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18 February 2011

Chocolate is a 'super fruit'

It is widely known that fruit contains antioxidants which may be beneficial to health. New research published in the open access journal Chemistry Central Journal demonstrates that chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and contains more polyphenols and flavanols than fruit juice.

When researchers at the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition™ compared the antioxidant activity in cocoa powder and fruit powders they found that, gram per gram, there was more antioxidant capacity, and a greater total flavanol content, in the cocoa powder.

Similarly when they compared the amount of antioxidants, per serving, of dark chocolate, cocoa, hot chocolate mix and fruit juices they found that both dark chocolate and cocoa had a greater antioxidant capacity and a greater total flavanol, and polyphenol, content than the fruit juices. However hot chocolate, due to processing (alkalization) of the chocolate, contained little of any.

Dr Debra Miller, the senior author of the paper, says that, "Cacao seeds are a "Super Fruit" providing nutritive value beyond that of their macronutrient composition". Which is great news for chocolate lovers.

Introducing Solid Food Too Soon Puts Babies at Risk for Early Obesity

Starting formula-fed babies on solid food too early may increase their risk of becoming obese by the time they reach age 3, according to a prospective study
The study, which followed more than 840 young children, found that formula-fed infants introduced to solid food before four months of age had a 6.3-fold increased odds of obesity at age 3, Dr. Susanna Y. Huh of Children's Hospital Boston and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.
However, the same didn't hold for breastfed infants -- who showed no impact of timing of solid food introduction on obesity at age 3, Huh and co-authors wrote.
The findings from the longitudinal study support guidelines recommending holding off on solids until at least 4 months of age and preferably to six months of age, the researchers noted.

"Additionally, it further confirms the tremendous long-term nutritional value of breast feeding during the first six months of life," commented Dr. Cliff Nerwen of Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York City in a statement sent to reporters.

Increasing adherence to the guidelines might be one preventive strategy to reduce the rising incidence of childhood obesity, seen even among infants and pre-school age children, Huh's group suggested.

"One possible reason why we saw an association among formula-fed but not breastfed infants is that formula-fed infants may increase their energy intake when solids are introduced," they wrote in the paper.

"Breastfeeding may promote self-regulation of an infant's energy intake, and the mother may learn to recognize her infant's hunger and satiety cues," they explained.

The researchers followed 847 children in Project Viva, a prospective, longitudinal prebirth cohort study of mother-offspring pairs. The mothers were recruited between 1999 and 2002 at the obstetrical offices of a multispecialty group practice in eastern Massachusetts.

Six months after delivery, the mothers filled out a questionnaire detailing what type of food their baby ate and when solid foods -- including infant cereal, teething biscuits, and fruit -- were first introduced.

Is your supermarket chicken poisoning you?

Grandmother-of-nine Wynne Richards had been looking forward to a fun-packed family ­Christmas. Instead, she spent it alone in bed, gripped by such severe stomach pains and ­diarrhoea she feared she was about to die.
‘There was one night when I hadn’t been to sleep, I hadn’t eaten for days and I’d been up and down constantly when it all seemed to be getting too much,’ the 77-year-old says.
‘I said to myself, “Wynne, this is it. You’ve got to this age but if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.” ’
Six weeks on she’s still feeling unwell, still taking medication and still unable to eat anything but the blandest of foods.
And the root of her problem? Campylobacter — Britain’s most ­common food-poisoning bug. Wynne tested positive for the bacteria after visiting her GP. Although she can’t be sure how she caught it, it’s likely it came from eating chicken, the most common source.
Once a week she would buy a fresh chicken breast for herself, cook it and eat it — a routine she followed in the run-up to Christmas.
‘I know you have to cook chicken properly and I always do,’ says Wynne, who lives in Birmingham. ‘I like it well-done.’
The trouble is that while cooking kills the campylobacter bacteria, it may already have been too late for the pensioner.
As a shocking Mail investigation shows today, the bug is now so widespread there’s a good chance of coming into contact with it simply by buying a chicken at a super­market — let alone eating it.
Last week, microbiological tests carried out by an independent ­laboratory for this newspaper found bacterial contamination on the external packaging of fresh chickens purchased at some of the country’s leading supermarkets.
It proved that a customer picking up a wrapped chicken is at risk of transferring the bacteria on to anything else they touch. Once transferred into the mouth, there’s every chance they’ll fall ill.
Experts say the problem is such that shoppers handling packaged chicken should take the same precautions as if handling the raw meat itself.
And they are calling for urgent changes to the way in which chicken is produced, slaughtered and packaged. Concerns are such that plans are currently being discussed to clean all chicken carcasses with chemical washes or even to irradiate them ahead of sale.
‘This organism far outstrips illness caused by salmonella,’ said one industry expert. ‘But, strangely, the public seems to be extraordinarily ignorant about the scale of the problem.’
Each year in Britain some half a million people are infected by campylobacter. Taking into account the cost of treatment and days off work, it is reckoned that annually the bug costs the economy some £600 million.
In most instances, symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a feeling of general unwellness that will last for up to a week. While unpleasant, they’ll generally clear up without medical intervention.
But there can be complications, especially among the young, elderly and infirm. In 2008, 15,000 people suffering from the bug were ­hospitalised and 76 died.
Because symptoms can take up to ten days to show, identifying the source of infection is difficult.
However, while campylobacter can be found in most raw meats, unpasteurised milk and untreated water, chicken is the main source of human infection. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates that six in ten fresh chickens sold in super­markets are contaminated.
Last week the Mail purchased a whole fresh chicken from eight supermarkets: Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Asda, The Co-op, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl. Waitrose was not tested because there was no store near enough to the laboratory.
The chickens, bought in a ­Midlands city, cost between £2.85 for a chicken at Lidl and £8.41 for an extra large chicken from M&S. The samples were then taken to a leading laboratory and tested for salmonella and campylobacter. The results were alarming. The meat from Asda and Tesco tested positive for campylobacter.
The organism wa s also found in the Sainsbury’s product and on the outside of its packaging, likewise with the M&S chicken and its wrapper.
The meat from Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and the Co-op were all uninfected. Across the board, the tests were ­negative for salmonella.
The Mail’s findings back up a recent study by food safety officials in Birmingham. They purchased 20 packaged fresh chickens from outlets across the city and had them tested.
Campylobacter was detected on the outside of the packaging of eight of the 20 samples, or 40 per cent. The pathogen was found in the meat of seven samples — 35 per cent.
What was interesting was that there was no link between the positive results they found on the meat itself and on the external packaging. The wrapping on some chickens tested positive even though the meat inside was negative.
This clearly suggests that the item had become contaminated at some stage between packaging and the chicken’s arrival on the shelves.
The bacteria’s presence on the packaging is a particular worry because the bug becomes a problem when it is ingested.
Because campylobacter will be killed by thorough cooking, this ­normally occurs when someone either eats an under-cooked piece of contaminated chicken or handles a raw, contaminated bird.
But it is clear that it could also occur by touching a contaminated wrapped chicken and then transferring the bacteria to one’s mouth.
‘The public have been made aware via education, health promotions and packaging instructions on how to store, prepare and cook poultry safely,’ says Nick Lowe, Birmingham City Council’s food safety team manager.
‘However, people are largely ­unaware that the outside of the packaging can be a source of ­contamination. Consumers remove chicken from the display cabinets and the potential for cross-contamination starts.
‘Any surface this comes in contact with will be contaminated, including hands, shopping bags and other ready-to-eat foods and work surfaces.
‘The risk is potentially equivalent to handling raw meat and poultry and the precautions should, therefore, be the same.’ In other words, shoppers should think about where they are placing the chicken in their trolleys and avoid putting their hands into their mouths until they have washed them.
For instance, shoppers with ­children often ask them to pick up items and then they may stick their fingers in their mouths or are given a packet of crisps to eat,’ says Mr Lowe. ‘You might not want to have them picking up chicken.
‘If a two-year-old gets a large amount of campylobacter on his hands, there’s a good chance of him being ill if he transfers it into his mouth.’
While educating the public makes sense in the short-term, in the long-term, more effort — and money — is needed to ensure that when chicken reaches the shelves it is campylobacter-free.
The bacteria lives primarily in the chicken’s gut where it usually causes little or no problems.
Poultry pick it up in their natural environment, from soil, ponds and puddles, insects and rodents. For this reason, free-range chickens are just as likely to carry the bug as intensively-reared poultry.
But in high-density flocks, the bacteria spreads rapidly as food is contaminated by faeces. Evidence suggests that intensively-reared chickens may absorb the bacteria into their bloodstream through damage in their gut-lining caused by stress. In terms of transmission to humans, the key moment comes when the bird is slaughtered and packaged. ‘If the bacteria stayed in the gut, none of this would matter,’ says Professor Malcolm Bennett, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool.
‘Unfortunately, chickens tend to soil themselves, and the processes used in slaughterhouses and processing plants mean it is almost impossible to stop some ­contamination of the chicken ­carcasses themselves.
‘Chicken slaughterhouses are highly mechanised places that may deal with hundreds of thousands of birds each week. Very freshly killed birds are scalded in hot water to soften the feathers, and the ­feathers are then beaten off by ­special machines.
‘This is quite an effective way of transferring faecal material from one bird to the skin of many.’
Given these high levels of cross-contamination, it is being ­suggested that one way to tackle the problem would be to chemically wash the chicken carcasses, ahead of ­packaging. In New Zealand, an anti-microbial wash is used which has markedly reduced contamination. Producers in the U.S. use a chlorine rinse.
FSA officials are in talks with the food industry, but chemical washes for fresh chicken are not permitted in the EU and new regulations would be required.
Surveys suggest that British consumers are opposed to a chlorine wash. Lactic acid, a food additive found in some yogurts and cheeses, is being suggested as an alternative.
Others believe washing chicken or irradiating it is the wrong way to go. They argue that it will simply remove the incentive for farmers and slaughterhouses to clean up their act.
Another option would be to freeze more chicken, which kills the bug. The British, however, ­prefer chilled meat.
Last night Andrew Opie, food director at the British Retail ­Consortium, insisted that chicken was ‘perfectly safe’ so long as the common-sense rules that apply to all raw meat are followed.
He said: ‘People should wash their hands after touching it and make sure it’s properly cooked.’
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: ‘The safety of our food is our No. 1 priority and we are working with the poultry industry and Government to reduce campylobacter. We are also developing a leak-proof packaging to help reduce the presence of the bacteria.’
Marks & Spencer told us: ‘We take food safety very seriously. We’re working on plans to help reduce, and ultimately eradicate, campylobacter.’ And a spokeswoman for Asda added: ‘Campylobacter is a complex organism and retailers are already working to find ways to reduce it.’ Tesco did not comment.
A spokesman for the FSA said: ‘We always advise people to take care not to spread germs when handling raw chicken even if it is still in its packaging.
‘Unfortunately, levels of campylobacter on chicken in the UK are high, which is why we’re working to reduce the spread of this bug at all stages of the food chain.’
Meanwhile, Prof Bennett believes that to tackle the problem of campylobacter infection, a combination of steps will have to be taken: stopping infection getting into the poultry houses, reducing stress levels of the flock, washing slaughtered birds and improving hygiene at home.
‘The consumers need to tell the retailers that they want this to happen, or they will shop elsewhere, but at the same time need to understand that these measures will increase the price of chicken,’ says Prof Bennett.
‘Increased biosecurity on farms costs money — for ­example putting screens over windows to stop flies getting in.
‘And, of course, there is no point doing all of this in the UK if people simply buy cheaper imported chicken from, say, Asia, where all these controls may not be in place.’
He adds: ‘There are answers to the problem, but they are not easy, and in the end people have to decide what is more important to them — a reduced risk of campylobacter infection, or ridiculously under-priced poultry meat.’
For the recovering Wynne ­Richards, and the 500,000 or so Britons who will be struck down by the bug over the next year, that’s something of a no-brainer.

USDA: Eggs' cholesterol level better than cracked up to be

Eggs have taken a beating for years because they are high in dietary cholesterol, but a new study shows that eggs today contain a lot less cholesterol than they did a decade ago.

A large egg has about 185 milligrams of cholesterol, down from 215 milligrams, according to new research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers collected large eggs from 12 locations around the country and sent them to a laboratory for testing. These latest cholesterol findings, published on the website of the Agricultural Research Service, update numbers from 2002. The agency regularly does nutrient checks on popular foods.

The drop in cholesterol may be because of changes in hens' diets, the way the animals are bred or other factors, said Mitch Kanter, executive director of the Egg Nutrition Center, the research arm of the American Egg Board, which represents egg farmers.

Meanwhile, the government's latest dietary guidelines indicate that eating one egg a day is OK.

"Evidence suggests that one egg (i.e. egg yolk) per day does not result in increased blood cholesterol levels, nor does it increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people," according to the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The guidelines also recommend that most people eat less than 300 milligrams of total dietary cholesterol a day. Consuming less than 200 milligrams a day can help people at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, the government says.

To stay below 300 milligrams, you could eat an egg a day and other cholesterol-containing foods, such as an ounce of cheese, which has about 30 milligrams, and three ounces of fish, which has 60 milligrams, said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The USDA research also showed that an egg has 41 international units (IUs) of vitamin D, up from 25 IUs measured several years ago.

There aren't many food sources of vitamin D, which is important for bone health, so it's good that eggs contain some, Blatner says. Even so, one egg still provides only about 7% of the 600 IUs recommended for one day, she says.

Kanter says egg producers are trying to increase the vitamin D in eggs by giving chickens feed enriched with vitamin D.

Some people try to avoid the dietary cholesterol by eating just the egg whites, but Kanter points out that the yolk contains most of an egg's vitamins and minerals and much of the protein.

For Cold Virus, Zinc May Edge Out Even Chicken Soup

Scientists still haven’t discovered a cure for the common cold, but researchers now say zinc may be the next best thing.

A sweeping new review of the medical research on zinc shows that sniffing, sneezing, coughing and stuffy-headed cold sufferers finally have a better option than just tissue and chicken soup. When taken within 24 hours of the first runny nose or sore throat, zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups can cut colds short by an average of a day or more and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms, according to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a respected medical clearinghouse.

In some of the cited studies, the benefits of zinc were significant. A March 2008 report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, for example, found that zinc lozenges cut the duration of colds to four days from seven days, and reduced coughing to two days from five.

While the findings are certain to send droves of miserable cold sufferers to the drugstore in search of zinc treatments, the study authors offered no guidance on what type of zinc product to buy. The authors declined to make recommendations about the optimal dose, formulation or duration of zinc use, saying that more work was needed before they could make recommendations.

“Over all, it appears that zinc does have an effect in controlling the common cold,” said Dr. Meenu Singh, the review’s lead author and a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India. “But there still needs to be consensus about the dose.”

Zinc experts say that many over-the-counter zinc products may not be as effective as those studied by researchers because commercial lozenges and syrups often are made with different formulations of zinc and various flavors and binders that can alter the effectiveness of the treatment.

“A lot of preparations have added so many things that they aren’t releasing zinc properly,” said Dr. Ananda Prasad, professor in the department of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and an early pioneer of research into zinc as an essential mineral. Two of Dr. Prasad’s studies were included in the Cochrane report.

“The public is confused because people have used the wrong dose, they have used the wrong sort of zinc or they have not started the treatment within 24 hours of onset,” he said.

Even so, the new report gives credence to the long-debated theory that zinc can be an effective treatment for colds. While it’s not certain how the mineral curbs colds, it appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the cold virus from replicating or attaching to nasal membranes.

The first study to show that zinc might be a useful treatment for the common cold was published in 1984, but the research was criticized for its poor methods. Since that study, 18 more trials of zinc for colds have been conducted: 11 of them showed it to be a useful treatment, while seven of them showed no benefit, according to the review.

Although a majority of trials have shown some benefit from zinc, many of them have been criticized for failing to “mask” the treatment, meaning the participants most likely knew they were using zinc, which may have skewed the results. At the same time, many of the trials that showed no benefit from zinc have been criticized for using formulations that may have contained ingredients that blunted the effectiveness of zinc.

The Cochrane reviewers selected 15 studies that enrolled a combined 1,360 participants. The studies were all considered to have good methodological quality with a low risk of bias, but they were far from perfect. All the studies compared zinc use with a placebo, but in several studies the zinc users complained about the taste of lozenges, suggesting that some people may have known that they were using zinc rather than a placebo.

Even so, when the data was pooled, the effect shown was strong. The review found that not only did zinc reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, but regular zinc use also worked to prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use in children. People who used zinc were also far less likely to have a cold that lasted more than seven days.

The studies used various forms and doses of zinc, including zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges and zinc sulfate syrup, and the dose ranged from 30 to 160 milligrams a day. Several studies in the Cochrane review used zinc acetate lozenges from the Web site, created by George Eby, the researcher who wrote the first zinc study in 1984.

Dr. Prasad said his studies have used zinc acetate lozenges from that contained about 13 milligrams of zinc. Study participants took a lozenge every three to four hours during the day for four consecutive days, resulting in a daily dose of 50 to 65 milligrams a day, he said.

Some cold sufferers have been wary about using zinc since the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using Zicam nasal sprays and swabs, which contain zinc, after numerous reports that some users lost their sense of smell after using the product. The Cochrane report did not review any studies of nasal zinc products.

15 February 2011

Shoe size linked to scoliosis vulnerability in children

What does shoe size have to do with scoliosis?

According to a new study in the journal Scoliosis, asking parents when they last bought new shoes for the child and what size those shoes were can help doctors know when kids are most vulnerable for scoliosis and to provide treatment if needed.

Scoliosis is a curving of the spine. The spine curves away from the middle or sideways. Curves generally worsen during growth spurts.

Of the three types of scoliosis -- congenital (present at birth), neuromuscular (caused by problems such as poor muscle control or muscle weakness), and idiopathic scoliosis (unknown cause) -- adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is the most common.

About 4.5% of children develop AIS around puberty when their spinal column lengthens due to sudden growth spurts. Knowing the timing of the pubertal growth spurt of the spine is important for the prognosis and therapy of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS).

Professor Albert G Veldhuizen, University of Grogingen, Netherlands, and colleagues analyzed data concerning shoe sizes of girls (242) and boys (104) acquired from two large shoe shops from 1991 to 2008 for the age of the "peak increase" in shoe size, as well as the age of cessation of foot growth based on shoe size.

Data was collected each time a client visited the shoe shop. Each client's bare left and right foot were measured individually while standing full weight bearing. The shoe size was measured to the nearest half-size, and an average was taken for both feet.
The individual series of ages of the clients ranged from 10 months to 17.1 years in girls, and 10 months to 17.2 years in boys.

The researchers found the average peak increase in shoe size occurred at 10.4 years (SD 1.1) in girls and 11.5 years (SD 1.5) in boys. This was on average 1.3 years earlier than the average peak growth velocity of sitting height in girls, and 2.5 years earlier in boys.

The shoe size did not increase any further for at least 1 year after the age of 12.0 (SD 0.8) in girls, and 13.7 years (SD 1.0) in boys.

The researchers note “These results suggest that the longitudinal course in shoe size and the timing of the peak increase in shoe size can be helpful as a first indication for the timing of the pubertal growth spurt of sitting height.”

As patients and parents can recall when they bought new shoes, and what the size was, shoe size can be used as an alternative data source to actual foot length.

The researchers write “When the increase in shoe size is approximately 2.5 sizes per year (in both girls and boys), the physician knows that on average the peak growth velocity of sitting height will occur 1.3 or 2.5 years later in girls and boys respectively.”

While the course of the shoe size of children can be useful as a first indicator for the timing of the pubertal growth spurt of sitting height, this claim needs verification by direct comparison of individual shoe size and sitting height data.

The value of shoe size for prediction of the timing of the pubertal growth spurt; Scoliosis 2011, 6:1doi:10.1186/1748-7161-6-1

Looking Out for Scoliosis

Asking children how often they got new shoes is an easy way for doctors to know when kids are most vulnerable for scoliosis and to provide treatment if needed, according to a study in the journal Scoliosis. About 4.5% of children develop scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, around puberty, when their spinal column lengthens due to growth spurts. Foot growth is an early indicator of changes in sitting height, which is representative of spinal lengthening. Researchers analyzed purchases at two large shoe shops in the Netherlands, collecting data for 242 girls and 104 boys from 1991 to 2008. Researchers followed girls for an average of 5.4 years after the age of 8 and boys for an average of 6.2 years. They determined the peak increase in foot growth by calculating the shortest time period in which a child's shoe size increased by two whole sizes. Comparing this with a previous study's growth data, researchers concluded the peak growth in sitting height occurs 1.3 years after shoe-size peak for girls and 2.5 years for boys.

Family hoping exercise offers alternative to spinal surgery for teenager

Alice Richardson, who lives in the west end of the city, was diagnosed with scoliosis after her family noticed a curvature of her spine.

Her dad John is a pharmacist who used to own a number of chemist shops in the city, including Morgan Tower, Albert Street and Hilltown. He is now trying to get as much help as possible for his daughter, introducing her to a specialist exercise programme, in a bid to avoid serious progression of the condition.
He is kitting out a room as a gym in the family home so that his daughter, who attends Kilgraston School at Bridge of Earn, can follow the exercise programme that he says will strengthen her back muscles and is already showing improvements in the curvature of her spine.

Mr Richardson said that when Alice was first diagnosed about two years ago, the curvature was not a major deformity but her family were warned the condition could progress to the extent she would require surgery to place metal rods in her back.

"We noticed that one of her hips was out of alignment and went to our GP," Mr Richardson said. "We were referred to Ninewells. They took an X-ray, then the consultant told us it was ideopathic adolescent scoliosis. That means they don't know what caused the curvature.

"The treatment from the NHS is to come back every six months for a check and if the condition has progressed to such an extent they would recommend surgery, she would have an operation to put metal rods in her back."


But Mr Richardson said he did his own research to try to find something to help Alice avoid ever getting to that stage. For the last 18 months she has been wearing a brace from her waist to her shoulders for 20 hours of every day.

She has undertaken an exercise programme developed by a young woman with the same condition who set up a company in England that runs courses for scoliosis sufferers.

"She went through what we are going through," Mr Richardson said. "She didn't fancy the prospect of surgery when she got older and went about finding alternatives which took her to Germany and elsewhere. She brought techniques back and incorporated them in to her clinic."

Alice completed a four-week intensive exercise course at a London clinic last week. That involved exercising six hours a day and she will now spend around 45 minutes a day doing the exercises at home and return to the clinic every few months to have the curvature checked and revise her exercises.

The condition has not prevented Alice from enjoying karate classes and participating in other sports, but she is selective in what she does.

"She can't do hockey because of the constant bending down and she doesn't do anything like horse riding or trampolining that would give the spine a jolt, but she swims a lot and lives a very full and active existence," Mr Richardson said.