Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Pregnancy v autism.

A trio of researchers has discovered that if there is a short interval between first and second babies, the second one has an increased risk of autism.

The researchers looked at 660,000 pairs of siblings born in California between 1992 and 2002, where the first-born did not have autism. Then they compared the rates of autism in the second sibling, using the interval between when the mother first gave birth and when she became pregnant again.

Compared to an interval of 3+ years, an interval of 2-3 years resulted in an increase in the risk of autism by 27%, while 1-2 years increased the risk by 87% and under 1 year increased the risk by 139%.

The researchers checked their work using pairs of siblings where the 1st born had autism, and again found the second was at even greater risk if the interval was less than 3 years.

Experts in autism are cautioning that although the study appears sound, it is normal to wait for results to be replicated in a different group of people.

However, other studies have shown an increased risk of schizophrenia in the second born where there is a short interval between pregnancies. While other problems such as being severely pre-term are also linked to increased risk of autism.

Collectively, these suggest that a short interval increases the chance that the second child’s neural development is impacted.

The researchers speculated that the reason might be a depleted level of nutrients such as folate or iron, or elevated stress levels.

Until a mechanism is established, this would suggest mothers falling pregnant within 3 years of last giving birth should make sure their nutrients follow medical recommendations closely, and put practices in place to cut stress.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Autism, Brain, Child Health, Diet, Minerals, Pregnancy, Stress, Success, Vitamins | Leave a comment

Udiet: the battlefield.

2010 was stuffed with debate over the reasons why people in developed countries are getting heavier.

 The most simplistic explanations focussed on overeating, or inactivity, or both. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) also came in for a beating. The problem with this is that Europe imports very little HFCS, but countries in Europe are reporting more and more problems associated with obesity.

 www.obesitymyths.com comes up with a much larger range of interesting possibilities. But in 2005, the New York Times linked this site to sponsorship from fast food producers such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, in this article.

Two reputable groups of scientists published work where they found that the mantra of ‘eat less and exercise more’ doesn’t cover all of the potential reasons.

 A government group in the UK called Foresight was asked to predict what will happen there over time, based on best evidence, and building in realistic assumptions. In order to do so, they had to scour published research to identify the drivers of obesity and build a very detailed model of which drivers are most important. Written in simple English, this is probably the best explanation there is of the obesity epidemic.

The full report is available as a free PDF download here. However, at over 160 pages, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

The second group of scientists published a summary of obesity drivers in November 2009. Again, this is available free using this link.

Their findings outline the battlefield for the Udiet.

1. Overeating, particularly re heavily marketed energy dense foods.

2. Underactivity, again with an organisation driver behind it.

3. Infection caused by bacteria and viruses.

4. Epigenetics, whereby prenatal and early postnatal exposure to the environment alters how genes are expressed without changing the genes. For example, babies born very underweight at birth who are incubated and fed rich diets to catch up weight have a higher risk of obesity and associated issues later in life.

5. Increasing maternal age. Animal studies have shown that babies born to older mothers are fatter than those born to younger mothers.

6. BMI breeding effect. Studies have found that those with a body mass index somewhat above average are producing slightly more children, on average, than the rest of the population, causing the population BMI to increase over time.

7. Assortitative mating is taking place. This hypothesis is that those with higher BMI prefer partners of similar kind, and due to the genetic effect, this leads to even heavier children. A wide range of population studies support this idea.

8. Sleep debt is happening, and leads to increased eating, increased fat deposition and lowered activity. Research shows metabolic changes occur to support this, and also leads to higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. For example, one study shows that getting one and a half hours less sleep than ideal over a two week period results in a diabetic-like profile for glucose and insulin.

9. Endocrine disruptors interfere with estrogen and androgen signalling, and have been building up in the human environment for some time.  These have been found to be involved in obesity in animals and in humans.

10. Commonly used medicines are known to contribute to weight gain. These include medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, steroids, contraceptives, and anti-histamines.

11. Artificial ambient temperature. The hotter your environment, the less energy you burn keeping warm. The UK home went from 13 centigrade in 1970 to 18 centigrade by 2000. US homes went from 18 centigrade in 1923 to nearly 25 centigrade in 1986.

12. Mothers input. The state of the mother’s glucose and insulin handling systems directly affect the number of fat cells and the fat cell content of the baby.

13. Reduction in smoking rate. The scientists considered this so well documented they excluded it from their list.

14. Altered US demographics. A 2006 article along the same lines had found that alterations in the US population were increasing the races which tend toward higher BMI, therefore  increasing the average BMI of the nation.

The aim of the scientists’ report was not to remove the first two reasons from focus, but to show that the battlefield is considerably more complex than simply food and exercise.

These 14 points are not comprehensive. For example, other researchers have found that altering the circadian rhythm, by staying up late in artificial light and not synchronising your body clock to early morning light, is also a risk factor for weight gain. Also, breastfeeding v formula milk wasn’t mentioned, although formula milk is associated with higher risk of obesity.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, BMI - body mass index, Breastfeeding, Child Health, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Environment, Epigenetics, Exercise, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, High blood pressure, Obesity, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Success, Thermogenesis, UK, United States, Weight management | Leave a comment

Best infant formula milk?

Babies fed on formula milk made from cows’ milk show more rapid weight gain in their first year than those who are breast fed. The excess weight gain in this period is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other diseases later in life.

Researchers from Philadelphia wanted to know if all types of formula milk suffered from this problem, so set up a test between a cows’ milk based formula (Enfamil), and a protein hydrolysate formula (Nutramigen). Protein hydrolysate formula is typically used for babies who are allergic to cows’ milk.

The babies’ weight and height started off the same when they were randomly allocated to milk type when just 2 weeks old.

By two and a half months, babies on cows’ milk were noticeably heavier, but not taller. At seven and a half months, when the study ended, those in the cows’ milk group averaged two pounds more than those in the protein hydrolysate group. Again this was excess weight gain rather than extra height. The protein hydrolysate group was only a little heavier than breast fed babies.

The researchers speculated that the protein hydrolysate breaks down into amino acids with a similar profile to human milk and that leads to baby feeling fuller faster. Videotapes of feeding showed the protein hydrolysate stopped feeding after fewer calories.

The study appears in the January issue of Pediatrics.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Diabetes, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Pregnancy, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

Newborn v SIDS this New Year?

If you have a newborn child, the best way to celebrate New Year is lay off the alcohol, and put baby to bed using the SIDS rules.

A team from the US analysed 130,000 cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) over 25 years. These were compared to all causes of death in infants (nearly 300,000) in the same period, and against alcohol related crashes (about 140,000) over a similar period. The study was published in the journal Addiction.

The findings are stark.

SIDS spikes by 33% over average on New Year’s Day. Like alcohol consumption, SIDS increases at the weekend. Children of mothers who consume alcohol are at a higher risk of SIDS than those where the mother does not drink alcohol. 

Lesser spikes in SIDS are 20th April, linked to cannabis, and 4th July, linked to alcohol.

The research team evaluated the clock change to see if it has anything to do with people sleeping in, but it does not.

Here at Team McCallum there are two little folks under 12 months who need the grown-ups to make sure they are safe this New Year.

If you have a newborn, celebrate New Year with a soft drink, make sure you use the best rules for SIDS, and in 2011, Happy New Year to you and your little angel.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | Alcohol, Child Health, Merry Christmas, Success | Leave a comment

Cocoa for kids’ cough?

An active ingredient in cocoa, theobromine, is soon to enter final trials in Europe as a cure for persistent cough.

Persistent cough is where coughing continues for two weeks after the reasons for the cough have disappeared. This continuance appears to be due to a nerve in the central nervous system (CNS) that has ‘learned’ to fire inappropriately, and so continues the cough unnecessarily. Theobromine calms this nerve so inappropriate firing stops, and with it, the cough.

There are existing over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for this, but these are typically opiod based, such as codeine, with significant side effects on the CNS. For this reason, UK health authorities recommend that such treatments are not to be used for those under 18, as the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Theobromine is one of the active ingredients in cocoa, and it is the component of chocolate that is toxic to animals, notably dogs. However, in humans it is safe at much higher levels, explaining why people can eat so much chocolate!

Dry cocoa powder is the most packed source, at 800mg of theobromine per ounce. Bakers’ chocolate has 450mg/oz. Dark chocolate has 150mg/oz. Milk chocolate has only about 50mg/oz, while white chocolate has negligible amounts.

The company developing the medicine also expects final trials for US approval to begin in 2011, with an OTC product on the market in 2013.

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Chocolate, Codeine, Success, Theobromine | Leave a comment

Influenza season imminent.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the flu season is nearly here. The start of the flu season is when 12% of samples sent to the CDC test positive for flu, and currently the rate is just below this at 10.7%.

Other information released by the CDC suggests that those who have not had this season’s vaccine would be wise to do so quickly.

In the south east of the US, positive tests rates are running higher. Georgia has the highest, at 20%. The impact is particularly great in school-age children.

There are 3 different components in the flu vaccine, and the CDC released information on what it turning up in the tests, and how this matches the vaccine.

A minority of cases are of the pandemic H1N1 2009 type. The vaccine contains a component for this type.

The majority are for testing positive for B type virus and for an A type H3N1. The current vaccine has a B type component that matches the B type found, as did the vaccine in the 2009 season.

However, the H3N1 type in circulation does not match the H3N1 component of the 2009 vaccine. So anyone immunised last year is not protected against the H3N1 strain now in circulation. However, the current vaccine does protect against this H3N1 strain.

In summary, the 2010 vaccine protects against all 3 types in circulation, while the 2009 vaccine fails to protect against one of the majority strains being found now. Hence the need to get this year’s vaccine.

Although the information released by the CDC applies to the US, the circulating flu strains are typically the same throughout the northern hemisphere, and the vaccine used in Europe has the same 3 components as those used in the US. So a 2010 shot makes good sense for Europeans too.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child Health, Health, Influenza, Success, United States, Vaccine | Leave a comment

Calcium and vitamin D by IOM.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) was asked by US and Canadian health authorities to conduct an independent, evidence based review of the dietary requirements for calcium and vitamin D.

Overall, the committee concludes that the majority of Americans and Canadians are receiving adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D. Further, there is emerging evidence that too much of these nutrients may be harmful.”

Prof A Catherine Ross chaired the committee conducting this update, the first since 1997. The team reviewed over 1,000 studies on vitamin D and calcium and took further evidence from experts.

The review covered all health outcomes,  including cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, falls, immune response, neuropsychological functioning, physical performance, preeclampsia, and reproductive outcomes. It found that only in relation to bone health are the results unequivocal, and based its recommendations on this.

The committee noted that studies appearing in the media re population levels of deficiency are using arbitrary levels that have not been established by a central authority, and so have little validity.

Based on available data, the committee found almost all individuals get sufficient vitamin D when their blood levels are at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter as it is measured in the US, or 50 nanomoles per liter as measured in Canada.

Also, the committee considered that few people are getting their vitamin D from sunlight, and based their recommendations on this.

A full breakdown of the recommendations by age range and gender is at the IOM short report on calcium and vitamin D. Please note a number of special situations are omitted from this but are covered by the full 678 page report, so check with your physician.

Some subgroups—particularly those who are older and living in institutions or who have dark skin pigmentation—may be at increased risk for getting too little vitamin D.

National surveys in both the United States and Canada indicate that most people receive enough calcium, with the exception of girls ages 9-18, who often do not take in enough calcium. In contrast, postmenopausal women taking supplements may be getting too much calcium.

Too much calcium is linked with kidney stones, while too much vitamin D is linked to kidney and other tissue damage. The short report therefore gives 3 values for each group – the estimated average amount (enough for the average person), the recommended dietary allowance (the level at which nearly everyone gets enough) and the upper level intake (the level at which more will cause harm rather than good).

In conclusion, “the committee emphasizes that, with a few exceptions, all North Americans are receiving enough calcium and vitamin D. Higher levels have not been shown to confer greater benefits, and in fact, they have been linked to other health problems, challenging the concept that “more is better.””

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Calcium, Canada, Cancer, Child Health, Cognitive decline, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Gender, High blood pressure, IOM - Institute of Medcine, Metabolic syndrome, Success, United States, Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Are you too clean?

Triclosan is used in a variety of common household products, including soaps, mouthwashes, dish detergents, toothpastes, deodorants, and hand sanitisers. It is antibacterial and antifungal. Now a study led by Prof Allison E Aiello has found that triclosan is linked to higher rates of asthma and hay fever.

Triclosan has been around since the 1960s and became widespread in the 70s and 80s. However, it is now seen as an endocrine disruptor, interfering with the hormone system. Prof Aiello wanted to know whether triclosan had an impact on the immune system.

3,700 people from the 2003-2006 NHANES survey in the US were used, where data on asthma and allergies was known, and the level of triclosan in the person’s urine was established.

Triclosan was associated with a greater risk of asthma and allergies. The increase was not significant in those over 18, but was significant in people under 18.

High triclosan levels were also linked to high socioeconomic status. As asthma is usually linked to lower socioeconomic status, the impact of triclosan may be greater in reality than that found in the study.

Studies published in 2009 and 2010 found that a properly functioning immune system was a major determinant of health across the course of life, that those with childhood asthma may have a higher risk of adult lung cancer, and that immune disregulation in oldest age groups is linked to dementia.

The triclosan effect is thought to be that is removes microorganisms required by the immune system to train it to develop the right balance between two types of T-helper cells, and this imbalance may lead to immune system reactions and allergies.

So it looks like you can be too clean for your own good.

An earlier study from the University of Michigan found that triclosan in hand wash was unnecessary, with decent soap being just as effective.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | Allison E. Aiello, Asthma, Cancer, Child Health, Dementia, Health, Success | Leave a comment

Fat kids v teen heart risk.

A study in the UK has looked at over 5,200 children, to see whether being overweight at age 9-12 is associated with cardiovascular risk factors at age 15-16. It also investigated whether body mass index (BMI) is useful, or whether other measures are better.

Dr Debbie A Lawler and colleagues took measurements of BMI, waist circumference and fat/lean mass by dual energy x-rays at start point and end point. For 75% of the children, the start was before age 10.

At the end, at age 15-16, a wide range of risk markers associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) were measured.

Different detailed results were found for boys and for girls. However, in general, those overweight at the start point were at higher risk  of factors linked to CVD. (The ‘overweight’ definition used was that of the International Obesity Task Force.)

The following risk factors were all predicted – high systolic blood pressure, high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, low ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high insulin in blood. BMI was linked to high fasting glucose levels in boys only, and risk for some of the others was worse in boys than girls.

Diastolic blood pressure at the end was not predicted by BMI at the start measurement.

Girls who went from overweight at the first point into the normal range by the end were found to have no more risk than those girls in the normal range at both times. However, boys who improved their weight status also improved their risk profile, but it remained poorer than those in the normal range at both times.

Finally, the team found that although BMI is much criticised, it was as good a predictor as the other two methods, even the very precise x-ray method. So BMI was validated as a simple and easy way to predict a child’s future health profile.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | BMI - body mass index, Child Health, Cholesterol, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Gender, Health, High blood pressure, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Success, Waist circumference, Weight management | Leave a comment

Best kids cold treatment.

Many of the popular cold treatments available over the counter have not been tested formally. So Dr Ian M Paul and colleagues from Penn State College of Medicine ran a check on kids with coughs and cold symptoms. They found that, at night, vapor rub (containing camphor, menthol and eucalyptus) was better than petroleum jelly or no treatment for kids.

138 children aged 2 to 11 and in their 4th day of colds and coughs were split randomly into 3 groups – vapor rub, petroleum jelly and ‘no treatment’. Despite trying to disguise which was which for the first two groups, just under 90% of the parents guessed the treatment correctly. And 10% of the ‘no treatment’ group parents cheated and gave their children some medication.

Cough, congestion, runny nose and sleep were all significantly improved in all 3 groups, which may have been due to the normal progression of coughs and colds.

Beyond this, petroleum jelly produced no significant improvement compared to no treatment.

The vapor rub was significantly better than no treatment in all disease measures with the exception of a runny nose.

The authors noted that menthol has been shown to improve the workings of airway in congested adults and in healthy schoolchildren. And menthol and/or camphor have been shown to make improvements in both children and adults with bronchitis.

The main drawback to the vapor rub was mild skin irritant effects in just under half those using it.

In addition to funding from the National Institutes of Health, the study received a grant from the company that makes the Vicks VapoRub used in the research.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Cold - common cold, Health, Sleep, Success | Leave a comment