Xenon and argon banned for athletes


oxygen use
Athletes in many sports use oxygen legitimately, as in this case, but adding xenon to the mix is now banned

Doping experts have yet to find an effective test for athletes using xenon and argon, despite introducing a ban on the gases’ use by sports stars.

The new ban has been ordered by the World Anti-Doping Agency(Wada), which runs drug testing across many sports.

It follows concerns that athletes were breathing these so-called noble gases to encourage the growth of red blood cells that boost stamina.

But despite being piloted, a valid test is not yet ready, the agency says.

Ignoble prize

The idea of doping with gases more usually associated with arc welding, neon light bulbs and anaesthesia may seem bizarre, but Wada believes there is enough evidence of their enhancement potential to ban them.

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We had some preliminary pilot results that do indicate that detection is not too much of an issue”

Dr Olivier RabinWada

Media reports earlier this year indicated that athletes in Russia have been using the gases for years as a means of boosting their stamina ahead of international competitions.

Indeed the company that developed techniques to help athletes prepare using xenon, has a “badge of honour” on its website from the Russian Olympic Committee for “the organisation and conduct of inhalation remediation”.

How xenon gas may boost performance

Inhaling xenon, mixed with oxygen, is believed to improve stamina because it increases the body’s production of a protein known as hypoxia inducible factor 1, or HIF1.

In turn this stimulates the production of natural erythropoietin (EPO) which regulates the number of red blood cells. The more of these cells, the more oxygen you can carry, and the greater your athletic stamina.

Doping with artificial EPO has been one of the biggest threats to the integrity of sport over the past 20 years. The clampdown on using the drug has seen sports scientists develop other methods including the use of xenon and argon.

Earlier this year Wada’s executive committee decided to ban these two named gases by adding them to the prohibited list from this month.

“We had serious information that xenon was being used,” Wada’s science director Dr Olivier Rabin told BBC News.

“We believe it has been used in the preparation for some major events.”

Now that xenon and argon are banned, the agency needs to have an effective test for the gases.

Xenon has reportedly been used for a decade in Russia to prepare athletes for competitions

Developing one is not an easy task.

As well as being present in the air we all breathe, albeit in minute quantities, xenon is also used in many countries as an anaesthetic.

Dr Rabin says that Wada scientists are close to developing a direct test for the gas.

“We had some preliminary pilot results that do indicate that detection is not too much of an issue but we just need to make it solid and robust in the anti-doping context and make sure that any result in the future will be accepted by a court.”

Validating a test like this to the level that it can stand up in the Court of Arbitration for sport is not easy. When I asked Dr Rabin if the test would be in place by the end of the year, he was unable to give that reassurance.

Gas facts

  • Xenon and argon are called noble gases because they are inert and don’t react with anything else
  • At less than 100 parts per billion, xenon is one of the rarest natural gas components in the atmosphere
  • Xenon has been used in flash bulbs, lamps and in medical imaging
  • In Russia, xenon has been used for decades as an anaesthetic because of its lack of side effects

“I cannot give you a specific date, we usually do not, what I can tell you is that the science is very solid and certainly we will do our best, now that the gases are on the prohibited lists to make sure there are detection methods available as soon as possible.”

Other researchers though are not convinced that a reliable test will be quickly forthcoming.

They also question why Wada has banned the use of these gases but allows athletes to use oxygen tents or hypoxic chambers that mimic the effects of sleeping at altitude with the aim of producing a similar blood boosting effect as xenon.

“Their whole argument is based on false grounds,” said Dr Ben Koh, a former athlete and an expert on sports medicine.

“What is happening among elite athletes is a very artificial process, involving hypoxic chambers before competitions. This is artificial, and it is no different from the artificiality of xenon.”

Secondary benefits

Wada says that there could be dangers to the health of the athletes if they use large amounts of xenon or argon and this another reason for the ban, as well as the performance enhancement.

Dr Koh rejects this argument.

“I would argue that xenon is actually safer than hypoxic tents, in terms of heart failure, trauma to the ear and to the lungs, the risks are very well documented from hypoxic tents, on the other hand, xenon gas from the published literature seems to be quite safe.”

There is a possibility that Wada has information that xenon can have other sports enhancing effects in athletes that go beyond an increase in stamina.

“The concern would be that there’s some secondary benefit not due to HIF1, and that seems to me entirely possible,” said Dr Chris Cooper, from the University of Essex, who has researched the science of doping.

“I’m surprised if the effect in these animal models is due to increased hematocrit, there is something else going on.”

Wada say they have named xenon and argon for the sake of legal clarity.

I asked Dr Rabin what would happen if similar inert gases such as krypton, say, are shown to have a similar effect.

“Xenon and argon are only examples, it is not a closed list as we do have for narcotics – tomorrow any gas that has a HIF1 activation is de facto prohibited.”

So no krypton-powered super athletes then?

“Absolutely not!”

Hi-tech cars pose security risk


Car hacker
Security researchers are worried that car computer systems could make them vulnerable to hackers

The most complicated computational device you own is probably not in your pocket, not mining bitcoins in the back room or nestled by the TV helping the kids “frag” their friends in eye-popping video game HD.

It might be sitting on your drive, in the garage or on the street.

The it, in this case, is your car.

Modern vehicles are very smart. They can recognise that they are crashing faster than you can and prepare for the impact before you have time to think: “This is going to hurt.”

They know when it is raining, when you are straying from your lane or are in danger of hitting the wall when you park.

“Cars today are not just computers on wheels,” says security researcher Josh Corman.

“They are networks of computers on wheels.”

And therein lies the problem, he tells the BBC.

Mr Corman is spokesman for a grassroots group known as I Am The Cavalry (IATC) that seeks to communicate the thoughts and fears of many professional security testers to the wider world. Of late, IATC has been getting very worried about cars.

Car laptop
Early attempts at hacking vehicles involved taking them apart to access their systems

A modern car, Mr Corman says, has up to 200 small embedded computers in it, known as electronic control units (ECUs), each one of which, in general, oversees one subsystem.

They all connect to a network that ships data around the car to co-ordinate what is going on as it is driven.

The embedded computers are typically not made by car manufacturers. Instead they come from other companies, which often do not – or will not – say how they work.

Physical hacks

Before now, that has not worried the carmakers who just want the black box to meet their specifications for such things as monitoring tyre pressure, measuring the angle of the steering wheel, working out how many people are in the car or that they are wearing seatbelts.

But the lack of transparency has vexed security researchers who, in recent months, have been taking a much closer look at in-car computer systems.

They have not been impressed by what they have found.

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek of security firm IOActive led the way in hacking the computer systems in cars, says Andy Davis, head of research at NCC Group.

The early work on car hacking involved getting physical access to the vehicle.

Car parts
Vehicles often contain computer-controlled parts made by several different manufacturers

Mr Miller and Mr Valasek literally tore apart the cars they investigated to get at the Controller Area Network (Can) buried in its substructure.

“If you can get access to that Can either physically or remotely you can essentially control the vehicle,” says Mr Davis.

At the recent Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, the two IOActive researchers presented their latest work entitled, A survey of remote automotive attack surfaces.

It took a close look at the hackability of 21 separate vehicles. Everything from a Toyota Prius to a Range Rover Evoque.

The report found exploitable problems almost everywhere it looked – in wireless tyre pressure sensors, telematics controllers and even anti-theft systems.

2014 Jeep Cherokee
A study indicated the 2014 Jeep Cherokee was more vulnerable than several rival models

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee topped the list of the most hackable cars and the 2014 Dodge Viper was the least hackable.

But the Jeep’s maker, Chrysler noted that there had been “been no documented, real-world incidents of remote hacking”.

“We have a team of engineers dedicated to developing cyber-security features in anticipation of emerging threats,” it added.

“Further, Chrysler Group strongly supports the responsible disclosure protocol for addressing cybersecurity. Accordingly, we invite security specialists to first share with us their findings so we might achieve a cooperative resolution. To do otherwise would benefit only those with malicious intent.”

Breakdown alerts

Many of the latest attacks seek to get at a car remotely via the communication systems now sported by many modern vehicles, explains Mr Davis.

“The reason this has become much more of a high-profile, ongoing issue is because of the way things are going in the car industry and the whole idea of the connected car.”

In Europe and the US there are moves to set up so-called eCall systems that automatically contact emergency services when a vehicle has been involved in a serious accident.

An allied bCall system would ring for help in the event of a breakdown.

There is no doubt, says Mr Davis, that soon all cars will be connected cars.

Car wheel being changed
There are plans for cars to be able to call for help in the event of a breakdown

“That has made all the carmakers realise it’s something they need to provide,” he adds.

“But if they have to do this we have to ask what else can we do to it?”

Black box

NCC Group recently conducted a six-week investigation into the security of vehicles from one manufacturer, which it declined to name.

Mr Davis says a whole range of security problems was found, but the biggest failing in his mind only emerged when researchers questioned the carmaker about issues that had arisen during the tear-down.

“We let them know about our assumptions of how the ECUs could be abused and they said, ‘This is a black box for us,'” Mr Davis recalls.

“So, they went to the third-party that made it, who said it was proprietary information and we will not tell you.”

Dashboard readout
Mini-computers can spot potential problems at an early stage

That’s a big problem, he adds, because it means solving those security issues becomes much more difficult.

This lack of clarity about the innards of in-car computers prompted IATC to publish a letter calling on vehicle makers to improve security.

Some steps have already been taken, says Mr Corman, thanks to IOActive raising the issue in the media.

That’s led to it being discussed more inside car firms and, in particular, among R&D and engineering staff.

“They know what they need to do but they have been lacking the executive support to make it happen,” he says.

He singles out Tesla as one carmaker that is setting good standards. It has an open disclosure policy and actively seeks help to squash bugs in the software and other systems used to control its cars.

Computer and car
Researchers say the car companies are becoming more aware of the risk of hackers

But he acknowledges that it will take time to encourage others to do likewise and demand more open and secure standards from their suppliers, Mr Corman adds.

“We’re taking a strategic long view,” he says.

“It has to be a long view given how long it takes to do R&D, how long it takes to do testing and to bring a car to market.

“This is not like Facebook where if there is a security problem they can fix it overnight.”

The girl with three biological parents


Alana Saarinen at a piano

Alana Saarinen loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she’s like many teenagers around the world. Except she’s not, because every cell in Alana’s body isn’t like mine and yours – Alana is one of a few people in the world who have DNA from three people.

“A lot of people say I have facial features from my mum, my eyes look like my dad… I have some traits from them and my personality is the same too,” says Alana.

“I also have DNA from a third lady. But I wouldn’t consider her a third parent, I just have some of her mitochondria.”

Mitochondria are often called the cell’s factories. They are the bits that create the energy all of our cells need to work, and keep the body functioning. But they also contain a little bit of DNA.

Alana Saarinen is one of only 30 to 50 people in the world who have some mitochondria, and therefore a bit of DNA, from a third person. She was conceived through a pioneering infertility treatment in the USA which was later banned.

But soon there could be more people like Alana, with three genetic parents, because the UK is looking to legalise a new, similar technique which would use a donor’s mitochondria to try to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. It is called mitochondrial replacement and if Parliament votes to let this happen, the UK would become the only country in the world to allow children with three people’s DNA to be born.

Diagram showing structure of a cell

The structure of a cell

Nucleus: Where the majority of our DNA is held – this determines how we look and our personality

Mitochondria: Often described as the cell’s factories, these create the energy to make the cell function

Cytoplasm: The jelly like substance that contains the nucleus and mitochondria


Alana was born through an infertility treatment called cytoplasmic transfer.

Her mum, Sharon Saarinen, had been trying to have a baby for 10 years through numerous IVF procedures.

“I felt worthless. I felt guilty that I couldn’t give my husband a child. When you want a biological child but you can’t have one, you’re distraught. You can’t sleep, it’s 24-7, constantly on your mind,” she says.

Cytoplasmic transfer was pioneered in the late 1990s by a clinical embryologist Dr Jacques Cohen and his team at the St Barnabus Institute in New Jersey, US.

“We felt that there was a chance that there was some element, some structure in the cytoplasm that didn’t function optimally. One of the major candidates that could have been involved here are structures called mitochondria,” he says.

Cohen transferred a bit of a donor woman’s cytoplasm, containing mitochondria, to Sharon Saarinen’s egg. It was then fertilised with her husband’s sperm. As a little bit of mitochondria was transferred, some DNA from the donor was in the embryo.

Ear and hands of a male foetus aged 20 weeks

Seventeen babies were born at Cohen’s clinic, as a result of cytoplasmic transfer, who could have had DNA from three people.

But there was concern about some of the babies.

“There was one early miscarriage, considering there were twelve pregnancies that is an expected number,” says Cohen.

He and his team believed that miscarriage occurred because the foetus was missing an X chromosome.

“Then there was another twin pregnancy, where one [of the twins] was considered entirely normal and the other had a missing X chromosome.

Three adults and child

At the time of birth, the other babies were all fine. A year or two later, another of the children was found to have “early signs of pervasive early developmental disorder which is a range of cognitive diseases which also includes autism.” Cohen told me.

He says it’s difficult to know if the abnormalities happened by chance or because of the procedure.

Other clinics copied the technique and Cohen estimates that around 30 to 50 children worldwide were born who could have DNA from three people as a result.

But in 2002 the American regulator, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) asked clinics to stop doing cytoplasmic transfer due to safety and ethical concerns. All of them did.

“There was a reaction from scientists, ethicists, the public at large, I think most of it was supportive, some of it was critical – I think this is normal, every time an experiment is done in medicine there is a reaction – what are the risks here?” says Cohen.

At the time, some were concerned because they felt this was germ line genetic modification. What “germ line” means is that a child like Alana would pass her unusual genetic code down to her children. And their children, would pass it to their children and so on.

Because we inherit our mitochondria only from our mothers, only female children would pass their unusual genetic code on. Crossing the germ line as it is known has never been done before so very little is known about what the outcome could be.

Alana Saarinen and her mother

Due to a lack of funding, Cohen says, it hasn’t been possible to find out about how any of the children like Alana who were born from cytoplasmic transfer are doing. But the St Barnabus Institute is now starting a follow up study to check their progress.

Sharon Saarinen says her daughter Alana is a healthy, typical teenager

“I couldn’t ask for a better child. She is an intelligent, beautiful girl inside and out, she loves math and science … she does really well in school. She helps me around the house… when she’s not texting!”

“She has always been healthy. Never anything more than a basic cold, or a flu every now and then. No health problems at all.”

The health of the children, like Alana, born from cytoplasmic transfer is under scrutiny now because of the UK’s decision to consider legalising mitochondrial replacement, where the mitochondria of a donor woman will be used to create a child.

It would not be available for people with fertility problems but for those who carry diseases of the mitochondria and would otherwise pass down these genetic abnormalities to their children.

Exactly how it is done still needs to be determined as there are two ways of doing the procedure, depending on when the eggs are fertilised.

Egg repair graphic
  • Eggs from a mother with unhealthy mitochondria and a donor with healthy mitochondria are collected
  • The nucleus, containing the majority of the genetic material, is removed from both eggs. The donor nucleus is destroyed
  • The mother’s nucleus is inserted into the donor egg – it now has healthy mitochondria. The egg is then fertilised by the father’s sperm
Embryo repair graphic
  • Both the mother’s and donor’s eggs are fertilised with the father’s sperm to create two embryos
  • The pronuclei, the nuclei during the process of fertilisation, contain the majority of the genetic material. They are removed from both embryos. The donor’s is destroyed
  • A healthy embryo is created by putting the parents’ pronuclei into the donor embryo

“Mitochondrial diseases tend to involve tissues or organs which are heavily dependent on energy,” says Prof Doug Turnbull from The University of Newcastle. He has treated people with mitochondrial disease for decades and is one of those who has developed these new techniques to try to cure these debilitating diseases.

“The conditions can therefore involve the heart, the brain or sometimes the skeletal muscle,” he says.

“People can have very bad heart problems which can cause the heart to fail eventually, they can be very weak and require respirators or be in a wheelchair. With the brain, they can get epilepsy, strokes and eventually severe dementia.”

Turnbull estimates that around 1 in 3000-5000 people in the UK have a mitochondrial disease. “We can treat the symptoms. We can improve the quality and length of peoples’ lives but we can’t cure them.”

The mitochondria carry some DNA, around 13 “important genes” says Turnbull.

That compares to the “23,000 important genes” in the nucleus where most of our DNA is held. This is the DNA that determines our traits and personality.

“We’re not trying to create some characteristic that makes this person a stronger person or [someone who] will have blonde hair. We’re trying to prevent disease and I think that is the only justification for doing this,” he says.

Sharon Bernardi, from Sunderland in the North of England, is someone who mitochondrial replacement could have helped.

Sharon Bernardi with picture of son

Bernardi has lost seven children to mitochondrial disease.

“I have babies in three different cemeteries,” she told us in her sitting room, surrounded by photographs of all her children.

“That is not the way you plan your life when you’re trying to have a family. I have lovely photos and lovely memories but obviously that’s all I have got now.”

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I have to slip back into reality and think don’t be silly, Edward’s not there. He’s not in his room”

Sharon Bernardi

The doctors didn’t know why Bernardi’s babies kept passing away only hours after they were born. So that’s why she kept trying, hoping she would have a healthy child.

With her fourth child, Edward, at first everything seemed different. He was healthy until he was about four and a half. But it was then that he was diagnosed with Leigh’s disease, a type of mitochondrial disease, and his health deteriorated throughout the years.

“From the age of 20 Edward [found] getting around more difficult. He started to get new symptoms – spasms. He’d start screaming… four, five, six hours at a time. His muscles used to tense up, his hands, his face. It was like dystonic spasms – a really bad spasm. [For] eight hours he’d be in pain, screaming. His face would twist up and his hands would get really stiff. It was hard to see.”

Edward Bernardi passed away three years ago, when he was 21.

“My life was totally for Edward. Even now sometimes if I have gone to sleep, I still wake up, and think, ‘It’s very quiet.’ I have to slip back into reality and think, ‘Don’t be silly, Edward’s not there. He’s not in his room’.”

“Without a heartbeat I would have gone for this [mitochondrial replacement]. I hope this is a new option. I hope people take it seriously and it’s approved.

“I don’t want my son to have just died for nothing. I want him to have made a difference.”

“His life was robbed at 21. We’re trying to stop this. People have to understand this is a life disease. We’re trying not to pass it on to children and make it better for future families.”

Sharon Bernardi with Edward

But some people believe this technique could set us on a slippery slope towards genetically modified humans.

“These regulations would authorise the crossing of a rubicon for the first time. It would authorise germ line therapy… to alter the genes of an individual. This is something defined by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as effectively constituting eugenics,” says British MP Fiona Bruce who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.

“We will have approved a technique and what that technique could be used for in the future who knows. We’re opening a Pandora’s box.”

The regulator in the UK, the HFEA or Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has held three independent reviews to scrutinise the safety of this technique. The conclusions were that mitochondrial replacement is “not unsafe”.

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There have been few episodes I’m aware of in the history of assisted reproduction that have had to be stopped because of hazard”

Professor BraudeKings College London

That means “it would be reasonable, with some additional experiments, to take it into clinical practice if all circumstances are fulfilled” says Peter Braude, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Kings College London. He sat on all three HFEA scientific reviews.

“In any move from science to clinical practice there is a leap of faith – it has to be done,” he says.

He adds that many of the concerns being raised now about this are the same as the ones cited in the early days of IVF. The UK has for decades been a leader in assisted reproduction science and is where the world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

“The headlines then were ‘playing God’ and ‘genetically modified humans’,” says Braude.

“There have been few episodes I’m aware of in the history of assisted reproduction that have had to be stopped because of hazard. It’s all gone pretty swimmingly as far as I’m aware.”

Braude says that mitochondrial replacement has gone through much more scrutiny than previous, now well established, assisted reproduction techniques did, such as IVF.

“Whereas the original techniques were used with only [experiments from] mice, rabbits, lab animals… the big difference here is we also have issue of human embryos and this work has been tested in macaque monkeys in primates. All those were very useful, reassuring… hence why we came to the conclusion that this is not unsafe.”

The experiments done on macaque monkeys were done in Oregon, US and the monkeys are now five years old and seem to be healthy.

Braude also points out that having a third person’s DNA in your system is “nothing particularly new”.

“Think about bone marrow transplants, let’s say unfortunately you have leukaemia and you have to have your bone marrow radiated for the cancer to be killed and then it is replaced by bone marrow from someone else – say me. Effectively from that time onwards, you will have circulating in your body DNA from me. You won’t be related to me, you may be grateful to me, but you will have DNA from a third person circulating in your body.”

What is different, say critics, about mitochondrial replacement, is that DNA from the donor will be passed down future generations.

Egg selection during IVF

Dr Ted Morrow, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Sussex, and colleagues have carried out mitochondrial replacement experiments on other animals. He raised safety concerns about mitochondrial replacement to the scientific reviews.

“For mice, there were changes in cognitive ability… to learn and do things using their brain. In fruit flies and seed beetles there were changes in male fertility, changes in ageing, a range of different traits were effected in various experiments,” he says.

The HFEA’s scientific reviews dismissed Morrow’s findings as not relevant to humans because they were done on inbred animals.

Morrow stands by his research and says the scientific panels should not have dismissed his findings so quickly.

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I’m a scientist but I’m not a pro-lifer. I think this is a genuine safety concern – that’s it”

Ted MorrowUniversity of Sussex

It is Morrow’s evidence that critics such as Fiona Bruce cite when saying this technique is not safe enough.

She has called a debate in the House of Commons today to discuss mitochondrial replacement. She does not believe there has been enough debate about what the UK is proposing to do. “The technique itself could allow the child to inherit untried untested medical complications,” she says.

Morrow says that all the coverage of his research has been “a rather odd experience”.

“In the press it’s sometimes portrayed that the scientists think this, and the pro-life group this. I’m a scientist but I’m not a pro-lifer. I think this is a genuine safety concern – that’s it.”

Alana and Sharon Saarinen have been watching the debate in the UK with interest.

“I wish I could meet her, the donor, to tell her I am so grateful for what she did for us. How can you thank someone for giving you a life? That’s impossible,” says Sharon.

Alana agrees with her mum. “I think it would be nice to thank her. But I wouldn’t want to have a relationship or connection with her. The DNA I have of her is just so small.”

“I know she might have another person’s mitochondria, [but] look what a great person she turned out to be, and healthy. Just because she’ll pass it on to her children it won’t bother me in the least. I know it was the right thing to do. I have the living proof every day to see how great it turned out.”

Alana Saarinen


Studies Show Microwaves Drastically Reduce Nutrients In Food

I can remember the days growing up in the 1950′s and 1960′s, when we prepared foods without a microwave oven. Water was boiled on the stove. Chicken was baked in an oven. Vegetables were steamed, baked, or sautéed. Food was whole and fresh. Even a TV dinner was baked in the oven, which took about 15 minutes to warm. And then, modern science and technology brought us the microwave oven that could heat food rapidly, from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.

The industry has claimed that microwave cooking protects the nutrient content of foods. Somehow, in tasting foods that came out of a microwave oven, the texture was changed as was the flavor. Foods cooked or reheated in microwave ovens became rubbery and lacked the savory smells and layered flavors that come from cooking foods slower and longer.

Nevertheless, people bought the convenience aspect, the speed, the simplicity of heating and eating prepared foods. The science, which has been supported by the food industry, has continued to claim the health benefits of microwave cooking. Recently, published data from reliable sources questions the health benefits of microwaved food.

Does this mean an occasional microwaved meal will be harmful? Not likely. But what about a steady diet of eating foods cooked at such a high heat? Do the sensitive compounds in food, such as amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and phytonutrients change? It appears so. Read on to follow the scientific literature surrounding the depletion of our soil, foods, and health as a result of modern farming, food processing, microwave cooking, and not eating enough fresh, natural, uncooked, organic whole foods.

  • Three recent studies of historical food composition have shown 5-40% declines in some of the minerals in fresh produce, and another study found a similar decline in our protein sources (1)
  • A 1999 Scandinavian study of the cooking of asparagus spears found that microwaving caused a reduction in vitamins (3)
  • In a study of garlic, as little as 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate its allinase, garlic’s principle active ingredient against cancer (5)
  • A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli “zapped” in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11% or fewer of its antioxidants. There were also reductions in phenolic compounds and glucosinolates, but mineral levels remained intact (6).
  • A recent Australian study showed that micro- waves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating (2)
  • Microwaving can destroy the essential disease-fighting agents in breast milk that offer protection for your baby. In 1992, Quan found that microwaved breast milk lost lysozyme activity, antibodies, and fostered the growth of more potentially pathogenic bacteria (4).

Quan stated that more damage was done to the milk by microwaving than by other methods of heating, concluding: “Microwaving appears to be contraindicated at high-temperatures, and questions regarding its safety exist even at low temperatures.”

Note: Needless to say, we do not recommend cooking food in microwave ovens, though mildly heating leftovers may not pose the same problems as discussed above. Also, microwaving fatty foods in plastic containers leads to the release of dioxins (known carcinogens) and other toxins into your food. Common microwavable foods include pizzas, chips, and popcorn. Chemicals released include polyethylene terpthalate (PET), benzene, toluene, and xylene.

Additionally, microwaving creates new compounds that are not found in humans or in nature, called radiolytic compounds. We don’t yet know what these compounds are doing to your body, but they are not health-promoting.

Eating fresh, uncooked, or minimally heated fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices are the basis of an Eating for Health™ meal plan. With whole grains and legumes, cooking them on a stove top by boiling and simmering them until tender is advised.

For flesh foods, steaming, sautéing, baking, or blending into slow cooked crock pot soups and stews is advised. Dairy products, such as raw milk cheese, from goats, cows, or sheep, are most nutrient-rich when unheated. Raw, organic cheese is best added to salads or warm grains, legumes, or vegetables without heating the dish in a high heat oven, broiler, or microwave oven.

Article Sources


1. Davis D R. (February 1, 2009). Declining fruit and vegetable nutrient composition: What is the evidence? American Society of Horticultural Science.

2. George D F, Bilek M M, and McKenzie D R. Non-thermal effects in the microwave induced unfolding of proteins observed by chaperone binding. Bioelectromagnetics 2008 May;29(4). 324-330.

3. Kidmose U and Kaack K. Acta. Agriculturae Scandinavica B1999:49(2).110-117.

4. Quan R (et al). Effects of microwave radiation on anti- infective factors in human milk. Pediatrics 89(4 part I). 667-669.

5. Song K and Milner J A. The influence of heating on the anticancer properties of garlic. Journal of Nutrition 2001;131(3S).1054S-1057S.

6. Vallejo F, Tomas-Barberan F A, and Garcia-Viguera C. Phenolic compound contents in edible parts of broccoli inflorescences after domestic cooking. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (15 Oct

Hospital Mandates Nurses Wear Yellow Safety Belts While Checking out Pyxis Medications

Hospital Administrators want to crack down on medication errors and they are willing to go to any length to do it.   New studies show that many medication errors occur as nurses check out medications at the Pyxis machine and subsequently as they walk to deliver the medication to the patient.   Root cause analysis of these errors have demonstrated that human factors such as being distracted are potential causes of these medication errors.

In order to help combat distractions, a new policy just approved by the hospital board will mandate all nurses to wear reflective yellow safety belts while checking out medications at the Pyxis machine.

Nurses must now wear reflective belts

“During the check out process and delivery of the medication, wearing the yellow safety belt is now mandatory and no one should approach or talk to that individual.  Once the medication has been given to the patient and charted twice, the belt can come off and talking can resume,” said hospital administrators.

Administrators went on, “Nurses wearing the belt should not engage in any conversation and others should not engage nurses wearing the belt including visitors and patients.”

“Are you kidding me!” was the overwhelming response from several nurses.

“You really expect me to wear some yellow reflective belt, like I’m in the Army running at 05 dark 30.  Hell no!” emphatically spewed ICU nurse Robert Stanley.  “They can shove their reflective belts up you know what.”

Some nurses are taking a very different approach.  Emily Richard, an ER nurse, loves the new idea and is using the reflective belts for another reason. “Yeah, so when I don’t want anybody to talk to me or to tell me what to do, I just wear the belt around the ER all shift.  Works like a charm!”  If someone asks her for help with a lab draw or a new IV bag, she just motions towards her safety belt and puts her hands in the air just like she doesn’t care.

Administrators thought the belts sounded like a great idea in theory, but it may have fallen short, just like the idea to make pain the 5th vital sign. Family members and patients now interrupt nurses even more to inquire about why they are wearing the belt.

“The belt is so comical,” said Allison Meadows, a medicine ward nurse. “It does absolutely nothing except create more conversations…about the damn belt. Why don’t they give us fewer patients per nurse, put less emphasis on bringing turkey sandwiches to patients for patient satisfaction scores, and increase our salaries. That’s how you really cut down on medication errors!”


Are these familiar foods poisoning you with cadmium?

We normally try our best on a day-to-day basis to make sound food choices and live a clean lifestyle. But sometimes an edible that we think encourages health can actually cause harm. Due to an affinity with heavy metals in the environment, some plants and animals absorb toxins like cadmium more readily than others. In light of this, steering clear of these common foods can help prevent serious problems down the road.


Hidden dangers

Over the last decade, flax has been embraced as an exceptionally healthy food, since it supplies ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, along with notable levels of lignins and fiber. Women wishing to avoid breast cancer have eagerly included the seed in their diet after learning about the protective phytoestrogens that flax supplies. However, researchers have discovered that flax also introduces cadmium into the body — which is notorious for encouraging breast cancer, kidney disorders, heart disease and osteoporosis. The soluble fiber of flax increases cadmium absorption, while the crop itself is known to take up cadmium from the soil, thereby infusing the plant with the metal.

Flax grown in heavily contaminated soil poses the greatest threat. Parts of Canada, where a majority of the world’s flaxseed is grown, tend to have high cadmium in the soil. North and South Dakota, two other large flax producers, also have soil with elevated levels. And flaxseed from China and India — two countries infamous for heavy metal pollution — are more likely than not to be contaminated. Since organic (as well as conventional) food isn’t tested for heavy metals by the USDA, the certified organic label is worthless in regard to cadmium found in flax. You can learn more about this state of affairs here.

Regrettably, flax isn’t the only edible at risk. Shellfish frequently contains cadmium as the result of environmental pollution. Inexpensive shrimp from Asia is one of the worst examples. Oysters from the east and west coasts of Canada are problematic too. Sunflower plants are also prone to accumulating cadmium. Beware of oil and seed butters made from sunflower, especially those grown in North and South Dakota. Polluted Louisiana is one of the main growing regions for rice in the United States, which is yet another crop that easily absorbs the metal. Additionally, if you are a fan of dried apricots, try to source varieties other than those grown in Turkey, which are often loaded with cadmium. Moreover, free-range escargot snails test high due to contaminated soil. Indian black mustard can also be troublesome.

Food-based solutions

Just as some foods can increase your cadmium load, others can help you detoxify. Fleur Hupston offers valuable tips on how to reduce your toxicity in “Top foods that chelate the body of heavy metals.” And make sure to visit The Consumer Wellness Center Forensic Food Lab website to see how your favorite natural food products rank on the heavy metal scale.

Sources for this article include:






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ATLANTIC: In-Ambulance vs. In-Cath Lab Administration of Ticagrelor in STEMI Patients Transferred For Primary PCI

Pre-hospital administration of ticagrelor in patients with acute ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) does not improve pre-percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) coronary reperfusion, but it does appear safe and may prevent post-procedural acute stent thrombosis, according to results from the ATLANTIC trial presented Sept. 1 as part of ESC Congress 2014 and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine. External Link

The international, multi-center trial was based on 1,862 patients with ongoing STEMI of less than six hours duration who received ticagrelor treatment either in the ambulance or in the catheterization lab. Overall, the median time from randomization to angiography was 48 minutes and the median time difference between the two treatment strategies was 31 minutes. According to study investigators, the proportion of patients who did not have a 70 percent or greater resolution of ST-segment elevation before PCI and who did not have thrombolysis in myocardial infarction flow grade 3 in the infarct-related artery at initial angiography did not vary significantly between the two groups. The rates of major adverse cardiovascular events and of major bleeding also did not vary significantly.

However, the rates of definite stent thrombosis were lower in the pre-hospital group than the in-hospital group. “The observed preventive benefit is consistent with pharmacodynamics and ECG findings suggesting that the maximal effort of pre-hospital administration of ticagrelor occurs after the end of the procedure,” the investigators said.

Investigators did note limitations to the study based on the small sample size and the short intervals between administration of ticagrelor and reperfusion. “The time to PCI in our study was extremely short in both groups indicating excellent practice,” they said, “but this may have blunted the drug effect and may not reflect clinical practice.”

Six gene variations linked to glaucoma risk

Scientists have identified six genetic variants associated with the eye condition glaucoma in people from around the world including Australia.

The discovery, in three major studies, could help identify people at higher risk of the disease and lead to earlier screening and treatments.

All three studies, published today in Nature Genetics, identify gene sequence variations of the ABCA1 gene, which is involved in the regulation of cellular cholesterol and lipid metabolism, as playing a role in the eye disease.

Professor Jamie Craig, of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and joint leader of the Australian project, says the finding is significant.

“It’s rock solid that this is an important result because it has been found in three different ways,” says Craig, who is also from Flinders University’s Centre for Ophthalmology and Eye Vision Research.

“All the papers were done in different populations with different strategies and all identified the same gene.

“It has been shown to be involved in eye pressure in normal people and tells us for sure it is contributing to glaucoma at least partly through intraocular pressure pathways.”

Eye check

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world.

It is caused by damage to the optic nerve, usually, but not always due to the eye pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) being too high, as the eye fluid does not drain properly.

People with a close relative with the disease are about 10 times more likely to contract the condition.

Early diagnosis of glaucoma is crucial because, if treated early enough, damage to vision can be prevented, says Craig.

Trio of studies

The Australian study, which also involved US researchers who replicated the findings, looked at potential gene targets in primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG).

POAG is the most common type of glaucoma and involves the progressive loss of peripheral vision until the central vision is affected.

The study included a cohort of 1155 patients from the Australian and New Zealand Registry of Advanced Glaucoma with severe POAG, and 1992 matched controls.

Genetic testing identified variants of three genes, ABCA1, AFAP1 and GMDS, which significantly increased the risk in Australians and Americans of European descent.

A second UK-led study, of which Craig is a co-author, involved genetic screening of 35,296 subjects including people with Asian and European descents drawn from across seven countries.

They found four new genes associated with high eye pressure and glaucoma. One of the genes is the ABO gene, which determines blood group, and higher eye pressure appears to be linked to blood group B.

The study also found a genetic change in the ABCA1 gene is associated with an increased risk of developing both high eye pressure and glaucoma.

The third Chinese study is unique says Craig because it is the first large-scale study of POAG in an Asian population.

It identified variants near two genes — ABCA1 and PMM2 — which are associated with glaucoma risk in people from China and Singapore.

Genetic risk

Craig says the findings may in the future be used to develop risk profiles that will allow doctors to know whether a person has high-risk of their glaucoma being severe.

“We are looking at ways to add up a genetic risk profile,” says Craig. “So if you can say if you’ve got a larger load of these variant genes, your risk is high.”

Craig says the ageing population means there is a “potential tsunami of people beyond 90 now going blind in the last years of their life”.

“Sometimes it is the one thing that means they can’t live independently.”

He says if you can identify those people at high-risk of severe glaucoma it can be treated more aggressively early in their life to save their sight.

However, he cautions it will take several years of experiments before the exact role of the genes identified in these studies is known, and these steps need to be taken before new treatment strategies can be planned.

5 Viruses That Are Scarier Than Ebola

The Ebola virus has now killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa. Although the mortality rate of the most recent outbreak isn’t as high as in previous events, it’s still the case that most people who become infected with Ebola will not survive. (The mortality rate is about 60 percent for the current outbreak, compared with 90 percent in the past, according to the National Institutes of Health.)

But despite this somber prognosis, health experts in the United States aren’t particularly worried about the threat of Ebola in this countryor in other developed countries.

Microscopic view of Ebola virus
“I see Ebola as a significant threat in the specific regions that it has been identified in, certainly central and west Africa,” said Cecilia Rokusek, a public health expert with Nova Southeastern University’s Institute for Disaster and Emergency Preparedness in Florida. “But in my opinion, it’s not an imminent threat for those in the United States.” [7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

Indeed, other viruses pose a larger threat to U.S. citizens, according to Rokusek.

Although some of these viruses have far lower mortality rates than that of Ebola, they are more prevalent in developed nations, and kill more people annually than Ebola does. Here are five viruses that are just as dangerous (if not more so) than Ebola:


Over the past 100 years, rabies has declined significantly as a public health threat in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately two people now die yearly in the United States from this virus, which is transmitted to people through saliva when they are bitten by infected animals, such as dogs or bats.

People who know they have been bitten by an animal should receive the rabies vaccine, which prevents infection by the virus, according to the CDC. But, especially in the case of bat bites, people may not always realize they have been bitten.

And rabies has one of the highest fatality rates of any virus; only three people in the United States are known to have ever survived the disease without receiving the vaccine after exposure to the virus.

Still, the disease remains a greater threat in other areas of the world than in the United States. Approximately 55,000 people die of rabies every year in Africa and Asia, according to the WHO.


Though the number of annual deaths related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has declined in recent years, an estimated 1.6 million people worldwide died of HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) related causes in 2012, according to the WHO. The virus attacks a person’s immune cells and weakens the immune system over time, making it very difficult for the infected individual to fight off other diseases.

About 15,500 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2010 in the United States, according to the CDC. In total, an estimated 650,000 people have died of AIDS in the United States since the disease was discovered in 1981. An estimated 36 million people have died worldwide from the epidemic.

Today, people with HIV do live longer than they used to, a trend that coincides with the increased availability of antiretroviral therapy, as well as the decline in new infections since the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1997. However, no cure for HIV exists.


The flu may not sound very scary, but it kills far more people every year than Ebola does. The exact number of people who die each year from seasonal flu virus is the subject of much debate, but the CDC puts the average number of annual deaths in the United States somewhere between 3,000 and 49,000.

The large variation in yearly deaths arises because many flu deaths are not reported as such, so the CDC relies on statistical methods to estimate the number. Another reason for this wide range is that annual flu seasons vary in severity and length, depending on what influenza viruses are most prominent. In years when influenza A (H3N2) viruses are prominent, death rates are typically more than double what they are in seasons when influenza A (H1N1) or influenza B viruses predominate, according to the CDC.

A highly contagious virus, influenza sickens far more people than it kills, with an estimated 3 million to 5 million people becoming seriously ill yearly from influenza viruses. Worldwide, the flu causes an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite the relatively low mortality rate of the virus, public health professionals and doctors recommend annual flu shots to keep the risk of complications from influenza at bay.

“Healthy people should get their vaccines every year,” Rokusek told Live Science. “Studies have shown that the flu vaccine is an effective preventative measure.”

But flu vaccines, which offer immunity from influenza A and B viruses, do not protect against other forms of influenza, which can arise when the virus undergoes genetic changes. New strains of the flu result in higher than average mortality rates globally. The most recent influenza pandemic, the “swine flu” or H1N1 pandemic, killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people globally during 2009 and 2010, according to the CDC.

Mosquito-borne viruses

Spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, viruses such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever kill more than 50,000 people worldwide every year, according to estimates by the WHO and the CDC. (Malaria — which is also spread by mosquitos, but is caused by a parasite rather than a virus — kills more than 600,00 people yearly.)

At least 40 percent of the world’s population, or about 2.5 billion people, are at risk of serious illness and death from mosquito-borne viral diseases, according to the CDC.

Dengue fever, which is endemic to parts of South America, Mexico, Africa and Asia, claims approximately 22,000 lives every year, according to the CDC. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a deadly infection that causes high fevers and can lead to septic shock.

These diseases occur in regions neighboring the United States, making them a threat in this country.

“Dengue is very active in the Caribbean, and travelers to the Caribbean come back to the United States with dengue,” said Dr. Robert Leggiadro, a New York physician and professor of biology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]

People infected with dengue while traveling abroad can spread the disease at home when mosquitos bite them, and then bite other people, Leggiadro said.

Even more deadly than dengue is yellow fever, which mostly affects people in Latin America and Africa. The disease causes an estimated 30,000 deaths worldwide, according to the WHO.

Less deadly, but still dangerous is West Nile virus, a viral neurological disease that is spread by mosquitos that bite humans after feasting on birds infected with the virus. Although the vast majority of people infected with this virus will not show symptoms of West Nile, the disease has killed an estimated 1,200 people in the United States since it was first seen here in 1999, according to the CDC.


Not everyone is at high risk of contracting rotavirus, but for children around the world, this gastrointestinal virus is a very serious problem. Approximately 111 million cases of gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus are reported every year globally, according to the CDC. The vast majority of those affected by the virus are children under the age of 5, and about 82 percent of deaths associated with the virus occur in children in developing nations.

Globally, an estimated 440,000 children who contract the virus die each year from complications, namely dehydration. In the United States, a vaccine for rotavirus was developed in 1998, but was later recalled due to safety concerns. A newer vaccine, developed in 2006, is now available and is recommended for children ages 2 months and older.

Despite routine vaccinations for rotavirus in the United States, the CDC estimates that between 20 and 60 children under age 5 die every year from untreated dehydration caused by the virus.

While some parents in the United States have expressed concern about the complications that may arise as a result of vaccinating for rotavirus, Leggiadro told Live Science that vaccination for this and other preventable diseases is the best way to safeguard against diseases that, if left untreated, can be deadly.

New heart drug significantly reduces deaths and hospitalisation.

A new heart medication has been shown to cut instances of heart failure mortality by a fifth, and is expected to be on the market as early as next year.


Image: Julija Sapic/Shutterstock

Named LCZ696, the new drug is still in the trial phase, but has been shown to dramatically reduce cardiovascular deaths and the risk of hospitalisation for people with chronic heart failure.

The drug is being developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, and was recently put to the test in the largest trial ever undertaken in heart failure, involving more than 8,400 patients. Compared to an existing heart drug, called enalapril, LCZ696’s effects were so significant and so overwhelmingly positive throughout this trial, a team of independent investigators ended it early. This is the first time in 25 years that a new drug has been proven to be more effective than existing heart medications.

According to Ben Hirschler at Reuters, not only does LCZ696 reduce deaths and hospital admissions, patients who were treated with it also reported feeling measurably better than those who were treated with enalapril. One of the principle investigators, John McMurray from the Clinical Research Initiative in Heart Failure at the University of Glasgow in the UK, reported its effects as “astonishing”.

“Once this drug becomes available, it would be difficult to understand why physicians would continue to use traditional (drugs) … for the treatment of heart failure,” said another of the principle investigators, Milton Packer from the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Texas in the US.

While the trial ended five months ago, the full results were only just released at the 2014 European Society of Cardiology Congress, the world’s largest cardiology conference. The results will also be published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This result is better than we ever could have anticipated,” Novartis’s head, David Epstein, told Reuters.

According to the results of the trial, patients who took LCZ696 were 20 percent less likely than those on enalapril to die from cardiovascular causes and 21 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital, says Hirschler at Reuters. The results can be converted to approximately 90,000 fewer deaths per year in the US and Europe if patients with heart conditions were switched to the new LCZ696 drug, Epstein adds. The drug is expected to be on the market as early as next year.

Mariell Jessup, a heart failure expert from the University of Pennsylvania in the US, who was not involved in the study, commented that the new drug, “may well represent a new threshold of hope for patients with heart failure”.