Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Glucosamine and diabetes.

Scientists from the  Université Laval of Quebec have concluded that glucosamine at very high doses, (levels which are often used by people suffering from joint pains and osteoarthritis), or over an extended period of time, may be increasing their risk of diabetes, as the glucosamine kills their pancreatic cells and so their ability to produce insulin.

Glucosamine has a track record that it is safe at the dose normally given on bottles of supplements. However, it is common for people to try much higher doses to see if that will help.

Glucosamine’s track record in restoring joint cartilage is poor, while in osteoarthritis it is mixed..

This research shows that glucosamine cuts off a particular protein required for cell survival. In locations where this protein is needed in high amounts, or in situations where aging already cuts down the amount of this protein, using glucosamine works against you.

The work appears in the Journal of Endocrinology, authored by Mathieu Lafontaine-Lacasse, Geneviève Doré and Frédéric Picard.

Please bear in mind these results apply to very-high dose use or use of glucosamine over extended time.


October 31, 2010 Posted by | Diabetes, Health, Osteoarthritis, Success | Leave a comment

US whooping cough outbreak.

US health officials have just updated advice on immunisation against pertussis (whooping cough) based on a serious outbreak in California. And yesterday, health officials in Grant County, in the state of Washington, announced an outbreak has already killed one infant and infected a dozen others, saying it is on scale that cannot be treated as isolated incidents.  The county’s health officer, Dr Alexander Brzezny, said the county should prepare for more cases.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) completely revised its last recommendation (from 2006), based on the pertussis outbreak in California which has infected over 6,200 people and killed 10 infants.

Irrespective of how recently you may have had vaccination against tetanus and diptheria (a combined vaccination called Td), ACIP recommends immediate immunisation using a triple vaccine called Tdap, which protects against tetanus, diptheria and pertussis.

The two current vaccines are licensed for people aged 10 to 64, but ACIP considered the issue of vaccinating people outside these age ranges, with the intention of cutting the number of infected people who may come in contact with unprotected infants.

The full details are complex, depending on your age and whether you have already received some protection against pertussis. But a simple summary is that ACIP recommended vaccination with Tdap for those from 7 years up, with no upper limit for adults coming into contact with infants aged under 12 months.

People living in the US should check with their physician to see if they need to act on this.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health, News, Success, United States, Vaccine, Whooping cough - pertussis | Leave a comment

Spice protects liver?

Drs Youcai Tang and Anping Chen of St Louis University have found the route by which curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, protects the liver against damage that may occur in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are often associated with elevated levels of a hormone called leptin. This abnormally high level of leptin leads to the liver laying down more collagen than normal and so becoming more fibrous, a condition called liver fibrosis. The mechanics are that the high leptin activates particular liver cells called hepatic stellate cells.

Adding curcumin to this situation altered the expression of a protein and genes that prevented these liver cells from being activated, thereby preventing the fibrosis from occurring.

The study by Tang and Chen was an exploration of the mechanics involved, in a lab test, so though this showed how curcumin works it did not investigate what dose was required to produce such protective effects within humans.

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and is used in curries. It is also used as an alternative to saffron to give the same colour at a much lower price.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | Curcumin - turmeric, Diabetes, Diet, Health, Liver disease, Obesity, Success | Leave a comment

Parents v kids’ grades.

Prof Gianni de Fraja’s work on the role of parents, schools and kids’ academic success has received widespread coverage in the media, with different sources selecting vastly different spins to put on the research.

To understand it clearly, you need to know that the team tested a model of the parent-child-school interaction as something called a Nash equilibrium. Many important real-life situations are analysed this way.

Simplifying greatly, a Nash equilibrium assumes that each party knows the strategy of the others, and with this knowledge in mind puts in place a strategy to get the best for himself/herself. It does not guarantee the best for the players as a whole. It is more like “if you are going to do that, then I going to do this, because that’s best for me in this situation”.

The team compared the effort put in by each of the three parties and looked at the impact the had on the school exams they passed, at standard UK levels (GCE and A level).

They found that, if the difference made by a child exerting more effort alone (with no change from the other two) was counted as 1, then the school (acting alone) was more important at a score of 1.5. However, by far and away, it was the parents who put in effort that made the biggest difference, at a whopping 6 times more than the kids alone.

Part of this impact was directly on the child, through activities such as reading to the child and helping them with their homework. Part of this impact was on the school, by getting involved in things like parents evenings and influencing school policies to getter better teaching.

Middle class parents were much more likely to get involved in this manner than lower class parents. The media angles on this are pure speculation either on their own part or based on the comments of members of the research team, but it was made clear the research team does not have a solid explanation for this. For example, it may be that the lower class are less educated themselves and so less able to carry out those activities that make a difference.

Remember, the basic premise in a Nash equilibrium is that each party is trying to do what is best for them, given the way the others are doing things.

So while schools should be trying to make an effort, as it is more important than just encouraging the kid to try hard, the best route is for parents to get involved a lot, with both the child’s schoolwork and with the school. It’s the parents who have the most influence.

If you want your kid to get good grades, get involved!

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Learning, News, Relationships, Success, UK | Leave a comment

Sugared drinks v diabetes.

Dr Frank B Hu and 5 colleagues in N America have found that sugar-sweetened drinks, even at a low level, are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This effect is independent of any impact the sweetened drinks have on weight or on total calorie consumption. Further, it kicks in at levels as low as 1 to 2 standard size drinks per day.

The research team combed medical literature for good quality studies, in order to combine them. They found 8 studies of sugar-sweetened drinks and type 2 diabetes, covering 311,000 people, and 3 studies for metabolic syndrome, covering nearly 20,000 people.

From these they calculated that 1 to 2 sweet drinks per day, compared to less than 1 per month, raised the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26% and metabolic syndrome by 20%. One drink was a standard 12 oz size in the US, which is slightly larger than the 330 ml size in Europe. They found the result was dose-dependent, so more soft drinks increased both risks.

They concluded “In addition to weight gain, higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.” 

The full research paper shows that the sweetening component has quite different effects depending on whether it is fructose, glucose or an artificial sweetener. However, in the form of an added sweetener at this magnitude all have undesirable health effects.

The paper also references other research to show that the preferred US sweetener, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, a 55/45 mix of fructose and glucose) and the standard European sweetener (sucrose, a 50/50 mix of fructose to glucose) both increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes through not only weight gain but through other paths. These extra paths include increased dietary glycemic load leading to insulin resistance, beta-cell disruption and inflammation. Further problems are hypertension and an increase in visceral fat (bad fat).

These findings dovetail neatly with recent research that there are good carbs and bad carbs.That report is here.

As soft drinks increase visceral fat, and both increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, this may explain why US adults have larger waist sizes than their UK equivalents, and also twice the rate of diabetes. That report is here.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Diabetes, Diet, Frank B Hu, Glycemic index, Health, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, UK, United States, Waist circumference, Weight management | Leave a comment

Truth v belief v propaganda.

Two professors at the Ohio State University have carried out a study regarding the proposed mosque at the 9/11 Ground Zero site in New York that illustrates the relative merits of truth and propaganda when it comes to changing beliefs.

750 adults participated in a survey conducted between 14 Sep and 19 Sep 2010.

The core concept was a prevailing belief that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam behind the proposed mosque, is a terrorist sympathiser who has refused to condemn extremist Islamic attacks on civilians.

Professors R Kelly Garrett and Erik Nisbet checked this using two services specialising in checking the truth (FactCheck and PolitiFact) and found this rumour to be false.

Then they took this information and presented it in different ways to those surveyed. Some got a bald rebuttal while others saw this accompanied by additional contextual information.

No matter what they did, only about one third of people surveyed who believed the rumour to be true actually modified their view, and only just over a quarter actually agreed the rumour was false.

Adding a photograph of the Imam with others when all were dressed in typical Arab clothes weakened the positive response.

Adding information that is true but might be objectionable to some US citizens, (that the Imam has said that the US bears some responsibility for the harm caused by its policies towards the Middle East though terrorism was never justified), meant the rebuttal had no impact. This point is of interest as balanced media sources would try to provide a report that was wider than a simple rebuttal.

The ‘propaganda’ effect also worked the other way. Adding a photo of the Imam and those around him in typical Western clothes meant the rebuttal was more likely to be effective.

So it seems that when it comes to belief, propaganda may outweigh the truth.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Psychology, Success, United States | Leave a comment

Smoking v dementia.

A large study of middle-aged people in the US has found that anything over moderate smoking leads to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.

The researchers from the US and Finland looked at the records of health care company Kaiser Permanente, which gave them accurate information on how much the 21,000 people smoked at around age 50 to 60. These individuals were then followed up for an average of 23 years to determine their risk of dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Former smokers who had ceased at the first check had the same risk of these diseases as non-smokers. The same was true for light smokers (less than half a pack a day).

Those smoking half to one pack per day had a 37% increased risk of dementia, while at one to two packs per day the increased risk was 44%.

Beyond this the risk jumped considerably. On more than 2 packs per day, the risk of dementia increased by 114% so it was more than double that of a non-smoker.

Risks for Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia were similar but higher. On more than 2 packs per day, for Alzheimer’s it was 157% up, and for vascular dementia it was 172% higher.

The study did not cover the risks for those smokers who gave up after the first checkpoint, so it is not clear whether this cuts the risk or not.

The study by Dr M Rusanen and others appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Alzheimer's, Brain, Dementia, Health, Smoking, Success | 2 Comments

Bitter helps lungs?

Prof Stephen B Liggett and team have been working on a rather odd piece of science. We have bitter taste receptors (TAS2R) in our lungs. And these cause our lungs to open up in a manner that might help people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD – bronchitis, emphysema or both).

The theory was that a bitter taste is associated with plant-based poisons, so exposure to a bitter smell would cause the receptors in the lung to close up the lungs. However, the opposite happens and the lungs open up.

In the current study, Dr Deepak A Deshpande looked at the effect of bitter-tasting compounds in human and animal airways and on mice with asthma, to work out why this effect was happening. A mechanism that usually causes muscle to contract, (calcium), was working the opposite way in this case.

The team compared these bitter compounds against an existing class of drugs used to open up the lungs, (called beta-adronergic agonists – a type of bronchodilator) and found the bitter compounds to be three times more effective.

Simply eating bitter foods will not help as it is the lung receptors for bitter taste that control this, not mouth receptors. The team used quinine, chloroquine and saccharin (which has a bitter aftertaste) made into an aerosol.

The same approach may lead to new treatments for asthma and COPD – take a chemical equivalent of soemthing bitter-tasting, make it into an aerosol, and use an inhaler.

October 25, 2010 Posted by | Asthma, Bronchitis, COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Emphysema, Stephen B Liggett, Success | 2 Comments

Live long, live smart.

Dr Simona Sacuiu from the University of Gothenburg has been studying two groups of 70 year olds living 30 years apart to see what has been happening in this age range through the years.

People in the first group were born around 1900 and took standard psychometric tests in 1970. Those in the second were born in 1930 and were tested in 2000.

As expected, the second group did better on life expectancy. In a five year follow up, 16% of the 1970 group died compared to 4% of the 2000 group.

When it came to developing dementia, a slightly better result for the second group was not large enough to be statistically significant.

While the intelligence tests taken at age 70 predicted the onset of dementia in the 1970 group, the 2000 group tested smarter so this link did not appear to hold true any longer.

The only predictor of dementia in the 2000 group was memory problems, though not all of those with memory problems went on to develop dementia.

Why are older people performing better in standard psychometric tests? According to Dr Sacuiu “The improvement can partly be explained by better pre- and neonatal care, better nutrition, higher quality of education, better treatment of high blood pressure and other vascular diseases, and not least the higher intellectual requirements of today’s society, where access to advanced technology, television and the Internet has become part of everyday life”.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Brain, Dementia, Health, Memory, Success | 1 Comment

Aspirin v prostate cancer.

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is holding its 52nd annual meeting in San Diego from 31 Oct to 4 Nov 2010. A pre-meeting press release has suggested what the highlights will be. Most of these appear to be quite technical and related specifically to radiology specialists.

One screams out that it applies to the general public. 

“Aspirin use is associated with lower risk of cancer death for men with prostate cancer.  Men with prostate cancer who take anticoagulants like aspirin in addition to radiation therapy or surgery may be able to cut their risk of dying of the disease by more than half, according to a large study presented on November 3, 2010.”

It looks like aspirin cuts prostate cancer risk, just like the recent story on reduced colorectal cancer risk and reduced heart attack risk.

Why aren’t you getting the full details now? According to ASTRO “Studies are embargoed until October 25, 2010, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time”.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | Aspirin, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Health, Prostate cancer, Success | Leave a comment