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Why Yet Another Study of Homeopathy?

Our OSS Blog - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 22:47

This post needs a bit of a background. A few weeks ago we noted that the Dean of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto was organizing a trial on using homeopathic preparations for the treatment of ADHD. A letter to the Dean asking how a Faculty of Pharmacy would get involved in studying something that is dismissed by the vast majority of the scientific community seemed appropriate. Eventually this letter was signed by more than ninety scientists and physicians and was sent off. There was no reply. In our view, not only is this a waste of funds, it adds an aura of respectability to a scientifically bankrupt notion. This is especially disturbing now in face of the measles outbreak since the private clinic where the study is to be carried out is a supporter of “nosodes,” the homeopathic “alternative” to vaccination. The original letter sent to Dr. Boon is reproduced below the following opinion piece that appeared in the Montreal Gazette.

Academic Freedom Comes With Academic Responsibility

Academic freedom is sacrosanct in universities. Researchers must be free to pursue their ideas, be they conventional or peculiar. But academic freedom also includes the freedom of others to question those ideas, and scholastic consideration dictates that those questions be addressed, especially when they are posed in a courteous letter signed by ninety scientists and physicians from around the world, including two Nobel Laureates. The letter in question was sent to Dr. Heather Boon, Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto and focused on a study she was organizing to investigate the use of homeopathic preparations in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. Those of us who signed the letter, along with the vast majority of the scientific community, believe that numerous studies have concluded that the effects of homeopathy do not extend beyond a placebo response. The letter sought Dr. Boon’s views on why a Faculty of Pharmacy was organizing a trial that legitimizes homeopathy, a practice that has no scientific plausibility. Homeopathy is not an umbrella term for alternative modalities. It is a very specific practice that originated before the dawn of the scientific era when little was known about disease or chemistry. Samuel Hahnemann, a well-meaning German physician, concluded that a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person cures those symptoms in a sick person if it is sufficiently diluted. His process involved thumping the solution into a leather pillow between dilutions, and finally using a drop to impregnate a sugar tablet that would then serve as a “homeopathic medicine,” the term deriving from the Latin for “similar” and “disease.” Hahnemann could not have realized at the time that the final solution did not contain a single molecule of the original substance. Today, homeopaths have to contend with chemical knowledge and have proposed that the curative effects are to be explained by the sequential dilutions leaving an imprint on the solution, although they appear to be at a loss to explain how such an image is transferred to a sugar pill or how a molecular ghost can have healing properties. Stymied by the implausibility of nonexistent molecules having therapeutic potential, homeopaths point to papers in the scientific literature demonstrating a larger than placebo effect, as well as to the millions around the world who use homeopathy with satisfaction. Neither of these is surprising. Toss a hundred coins into the air and count heads and tails. Maybe 45 heads, 55 tails. Maybe 48 tails 52 heads. But do this a hundred times, and one event may come out 30 heads and 70 tails. If this is the only one reported, the impression would be that the coins were not fairly weighted. So it is with studies of homeopathy. Just by chance alone, some results will indicate efficacy. That’s why we look at all the studies and come to the conclusion that we are looking at a placebo response, which of course is valuable and should not be dismissed. Indeed, couple the placebo response with the fact that homeopathic treatments are administered by caring people who spend a lot more time with patients than physicians can, and that they mostly target self-limiting conditions or diseases that have their ups and downs, and you have a formula for satisfaction. ADHD is a serious condition that merits serious research. Apparently the University of Toronto researchers carried out a pilot study involving homeopathy that seemed to indicate benefit. That study, however, was unblinded, devoid of randomization, had no control group and relied on a subjective outcome, making any data derived from it essentially meaningless. Even if we were to attach some importance to the claimed reduction of symptoms, the effect was about half of that seen with conventional medication, making the homeopathic treatment clearly inferior. Furthermore the proposed study would use individualized treatments for each subject as determined by a homeopathic consultation, so at best the results would be ambiguous in terms of making any recommendation. The study is actually to be carried out at the Riverdale Homeopathic Clinic, a private institution that also offers ear candling, cranial sacral therapy and “nosodes,” which are homeopathic versions of vaccines. No public funding is involved; support comes from a foundation dedicated to alternative medicine. Nevertheless, one wonders why with various nutritional and biofeedback treatments with significant potential for helping with ADHD needing exploration, a scientifically insolvent notion is being pursued. One also wonders why a Dean of Pharmacy at a major Canadian Institution did not take the time to respond directly to repeated requests for her comments on a contrary opinion expressed by a large number of notable scientists and physicians.

ORIGINAL LETTER

Dear Dr. Boon

The following originates from the McGill University Office for Science and Society and has been signed by scientists and physicians from the international community. We are all devoted advocates of academic freedom and support the right of researchers to pursue any field of study they feel has merit. But we also feel that it is fair to ask colleagues questions about how a particular study they are engaged in may contribute to the bank of scientific knowledge. It should be emphatically stated that those who have added their name to this letter, including two Nobel Laureates, in no way wish to interfere with your research. Everyone is just interested in your response to the concerns expressed here. Those concerns deal with the trial we understand you are organizing to investigate a homeopathic approach to the treatment of ADHD. First, let us point out that the McGill Office for Science and Society accepts no funds from any vested interest; our only allegiance is to the scientific method and to evidence-based science. It makes no difference to us whether any substance, including homeopathic products, is regulated or not, as long as the decision is arrived at through proper scientific evaluation rather than emotion, "they say" or pressure from vested interests. Along with the majority of scientists, we find the notion of nonexistent molecules having a physiological effect through leaving some ghostly impression in water that is then transferable to a sugar pill simply untenable. Even if some sort of "memory" effect prevailed, there is no reasonable explanation for how it could affect biology. Furthermore, after all the sequential dilutions and succussions, the original impurities in the solvent would be more extensively present in the final solution than any component from the original homeopathic source. After evaluating the scientific literature, including a comparison of 110 homeopathic studies with 110 conventional studies for a number of disorders and outcomes, the most likely conclusion is that any benefit attributed to homeopathy can be ascribed to a placebo response. Generally, scientists look askance at homeopathy, but don't bother much with it because they consider it to be harmless folly. Unfortunately, this is not the case when homeopaths recommend "nosodes" as alternatives to vaccination, or attack the use of antibiotics for infections, or offer unproven treatments for ADHD. The reason for this extensive email is to solicit your rationale, given your training as a pharmacist, for the study you are carrying out. Is the motivation a concern that parents are wasting money and possibly sacrificing effective treatment by resorting to homeopathy for ADHD, and that the study may clarify the situation? Or is there a belief that there may be some factor other than a placebo response involved? In that case, what mechanism may be operative? You allude to the results of a pilot study that warranted this further research. That study, however, was unblinded, devoid of randomization, had no control group and relied on a subjective outcome, making any data derived from it highly questionable. You also note that the reduction of symptoms found in the pilot study was about half of that seen with conventional medication, making the homeopathic treatment clearly inferior. Basically, as you have gathered, we are curious about why, given the need to investigate natural therapies that may actually have a potential for benefit, and faced with a scarcity in funding, a Department of Pharmacy is interested in investigating a subject that has been addressed extensively in the literature and has been found wanting both in evidence and plausibility. There is also a concern that just the mounting of such a study by a highly reputable researcher at a top notch university will be used by homeopaths to justify diverse aspects of their practice, including steering patients away from evidence-based treatments. Looking forward to your comments, Read more

Lead – A stain on chocolate?

Our OSS Blog - Sat, 02/14/2015 - 07:53

Lead is nasty. Since the body has a tough time eliminating it, exposure to very small amounts can cause poisoning over the long term. Diagnosis of lead poisoning is challenging because of the variety of symptoms it can produce. Vomiting, constipation, abdominal pains, headaches, mood disorders, high blood pressure, tingling sensations and fatigue can all be the result of lead poisoning, but of course these symptoms can also have other causes. Then there are the truly worrisome issues like developmental problems, learning difficulties and eventual loss of mental faculties. Lead poisoning is most worrisome in children under the age of six when the nervous system is still forming.

Exposure to lead-based paint in old buildings is a big problem, and lead paint still crops up in some imported toys that kids may put in their mouths. There is also the problem of lead in water in areas where old lead pipes are still in use. Since our body has no requirement for lead, every effort should be made to avoid ingesting lead compounds, but total avoidance is impossible since lead occurs naturally in the soil and gets incorporated into anything that grows in the soil. And that includes cacao trees and therefore chocolate. Yes there is lead in chocolate and that has raised the ire of some activist groups who claim this represents a risk especially to children. And what better time to get publicity for a warning about chocolate than Valentine’s Day. So a California watchdog group called “As You Sow” has trotted out its annual chocolate scare.

So, how much should we worry about eating chocolate? Let’s play with numbers a little. Total avoidance of lead is impossible, but the World Health Organization has determined that a tolerable daily intake for children is 3.6 micrograms per kg per day. This means that even if this amount is consumed every day, no problems are foreseen. A 20 kg child can therefore consume 72 micrograms of lead a day. Dark chocolate has the most lead with 0.07 micrograms per gram. That means 50 grams, a pretty good chunk of chocolate, will contain 3.5 micrograms of lead. Milk chocolate has less, but cocoa powder has more, at 0.25 micrograms per gram, but a serving of cocoa would only be about 7 grams which yields 1.75 micrograms of lead. Far from the daily tolerable limit of 72!

Of course lead is found in other foods as well. Berries contain as much as chocolate, and one normally eats a greater weight of berries than of chocolate. A glass of canned apple juice would have more lead than a serving of chocolate. Liver contains thousands of times more, but warnings about liver do not make the headlines. Even when the lead in all food consumed is totaled, it is unlikely that a child would exceed the 72 micrograms. Nevertheless, lead intake should be minimized as much as possible. And with chocolate, improved processing can reduce levels because studies have shown that the lead content of the finished product is greater than that found to occur naturally in the beans. The lead likely comes from machinery and air drying in places like Nigeria where leaded gasoline is still used. The bottom line here is that if you are eating enough chocolate to have to worry about lead, you are eating way too much chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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FOLLOW DR. KO: What You Never Knew About Canadian Doctors Outside Canada

From Our Contributors - Mon, 02/09/2015 - 18:18

Imagine me, a single thirty year-old living in the bustling city of New York, out at a bar on a Saturday night. “What do you do for a living?” – someone inevitably always asks.

Sometimes, for fun, I make up stories. I tell people that I specialize in cleaning elephant poo at the Bronx Zoo or something ludicrous like that. It is so much more interesting than just saying, “I’m a doctor.”

But when I do say that I am a doctor, people’s reaction is usually “Oh wow.” They think that I must live in luxury on the Upper East Side, drive a Mercedes-Benz or some other fancy vehicle, and travel to exotic lands every couple of months. They picture a doctor, noble and heroic, who goes to work every day and saves lives. Countless lives. They would imagine me shouting out a patient’s blood pressure, cutting them open, performing chest compressions, while pearls of sweat drip down my face, the sweat of hard work, of responsibility, of grandeur. Then the patient lives, wakes up, and thanks me with hugs and tears.

Well, all that is flattering, but none of it is true. Read more

Academic Freedom

Our OSS Blog - Sun, 02/08/2015 - 05:56

Academic freedom is sacrocent in institutions of higher learning. According to standards adopted by Canadian universities, academic freedom includes the right to freely communicate knowledge and the results of research. To do this, faculty must be free to take intellectual risks and tackle controversial subjects in their teaching, research and scholarship. The views expressed by faculty must be based on solid research, data and evidence.Thus, academic freedom must be based on reasoned discourse, rigorous extensive research and scholarship, and peer review.”

Clearly, academic freedom does not mean that professors have the right to teach anything that strikes their fancy, and they certainly do not have the right to confuse facts with opinion and demand that students recite these opinions on tests lest they be penalized. Yet this is exactly what seems to be happening in a course called “Physical Determinants of Health” at Queens, one of Canada’s most prestigious universities.

The course is taught by a professor whose background is in sports sociology which hardly equips one to deal with the intricacies of vaccination, electromagnetic radiation, prescription drugs, toxic wastes, personal care items, artificial sweeteners and genetically modified organisms. All of these, according to Professor Melody Torcolacci contribute to our “toxic load,” whatever that may mean. As is clearly evident from student reports and her classroom slides, she strays far and wide from facts and exhibits a stunning ignorance of epidemiology, immunology and toxicology. She may once have been a nationally ranked shot putter, but that doesn’t qualify her for taking shots at vaccination.

Professor Torcolacci has a clear distrust of vaccines that she attempts to infuse into her students. Her scientific shortfall is demonstrated in one of the first slides with which she accosts the students in her lecture titled “Vaccines: Good or Bad.” Guess what conclusion she want them to come away with? “No scientific evidence exists showing vaccines are NOT contributing to increased incidence of chronic illness and disability in children,” her slide flagrantly declares. What an absurd statement this is. Science can never prove a negative. Could anyone ever prove that aliens do not kidnap people? Or that Professor Torcolacci is actually not an alien? Of course not. I think, however, we can prove that she is alien to science. Her comments that pregnant women should not be vaccinated against the flu goes against the documented evidence of a positive benefit-risk ratio.

Professors are free to express their opinions, but they are not free to make up facts. And when you teach students that vaccines are connected to AIDS and autism, you are making up facts. When you teach students that colloidal silver, oil of oregano and fresh garlic work like broad-spectrum antibiotics, you are making up facts. It seems that this professor has not come across a Google myth she hasn’t readily swallowed and then regurgitated in front of impressionable students. This isn’t academic freedom. It is an academic crime.

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Number Needed to Treat

Our OSS Blog - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 19:08

We all want to be healthy and live as long as possible. So we think about popping vitamin pills, a daily dose of aspirin, eating foods with probiotics and taking statin drugs. And we puzzle over dietary regimes that claim to result in weight loss, lower blood cholesterol and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. All of these are supported by some evidence. But the chances of significant benefit are in general much less than what people think.

One of the best way to evaluate such interventions is through a determination of what is referred to as the “number needed to treat,” or NNT. Basically this is a measure of the number of people who need to follow the particular regimen for one to have a successful outcome. Take for example the possibility of reducing the risk of cancer by taking a daily multivitamin. And let’s not even consider the numerous studies that have failed to show any reduction in risk, lets consider one that did. The Physicians Health Study followed close to 15,000 doctors over the age of fifty who took either a placebo or a multivitamin for eleven years and found an 8% lower risk of cancer in those who took the multivitamin. By comparing this reduction to the normal rate of cancer in such a population, we can calculate that to prevent one case of cancer about thirty people have to be taking the multivitamin. So the chance of prevention is small, but on the other hand, the risk of taking a multivitamin is essentially none.

The situation is more complicated when it comes to medications with potential side effects. The American Heart Association recommends that people who have a greater than 10% chance of suffering a heart attack within the next ten years based on risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and family history, take a daily low-dose aspirin pill. Statistics show that this intervention can prevent a heart attack. With what efficacy? Depending on which study one looks at, it is in the range of 1-2000 people who have to be treated to prevent one event. So with the best scenario, about 1000 people have to take the daily aspirin for one death from a heart attack to be prevented. But what about side effects? Aspirin can cause bleeding and over a ten year period in 1000 people there would be about two extra deaths from bleeding. So that doesn’t look so good. But wait. There is mounting evidence that aspirin can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Here the NNT over a ten year period is about 60. So in the case of the 1000 people taking aspirin 16 deaths from cancer would be prevented. Putting it all together, more people benefit than are harmed. But the overall NNT works out to be roughly 50-60, meaning that the chance that a single individual will benefit from a daily aspirin regimen is pretty slim. But if sixty million people followed the regimen, a million premature deaths could be prevented. Most people, though, I think would decide that if their individual odds of benefitting are 60 to 1, the intervention is not worthwhile. Yet they will go out and buy a lottery ticket where the odds of winning are millions to one.

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Le BPA fait de nouveau les manchettes

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Sat, 01/31/2015 - 04:30

Dans ma manchette de la semaine dernière, je vous mentionnais que des études, faisant appel au poisson zèbre, ont été utilisées pour établir un lien entre l'exposition au bisphénol A (BPA), un perturbateur endocrinien, et l'autisme chez les enfants. Mais, comme je l'indiquais dans ma manchette, rien dans les résultats ne justifiait de s'inquiéter outre mesure. Car contrairement aux poissons zèbres de l'étude nous n'évoluons pas dans une eau chargée de BPA. Cette semaine, le BPA, revient à l'avant de la scène mais cette fois d'une manière plus positive. Il s'agit d'un document de l'Autorité européenne de sécurité des aliments (EFSA) qui souligne, dans un rapport de plusieurs centaines de pages, l'innocuité du BPA. Après avoir examiné plus de 450 études, l'EFSA conclut que le BPA, aux niveaux actuels d'exposition, ne présente pas de risques, pour la santé des consommateurs de tous les groupes d'âges, y compris les nourrissons, les adolescents ainsi que les embryons d'enfants à naitre. Une conclusion qui est partagée par la FDA (Food and Drug Administration) aux États-Unis. Malgré tout, l'EFSA préconise de réduire la dose journalière tolérable (DJT) de 50 mg par kg de poids corporel (mg/kpc) à 4 mg/kpc. Cela pour prévenir des dangers hypothétiques à venir. Le BPA est utilisé dans la fabrication d’une multitude de produits de consommation quotidienne allant des plastiques durs des bouteilles d'eau réutilisables aux revêtements internes des boites de conserve et des cannettes de boisson. L'inquiétude provient du fait que des résidus de BPA peuvent migrer dans les aliments puis être ingérés par le consommateur. Le BPA se trouve également sur les tickets de caisse d’où il peut être absorbé par contact à travers la peau ou par inhalation de poussières. Il est à noter que dans son étude l’EFSA met le BPA hors de cause quelle qu’en soit sa source au regard des quantités infinitésimales rencontrées dans les usages courants de la vie quotidienne Il est intéressant de contraster le titre accompagnant le communiqué de presse de l'EFSA, "L'exposition au bisphénol A ne présente pas de risque pour la santé des consommateurs" avec celui d'une publication à tendance écologique, Gentside. Cette dernière, sur la base du même rapport, titre "Bisphénol A : l'EFSA confirme les dangers du BPA pour la santé." Ce que l'EFSA mentionne dans son rapport c'est que sur la base des données actuelles le BPA, à des doses plusieurs centaines de fois la DJT, est susceptible d'avoir des effets indésirables sur les reins, le foie et les glandes mammaires. Mais il est important de noter que l'exposition humaine moyenne journalière au BPA est plusieurs milliers de fois inférieure à la DJT. Comme vous pouvez vous l'imaginer la publication de l'étude de l'EFSA a soulevé un tollé chez les opposants au BPA. En particulier en France où le BPA vient juste d'être banni des contenants alimentaires et cela sur recommandation de l'Agence nationale de sécurité alimentaire (ANSES). L'EFSA elle, a estimé que le poids de la preuve ne justifiait pas cette recommandation de l'ANSES étant donné qu'aucune relation de cause à effet entre l'exposition au BPA et la santé n'a été mise à jour chez l'humain et que les résultats des études animales, ne sont pas convaincants. L'avis de l'EFSA isole la France qui est le seul pays au monde à avoir mis en place une interdiction aussi large du BPA. Pour certains experts français, comme le toxicologue Jean-François Narbonne, une interdiction politique qui ne repose sur aucun argument sanitaire. À ce sujet je trouve navrant que dès qu'une étude ne conforte pas le point de vue des alarmistes, comme celle de de l'EFSA, les experts sont accusés d'être à la solde des lobbys industriels. Au-delà de la controverse je suis frappé que sur le plus de 60 000 composés chimiques connus, un en particulier, le BPA, est la cible de tant d'attention. Il est certain que le BPA est un perturbateur endocrinien mais n'oublions pas que le lait ou le soja ont des propriétés similaires mais ne soulèvent pas le même intérêt. Je pense que si les mêmes critères leur étaient appliqués on interdirait la crème glacée et le tofu. Tout en gardant un œil sur le BPA il est peut-être temps de tourner plus de nos ressources et nos efforts vers des dangers plus conséquents comme le cancer et les maladies cardiaques, les deux premières causes de décès au Canada.

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The Fat Conundrum

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 08:36

Butter or margarine? Olive oil or canola oil? Low fat diets or high fat diets? You would think that after literally thousands of studies we would have some straight forward answers about the effect of fat on our health. But such is not the case. There is pretty solid evidence that saturated fats raise blood cholesterol. There is also solid evidence that high levels of blood cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease. But then there is the conundrum. Studies have not been able to show that saturated fats raise the risk of heart disease. How is that to be explained?

There are several ways that the relationship between fat intake and health can be studied. Animals, rodents mostly, can be fed diets containing different fats and their health can be monitored. This is close to useless. The natural diet of these animals is very different from that of humans, as is their physiology. Also the manipulated dietary changes are much greater than that seen in human diets. Of greater significance are observational studies in which people are asked to fill out food frequency questionnaires from which the fat components of the diet are calculated. But people are notoriously unreliable in remembering what they have eaten and in judging amounts. Somewhat better are studies that actually measure blood levels of fatty acids which are a reflection of diet, but these do not determine the source of the fats. For example, saturated fats from meat may not have the same effect on health as those from dairy because both meat and dairy contains numerous other compounds that can have an impact. Then there is the issue that not all saturated fats are created equal and their effect may depend on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. So-called medium chain fats, as found in coconut fat, may have a different impact than the longer chain saturated fats in chocolate, which may yet be different from those found in meat or dairy. Add to this the fact that diets also contain a variety of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which again can have a different effect on health than saturated fats, and we have an increasingly complex picture. Of course, fats are not eaten in isolation, they are part of a diet. If someone cuts down on fatty foods, they have to be replaced with something. Unfortunately, the replacement often turns out to be loaded with refined carbohydrates, particularly sugar, which pose a cardiovascular risk themselves. So in such a case, cutting back on saturated fats would not lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk.

Where does this leave us? While studies examining saturated fats in isolation have not been able to link them to heart disease, there is plenty of evidence that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated ones leads to lower cholesterol levels and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. So if saturated fats are to be replaced, they should be replaced by unsaturated fats rather than by carbohydrates. As they are in the Mediterranean diet, which is heart healthy despite being high in fat. But the fat comes mostly from nuts, seeds and olive oil, not meat or butter.

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Hormones in cattle

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 08:32

Those ads from A&W claiming that their beef is raised without hormones or steroids are popping up on TV with annoying frequency. The intent obviously is to suggest that this meat is somehow safer than competitors' brands. There is absolutely no evidence for this. The growth promoters used in cattle, usually released from capsules implanted in the ear, are regulated just like drugs intended for human use and residues are carefully monitored. The use of growth promoters results in better conversion of feed to muscle, meaning that meat can be produced more economically. Six such substances are approved. Three are natural hormones (testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone) and three are chemically similar synthetic hormones (melengestrol acetate, trenbolone acetate and zeranol). All of these, except for zeranol, are chemically classified as steroids. Zeranol is extracted from a mould found on corn. That should please the "natural" crowd who assume that natural substances are always better than syhthetics. Zeranol is mildly estrogenic, with 25% of the estrogenic activity of natural estrogens at the same dose level. The fact is that hormonal activity in treated beef sold for consumption is indistinguishable from that in non-treated beef. And remember that meat contains hormones naturally produced by the animal in far greater amounts than any residue from growth promoters. Furthermore, far, far more natural estrogen is produced by the human body on a daily basis than that consumed in meat from treated cattle. For example, a woman produces about 500,000 nanograms of estrogen a day (40 times that much when pregnant) while the amount in a quarter pound hamburger is about 2 nanograms! The estrogenic activity of milk, butter or eggs is much greater than that of meat from implanted cattle and soy products are millions of times more estrogenic. A&W's suggestion that their beef is healthier than other beef is not supported by science. It is a marketing gimmick. Eating an A&W burger is no better in terms of health than any other burger. Another way of putting this is that burgers made from cattle raised without hormone implants are just as suspect nutritionally as any other burger. And that suspicion involves an increased risk of cancer in carnivore populations when compared with vegetarians. Of course that doesn't mean hamburgers can't be a part of a healthy diet, but they shouldn't be a staple. I do occasionally eat an A&W burger, when I can't find an open Harvey's. And I certainly do not give any consideration to whether the meat comes from implanted cattle or not.

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Whole grains and protein, part of a complete breakfast

Our OSS Blog - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 22:26
"Eat Your Oatmeal! Study Finds That A Bowl A Day May Keep The Grim Reaper Away,” screams a headline reporting on a study by researchers at Harvard University.

Somewhat overly optimistic, given that there is pretty good evidence that the Reaper eventually gets us no matter what we have for breakfast. But according to this study, we may be able to put off his inevitable visit, even without oatmeal. The study did not investigate oatmeal per se, rather it dealt with the consumption of whole grains.

The Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up study that followed over 110,000 subjects for 25 years have provided Walter Willett and colleagues at Harvard with a wealth of information. Initially free of heart disease, the participants filled out periodic questionnaires about diet and various lifestyle factors. Close to 27,000 died during the study, and after adjusting for confounders such as age, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, the researchers concluded that higher whole grain intake was associated with lower mortality. And the effect wasn’t marginal.

Total mortality was reduced by 5 per cent and deaths from heart disease by 9 per cent during the 25 years spanned by the study. Since bran intake had a similar protective effect and cereal germ intake did not, the results imply that the benefits seen can be attributed to whole grains. And how much do we have to eat to see a reduction in mortality? About 30 grams, which is not a lot. That’s roughly the common serving size for whole grain cereals.

So how does oatmeal fit into this? It’s just an example of a whole grain, perhaps the reporter’s favourite. Although this study did not look at oats in particular, many others have, because oats contain beta-glucan, a form of soluble fibre that has been shown to lower cholesterol. Indeed, when Chinese researchers gave subjects with moderately elevated cholesterol either 100 grams of instant oat cereal or 100 grams of wheat flour-based noodles for six weeks, they found that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased by seven and nine per cent respectively, which is significant. An added benefit was a decrease in waist circumference of about 1.3 centimetres (half an inch), while the noodle eaters slightly increased their waist circumference. The researchers concluded that increased consumption of whole grains, including oats, should be encouraged.

I’m all for that. Steel-cut oatmeal, or oat bran, with berries or other fruits, along with some Greek yogurt is my favourite for starting off the day. Indeed, the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day actually has some traction. It turns out that what is eaten for breakfast has an effect on the ups and downs of blood glucose for the rest of the day. And that is important because fluctuations in blood glucose stress the pancreas and increase the chance of developing diabetes. Furthermore, a skimpy breakfast not only reduces energy levels throughout the morning, it increases the chance of overeating at lunch.

Unfortunately, some people think that skipping breakfast is helpful for weight loss. After all, no breakfast means no calories. But studies show that this is not an effective strategy. Breakfast skippers are more prone to “Night Eating Syndrome,” and moderately overweight women have been shown to lose more weight when they consume 70 per cent of their daily calories before noon instead of the afternoon or evening. To further boost the arguments for a good breakfast, we can look at studies that show people who do not eat breakfast have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. They also may be less creative and slower at processing information in the morning.

Now that we know how important breakfast is, we can get down to the nuts and bolts of what it should be. I like oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, but there’s no magic formula. First, breakfast should not be meagre: 400-500 calories is a ballpark figure. But what we don’t want is a lot of sugar. No more than about 10 grams. What we do want is whole grains and some protein. Roughly 25-35 grams of protein in the morning stabilizes blood glucose, increases satiety and reduces calorie consumption during the rest of the day.

While cereals that are low in sugar are available, they generally contain only a few grams of protein. Plain Greek yogurt is a good choice for increasing protein intake because a serving has 20-25 grams and generally less than 10 grams of sugar. It is available in a no-fat version. Some whole grain toast with almond butter, and you’ve got a breakfast that nutritional scientists would drool over.

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Le poisson zèbre fait encore parler de lui

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Sat, 01/17/2015 - 16:44

Vous l'avez certainement déjà rencontré au détour d'un aquarium.  Originaire de l'Inde, le poisson zèbre est très prisé des aquariophiles.  De nature pacifique et de petite taille, il peut être élevé en compagnie d'autres espèces dans des aquariums à population diversifiée. De plus, il est capable de supporter une plage de températures et de qualité d'eau assez large, ce qui rend son élevage relativement facile. L'espèce est ovipare, c’est-à-dire que les œufs de la femelle sont fécondés  par le mâle en dehors de l'organisme maternel et c'est également dans ces conditions que se fait le développement embryonnaire. C'est cette particularité, plus le fait que près de 80% des gènes du poisson zèbre se retrouvent chez l'humain qui  explique l'utilisation de l'espèce comme modèle pour la recherche scientifique et médicale.

L'année dernière une équipe de chercheurs français a fait appel au poisson zèbre pour tester un traitement possible de la maladie d'Alzheimer. Ainsi, des modifications transgéniques ont été faites au cerveau de poissons zèbres pour y introduire des formations anormales de protéines, dites protéine tau, que l'on retrouve chez les malades Alzheimer. Grâce à l'injection subséquente d'une protéine baptisée FKBP52,  naturellement présente dans le cerveau, les poissons zèbres qui étaient inertes, ont retrouvé leur vivacité. Les chercheurs espèrent qu'en modulant cette protéine FKBP52, les effets négatifs des protéines tau pourraient être mitigés.

Avant cela, en 2013, Edor Kabashi,  chercheur de l'Université de Montréal, a créé, grâce au poisson zèbre, le premier modèle animal pour étudier le rôle du principal gène responsable de la sclérose latérale amyotrophique (SLA) mieux connue sous le nom de maladie de Lou Gehrig, d'après le joueur de baseball qui en est mort. La SLA est causée par la destruction des neurones moteurs  qui acheminent les signaux du cerveau vers les muscles. Edor Kabashi a identifié, sur le poisson zèbre, le gène mutant C90RF72 associé à la maladie, ouvrant ainsi la voie à un traitement possible.

Plus récemment, en fait la semaine dernière, des chercheurs de l'Université de Calgary, ont publié une  étude sur les effets du BPA, et de son substitut potentiel, le BPS, sur les cellules du cerveau. Le BPA, que l'on  trouve dans les plastiques rigides, les tickets de caisses, les enduits de boîtes de conserve et les résines dentaires, est ciblé comme perturbateur endocrinien. Il a été remplacé dans certaines applications par le BPS dans l'espoir de réduire les effets nocifs. Après que d'autres chercheurs aient fait appel aux souris, aux rats, aux cobayes et aux singes,  les spécialistes de Calgary, eux se sont tournés vers les poissons zèbres pour déterminer les effets   du BPA et du BPS sur la santé.  Pour les besoins de l'étude, des embryons de poissons zèbres ont été exposés à des concentrations de BPA et BPS semblables à celles présentes dans les rivières autour de Calgary.  Une analyse des résultats montre une augmentation significative du nombre de neurones du cerveau généré après exposition; plus 180% dans les cas du BPA et 240% pour le BPS. Les chercheurs disent aussi avoir remarqué que les poissons zèbres exposés au BPA et BPS étaient plus "hyperactifs".

Vous ne serez pas surpris d'apprendre que les chercheurs albertains ont utilisé ces résultats pour suggérer que l'exposition des femmes enceintes aux BPA et BPS serait un facteur possible dans le nombre accru d'enfants diagnostiqués comme souffrant d'hyperactivité. Ils recommandent  aux femmes enceintes de limiter leur exposition aux plastiques et aux reçus de caisses. Un bel exemple d'alarmisme injustifié. Notre exposition au BPA et BPS n'est en rien comparable à celle des poissons zèbres immergés dans de l'eau contenant ces produits chimiques. Je ne suis pas non plus convaincu sur le diagnostic d'hyperactivité attribué par les chercheurs aux poissons zèbre.

En terminant cette chronique sur le poisson zèbre je me dois de mentionner le GloFish. Ce poisson zèbre fluorescent a été créée en 1999 en introduisant un gène provenant d'une anémone qui produit une fluorescence  verte en réponse à une lumière bleue ou ultraviolette. Le GloFish est ainsi devenu le premier animal de compagnie transgénique.  Depuis d'autres variétés de poissons zèbres fluorescents ont été mis sur le marché des aquariophiles. Bien qu'ils aient des noms évocateurs allant d'Electric GreenTM  à  Moonrise PinkTM, j'ai une certaine réticence à voir la nature ainsi manipulée pour des utilisations superficielles.

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Pills for the Brain

Our OSS Blog - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 10:18

Pop this pill and improve your memory. Swallow that one and reduce your cognitive decline. We see ads for such products all the time and I suspect they will increase as the baby boomers reach senior citizenhood. The most popular brain boosting supplements are fish oil pills and they are also probably the best studied ones. The results are not encouraging. When all the studies are pooled, we are left with the possibility of a barely significant improvement in recalling lists of words soon after they have been learned, but the effect does not last. Extracts of the ginkgo biloba tree are also popular, and here the prospects are even dimmer. There is no impact on memory, despite claims of increased circulation in the brain. And ginkgo can interfere with the action of anticoagulants and has also been shown to be an animal carcinogen.

B vitamins are also sold with claims of enhancing memory, usually rationalized by their reduction of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that may affect circulation in the brain. No benefits from B vitamin intake have been demonstrated when it comes to memory or cognitive function except in the case of people who have high homocysteine levels due to a diet that is very low in B vitamins. There is some concern that folic acid, one of the B vitamins, may spur the growth of polyps in the colon at doses greater than 800 micrograms a day. Phosphatidyl serine is a natural component of nerve cell membranes and its promoters argue that a deficiency leads to impaired communication between nerve cells which in turn impairs cognitive function. Sounds reasonable, except that proper controlled trials have come up empty. The same goes for vinpocetine, a compound originally isolated from the lesser periwinkle plant by Hungarian chemist Csaba Szantay in 1975. It is widely used in Europe to treat strokes and memory problems with claims of increased circulation to the brain. It does indeed increase circulation, much like ginkgo, but there is no compelling evidence for memory improvement.

People with failing memory and worried about Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes seduced by advertisements for Huperzine A, extracted from a type of moss. Some studies have shown that it increases levels of acetylcholine in the brain, a chemical that is in short supply in Alzheimer’s. But despite increasing acetylcholine, aside from a few questionable studies in China, there is no evidence that it improves memory. Unfortunately when it comes to memory pills, they are best forgotten. There is, however, hope that a nasal spray containing insulin can increase the absorption of glucose into brain cells and improve cognitive function. But in the meantime, the best bet to maintain good brain function is to monitor blood glucose and blood pressure, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in simple carbs and saturated fat. And don’t forget that physical exercise also exercises your brain.

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Snake Bitten

Our OSS Blog - Sun, 01/11/2015 - 19:09

Not many people have heard of boomslang. That’s not surprising because these venomous tree snakes are a super shy and non-aggressive species native to Sub-Saharan Africa. These snakes exhibit sexual dimorphism therefore it is easy to distinguish between genders. One of the most obvious morphological differences between genders is that females are brown in color while males are usually bright colors such as green, yellow or pinkish red. Boomslang snakes have strikingly large eyes and juvenile boomslangs are known for their beautiful iridescent green eyes.

Because boomslang snakes are ‘rear-fanged’ it is extremely unlikely to be bitten by this snake.  One has to be very unlucky! In order for the boomslang snake to inject its venom on its prey, it would have to open its mouth extremely wide, scientifically speaking, to at least 170 degrees. Because of this, boomslang snakes have been dubbed “harmless.” But it wasn’t until 1957 that this was proved not to be the case.

In 1957, a juvenile boomslang snake raised in captivity at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo bit well-known herpetologist Karl Schmidt.  The bite was minor, just a single fang on his thumb! But that was enough to kill Karl Schmidt.

Karl Schmidt’s death revolutionized the scientific world. The venom of the boomslang snake was analyzed and it was revealed that boomslang venom is highly potent and primarily is a hemotoxin.

Hemotoxins are toxins that destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting and can also cause organ and tissue damage. Because boomslang venom is a hemotoxin it’s not surprising that it can lead to major brain and muscle hemorrhage. But the venom also causes other symptoms like nausea, headaches and sleepiness. Perhaps what is most surprising is that this venom has the ability to make the victim bleed from every possible orifice. It is not uncommon for blood to seep out of the victim from the gums, nostrils, urine, saliva, stools, vomit and even through the tiniest of cuts. This is extremely unfortunate because the victim will continue to bleed until death and death from internal bleeding is a slow and lingering process that can take anywhere from three to five days.

One of the issues with boomslang venom is that symptoms emerge only several hours after being bitten. Because the venom is not fast acting, victims may not realize that they are at serious risk and require immediate medical assistance. Although records show that less than ten people have died from boomslang bites worldwide, this ought to not be taken lightly.  Death came swiftly for Karl Schmidt, as he was found dead 24 hours later in his home from respiratory arrest and severe brain hemorrhaging. If Schmidt had known about the anti-venom his life might have been spared. It is imperative to act quickly otherwise Africa’s most venomous snake might have the last laugh.

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Bad breath

From Our Contributors - Sun, 01/11/2015 - 17:07

Foul breath—also known as halitosis—is an unpleasant condition that affects almost everyone. Because it is so widespread, determining and subsequently diagnosing each individual patient can be difficult. And it gets even harder because patients really can’t smell their own bad breath. But strong-nosed scientists have been discerning the truth bit by bit: there is now hope for those hoping to remedy their morning dragon’s breath.

Originally many believed that malodors originated in the stomach and blamed things like acid reflux, indigestion and gut flora. But what people are beginning to see is that in most cases of halitosis, the mouth is to blame. Halitosis originates from bacteria on the tongue, a condition known as tongue coating. The byproducts are largely responsible for bad breath in patients.  They produce what are known as volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) such as hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan. In order to then treat halitosis, efforts have focused on developing products that will either reduce these odiferous bacteria or neutralize the VSCs themselves.

The main form of treatment against halitosis is to simply brush the tongue to remove built-up bacteria. When halitosis persists, patients instead try to stop the creation of VSCs. By neutralizing the VSCs, the malodor does not volatilize, and the mouth does not stink. Some of the most successful neutralizing compounds have been zinc salts, chlorhexidine and hydrogen peroxide. Chlorhexidine can result in stained teeth, tongue numbness and burning; on the other hand, hydrogen peroxide can be highly oxidative and damaging to soft tissues. Zinc seems the best breath-fighting agent out there.

Zinc ions have a very high affinity for sulphur and can therefore inhibit the formation of stinky sulphur compounds by reacting with them before they leave the mouth. Zinc is also non-toxic and does not stain teeth, making it an ideal candidate to treat bad breath. While protocols to measure the efficacy of bad breath levels vary, the best measure of a persons’ breath is when the human nose smells it. And generally, these smell-tests result in accurate and reproducible results. When put to the schnoz studies show that mouthwashes, lozenges, and gums containing zinc in 0.2-0.5% are the most pleasant and effective in treating halitosis. It should not be used alone, however. A careful combination of good dental hygiene, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water will help minimize the smell.

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Dr. Oz’s “Two Day Holiday Detox” should be flushed

Our OSS Blog - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 18:52

One would think that producers of the Dr. Oz show would pay at least a little attention to the widely publicized study that appeared in the British Medical Journal examining the health recommendations made on medical talk shows. The researchers looked at eighty recommendations made on the Oz Show and found that evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and no evidence was found for 39%. Not exactly a stellar performance. Yet on the heels of the stinging paper, what does the Dr. Oz Show come up with? A segment that has no supportive evidence whatsoever.

“Dr. Oz’s Two Day Holiday Detox” promises a “quick fix to offset the damage from holiday eating.” “It can’t miss,” quips Oz. Oh yes it can. The whole notion of “detox” is nonsense and the idea that you can eat whatever you want and then repair the damage with two days of feasting on melon juice, coconut water, oatmeal, lentil soup, cabbage salad and chocolate tea is absurd. But according to Oz, this diet will release retained water, rebalance blood sugar, remove “fat promoting toxins” and recharge your metabolism. What evidence is provided? A couple of meaningless but entertaining demonstrations. To show how the melon juice and oatmeal reduce bloating, Oz and a guest spray water at a TV screen showing a bloated silhouette which then magically transforms into a svelte figure. If only it were that easy. As far as oatmeal goes, I think it does make for a great breakfast. But there is not a single reference listed in PubMed for oatmeal having a diuretic effect.

Next, Oz presents a long rope and begins to make waves with it to explain how blood sugar can fluctuate during holiday feasts. Then pulling the rope taut supposedly indicates how lentil soup, being of low glycemic index, straightens out blood sugar fluctuations. Eating low glycemic index foods does result in less fluctuation of blood glucose, but it doesn’t undo any previous damage that such fluctuations may have caused by having gorged on eggnog. What about cabbage salad removing “fat promoting toxins,” that according to Oz are found in high sugar junk food? I would like to know what these unnamed fat-promoting toxins are. The only info we are given is a graphic with some sort of muck stuck in the colon, supposedly the “toxins.” Cabbage, because of its fiber content, acts as a laxative, which is the argument used for it “flushing out the toxins.” Nothing wrong with eating cabbage, but the idea that it flushes out toxins deserves to be flushed.

Finally, for people who have overindulged in marshmallow cookies, Oz recommends chocolate tea for “boosting metabolism,” but curiously points out that it has very little caffeine, a substance that may actually boost metabolism. There is nothing in the scientific literature that lends any significant support to specific foods or beverages boosting metabolism in any practical fashion. Aside from making recommendations without any evidential basis, Oz’s real crime here is to offer a magical solution to overindulgence instead of emphasizing the need for a proper well-balanced diet and exercise year-round.

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When “Mayo” isn’t “mayonnaise”

Our OSS Blog - Tue, 12/30/2014 - 19:09

So, when is mayonnaise not mayonnaise? If you ask Unilever, producers of “Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise”, which is the market leader in the 11.3 billion dollar a year global mayonnaise industry, it’s when the product contains no eggs. The Federal Food and Drug Administration agrees, defining "mayonnaise" as a condiment that must contain a specific amount of vegetable oil and egg yolk. But what if you just shorten the name and call it “Just Mayo?” Does it still have to contain eggs? No, says Josh Tetrick of Hampton Creek, maker of a new-fangled spread that advertises itself as being healthier, more environmentally friendly and more humane than “real mayonnaise” The term “mayo” is not defined, Tetrick maintains, and he says he does not sell his product as mayonnaise. “It’s Just Mayo.” Apparently though, consumers do not see the difference. A marketing professor hired by Unilever to survey consumers found in an online survey that more than half thought Just Mayo was mayonnaise judging by the label.

What about the promotional claims that Hampton Creek makes? The “more humane” refers to the way egg-laying chickens are raised in small cages. True, the peas that are grown to produce the extract used to emulsify the oil and vinegar in Just Mayo have a peaceful life, and presumably do not suffer when their pods are torn limb from limb. The environmental friendliness is based on the ratio of energy input to food energy output for eggs being about 39-to-1, whereas Just mayo’s plant ingredients that replace eggs weigh in at a ratio 2-to-1. That saving seems to have been enough to convince Bill Gates to lend his support to “Just Mayo.”

Hampton Creek may be on firm footing when it comes to promoting the benefits of “no eggs” in terms of environmental foot print, but there is also the implication of health benefits. Here they are trampling in mud. The calorie count in Just Mayo is identical to that in Hellman’s “real mayonnaise,” both containing 90 calories per serving, all of which comes from the 10 grams of fat found in each serving. The 5 milligrams of cholesterol in the real mayo is inconsequential. Curiously, Just Mayo lists its protein content as zero, yet its promotional material describes how the company’s biochemists have investigated numerous plants to come up with a protein that can rival egg yolk as an emulsifier. Obviously not much of this protein is needed in the product since it is not listed on the label.

Another curiosity is the presence of organic sugar in the list of ingredients, yet the carbohydrate count on the label is given as zero. Hampton Creek also makes a big deal out of its non-GMO certification, a reference to the canola oil, its main ingredient. This is a marketing gimmick aimed to please the “organic” crowd. There is no chemical difference between conventional canola oil and that extracted from plants containing a gene that makes them resistant to herbicides. Eventually the success or failure of Just Mayo will rest on its taste. People may talk environmental stewardship, but they eat taste. Whether Just Mayo will turn out to be just as tasty as real mayo remains to be determined. But keep in mind that any food that derives all its calories from fat should be consumed in a limited fashion.

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You Asked: Can the “Smart Drinking Pill” reduce the risk of drinking alcohol?

You Asked? - Tue, 12/30/2014 - 19:07
The jury is out on whether drinking small amounts of alcohol is beneficial or detrimental. Some studies suggest a drink a day may be good for the heart. On the other hand, alcohol is a known carcinogen linked to cancers of the mouth, esophagus and breast. But when it comes to consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, the verdict is in. Liver damage, hypertension, neuropathies, seizures, gout, pancreatitis and dementia are all possible consequences of too much alcohol. And then of course there is the problem of impaired driving and life destruction due to addiction. Liver damage is a major concern and one that is addressed by the makers of the “Smart Drinking Pill.” They claim that the mixture of plant extracts, vitamins and minerals in the pill can prevent liver damage and present an “option other than to quit drinking.” Milk thistle, artichoke extract and dandelion root are backed by some evidence in terms of offering liver protection, and the vitamins may be of some help given that people who drink a lot tend to have depleted levels. Liver function is generally determined by measuring blood levels of two enzymes, namely aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine transaminase (ALT) that are produced by the liver as it detoxifies foreign substances. High levels indicate the liver has to work excessively and is prone to damage. The single piece of evidence provided by makers of “The Smart Drinking Pill” is a blood test of a single individual whose AST and ALT went from high to normal after two months on the pill with no change in alcohol consumption. And what was this individual’s consumption? Thirty to forty drinks a week! Suggesting that reduction of the liver enzymes means that you can “responsibly enjoy alcohol without having to suffer the negative health consequences” is absolutely foolish. At that level of consumption there are many other risks than liver damage. If someone is drinking that quantity of alcohol the only smart thing to do is to cut back. The Smart Drinking Pill just encourages unhealthy behaviour. Read more

You Asked: Can the “Smart Drinking Pill” reduce the risk of drinking alcohol?

Our OSS Blog - Tue, 12/30/2014 - 19:07
The jury is out on whether drinking small amounts of alcohol is beneficial or detrimental. Some studies suggest a drink a day may be good for the heart. On the other hand, alcohol is a known carcinogen linked to cancers of the mouth, esophagus and breast. But when it comes to consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, the verdict is in. Liver damage, hypertension, neuropathies, seizures, gout, pancreatitis and dementia are all possible consequences of too much alcohol. And then of course there is the problem of impaired driving and life destruction due to addiction. Liver damage is a major concern and one that is addressed by the makers of the “Smart Drinking Pill.” They claim that the mixture of plant extracts, vitamins and minerals in the pill can prevent liver damage and present an “option other than to quit drinking.” Milk thistle, artichoke extract and dandelion root are backed by some evidence in terms of offering liver protection, and the vitamins may be of some help given that people who drink a lot tend to have depleted levels. Liver function is generally determined by measuring blood levels of two enzymes, namely aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine transaminase (ALT) that are produced by the liver as it detoxifies foreign substances. High levels indicate the liver has to work excessively and is prone to damage. The single piece of evidence provided by makers of “The Smart Drinking Pill” is a blood test of a single individual whose AST and ALT went from high to normal after two months on the pill with no change in alcohol consumption. And what was this individual’s consumption? Thirty to forty drinks a week! Suggesting that reduction of the liver enzymes means that you can “responsibly enjoy alcohol without having to suffer the negative health consequences” is absolutely foolish. At that level of consumption there are many other risks than liver damage. If someone is drinking that quantity of alcohol the only smart thing to do is to cut back. The Smart Drinking Pill just encourages unhealthy behaviour. Read more

You Asked: Are pasteurized cheeses safe to consume?

You Asked? - Fri, 12/26/2014 - 15:48

While selling raw milk in Canada is illegal, the sale of cheese made from unpasteurized milk is allowed as long as the cheese has been aged at 2 degrees C or above for at least 60 days. Studies have shown that if this procedure is followed, the added salt and acids produced by the added bacterial cultures prevent harmful listeria, salmonella and E. coli bacteria from growing. The risk that remains is very small but not zero. It is the soft and semi-soft cheeses that have a better chance of retaining problematic bacteria and this is where the issue gets more complicated because these cheeses reach their peak ripening point at 20-30 days. Quebec, contrary to the rest of Canada and most U.S. states, now allows soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert made from unpasteurized milk to be sold without the 60 day requirement, citing the European example where these cheeses have always been made from raw milk with no problem.

Still, to be on the safe side, it would be prudent to avoid raw milk cheeses during pregnancy, infancy or by people with compromised immune systems. But identification of cheeses made from unpasteurized milk is difficult since labeling is not required. Many artisan cheeses will voluntarily reveal that they are made from raw milk, hoping to capture the attention of foodies who believe that the taste is superior. Whether that is true is arguable. It is interesting that people who clamor for the labeling of any food that may somehow be linked to genetic modification are silent about asking for the labeling of raw milk cheeses.

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You Asked: Are pasteurized cheeses safe to consume?

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 12/26/2014 - 15:48

While selling raw milk in Canada is illegal, the sale of cheese made from unpasteurized milk is allowed as long as the cheese has been aged at 2 degrees C or above for at least 60 days. Studies have shown that if this procedure is followed, the added salt and acids produced by the added bacterial cultures prevent harmful listeria, salmonella and E. coli bacteria from growing. The risk that remains is very small but not zero. It is the soft and semi-soft cheeses that have a better chance of retaining problematic bacteria and this is where the issue gets more complicated because these cheeses reach their peak ripening point at 20-30 days. Quebec, contrary to the rest of Canada and most U.S. states, now allows soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert made from unpasteurized milk to be sold without the 60 day requirement, citing the European example where these cheeses have always been made from raw milk with no problem.

Still, to be on the safe side, it would be prudent to avoid raw milk cheeses during pregnancy, infancy or by people with compromised immune systems. But identification of cheeses made from unpasteurized milk is difficult since labeling is not required. Many artisan cheeses will voluntarily reveal that they are made from raw milk, hoping to capture the attention of foodies who believe that the taste is superior. Whether that is true is arguable. It is interesting that people who clamor for the labeling of any food that may somehow be linked to genetic modification are silent about asking for the labeling of raw milk cheeses.

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You Asked: Nutritional yeast and adverse reactions?

You Asked? - Fri, 12/26/2014 - 15:44

Had a question from a gentleman with a history of bloating after meals. He had a particularly bad episode after a dinner that included chicken Florentine soup and he wondered whether the “nutritional yeast” added to the soup could be the cause.  Nutritional yeast is just an inactivated form of the yeast that has been used for brewing beer and making wine for millennia. Because it has been inactivated with heat or salt, it does not cause fermentation, that is it does not convert sugar into alcohol. It is basically composed of protein with a good load of vitamins and minerals and has commonly been used as a dietary supplement. Indeed, Marmite and Vegemite are two formulations of the yeast that are popular in the UK and Australia, although having tasted these, I can't understand why.

Nutritional yeast is basically used to add flavour to foods. Part of the effect is due to its natural content of glutamic acid which brings out flavour. Indeed, glutamate is the active component of the classic flavor additive monosodium glutamate (MSG). Some people do have an adverse reaction to glutamate but it is rare. It is, however, possible that some other component in nutritional yeast can cause a problem in susceptible individuals. Idiosyncratic reactions to food are not uncommon. The only way to determine if the yeast causes a problem is to carry out a challenge. Has anyone experienced an adverse reaction with nutritional yeast?

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