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FactCheck: do Australians with an average seafood diet ingest 11,000 pieces of plastic a year?

The Conversation

Britta Denise Hardesty, CSIRO

Well, if you’ve got an average seafood diet in Australia today, you’re probably ingesting about 11,000 pieces of plastic every year. – Dave West, National Policy Director and founder of environmental group, Boomerang Alliance, speaking with a Fairfax video journalist.

Australians are growing increasingly aware of the real danger posed by the vast amount of plastic dumped in our seas every year. It’s an important issue, so it’s crucial we get the facts right.

Ahead of a Senate committee hearing on the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia, Dave West from the environmental group Boomerang Alliance told a Fairfax video journalist that an average seafood diet in Australia would result in ingesting about 11,000 pieces of plastic a year.

Is that accurate?

Checking the source

When asked for a source to support his assertion, West referred The Conversation to a BBC article published in October 2015 that said:

Prof Tamara Galloway of Exeter University quotes research estimating that anyone consuming an average amount of seafood would ingest about 11,000 plastic particles a year.

The Conversation asked Galloway, a professor of ecotoxicology, to clarify and provide sources. She said by email:

The stats came from another published paper, by [Belgium-based researchers] Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen in which the authors had made a Fermi estimate (or order of magnitude estimate) based on their field data for cultured shellfish.

Professor Galloway also said she had co-written a commentary article for the journal PNAS which

covers a similar topic, but includes some data from another paper too, in which the authors found even higher concentrations of microplastics in seafood. Clearly, there is going to be variation in the levels of contamination depending on location and local sources of pollution, ocean conditions, etc. This does suggest however, that the Van Cauwenberghe results are not just a one-off.

You can read Professor Galloway’s full reply here.

The 2014 Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen paper to which Galloway refers was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

However, that paper does not show that anyone consuming an average amount of seafood would ingest about 11,000 plastic particles a year. The figure of 11,000 is an upper-end estimate for Europeans who eat quite a lot of molluscs. The paper estimates that:

European top consumers will ingest up to 11,000 microplastics per year, while minor mollusc consumers still have a dietary exposure of 1800 microplastics year.

In that paper, the researchers note that shellfish consumption differs greatly among countries.

In Europe, for instance, mollusc consumption can differ over a factor of 70 between consumers and non-consumers. European top consumers can be found in Belgium (elderly), with a per capita consumption of 72.1g day, while mollusc consumers in France (adolescents) and Ireland (adults) have the lowest per capita consumption: only 11.8g day for both countries.

The researchers also noted that

The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, however, due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not (yet) possible.

What does this mean for the average Australian seafood consumer?

The 11,000 figure applies to an estimate for “European top consumers” of molluscs, not an average Australian seafood diet.

We don’t yet have all the data needed to make a good estimate of how much plastic an average Australian seafood consumer ingests per year.

The Boomerang Alliance’s Dave West acknowledged the limitations of applying the 11,000 figure to Australia, telling The Conversation by email that:

Only comment I’d make is that I agree the comment referring to Australia rather than a generic average seafood diet was clumsy.

Small plastic particles can be ingested by bivalves (such as mussels, cockles, oysters, pipi and scallops) and remain there for some time. And these bivalves can be eaten by larger predators, pushing the plastic up the food chain.

It’s worth noting the important difference between eating fish and shellfish. Unless you’re eating sardines and anchovies, humans don’t typically consume the digestive tract of a fish (where plastics would be found). But if you’re eating molluscs and shellfish, particularly from urban centres, you may be adding plastic to your diet.

Australians are not the world’s top shellfish consumers, trailing behind Belgium, most East Asian countries, the US and many European nations.

Verdict

There is insufficient published research to support the statement that a person with an average seafood diet in Australia today is probably ingesting about 11,000 pieces of plastic every year.

The 11,000 figure applies to an estimate for “European top consumers” of molluscs, not an average Australian seafood diet. This is an important issue that needs more attention. – Britta Denise Hardesty


Review

This article is factually correct and represents a sound analysis.

In fact, our own studies found levels of microplastics in mussels from the Dutch coast that are one order of magnitude higher than those reported in the 2014 Belgian study by Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen: 13.2 particles per gram of mussel.

However, it should be noted that microplastics are everywhere and that humans are broadly exposed to them through the food. For example, microplastics have been recently detected in a range of terrestrial products such as milk, beer, honey and sea salt. Therefore, an analysis and assessment of the potential health risk of microplastics for humans should comprise dietary exposure from a range of foods across the total diet, in order to assess the contributing risk of contaminated marine food items.

Although it is evident that humans are exposed to microplastics through their diet and the presence of microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, our understanding of the fate and toxicity of microplastics in humans constitutes a major knowledge gap that deserves special attention. – Dick Vethaak


Have you ever seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

The ConversationBritta Denise Hardesty, Senior Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Eat food, not nutrients: why healthy diets need a broad approach

The Conversation

Rosemary Stanton, UNSW Australia

There seems to be a shortening gap between studies about diet, nutrition and health. And each starts another conversation about trans vs saturated vs polyunsaturated fats, or this diet vs that, or, as is today’s case, fats vs carbohydrates.

In a paper published today in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers found that when 30% of a day’s kilojoules were restricted by cutting fats (diets with a higher intake of carbohydrates), participants in their study lost more body fat compared to when the same amount of energy was restricted by cutting carbs (diets with a higher intake of fat).

This study used a type of meticulous metabolic research, which is expensive and unsuited to lengthy periods, but valuable for exploring the physiology of reducing equal dietary contributions from fat or carbohydrate. But like much dietary analysis, it may be shining a light on the wrong issues altogether.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The most important aspect of any diet is that it should be practical and healthy enough to follow for the rest of your life. There’s no magic bullet for weight loss. While some people claim they find it easier to cut out foods high in carbohydrates, others find it easier to avoid high-fat foods.

If you need to lose weight, cutting down is what helps. But few people can stick to any extreme diet for life, so what you substitute is just as important as what you cut out – especially for long-term health.

Choices based only on macronutrients (foods required in large amounts in the diet, such as fats, carbohydrates and protein) miss important aspects of many foods and open the diet to imbalance. Carbohydrate foods, for instance, include nutritionally worthy choices – such as legumes, wholegrains, fruits, milk and yoghurt – but also a huge range of items high in sugar or refined starches with little or no nutritional attributes. “Cutting carbs” doesn’t distinguish between the good and bad foods in this category.

This may not be the best way to get your daily ration of fruit. Adrian Scottow/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The same thing happens with fats. Sources of unsaturated fat – such as nuts, seeds, avocado or extra virgin olive oil – have proven health benefits. But there’s no evidence for any benefits of lard, dripping, cream, fast foods or any of the fatty snack foods that account for much of our saturated fat intake. And no long-term study shows sustained weight loss or other health benefits from a diet high in saturated fats.

Some foods are more even problematic. Most fast foods are high in saturated fat and salt, and lack dietary fibre. And they’re not only largely devoid of vegetables (apart from the odd gherkin), but often displace meals that would have contained vegetables.

Biscuits, cakes, pastries, many desserts and confectionery provide a double whammy with high levels of unhealthy fats as well as sugar and refined starches. Make that a triple whammy because most lack any nutritional virtue as well.

From bad to worse

Assumptions based on macronutrients are simply too gross to be meaningful. This is apparent in so-called meta-analyses based on a mixture of cohort and case-control studies that use different methods and time frames relating to what people eat, and fail to report all aspects of the diet.

One review, for instance, claimed that saturated fat was unrelated to cardiovascular disease. But it ignored the adverse impacts of the foods that had replaced saturated fats and provided no information about the foods that provided saturated fat in the first instance.

Worse still, such analyses are prone to many errors. A long check of every reference used in that meta-analysis showed that the conclusion would have differed if 25 studies had either not been omitted or had been reported correctly (sadly, it’s paywalled).

Another recent review also failed to show any clear association between higher saturated fat intake and all-cause mortality, heart disease, ischaemic stroke or type 2 diabetes, although the authors were unable to confidently rule out increased risk for heart disease deaths. They also noted that the certainty of associations between saturated fat and all outcomes was “very low”, which means we don’t yet understand the association between saturated fats and disease.

Not all dairy products are created equal. Samir Rahamtalla/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Hopefully, further research will distinguish between food sources of saturated fats; they are not all equal. There’s already good evidence that processed meats can have more deleterious effects than fresh meat. And that fermented dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, may also have health benefits and are distinctly different for heart health risk compared to butter.

Swapping saturated fat for sugar or refined starches is worse than useless for preventing cardiovascular disease. But please direct criticism of foods where fat has been replaced by sugar at the food industry. Dietary guidelines have always recommended limiting sugar as well as saturated fat.

A sorry state of affairs

Unfortunately, in most developed countries, sugar consumption remains high while intakes of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and wholegrains are low. And while macronutrient intakes in countries such as Australia may look fine (31% of energy from fat and 44% from carbs), problems remain with the kinds and amounts of foods we consume.

Junk food and drinks were once consumed only as an occasional treat, but they now contribute significant portions of both adult and children’s diets – in Australia, 35% of adults’ and 41% of childrens’ energy intake. Confectionery and starchy, fatty, savoury snack food intake have also increased significantly.

It really is time to focus on foods instead of wasting time on macronutrients. Australia’s Dietary Guidelines have made this change, as has the new simple Swedish equivalent, which emphasises sustainable choices. Norway and 20 European countries also take a food focus and the number one point in Brazil’s enlightened guidelines is that diet is more than the intake of nutrients.

Consider the dozens of studies on Mediterranean diets, including randomised trials, where the fat and carbohydrate content vary but the health value depends on particular foods: extra virgin olive oil, nuts, vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes and a low intake of highly processed products. The take-home message from these is that we need to stop fussing over macronutrients and think about foods.

The ConversationRosemary Stanton is Nutritionist & Visiting Fellow at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Orthorexia nervosa: when righteous eating becomes an obsession

The Conversation

Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds

Orthorexia nervosa, the “health food eating disorder”, gets its name from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight, proper or correct. This exaggerated focus on food can be seen today in some people who follow lifestyle movements such as “raw”, “clean” and “paleo”.

American doctor Steven Bratman coined the term “orthorexia nervosa” in 1997 some time after his experience in a commune in upstate New York. It was there he developed an unhealthy obsession with eating “proper” food:

All I could think about was food. But even when I became aware that my scrabbling in the dirt after raw vegetables and wild plants had become an obsession, I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating.

Bratman’s description draws parallels with many modern dietary fads that promise superior health by restricting whole food groups without a medical reason or even a valid scientific explanation.

Raw food followers might meet regularly to “align their bodies, minds and souls” by feasting on “cleansing and immune-boosting” raw foods. Such foods are never heated above 44˚C, so “all the living enzymes in the food remain intact”. No gluten, dairy or “sugar” is allowed.

Clean eaters may follow similar regimes, removing gluten, dairy and even meat from their diets. You might overhear a discussion about “superfood green smoothie” recipes after a yoga class that also happened to “cleanse your gall bladder”.

And finally, around the corner, paleo pushers may “beef up” together with a Crossfit class, followed by a few steaks. Again, with paleo, there is no gluten – or any grains for that matter – and no dairy or other such “toxins” are allowed.

How common is orthorexia?

There is a blurry line separating “normal” healthy eating and orthorexia nervosa, but one way to define the condition is when eating “healthily” causes significant distress or negative consequences in a person’s life.

They may be “plunged into gloom” by eating a piece of bread, become anxious about when their next kale, chia or quinoa hit is coming, or eat only at home where “superfood” intake can be tightly controlled.

Such behaviours can have a significant impact on relationships with family members and friends, let alone on their mental health.

Under the paleo regime, steak is in but dairy is out. (Source: Taryn/Flickr, CC BY-SA)

Orthorexia nervosa is not a clinically recognised eating disorder but researchers have developed and tested questionnaires in various populations to get an idea of its prevalence.

Italian researchers developed the ORTO-15 questionnaire in 2005, with a cut-off score below 40 to signify orthorexia nervosa. Scores above 40 can still signify a tendency to pathological eating behaviours and/or obsessive-phobic personality traits.

Questions include: “Does the thought about food worry you for more than three hours a day?” and “Do you feel guilty when transgressing your healthy eating rules?”

Using this questionnaire and cut-off value of 40, another Italian research group reported a prevalence of orthorexia nervosa of 57.6%, with a female-male ratio of two-to-one. However, using a cut-off value of 35, the prevalence reduced to 21%.

Most studies have been conducted in population sub-groups that may be at increased risk for orthorexia nervosa, such as health professionals. Again using the ORTO-15 and a cut-off value of 40, the prevalence of orthorexia nervosa in Turkish medical doctors was 45.5%, in Turkish performance artists it was 56.4% (81.8% in opera singers to 32.1% in ballet dancers) and in ashtanga yoga teachers in Spain, 86.0%.

Using another questionnaire, the Bratman Test, 12.8% of Austrian dietitians were classified as having orthorexia.

You can test your own tendencies towards orthorexia nervosa using this Bratman test here and access support services via the National Eating Disorder Collaboration page and Body Matters Australasia.

Is it a mental disorder?

Orthorexia nervosa is not listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose mental disorders. The DSM-5 currently lists anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, “other specified feeding or eating disorder” and “unspecified feeding or eating disorder”.

Some clinicians argue orthorexia nervosa should be recognised as a separate eating disorder and have proposed clinical DSM diagnostic criteria. They note distinct pathological behaviours with orthorexia nervosa, including a motivation for feelings of perfection or purity rather than weight loss, as they see with anorexia and bulimia.

Under a strict raw food diet, no gluten, dairy or ‘sugar’ is allowed. (Source: Marta Gal/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA)

Others disagree and argue that it falls in current eating disorder or other mental disorder categories. As Bratman explained in 2010:

At times (but not at all times) orthorexia seems to have elements of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). It may also have elements of standard anorexia. But it is often not very much like typical OCD or typical anorexia.

It’s clear that more research is needed on orthorexia nervosa, including its diagnosis and potential DSM listing as an independent eating disorder.

It’s also important to consider that people can move between mental disorder classifications. Sometimes labels may not be as important as providing solutions to patients with disordered eating, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Striking a balance

As a nutritionist and a recovered sufferer of bulimia, I leave you with some advice:

Don’t trust all-devoted kale consumers, including health professionals and celebrities, if their advice isn’t based on scientific evidence.

Don’t make food the most important focus of your life. As Bratman says:

Rather than eat my sprouts (or kale) alone, it would be better for me to share a pizza with some friends.

Try to be a balanced food consumer with a “mostly and sometimes” mantra.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Quit sugar, go paleo, embrace ‘clean food’: the power of celebrity nutrition

The Conversation

Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds

Celebrities of nutrition evoke feelings of awe, envy and adulation in many of us. While the Gwyneth Paltrows of the group first achieve celebrity status in other fields, others first make a name for themselves in food and nutrition, despite not having formal nutrition qualifications. Think Pete Evans, Sarah Wilson and Belle Gibson, whose nutrition empire has crumbled over the past week.

Nutrition celebrities often promote “fad diets”, which are strict diets that often eliminate entire food groups and don’t have a solid scientific basis. In fact, they often demonstrate a misunderstanding of biochemistry and other basic nutrition science.

The Paleo Way by Pete Evans forbids grains, legumes, dairy and coffee, among other things. Evans’ website claims “Paleo is all about balance”, but in reality, is anything but balanced.

Before Belle Gibson’s cancer diagnosis was questioned, she touted “clean eating”, discouraging the consumption of gluten, dairy and genetically modified foods, among other things. She promoted “detoxing”, which involved “alkalising your system” by drinking lemon water, and recalibrating “your digestive and immune system” by cutting out fruits such as bananas and apples.

Sarah Wilson “quit sugar” and recommends cutting out fruit for the first few weeks of her eight-week I Quit Sugar program because it “allows you to break your sugar addiction and for your body to recalibrate”.

It’s no surprise that the British Dietetic Association listed
the paleo diet and the sugar-free diet as two of their top five worst celebrity diets.

When it comes to healthy eating, we know what works. The Australian Dietary Guidelines may not sound as sexy as these fad diets, but they’re the result of painstaking work to summarise the best scientific evidence on what constitutes a healthy diet and how diet can promote health.

So why do nutrition celebrities have so much pull? And what impact might it have?

The good

Nutrition celebrities have done some good in the world. They have undoubtedly changed the nutrition habits of some of their followers for the better. This might include increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables, abandoning added sugar- and salt-laden foods such as some breakfast cereals, and helping followers who are overweight or obese to lose weight.

These changes are of particular importance when you consider the high rate of excess weight and obesity and the low intake of good foods like vegetables in the Australian population.

The bad

The negative effects of celebrity nutrition range from public confusion about what is good to eat and drink, to death.

A trusting, vulnerable and adoring member of the public might just decide that Belle Gibson is right – who needs modern medicine for cancer? Gibson claimed she cured her multiple cancers through alternative means. Jessica Ainscough, founder of the Wellness Warrior, died prematurely last month after choosing alternative cancer therapy that included endless juices and coffee enemas.

Belle Gibson’s book, The Whole Pantry, has been pulled from circulation in Australia and the US launch of the book next month has been cancelled. Her “health, wellness and lifestyle” app has also been pulled from Australian and US app stores.

Also this week, Pete Evans’ Bubba Yum Yum DIY baby milk, which is composed of blended liver and bone, has attracted criticism that it could risk the health of babies. This broth provides toxic levels of micronutrients such as vitamin A. This can cause permanent damage and even death.

While Evans’ publisher Pan McMillan has announced it will not be releasing the book, Evans plans to release it as an e-book.

Followers of celebrity nutrition advice may become unnecessarily strict with their eating and drinking (think awkward dinner parties), develop an eating disorder, or become malnourished.

A paleo diet can compromise bone health by reducing calcium intake. A gluten-free diet can be associated with reduced fibre and vitamin intakes.

A sugar-free diet that suggests reducing fruit intake is just plain unhealthy. And sugar-free eating isn’t actually sugar-free. Many recipes contain rice malt syrup, which is chemically defined as a sugar and increases blood sugar levels much more so than an apple would.

The marketing

So, why do nutrition celebrities have so many followers when what they are selling isn’t usually evidence-based, reliable or healthy for most?

So many of us are stressed and tired, and looking for quick fixes. We associate celebrity with happiness and wealth. We’re sold a whole lifestyle and the idea that food can be a magical elixir that can cure all ails.

We are drawn in by fancy blogs, colourful cook books, Instagram feeds of stylised food photography shoots, the Twitter hashtags #paleo #cleaneating #rawfood #sugarfree #glutenfree #detox #juice, and Facebook stories of struggling lives turned around in an instant.

It’s easy to see why this is more appealing that listening to government guidelines and advice from doctors, nutritionists and dietitians that scientific evidence doesn’t support the elimination of entire food groups or elements such as dairy, gluten, legumes, grains and fruit from the diets of most people.

Perhaps we need to strategically market evidence-based nutrition information to have broader appeal.

So, turn this:

Screen shot of Eat for Health – Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. 

Into this:

Screen shot of The Paleo Way website. 

To counter the fads, we need to consider innovative ways of communicating to Australians about what constitutes a eat a healthy, balanced diet that is based on evidence. Nutrition celebrities’ marketing strategies might teach us a thing or two about how to sell this message.


Further reading: The ‘hole’ in the pantry story: should Penguin have validated Belle Gibson’s cancer claims?

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Health Check: four key ways to improve your brain health

The Conversation

By Anthony Hannan, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

The human brain is the most extraordinary and complex object in the known universe, a kilogram and a half of soft tissue that, at its peak, leaves computers behind with its endless capacity for problem solving, innovation and invention.

So it’s a little surprising that only recently has the concept of brain health begun to emerge. After all, if the body is a “temple”, then surely the brain must be the “high altar” as it generates all our thoughts, feelings and movements. Indeed, it is fundamental to all of our conscious experience.

Brain diseases such as Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia demonstrate how devastating it is when the brain degenerates, dragging the mind and its many wonderful capacities down with it. Clearly, it’s time we all focused more on this most important organ, to improve both the quality and quantity of brain health across the lifespan.

The good news is that many of the lifestyle choices that are good for the body are also good for the brain. But we need to be mindful that other factors may be particularly beneficial for brain. Here’s a distillation of some of the current evidence supporting beneficial lifestyle factors into four pillars of brain health.

First: stay physically active

This is a somewhat obvious lifestyle recommendation, as everyone now knows that physical activity is good for the body. But not everyone yet realises the extent to which physical activity boosts brain health.

There are many ways this may happen as the brain and body are in constant dynamic bidirectional communication. Physical activity can cause muscles to release beneficial molecules that reach the brain, as well as increasing blood circulation to the brain and inducing the formation of new brain cells (neurons) and connections (synapses) between them.

People who maintain higher levels of physical activity may help protect themselves from brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of brain degeneration. There is also evidence that physical activity may help protect against depression and other brain disorders.

Second: stay mentally active

Two of the cardinal rules of brain plasticity (changes in the brain) appear to be “use it or lose it” and “neurons that fire together wire together”. There’s also some evidence that people who maintain higher levels of cognitive (mental) activity may be protected from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Along with physical activity, cognitive stimulation may help build in a “brain reserve” to protect from, and functionally compensate for, the wear and tear of brain ageing. We don’t know exactly what lifestyle choices are the most important. But spending a lot of time watching television, for example, may involve the double whammy of reduced physical and mental activity, and could be one risk factor.

Many lifestyle choices that are good for the body are also good for the brain. Source: Hey Paul Studios/Flickr, CC BY

So what mentally stimulating activities should you do more of? This is a very personal choice, as it will need to be something you can continue to do not just for days and weeks, but for months and years, in order to have long-term benefits.

Third: eat a healthy diet

Yes, you no doubt know this is good for your body, but did you realise a balanced nutritious diet (such as the one recommended here) is also good for your brain?

Most of the nutrients from food circulate through your brain via the bloodstream. So a healthy diet can directly improve the health of brain cells and may even slow down brain ageing.

What’s more, by improving body health, the brain may benefit via the heart and cardiovascular system, the immune system and other physiological systems that impact on the nervous system.

Fourth: don’t stress too much!

The human body, including of course the brain, has evolved over many thousands of years. When we were cave-dwellers and hunter-gatherers, the stress response (“fight or flight”) served a very useful purpose in evading predators, obtaining food and other aspects of survival.

But busy 21st-century lifestyles mean many of us suffer from excessive chronic stress. This may eventually be toxic for the body. It’s especially bad for the brain because parts of it are absolutely loaded with sensitive “stress receptors”.

What’s more, some people are more genetically vulnerable to stress, while others are naturally more resilient. These innate factors also impact our stress responses.

Many lifestyle choices can help us better deal with excessive chronic stress. Stress-reducing strategies such as “mindfulness” and meditation are becoming increasingly popular, often being taught in schools and prescribed by health professionals.

Physical exercise can also help people deal with stress; everyone may have their own approach to “de-stressing” and “chilling out”. Another positive side effect of avoiding excessive chronic stress is healthy sleep patterns. Adequate and regular sleep patterns are known to be beneficial for both brain and body.

To conclude, I think it was Woody Allen who famously said: “The brain is my second favourite organ!” Considering how fundamental it is to everything we think, feel and do, perhaps we should all be more mindful to look after this most fantastic and plastic of organs, the human brain.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Krill oil marketing: a case study of Australia’s broken regulations

The Conversation

By Ken Harvey, Monash University; Aaron Kovacs, Monash University, and Grace Jackel, Monash University

Two out of three Australians regularly use complementary medicines, which constitute a A$3.5 billion domestic market. But the industry’s marketing strategies are a source of ongoing controversy and pose a significant challenge for regulators.

Products containing containing krill oil provide a good example of the kinds of extravagant claims made by supplement manufacturers. The oil is derived from a tiny, shrimp-like crustacean and, like fish oil, contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Company claims include krill oil’s capacity to “relieve arthritic symptoms [of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis] within a short period of 7 to 14 days”, as well as its “superior absorption” and the curiously ambiguous “9x [strength]” of the less expensive fish oil. Such claims are found on product packs and manufacturers’ websites, as well as the websites of third-party stockists.

Few companies provide links to research supporting such claims. What research does exist is not easily accessible to most consumers, who, at any rate, can rarely assess its validity.

Claims and science

The widely used claim that krill oil relieves the symptoms of arthritis within seven to 14 days appears to be based on a small 2007 study. The research focused on one specific formulation of krill oil, produced by a Canadian company. Possible conflicts of interest, including the source of funding for the study, are notably absent from the paper.

The study recruited 90 people with a confirmed diagnosis of one or more of cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis (ten people) and osteoarthritis (30 people). They were compared to placebo groups of 12 and 26. Three patients pulled out of the trial before completion, and 12 didn’t have a diagnosis of either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

While some results at seven and 14 days were deemed statistically significant, the meagre number of people involved raises questions about the clinical significance of its conclusions.

Snake oil for what ails you? Speedy fixes sound great, but don’t be taken in by claims on labels.
Tim & Selena Middleton/Flickr, CC BY

Regardless of this and other details of the report that suggest only people with very severe cases of illness were included, the findings of this early and isolated study can, at best, be considered preliminary. And a search of a comprehensive research database found no evidence that the results had been replicated independently.

The claim of krill oil having “superior absorption” is also dubious and not supported by research evidence. A 2014 review of krill oil absorption actually concluded there was no evidence for krill oil being more easily absorbed by the human body.

Regulatory challenges

Companies that market complementary medicines in Australia are legally required to comply with standards set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). These standards relate to both the quality of the product and advertising claims.

But manufacturers self-certify their compliance with TGA requirements. Limited, as well as poorly targeted, post-market surveillance of complementary products means they can contravene standards without fear of reprisal. Then there’s the lack of effective penalties to deter companies from breaching TGA regulations.

In May 2013, the Therapeutic Products Advertising Complaint Resolution Panel determined claims such as “9x stronger” and “reduce[s] pain, stiffness and inflammation caused by arthritis, within a short period of 7 to 14 days” breached a number of sections of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2007.

It said such statements:

“ought to be supported by a wide body of scientific evidence involving a number of independent studies.”

But the claims continue to be made, even by companies asked to withdraw them.

Numerous reports over the last decade have recommended that the lack of effective penalties for offending companies be redressed. But it seems unlikely any changes will be implemented any time soon as both the industry and government support a deregulation agenda.

Meanwhile, consumers continue to be ripped off by products that cannot deliver on the promises they make.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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