Brain age predicts mortality

Where people around the world eat the most sugar and fat

We all know Americans love their sugar. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that the love may border on lunacy, at least compared with the rest of the world.

Here in the United States, the average person consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, which is slightly more than three 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola. That’s more than twice the average sugar intake of all 54 countries observed by Euromonitor. It’s also more than twice what the World Health Organization recommends for daily intake, which is roughly 50 grams of sugar for someone of normal weight.

In Germany, the second-most sugar-loving nation in the world, people eat roughly 103 grams on average. In the Netherlands, the country with the third-biggest sweet tooth, people eat 102.5 grams. And in Ireland, which ranks fourth on the list, sugar intake falls just short of 97 grams.

At the other end of the spectrum are India, Israel, Indonesia and China, where people apparently don’t like sweets. In India, people eat only about 5 grams per day on average. In Israel, it’s 14.5 grams. In Indonesia, it’s just over 15 grams. And in China, it’s just under 16 grams.

Here’s the full list (notice that people eat fewer than 25 grams of sugar in only 10 countries):

The good news for Americans is that they fare a bit better when it comes to fat consumption.

Belgium, where people eat 95 grams of fat each day on average, holds the distinction of being the world’s most fat-crazed country. Germany, where people eat 86.5 grams of fat each day on average, is second. Finland, where people eat just shy of 81 grams, is third. And the Netherlands, where people eat just over 80 grams, is fourth. The United States is 16th on the list, at 65.5 grams, roughly 12 grams more than the average seen across the 54 countries.

India, Indonesia and South Korea, where people eat the least amount of fat, consume 10 grams, 15.5 grams, and just over 20 grams per capita, respectively.

The U.S. government recommends that people “aim for a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of calories.” Assuming that people consume 2,000 calories a day (which they don’t, but let’s assume they do), that would mean about 65 grams of fat. So Americans aren’t doing all that bad.

Here’s the full list:

Interestingly, neither sugar nor fat consumption seems to be a good indicator of obesity — not at least among those countries that eat the most fat and sugar. Sure, Americans are both eating way too much sugar and outpacing the rest of the world in waistline. But outside of that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a suggestion that an affinity for either is associated with higher rates of obesity in these countries — based on this data at least.

Germany, which ranks second in both sugar and fat consumption per capita, is among the skinniest nations in the developed world. Only 14.7 percent of its population over the age of 14 is considered obese, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Similarly, other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, are both near the top in sugar and fat intake, and near the bottom in obesity rates.

Lower sugar and fat consumption, however, does appear to align — at least a little more — with lower obesity rates, probably because it reflects lower consumption of food more generally. India, Indonesia and China, which are at or near the bottom of the list in both sugar and fat consumption, also happen to have the three lowest obesity rates (2.1, 2.4 and 2.9 percent, respectively) among the countries the OECD tracks.

What exactly does this all mean? It’s unclear. But it does make you wonder whether there’s a better gauge for why people in some countries are so overweight and others are not. One possibility is that it’s not the raw amount of fat or sugar content alone that matters, it’s also the type of food that’s being eaten. In the United States, processed foods are still wildly popular, a fact that could offer one more theory of how this country came to have an obesity rate above 35 percent.

Statins myth: thousands are dying because of warnings over non-existent side effects

False claims about the risks of statins may have cost the lives of tens of thousands of Britons, researchers have said, after a Lancet study found the drugs do not cause side-effects which have deterred many.

The research on 10,000 people found that if they did not know what drugs they were given, they were no more likely than those given sugar pills to report symptoms such as muscle pain, sleep disturbance and cognitive impairment.

Yet when participants in a second part of the trial were told the drugs were statins, rates of some reported side-effects shot up – with muscle pain appearing up to 41 per cent more common.

Last night the study’s lead author accused British medicines regulators of “jumping the gun” in ever listing such side-effects on drug packaging.

Prof Peter Sever, from Imperial College London, urged the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to now strip packets of such warnings, in order to save “tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives”.

There are people out there who are dying because they’re not taking statins, and the numbers are large, the numbers are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousandsProf Peter Sever, Imperial College London

He said it was a “tragedy” akin to the MMR scandal that high risk patients had been deterred from taking drugs which could save their lives. Urging patients not to “gamble” with the risk of heart attacks and strokes, he said “bad science” had misled the public, deterring many from taking life-saving medication.

The study of patients at risk of heart disease, found that those told that their daily drug was a statin were far more likely to think they were suffering side-effects.

Researchers said it illustrated a “nocebo effect” which meant patients were more likely to think they were experiencing side-effects if they expected them.

As a result, daily aches and pains were more likely to be attributed to statins.

The phenomenon is the opposite to the well-known placebo effect, the beneficial response sometimes experienced by those given “dummy” drugs as part of trials.

NHS guidance recommends the cholesterol-busting drugs for around 40 per cent of adults.

But a number of doctors have argued against “mass medicalisation” saying too many pills are being doled out instead of efforts to improve lifestyles.

The new study suggests millions of patients could benefit from high doses of statins

Prof Sever said many of those arguing against statins had exagerrated risks such as muscle pain, which were not backed by the new study, the largest ever research into their side-effects.

In 2009, the MHRA listed such side-effects on packaging for statins, after a series of observational studies suggested such links.

Prof Sever said the regulator should never have taken such action.

“There are people out there who are dying because they’re not taking statins, and the numbers are large, the numbers are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. And they are dying because of a nocebo effect, in my opinion,” he said.

“Many of us would say that the MHRA … did not make a profound value judgment based on the evidence,” the professor said.

“We would hope that the MHRA will withdraw that request that these side effects should be listed.”

He added: “These warnings should not be on the label … I would love to see these side effects removed.

A spokesman for the MHRA said: “The benefits of statins are well established and are considered to outweigh the risk of side-effects in the majority of patients.”

“Any new significant information on the efficacy or safety of statins will be carefully reviewed and action will be taken if required, including updates to product labelling.”

The study’s researchers said statins were not without any side-effects. Statins carry around a 9 per cent increased risk of diabetes, they said, with links to uncommon side effects such as myopathy, resulting in muscle weakness.

Even so, the benefits of the drugs in reducing risk of heart attacks and strokes “overwhelmed” the risk of side-effects, Prof Sever said.

Speaking of the nocebo effect, he said: “Just as the placebo effect can be very strong, so too can the nocebo effect.

“This is not a case of people making up symptoms, or that the symptoms are ‘all in their heads’. Patients can experience very real pain as a result of the nocebo effect and the expectation that drugs will cause harm.”

The study was funded by drug company Pfizer, which makes statins, but the authors said all data collection, analysis and interpretation of the results was carried out independently.

London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who has argued against mass prescribing of statins, last night insisted the drugs had only “marginal” benefits for those with established heart disease, and did not save lives for lower risk patients.

Other research had found that more than half of patients put on statins abandoned them within a year, most commonly because of side-effects, he said.

He said the misrepresentation of the risks and benefits of statins would unfold to become “one of the biggest scandals in the history of medicine”.


A Company Is Charging $750,000 for Eggs and Sperm From “Genetically Desirable” People


A new global fertility agency claims to provide its clients with eggs and sperm “from the highest quality donors in the world” for a fee of $750,000, raising questions about the ethics surrounding the intersection of reproduction and genetics.

 Billionaire Matchmaker

Roughly 150 years ago, Charles Darwin shared his theory of natural selection with the world. It is through this evolutionary process that all species — humans included — chose their mates. Early on in our history, it was a process of elimination more than a choice. The individuals best adapted to their environments would survive long enough to reproduce, sending their desirable genes forward to the next generation.

Natural selection is still at work in our species today, but so is a far less natural means of genetic manipulation.

“All people are not created equal”

In December 2016, global fertility agency Purenetics opened for business. The company claims to provide its clients with eggs and sperm “from the highest quality donors in the world.” Basically, it is a company that is meant to allow the rich to “buy” a baby with whatever genetics they desire.

Those “genetically desirable” donors submit their information online, sharing everything from their blood type and eye color to their IQ and ethnicity. Purenetics clients must show proof of funds of at least $750,000 and give a deposit of $10,000 to even access the donor database. If they decide to make a purchase, $500,000 goes to the donor and $250,000 to Purenetics.

Up until just last year, payment for an egg donation was limited to $10,000, and the average sperm donation still only earns the donor roughly $35 to $50. Clearly, Purenetics is positioning itself as a high-end fertility service—one that works with people that the company designates as being “genetically elite.”

 The company’s founder claims that the work is not unique: “Our focus is not that much different than that of an upscale matchmaking service,” he claimed in a press release announcing the company’s launch. “It is a niche market that has not been addressed in an institutionalized way.”

Despite the founder’s attempts to normalize the process, the company’s uber-sexy donor video and tagline of “All people are not created equal” might leave anyone without a modeling contract feel a bit like a member of the huddled masses. Add to that social media accounts that feature more buxom blondes than a Playboy pool party, the founder’s decision to remain anonymous, and the fact that donors must pay $5.99 to even submit their applications, and the whole thing feels even less legit.

But setting aside any clues that it might be little more than a money-making scheme, is Purenetics necessarily doing anything wrong by selecting “desirable genes”?

Two Medical Milestones, One Big Controversy

While our ancient ancestors had pretty simple criteria for their reproductive mates — stay alive long enough to reproduce — advances in healthcare, agriculture, and education have made it so surviving well past the reproductive years has become the norm in much of the developed world. Research confirms what most of us probably already knew: people with the traits that are now most desirable — good looking, wealthy, steady income — are in a position to be more selective when choosing their mates. Proponents of Purenetics might say it is simply using the technology of the internet to speed up the selection process.

But like many issues surrounding the intersection of genetics and reproduction, this one carries with it numerous ethical concerns.

In 1978, the world’s first “test tube baby” was born via in vitro fertilization. Researchers had successfully removed an egg from a woman’s ovary, paired it in a laboratory dish with her husband’s sperm, and then implanted the subsequent embryo into her uterus. The woman had been unable to conceive through traditional methods despite years of trying, but nine months after the procedure, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Another medical breakthrough took place 25 years later when the first human genome was mapped. As the Human Genome Project put it, “Having the essentially complete sequence of the human genome is similar to having all the pages of a manual needed to make the human body.” Today, anyone with a couple hundred dollars to spare can request an abbreviated copy of their own genetic owner’s manual through sites like 23 and Me or Pathway Genomics. This relatively easy access to human DNA has led to new medical research and treatments, and now, we’re not only able to study and learn from human DNA, we can also alter it.

 IVF has been called everything from a “moral abomination” to a “miracle,” and public opinion is split on gene editing as well, with some deriding the technology as “playing God,” while others list its thousands of benefits. Combine the two controversial medical milestones, and the phrase “designer baby” moves from the realm of science fiction tropes to that of real-world possibilities. That shift excites some and terrifies others.

The Perfect Baby

Only recently have laws against human embryo editing begun to loosen, but we have good reason to be cautious about the technology — past efforts to manipulate the genetic makeup of a population haven’t gone so well. The early-twentieth century eugenics movement in the United States considered poor, uneducated, promiscuous, and non-white citizens “genetic undesireables.” By the time the movement ended, more than 64,000 people had been legally subjected to forced sterilization. It wasn’t until after the Nazis enacted their own eugenics programs that the practice lost favor in the U.S.

Thankfully, the situation today is a little different. Instead of forcing those with undesirable traits to forgo reproduction altogether, in some instances, doctors could simply remove the negative traits from their DNA. Some are already envisioning a not-so-distant future in which this modification will be permitted when doing so could prevent a baby from inheriting a diseaseEditing genes to ensure a baby is healthy doesn’t seem so controversial. But attractive or tall or athletic? Where do we draw the line?

Watch the video. URL:

Right now, the best way to ensure that you have the “perfect” baby is to choose a mate that meets all of your qualifications and hope your offspring takes after them. After all, being a billionaire isn’t an inheritable genetic trait, but if the money can be used to buy the reproductive material of someone whose desirable traits areinheritable, are we really doing anything differently than our ancestors, combining the genetics of society’s “fittest” — both financially and genetically — to create the next generation?

There is no right answer, but the question of just how far we’re willing to go to create the ideal offspring is one we’ll need to address very soon. If someone is willing to pay $750,000 in the hopes that “elite” DNA from a donor will carry on to the next generation, would they be willing to skirt the law and modify that DNA to ensure that it does?


The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol

The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

The group’s finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern” stands in contrast to the committee’s findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of excess cholesterol in the American diet a public health concern.

The finding follows an evolution of thinking among many nutritionists who now believe that, for healthy adults, eating foods high in cholesterol may not significantly affect the level of cholesterol in the blood or increase the risk of heart disease.

The greater danger in this regard, these experts believe, lies not in products such as eggs, shrimp or lobster, which are high in cholesterol, but in too many servings of foods heavy with saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter.

The new view on cholesterol in food does not reverse warnings about high levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease. Moreover, some experts warned that people with particular health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich diets.

While Americans may be accustomed to conflicting dietary advice, the change on cholesterol comes from the influential Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group that provides the scientific basis for the “Dietary Guidelines.” That federal publication has broad effects on the American diet, helping to determine the content of school lunches, affecting how food manufacturers advertise their wares, and serving as the foundation for reams of diet advice.

The panel laid out the cholesterol decision in December, at its last meeting before it writes a report that will serve as the basis for the next version of the guidelines. A video of the meeting was later posted online and a person with direct knowledge of the proceedings said the cholesterol finding would make it to the group’s final report, which is due within weeks.

After Marian Neuhouser, chair of the relevant subcommittee, announced the decision to the panel at the December meeting, one panelist appeared to bridle.

“So we’re not making a [cholesterol] recommendation?” panel member Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University professor, said at the meeting as if trying to absorb the thought. “Okay … Bummer.”

Members of the panel, called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said they would not comment until the publication of their report, which will be filed with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

While those agencies could ignore the committee’s recommendations, major deviations are not common, experts said.

Five years ago, “I don’t think the Dietary Guidelines diverged from the committee’s report,” said Naomi K. Fukagawa, a University of Vermont professor who served as the committee’s vice chair in 2010. Fukagawa said she supports the change on cholesterol.

Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, also called the turnaround on cholesterol a “reasonable move.”

“There’s been a shift of thinking,” he said.

But the change on dietary cholesterol also shows how the complexity of nutrition science and the lack of definitive research can contribute to confusion for Americans who, while seeking guidance on what to eat, often find themselves afloat in conflicting advice.

Cholesterol has been a fixture in dietary warnings in the United States at least since 1961, when it appeared in guidelines developed by the American Heart Association. Later adopted by the federal government, such warnings helped shift eating habits — per capita egg consumption dropped about 30 percent — and harmed egg farmers.

Yet even today, after more than a century of scientific inquiry, scientists are divided.

Some nutritionists said lifting the cholesterol warning is long overdue, noting that the United States is out-of-step with other countries, where diet guidelines do not single out cholesterol. Others support maintaining a warning.

The forthcoming version of the Dietary Guidelines — the document is revised every five years — is expected to navigate myriad similar controversies. Among them: salt, red meat, sugar, saturated fats and the latest darling of food-makers, Omega-3s.

As with cholesterol, the dietary panel’s advice on these issues will be used by the federal bureaucrats to draft the new guidelines, which offer Americans clear instructions — and sometimes very specific, down-to-the-milligram prescriptions. But such precision can mask sometimes tumultuous debates about nutrition.

“Almost every single nutrient imaginable has peer reviewed publications associating it with almost any outcome,” John P.A. Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and statistics at Stanford and one of the harshest critics of nutritional science, has written. “In this literature of epidemic proportions, how many results are correct?”

Now comes the shift on cholesterol.

Even as contrary evidence has emerged over the years, the campaign against dietary cholesterol has continued. In 1994, food-makers were required to report cholesterol values on the nutrition label. In 2010, with the publication of the most recent “Dietary Guidelines,” the experts again focused on the problem of “excess dietary cholesterol.”

Yet many have viewed the evidence against cholesterol as weak, at best. As late as 2013, a task force arranged by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association looked at the dietary cholesterol studies. The group found that there was “insufficient evidence” to make a recommendation. Many of the studies that had been done, the task force said, were too broad to single out cholesterol.

“Looking back at the literature, we just couldn’t see the kind of science that would support dietary restrictions,” said Robert Eckel, the co-chair of the task force and a medical professor at the University of Colorado.

The current U.S. guidelines call for restricting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily. American adult men on average ingest about 340 milligrams of cholesterol a day, according to federal figures. That recommended figure of 300 milligrams, Eckel said, is ” just one of those things that gets carried forward and carried forward even though the evidence is minimal.”

“We just don’t know,” he said.

Other major studies have indicated that eating an egg a day does not raise a healthy person’s risk of heart disease, though diabetic patients may be at more risk.

“The U.S. is the last country in the world to set a specific limit on dietary cholesterol,” said David Klurfeld, a nutrition scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Some of it is scientific inertia.”

The persistence of the cholesterol fear may arise, in part, from the plausibility of its danger.

As far back as the 19th century, scientists recognized that the plaque that clogged arteries consisted, in part, of cholesterol, according to historians.

It would have seemed logical, then, that a diet that is high in cholesterol would wind up clogging arteries.

In 1913, Niokolai Anitschkov and his colleagues at the Czar’s Military Medicine Institute in St. Petersburg, decided to try it out in rabbits. The group fed cholesterol to rabbits for about four to eight weeks and saw that the cholesterol diet harmed them. They figured they were on to something big.

“It often happens in the history of science that researchers … obtain results which require us to view scientific questions in a new light,” he and a colleague wrote in their 1913 paper.

But it wasn’t until the 1940s, when heart disease was rising in the United States, that the dangers of a cholesterol diet for humans would come more sharply into focus.

Experiments in biology, as well as other studies that followed the diets of large populations, seemed to link high cholesterol diets to heart disease.

Public warnings soon followed. In 1961, the American Heart Association recommended that people reduce cholesterol consumption and eventually set a limit of 300 milligrams a day. (For comparison, the yolk of a single egg has about 200 milligrams.)

Eventually, the idea that cholesterol is harmful so permeated the country’s consciousness that marketers advertised their foods on the basis of “no cholesterol.”

What Anitschkov and the other early scientists may not have foreseen is how complicated the science of cholesterol and heart disease could turn out: that the body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than their diet provides, that the body regulates how much is in the blood and that there is both “good” and “bad” cholesterol.

Adding to the complexity, the way people process cholesterol differs. Scientists say some people — about 25 percent — appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.

“It’s turned out to be more complicated than anyone could have known,” said Lawrence Rudel, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

As a graduate student at the University of Arkansas in the late 1960s, Rudel came across Anitschkov’s paper and decided to focus on understanding one of its curiosities. In passing, the paper noted that while the cholesterol diet harmed rabbits, it had no effect on white rats. In fact, if Anitschkov had focused on any other animal besides the rabbit, the effects wouldn’t have been so clear — rabbits are unusually vulnerable to the high-cholesterol diet.

“The reason for the difference — why does one animal fall apart on the cholesterol diet — seemed like something that could be figured out,” Rudel said. “That was 40 or so years ago. We still don’t know what explains the difference.”

In truth, scientists have made some progress. Rudel and his colleagues have been able to breed squirrel monkeys that are more vulnerable to the cholesterol diet. That and other evidence leads to their belief that for some people — as for the squirrel monkeys — genetics are to blame.

Rudel said that Americans should still be warned about cholesterol.

“Eggs are a nearly perfect food, but cholesterol is a potential bad guy,” he said. “Eating too much a day won’t harm everyone, but it will harm some people.”

Scientists have estimated that, even without counting the toll from obesity, disease related to poor eating habits kills more than half a million people every year. That toll is often used as an argument for more research in nutrition.

Currently, the National Institutes of Health spends about $1.5 billion annually on nutrition research, an amount that represents about 5 percent of its total budget.

The turnaround on cholesterol, some critics say, is just more evidence that nutrition science needs more investment.

Others, however, say the reversal might be seen as a sign of progress.

“These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads,” said David Allison, a public health professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But in science, change is normal and expected.”

When our view of the cosmos shifted from Ptolemy to Copernicus to Newton and Einstein, Allison said, “the reaction was not to say, ‘Oh my gosh, something is wrong with physics!’ We say, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t this cool?’ ”

Allison said the problem in nutrition stems from the arrogance that sometimes accompanies dietary advice. A little humility could go a long way.

“Where nutrition has some trouble,” he said, “is all the confidence and vitriol and moralism that goes along with our recommendations.”

Source:The Washington Post

Triplet babies make medical history after all braving procedure for rare skull condition

The surgeries were performed when they were just 11 weeks old.

Surgeons in New York have performed skull surgery on tripletinfants for the first time ever.

Amy Howard gave birth to Jackson, Hunter, and Kaden in October 2016. She and husband Michael are first-time parents and Ms Howard she “was terrified [of having triplets]. It took me a little bit of time to get used to the idea, to be honest.”

The babies were born on time but were soon diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a rare disorder when the bones in a baby’s skull fuse together too early.

Only one in 2,500 children are born with the disorder so for all three infants to have it is even rarer.

Dr. David Chesler, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the hospital, said in a statement that children’s brains were “put under pressure…That can be detrimental to the brain, the vision, the life of the child. It’s not imminently life-threatening, but it can cause real consequences down the road.”

The surgeries were performed in January 2017 when the babies were just 11 weeks old. According to the hospital, the required surgery had never been performed on triplets ever before.

Mr Chesler said that it was an endoscopic surgery, meaning it was done with smaller incisions rather than a more invasive open-skull surgery and it allowed them to return home within a few days.

The children are required to wear special helmets for up to 23 hours a day over six to nine months in order to shape their skulls as they grow.

Now five months old reported that the babies’ skulls are growing into a normal shape and they are hitting their developmental targets.

Mr Howard told Today that life is “a little chaotic. It’s awesome, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”