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5 July 2008

My Book: Research clears the cobwebs…

One day, just an idle googling of the key words ‘alternative medicine” threw up a glut of information on the net (363,000 searches in 0.32 seconds); 164,000 for alternative medicine and scoliosis in 0.24 seconds; 73,800 for food, alternate medicine and scoliosis in 0.35 seconds; 23,100 for food, exercise, alternate medicine and scoliosis in 0.40 seconds; and finally 711,000 search results for just food and scoliosis in 0.19 seconds!

So even when I narrowed down my search to the bare essentials (food and scoliosis) there was a glut of material posted on the net that briefly, I fell stunned into silence as well as a little intimidated. I began to question myself: what more knowledge could I possibly assemble that would add value to the pool that was already there in public domain?

I became wary and troubled at first and then all of a sudden the truth dawned.
I became clear that I did not want to produce another has-been. I wanted my book to be of real value and use to my patients. I wanted to share in this book startling facts and discoveries about things not known about scoliosis and nutrition.
I committed that day to write a book that would not waste mine or my readers’ time. That would be unique and valuable to my readers, packaged with information that they would not be able to readily find in popular literature.

I knew that through this book I wanted to tell them secret of how to balance nutrients, especially greens that can straighten their bodies and can regrow and even repair broken teeth, so why not our spines?

If our central nervous system receives the right amount of needed nutrients, as well as physical help in aligning...then why not?

I now had a clear plan and purpose in my head for my book.

Dr Kevin Lau

3 July 2008

Experts to Discuss One Puzzling Autism Case, as a Second Case Has Arisen

Federal health officials on Sunday will call together some of the world’s leading experts on an obscure disease to discuss the controversial case of a 9-year-old girl from Athens, Ga., who became autistic after receiving numerous vaccinations.

But the government has so far kept quiet a second case that some say is more disturbing and more relevant to the meeting.

On Jan. 11, a 6-year-old girl from Colorado received FluMist, a flu vaccine, and about a week later “became weak with multiple episodes of falling to ground” and “difficulty walking,” according to a case report filed with federal health officials and obtained by The New York Times.

The girl grew increasingly weak and feverish and “became more limp, appears sleepy, acts as if drunk,” the report said. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery and was finally withdrawn from life support. She died on April 5, according to the report.

Both the 9- and 6-year-olds had mitochondrial disorders, a spectrum of genetic diseases that have received almost no attention from federal health officials. The 9-year-old, Hannah Poling, was 19 months old and developing normally in 2000 when she received five shots against nine infectious diseases. Two days later, she developed a fever, cried inconsolably and refused to walk. In the next seven months, she spiraled downward, and in 2001 doctors diagnosed autism.

No one knows whether vaccinations had anything to do with the girls’ health problems, and the scientific significance of individual cases is always difficult to assess. But suggestions that mitochondrial disorders could be set off or worsened by vaccinations, and that the disorders might be linked to autism, prompted the meeting on Sunday and has brought the disorders sudden national attention.

Those scheduled to present at the meeting who were contacted by The Times said they knew nothing of the Colorado case.

“I haven’t heard about this case,” said Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health and the day’s first speaker.

Dr. John Iskander, acting director of the immunization safety office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said his group had studied the Colorado case closely but did not discuss it with those presenting at the meeting and had no plans to present the case to the conference, although he and members of his group will attend.

“Part of the consideration is, what was the best use of that time?” Dr. Iskander said in an interview. “To a large extent, the judgment of the meeting organizers was to have the experts in these conditions — which are not vaccine safety experts — to have most of the agenda.”

Dr. Iskander said the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Network of the disease agency reviewed the medical records related to the Colorado and Georgia cases, searched for similar reports and asked vaccine manufacturers if they knew of similar cases. A spokeswoman for MedImmune, the maker of FluMist, declined to comment.

The team noted that the Colorado child had not experienced any problems with her previous vaccinations and was relatively old at the time of her diagnosis. Dr. Iskander said the group had concluded “that this is another case that points to the need of better data on the risks and benefits of vaccinations in children with these rare disorders.”

Study after study has failed to show any link between vaccines and autism, but many parents of autistic children are convinced that vaccines — usually given around the time autism becomes apparent — are to blame.

Parents and a small group of doctors have offered a variety of scientific explanations in recent years to try to explain why they think vaccines may cause or contribute to autism. Among the first was that the measles vaccine caused a low-level measles infection that affected children’s brains. The science underlying that theory has since been discredited.

The next theory was that a mercury-containing vaccine preservative, thimerosal, poisoned their brains, causing autism. Multiple studies have failed to find any relationship between thimerosal exposure and autism, and nearly seven years after the preservative was removed from childhood vaccines, autism rates seem unaffected.

The Poling case, however, offered advocates a new theory: that vaccines may cause or contribute to an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which in turn causes autism. Although autism is common among children with mitochondrial disorders, several experts in the disorders dismissed the notion that vaccines may cause the disease, which is widely understood to have a genetic origin.

“After caring for hundreds of children with mitochondrial disease, I can’t recall a single one that had a complication from vaccination,” said Dr. Darryl De Vivo, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Columbia University who will present at the meeting on Sunday and is one of the premier experts in the field.

Mitochondria, which serve as the energy factories of cells, have their own genetic material that is passed directly from mother to child. Flaws in this material are relatively common. As those flaws multiply, they interfere with mitochondrial function.

Dr. De Vivo said as many as 700,000 people in the United States had flawed mitochondria, and in roughly 30,000 of them the genetic flaws were expansive enough to cause disease.

Diseased mitochondria may appear in some parts of the body but not others, making diagnosis difficult and predictions of symptoms impossible. Infants with the disease may suffer frequent seizures and delayed motor and mental development, be short in stature and have hearing and eye movement problems. But in most sufferers, symptoms do not become apparent for years and may first present as weak or stiff muscles, poor coordination or alterations of posture.

Many experts said infections could be so devastating to those with mitochondrial disorders that the risks associated with vaccines were far outweighed by the benefits. Still, none dismissed the notion that a vaccine could cause a decline in such children.

“Most of these kids get a common cold, and either during the cold or soon after, the parents notice a drastic deterioration,” said Dr. Bruce H. Cohen, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Margaret Dunkle, a senior fellow at the Center for Health Services Research and Policy at George Washington University and great-aunt to Hannah Poling, said she hoped that the researchers on Sunday would agree on studies that would help “to identify who those children are for whom vaccination might cause or worsen a mitochondrial dysfunction so that we can figure out a way to immunize those children safely.”

“What’s the schedule and number of vaccines?” Ms. Dunkle asked. “What’s the content of those vaccines?”

Dr. Cohen said answering such questions was all but impossible because of the difficulties associated with diagnosing mitochondrial disorders.

“There is no test available right now to screen for mitochondrial disorders that is anywhere near sensitive or specific,” Dr. Cohen said, “so the whole concept of screening prior to vaccination is a fantasy.”

Still, a discussion about the possible links between mitochondrial disorders, autism and vaccination is needed, said Dr. Insel of the mental health institute.

“We’re talking about two things we don’t understand very well, mitochondrial disorder and autism, and putting them together,” Dr. Insel said. “It’s like two drunks holding each other up.”

The meeting, in Indianapolis, is being sponsored by the mental health institute, the Food and Drug Administration, the C.D.C., the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Whatever the result of the meeting, Charles A. Mohan Jr., executive director of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, a nonprofit research and educational group, said he was delighted by the attention being brought to the disease. Mr. Mohan’s daughter died of the disease when she was 15 after years of worsening seizures.

“We’re hoping the result of this meeting is at least the realization that more money is needed for research to connect these dots,” Mr. Mohan said.

Blue Light Used To Harden Tooth Fillings Stunts Tumor Growth

A blue curing light used to harden dental fillings also may stunt tumor growth, Medical College of Georgia researchers say.

"The light sends wavelengths of blue-violet light to the composite, which triggers hardening," says Alpesh Patel, a rising MCG School of Dentistry junior. "The light waves produce free radicals that activate the catalyst and speed up polymerization of the composite resin. In oral cancer cells, though, those radicals cause damage that decreases cell growth and increases cell death."

Mr. Patel, who has been working with Dr. Jill Lewis, associate professor of oral biology, Dr. Regina Messer, associate professor of oral rehabilitation and oral biology, and Dr. John Wataha, adjunct professor of oral rehabilitation and oral biology, studied 10 tumor-bearing mice, five treated with the light and five untreated.

He exposed half the mice to the blue light for 90 seconds a day for 12 days. Then the tumors were extracted and each one was split into two sections. Half were used to create slides for tissue analysis, and half were frozen to prepare protein extracts.

Tissue analysis indicated an approximate 10 percent increase in cell suicide, or apoptosis, in the light-treated tumors. The frozen protein extracts revealed a nearly 80 percent decrease in cell growth in the light-treated tumors.

"The decrease in cell growth, combined with increased apoptosis, helps explain why the tumors didn't grow as much because you have cells that aren't dividing and you have cells that are committing suicide," Mr. Patel says.

Dr. Lewis predicts treating the tumors with blue light sooner will increase the rate of apoptosis, possibly preventing the tumor from ever becoming measurable and easing treatment.

"One desirable feature we've observed with the blue light is that non-cancerous cells appear unaffected at light doses that kill tumor cells," says Dr. Lewis. "We're thinking that some day, blue light therapy may serve as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapy. Patients may, therefore, receive lower doses of chemotherapy, which would decrease the adverse effects most cancer patients experience from standard chemotherapy regimens."

Mr. Patel presented his findings at the 2008 American Association for Dental Research Student Research Group DENTSPLY/Caulk competition, winning third place in the basic science category. He and rising junior MCG School of Dentistry student Beth Rainwater were two of only seven students nationwide to be selected for the competition.

Calcium Alone Does Not Reduce Hip Fracture Risk

People, especially the elderly, may reach for calcium supplements in hopes of protecting themselves against bone fractures in case of a fall. But a recent analysis of several studies found no reduction in risk of hip fracture with calcium supplementation.

The analysis was supported in part by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). It comes on the heels of another ARS-funded study suggesting that today's current recommended amount of dietary calcium for American adults may be greater than actually needed. ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bess Dawson-Hughes and colleagues in academia and medicine researched calcium intake studies that had been published between January 1960 and December 2006. They also systematically searched information from biomedical databases, reference lists and abstracts for the study review.

Dawson-Hughes is director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass. The analysis was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Among the studies that met the researchers' screening criteria, seven included a total of 170,991 women with nearly 3,000 hip fractures. Five of the studies included a total of 68,606 men with 214 hip fractures. Pooled results from those studies suggest that calcium intake is not appreciably associated with hip fracture risk in women or men. That means the researchers did not find that a higher calcium intake reduced the incidence of hip fractures.

Hip fractures are the most frequent and severe fractures among the elderly, and experts estimate the average cost of care at $29,000 per patient. Increased calcium intake is still commonly recommended as a single fracture prevention strategy, although considerable uncertainty exists regarding optimal intakes of calcium, the authors wrote. For example, for adults over age 50, the recommended calcium intake is 700 milligrams (mg) daily in the United Kingdom, but 1,200 mg daily in the United States.

The authors concluded that the findings do not support an overall benefit from greater-than-average calcium intake.

Future studies of fracture prevention should focus on the best combination of calcium plus vitamin D, rather than on calcium supplementation alone, according to authors.

Animal study suggests inadequate sleep may exacerbate cellular aging in the elderly

Cellular response to sleep deprivation is impaired in old mice

PHILADELPHIA - Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have shown that the unfolded protein response, which is a reaction to stress induced by sleep deprivation, is impaired in the brains of old mice.

The findings suggest that inadequate sleep in the elderly, who normally experience sleep disturbances, could exacerbate an already-impaired protective response to protein misfolding that happens in aging cells. "Protein misfolding and aggregation is associated with many diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," notes first author Nirinjini Naidoo, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine. The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The unfolded protein response (UPR) is one part of the quality control system for monitoring protein synthesis in the endoplasmic reticulum, the cellular compartment where some proteins are made. In this study, researchers found that the UPR was activated in 10-week old, sleep-deprived mice, so that misfolded proteins did not accumulate in the endoplasmic reticulum of brain cells in the cerebral cortex. However, in two-year-old, sleep-deprived mice, the UPR failed to do its job and misfolded proteins clogged the endoplasmic reticulum. Old mice that were not stressed by sleep deprivation were shown to already have an impaired UPR.

Sleep in mice is characterized by short periods of inactivity throughout the day and night. On average, mice sleep approximately one hour for every two they are awake. In order to deprive mice of sleep, researchers constantly monitored and gently stroked the mice with a brush to disturb periods of inactivity.

At 3, 6, 9, or 12 hours of sleep deprivation, proteins were examined from the mouse brains. By six hours of sleep deprivation, young mice demonstrated that the UPR system was in place because protein synthesis was shut off by a chaperone protein called BiP/GRP78. In contrast, there was no BiP/GRP78 in old mice so protein synthesis continued.

Old mice also had less of the proteins that refold abnormal proteins than young mice, and old mice had more of the proteins that cause cell death than young mice. Thus, several processes are upset in old mouse brains by sleep deprivation, and the overall result is a further accumulation of misfolded proteins.

"We could speculate that sleep disturbance in older humans places an additional burden on an already-stressed protein folding and degradation system," says Naidoo.

Future studies will examine whether augmenting key protective proteins delays the effects of aging and reduces sleep disturbances.

'Good' cholesterol dementia risk

Too little of one type of cholesterol has been linked by research to memory loss and Alzheimer's disease.

UK and French scientists studied 3,673 civil servants, revealing low levels of "good" cholesterol were associated with poor memory.

Doctors might be able to uncover high-risk patients using blood tests, they said in a US heart journal.

But other experts said the study did not yet support larger diet trials aiming to boost levels.

The relationship between levels of HDL, or "good", and LDL, or "bad" types of cholesterol is thought to be important in the development of other serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

Higher levels of HDL, in particular, are believed to protect against damage to blood supply caused by the narrowing of the arteries.

There is also evidence that "good" cholesterol can influence the laying down of the beta-amyloid "plaques" that are a distinctive feature in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Regular exercise and eating less saturated fat, while eating more "healthy" fats such as olive oils, can boost levels.

The researchers, from University College London and the INSERM institute in France, used data from the Whitehall II trial - a collection of thousands of civil servants, to see what influence it might have over memory within a five-year period.

They took blood samples at the start of the study, and gauged word recall with a simple test. That was repeated again at the end of the study.

The researchers found that people with low levels of HDL were 53% more likely to suffer memory loss compared with the people with the highest levels of HDL.

People with impaired memory have a much greater risk of going on to develop dementia later in life.

Early sign

Dr Archarna Singh-Manoux, who led the study, said: "Memory problems are key in the diagnosis of dementia.

"This suggests that low HDL cholesterol might also be a risk factor for dementia."

She said that doctors should be encouraged to monitor HDL levels in order to predict dementia risk.

However, an editorial in the same journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, by Dr Anatol Kontush and Dr John Chapman, from INSERM and the Universite Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, said that the study did not prove that low HDL could cause memory loss, or high HDL protect against it.

"Unfortunate results in large interventional trials with dietary antioxidants suggest that we should remain cautious when proposing therapeutic intervention," they wrote.

Dr Susanne Sorenson, from the Alzheimer's Society, said HDL cholesterol was believed to transport harmful cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver to be degraded.

"This study shows that if there is not enough HDL to transport cholesterol and other lipids around the body, it can not only increase your risk of heart disease but also affect your memory and may increase your risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.

"We know that controlling cholesterol in midlife is important if you are to reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia later and this may also be important for the development of Alzheimer's disease."

Study: World Gets Happier

Despite the anxieties of these times, happiness has been on the rise around the world in recent years, a new survey finds.

The upbeat outlook is attributed to economic growth in previously poor countries, democratization of others, and rising social tolerance for women and minority groups.

"It's a surprising finding," said University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart, who headed up the survey. "It's widely believed that it's almost impossible to raise an entire country's happiness level."

Denmark is the happiest nation and Zimbabwe the the most glum, he found. (Zimbabwe's longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president for a sixth term Sunday after a widely discredited runoff in which he was the only candidate. Observers said the runoff was marred by violence and intimidation.)

The United States ranks 16th.

The results of the survey, going back an average of 17 years in 52 countries and involving 350,000 people, will be published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Researchers have asked the same two questions over the years: "Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?" And, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?"

A Happiness Index created from the answers rose in 40 countries between 1981 and 2007, and it fell in the other 12.

Scientists had thought happiness is stable over time when looking at entire societies. "Most previous research suggests that people and nations are stuck on a 'hedonic treadmill,'" Inglehart said. "The belief has been that no matter what happens or what we do, basic happiness levels are stable and don't really change."

So Inglehart's team was surprised that happiness "rose substantially." They speculate reasons for the sunny outlooks include societal shifts in recent decades: Low-income countries such as India and China have experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth; dozens of medium-income countries have democratized; and there has been a sharp rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians in developed societies.

Previous research has found that happiness is partly inherited and that money doesn't buy much of it.

Yet the new survey finds people of rich countries tend to be happier than those of poor countries. And controlling for economic factors, certain types of societies are much happier than others.

"The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives," Inglehart said.

A survey released last week found one reason America doesn't top the list: Baby Boomers are generally miserable compared to other generations. Further, a public opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center in April found that 81 percent of Americans say they believe the country is on the "wrong track." The response is the most negative in the 25 years pollsters have asked the question.

The World Values Surveys, led by Inglehart, was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Swedish and Netherlands Foreign Ministries, and other institutions.

30 June 2008

Drug-Resistant High Blood Pressure is On the Rise

High blood pressure, the most commonly diagnosed condition in the United States, is becoming increasingly resistant to drugs that lower it.

The problem is not that the medications have stopped working, but that many blood-pressure patients are sicker to begin with and require more drugs at greater dosages, but to less effect.

This is especially worrisome given recent estimate that one in three Americans have hypertension, an underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and heart failure.


* New York Times June 24, 2008

Cancer Patient 'Cured' With Own Immune System

An Oregon man given less than a year to live experienced a complete remission of advanced melanoma following a treatment that boosted his immune system to fight the tumors.

Melanoma is a cancer of the skin cells that produce tanning pigments. When caught early, melanomas can be easily treated by surgically removing the cancerous patch of skin. But advanced melanoma is often deadly.

About 20 years ago, scientists discovered that immune cells could latch onto and attack skin cancers. For this treatment, researchers drew blood from the patient, extracted special helper immune cells and then grew more of them in the laboratory. They then infused a massive dose of the newly grown cells back into the patient, without using chemotherapy or the other harsh drugs.


* June 24, 2008

Diabetes Now Strikes One in Twelve Americans

The number of Americans with diabetes has grown to about 24 million people, or roughly 8 percent of the U.S. population.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2007, indicates an increase of about 3 million cases since over just two years. The CDC estimates another 57 million people have a condition called pre-diabetes, which puts people at increased risk for the disease.

Diabetes results from defects in insulin production that cause sugar to build up in the body. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.


* June 25, 2008

Statin Use Has Jumped 150 Percent

Use of the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins rose by 156 percent between 2000 and 2005, rising from 15.8 million people to 29.7 million people. Spending on the drugs jumped from $7.7 billion to $19.7 billion annually over the same period.

The total number of outpatient prescriptions for statins rose from about 90 million in 2000 to nearly 174 million in 2005. Each individual spent $484 a year on average on statins in 2000; this rose to $661 by 2005.

Statins include atorvastatin, sold by Pfizer under the brand name Lipitor; pravastatin or Pravachol, sold by Bristol Myers Squibb; fluvastatin, sold by Novartis under the brand name Lescol, and several others.


* Reuters June 25, 2008