Saturday, September 13, 2008

Meat, fish and milk protect against brain shrinkage?

This study was conducted with some caution about confounding factors (Abstract here) so deserves some respect. The causal inferences are speculative nonetheless. The possibility of a third factor influencing both B12 levels and brain shrinkage could not be excluded and this is, after all, a poorly understood field. If the theory is correct, however, we should see a lot of vegetarians with shrunken brains! I must say that I would not be too surprised if that were found! There has after all been some evidence to suggest that tofu causes dementia!. So maybe tofu eating is the third factor! (Just joking)

A diet rich in fish, meat and milk could help to protect against memory loss in old age, a new study has shown. The findings suggest a key vitamin found in the foods helps to prevent brain shrinkage, which has been linked to memory problems.

Researchers at the University of Oxford studied 107 people aged 61 to 87 and found those with lower levels of the vitamin in their blood were six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage than those with higher levels. The vitamin, B12, found in meat, fish, fortified cereals and milk, is crucial to the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Research has shown that many elderly people have low levels of the vitamin.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, which helped fund the research, published in the journal Neurology, said: "This study suggests that consuming more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk as part of a balanced diet might help protect the brain. Liver and shellfish are particularly rich sources of B12. "Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common problem among elderly people in the UK and has been linked to declining memory and dementia. "700,000 people live with dementia in the UK, and more research like this is urgently needed if we are to tackle this cruel condition."


British TV Channel 4 accused of pro-Muslim bias

The television channel, whose head of religious broadcasting is a Muslim, is said by several Roman Catholic priests to be unfair in its treatment of different faiths. They claim it recently showed a whole season of broadly positive programmes on Islam while a "Da Vinci Code-style" documentary on Christianity cast doubt on the validity of the Pope. In addition, they say the Channel 4 website treats the history and beliefs of Islam more reverently than it does Christianity.

It comes just days after the BBC was accused of pandering to Muslims by Hindu and Sikh leaders, who claimed the corporation makes a disproportionately large number of programmes about Islam.

Fr Ray Blake, a leading Catholic blogger who is a parish priest in Brighton, said: "I don't think it's fair towards Christianity. There seems to be a rather supine attitude to Islam and a trivialising attitude to Catholicism. I find it worrying. "Channel 4 has shown quite serious discussions about Islam but nothing that treats Christianity in the same way." Over the summer, Channel 4 broadcast a week of special programmes on Islam including a feature-length documentary on its holy book, the Qu'ran, and a series of interviews with Muslims around the world talking about their beliefs.

However last week it repeated a controversial documentary first shown at Easter, called The Secrets of the 12 Disciples, which claimed St Peter died in Palestine, not in Rome as the church has always taught. Academics quoted in the documentary say this means that he was not the first Pope and so other pontiffs have not been his true successors, with the Vatican accused of "fabricating" a connection with the apostle to justify its power.

The Catholic blog Clerical Whispers quoted one commentator as calling the arguments in the programme "intellectually-challenged" and added: "They are on a par with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and are unsubstantiated. It shows undisguised disdain for the Catholic Church." Another blogging priest, Fr Tim Finigan, said the Channel 4 website highlights the torture and persecution carried out by the Roman Catholic church during the Inquisition, which he said is in contrast to its positive description of Muslims. He wrote: "My point in posting all this is not to denigrate Islam but rather to draw attention to the kind of treatment that can be given to religion, and how far it is from the customary treatment given to beliefs and practices that are sacred to Christians."

One commenter on Fr Blake's blog wrote: "The Commissioning Editor for religious broadcasting at Channel 4 is Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim. I have long noticed that the only coverage Christianity gets on Channel 4 is in the form of programmes that seeks to undermine the authority of the Church, our traditions and our scripture."

A spokesman for Channel 4 denied it favoured Islam over other religions, however. He said: "Channel 4's Commissioning Editor for Religion, Aaqil Ahmed, commissions programmes on the basis of their merit, and our output reflect a wide range of beliefs and faiths."


British watchdog's $9 million PR budget: NICE spends more on 'spin' than drug tests

The health rationing watchdog has come under attack for spending more money on spin than on evaluating drugs which could save patients' lives. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which has been widely criticised for banning drugs from NHS use as too expensive, squandered 4.5million pounds on 'communications' last year. This was 1.1million more than the 3.4million the controversial organisation spent on assessing new medicines.

The money forked out on press officers, marketing executives and consultants included 25,000 on top public relations firm Weber Shandwick to defend NICE's ban on Alzheimer's drugs. It could have paid for 5,000 Alzheimer's sufferers to get 2.50-a-day drugs for a year. Alternatively it would have funded nearly 200 patients with advanced kidney cancer to have a drug for 12 months that would double their life expectancy. Tens of thousands of people across the country are waiting for NICE to assess drugs that could extend their lives or alleviate conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and thinning bones.

MPs, patients groups and medical organisations branded the amount spent on communications as a 'scandalous waste of money'. Myeloma sufferer Jacky Pickles, one of the 'Velcade Three' - three mothers who launched a campaign after being denied anti-cancer drugs - said: 'It is disgraceful that money which could provide drugs that make the difference between someone living and dying is being spent on communications.' Mrs Pickles, 46, of Keighley, West Yorkshire, added: 'NICE should either use the money to improve their evaluation process, or give it back to the NHS to spend on people who are ill.'

Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds, who uncovered the budget breakdown tucked away in NICE's annual report, said: 'These figures typify New Labour's approach to Britain's health service. 'Thousands of patients across the country who are still waiting for NICE to evaluate new medicines will rightly be asking why Labour insists on spending more on spin than on speeding up people's access to lifesaving drugs.'

NICE has an annual budget of 34.4million pounds, and spends 1 in every 8 pounds on communications. In contrast, 1 in every 10 is spent on evaluating new drugs. The rest is spent on such things as salaries - NICE's annual report for 2006/07 revealed that wages accounted for almost 37 per cent of the budget - accommodation (eight per cent) and external contracts. Almost 300 full-time staff are employed in London and Manchester.

The watchdog looks at whether drugs are cost-effective for the NHS, with the annual cost threshold set between 20,000-30,000 pounds, above which they are considered too expensive. The 'value-for-money' calculation, which does not take into account factors such as severity of a disease, means British patients are denied drugs that are freely available abroad.

NICE was condemned recently for handing a 'death sentence' to 1,700 patients with advanced kidney disease each year who will be deprived of four life-extending drugs. One, Sutent, which costs around 24,000 a year, can double the life expectancy of patients to 28 months.

NICE has also been accused of 'dithering' over the evaluation process. It has taken several years for the watchdog to approve the use of some drugs. Chief executive Andrew Dillon was forced to make a grovelling apology last month for a two-year delay in approving a new treatment for blindness during which time many Britons lost their sight.

Michael Summers, vice-chairman of the Patients Association, said spending 4.5million on communications was 'immoral and indefensible'. He said: 'If NICE has reached the situation where it is so unpopular that it has to spend money improving its image, maybe it should be less dilatory and improve its performance.'

Nick Rijke, of the National Osteoporosis Society, said: 'I would have thought that an organisation that spends so much on communicating would be rather better at listening to the views of clinical experts and patient societies.'

NICE said the majority of its communications budget was spent informing doctors about which drugs had been approved and new guidelines for treatments, although it admitted that it had a 'small' marketing budget.

Mr Dillon said: 'The actual cost of assessing new drugs for the NHS includes money spent on NICE's behalf by the Department of Health. When you add them together, the total cost of the NICE technology appraisal programme far outstrips the cost of NICE communications.'


Leading British scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools

Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government. The Rev Michael Reiss, a biologist and its director of education, said it was self-defeating to dismiss as wrong or misguided the 10 per cent of pupils who believed in the literal account of God creating the Universe and all living things as related in the Bible or Koran. It would be better, he said, to treat creationism as a world view.

His comments put him at odds with fellow scientists as well as the Government. Former Fellows of the Royal Society include Charles Darwin, who first proposed the theory of evolution. National curriculum guidelines state that creationism has no place in science lessons. The Government says that if it is raised by students, teachers should discuss how creationism differs from evolution, say that it is not scientific theory and that further discussion should be saved for religious classes.

Professor Reiss, a biologist, was speaking at the British Association's Festival of Science in Liverpool. Other scientists were vociferous in their response, saying that creationism should remain entirely within the sphere of religious education.

Professor Lewis Wolpert, of University College Medical School, said: "Creationism is based on faith and has nothing to do with science, and it should not be taught in science classes. It is based on religious beliefs and any discussion should be in religious studies."

Dr John Fry, a physicist at the University of Liverpool, said: "Science lessons are not the appropriate place to discuss creationism, which is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence. Creationism doesn't challenge science: it denies it!"

However, Professor John Bryant, a biologist at the University of Exeter, agreed that creationism should be discussed as an alternative position of the origins of man and earth. "If the class is mature enough and time permits, one might have a discussion on the alternative viewpoints," he said. "However, I think we should not present creationism as having the same status as evolution."

The Royal Society's support for the presence of creationism within the classroom points to a remarkable turn-around. Last year the society issued an open letter stating that creationism had no place in schools and that pupils should understand that science supported the theory of evolution. A spokesman for the organisation, which counts 21 Nobel Prize winners among its Fellows, confirmed yesterday that Professor Reiss's views did represent that of its president, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and the society. He said: "Teachers need to be in a position to be able to discuss science theories and explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism isn't."

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