Month: October 2006

Fish good for You? – this byline stinks

BBC NEWS | Health | Benefits of fish ‘outweigh risks’

Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author of the study said: “Overall, for major health outcomes among adults, the benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh the risks.

“Somehow this evidence has been lost on the public.”

Concerns have been raised about chemicals found in fish from pollution.

These include mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins.

And in other news, “breathing is good for you”. Please, I can’t take this any more. The question is NOT, and NEVER WILL BE, “Is fish good for you?”. Of course it is. The question is: “What kind of fish is good for you, and whether appropriate labeling can help the consumer decide”.

At least in the US of A, which is where I have eaten the bulk of my fish, the primary source of information you can get about eating fish is on the web and for North Carolina, here. So, you’re supposed to go around with a checklist of good and bad fish in your head when you go to the grocery store. Most consumers do not have this kind of information, especially when there are so many categories to choose from. Is it fatty, or non? Is it freshwater or marine? Is it canned, fresh or frozen? Is it caught or farmed? Canned light tuna is okay, but canned albacore tuna is not, can you remember this when shopping for 30 other things at the store?

Confused enough? How about, tilefish at 3.99 a pound versus salmon at 7.99 a pound? What will you buy on a tight budget?

If you’re the average consumer, you have a minute to decide whether it’s fish for dinner, or something else, unless you’re carrying around this handy checklist in your hand/PDA (in which case you’re not the average consumer), you have two opposing thoughts in your head….

  1. I know that fish is good for me, so I need to eat more fish
  2. I know that certain fish is not good for me, especially if I’m pregnant/nursing/feeding kids – But I don’t know if this fish that’s on sale is on the safe list, or not.

What will you do given that you have one minute to decide, you have no information in the store, and you have no one in the store looking out for you?

And this paper wonders, and I paraphrase,

“Somehow this evidence has been lost on the public”

Labeling is important, information is power, if you’re buying fish, you want to know where it is from, what the average pollutant loadings of the fish from this area are, and what the advisory on this fish is, so you can make an informed choice in the one minute that you have. This has been widely researched, and the information is easily available (on the web, where you don’t shop for groceries). Is it too much to ask for a list to be posted wherever fish is sold? I guess it “hurts business”.

Personal responsibilty is accepted, but if you do not give people the tools to make informed choices, it’s just a cynical ploy to shift blame, shift burden, and shift risk.

This paper deserves to be read in full, so here’s the abstract. Needless to say, the study, funded in full by tax payer money through the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, is behind a subscription wall.

Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health

Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; Eric B. Rimm, ScD

JAMA. 2006;296:1885-1899.


Context  Fish (finfish or shellfish) may have health benefits and also contain contaminants, resulting in confusion over the role of fish consumption in a healthy diet.

Evidence Acquisition  We searched MEDLINE, governmental reports, and meta-analyses, supplemented by hand reviews of references and direct investigator contacts, to identify reports published through April 2006 evaluating (1) intake of fish or fish oil and cardiovascular risk, (2) effects of methylmercury and fish oil on early neurodevelopment, (3) risks of methylmercury for cardiovascular and neurologic outcomes in adults, and (4) health risks of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls in fish. We concentrated on studies evaluating risk in humans, focusing on evidence, when available, from randomized trials and large prospective studies. When possible, meta-analyses were performed to characterize benefits and risks most precisely.

Evidence Synthesis  Modest consumption of fish (eg, 1-2 servings/wk), especially species higher in the n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), reduces risk of coronary death by 36% (95% confidence interval, 20%-50%; P<.001) and total mortality by 17% (95% confidence interval, 0%-32%; P = .046) and may favorably affect other clinical outcomes. Intake of 250 mg/d of EPA and DHA appears sufficient for primary prevention. DHA appears beneficial for, and low-level methylmercury may adversely affect, early neurodevelopment. Women of childbearing age and nursing mothers should consume 2 seafood servings/wk, limiting intake of selected species. Health effects of low-level methylmercury in adults are not clearly established; methylmercury may modestly decrease the cardiovascular benefits of fish intake. A variety of seafood should be consumed; individuals with very high consumption (≥5 servings/wk) should limit intake of species highest in mercury levels. Levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls in fish are low, and potential carcinogenic and other effects are outweighed by potential benefits of fish intake and should have little impact on choices or consumption of seafood (women of childbearing age should consult regional advisories for locally caught freshwater fish).

Conclusions  For major health outcomes among adults, based on both the strength of the evidence and the potential magnitudes of effect, the benefits of fish intake exceed the potential risks. For women of childbearing age, benefits of modest fish
intake, excepting a few selected species, also outweigh risks.

Cats infect women to make boys

Obviously, I have to work on byline writing, but this is truly freaky, if indeed it is true, toxoplasma (click the link for a good article) is a truly fascinating parasite.

Guardian Unlimited | Science | Pregnant women infected by cat parasite more likely to give birth to boys, say researchers

Researchers in the Czech Republic collected medical records from 1,803 newborn babies between 1996 and 2004 and checked them for information on the mothers and babies including gender, the number of previous pregnancies, and the mother’s levels of toxoplasma antibodies.

They discovered that women whose antibody count was high – suggesting a substantial infection – had a much higher chance of having baby boys. In most populations the birth rate is around 51% boys, but women infected with toxoplasma had up to a 72% chance of a boy. Toxoplasma causes congenital defects in newborns and can trigger miscarriages, but a link with the gender of newborns has never been identified before.

Acrolein Main Cigarette Culprit?

Chemical & Engineering News: Latest News – Cigarettes’ Smoking Gun?

Acrolein, one of the 4,000 constituents of cigarette smoke, has been found unexpectedly to cause DNA damage in the gene for the infamous tumor-suppressor p53, which is often disrupted by cancer. In particular, the pattern of DNA mutations caused by acrolein mimics what is often found in human lung cancer samples (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0607031103).

“If cigarette smoke is the weapon that causes lung cancer, then these mutations are fingerprints on the knife,” says author Moon-shong Tang of New York University School of Medicine, in Tuxedo. Tang was also involved in identifying another cigarette-smoke component that can induce such mutations: a metabolite of a polycyclic hydrocarbon called benzo[a]pyrene. Acrolein is present in cigarette smoke in levels of up to 1,000 times greater than benzo[a]pyrene.

So, if you remove acrolein from tobacco smoke, does that make for a much safer smoking experience? Is this a research question worth answering? FYI, I watched Thank You for Smoking last night, so, fresh on my mind!

Who’s the President?

OT for me, but this is a bizarre headline, enough said. Bubba’s still presidentifying!

Print Story: Clinton deal cuts school snack foods on Yahoo! News

Clinton deal cuts school snack foods

By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer 15 minutes ago

Snacks sold in schools will have to cut the fat, sugar and salt under the latest crackdown on junk food won by former President Clinton.

Just five months after a similar agreement targeting the sale of sodas in schools, Clinton and the American Heart Association announced a deal Friday with several major food companies to make school snacks healthier — the latest assault on the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.

“By working with schools and industry to implement these guidelines, we are helping to give parents peace of mind that their kids will be able to make healthier choices at school,” said Dr. Raymond Gibbons, president of the heart association.

The agreement with Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., Campbell Soup Co., Groupe Danone SA and PepsiCo Inc. sets guidelines for fat, sugar, sodium and calories for snack foods sold in school vending machines, stores and snack bars. Those companies make everything from M&M’s, yogurt and granola bars to Frito-Lay potato chips, Snickers bars and canned soups.

Under the guidelines, most foods won’t be permitted to derive more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and more than 10 percent from saturated fat. There will be a limit of 35 percent for sugar content by weight.

Environmental Disaster, Local Edition | Apex fire spreads toxic gas

APEX – Fire crews have not begun to fight a fire at a hazardous waste plant that has spread a cloud of dangerous chlorine gas across Apex this morning, forcing more than 15,000 people to evacuate.Officials say they planned to send a hazardous materials crew in at daybreak to evaluate the fire. In the meantime, they’ve been letting it burn, out of concern that pouring water or foam on it would make things worse, said town manager Bruce Radford. The rain that started falling around 7 a.m. “doesn’t make anything better,” Radford said.

The fire that followed a series of late-night explosions at Environmental Quality Co. just east of downtown has closed all Apex schools and school bus routes that start inside the Western Wake town. In addition, the Wake County Public School System said bus transportation elsewhere in Western and Southwestern Wake County would likely be delayed this morning. Green Hope High School in Cary, which is being used a shelter for evacuated residents, will also be closed.

Officials urged people to evacuate an area bounded by U.S. 1, N.C. 55 and U.S. 64 highways in Apex and unincorporated areas. Police are blocking roads into the center of town, and Radford urged everyone to stay away.

India, The Emerging (polio stricken?) Tiger

States on alert against polio – – News on States on alert against polio

India appears to be in a grip of a polio outbreak with 352 cases reported so far this year, many of them from areas that were free of the virus, and officials fear the number may increase further. Uttar Pradesh alone has reported 312 cases, the highest of all the states, and World Health Organisation officials have described it as an “exporter” of the disease.

In Uttar Pradesh, officials said 90 percent of the cases were due to ignorance in the minority Muslim community, who believed the polio vaccine could make children impotent.

From wikipedia

Only four countries in the world (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) are reported to have endemic polio.

I remember reading about a Nigerian Province issue with Clerics claiming “that vaccines supplied by Western donors were adulterated to reduce fertility and spread AIDS as part of a general war on Islam”, which the Wikipedia Polio article verifies. But we have never seen this in India before, and I find it hard to believe. I will remain sceptical about the Muslim clerical influence on India’s polio debacle unless I hear better. News from India sometimes builds its own “truth momentum”, with speculation and hearsay morphing into bulletproof truth in a matter of hours. It is also easy in India to start rumors to deflect blame.Here’s a contrarian take from a Reuter’s Article

“Tens of thousands of children were missed by state health workers over the past year during rounds of immunization, leading to a resurgence of the virus, they said.

“We are very concerned. It raises the threat to India and is also threatening other countries,” said Jay Wenger, head of the National Polio Surveillance Project, a collaboration between the WHO and the Indian government.

One federal official said around 10 percent of children in several western districts of Uttar Pradesh, known for its ramshackle state health care and sluggish bureaucracy, could have missed immunization between late 2005 and early 2006.

“These (vaccination) rounds were of poor quality,” said the official, who did not want to be named.”

Well, sounds more logical, does it not? But why let the depressing truth of inadequacy get in the way of a juicy and self-perpetuating tale of Muslim backwardness.

India, the emerging tiger.

Trade Agreements Create Pollution Havens

Interesting paper out of the Berkeley Global Economy Journal
Trade Agreements and the Environment: An Industry Level Study for NAFTA
Raymond MacDermott. Global Economy Journal Volume 6, Issue 3 2006 Article 3

We find strong evidence of both the pollution-haven hypothesis and the positive impact of the NAFTA on FDI.  In addition, we find the trade agreement exacerbates the pollution-haven effect.  That is, the incentive to invest in countries with weak environmental regulations is greater under a trade agreement such as the NAFTA.  Surprisingly, stronger evidence of this effect is found in lower polluting industries than in higher polluting industries.

Environmental Racism Strikes

If you had not been following this story previously, the NY Times finally mainstreams it.

Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast – New York Times

Over the next few days, the skin of his 6-month-old son, Salam, bloomed with blisters, which burst into weeping sores all over his body. The whole family suffered headaches, nosebleeds and stomach aches. How that slick, a highly toxic cocktail of petrochemical waste and caustic soda, ended up in Mr. Oudrawogol’s backyard in a suburb north of Abidjan is a dark tale of globalization. It came from a Greek-owned tanker flying a Panamanian flag and leased by the London branch of a Swiss trading corporation whose fiscal headquarters are in the Netherlands. Safe disposal in Europe would have cost about $300,000, or perhaps twice that, counting the cost of delays. But because of decisions and actions made not only here but also in Europe, it was dumped on the doorstep of some of the world’s poorest people.

“Dark tale of globalization”?? More like blatant disregard for non-white life, just saying…