researchers!

Among those with antibodies to a specific group of proteins involved in the development of the disease, alcohol cut the risk most in smokers with genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.

The authors conclude that their research reinforces the importance of lifestyle factors in the development of the disease, and that giving up smoking remains the single most important preventive measure.

Hmm, I don't know. It sounds like taking up drinking is a pretty important preventive measure, even for smokers, and by far the most important for non-smokers. But researchers are always reluctant to say positive things about "vices," no matter how strong the evidence. Bad for their employers' public relations and their chances of getting more grant money.

Nonetheless, good news for those of the imbibing persuasion. Skol!

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Drink more coffee to live longer

Posted by Richard on January 2, 2008

Did you make any health-related New Year's resolutions, like eating better and working out more? You might want to add drinking more coffee. According to a Finnish study, you'll live longer. The researchers followed about 800 elderly men and women (born in 1920 or earlier) from 1991-2 to 2005. During that period, over 600 of the subjects died. The mortality rate was inversely correlated with coffee consumption (emphasis added): 

For total mortality from all causes, and mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other or unknown causes, there was an association observed between the number of cups of coffee consumed and a decrease in the risk of death. Compared with drinking one to two cups coffee per day, each added cup lowered the risk of mortality by an average of 4 percent. When the follow-up period was divided into five year periods, the strength of coffee’s effect appeared to diminish during the final years of the study, although the researchers add that there was not enough evidence to conclude a constant linear decrease.

“The present study in a representative sample of older adults strengthens the findings in some previous studies among middle-aged individuals of a beneficial effect of moderate or heavy coffee consumption on the risk of death,” the authors conclude. “We expect results from more detailed studies in larger study populations to provide more insight about the advantages and disadvantages of coffee consumption, and to set critical recommendations of optimal consumption with regard to health.”

You could wait for more research, I suppose. But a number of studies have already provided compelling evidence of the health benefits of coffee. So go ahead and have an extra cup of java. Or two. Or three. And pour grandpa a cup, too.

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Health news updates

Posted by Richard on March 6, 2007

Back in September, I warned you to start taking vitamin D supplements as the days grew short. I hope you did, and I hope it helped you avoid the flu this winter. The February issue of Life Extension Magazine (yes, I’m a bit behind in my reading) has an article that goes into much greater depth regarding the connection between seasonally low levels of vitamin D and high rates of influenza. It includes information about how vitamin D helps protect you:

In the past few years, several independent researchers have shown that vitamin D significantly enhances the genetic expression of antimicrobial peptides in human monocytes (precursors to macrophages), neutrophils, and other immune system cells.15,1617-19

For Dr. Cannell, these various clues led to one inescapable conclusion: vitamin D—which is produced when the skin is exposed to summer sunlight, and which, conversely, declines in winter—plays a critical role in our vulnerability to influenza infection. In fact, vitamin D must surely be Hope-Simpson’s mysterious “seasonal stimulus.” Dr. Cannell consulted a number of leading vitamin D researchers, all of whom agreed with his conclusions. They include researchers from such venerable institutions as the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. One of these scientists, Dr. Michael F. Holick, has been studying vitamin D for three decades.1,7,20

In an interview with Life Extension, Dr. Holick alluded to the special relationship between vitamin D and the body’s primary immune system defenders, the macrophages. “What intrigues me the most,” Dr. Holick noted, “is that we’ve always known that macrophages activate vitamin D.” The form of vitamin D generated through the skin’s interaction with ultraviolet B radiation (from sunshine or artificial sources) is a pre-hormone. It must be converted in the body to its active hormone form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. An intermediary form, known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D, is the major circulating form of vitamin D, and is measured to determine vitamin D status.20

Most of this activation of vitamin D occurs in the liver and kidneys. However, the fact that macrophages facilitate the conversion of circulating vitamin D to its active form,20 and that activated vitamin D in turn regulates the activity of macrophages, suggests an important relationship between the two. These antimicrobial proteins help to destroy invading infectious microbes. With their broad-spectrum activity, they are capable of killing everything from bacteria to viruses. They have been shown to be an important part of the respiratory tract’s defense against invaders, and likewise show promise in fighting the influenza virus.

Life Extension Foundation has also taken aim at the shoddy supplement study I wrote about last week, issuing a consumer alert entitled "Another Flawed Attack against Antioxidants." Among other issues, LEF looked at the ridiculously wide range of nutrient dosages in the studies:

The JAMA review that attacked the value of antioxidants included vitamins A, C, E, and selenium and evaluated these very basic nutrients in a very wide & inconsistent dosage range:

Supplement

Dose range

Vitamin A (synthetic)

1,333200,000*** IU

Alpha Tocopherol (synthetic)

105,000 IU

Vitamin C (synthetic)

60 – 2,000 mg

Selenium (natural)

20 – 200 mcg

As an example of the strange decisions made by the JAMA authors as to which studies to exclude or include in their analysis, they selected a single dose study*** of patients using 200,000 IU of vitamin A, who were subsequently followed for 3 months.8

LEF also found that the authors misrepresented some of the included studies, attributing deaths that didn’t happen, and seem to have intentionally omitted a long list of studies that demonstrated positive benefits from antioxidants from their cherry-picked (68 out of 815) sample. LEF characterized the JAMA study as an "irrational and highly biased attack," and quoted several other respected scientists who dismissed this study as deeply flawed.
 

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Another shoddy supplement study

Posted by Richard on March 1, 2007

Last March, I commented on several shoddy studies of nutritional supplements, singling out a calcium / vitamin D study that Life Extension Foundation’s Bill Faloon described as perhaps "one of the most poorly designed studies in the history of modern medicine." Well, the February 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports a "meta-analysis" of antioxidants that has to rank pretty high on the list of bogus studies. It purports to demonstrate that there is no health benefit associated with vitamins A, C, and E, beta carotene, and selenium, and that A and E may "significantly increase mortality."

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University was quick to criticize the study. Its director, Balz Frei, said the meta-analysis had multiple serious flaws:

“This is a flawed analysis of flawed data, and it does little to help us understand the real health effects of antioxidants, whether beneficial or otherwise,” Frei said.

The “meta-analysis” published in JAMA, which is a statistical analysis of previously published data, looked at 815 antioxidant trials but included only 68 of them in its analysis, Frei said. And two of the studies excluded – which were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the prominent British medical journal Lancet – found substantial benefits and reduced mortality from intake of antioxidant supplements.

It’s not as if the researchers conducting this meta-analysis carefully selected the best, most unambiguous 68 trials out of the 815 they considered. Instead, they picked mainly various clinical trials of subjects with existing health problems. Furthermore, these sick subjects were getting a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, other nutrients, or other treatments, thus making any conclusions about the specific nutrients being "meta-analyzed" ambiguous and suspect.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition argued that this study represents a misuse of meta-analysis (emphasis added):

"Healthy consumers can feel confident in continuing to take antioxidants for the benefits they provide. This meta-analysis does nothing to change those facts," said CRN’s Andrew Shao, Ph.D., vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs. "While meta-analyses can be useful when the included studies are very similar in design and study population, this meta-analysis combined studies that differ vastly from each other in a number of important ways that compromise the results."

For example, the meta-analysis included clinical trials that varied widely in terms of dosage, duration, study population and nutrients tested — such as data from a one-day study with a vitamin A dose of 200,000 IU mixed with data from other studies lasting years.

200,000 IU of Vitamin A?? According to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, the "Tolerable Upper Intake Level" of retinol (vitamin A) is 10,000 IU.

"Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the clinical trials included in the meta-analysis tested for secondary prevention, looking at how a nutrient works in those who already are diseased, instead of primary prevention studies in healthy populations.

"Combining secondary prevention and primary prevention trials and then making conclusions for the entire population is an unsound scientific approach," said Dr. Shao. "Additionally, many of the treatment trials had limitations, including the expectation that a simple antioxidant vitamin could be expected to overturn serious illness, such as cancer or heart disease. These trials likely statistically skewed the results."

When it comes to studying nutrients, herbs, and the like, the methodology favored by many mainstream medical researchers seems to be something like this: Give a bunch of people who have, say, heart disease some supplement. If lots of them die, announce that taking the supplement can kill you. If lots of them get well, caution the public that further study is needed. Meanwhile, try to come up with a chemical analogue of the supplement that works about the same, but can be patented and sold as a prescription drug.
 

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Frontiers of medicine

Posted by Richard on February 20, 2007

On the diagnostic front, a New Jersey company has developed a new use for its super-sensitive breathalyzer, and as an ex-smoker, I’m interested:

A new breath test has been reported to detect lung cancer in its early stage. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and doctors believe that early detection could offer sufferers their best chance for early survival.

Dr. Michael Phillips, CEO of Menssana Research, the company that developed the breath test, said, "We developed a breathalyzer that is one billion times more sensitive than those the police use to measure alcohol in the breath. It detects around 200 different chemicals in a person’s breath, and some of these chemicals are markers of cancer. A breath test has great advantages over most other medical tests – it is completely safe, painless and non-invasive. All you have to do is breathe gently into a tube for two minutes. There are no potentially dangerous x-rays to worry about, and it will certainly be a lot less expensive than chest imaging."

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that will be published in Cancer Biomarkers, researchers studied 404 smokers and ex-smokers aged over 60. The breath test predicted lung cancer with almost the same accuracy as computerized tomography, or chest CT, the best screening test for lung cancer currently available.

The company is also working on breath tests for tuberculosis, heart disease, and breast cancer. The lung cancer test still has to get FDA approval, and I hope that happens soon.

On the surgical front, if you’re going to have laparoscopic surgery, you may want to quiz your surgeon about his or her recreational activities:

Surgeons who played video games at least three hours a week in their past were 27% faster, with 37% fewer errors, in simulations of laparoscopic surgery than nonplayers, reported James C. Rosser Jr., M.D., of Beth Israel Medical Center here, and colleagues in the February issue of the journal Archives of Surgery.

Among the 33 residents and attending physicians in Dr. Rosser’s Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing training program, those who currently played video games committed 32% fewer errors and were 24% faster than nonplayers.

In a regression analysis, past and current video gaming were the most important factors in laparoscopic simulation performance, even more so than traditional factors, such as years of training and number of laparoscopic cases.

Sounds like you’re better off with a video-gamer surgeon, doesn’t it? But keep in mind that it’s a small study, and the research looked at the surgeons’ performance on simulations of laparoscopic surgery, not actual surgeries. John Timmer at Ars Technica offered a computer geek’s perspective of why that might make a difference:

Part of the appeal of gaming is that we can abstract our actions from any real-world consequences—we can choose to participate in virtual death and mayhem without causing any actual damage. The surgical skills test appears to give its participants the same opportunity, namely to view the errors they make as having no consequence. It’s possible that surgeons that do not game are less able to make that abstraction, and that their slow pace and (possibly nervous) errors reflect their view of the surgical drill as having similar consequences to working on an actual patient.

As usual, experts said more studies were needed (although this isn’t the first; see this from 2004 and this from 2006). They also cautioned parents that the study didn’t mean we should "relax our concerns" about video gaming by kids:

"Parents should not see this study as beneficial if their child is playing video games for over an hour a day," Gentile said. "Spending that much time playing video games is not going to help their child’s chances of getting into medical school."

Remember that, parents — your kids need to learn math and science, not Quake 3! Those fuddy-duddy med schools are still making admission decisions based on MCAT scores and GPAs instead of who has the fastest twitch.
 

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Successful losers

Posted by Richard on January 23, 2007

This time of year, many of us are trying to lose a few pounds. It’s become a cliché that losing weight is relatively easy, but keeping it off is hard. So, what are the secrets of the really successful losers — the people who’ve lost a lot and avoided gaining back the weight they’ve lost? The National Weight Control Registry is a good place to find out.  It’s tracking over 5,000 people who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year, making it "the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance."

James O. Hill, NWCR’s co-founder and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, described the typical person in the registry as a middle-aged white woman who’s lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off an average of seven years. Those numbers are a pretty good indication that the registry members are doing something right.

So what made the registry members successful? According to Hill, these five behaviors (emphasis added):

1. They eat breakfast. Unlike fat people, who typically skip breakfast but do have lunch and then eat virtually non-stop from about 4 p.m. until they go to bed,"these people almost never skip breakfast," Hill reports. "We think maybe that calories ingested in the morning have a greater satiating effect than calories eaten later in the day."

2. They monitor their weight. "These people use scales a lot," Hill says. "Almost all of them use a scale weekly, and some use it daily." Such regular checks enable them to catch weight regain early on, he says, so they can take action to get back on track as soon as they see their target number go up more than two or three pounds.

3. They get a lot of exercise. "Walking is huge," Hill reports. A survey of participants in the registry found that on average, they get 60 minutes of physical activity per day, with 28 percent mostly walking,49 percent combining walking with cycling, aerobics or lifestyle changes such as parking farther away, and 14 percent mainly doing activities other than walking. Meanwhile, 9 percent "do nothing" — i.e. they control their weight through diet alone.

4. They watch what they eat. Most successful losers report consuming 1300 to 1400 calories per day over the long term, with only about 25 percent of the total derived from fat, compared to 30 percent or more in the typical American diet. In addition, their eating habits are consistent from day to day — they don’t take "holidays" when anything goes.

5. They stay away from the tube. The formerly fat "watch much less TV than the national average" — about 10 hours a week, or less than half of the typical 28 hours or so. Presumably, they’re less likely to be snacking and more likely to be physically active during the non-watching hours.

Hmm. I guess I’m doing fine on #1 and #2, need to work harder on #3 (especially in the winter), and need to be more consistent about #4.

But, oh boy, do I fail badly on #5! Sigh. Anybody want to buy a nice Samsung 46" HDTV?
 

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Tell her it’s for her own good

Posted by Richard on January 2, 2007

Men, if you have a wife or female significant other, pay attention. In fact, you might want to print out a few copies of this. Stick one on the fridge. Keep one handy for the next time she nags you to help more with the housework. Tell her you’re leaving the housework for her because you care about her and want to safeguard her health. Tell her you’re willing to lie on the couch while she dusts and vacuums if it will help protect her from breast cancer. According to a just-published study, it will (emphasis added):

Doing housework can cut substantially a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to researchers.

A study comparing the beneficial effects of different types of exercise found that moderate housework had the biggest obvious effect.

The researchers analysed data from 218,169 women from nine European countries, with an age range of 20 to 80 years.

They followed the women for an average of 6.4 years, during which time there were 3,423 cases of breast cancer. The average age at which the disease developed in the participants was 47.6 years for pre-menopausal women and 65.6 years for post-menopausal.

All forms of activity combined was found to reduce the risk in the post-menopausal women participants, but had no obvious effect in the pre-menopausal women.

But the researchers found that all women, both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal, who undertook housework had a “significantly” reduced risk of getting the disease.

The research, published in the January edition of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, concluded: “In this large cohort of women , . . increased non-occupational physical activity and, in particular, increased household activity, were significantly associated with reduced breast cancer risk, independent of other potential risk factors.

“Our results . . . provide additional evidence that moderate forms of physical activity, such as household activity, may be more important than less frequent but more intense recreational physical activity in reducing breast cancer risk in European women.”

I’m thinking of contacting the Susan G. Komen Foundation and offering to make my house available for women who suffer from a shortage of housework. I think my dump lovely home could meet the housework needs of a significant number of women for quite some time. I wouldn’t even charge them anything — it would be my contribution to a good cause.
 

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“Harvesting” babies?

Posted by Richard on December 13, 2006

Let me make it clear up front: I’m not a right-to-lifer. I have a "Pro-Choice on Everything" sticker on my car, I support a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy, and my only objection to federal funding of fetal stem cell research is — like a good libertarian — to the federal funding part.

But there are some arguments of the "pro-life" crowd that deserve to be given some thoughtful consideration — for instance, the argument against partial-birth abortion, or the argument for parental notification.

Or the argument that we’re descending a slippery ethical slope that’s cheapening human life. If this BBC story is true, they’ve slid horrifically far down that slope in the Ukraine:

Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.

Ukraine has become the self-styled stem cell capital of the world.

There is a trade in stem cells from aborted foetuses, amid unproven claims they can help fight many diseases.

But now there are claims that stem cells are also being harvested from live babies.

Apparently, allegations against a maternity hospital three years ago led to exhumations and autopsies, and someone has now given the BBC video footage of that:

The pictures show organs, including brains, have been stripped – and some bodies dismembered.

A senior British forensic pathologist says he is very concerned to see bodies in pieces – as that is not standard post-mortem practice.

It could possibly be a result of harvesting stem cells from bone marrow.

Hospital number six denies the allegations.

Of course they do. Just as the Chinese deny killing prisoners to harvest their organs for transplants. The denials may even be truthful. Maybe.

But I find the story quite disturbing. I wonder if researchers using stem cells from the Ukraine are at all disturbed.
 

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Have a hot cocoa and go to bed

Posted by Richard on December 6, 2006

This is another installment in my occasional series of posts about things that are good for you without being boring, unpleasant, or painful (see here, here, here, and here). This time, I have two pieces of advice: eat more chocolate and sleep more.

The first recommendation comes from a Johns Hopkins study. I’ve expressed skepticism about Johns Hopkins data in the past (here and here), but I doubt that there’s any political bias in this study. 🙂

More than 1200 people participated in the study of aspirin’s effects on blood platelets. The finding was the serendipitous result of some study participants’ failure to comply with instructions. They admitted to being "chocoholics" who continued to indulge in their vice even though told not to. Rather than discard their data, researchers compared non-aspirin-taking chocolate-eaters’ results with those from the compliant aspirin-takers, and were surprised. The chocolate-eaters had slower clotting times and less platelet activity byproducts in their urine than the aspirin-takers. The potential health benefit of their modest chocolate consumption is significant (emphasis added):

Their “offense,” say researchers at Johns Hopkins led to what is believed to be the first biochemical analysis to explain why just a few squares of chocolate a day can almost halve the risk of heart attack death in some men and women by decreasing the tendency of platelets to clot in narrow blood vessels.

“What these chocolate ‘offenders’ taught us is that the chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack,” says Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Eating a little bit of chocolate or having a drink of hot cocoa as part of a regular diet is probably good for personal health, so long as people don’t eat too much of it, and too much of the kind with lots of butter and sugar,” says Becker.

My second recommendation is based on recent findings based on analysis of data from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study:

Middle-aged women may be able to sleep their way to a trimmer body, new study findings suggest.

In a study that followed more than 68,000 U.S. women for 16 years, researchers found that those who caught more zzz’s each night tended to put on less weight during middle-age.

What’s more, women who typically clocked 5 hours of sleep were one third more likely than those who slept for 7 hours to have a substantial weight gain — 33 pounds or more — during the study period.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and presented earlier this year at a medical conference, add to evidence that sleep habits affect a person’s weight.

Although the reasons aren’t clear, some research suggests that sleep deprivation alters hormones involved in appetite control and metabolism.

It’s also possible that people who sleep fewer hours either eat more or, because of fatigue, exercise less often.

Actually, the AJE article said that the results "were not affected by adjustment for physical activity or dietary consumption." Whatever the reason, more sleep seems to be good for middle-aged women, and may help offset the caloric impact of eating those healthy doses of chocolate.

But I don’t think there’s any scientific evidence in support of this strategy.
 

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