Category: People

Prostate drug may slow Parkinson’s disease – BBC News

A very interesting development.

I was chatting to my very old friend, as in the number of years, Richard Maugham yesterday and shortly after the call he sent me an email with a link to a recent item on the BBC News website.

Most of you regulars know that Jeannie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in December, 2015 and coincidentally at the same time Richard was also diagnosed with PD.

I’m sure there are a few who read this blog that either have PD of know or someone who has it.

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Prostate drug may slow Parkinson’s disease

By Michelle Roberts,
Health editor, BBC News online

17th September, 2019

A drug used to treat enlarged prostates may be a powerful medicine against Parkinson’s disease, according to an international team of scientists.

Terazosin helps ease benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) by relaxing the muscles of the bladder and prostate.

But researchers believe it has another beneficial action, on brain cells damaged by Parkinson’s.

They say the drug might slow Parkinson’s progression – something that is not possible currently.

Cell death

They studied thousands of patients with both BPH and Parkinson’s.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest the alpha-blocker drug protects brain cells from destruction.

Parkinson’s is a progressive condition affecting the brain, for which there is currently no cure.

Existing Parkinson’s treatments can help with some of the symptoms but can’t slow or reverse the loss of neurons that occurs with the disease.

Terazosin may help by activating an enzyme called PGK1 to prevent this brain cell death, the researchers, from the University of Iowa, in the US and the Beijing Institute for Brain Disorders, China, say.

Clinical trials

When they tested the drug in rodents it appeared to slow or stop the loss of nerve cells.

To begin assessing if the drug might have the same effect in people, they searched the medical records of millions of US patients to identify men with BPH and Parkinson’s.

They studied 2,880 Parkinson’s patients taking terazosin or similar drugs that target PGK1 and a comparison group of 15,409 Parkinson’s patients taking a different treatment for BPH that had no action on PGK1.

Patients on the drugs targeting PGK1 appeared to fare better in terms of Parkinson’s disease symptoms and progression, which the researchers say warrants more study in clinical trials, which they plan to begin this year.

‘Exciting area’

Lead researcher Dr Michael Welsh says while it is premature to talk about a cure, the findings have the potential to change the lives of people with Parkinson’s.

“Today, we have zero treatments that change the progressive course of this neurodegenerative disease,” she says.

“That’s a terrible state, because as our population ages Parkinson’s disease is going to become increasingly common.

“So, this is really an exciting area of research.”

‘Disease modifying’

Given that terazosin has a proven track record for treating BPH, he says, getting it approved and “repurposed” as a Parkinson’s drug should be achievable if the clinical trials go well.

The trials, which will take a few years, will compare the drug with a placebo to make sure it is safe and effective in Parkinson’s.

Co-researcher Dr Nandakumar Narayanan, who treats patients with Parkinson’s disease said: “We need these randomised controlled trials to prove that these drugs really are disease modifying.

“If they are, that would be a great thing.”

Prof David Dexter from Parkinson’s UK said: “These exciting results show that terazosin may have hidden potential for slowing the progression of Parkinson’s, something that is desperately needed to help people live well for longer.

“While it is early days, both animal models and studies looking at people who already take the drug show promising signs that need to be investigated further.”

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I have now written to the Journal of Clinical Investigation, (JCI).

Interestingly, if one goes to the website of the JCI then one reads the following on the ‘About’ page:

The Journal of Clinical Investigation is a premier venue for discoveries in basic and clinical biomedical science that will advance the practice of medicine.

The JCI was founded in 1924 and is published by the ASCI, a nonprofit honor organization of physician-scientists incorporated in 1908. See the JCI’s Wikipedia entry for detailed information.

It’s a small step forward!

Starting to be sidetracked by stuff!

A bit of a topsy-turvy moment at present.

We are not going away until the 23rd. We are taking Brandy with us!

But it seems as though getting our ducks in a row is going to become a high priority this week.

Plus, I am pleased to say that I am writing my second book. I had a meeting with H. Ní Aódagaín during the week and she has set me on the straight and narrow, so to speak.

H. Ní Aódagaín

She has her website here and although she promotes herself as a writer she is quite an editor and writing counsellor. I had over 20,000 words already written but had got myself completely lost and confused. Under her guidance I believe I got myself sorted.All of which is to say that the blog is taking a slightly backward step between now and the 14th October. I’m not saying that nothing will be published but at the present time I don’t have a clue as to what I shall do!

Hope you understand!

Finally, there should be plenty of photographs to share with you at some time after we are back.

Writing into old age!

Thank goodness for this!

It’s not exactly a ball of fun growing old. But while somethings inevitable decline writing isn’t one of them. This is a fascinating article from The Conversation.

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One skill that doesn’t deteriorate with age

Reading and writing can prevent cognitive decline.
AJP/Shutterstock.com

Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis

When Toni Morrison died on Aug. 5, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices.

But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, “God Help the Child,” appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many essays and other works of nonfiction after the age of 70.

Morrison isn’t unique in this regard. Numerous writers produce significant work well into their 70s, 80s and even their 90s. Herman Wouk, for example, was 97 when he published his final novel, “The Lawgiver.”

Such literary feats underscore an important point: Age doesn’t seem to diminish our capacity to speak, write and learn new vocabulary. Our eyesight may dim and our recall may falter, but, by comparison, our ability to produce and to comprehend language is well preserved into older adulthood.

In our forthcoming book, “Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging,” my co-author, Richard M. Roberts, and I highlight some of the latest research that has emerged on language and aging. For those who might fear the loss of their language abilities as they grow older, there’s plenty of good news to report.

Language mastery is a lifelong journey

Some aspects of our language abilities, such as our knowledge of word meanings, actually improve during middle and late adulthood.

One study, for example, found that older adults living in a retirement community near Chicago had an average vocabulary size of over 21,000 words. The researchers also studied a sample of college students and found that their average vocabularies included only about 16,000 words.

In another study, older adult speakers of Hebrew – with an average age of 75 – performed better than younger and middle-aged participants on discerning the meaning of words.

On the other hand, our language abilities sometimes function as a canary in the cognitive coal mine: They can be a sign of future mental impairment decades before such issues manifest themselves.

In 1996, epidemiologist David Snowdon and a team of researchers studied the writing samples of women who had become nuns. They found that the grammatical complexity of essays written by the nuns when they joined their religious order could predict which sisters would develop dementia several decades later. (Hundreds of nuns have donated their brains to science, and this allows for a conclusive diagnosis of dementia.)

While Toni Morrison’s writing remained searingly clear and focused as she aged, other authors have not been as fortunate. The prose in Iris Murdoch’s final novel, “Jackson’s Dilemma,” suggests some degree of cognitive impairment. Indeed, she died from dementia-related causes four years after its publication.

Toni Morrison published her last novel, ‘God Help the Child,’ when she was 84 years old.
AP Photo/Michel Euler

Don’t put down that book

Our ability to read and write can be preserved well into older adulthood. Making use of these abilities is important, because reading and writing seem to prevent cognitive decline.

Keeping a journal, for example, has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of developing various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Reading fiction, meanwhile, has been associated with a longer lifespan. A large-scale study conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health found that people who read books for at least 30 minutes a day lived, on average, nearly two years longer than nonreaders. This effect persisted even after controlling for factors like gender, education and health. The researchers suggest that the imaginative work of constructing a fictional universe in our heads helps grease our cognitive wheels.

Language is a constant companion during our life journey, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s interwoven into our health and our longevity. And researchers continue to make discoveries about the connections between language and aging. For example, a study published in July 2019 found that studying a foreign language in older adulthood improves overall cognitive functioning.

A thread seems to run through most of the findings: In order to age well, it helps to keep writing, reading and talking.

While few of us possess the gifts of a Toni Morrison, all of us stand to gain by continuing to flex our literary muscles.

Richard M. Roberts, a U.S. diplomat currently serving as the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Okinawa, Japan, is a contributing author of this article.

Roger J. Kreuz and Richard M. Roberts are the authors of:

Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging The Conversation

MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Roger J. Kreuz, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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This is not about dogs but it is about writing about dogs!

It’s not all hugs and smiles.

A sobering article about the unacceptable face of dogs!

Jim Goodbrod recently sent me an email that included a copy of a recent article in the Washington Post.

Here’s what Jim wrote:

Hey Paul…..

I read this article in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago: it’s not something we want to hear or admit to, but I thought you’d find it interesting nonetheless.
Regards,  Jim

Jim got it in one when he said that it’s not something we want to admit to.

But it deserves sharing with you.

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The dog is one of the world’s most destructive mammals. Brazil proves it.

Surveillance cameras placed by researchers in Brazil’s Tijuca National Park capture a pair of dogs. (Courtesy of Katyucha Silva)

By Terrence McCoy

August 20

RIO DE JANEIRO — High above this Brazilian city, in a jungle blanketing a mountain, the turtles were out, and the scene was hopeful.

Scientists were reintroducing 15 mud-caked tortoises to this urban forest where they had once been plentiful. Children were running around. People were oohing and aahing. A stern-looking security guard appeared to briefly smile.

But not government biologist Katyucha Silva. She was thinking about dogs.

What would they do to these turtles? What were they doing to Brazil?

It’s a question more researchers are beginning to ask in a country where there are more dogs than children — and where dogs are quickly becoming the most destructive predator. They’re invading nature preserves and national parks. They’re forming packs, some 15 dogs strong, and are hunting wild prey. They’ve muscled out native predators such as foxes and big cats in nature preserves, outnumbering pumas 25 to 1 and ocelots 85 to 1.

Every year, they become still more plentiful, spreading diseases, disrupting natural environments, goosing scientists who set up elaborate camera systems to photograph wild animals, only to come away with pictures of curious canines.

“It’s a difficult thing for people to hear,” said Isadora Lessa, a Rio de Janeiro biologist who wrote her doctoral dissertation on domestic dogs causing environmental mayhem. “They love dogs too much.”

How the dog became one of the world’s most harmful invasive mammalian predators is as much a global story as a Brazilian one. Over the last century, as the human population exploded, so did the dog population, growing to an estimated 1 billion.

That has been great for people — and even better for dogs — but less so for nature, according to a growing body of academic research implicating canines, particularly the free-roaming ones, in environmental destruction.

“The global impacts of domestic dogs on wildlife are grossly underestimated,” researchers concluded in a 2017 study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers, based in Australia, convicted dogs in the extinction of 11 species and declared them the third-most-damaging mammal, behind only cats and rodents.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a list of animals whose numbers dogs are culling. There are 191, and more than half are classified as either endangered or vulnerable. They range from lowly iguanas to the famed Tasmanian devil, from doves to monkeys, a diversity of animals with nothing in common beyond the fact that dogs enjoy killing them. In New Zealand, the organization reported, a single German shepherd once did in as many as 500 kiwis — and that was the conservative estimate.

“Unfortunately, we have a big problem,” said Piero Genovesi, chair of the agency’s invasive species unit. “There is a growing number of dogs.”

People all over the world are — begrudgingly — beginning to take note.

In Chile, stray dogs were the top concern among city dwellers surveyed this year, topping deteriorating sidewalks and theft. In New Zealand, some communities moved last year to restrict the movement of dogs in a gambit to save little blue penguins. In India, farmers are complaining about stray dogs killing their livestock, just as other predators once had.

And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.

‘A complex problem’

And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.

Researchers estimate there are more than 100 dogs in Tijuca National Park outside Rio de Janeiro, where they hunt and kill wild animals in packs. (Courtesy of Katyucha Silva)

Brazil is home to an estimated 52 million dogs, according to the most recent government statistics — more than anywhere in Latin America — but their lives vary widely. In a nation defined by inequality, where the rich fly in helicopters over the poor in the favelas below, the dog has become one more way of understanding the divide.

In wealthy cities, the dog is everywhere, strolling through fancy shopping malls, sitting in the laps of restaurant patrons, even riding paddle boards out on the surf. Some people wheel their dogs around in little strollers.

“The dog brings to Brazilians some things that Brazilians appreciate in themselves,” said Alexandre Rossi, a television personality more commonly known as Dr. Pet. “To be friendly, to want to socialize with everyone . . . and be there and be close to your family. These are perceived as very good Brazilian qualities.”

On the streets of trendy Ipanema one recent afternoon, few people could believe that a dog — or at least their dog — could be much of predator.

“The dog is a friend!” sputtered Philipe Soares, the furball Bobby at his feet. “No, I’ve never thought of him that way.”

“Difficult to imagine,” said Carlos Alberto Vicente, peering down at his own pooch.

“In her case,” said Flavio Vilela, a shirtless man striding through a park with a small mutt named Nicoli, “they’d hunt her.”

The problem, researchers say, isn’t these dogs, who lead the coddled lives of European or American pets.

The problem is the dogs in poorer and more rural communities, where the life of the dog is more frequently the life of hunger. They prowl the streets day and night with neither a collar nor an owner, looking for food wherever it can be found — in trash heaps, alongside roads, and in forests and fields, where they form packs to hunt and kill.

“It’s a very complex problem,” said Silva, the government biologist.

A stunning discovery

Katyucha Silva, a government researcher, has discovered dozens of dogs in Tijuca National Park. (Terrence McCoy/The Washington Post)

Ana Maria Paschoal, a researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, remembers when she first started thinking about the dog differently. She was out in the Atlantic Forest in Southeast Brazil around a decade ago when she noticed there were an awful lot of them.

She wondered: How many dogs are using the protected areas? Are these feral or domestic dogs? Is their presence changing the occurrence of wild species?

So she set up cameras across 2,400 acres of forest to find out. What she discovered, published in 2012 in the scientific journal Mammalia, stunned her.

The dog wasn’t just the most-recorded carnivore; it was the most-recorded animal of the 17 mammals the cameras captured.

“The presence of the domestic dog is a threat,” Paschoal and her co-authors concluded.

The research, subsequently confirmed in a larger survey, laid the groundwork for a growing field of study here. One researcher linked Brazil’s dogs to the spread of diseases. Another accused the dogs in the National Park of Brasilia, where they hunted in massive packs, of scaring off natural predators. It was found that the closer humans lived to a nature preserve, the more likely dogs had penetrated it.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has counted 191 species whose numbers dogs are culling. More than half are endangered or vulnerable. (Courtesy of Katyucha Silva)

But perhaps most striking? The dogs were neither feral nor domestic — but somewhere in between.

“All the dogs we detected had an ‘owner’ or a person that the animal has a bond with,” Paschoal said. “The species population increases following human populations, exacerbating their potential impact on wildlife.”

It was something Fernando Fernandez, an ecology professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, learned the hard way. For the last decade, he has been reintroducing native animals to the Tijuca forest, one of the world’s largest urban woodlands, which spills across Rio de Janeiro’s mountains.

First came the agouti, a squirrel-like rodent. Then followed a problem: “Dogs.”

They started killing the agouti, and not for food. It was just for fun.

Fernandez and Silva wanted to learn more. They set up cameras and discovered dozens of dogs in the forest. They estimated more than 100 dogs were in the park — not residents, it turned out, so much as frequent visitors, tracking in from nearby favelas.

“These are people who are very poor,” said Silva, who has six dogs at home. “They don’t have money to build walls. . . . When the owners leave for work, the dog leaves, too, and only returns when the owner comes back to the house from work.”

The owners often have no idea what their dogs are up to. Even if they were told, Rob Young said, they almost certainly wouldn’t believe it.

Young, chairman of wildlife conservation at the University of Salford in Britain, witnessed the psychology at work after seeing dogs kill flightless birds in the state of Minas Gerais.

“We’d do interviews with the farmers: ‘Have you seen these dogs?’

“And they’d say, ‘Yeah, but my dogs aren’t the problem; it’s my neighbor’s dogs.’

“Every farmer would say the same thing.”

These factors — inability to see aggression in dogs, in­trac­table inequality, the rapid expansion of humanity — left Silva feeling apprehensive as she watched the tortoises being reintroduced into the Tijuca forest.

In the long term, she didn’t know how the problem of dogs laying waste to the world’s environments would realistically improve.

And in the short term: Could dogs kill these tortoises, just as they’d dispatched a few agouti?

“Yes,” she said. “They could.”

Silva worries that tortoises reintroduced in the park could fall prey to dogs. (Terrence McCoy/The Washington Post)

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It’s a tough read and there doesn’t appear to be a solution, not in the short-term at least.

As was reported in the article it is as much a global problem with something of the order of a billion dogs roaming the planet.

Does anyone have any ideas for a solution?

It’s been hot here in recent days.

And not just here!

This story comes from Mexico, a country renowned for being a hot place. Even in Northern Mexico it can be flipping hot (and that’s putting it nicely). Let’s face it I met Jeannie in San Carlos, Mexico in 2007. San Carlos is in the county of Sonora, just along the coast from Guaymas and about 270 miles South from Nogales on the Arizona border.

Anyway, back to the story which comes from The Dodo.

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Nice Store Opens Its Doors To Homeless Dog During Heat Wave

“He came to us for help.”
BY

PUBLISHED ON THE 27th August, 2019.

Recently, on a scorching hot day in northern Mexico, Adolfo Pazzi Ahumada witnessed love in its purest form.

After noticing he was out of milk at home, Ahumada decided to brave the 104°F weather to make a quick stop at his local market. When he arrived, he saw sweet scene unfolding out front.

“A stray dog was being fed and getting water from the [store] clerk,” Ahumada told The Dodo. “Then I saw they let the dog inside.”

Google Maps

Once Ahumada entered the store, he decided to ask the clerk about the dog. Ahumada recounted that conversation to The Dodo: “He has been here the past [few] days. We suspect he was left behind by his owner. He came to us for help,” the clerk told Ahumada. “We could only provide him with food, water and some toys from the store that we paid with our money.”

But the shop’s kindness doesn’t end there.

“We let him inside because the temperature outside is really hell-like. We feel bad for him, but he looks happier around the store,” the clerk said.

Peeking down one of the aisles, Ahumada observed that firsthand:

Adolfo Pazzi Ahumada

The downtrodden dog had found people who cared.

In the time he’s been there, the dog has shown kindness to the clerks and customers in return. The store hopes perhaps a shopper will see fit to adopt him into their home.

Unable to be that person, Ahumada paid for his milk and bought a treat for the dog to enjoy after his nap — resting assured the pup was in safe and caring hands until that day comes.

Adolfo Pazzi Ahumada

“I felt bad for what the dog has passed through,” Ahumada said. “But he is now receiving the love he deserves.”

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 I find myself staggered at what this dog has endured yet at the same time how very quickly he settled in at the store. Well done to all the staff at the OXXO store. It would have been so easy to let the dog suffer and in all probability die in the heat.

Please, let the sweet dog find a loving home as soon as possible!

The moon

A poem

The Atlantic was smooth under the night sky,

It made a very welcome difference.

Nights were hard on this solo sailor,

A quick scan of the horizon every twenty or thirty minutes and then back down to my bunk.

 

But what was that!

For the first time in ages there was a strange light off the starboard bow.

Impossible to gauge the distance.

Then I had it!

It was no ship’s light,

It was the edge of the rising moon.

 

My bunk below was forgotten in an instant.

The sight of the rising full moon was everything.

It rose seemingly rapidly and now cast its light over the ocean.

My ketch sailed in its golden light.

We seemed to sail on forever.

 

Now that’s coming on for thirty years ago,

But it is still clear in my mind.

Clear as if it was yesterday,

Reminded of it each full moon.

My ketch still sailing in its golden light.

The following is not Songbird but a much more appropriate photograph.

And the poem came to me just the other day. The memory of that full moon out in the Atlantic en-route to Plymouth from Gibraltar in 1991 will be with me for ever.

The Edinburgh Fringe!

The Edinburgh Fringe, or perhaps a small portion of it!

The reason that I going there, albeit in topic rather than in person, is that they had a funniest joke award.

A joke about vegetables has made it to the top of the menu as this year’s funniest at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Swedish comedian Olaf Falafel has won Dave’s “Funniest Joke of The Fringe” award with the niche culinary pun.

In its 12th year, the prize rewards the funniest one-liner to grace the venues of the festival and celebrates the pool of talent the Fringe has to offer.

And the winning one-liner was:

“I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.

Vegetable inspiration: cauliflower and broccoli – Getty Images.

I’m going to offer the rest in future Saturday posts. Enjoy!

Eating organic food!

The jury is still out with regard to organic food being better for you, but …

Jeannie has been a vegetarian for years and I subscribed as soon as we met some eleven years ago.  About two years ago we became vegan and non-dairy.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that being vegetarian or vegan means eating organically; it’s an assumption.

Now as it happens we also do our best to eat organically.

Is it healthier, all things being equal?

Well The Conversation recently published a post exploring this subject.

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Organic food health benefits have been hard to assess, but that could change

By

Assistant Professor, Boise State University

August 16th, 2019

“Organic” is more than just a passing fad. Organic food sales totaled a record US$45.2 billion in 2017, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of American agriculture. While a small number of studies have shown associations between organic food consumption and decreased incidence of disease, no studies to date have been designed to answer the question of whether organic food consumption causes an improvement in health.

I’m an environmental health scientist who has spent over 20 years studying pesticide exposures in human populations. Last month, my research group published a small study that I believe suggests a path forward to answering the question of whether eating organic food actually improves health.

What we don’t know

According to the USDA, the organic label does not imply anything about health. In 2015, Miles McEvoy, then chief of the National Organic Program for USDA, refused to speculate about any health benefits of organic food, saying the question wasn’t “relevant” to the National Organic Program. Instead, the USDA’s definition of organic is intended to indicate production methods that “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

While some organic consumers may base their purchasing decisions on factors like resource cycling and biodiversity, most report choosing organic because they think it’s healthier.

Sixteen years ago, I was part of the first study to look at the potential for an organic diet to reduce pesticide exposure. This study focused on a group of pesticides called organophosphates, which have consistently been associated with negative effects on children’s brain development. We found that children who ate conventional diets had nine times higher exposure to these pesticides than children who ate organic diets.

Our study got a lot of attention. But while our results were novel, they didn’t answer the big question. As I told The New York Times in 2003, “People want to know, what does this really mean in terms of the safety of my kid? But we don’t know. Nobody does.” Maybe not my most elegant quote, but it was true then, and it’s still true now.

Studies only hint at potential health benefits

Health-conscious people want to buy organic for its health benefits, but it’s not yet clear whether such benefits exist. Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock.com

Since 2003, several researchers have looked at whether a short-term switch from a conventional to an organic diet affects pesticide exposure. These studies have lasted one to two weeks and have repeatedly shown that “going organic” can quickly lead to dramatic reductions in exposure to several different classes of pesticides.

Still, scientists can’t directly translate these lower exposures to meaningful conclusions about health. The dose makes the poison, and organic diet intervention studies to date have not looked at health outcomes. The same is true for the other purported benefits of organic food. Organic milk has higher levels of healthy omega fatty acids and organic crops have higher antioxidant activity than conventional crops. But are these differences substantial enough to meaningfully impact health? We don’t know. Nobody does.

Some epidemiologic research has been directed at this question. Epidemiology is the study of the causes of health and disease in human populations, as opposed to in specific people. Most epidemiologic studies are observational, meaning that researchers look at a group of people with a certain characteristic or behavior, and compare their health to that of a group without that characteristic or behavior. In the case of organic food, that means comparing the health of people who choose to eat organic to those who do not.

Several observational studies have shown that people who eat organic food are healthier than those who eat conventional diets. A recent French study followed 70,000 adults for five years and found that those who frequently ate organic developed 25% fewer cancers than those who never ate organic. Other observational studies have shown organic food consumption to be associated with lower risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, pre-eclampsia and genital birth defects.

The problem with drawing firm conclusions from these studies is something epidemiologists call “uncontrolled confounding.” This is the idea that there may be differences between groups that researchers cannot account for. In this case, people who eat organic food are more highly educated, less likely to be overweight or obese, and eat overall healthier diets than conventional consumers. While good observational studies take into account things like education and diet quality, there remains the possibility that some other uncaptured difference between the two groups – beyond the decision to consume organic food – may be responsible for any health differences observed.

What next?

Often, new medical and health knowledge comes from carefully designed clinical trials, but no such trial has been conducted for organic food. Anyaivanova/Shutterstock.com

When clinical researchers want to figure out whether a drug works, they don’t do observational studies. They conduct randomized trials, where they randomly assign some people to take the drug and others to receive placebos or standard care. By randomly assigning people to groups, there’s less potential for uncontrolled confounding.

My research group’s recently published study shows how we could feasibly use randomized trial methods to investigate the potential for organic food consumption to affect health.

We recruited a small group of pregnant women during their first trimesters. We randomly assigned them to receive weekly deliveries of either organic or conventional produce throughout their second and third trimesters. We then collected a series of urine samples to assess pesticide exposure. We found that those women who received organic produce had significantly lower exposure to certain pesticides (specifically, pyrethroid insecticides) than those who received conventional produce.

On the surface, this seems like old news but this study was different in three important ways. First, to our knowledge, it was the longest organic diet intervention to date – by far. It was also the first to occur in pregnant women. Fetal development is potentially the most sensitive period for exposures to neurotoxic agents like pesticides. Finally, in previous organic diet intervention studies, researchers typically changed participants’ entire diets – swapping a fully conventional diet for a fully organic one. In our study, we asked participants to supplement their existing diets with either organic or conventional produce. This is more consistent with the actual dietary habits of most people who eat organic food – occasionally, but not always.

Even with just a partial dietary change, we observed a significant difference in pesticide exposure between the two groups. We believe that this study shows that a long-term organic diet intervention can be executed in a way that is effective, realistic and feasible.

The next step is to do this same study but in a larger population. We would then want to assess whether there were any resulting differences in the health of the children as they grew older, by measuring neurological outcomes like IQ, memory and incidence of attention-deficit disorders. By randomly assigning women to the organic and conventional groups, we could be sure any differences observed in their children’s health really were due to diet, rather than other factors common among people who consume organic food.

The public is sufficiently interested in this question, the organic market is large enough, and the observational studies suggestive enough to justify such a study. Right now, we don’t know if an organic diet improves health, but based on our recent research, I believe we can find out.

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Fingers crossed that new research takes place.

Because good health at any age is precious!

From Montana!

One of my most favourite blog sites!

There is a blog site, primarily for all those interested in photography. It is called Ugly Hedgehog! Seriously! But UHH, as it is known, also has room for general non-photographic chat so it really does cater for all.

I have been a member since July, 2017, and have been amazed at how quickly the time has gone.

Anyway, the home page of Ugly Hedgehog is here, it’s free, and if you have any interest in photography I strongly recommend it.

This item came in a couple of weeks ago and I’m taking the liberty of sharing it with you.

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Spent a few days in Bozeman Montana visiting my youngest son and daughter in law before heading out to Southern California. A couple of images from my trip to Montana…

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Incredible country!