Category: Health

1,000-year-old prescription for onion and garlic eye salve kills MRSA


An eye salve from Anglo-Saxon manuscript Bald’s Leechbook was found to kill MRSA

A 1,000-year-old treatment for eye infections could hold the key to killing antibiotic-resistant superbugs, experts have said.

Scientists recreated a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon remedy using onion, garlic and part of a cow’s stomach…They were “astonished” to find it almost completely wiped out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

Their findings will be presented at a national microbiology conference.

The remedy was found in Bald’s Leechbook – an old English manuscript containing instructions on various treatments held in the British Library.

Anglo-Saxon expert Dr Christina Lee, from the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe for an “eye salve”, which includes garlic, onion or leeks, wine and cow bile.

Experts from the university’s microbiology team recreated the remedy and then tested it on large cultures of MRSA…

In each case, they tested the individual ingredients against the bacteria, as well as the remedy and a control solution.

They found the remedy killed up to 90% of MRSA bacteria and believe it is the effect of the recipe rather than one single ingredient.

Dr Freya Harrison said the team thought the eye salve might show a “small amount of antibiotic activity”.

“But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” she said.

Nice to see modern researchers declare the scientific method predated many discoveries they thought might have been necessary to bring about the transition from superstition to methodical testing and verification.

That the effect of the whole compound is greater than the sum of its parts is just another portion of that realization.

Sneeze catcher – Patent issued 12/16/2014

sneeze catcher

It’s a given that all manner of unwelcome microbial and viral particles can be exhaled by a person during a sneeze or a cough. Prompting inventor Joseph Apisa of Colts Neck, NJ, US, to create a ‘Sneeze catching method and apparatus’ It’s just received a US patent (Dec. 16, 2014). It can be, and indeed is, described in one sentence :Sneeze-catcher

“An apparatus for catching bodily fluids ejected during a sneeze or cough, said apparatus comprising: a sleeve having a first open end, a second open end and a perimeter wall being attached to and extending between said first and second open ends; a frame being pivotally coupled to said perimeter wall, said frame having an exterior edge, an interior edge, an upper surface and a lower surface, said frame having an attached edge and a free edge positioned opposite of each other, said attached edge being attached to said perimeter wall, said frame being positioned in an open position having said free edge spaced from said sleeve or in a closed position having said free edge secured to said sleeve, said frame bounding a receiving space when said frame is in said closed position; a covering being attached to and being coextensive with said interior edge, said covering extending over said receiving space, said covering being comprised of an air and fluid permeable material; a closure being mounted on said sleeve and releasably retaining said frame in said closed position; a pad being removably positioned in said receiving space, said pad having anti-bacterial properties; and wherein said sleeve is configured to be worn on an arm of a person such that the person may sneeze or cough into said pad and that said pad captures and destroys bacteria exhaled by the person.“

Thanks to the annals of Improbable Research

Pepsi and Coke battle for the lead among losers


Still cranking out profits from carbonated water and sugar

Americans bought less soda for the 10th straight year in 2014…An annual report by the industry tracker Beverage Digest found that overall soda volume slipped 0.9% last year, moderating from the decline of 3% the previous year.

And the poor performance of diet sodas in particular led to a shake-up in the top 10 US soda rankings; even though people bought less Pepsi, it managed to regain the No 2 spot from Diet Coke, which suffered an even steeper decline. Diet Coke had knocked Pepsi off the No 2 spot in 2010…

Interesting to investors and hedge funds. Meaningless compared to good news for the health of the nation.

John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest, attributed the moderation in soda’s decline in 2014 to the continued growth of energy drinks. He also noted that Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group have improved marketing for their soda brands.

Soda volume has been declining in the US since 2004 amid concerns that sugary drinks fuel weight gain, and a proliferation of alternatives in the beverage aisle.

They’re still cranking out easier profits from stuffing people with sugar.

Despite the ongoing decline of soda volume, the broader US beverage industry performed better than in the previous year with growth of 1.7%, according to Beverage Digest. That increase was driven by an increase in bottled water sales.

How dumb is that? Continued growth in designer water sales confounds any measure of intelligence.

GMO may be controversial; but, not to scientists

gmo apple
Click to enlarge

Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.

The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious. Over the past decade, the controversy surrounding GMOs has sparked worldwide riots and the vandalism of crops in Oregon, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines. In May, the governor of Vermont signed a law that will likely make it the first U.S. state to require labels for genetically engineered ingredients; more than 50 nations already mandate them. Vermont State Senator David Zuckerman told Democracy Now!, “As consumers, we are guinea pigs, because we really don’t understand the ramifications.”

And the apples have been OK’d. The article is several months old – and worth revisiting.

But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait…

So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.

No need to review all 10 points here. RTFA. POPSCI ain’t exactly a hotbed of politics. Just folks who work for a magazine that’s been writing about science for over 140 years.

In the U.S., farmers have been planting increasing amounts GMO crops since the seeds became commercially available in 1996. Corn, cotton, and soy—which together occupy about 40 percent of U.S. cropland—are the three crops with the highest GMO fraction by area, each more than 90 percent in 2013.

One of our late contributors discovered a bakery in his home state of Georgia – like a lot of really great bakeries – was using a genetically-designed sourdough culture. Chatting with the owners who happened to be friends of his is how he learned about it. And they swore him to a secret he took to the grave – because they know damned well that folks who love the wonderful flavor of their sourdough bread would crap their non-GMO cotton drawers if they knew. And they’d probably be out of business at least in their fashionable Atlanta suburb even though a side-by-side blind test with any other great sourdough would be impossible to tell apart. Except for the consistent results they get from their baking.

Nope. I’ll stick with science, I know enough about peer-reviewed testing to be 99.999% confident – even if “common wisdom” says all studies are funded and owned by Monsanto. Differentiate between the creeps using scientific studies to bad ends – and the science itself. Learn how many rules you have to abide just to get your article published – which is why the most recent bought-and-paid-for creep who violated those standards had to lie.

And if you’re truly concerned – read the science, not opinions from other folks who aren’t reading the science either. Draw your own conclusions. Personally, I find well-written science fun to read. And I love learning about science – whether it be astrophysics or asafoetida. I also realize there are only so many hours in the day; so we rely on folks our experience says are usually right. That can be a problem when those folks try to find facts to back up their beliefs instead of the other way round.

When I became involved in climate science discussions at the millenium, I spent two years reading and studying before I became convinced one way or the other. The delight was discovering regular online publication of a broad range of research from the Max Planck Institute in Germany – in several languages including English. A great find. I hope you can be as fortunate.

Chewing on dietary politics

Two of Cornell’s leading nutrition experts appeared in Washington, D.C., March 18 to discuss an extensive proposed rewrite of the federal government’s official Dietary Guidelines for Americans

They appeared in the nation’s capital as part of Inside Cornell, a series of public policy roundtables. The pair spoke before an audience consisting largely of journalists who closely follow these issues. National Public Radio correspondent Allison Aubrey moderated the panel.

Tom Brenna said the most fundamental change proposed for the new dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years, “is a focus on overall healthy eating patterns, rather than individual foods…”

Brenna also lauded what he called an emerging emphasis on “nutrition above the neck,” a reference to the role diet plays in neurocognitive health. His Cornell lab, for example, conducts extensive research on nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which are proving to be effective in treating depression.

David Just focuses on how consumers make their decisions about what foods to purchase and eat.

He said the government’s new nutritional guidance “will probably generate no response at all at the consumer level, at least initially. The primary effect will come from the millions of meals directly influenced by the government, including public school lunches, hospital food and military meals.”

Over time, however, as the new advice takes hold, it will start to be felt as “consumers make their shopping lists or decide which groceries to display prominently in their kitchens, as opposed to buried in cabinets.”

Just also stressed the positive role the food industry can play by adjusting how it markets and advertises its products. Touting the good taste and benefits of healthier foods on packaging, he noted, is far more effective than any government warning about the risks of a poor diet.

They also discussed the never-publicized lobbying over dietary guideline recommendations. The meat industry – of course – wants to water down recommendations that Americans eat less red meat, less processed meat. The last thing they want is linking an animal-based diet to environmental problems like greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.

Sugar giants don’t want nutrition labels to include added sugar. There’s a surprise!

Once Congress gets quickly past the parts about science, no doubt they will return to rules and regulations directly proportional to the influence of lobbyist/industry dollar$.

BTW, that 2nd link up top is a fine article on the details of new recommendations.

New strategy to protect a healthy gut from antibiotic-caused imbalance

Gut microbes promote human health by fighting off pathogens, but they also contribute to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. A study published March 19th by Cell Reports reveals a potential strategy for tipping the balance in favor of good bacteria by altering the composition of the microbial community.

A group of Portuguese and Spanish researchers found that a chemical signal called autoinducer-2 (AI-2), which bacteria use to communicate with each other, can promote the right balance of gut microbes in antibiotic-treated mice. The findings pave the way for therapeutic strategies that harness the chemical language of bacteria to foster a healthy community of gut microbes…

Antibiotic use and dietary factors can change the composition of gut microbes and strongly reduce bacterial diversity, posing a serious threat to human health by increasing host susceptibility to harmful pathogens such as Salmonella. In particular, shifts in the balance between Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes–the two predominant phyla in the mammalian gut–are associated with obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, and gastrointestinal cancer. The ability to drive this community from a disease state to a healthy state, by manipulating the native signals and interactions that occur between its members, offers great potential for therapeutic benefit…

“These receptors could be used as new drug targets to alter bacterial communication,” says the study’s co-first author Rita Almeida Oliveira of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. “This strategy to control bacteria may be a promising alternative to avoid the increasingly serious problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics that are used today.”

Bravo. It would be great if research might latch onto a single class of communications which could aid maintaining a healthy balance of critters in your gut when it really is necessary to invoke the aid of antibiotics to fight an illness or disease.

Autoimmune diseases rising in 9/11 workers

The list of ailments afflicting the World Trade Center first responders has grown to include systemic autoimmune diseases…

The conditional odds ratio for autoimmune diseases rose by 13% for each month individuals spent working at the site…according to Mayris P. Webber, DPH, Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, and colleagues.

And for those who spent 10 months working at the site the risk tripled the researchers reported…

“The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and the subsequent building collapses and fires exposed rescue/recovery workers to aerosolized WTC dust, an amalgam of pulverized cement, glass fibers, silica, asbestos, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polychlorinated furans and dioxins,” they noted.

The result has been the development of various respiratory and other diseases including asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, and cancer in up to 70% of the exposed New York City fire department members, but the entire range of potential health effects is not yet known and may take decades to fully manifest.

Autoimmune diseases have been linked with multiple environmental exposures, including silica, hydrocarbons, and particulates.

These autoimmune conditions include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), dermatomyositis, vasculitis, and Sjogren’s syndrome, and most often have been reported after many years of exposure and predominantly among women.

The finding of an increase in autoimmune disease among WTC responders was “unexpected and highlights the need for increased clinician awareness of the possibility of these and perhaps other autoimmune disorders in their WTC-exposed male patients…”

The authors concluded that workers and residents should be closely monitored for these conditions. “The stakes are high because enhanced surveillance can lead to early detection and treatment, which has been shown to improve quality of life and reduce or delay organ damage including erosive joint destruction, kidney failure, pulmonary fibrosis, and hypertension.”

And so it goes. Disease and disability caused by industrial material and chemical can surface many years later. I hope, in this case, our government, the powers that have responsibility for support in unusual circumstances will respond with more pace and thought than they did to the ailments incurred by first responders.

If you wondered who started the rumor about Coke being a healthy snack?


It wasn’t this mythical dude…

If a column in honor of heart health suggests a can of Coke as a snack, you might want to read the fine print.

The world’s biggest beverage maker, which struggles with declining soda consumption in the U.S., is working with fitness and nutrition experts who suggest its cola as a healthy treat. In February, for instance, several wrote online pieces for American Heart Month, with each including a mini-can of Coke or small soda as a snack idea.

The mentions – which appeared on nutrition blogs and other sites including those of major newspapers – show the many ways food companies work behind the scenes to cast their products in a positive light, often with the help of third parties who are seen as trusted authorities…

For Coca-Cola Co., the public relations strategy with health experts in February focused on the theme of “Heart Health & Black History Month.” The effort yielded a radio segment and multiple online pieces.

One post refers to a “refreshing beverage option such as a mini can of Coca-Cola.” Another suggests “portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal.”

The focus on the smaller cans isn’t surprising. Sugary drinks have come under fire for fueling obesity rates and related ills, and the last time Coke’s annual U.S. soda volume increased was in 2002, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. More recently, the company is pushing its mini-cans as a guilt-free way to enjoy cola. The cans also fetch higher prices on a per ounce basis, so even if people are drinking less soda, Coke says it can grow sales.

Most of the pieces suggesting mini-Cokes say in the bios that the author is a “consultant” for food companies, including Coca-Cola. Some add that the ideas expressed are their own. One column is marked at the bottom as a “sponsored article,” which is an ad designed to look like a regular story. It ran on more than 1,000 sites, including those of major news outlets around the country. The other posts were not marked as sponsored content, but follow a similar format…

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a professional group for dietitians, says in its code of ethics that practitioners promote and endorse products “only in a manner that is not false and misleading.” A spokesman for the academy did not respond when asked if the posts on mini-Cokes meet those guidelines.

I don’t expect corporations deriving profits from selling deadly crap masquerading as food – to admit their products are deadly crap masquerading as food. And I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised they can find a number of greedy fools willing to prostitute their professional credentials to pimp their products.

I think it would be closer to ethical if [1] they didn’t get away with deliberate lies, publishing bought-and-paid-for consultants to pretend there is value to their products – and [2] it might be useful in a time and place like the 21st Century in the United States – if mass media attempted something approaching truth-telling in the adverts they’re paid to distribute.

I can hardly think of crap less likely to be a useful snack than a can of Coke.

Blue Bell issues ice cream recall – 3 die!

The deaths of three patients who contracted food poisoning while in the hospital for other conditions have been linked to a venerable favorite of the south – Blue Bell ice cream.

A household name in parts of America, Blue Bell issued the first product recall in its 108-year history on Friday. The company also shut down one of its production lines as the government warned consumers to clear their freezers of a number of ice cream bars and cookies made by the Texan firm.

Five adults who were patients at the same hospital in Wichita, Kansas, contracted listeriosis from the listeria bacteria sometimes found in food. Three subsequently died.

Federal and state investigators are looking into the deaths; the investigation could expand beyond the hospital and Kansas to include other deaths where listeria may have been a factor and was linked to eating tainted versions of the popular brand of ice cream…

Four of the five patients for whom dietary information was available to investigators were shown to have consumed milkshakes at the hospital, which had been made with a single serving of a Blue Bell ice cream product called Scoops.

The listeria strain obtained from those four patients was linked, after laboratory testing, to tainted Blue Bell products examined in South Carolina and Texas this year…

The ice cream product eaten by all five has been traced to one of the production lines at Blue Bell headquarters in Brenham, Texas, where the machinery was immediately taken off line.

The chief executive of the Brenham creamery, Paul Kruse, said contamination of the ice cream could only have taken place at the point of production.

The company has removed a list of products from shelves and the CDC has called on the public to destroy any they have in their freezer, as the products have a shelf life of up to two years.

Blue Bell doesn’t make anything we consume in our family – we don’t especially eat ice cream; but, there are beaucoup places where the brand is so well established consumption is as much a tradition as a matter of taste.

RTFA for a listing of the kinds of ice cream products from Blue Bell that should be taken from your freezer and destroyed if you have any of them.

Apple’s ResearchKit signed up thousands in one day

myheart counts

Stanford University researchers were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find that 11,000 people had signed up for a cardiovascular study using Apple’s ResearchKit, less than 24 hours after the iPhone tool was introduced.

“To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” said Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “That’s the power of the phone.”

With ResearchKit, Apple has created a pool of hundreds of millions of iPhone owners worldwide, letting doctors find trial participants at unprecedented rates. Already five academic centers have developed apps that use the iPhone’s accelerometers, gyroscopes and GPS sensors to track the progression of chronic conditions like Parkinson’s disease and asthma…

Bloomberg – of course – has to lurch off topic to ring up someone, anyone, who might try to cast FUD on the process.

For starters, the average iPhone user is more likely to have graduate and doctoral degrees than the average Android user, and has a higher income as well…Those sort of demographic differences could skew the findings from a study.

And Apple is making ResearchKit open source; so, in fact, there will be Android users.

Misleading data can also come from a user accidentally hitting a button or giving her phone to someone else, said C. Michael Gibson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an interventional cardiologist…

Yet the iPhone also helps address a problem that standard trials often encounter: People enrolled in studies often falsely report their activity to researchers. By using its internal components or secondary devices connected wirelessly via Bluetooth, the iPhone can silently measure users’ behavior, without relying on them to keep track or be honest about what they’re doing…

Stanford researchers are using their ResearchKit app to study ways to encourage people to modify their behavior to improve heart health. Their app aims to automate as much data collection as possible, Yeung said. Participants will be asked to keep their phone on them as much as possible for a week, letting the GPS and accelerometer track their activity…

Other researchers are also looking for ways to use the iPhone to more accurately track behavior. A team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, working with digital health company LifeMap Solutions Inc., is studying whether having an iPhone app that educates asthma patients and reminds them to use their inhaler can improve symptoms and reduce doctor visits…

As of Tuesday morning, more than 2,500 people had enrolled and consented to participate in the asthma study, according to LifeMap…

The Parkinson’s app had 5,589 consenting users by Tuesday morning, according to Sage Bionetworks. Todd Sherer said he didn’t know the cost of developing the app, but the foundation’s biomarker study, a traditional trial with almost 800 participants over five years, has cost about $60 million…

Dunno if editors or reporters at Bloomberg get credit for looking everywhere but up their own arse to ask silly questions…but, many are not only irrelevant, but, ridiculous. We’re supposed to believe that every aspect of scientific methodology will suddenly disappear because a qualitatively larger pool of test subjects are now possible. Feels more like CNN.

My favorite football analogy fits perfectly:

A truly lame sports reporter was quizzing Ruud Gullet about Fulham’s potential problems with circumstances that didn’t exist – but could. But hadn’t.

Gullet finally blew up, saying, “What if, what if, what if? If my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle.”