Thursday, 27 March 2014

Look at the teeth

A young vegan friend told me "We aren't designed to eat meat, because we don't have teeth like a tiger".

I told him we do, or rather we have dog teeth, the canines that get exaggerated in vampire films.

I described the various actions of our teeth and how they differ from herbivorous mammals.

Rodents have front teeth or incisors that grow continuously.  That means they can eat hard and fibrous food, without destroying their teeth.  Squirrels (rats with fluffy tails) can crack nuts with their incisors to get at the seed within.

We have opposable thumbs and developed tools to crack hard shells or slice fibrous roots, so we don't have to rely on our teeth.

We have pre-molars and molars (our back teeth), which enable us to chew our food.  Ruminant animals, such as cows, have numerous big molars as well as jaw hinges that allow them to grind grass and green matter to a pulp.  This is the beginning of the process required to digest chloropyll (that makes plants look green).  They also have a second stomach.  We are not designed to digest chlorophyll, but gain the benefits from eating animals that are.

I'm not here to advocate a particular diet.  Our teeth show that we are designed to be omnivores, eating meat and vegetable matter.  As a species, we have survived by being opportunistic eaters.  

Human ancestors have populated the earth, dealing with climate change, scarce resources and competition from other animals.  When ice covered large parts of the globe, plant food would have been scarce and difficult to access.  Ingenuity was required to keep going.  Early roaming humans learnt to use wild grains for simple stick bread and to dry and store meat.  At some stage milk from lactating animals was used as food.  Humans also learnt to ferment food as a way of storing it for longer use.  Some people speculate that our brains expanded after we started eating shellfish and broadening the range of micronutrients in our diet.

Early members of the Paleo community talked about how they followed in the footsteps of ancient ancestors by hunting their own food.  I believe it is unlikely that there were bear, bison and moose steaks on the menu every day back in early history.  The Chinese invented gunpowder in the thirteenth century and shotguns/rifles weren't around until the nineteenth century.  Large animals with big teeth, claws, antlers and a 1 ton Sherman tank style action (average rhinoceros/elephant charge) would not make it easy for humans with flint axes, even working as a team.  Big cat competition would also have challenged early man in the business of hunting steaks.

On the other hand, Western government health advisers recommend we eat lots of healthy whole grains and 5 portions of fruit and vegetable a day.  Our early ancestors would have had small amounts of wild grain to get them through the barren patches.  Fruit would be available in the Autumn and not easily stored.  Vegetables would not be available all the year round.  Food would be scarce in harsh climates and conditions.

I imagine that our ancient ancestors incorporated intermittent fasting into their routine, not as a fad, but because they didn't have enough food to eat every day.

Our teeth tells us how we have survived and developed.  They don't insist we eat meat or refrain from doing so.  We have evolved to cope with a range of diets, not just the American fast food fashion that has swept the globe.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Tabloid Health Care

There is a class of drugs that is being prescribed to healthy people.  If GPs don't meet quotas, they lose money.

Here's what I understand about robust research into this class of drugs - statins:

They don't work for women.

They don't work for men over 65.

They may trigger diabetes and exacerbate blood sugar control problems.

They don't prevent heart attacks.

They don't prolong life by one day.

Men under 65, who have had a heart attack or stroke, may benefit from taking them.

Side effects may include mental health problems as well as joint and muscle pain and deterioration.

In effect, these drugs prescribed to healthy people may make them ill.

The UK is a free country.  People can choose what to accept or refuse from their doctors.  There is a lot of information on the internet to help patients decide.

I meet a lot of people on this class of drugs, who are elderly, have limited education, may not be internet savvy or often online.

Some bloggers (doctors, researchers or highly informed people in this field) may not understand how their posts are read.   An attempt to provide balance and present the opposing view, may be seen as support for the pro-statin lobby.  It's a pity if they only target those who are already converts and actively involved in their own healthcare.

The most influential part of this scene is often Dr Tabloid.  Man in white coat is quoted giving dire warnings of negative consequences on health and heart attack risk to those who refuse to take statins.  No attempt is made to discover any conflicts of interest he may have (in the form of direct/indirect funding from statin manufacturers.)

Rory Collins was quoted in this way last week.  Much was made of his title and that he works at Oxford University as a medical researcher.  Nothing was said about his work as an epidemiologist.  That means that he looks at statistics and trends in disease at the level of population.  He does not do research on statins, their side effects and prevention of heart disease.  I wouldn't know that from the coverage in newspapers and BBC news.

As Dr Briffa notes, Rory Collins won't let us see the data on which his firm assurances are based.  So where's the scientific proof for this assertion?

His words strike fear into the hearts and minds of people who don't know what to think, given the contradictory messages they receive from the media.  When their doctor suggests carrying on until they note any side effects, nothing is said about the beneficial effects of the drug, apart from 'lowering cholesterol' or 'preventing a stroke, because you have diabetes, madam.'

When I searched for the above image, it took several tries, whereas the headlines claiming that statins cure Alzheimers, cancer and prolong your life were easily accessible.

Science journalism is very poor in this country.  Sadly this may contribute to severe side effects from mis-prescribed drugs.

I find it distressing to see people I care about losing mobility and joy of life.   The common factor is statins and they seem too scared to refuse these drugs from the doctor.

We need better investigative journalism when governments ignore science and publish guidelines on prescribing such as these.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Statinators Seek New Victims

Imagine that you run a pharmaceutical company.  Your nice little earner, a drug designed to lower artery-clogging-cholesterol-that-kills-you-with-heart-attacks, is meeting resistance.

You do your very best to keep the income stream flowing strongly.  One of your lobbyists gets hired by the UK government to influence health strategy.   Guidelines for doctors start to include more reasons to prescribe your class of drug to everybody.  One of the main reasons that GPs will prescribe these drugs is because they are paid to do so (or lose big wodges of cash if they don't).

You pay doctors and researchers to endorse your products and dismiss talk of side effects for your drugs, with 'An Expert Speaks' quotes and pieces for mass media news.

A NASA doctor, Duane Graveline, continues to argue that statins damage the mitochondria (or power house) of each cell, resulting in loss of strength, joint pain, memory loss, mental health problems and more.  He almost lost the ability to walk on high dose statins.  People share their experience on blogs and social media.  Some start to challenge their doctors and refuse to take statins.

What can you do to prevent patient resistance to your drugs?

You could find another group of patients, who are LEAST LIKELY to notice the worst side effects of your products.  Yes, why don't you prescribe them to people who are already experiencing joint pain, loss of strength, brain problems:  people with advanced multiple sclerosis?

Ask Dr Terry Wahls why this is such a very very BAD idea.

Butter good - not the answer we want!

I woke to news that there is no difference between saturated and polyunsaturated fat consumption in triggering heart disease.

A Cambridge University academic has reviewed research studies and found (what MANY doctors and researchers have been saying for ages) that saturated fat does not cause heart disease.

At the end of the news item, the journalist reported that scientists were confused by these findings and stated that more research was needed.  That implies that they're not happy to be proved wrong and want to find a way to prop up bogus nutritional guidelines issued by Western governments.

In the words of the great philosopher, Homer Simpson:

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Green Crap?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, claims he is building a resilient economy by sweeping away green crap or environmental taxes.  An article in the Independent claims that Osborne will reduce penalties for high use of fossil fuel in Tuesday's Budget.

The 'Carbon Tax' is symbolic for environmental campaigners, as it indicates how strongly the government is committed to combating climate change.  I'm not here to argue about how far humans have contributed to climate change and whether we can reverse it.  Fossil fuels are pollutants and have had a major impact on human health and contamination of the planet for all life.  Steps taken to mitigate this have not been hugely effective.

We are running out of fossil fuel.  The developing world is catching up with Western consumption.  Oil companies are prospecting for oil in ever more remote and difficult to access locations.  Shale oil and gas extraction is provoking popular protests, as communities see their local area being damaged and livelihoods threatened by the direct and indirect effects of the process.

Environmental taxes that encourage companies to reduce consumption and improve efficiency make sense.  Commercial organisation complain and lobby, whatever is suggested.  If companies know that taxes and environmental regulations are coming, they plan and incorporate them in their daily practice.  However, if there is no regulatory pressure,  there is patchy adoption of sound energy efficiency measures.

Some say that we lose jobs to the developing world, because companies move manufacturing abroad to avoid regulation.  Much heavy industry has moved abroad already.  Germany seems to have found a way to retain engineering works in the country, while maintaining high standards of environmental regulation.

We are an island nation and reserve the right to hold dear to our Anglo Saxon attitudes.  Unlike our German and Scandinavian near neighbours, we continue to flush money down the drain through poor building standards and draughty, badly insulated homes.  Ed Milliband demands a freeze on utility prices rather than pushing to meet standards of some continental countries, that achieve low U values.

I visited an ex-council semi-detached house recently, that had been refurbished to passive house standards.  They had only used the central heating for 2 hours in the previous 18 months.  The house was warm and comfortable.

Eric Pickles has blocked local authorities from varying planning regulations to boost insulation and encourage triple glazing and passive house design, as this 'would be unfair to large house builders'.  Never mind if we have a growing problem of fuel poverty, rising heating bills and diminishing energy resources.

Vladimir Putin has demonstrated scant regard for territorial boundaries and UN warnings in his recent incursions into Georgia and Ukraine.  He knows that Russia controls vital oil and gas reserves, which the West needs.  He also knows that governments have given in to threats from large accountancy firms and permitted offshore limited liability partnerships, which have shielded illicit funds from tax, which were siphoned out of Ukraine and other Eastern bloc countries.

We forget how embargos and price rises imposed by OPEC in the early 1970s had a major negative impact on Western economies.  Scandinavia predicted the oil crisis and the UK didn't believe it until it happened.  Unless we consume less energy, we are hostages to those with large resources.

No, Mr Osborne, reducing green taxes won't lead to a resilient economy or more jobs.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn RIP

When I first moved to London, one of my neighbours worked for Tony Benn.  He was Minister of Technology and she described him as an inspiring leader.

He has been satirised as an old fossil in the last couple of decades.  I saw him when he supported refugee groups fleeing from oppressive military regimes.  He was one of the few politicians with a genuine interest and understanding of these countries.  He recorded all conversations, not wishing to repeat negative experiences of journalists and opponents misquoting him.

He made the biggest impact when speaking about democracy.  In recent decades Western governments have justified military attacks on other countries by claiming to take democracy to dictatorships.  George Dubya Bush, famous for his 'hanging chad election' and sweeping away regulation so that corporations and rich individuals could buy elections, was never a great example of a democrat.  Both he and Tony Blair implied that they received their moral authority from God, rather than the people who elected them.  It was far easier to influence Mr Blair if you were a media mogul or billionaire businessman than if you were a UK voter.

Channel 4 published a video that Tony Benn made to be shown after his death.

We are losing a generation of thinkers and people who act on convictions.  They are being replaced by many facile, venal politicians and their bag carriers, who seem to have minimal experience beyond Westminster and very little interest in anything but power.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Chelsea FC closed to support Crystal Palace

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, has today announced the closure of Chelsea football club, currently top of the Premier League.  Funds will go across the river to bolster the ailing Crystal Palace FC, which has limped along with limited funding and poor results, failing to meet targets for many years.

Ms Miller attempted this move last year, but was stopped by court action, which ruled she had exceeded her powers.  She has pushed through a clause in the Sport Bill, which gives her sweeping powers to close or scale back any football club, without consultation, if a neighbouring club develops serious financial problems.

Opponents argue that this will lead to top down control of UK football and the Premier League.  Ministers counter that these moves are in the interests of football fans as they boost playing standards across broad areas.

Jose Mourinho felt shattered:  "The plans result in a good club shutting down because it's near to a failing one, with fans and staff powerless to resist closures".

Mis Miller was adamant that the new powers will lead to better sport, improved health and wellbeing and wider spread of good football to the benefit of hard working families.

Today is NOT the first of April, but the above story is fictional.

I wanted an analogy that would demonstrate the unintended consequences of government policy.  Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has gained new powers through part of the Care Bill.  He will be able to close down my local hospital or its Accident and Emergency department, to retain facilities in neighbouring areas.  This is an area of 34 square miles, with a population of 364,000 people.  I know 3 people who nearly died but were saved by A and E, but who might not have survived if they'd been driven to neighbouring facilities (through dense traffic.)  I don't have a say in this, even though it has a major impact on me and the local community.  The government has promised limited consultation.  My local MP dismissed attempts to lobby him to vote against it.

The 'internal market' for health in the UK is artificial.  There are codes and categories for types of patient and disease as well as treatment.  Payment and money movements around the NHS are not straightforward.  Assessment of standards depends largely on how data is entered and categorised.  We are presented with league tables and alarming reports of dangerous hospitals, but the data on which these are based seems questionable.  Negative media reports of my local hospital don't match my experience and that of my friends.  I've seen standards improve, particularly in the NHS part of local A & E (not the Virgin stewardesses that check patients initially.)  I do NOT accept that it is unsafe for patients, as noted in this chart.

Yesterday I wrote about the resignation of Euan Sutherland.  One reason that fellow members of the Board of the Co-op stabbed him in the back was because of his pay rise.  He has delivered results in saving the Co-op Bank and Co-operative Group from destruction.  He did NOT cause the mess that the Bank and the Group are in.  I wrote about a similar backlash against the man that pulled RBS around, Stephen Hester.  There are plenty of examples where those who have made huge mistakes and cost companies and the country dear are rewarded on exit from post (or go on to become seriously rich, using their knowledge and connections from the job).  The Labour Party keep quiet about the decline of the Co-operative Group except when funding for their party and some MPs is threatened.

In the UK we seem to like rewarding failure and disputing payment for success.  In the case of healthcare, it sets a dangerous precedent.  

How to trash scientific research

Establish a media career.  Land a weekly radio show on health matters with the strong message:  "Trust me, I'm a doctor."

Take a topic that is currently fashionable, such as the impact of sugar in processed foods on weight and health.

Briefly interview the most popular specialist in endocrinology, who has made public statements on the issue, including a Youtube video that went viral.

Focus down on the notion that sugar is addictive.

Discuss this idea with 2 neurologists, who quote research studies with rats.  Avoid discussing some of the problems with rat and mice studies, including the composition of the food used in research and the unnatural breed of rodents used.  Do not talk to anyone with a different view of the results.

Whatever you do, steer the specialist away from the subject of his human research studies, demonstrating that insulin function strongly impacts lethargy, inactivity, increasing appetite and weight gain in post operative juvenile cancer patients and adults.

Summarise these superficial discussions with the conclusion that sugar is not a problem in human health and weight gain.

Job done.

Collect gong from the Queen and continue to accept funding from broadcast and print media, who are strongly lobbied by the food industry.

Whatever you do, don't rock the boat.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Co-op unravelling?

Euan Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group, resigned today less than a year after being appointed to the post.

He identified the huge funding gap in the Co-operative Bank and took steps to bridge it.  Sutherland did not cause the problems facing the Bank and the Group.  A series of former senior managers made poor business decisions, encouraged by politicians.

Sutherland was intelligent enough to deal with the backlash from investors to the initial proposal to raise funds from investors.  He worked hard with Mark Taber to ensure that a fair deal was reached and that investors had time to vote.  He also refocussed the brand around its ethical stance.

Euan Sutherland has taken steps to prevent the bank and Group from going into administration or seeking bailouts from the government.  There is a long way to go to raise money, modernise practices and improve corporate governance.  I believe that frontline staff were motivated to follow him on this journey.

The Co-op Group may now own a small part of the Co-op Bank, but the two businesses are inextricably linked and Sutherland has made his mark on both of them.

Leaks to the press about his pay offer and resignation letter send out a very clear message from his fellow directors.  The board is neither united nor supportive of their bright and energetic leader.  They may well have removed any remaining chance that the Co-op will survive.

As one investor put it:  "The Co-op's stupidity knows no bounds....."