Thursday, May 31, 2007

Candy cigarettes make young smokers

candy cigarettes
When I recall the impression of my first candy cigarette as a kid, it was more of a smoking imagination than of eating a long, thin piece of sugar-coated chocolate. I must have been eleven or twelve years old, and soon I also smoked my first cigarette from a school pal who had it from his elder brother. As a teenager I did not smoke, only later in life, and never regularly. In the past twenty years or so I have been living smokefree.

Kids who use candy cigarettes are twice as likely as non-consumers to smoke real cigarettes later, according to an online survey in more than twenty thousand U.S. adults. Given my personal experience, this does not surprise me at all. Tobacco advertising to kids is supposed to be banned, yet this sweet and very efficient promotion tool is still legal, even in states or countries with strict tobacco laws. For me, this is hard to believe.

The 2nd Carnival of All Substances
This carnival is up June 10th, 2007, at Everyone Needs Therapy, presenting a bunch of posts about general issues of addiction and recovery, about legal medical pills, alcohol, tobacco and more. Trauma and anxiety play a major role in some of these posts. This one also has been included.

(Picture by the dancing kids @ Flickr)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fitness may be more important than weight loss

This is a good message for all who have put lots of effort in fitness exercise only to be frustrated by the less than expected weight loss. Do not give up: Fit people of middle age, even when obese, are less likely to die early than average people of the same age with a lower body mass index (BMI). This conclusion can be drawn from a very surprising study result: In a special test group at Stanford University in Palo Alto, obese men have found to live longer than the average.

This is quite the contrary to what most other studies say. Obviously, one single study cannot prove them false. But it may lead us to a better truth than before. That's why I love such paradoxical results.

Now to the facts. More than six thousand military veterans, around sixty years old, have been tested for fitness, and their BMI has been assessed. Seven years later, on average, they have been contacted again which was impossible for 23 percent of them because they had died. And now the surprise: These had, on average, a lower BMI than those who had survived. The association is quite clear: Obese veterans were 22 percent less likely to die early. When the fitness was taken into account, this difference was even more clear with a 35 percent lower risk of the obese versus the normal-weight veterans.

The Stanford researchers see two main reasons for this paradox: The tested veterans have been fitter than the average population and most likely had been slimmer in younger years, getting obese only later in life.

Take home message
Fitness is very important, above all for overweight and obese men (and most likely also for women). Obesity later in life may be less harmful than in younger years.

This post has been featured by Grand Rounds, Volume 3, Number 37, at Inside Surgery. It presents a selection of the best posts about the process of getting or being sick, people in the news, technology in medicine and health, news from the babe world and many other issues. Enjoy!

(Picture by tomswift46 @ Flickr)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dental hygiene even more important when pregnant

Which one of these toothbrushes is more important for baby's health? It may well be that it is mother's, if she has made good use of it in pregnancy, and of dental floss and picks and the like. With healthy teeth and gums the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight is considerably lower, as studies in Milwaukee, Brazil, North Carolina and China have shown - to name only the most recent ones.

Obviously the bacteria that cause gum disease also affect the growth of the fetus. Preterm delivery and low birth weight are only the tip of the iceberg that can easily be measured. Much more important is the growth of inner organs such as brain, heart, lungs and others. In the early weeks of gestation important switches are set for better or worse health later in life.

Living with low birth weight

Every baby is unique and different from others. Therefore, a low birth weight does not necessarily predict a worse health. For a small baby, a slow, steady growth is better than a fast catching up with weight. Read more ...

This post has been mentioned by Your Oral Health.

(Picture by BreckenPool @ Flickr)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Drink water for better weight loss

drinking water
Look at what I have found, fat fighter, weight watcher, hero of lost pounds. It sounds too easy to be true. And you can take for granted that it is not a new wonder diet and I am not going to start a career as water diet guru. But it may help a bit, and every bit must be welcome in the hard struggle. So it cannot hurt to give it a try. Drinking half a liter (one pint) of pure water makes the body burn a quarter more energy at rest during one hour after ingestion, according to a study at Charité University Medicine in Berlin.

Young, healthy overweight volunteers, eight women and eight men, took part in three different trials. They drank half a liter pure water on one day, the same amount of an isotonic saline drink on the other day, and a small glass of pure water (50 ml) on the third day. Only the pint of pure water raised the heat production of the body - by 24 percent, to be exact. Neither the isotonic drink nor the small amount of pure water showed such an effect.

Limits and benefits

The bad message is that the effect fades away roughly one hour after drinking. But, good message, you need more than half a liter of fluid every day. Another good message is that any non-isotonic drink, unsweetened tea for instance, is likely to have the same effect as pure water. One more effect, not mentioned in the Berlin study, adds to the positive side: Pure water or any other non-caloric drink fills the stomach and gives it a job to do, preventing for a while the uptake of nutrients that will accumulate fat. And water, in contrast to many other drinks, has zero calories. The effect may be best if you drink water between meals, just as in the German trial.

Do you find this tip helpful? Vote for it or tell a friend or click the icons below to «digg», «delicize» or «stumble» this post!

This post has been included in the Blog Carnival of the Kansans and Friends in Weight Loss.

(Picture by eye-see @ Flickr)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cancer fatalists more likely to get it

«What's the point of all this worrying about health? We all must die. The world is full of bad chemicals and other poisons. Everything causes cancer. You may do what you want, you'll get it anyway. And so much is told about cancer. Advice here, advice there. You find experts who tell you this or that, and others who tell you quite the opposite.» - (Picture by Starbuck Powersurge @ Flickr)

If you agree to all these statements in the fatalistic belief that you'll get cancer anyway, you may be more likely to get it than if you disagree with the exception that we all must die. This is the outcome of a telephone survey in more than six thousand Americans.

Of course, without contacting the same people ten or twenty years later and checking their health, it is impossible to assess the cancer risk directly. All the same, the researchers have found an indirect way. In addition to cancer beliefs they asked people about their health behaviour. It came out that roughly half of all Americans hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer and that these persons are more likely to smoke, not to exercise and not to eat fruit and vegetables. And from a great number of other studies we know that such a behaviour increases the risk of cancer and of other diseases.

Take home message
You can do much good for your health. Do it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mad fish oil cow research

I am not a vegan. I eat fish and I drink milk. Yet I see myself writing a rant that could be posted on any hardcore veggie activist blog - with some omissions, of course. It was yesterday when I stumbled upon this study about fish oil, cows, and milk. At first I put it aside as a piece of curiosity. But something hooked into my brain. I began to ask questions. Have you ever seen a cow ploughing the oceans, diving for fish? No, mad cows don't behave like that. They stand on the ground with three and a half hooves, shivering and staggering like drunk. The conclusion is inevitable: It is not the cows that are mad when they eat fish. - (Picture by *athena @ Flickr)

But let's come to the facts. At the Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, fourteen Holstein cows, partially grazing pasture, have been fed with oil supplements. Seven cows received a grain mix with 400 grams of animal fat and served as control. The remaining seven cows received the same grain mix and 100 grams of fish oil, diluted with 300 grams of sunflower oil. After a week, the content of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in the milk of both groups has been measured: its amount was 1 percent of fatty acids in the controls and 1.64 percent of fatty acids in the fish oil group. CLA is considered as beneficial to human health, in contrast to other milk fats.

Greek reminiscence

Some weeks ago, on holiday in Greece, we have seen the marine side of this beautiful country, a lot of beach, coast lines, bays, harbours, ports and havens, and ships everywhere. But no fishermen. In earlier days, they must have been there. But now, no fish, no job. According to Greenpeace, 70 percent of the oceans are overfished to the limit or beyond.

With this in mind, I once again take a look at the results of the fish oil cow study. A hundred grams of fish oil each day, and only a meak percent fraction increase of good fatties in the milk. I can hardly believe that it makes a difference for your health if you drink this or that milk. But a hundred grams of fish oil with all its high quality omega-3 fatties can do a lot more if we and not the cows take it.

Some more thoughts

The horror vision that marine ecosystems are being destroyed just to use tons of fish oil for tiny shifts in fatty content of cow's milk is not reality. But the idea makes me sick and angry. I only hope that economy will settle this. Fish oil is expensive, why else did they dilute it with sunflower oil? If the study tells farmers that fish oil supplements for cows do not pay, then at least it has served its purpose.

This post has been featured by Grand Rounds, Volume 3, Number 36.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The dangers of secondhand smoke (2)

It happens all the time. A smoker nearby lights up. I guess that you say nothing and just move away if possible. That's what most non-smoking people do (me included) in most of such situations. Only five or six in a hundred Australians would ask the person to stop smoking, according to a representative telephone survey in more than four thousand non-smokers. And Australians have a reputation of being outspoken. The survey also shows that nearly half of the persons would agree to be exposed to secondhand smoke if a smoker would ask them this question. It seems that a considerable part of the population is very unlikely to protect itself from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Therefore, smoke-free policies and laws are required as the study authors point out. I strongly support this opinion. - (Picture by Lottery Monkey @ Flickr)

Growing evidence for dangers

This week I have found a number of studies that add new evidence and insight. One of these is a Taiwanese study about the effect of secondhand smoke on four hundred children. It is most interesting because the danger of passive smoking could not be detected at first sight but clearly showed up at a closer look. In a first analysis, secondhand smoke seemed not to increase wheezing in exposed children. Only a second look at the genes revealed the previously hidden effect.

Details, in brief: In one gene that is responsible for a certain enzyme two variants have been detected. Children carrying the ile-variant are more susceptible to asthma even if not exposed to secondhand smoke. Exposure does not further increase this risk. On the other hand, children carrying the val-variant have a low ashma risk when not exposed, and exposure to secondhand smoke does significantly increase this risk.

Early exposure, late effects

Exposure to secondhand smoke before birth, because a pregnant woman smokes, has effects that can be detected twenty years later: The risk of hyper-sensitive airways that may cause asthma is six to seven times higher than in children of non-smoking mothers. If they grow up in a smoking home they are also seven times more likely to smoke themselves twenty years later. This is an indirect but very important effect of secondhand smoke.

While a mother-to-be should not smoke, she is also well-advised to stay away from secondhand smoke. A study in more than eightteen thousand UK babies has shown that passive smoking mothers give birth to babies lower in weight. On statistical average, the difference is only about one percent of birth weight. But it may be an important percent. After all, every mother wants to give her newborn the very best start.

Read more
The dangers of secondhand smoke (1)
Passive smoking (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Figures and trends of the overweight epidemic

Remark: This post has been modified. You find the original version here, plus an update that tells you why I have changed my view.

In these days two thirds of all US adults are overweight or obese, according to a new review from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD. There is a steady annual increase in affected people, ranging from 0.3 to 0.9 percentage points, depending on subgroups. Minorities and people of low income are particularly at risk. By 2015, 75 percent of US adults will be overweight or obese, and 41 percent will be obese. This trend is alarming, the experts say. I have nothing to add.

According to public health experts, the border to overweight is crossed at a body mass index (BMI) of 25, and obesity is defined as a BMI beyond 30.

Update (August 31, 2007)
I do not longer share this view. It is not proven that body fat is a major source of diseases, and I'll no longer use terms like "obesity epidemic" in this blog, which assumes that obesity in itself is a disease that must be treated.

Suggested reading
The day when I stopped to believe in weight loss
Interview with Linda Bacon on weight and health
But he has nothing on! (about a flawed health economics study)

Photo credit: neechay @ Flickr

Monday, May 21, 2007

The fish effect on weight loss

fish meal
Suppose you are overweight and try your best to eat less and to control your calories. This is a hard job as we all know. The more important is it to get the best effect possible. That is, lose as much weight as you can with a minimum of restriction. Fish may be a good way to reach this goal, at least if you are a man. Everything else being equal, an overweight man can lose one additional kilogram (two pounds) within four weeks if he adds fish to his calorie-restricted diet. This has been shown by Icelandic researchers in a controlled diet trial with more than three hundred young people from their own country, from Ireland and Spain. - (Picture by Nanon @ Flickr)

In women, fish has no such effect. A woman can lose weight by eating less, but she will not lose a single kilogram more by eating fish. Oops. But stay with me, female reader! This is not yet the end of it. The rest of the story will tell you that with fish you most likely will get a better effect of your weight loss.

Fish effects beyond body weight

Eating fish helps to tackle one big problem of being overweight: The body does not pay enough attention to a signal that fat cells are sending. This signal is a hormone called leptin, and it tells the muscles to burn more fat and the brain to damp the appetite. Fish and fish oil make muscles more sensitive to leptin. As more leptin is used, its level in the blood begins to fall, as studies in Australia and in Africa have shown.

Besides this leptin effect fish also has a positive influence on blood fats, blood sugar and insulin, thus boosting the healthy effects of weight loss. In most studies, fish oil has a similar effect.

Take home message

Fish or fish oil may help to boost weight loss and its positive influence on health.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The walky way to weight loss

treadmill desk
This is Dr. James Levine of Mayo Clinic showing us how the office of the future should be equipped. Instead of sitting at computer screens and keybords all the time, office workers should walk while working, with a speed of approximately a mile or two per hour. Levine has tested this treadmill desk with fifteen obese volunteers. According to his calculations, they can lose twenty to thirty kilograms a year with two or three hours of walky working a day and if they do not eat more than before. - (Picture by Mayo Clinic)

Good idea, wrong place

I see a number of good points in Dr. Levine's treadmill desk. It puts focus on movement which is to be applauded in these days of diet hypes everywhere. It replaces sitting by walking and this is what we all should do because we spend too much time sitting and too little time walking. It shows us that even with a slow walking speed we can, in principle, lose dozens of kilos in only one year. This is very encouraging.

Yet I never would buy such a treadmill desk. Work is demanding and often calls for a full focus. Surfing the web or checking emails or reading blogs may be okay while walking at a speed of one or two miles an hour. But what about writing a mail or editing your blog post or debugging your HTML code? Or imagine you have to concentrate on a difficult task and you forget that the treadmill is running ...

I think that this good idea is sold in the wrong place. Most of us watch TV every day. Why not put a treadmill or bike ergometer there and use it while watching a quiz show, a daily soap or a hollywood blockbuster? It may run at a higher speed than in the office, and you may burn your fat in one instead of two hours. By the way, this study has shown that, in five hundred Polish workers, physical activity in leisure time is linked to weight loss whereas physical activity at work is not.

On the move in the office

The walking desk may be silly, but the idea of moving instead of sitting is not. I prefer to control my moves myself, not being under the constant pressure of a treadmill. A standing desk is a very good idea. While working at such a desk you always can walk on the spot if you like.

Even if you sit at a normal desk in front of a computer screen, you can take opportunities to get up and walk a bit. For instance if you have to read a paper. Another good trick: Get up every time when you make a phone call that does not require you to stare at the screen or to type.

Friday, May 18, 2007

One best tip against low back pain

low back pain
It is physical exercise. No matter if you are a young man or an elderly woman, an overweight manager or a delicate young mother pregnant with her second baby: Exercise most likely will help you against recurrence of low back pain, according to Israeli guidelines based on a big number of published studies worldwide. - (Picture by Avril Hodge @ Flickr)

Exercise is the only recommendation that deserves an A rating, the researchers say. Lumbar supports, shoe insoles and «back schools» have not found to be effective. They may help in some cases but fail to help in others. On a general level they should not be recommended, only with much caution in special cases.

If you suffer from low back pain at the moment, you are well advised to consult your doctor and be very careful with exercises. They are not a treatment but rather a prevention of future pain attacks. Best are exercises that strengthen the trunk muscles. This is the only thing that can be said on a general level. You have to find out yourself (with the help of your physician or chiropractor or fitness instructor) what amount, duration, frequency and kind of physical exercises will do best for you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Got migraine? Try yoga.

The more you get struck by this nasty disease called migraine, the more likely you have tried anything that could possibly help. Have you tried yoga? According to an Indian study in seventy patients, yoga helps to lower pain, stress and anxiety levels in migraine without aura. In addition, the yoga adepts required less medicaments than patients that seeked relief in a self-care group. Of course yoga practised by Indians in India is not the same as yoga in America or Europe. Let alone the many branches and schools of yoga. But still, give it a try. - (Picture by djwhelan @ Flickr)

In another study, self hypnosis has proven to be very efficient against chronic recurrent headaches in children and adolescents: Pain was reduced to half intensity and to twelve percent of duration.

A closer look at the disease

Yoga is known to have a positive, calming influence on basic body reactions such as blood circulation. Thus it is very interesting that new research has detected that blood vessels in the eyes of migraine and other headache patients have smaller calibers than in people without headaches. This adds only a tiny bit of knowledge about what takes place in the body during a migraine attack. It seems that nerves as well as blood vessels are involved.

More ...

Learn more about migraine in this comprehensive article at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Calcium better from natural sources

cheese and tomato
We all need calcium for our bones. But many Americans are not meeting the recommendations for adequate calcium intake from food and supplements. It is not the sheer amount of calcium that counts. Even more important is the question of how the body deals with the mineral and how it is used to strengthen the bones. A new study has shed some light on this question, at least for women: Calcium from natural sources is better utilized for the bones than calcium from supplements. - (Picture by métrogirl @ Flickr)

Pros and Cons of milk

Milk and dairy products such as cheese are one major natural source of calcium. But we do not live in an ideal world. All good things tend to have their bad sides. In case of milk and cheese it is lactose (you may not tolerate it) or saturated fat (your doctor may have told you to avoid them).

Good veggie sources of calcium are dark green leafy vegetables - except spinach and card because they contain oxalic acid that makes most of the calcium unavailable for the body. Mineral water rich in calcium is also a good source that can replace milk.

By the way, reading medical blogs like this one gives you better odds of adequate calcium intake. According to a study in more than three hundred women, a higher level of knowledge (what you are supposed to get by blog reading) leads to a higher level of calcium.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Two thirds use herbs the wrong way

Two out of three Americans who use medical herbs do so without taking note of the evidence-based indications. Roughly twelve percent of the population behave this wrong way, according to a US-wide representative survey in more than thirty thousand adults. The use of ten different herbs has been surveyed. Misuse has been found in nine of them, the only (full) exception being Echinacea. In best case, a lot of money is wasted. But there is likely to be a lot of worse cases where the herbs bring more harm than benefit.

Important to know

Herbs have effects. That's why we use them. The effect is not magic but based upon chemical substances. Every substance that has a wanted effect can and will also have one or more unwanted side effects. Herbs can be very potent such as the beautiful Rauwolfia shown here. The plant is used in folk medicine and by the pharmaceutical industry for drugs that reduce blood pressure. - (Picture by prolix6x @ Flickr)

Do consult your doctor whenever you use herbal medicine. Or ask your pharmacist or druggist. At least consult the internet.

Don't use a herbal medicine just because your friend told you, or because all use it, or because it is said to be effective, or because you took it earlier and it helped you then.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Green tea against cancer

green tea
Green tea is good for your health: There are so many new medical studies about positive green tea effects these days that I am simply unable to report them all right now. Today I'll concentrate on cancer because some of the most interesting research takes place in this field. - (Picture by BluMania @ Flickr)

A great number of studies have shown that green tea reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases. Yesterday I have found no less than 92 such studies. Many studies show a protective effect of green tea, others don't. Studies in human populations, even if their outcome is positive, only indirectly show any effect of green tea. If and how the healthy substances really work can never be proven this way.

For this reason, researchers have isolated the most bio-active antioxidants (polyphenols) from green tea and tested their effect on cancer cells. These results confirm the findings of population studies. Polyphenols from green tea inhibit the growth of cancer cells in many ways: For instance, they diminish the growth of blood vessels in the tumor, making it starve. They also force tumor cells to die as healthy cells use to do when their time has come. The natural agents from green tea are as effective to fight cancer cells as the strongest anti-cancer weapons of the chemical industry are, but without their side effects. Based upon such studies in cell cultures and animals, researchers now develop new anti cancer drugs from green tea.

The first clinical studies with such drugs are now under way. First results in a small number of prostate cancer patients are reported from Italy: In a group of thirty men treated with green tea extract because of a high risk, only one developed a prostate cancer. In thirty men treated with placebo at the same time, nine cancers have been detected. These results are preliminary, of course. But the age of anti-cancer drugs from green tea has only begun.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So little alcohol can make you an addict

alcohol levels

You drink as little as one to seven drinks a week? You think that this amount is far too small to put you at risk for alcoholism? If you are a woman, you are well advised to think it over. Look at what Danish researchers have found: Women who drink only very low amounts of alcohol run a double risk of getting addicted, compared to women who do not drink any alcohol. In men, there is no risk difference between drinkers and non-drinkers up to a weekly intake of twenty-two drinks. - (Picture by BAG)

Take home messages

To machos: It is no achievement to tolerate more drinks than others until you get drunk. No reason to be proud of. It does not make you a man.

To alcoholics: It is not a sign of weakness to lose control after one drink. At least one half of all human beings is at considerable risk of this danger. Some say it is the better half. You are in good company.

To non-alcoholics: Look at yourself and not at study statistics that figure out a no risk level. The no risk level may well be zero in your case no matter whether you are a man or a woman. If you are a man, take care. If you are a woman, take double care.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dirt is good for your child

dirty kid
Are you a parent? Then you may know quite well the dilemma of protection: How much of it is best for your child? For example, the protection from bacteria. Hygiene has led to a better life in all industrialized countries. But it seems that we overdo it. Asthma, allergy and many other diseases have become an ever increasing burden. The immune system of children growing up in a too clean environment is not sufficiently trained and, instead of doing the right job and fight bacteria, it attacks the own body. This is the so-called hygiene hypothesis.

It has gained more support by recent research. For example the stomach bug Helicobacter pylori, known as bad because it can cause peptic ulcer, has also its good traits because it reduces the risk of asthma and allergy. Other good bugs are mycobacteria, so beneficial that there are plans to develop a vaccine against asthma from them.

Even autism is being considered as a potential outcome of a too clean world. With multiple sclerosis (MS), the case is a bit different because it is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Only in regions where this virus is less aggressive, exposure to dirt seems to be beneficial against MS.

The larger the families, the lower the risk for children to get asthma or other forms of allergy. Two studies, in Italy and in Israel, have shown this recently, adding further evidence to the hygiene hypothesis: The more siblings, the more dirt and bacteria, and the better the challenge for a growing immune system. While the number of siblings matters, birth order seems to be of no importance. The hygiene hypothesis would predict less allergy in younger siblings, but only if one assumes that the older protect the younger and not vice versa. This is obviously not true, all protect each other.

Another interesting example comes from Finland. The hygiene standard is quite high in this country, and so is the risk of allergy. In Russian Karelia both hygiene and allergy risk are lower.

Learn more about the hygiene hypothesis at Wikipedia ...

This one has been selected by Cindy as a top ten post in her Twelfth Healthy & Fit Family blog carnival at Wisdom of Healing.

(Picture by Joe Thorn @ Flickr)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Extract from unripe apples more effective than vitamin C

unripe apple
Just imagine you bike a long way uphill with your friends and then reach a plateau. All of a sudden you say, hey, who is tired, and launch a short sprint race. Exactly this kind of task has been set by Japanese researchers. Three groups of healthy volunteers had to perform a two hours workload program on a bike ergometer with intermediate sprints of ten seconds at maximum speed. In the week before this test, the volunteers of each group have taken either capsules with an extract from unripe apples, capsules with vitamin C or placebo capsules without any effective substance each day. In the sprint trial, the apple extract group performed clearly better than the vitamin C and the placebo groups. Conclusion: The apple extract fights physical fatigue whereas vitamin C does not.

The extract is manufactured by the Japanese company Maypro from unripe apples, because they contain ten times the level of polyphenols found in ripe apples. It is sold under the brand name Applephenon in the form of food supplement capsules and supplements for processed foods, beverages and ingredients for the cosmetic industry.

Both the unripe apple extract and vitamin C are antioxidants. These healthy agents help fight noxious substances in the body that may promote cancer and a rapid aging. Vitamin C has its merits and is an absolute must for health. But if the apple extract performs better in one field, it may perform better in others. Who knows.

I have found only three more studies about the extract. It can block cholera toxin in test tube experiments, shows an effect against allergy and is safe even at a high overdose.

Take home message

Applephenon capsules are expensive given the scarce study material. But I think it is not necessary to buy them: Just eat apples in an early ripening stage - although not unripe they may still contain more of the healthy antioxidants than fully ripe apples. If you have to peel apples, never throw the skin away but eat it: Most of the antioxidants are in the skin.

Recipes with unripe apples

Eating unripe apples cannot be recommended. But according to Linda Tobin of Lindystoast unripe windfall apples are excellent for green apple jelly. Nigel Deacon has a method of making cider from unripe apples, he says that «early, unripe apples are the best for cider, apart from true cider apples».

Photo credit:

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cell phones may kill male sperm cells

man with cellphone
Men with fertility problems who use a cell phone frequently have less sperm cells in their semen than those who rarely or never use a cell phone. This is the result of a study in three hundred sixty men who have visited an infertility clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The results show a clear dosis effect: The longer a man is exposed to cell phone, the lower is his sperm count and the higher is the amount of damaged sperm cells. The most frequent users have phoned more than four hours a day.

It is most likely that the radiation from the cell phones has a negative impact on the cells that produce sperm. Cell phone radiation is not the only source of such damage. Over the last decade, a steady decrease in vital sperm cells has been detected in men all over the world. The main cause is pollution of the environment by toxic agents and by substances that have properties similar to female hormones.

The Ohio study only shows the end result, but cannot figure out how it has developed. It may be the electromagnetic radiation. But it may also be a common cause of both cell phone use and bad sperm. For instance, men who phone often may be more under stress or more sedentary than others, which in turn could have a negative impact on fertility. (Picture by PartsnPieces @ Flickr)

New lead pipes of the old Romans?

This study adds a new angle. Up to now, the main concern with cell phones had been brain tumors. The results in this field have been conflicting and controversial. Some studies have found no negative impact of electromagnetic fields on health at all. Some of these studies are funded by the cell phone industry. Some studies have found weak, unclear effects. And some do find an effect. The more I have read about it, the less I have used my cell phone. It has been said that the Roman empire has perished because of lead poisoning from water pipes. Will future archeologists once say that the end of western civilisation has begun with the wide use of wireless technologies?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Some medical studies may be good for your health

A critical appraisal of Steve Pavlina's negative claim

Steve PavlinaSteve Pavlina is one of the very few successful bloggers who can make a living of it. His tips, mainly about success and self management, have attracted a wide readership. One of his minor but not less important issues is health.

He claims that medical studies are worthless to those who care about health. The main reason for him is money: The agenda of medical research is set by people who want to make money, he says, and the outcome is influenced by the people who spend the money on the studies. Every person is unique and therefore does not fit into any statistic. And, finally, he says that the reputation of medical science is bad because tens of thousands of people are killed by medical errors every year. After having picked medical studies to pieces, he puts forward two reasons why nobody should need them. At first, you do not need a study to tell you that smoking or being fat is bad for your health. And secondly, it is better to feel what is good for you because you (and no study authors) are the expert in your unique case.

Strong points of Steve's claim

  1. Money-driven research agenda setting. I strongly agree.
  2. Money-driven publication bias: Negative results withdrawn from publication by the funders of the study. I strongly agree, and also medical journals have recognized this problem. It has been verified by a number of studies about studies.
  3. Nonsense of blindly believing in study results while not using his own brain for thinking.
  4. Nonsense of using generalized statistics to predict the outcome of an individual case.

Needles in the haystack

As a conclusion, I widely agree with Steve as far as the vast majority of medical studies is concerned. I call them the haystack. In his post he does not mention the possibility that needles may be found there. I am convinced that they must be there, for these reasons:

  1. There are still tens of thousands of studies that are (1) not about products and (2) not initiated out of financial interests. Some of them have to be good, to say it with Technorati.
  2. Without medical studies we would not know that smoking or being fat is unhealthy. Until recently, big tobacco in China has advertised a cigarette brand «long life», some Chinese in the countryside still believe that smoking makes you live longer. Would be good for them to know the scientific facts.
  3. Other issues where medical studies may provide useful facts: Dangers of passive smoking; lacking effect of widely recommended food additives, drugs or treatments; alert of special dangers (e.g. vein thrombosis) in certain health conditions (e.g. tooth infections) - just to mention a few.

My personal rating of medical studies

In every 400 new medline entries that I see on average every day, I rate 4 as interesting and 396 as worthless to those who care about health. Of the remaining four, I select one for a post and put the others aside for later use in a topical context.

Monday, May 7, 2007

God's help against Alzheimer's?

Yes, it seems that believers are right: People with Alzheimer's disease who pray often will less suffer from memory decline than non-religious people, according to this Canadian study. Religious practices seem to be more protective than spirituality alone. But before you draw simple conclusions, take note of the question mark in my title.

Yet another question of chicken and egg

The prayer and Alzheimer's case is just one of these links or correlations that are reported in every medical study. And, as always, the old question comes up: What was first? Is the memory loss slower because of the prayers? Or are persons with a better memory simply better able to pray? If we assume that religious practice is a complex cognitive task, then it may be impossible for persons with a rapid memory loss.

Even if we assume that prayers really help to curb memory loss, we still must ask why? Science can say nothing about god, let alone about his help, let alone against Alzheimer's disease. All we can say is that religious pracices require an active brain, and this is likely to be protective against Alzheimer's. Note that the active practices do better than the passive spirituality. To pray is okay, do it. To play chess is also okay, do it. Or read books. Or solve crosswords. Or engage in social life. No matter what you do, but keep your brain active. - (Picture by Geo8 @ Flickr)

Voice of the affected

In response to this post, I have received very personal, very touching emails. This is no question of science any more. This is about emotions and about the sad situation of a slow sloping path to death. For Diane, such a study does not matter, because religion «has nothing to do with rate of disease, but it can affect coping with disease». This adds a very important point. And, in my opinion, a good coping may influence the rate of the disease in a positive way. But, sad as it is, even this cannot be any better, according to Patty: «Can prayers speed up memory loss, to quickly get through the blank years of Alzheimer's? I wonder why in the world one would want to slow down this disease, make it last longer.»

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A medal for challenged mothers

This post is for all mothers of an autistic (and probably also ADHD) child. I have the pleasure to tell you that you deserve a medal because you make it happen every day, not only once as finishers of the NYC marathon do. This is not my idea, although I strongly support it, but is based upon scientific research.

More than three hundred mothers of autistic children have been surveyed and compared to thousands of other mothers. They are more stressed, for sure, but they also perform better in parenting tasks than mothers of less challenging kids. And, very remarkable, they have a closer relationship and are less angry to their child. They also show a very good social stability and manners to discuss disagreements in the family. - (Picture by jodi*mckee @ Flickr)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Tall buildings make slim people

new york
Surprised to hear? Look at what New York researchers have found: The more people live in a given area, the lower is, on average, their body mass index. Mixed land use also favours slim people, as well as a dense network of bus and subway stops. City planners will be pleased to hear that people get healthier in a high quality urban environment.

But what about the fact that crowded people get slimmer, which is by far the strongest link that has been found in the New York study? Of course this is an indirect link, and I do not know how the researchers explain it.

Anyway, for me, it makes sense. I have heard that the average walking speed in cities rises with the number of inhabitants who therefore will burn more fat. Living in a dense area is more expensive due to higher land prices. Only people with higher income can afford it, and the rich generally tend to be slimmer than the poor. In a dense urban area, people spend more time walking to a bus or subway and less time sitting in a car. - (Picture by toomanybeers @ Flickr)

How to get slim outside of New York

Eat a big apple every day. Spend less time of your life in a car. Visit a gym at least once a week for workout. What are parks for? Right, for jogging, walking, playing with your children. Warning: No guarantee, and these ideas are mine and not based upon the research cited above.


For Diet Blog the study result is «unsurprising given that suburbia is built for cars not people».

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The strengths of ADHD kids

When you look at a glass, do you say it is half full or half empty? As to ADHD children I suggest you to take the half full glass approach. Do not look at deficits and weaknesses. Look at resources and strengths. There are a lot, as Swedish psychologists have found.

They have examined more than fourty children with various degrees of ADHD. Various skills have been tested and compared to the average performance of so-called normal children.

The tests show that ADHD children are particularly strong in logical thinking, reasoning and common sense. That is, in the most important skills of private and professional life. And there may be more, such as creativity, but these have not been tested.

Of course there are deficits, for instance in arithmetics and other information processing, as we all know. But I think that, by concentrating on the half full glass, these can be overcome. - (Picture by malderman @ Flickr)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The dangers of secondhand smoke (1)

smoking hand
Secondhand smoke puts the heart under stress. A number of studies have linked exposure to secondhand smoke to a higher risk of death from heart attack. Some critics say that such a link does not strictly proof that secondhand smoke causes cardiac death. They may be right if we were forced to draw our conclusion only from a single study. But we are not. It is a puzzle of many pieces, and every day new pieces are added, closing gaps and uncovering missing links.

As to the heart issue, new facts have been found in Switzerland. In people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) at home or at work, the heart rate variability is lower and the heart rate is higher than in persons not exposed. What does this mean? A healthy heart is able to adjust the speed of its beats to the situation, that is, beat faster in an effort and beat slowlier at rest. In addition, a higher heart rate at rest indicates that the heart is less fit and hence more likely to get sick.

Another puzzle piece: Secondhand smoke raises the level of a dangerous substance in the blood, C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP favours lesions in blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis, stroke, angina pectoris and heart attacks.

Secondhand smoke not only is a poison in itself. It also increases the uptake of lead in pregnant women, as researchers in Krakow, Poland, have shown. This adds new evidence to the danger of tobacco smoke to the fetus. In addition, passive smoking has been linked to preterm delivery. - (Picture by Leo @ Flickr)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Robot doll for autistic children

Robota the robot doll
Children with autism are often impaired in their ability to imitate other persons. This has led Swiss researchers at the EPFL in Lausanne to develop a small robot doll called «Robota». The mini humanoid robot can interact with the child, imitating speech and body movements.

Robota has been under development for ten years now, and new prototypes are yet to come. The job obviously is not very easy. New results have been published recently. These results are now being used to further improve the new prototypes. It seems that the robot doll is a promising way to overcome the autistic fear of interaction with a human being. But it is still a long way for Robota to grow market-ready. - (Image by EPFL)

Kristina Chew, in her excellent autism blog, has brought up a reverse angle, that is, robots have been used as a metaphor for autism. But, as she points out, it is a weak metaphor because it «is a creation of us non-autistic persons' attempts to understand autism».

Feedback: This story has been noticed by Autismpress and Dave Vinci Blog.


If you came to this page by a search engine, please do not read further but go to the Heart Attack Health Quiz of June 11, 2007. Take a pencil and a paper and write down the answers, then come back.

A. The seven classical signs of a heart attack

  1. Pain, often in the chest
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Nausea
  4. Vomiting
  5. Palpitations
  6. Sweating
  7. Anxiety
B. The seven main risk factors for a heart attack
  1. Older age
  2. Being a man
  3. Cigarette smoking
  4. High cholesterol
  5. Diabetes
  6. High blood pressure
  7. Obesity (but see update at the bottom of this post)
Add a point for every correct answer.

12-14 points
Excellent. You got the basics, but feel free to learn more about the details.

9-11 points
Not too bad but you may have missed some important points. Make sure to learn them.

0-8 points
You just have made an important step to fill your gaps of knowledge. Keep on, it may save your life or the life of others in an emergency.

Knowledge base
Wikipedia: Myocardial infarction

Update: Obesity is an official risk factor for a heart attack, but I think this view must be challenged. Read more about why I stopped to believe in weight loss.
(August 5, 2007)

Comments FAQ

How can I comment when comments are turned off?

Your comments are still welcome! Just write a post or a short plug in your own blog and link to mine. I use to regularly check all incoming links and to read reactions of other blogs. If your view adds a new angle to the topic, I may take it up and add it to my post or to a new post. Commenting and linking to unique, relevant content may add more quality to a blog and to the blogosphere as a whole than attachments of comments to a post.

While my view may not be shared by many bloggers, it is supported by the Google policy of not following links from comments. Obviously, Google rates the content quality of comments lower than of blog posts.

If you have a question regarding a topic or post, feel free to drop me a mail (see top sidebar link). Such feedback is very welcome and may bring me to new, interesting posts.

Why are comments turned off in this blog?

1. You have much to tell me
In this case, I protect you from putting much of your valuable knowledge, energy and time into a text that is going to be buried in the comments section that only few visitors will read. I have seen so many good comments that would have been very good blog posts. In fact, some have been copied out and re-posted. Thus: If you have much to tell, write a post.

2. You just want to be polite
Of course it flatters every blogger (me included) to read responses of the «nice post I like it» type. But I am blogging for my readers, not for me. If you like my post, feel free to mail a friend or to social bookmark it.

3. Trolls around
Many of the topics at Med Journal Watch may provoke endless discussions pro and con of certain aspects. And there are enough people (not you, of course!) that like to make mountains out of molehills. See also my point 5...

4. Spammers around
There are still some that manage to break through the barriers and as the number of posts is growing, the barrier becomes wider and wider.

5. Life is just too short
So many topics to post, so little time. My pipeline is full of very interesting items. Too many to cover them all. Thanks to my comments-off strategy I hope to be able to post more of them.

How do other bloggers handle comments?

One of the top bloggers, Steve Pavlina, chose to turn off comments for the reason of opportunity cost, as he puts it. Read his full post here ...