Formula For Disaster
Concerns about AIDS have given formula makers the green light in Africa. Since 1997, the UN has recommended formula rather than breastfeeding to mothers with the AIDS virus. But pediatric wards in Botswana have recently been flooded with babies dying from diarrhea, a malady that is rarely fatal. Few of the mothers were breastfeeding, a practice that once was universal. In all, 532 children died in the outbreak. Doctors have reached the difficult conclusion that the nutrition and antibodies in breast milk are so crucial to young children that they outweigh the small risk of HIV transmission through breast milk. “Everyone who has tried formula feeding. . . found that those who formula feed for the first six months really have problems,” says Hoosen Coovadia, a South African pediatrician. “They get diarrhea. They get pneumonia. They get malnutrition. And they die.”
Other Second Thoughts
Recently, the US government added fish and shellfish to the list of demonized nutrient-dense foods, citing concerns about mercury. Many pregnant women now avoid seafood like the plague, concerned about the effect that mercury in fish might have on the neurological development of their children. But the latest findings of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a UK study involving about 14,000 women and their children, show that the benefits of eating most types of seafood during pregnancy far outweigh any risks (Lancet 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85). The most important finding: women who eat twelve ounces or less of seafood per week were almost 50 percent more likely to have children with low verbal IQ scores compared with women who exceeded this amount. At age three, children whose mothers ate less seafood during pregnancy were more likely to have social and communication problems with their peers and by ages seven and eight, they tended to have more behavioral problems and trouble with fine motor skills. They were also more likely to have lower academic scores. The ALSPAC is the third in recent years to find few or no adverse effects from consuming most types of seafood during pregnancy. While it may be wise for pregnant women to avoid over-consumption of the most mercury-laden fish—tuna, shark and swordfish—most other types of seafood are fine for pregnant women and should be consumed liberally (Washington Post, February 20, 2007).
The Statin Shuffle
While the pill-pushers continue to promote cholesterol-lowering with a vengeance—a recent article published in the American Heart Journal (2006:785-92) announced that clinicians are “under-prescribing” statin drugs—evidence accumulates that the little pill taken by 12 million Americans (a number the pharmaceutical industry would like to triple) may be bad news for a lot of people in a lot of ways. One recent study found that statin treatment caused a deterioration of blood sugar control in diabetics (Atheroscler Thromb 2006 Apr;13(2):95-100). Another reports that statin-induced cholesterol lowering causes muscular damage even when the patient has no symptoms of pain or weakness (J Pathol 2006 210(1):94-102). Another found elevated risk of lymphoid malignancy with statin use among Japanese patients (Cancer Sci 2006;97:133-138). Yet another presents evidence that statins interfere with selenium pathways (Lancet 363:892-94, 2004). Very low cholesterol is associated with poor survival in heart failure patents (American Journal of Cardiology, September 2006), a finding the study author called “counter intuitive.” Most serious is accumulating evidence that cholesterol-lowering is bad for our brains. One new study indicates that a decline in total cholesterol levels precedes the diagnosis of dementia by at least fifteen years (Archives of Neurology 2007;64:103-107). Evidence that low levels of LDL-cholesterol are associated with Parkinson’s disease have become so strong that a team at the University of North Carolina is planning to explore the link with clinical trials involving thousands of subjects (Reuters, January 15, 2007). Cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is unavailable to the brain—both LDL and HDL are too large to pass the blood-brain barrier, so cholesterol needed by the brain must be manufactured in the brain. Statins, however, do pass the barrier and enter the brain where they can interfere with cholesterol production and set the scene for cognitive decline.
New Zealand Nanny State
After an online Southern Cross healthcare test, in which 21 percent of the more than 21,000 respondents indicated that they preferred full-fat milk, and 10 percent preferred butter over margarines and spreads, health officials are wringing their hands in despair. “Among this motivated, computer-literate population, the proportion still eating butter and [full-fat] milk was surprisingly high,” complained Professor Rod Jackson, who designed the test. “These results demonstrate why the average New Zealander’s diet contains more saturated fat than almost any other country, which is why we have one of the world’s worst death rates from cardiovascular disease” (www.nzherald.co.nz, December 15, 2006). Health officials in the Manukau District propose changing the behavior of recalcitrant Kiwis with a program to put full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt on the lower shelves of supermarkets—the group congratulates itself for a “successful” trial to replace full-sugar Sprite with artificially sweetened Sprite Zero in McDonald’s outlets. Another proposal involves removing “fatty” and sugary foods and drinks from schools. It targets chips, cakes and chocolates, but also meat pies and full-fat milk. No doubt New Zealand health officials will get more ideas from their counterparts at USDA, who are distressed by the fact that almost 90 percent of Americans “are still choosing diets out of sync with dietary guidance.” US Proposals to induce compliance include use of prepaid cards in grocery stores and schools that prohibit purchase of “unhealthy” foods; encouragement of online food ordering with less “tempting” options; and more restrictions on food stamp and school meal programs (foodnavigator-usa.com, June 12, 2007).
Australian Nanny State
If there were an academy award for nannyism, it would go to Australia, where the headmaster of Sydney’s Amcliffe Public School has made sunglasses compulsory for children from kindergarten through year six. The education minister of New South Wales reports that the government is considering making sunglasses compulsory in all public school playgrounds. Specialists are recommending wrap-around glasses as the best protection for children, starting at the age of three or four (Yahoo News, July 31, 2007). Such life-denying sun angst is a natural outcome of the worldview that margarine is better than butter and that scientists can do better than nature.
Vaccination: New Evidence
While the pharmaceutical industry continues to invest in vaccinations—research is ongoing on 200 new vaccines, including an AIDS vaccine aimed at 12-year-olds—newly published research provides ammunition for those who question the wisdom of inoculations as a way of protecting against disease. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (April, 2005), which looked at 515 never-vaccinated, 423 partially vaccinated and 239 completely vaccinated children, found a dose-dependent negative relationship between vaccination refusal and self-reported asthma or hay fever. Unvaccinated children also had significantly less eczema. And a new, privately funded survey has found that vaccinated US children have a significantly higher risk of neurological disorders—including autism—than unvaccinated children. The most striking finding was that vaccinated boys aged 11-17 were more than twice as likely to have autism as their never-vaccinated counterparts (UPI, June 26, 2007).
Vaccinations: New Attitudes
A most interesting study on physician attitudes towards vaccination appeared in the July, 2007 issue of Pediatrics, which reported on the Penn State Immunization Project. The project examines parent resistance to routine childhood immunizations and explores the ethical, legal and scientific dimensions of the issue. The Pediatrics article reported on a 45-minute tutorial administered to 122 pediatric and family medicine residents in seven training programs. The author, Dr. Benjamin H. Levi, acknowledges the growing number of parents who resist vaccines and the alarming number of pediatricians who refuse care to these parents’ children. The results of the study show some remarkable changes in physician attitudes as a result of the tutorial. To the statement, “Many adverse reactions to routine childhood immunizations are insignificant by any measure,” only 30 percent disagreed pre-tutorial while 76 disagreed post-tutorial. Sixty-one percent of doctors changed their response to the statement, “Most parents who resist/oppose vaccinating their children are unreasonable.”
Only 49 percent disagreed pre-tutorial while 88 disagreed post-tutorial. To the statement, “Physicians are professionally justified in refusing to care for children whose parents oppose routine childhood immunizations,” 68 percent disagreed pretutorial, while 85 percent disagreed post-tutorial. We think all physicians should take the tutorial—it would certainly result in more respect for parents who have made an informed decision about vaccination.
Reasons For Resistance
Adverse reactions to the government-mandated Gardasil vaccine for teenage girls—said to protect them against cancer of the cervix—provides cautious parents with more reasons for resistance to vaccines. In Victoria, Australia, during one month, seven students were hospitalized with complaints ranging from dizziness to paralysis after receiving the vaccine. In the US, a review of National Vaccine Information Center statistics reveals 2,207 reported adverse reactions to Gardasil, including five deaths and 51 girls disabled (The Heartland Institute, August 1, 2007).
The current record holder for being the world’s oldest man recently received a certificate from the Guinness World Records. The recipient does not drink alcohol or smoke (no surprise here), but he does drink milk (surprise number one). But the big surprise is that he is Japanese! Tomoji Tanabe, age 111, drinks milk daily (AP, June 18, 2007). So much for the argument that milk is bad, and especially bad for Asians. There are actually numerous dairies in Japan, which supply milk primarily to school children. News reports did not indicate whether the milk Mr. Tanabe drinks is raw or pasteurized.
Wild And Crazy Centenarians
George Rene Francis of Sacramento, who turned 110 this year, enjoys “tons of milk, tons of eggs, lard on bread and salt pork sandwiches.” He avoids visits to the doctor but smokes cigars. Covering his birthday party, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee noted that “many partygoers were simply aghast at the 110-year-old’s ability to survive a history of unhealthy eating habits.” Europe’s oldest man, Henry Allingham, credits his long life to cigarettes, whisky, wild women and a healthy sense of humor (www.second-opinions.co.uk/110-plus.html). Nanu Ram Jogi has not yet reached his hundredth year; his claim to fame is the fact that he has fathered 21 children, including the latest one at age 90. He credits his virility to a combination of fresh camel’s milk, daily walks and plenty of meat—rabbit, lamb, chicken and wild animals, which he still hunts himself (www.telegraph.co.uk, August 24, 2007).
Has It Really Come To This?
The food industry is hailing a new device that mimics human chewing, which can provide researchers with “a more detailed understanding of mastication and flavor release.” According to an article published in the Journal of Food Engineering, the device could lead to a deeper understanding of flavor release and improved formulation of foods to maximize the flavor. “We have thus developed a functional device which can precisely reproduce the compressive and shear strengths of a human jaw causing the breakdown of food with sufficient reliability when compared with in-vivo measurements,” state researchers. They intend to extend the capabilities of the device to mimic swallowing and throat movements (foodnavigator.com, February 2, 2007). How can we possibly summon up the sarcasm needed to comment on a mechanical chewing machine? For once, your caustic commentators are simply speechless!