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Bacteria help kids stay healthy! March 30, 2014

Posted by Dreamhealer in Allergies, Alternative medicine, Antibiotics, Colds, Diet, Dreamhealer, Experiments, Healing, Health, Integrative Medicine, naturopathic, Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathy, Research, Skeptics.
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By: Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden

Breaking news: Bacteria help kids stay healthy! In a study published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics, scientist found that daily probiotics help toddlers avoid certain infections. Researchers enrolled 300 children, ages 6 months to 36 months, in day care centers in a double-blinded study. Half of the children received placebos and half received probiotics.

For the children who received probiotics, it was found that there was a reduction in frequency and duration of diarrhea episodes. And surprisingly, there was also a reduction in respiratory tract infections in the children who took probiotics.

The children in the study received the probiotic Lactobaccillus reuteri daily for three months. In addition to the already-mentioned health benefits, the study found a reduction in the number of doctor visits, antibiotic use, absenteeism from day school and parental absenteeism from work.

Other studies on probiotics have found that probiotics may help in reducing acute diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, atopic eczema, tooth decay, C. diff. bacteria colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, including pouchitis.

So what is this miracle drug? Probiotics are live microorganisms numbering over 100 trillion, including over 500 bacterial species, which normally reside in the human intestinal tract. These microorganisms help in digestion, provide the body with nutrients, help the immune system and help keep harmful microorganisms in check.

Common probiotics are Lactobacillus bulgaris, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus acidophilus and casei, and Bifidobacteria. One can maintain a healthy balance of these “good bacteria” in the body by taking products which contain live and active cultures of these bacteria. These can include the pill and liquid probiotic supplements, as well as foods such as yogurt, and fermented foods such as brewer’s yeast, miso, sauerkraut or micro algae.

If you need additional nondairy yogurt options, yogurts made from rice, soy and coconut milk are available on the market. Some of these can contain added probiotics that provide the same benefits as regular yogurt. To ensure that you are getting the benefit of the probiotics in the foods that you are eating, pick those that state “live and active cultures” on the label. Also look for supplements that are not close to their expiration date, as the live bacteria dwindle over time.

Retrieved from: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2014/03/28/3027893/integrative-medicine-probiotics.html

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Growing evidence that autism is linked to pollution with babies 283% more likely to suffer from the condition compared to other birth defects March 17, 2014

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Diet, Dreamhealer, Energy Healing, Genetics, Healing, Health, Pollution, Workshops.
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By: Daily mail reporter

Adam McLeod

Exposure to traffic fumes, industrial air pollution and other environmental toxins can dramatically increase a mother’s chances of having a child with autism.

Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indicator for parental exposure to environmental toxins.

Several studies have already shown a link between air pollution and autism, but this latest study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together.

‘Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,’ study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago.

The report looked at birth defects associated with parental exposure to pollution and found a 1% increase in the defects corresponded to a 283% increase in autism.

Although the findings are still being analyzed, researchers say they offer support for the theory that environmental pollutants, in addition to genetics, play a role in the development of autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder that interferes with social and communication skills.

It covers a ‘spectrum’ of conditions that may be mild or very severe, requiring round-the-clock care.

The scientists found a clear link between being pregnant somewhere with high levels of pollution and having an autistic child.

The findings published this week in the PLOS Computational Biology Journal were culled from health records of over 100 million Americans in an effort to shift research from almost exclusively genetic to include environmental factors.

Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticizers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things,’ said study author Andrey Rzhetsky.

‘Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development,’ the University of Chicago professor of genetic medicine and human genetics continued. ‘It’s not really well known why, but it’s an experimental observation.’

The defects were especially noticeable in boys’ reproductive systems, Rzhetsky noted.

Women living in the top fifth of locations with the highest levels of these pollutants were twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism as those in areas with the lowest levels.

Women with the highest levels of exposure to these substances were about 50 per cent more likely to have a child who develops autism.

Most pollutants were more strongly associated with autism in boys than in girls.

Boys are in any case much more likely to have the disorder.

Air pollutants contain many toxins that are known to affect neurological function and fetal development.

One in 88 children suffers from autism, and diagnoses in boys greatly outnumber those in girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No clear cause has been established for the disorder.

‘The environment may play a very significant role in autism, and we should be paying more attention to it,’ said Rzhetsky. ‘We should definitely take into account environmental factors.’

Article retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2581663/Growing-evidence-autism-linked-pollution-babies-283-likely-suffer-condition-compared-birth-defects.html

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Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes March 2, 2014

Posted by Dreamhealer in Dreamhealer, Experiments, Genetics, Healing, Naturopathic Medicine, Research, Workshops.
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By: Dan Hurley

Your ancestors’ lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.

Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son — sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles.

The mother mouse looks up and says, “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”

“Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.

“Bad mothering,” says Freud.

For over a hundred years, those two views — nature or nurture, biology or psychology — offered opposing explanations for how behaviors develop and persist, not only within a single individual but across generations.

And then, in 1992, two young scientists following in Freud’s and Darwin’s footsteps actually did walk into a bar. And by the time they walked out, a few beers later, they had begun to forge a revolutionary new synthesis of how life experiences could directly affect your genes — and not only your own life experiences, but those of your mother’s, grandmother’s and beyond.

The bar was in Madrid, where the Cajal Institute, Spain’s oldest academic center for the study of neurobiology, was holding an international meeting. Moshe Szyf, a molecular biologist and geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, had never studied psychology or neurology, but he had been talked into attending by a colleague who thought his work might have some application. Likewise, Michael Meaney, a McGill neurobiologist, had been talked into attending by the same colleague, who thought Meaney’s research into animal models of maternal neglect might benefit from Szyf’s perspective.

“I can still visualize the place — it was a corner bar that specialized in pizza,” Meaney says. “Moshe, being kosher, was interested in kosher calories. Beer is kosher. Moshe can drink beer anywhere. And I’m Irish. So it was perfect.”

The two engaged in animated conversation about a hot new line of research in genetics. Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell.

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes — er, genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code, the field was dubbed epigenetics, from the prefix epi (Greek for over, outer, above).

Originally these epigenetic changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But pioneering studies showed that molecular bric-a-brac could be added to DNA in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer. Sometimes methyl groups attached to DNA thanks to changes in diet; other times, exposure to certain chemicals appeared to be the cause. Szyf showed that correcting epigenetic changes with drugs could cure certain cancers in animals.

Geneticists were especially surprised to find that epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next. A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene.

Now, at the bar in Madrid, Szyf and Meaney considered a hypothesis as improbable as it was profound: If diet and chemicals can cause epigenetic changes, could certain experiences — child neglect, drug abuse or other severe stresses — also set off epigenetic changes to the DNA inside the neurons of a person’s brain? That question turned out to be the basis of a new field, behavioral epigenetics, now so vibrant it has spawned dozens of studies and suggested profound new treatments to heal the brain.

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories.

Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn.

Or not. If your grandmother was adopted by nurturing parents, you might be enjoying the boost she received thanks to their love and support. The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too. And for those unlucky enough to descend from miserable or withholding grandparents, emerging drug treatments could reset not just mood, but the epigenetic changes themselves. Like grandmother’s vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered. The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch: Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.

Voodoo Genetics 

Twenty years after helping to set off a revolution, Meaney sits behind a wide walnut table that serves as his desk. A January storm has deposited half a foot of snow outside the picture windows lining his fourth-floor corner office at the Douglas Institute, a mental health affiliate of McGill. He has the rugged good looks and tousled salt-and-pepper hair of someone found on a ski slope — precisely where he plans to go this weekend. On the floor lays an arrangement of helium balloons in various stages of deflation. “Happy 60th!” one announces.

“I’ve always been interested in what makes people different from each other,” he says. “The way we act, the way we behave — some people are optimistic, some are pessimistic. What produces that variation? Evolution selects the variance that is most successful, but what produces the grist for the mill?”

Meaney pursued the question of individual differences by studying how the rearing habits of mother rats caused lifelong changes in their offspring. Research dating back to the 1950s had shown that rats handled by humans for as little as five to 15 minutes per day during their first three weeks of life grew up to be calmer and less reactive to stressful environments compared with their non-handled littermates. Seeking to tease out the mechanism behind such an enduring effect, Meaney and others established that the benefit was not actually conveyed by the human handling. Rather, the handling simply provoked the rats’ mothers to lick and groom their pups more, and to engage more often in a behavior called arched-back nursing, in which the mother gives the pups extra room to suckle against her underside.

“It’s all about the tactile stimulation,” Meaney says.

In a landmark 1997 paper in Science, he showed that natural variations in the amount of licking and grooming received during infancy had a direct effect on how stress hormones, including corticosterone, were expressed in adulthood. The more licking as babies, the lower the stress hormones as grown-ups. It was almost as if the mother rats were licking away at a genetic dimmer switch. What the paper didn’t explain was how such a thing could be possible.

“What we had done up to that point in time was to identify maternal care and its influence on specific genes,” Meaney says. “But epigenetics wasn’t a topic I knew very much about.”

And then he met Szyf.

Postnatal Inheritance 

“I was going to be a dentist,” Szyf says with a laugh. Slight, pale and balding, he sits in a small office at the back of his bustling laboratory — a room so Spartan, it contains just a single picture, a photograph of two embryos in a womb.

Needing to write a thesis in the late 1970s for his doctorate in dentistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Szyf approached a young biochemistry professor named Aharon Razin, who had recently made a splash by publishing his first few studies in some of the world’s top scientific journals. The studies were the first to show that the action of genes could be modulated by structures called methyl groups, a subject about which Szyf knew precisely nothing. But he needed a thesis adviser, and Razin was there. Szyf found himself swept up to the forefront of the hot new field of epigenetics and never looked back.

Until researchers like Razin came along, the basic story line on how genes get transcribed in a cell was neat and simple. DNA is the master code, residing inside the nucleus of every cell; RNA transcribes the code to build whatever proteins the cell needs. Then some of Razin’s colleagues showed that methyl groups could attach to cytosine, one of the chemical bases in DNA and RNA.

It was Razin, working with fellow biochemist Howard Cedar, who showed these attachments weren’t just brief, meaningless affairs. The methyl groups could become married permanently to the DNA, getting replicated right along with it through a hundred generations. As in any good marriage, moreover, the attachment of the methyl groups significantly altered the behavior of whichever gene they wed, inhibiting its transcription, much like a jealous spouse. It did so, Razin and Cedar showed, by tightening the thread of DNA as it wrapped around a molecular spool, called a histone, inside the nucleus. The tighter it is wrapped, the harder to produce proteins from the gene.

Consider what that means: Without a mutation to the DNA code itself, the attached methyl groups cause long-term, heritable change in gene function. Other molecules, called acetyl groups, were found to play the opposite role, unwinding DNA around the histone spool, and so making it easier for RNA to transcribe a given gene.

By the time Szyf arrived at McGill in the late 1980s, he had become an expert in the mechanics of epigenetic change. But until meeting Meaney, he had never heard anyone suggest that such changes could occur in the brain, simply due to maternal care.

“It sounded like voodoo at first,” Szyf admits. “For a molecular biologist, anything that didn’t have a clear molecular pathway was not serious science. But the longer we talked, the more I realized that maternal care just might be capable of causing changes in DNA methylation, as crazy as that sounded. So Michael and I decided we’d have to do the experiment to find out.”

Actually, they ended up doing a series of elaborate experiments. With the assistance of postdoctoral researchers, they began by selecting mother rats who were either highly attentive or highly inattentive. Once a pup had grown up into adulthood, the team examined its hippocampus, a brain region essential for regulating the stress response. In the pups of inattentive mothers, they found that genes regulating the production of glucocorticoid receptors, which regulate sensitivity to stress hormones, were highly methylated; in the pups of conscientious moms, the genes for the glucocorticoid receptors were rarely methylated.

Methylation just gums up the works. So the less the better when it comes to transcribing the affected gene. In this case, methylation associated with miserable mothering prevented the normal number of glucocorticoid receptors from being transcribed in the baby’s hippocampus. And so for want of sufficient glucocorticoid receptors, the rats grew up to be nervous wrecks.

To demonstrate that the effects were purely due to the mother’s behavior and not her genes, Meaney and colleagues performed a second experiment. They took rat pups born to inattentive mothers and gave them to attentive ones, and vice versa. As they predicted, the rats born to attentive mothers but raised by inattentive ones grew up to have low levels of glucocorticoid receptors in their hippocampus and behaved skittishly. Likewise, those born to bad mothers but raised by good ones grew up to be calm and brave and had high levels of glucocorticoid receptors.

Before publishing their findings, Meaney and Szyf conducted a third crucial experiment, hoping to overwhelm the inevitable skeptics who would rise up to question their results. After all, it could be argued, what if the epigenetic changes observed in the rats’ brains were not directly causing the behavioral changes in the adults, but were merely co-occurring? Freud certainly knew the enduring power of bad mothers to screw up people’s lives. Maybe the emotional effects were unrelated to the epigenetic change.

To test that possibility, Meaney and Szyf took yet another litter of rats raised by rotten mothers. This time, after the usual damage had been done, they infused their brains with trichostatin A, a drug that can remove methyl groups. These animals showed none of the behavioral deficits usually seen in such offspring, and their brains showed none of the epigenetic changes.

“It was crazy to think that injecting it straight into the brain would work,” says Szyf. “But it did. It was like rebooting a computer.”

Despite such seemingly overwhelming evidence, when the pair wrote it all up in a paper, one of the reviewers at a top science journal refused to believe it, stating he had never before seen evidence that a mother’s behavior could cause epigenetic change.

“Of course he hadn’t,” Szyf says. “We wouldn’t have bothered to report the study if it had already been proved.”

In the end, their landmark paper, “Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior,” was published in June 2004 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Meaney and Szyf had proved something incredible. Call it postnatal inheritance: With no changes to their genetic code, the baby rats nonetheless gained genetic attachments due solely to their upbringing — epigenetic additions of methyl groups sticking like umbrellas out the elevator doors of their histones, gumming up the works and altering the function of the brain.

The Beat Goes On

Together, Meaney and Szyf have gone on to publish some two-dozen papers, finding evidence along the way of epigenetic changes to many other genes active in the brain. Perhaps most significantly, in a study led by Frances Champagne — then a graduate student in Meaney’s lab, now an associate professor with her own lab at Columbia University in New York — they found that inattentive mothering in rodents causes methylation of the genes for estrogen receptors in the brain. When those babies grow up, the resulting decrease of estrogen receptors makes them less attentive to their babies. And so the beat goes on.

As animal experiments continue apace, Szyf and Meaney have entered into the next great step in the study of behavioral epigenetics: human studies. In a 2008 paper, they compared the brains of people who had committed suicide with the brains of people who had died suddenly of factors other than suicide. They found excess methylation of genes in the suicide brains’ hippocampus, a region critical to memory acquisition and stress response. If the suicide victims had been abused as children, they found, their brains were more methylated.

Why can’t your friend “just get over” her upbringing by an angry, distant mother? Why can’t she “just snap out of it”? The reason may well be due to methyl groups that were added in childhood to genes in her brain, thereby handcuffing her mood to feelings of fear and despair.

Of course, it is generally not possible to sample the brains of living people. But examining blood samples in humans is routine, and Szyf has gone searching there for markers of epigenetic methylation. Sure enough, in 2011 he reported on a genome-wide analysis of blood samples taken from 40 men who participated in a British study of people born in England in 1958.

All the men had been at a socioeconomic extreme, either very rich or very poor, at some point in their lives ranging from early childhood to mid-adulthood. In all, Szyf analyzed the methylation state of about 20,000 genes. Of these, 6,176 genes varied significantly based on poverty or wealth. Most striking, however, was the finding that genes were more than twice as likely to show methylation changes based on family income during early childhood versus economic status as adults.

Timing, in other words, matters. Your parents winning the lottery or going bankrupt when you’re 2 years old will likely affect the epigenome of your brain, and your resulting emotional tendencies, far more strongly than whatever fortune finds you in middle age.

Last year, Szyf and researchers from Yale University published another study of human blood samples, comparing 14 children raised in Russian orphanages with 14 other Russian children raised by their biological parents. They found far more methylation in the orphans’ genes, including many that play an important role in neural communication and brain development and function.

“Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function; this might explain why adopted children may be particularly vulnerable to harsh parenting in terms of their physical and mental health,” said Szyf’s co-author, psychologist Elena Grigorenko of the Child Study Center at Yale. “Parenting adopted children might require much more nurturing care to reverse these changes in genome regulation.”

A case study in the epigenetic effects of upbringing in humans can be seen in the life of Szyf’s and Meaney’s onetime collaborator, Frances Champagne. “My mom studied prolactin, a hormone involved in maternal behavior. She was a driving force in encouraging me to go into science,” she recalls. Now a leading figure in the study of maternal influence, Champagne just had her first child, a daughter. And epigenetic research has taught her something not found in the What to Expect books or even her mother’s former lab.

“The thing I’ve gained from the work I do is that stress is a big suppressor of maternal behavior,” she says. “We see it in the animal studies, and it’s true in humans. So the best thing you can do is not to worry all the time about whether you’re doing the right thing. Keeping the stress level down is the most important thing. And tactile interaction — that’s certainly what the good mother rats are doing with their babies. That sensory input, the touching, is so important for the developing brain.”

The Mark Of Cain 

The message that a mother’s love can make all the difference in a child’s life is nothing new. But the ability of epigenetic change to persist across generations remains the subject of debate. Is methylation transmitted directly through the fertilized egg, or is each infant born pure, a methylated virgin, with the attachments of methyl groups slathered on solely by parents after birth?

Neuroscientist Eric Nestler of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has been seeking an answer for years. In one study, he exposed male mice to 10 days of bullying by larger, more aggressive mice. At the end of the experiment, the bullied mice were socially withdrawn.

To test whether such effects could be transmitted to the next generation, Nestler took another group of bullied mice and bred them with females, but kept them from ever meeting their offspring.

Despite having no contact with their depressed fathers, the offspring grew up to be hypersensitive to stress. “It was not a subtle effect; the offspring were dramatically more susceptible to developing signs of depression,” he says.

In further testing, Nestler took sperm from defeated males and impregnated females through in vitro fertilization. The offspring did not show most of the behavioral abnormalities, suggesting that epigenetic transmission may not be at the root. Instead, Nestler proposes, “the female might know she had sex with a loser. She knows it’s a tainted male she had sex with, so she cares for her pups differently,” accounting for the results.

Despite his findings, no consensus has yet emerged. The latest evidence, published in the Jan. 25 issue of the journal Science, suggests that epigenetic changes in mice are usually erased, but not always. The erasure is imperfect, and sometimes the affected genes may make it through to the next generation, setting the stage for transmission of the altered traits in descendants as well.

What’s Next?

The studies keep piling on. One line of research traces memory loss in old age to epigenetic alterations in brain neurons. Another connects post-traumatic stress disorder to methylation of the gene coding for neurotrophic factor, a protein that regulates the growth of neurons in the brain.

If it is true that epigenetic changes to genes active in certain regions of the brain underlie our emotional and intellectual intelligence — our tendency to be calm or fearful, our ability to learn or to forget — then the question arises: Why can’t we just take a drug to rinse away the unwanted methyl groups like a bar of epigenetic Irish Spring?

The hunt is on. Giant pharmaceutical and smaller biotech firms are searching for epigenetic compounds to boost learning and memory. It has been lost on no one that epigenetic medications might succeed in treating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder where today’s psychiatric drugs have failed.

But it is going to be a leap. How could we be sure that epigenetic drugs would scrub clean only the dangerous marks, leaving beneficial — perhaps essential — methyl groups intact? And what if we could create a pill potent enough to wipe clean the epigenetic slate of all that history wrote? If such a pill could free the genes within your brain of the epigenetic detritus left by all the wars, the rapes, the abandonments and cheated childhoods of your ancestors, would you take it?

Retrieved from: http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/13-grandmas-experiences-leave-epigenetic-mark-on-your-genes#.UxPna_RdXWo

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It’s Time for a New Approach to Mammograms February 13, 2014

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Breast Cancer, Cancer, Diet, Dreamhealer, Energy Healing, Health, Integrative Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, Press, Research, Skeptics.
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By: Charles J Wright

Dreamhealer_cancer

When first introduced four decades ago, breast cancer screening with mammography was widely regarded as an important tool in the fight against a terrible disease. It seemed obvious that the earlier it could be diagnosed the more lives could be saved. Aggressive treatment, it was thought, would prevent the cancer from spreading through the body. A huge amount of research evidence since then has slowly and painfully led to a different conclusion.

It is now clear that the benefits of screening mammography have been greatly exaggerated and the serious adverse effects all but ignored in the enthusiasm to support breast screening programs. It’s time for these programs to be reconsidered.

It must be emphasized that this is the case for population screening of healthy women, not those with extra high risk factors.

This is a very unpleasant message for modern developed societies where three generations of women have been led to believe that regular mammograms will save their lives and where an enormous related industry has been built up, but it is time to face the facts.

Unscientific opinions and powerful vested interests abound on this subject, so it is essential to focus on well-conducted studies from independent sources to summarize the evidence. One of the most trusted of these, the Cochrane Collaboration, has been studying screening mammography intensively. Its most recent bulletin states that the benefit of screening 2,000 women regularly for 10 years is that one woman may have her life prolonged. Of the other 1,999 women, at least 200 will have false positive mammograms leading to biopsies and surgery, and at least 10 women will be falsely diagnosed with breast cancer and consequently subjected to unnecessary surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

This problem, called over-diagnosis, occurs when a biopsy reveals microscopic cells that are currently labeled as “cancer” by the pathologist, but with uncertain potential to cause any significant problem for the patient in the future. The “c” word inevitably causes fear and distress for the patient and an aggressive treatment plan from the doctors. This is now widely recognized, even by the U.S. National Cancer Institute which has recently recommended that these uncertain “cancers” should instead be labeled “IDLE” (indolent lesions) until research can help us differentiate those that need treatment from those that do not.

Now we have more evidence. The Canadian National Breast Cancer Screening Study published this week in the British Medical Journal, and widely reported in the international media, solidly confirms that there is no upside to breast screening healthy women in terms of mortality benefit in exchange for the downside of all the adverse consequences. In this study, 90,000 women aged 40-59 were randomly allocated to the mammography screening program or to annual physical examination only, with follow up to 25 years. The mortality was the same in both groups (500 in the first group and 505 in the second).

Adverse consequences from screening can include false negatives (a cancer is growing but missed by the mammogram), and potentially cancer-causing cumulative X-ray exposure. Not to mention the anxiety, pain and discomfort that women experience with the procedure and the huge cost of these programs to the health care system.

This new study, along with the Cochrane analysis, represent the beginning of a growing consensus among scientists and clinical epidemiologists that the evidence no longer supports population screening of healthy women with mammography. Several prominent female U.K. doctors have gone public about choosing not to have breast cancer screening, including the editor of the BMJ, the past president of the Royal College of GPs, and the professor of obstetrics at King’s College London.

Nobody can be happy about all of this disappointing news with its serious public, professional and political implications, but surely we cannot ignore it. The hope that breast screening could cause a reduction in the mortality from this terrible disease was at first well placed 40 years ago, but it is no longer possible to advocate for an intervention that carries such a tiny (if any) likelihood of benefit along with such a huge burden of harmful consequences.

The very essence of science is about seeking truth through the constant cycle of evidence, analysis and revision. In response to a hostile question, John Maynard Keynes famously remarked “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” We should heed that lesson here.

It may take a long time to dispel the false hope that has been given to women with mammogram screening, but the very least and immediate response should be the development of a mandatory consent form for women to sign before screening that distinguishes the most recent and overwhelming evidence from the current inappropriate enthusiasm. Women would then be empowered to make an informed choice.

Public health agencies should also consider a comprehensive plan for public re-education about screening mammography, followed by the gradual dismantling of population breast screening programs across the country.

Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/now-that-we-know-mammograms-are-flawed-its-time-to-change-course/article16847982/

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Integrative Healing Workshops January 26, 2014

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Energy Healing, Healing, Health, Workshops.
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Adam Dreamhealer holds ‘Integrative Healing workshops‘ around the world promoting what he sees as the most overlooked aspect in preventative health care today: involving the patient in their own health care by using their focused healing intentions. At his workshop events, participants experience self-empowerment as Adam merges the auras of all present and performs two unique group energy treatments. He gives everyone present, the tools to activate their own innate healing power. Forty percent of those who attend Adam’s one-day workshops are healthcare professionals learning how to integrate Adam’s techniques into their practices. Rolling Stone Magazine calls Adam “One of the world’s most in-demand healers”.

Adam Dreamhealer is a graduate in Molecular Biology and biochemistry, healer, best-selling author, speaker and teacher of self-empowerment. It is well known that a positive attitude promotes healing. This knowledge is a basic survival instinct and just needs to be activated in order to maximize its effect. From a very young age it is accepted that intention is an important factor in any healing process. Medical communities in cultures all around the world have known for thousands of years that a focused positive patient is more likely to heal. Adam Dreamhealer emphasizes this at each of his workshops, in his books and DVD as the most powerful, yet overlooked preventative aspect of medicine.

In the 1950’s when Watson and Crick solved the structure of DNA things suddenly changed. The scientific community became obsessed with finding a structural biochemical explanation for every biological event. As technology advanced it seemed that every mystery in biology could be explained by physical chemical interactions. In 2003 the human genome was sequenced and at that time this was thought to be the final frontier in molecular biology, which would leave few remaining mysteries in biology.

Rather than solving all biological questions, it was realized that there are many important mechanisms that are poorly understood. Stem cells are particularly effective at highlighting some key concepts that remain unknown. Every cell in a person’s body carries the exact same genetic information, yet the brain cells look and function dramatically different than skin cells. How is this possible?

It turns out that there are proteins that associate with the DNA and it is these proteins that determine which genes are “turned on” and which ones are not. It is this selective control of the DNA that results in these cells having completely different properties. These discoveries resulted in the development of a new field of study known as epigenetics. This has dramatically changed our understanding of biology as epigenetics established that environment has a significant and detectable impact on changes in every cell in the body, and every protein.

With regards to healing this is important because proteins are incredibly sensitive to their environment. The slightest change in the environment results in significant changes to these proteins, which consequently influence every aspect of the cell metabolism. When someone is trying to improve his or her health, regardless of what the medical condition is, the goal is to change cell metabolism such that balance can once again be restored.

A crucial factor in the environment is how a person chooses to perceive their environment. It is certainly evident that the human body reacts differently when relaxed as opposed to when stressed or tensed. If a situation is perceived to be positive and ideal for healing then this changes the environment within the body. This directly influences cellular events and consequently health.

Human cells are no longer considered to be complex biochemical machines that function solely on chemical and physical interactions. It is important to remember that cells are conscious organisms that do everything possible to maximize their contribution to health and wellbeing. Every cell in the body is functioning together for the benefit of the whole organism. This knowledge is very empowering because everyone has the power to influence every biochemical event that occurs in the body.

Finally molecular biology is beginning to confirm what has been known to be true for thousands of years, that our intentions influence our health. So take the time to clear your mind and talk with your cells because they are certainly listening to what you have to say.

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Scientists Finally Show How Your Thoughts Can Cause Specific Molecular Changes To Your Genes December 31, 2013

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Energy Healing, Experiments, Genetics, Healing, Integrative Medicine, Meditation, Naturopathic Medicine, Spirituality.
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Dreamhealer DNA

By: Michael Forrester

With evidence growing that training the mind or inducing certain modes of consciousness can have positive health effects, researchers have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body. A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of intensive mindfulness practice.

The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.

The study was published in the Journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.

Gene Activity Can Change According To Perception

According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, gene activity can change on a daily basis. If the perception in your mind is reflected in the chemistry of your body, and if your nervous system reads and interprets the environment and then controls the blood’s chemistry, then you can literally change the fate of your cells by altering your thoughts.

In fact, Dr. Lipton’s research illustrates that by changing your perception, your mind can alter the activity of your genes and create over thirty thousand variations of products from each gene. He gives more detail by saying that the gene programs are contained within the nucleus of the cell, and you can rewrite those genetic programs through changing your blood chemistry.

In the simplest terms, this means that we need to change the way we think if we are to heal cancer. “The function of the mind is to create coherence between our beliefs and the reality we experience,” Dr. Lipton said. “What that means is that your mind will adjust the body’s biology and behavior to fit with your beliefs. If you’ve been told you’ll die in six months and your mind believes it, you most likely will die in six months. That’s called the nocebo effect, the result of a negative thought, which is the opposite of the placebo effect, where healing is mediated by a positive thought.”

That dynamic points to a three-party system: there’s the part of you that swears it doesn’t want to die (the conscious mind), trumped by the part that believes you will (the doctor’s prognosis mediated by the subconscious mind), which then throws into gear the chemical reaction (mediated by the brain’s chemistry) to make sure the body conforms to the dominant belief. (Neuroscience has recognized that the subconscious controls 95 percent of our lives.)

Now what about the part that doesn’t want to die–the conscious mind? Isn’t it impacting the body’s chemistry as well? Dr. Lipton said that it comes down to how the subconscious mind, which contains our deepest beliefs, has been programmed. It is these beliefs that ultimately cast the deciding vote.

“It’s a complex situation,” said Dr. Lipton. People have been programmed to believe that they’re victims and that they have no control. We’re programmed from the start with our mother and father’s beliefs. So, for instance, when we got sick, we were told by our parents that we had to go to the doctor because the doctor is the authority concerning our health. We all got the message throughout childhood that doctors were the authority on health and that we were victims of bodily forces beyond our ability to control. The joke, however, is that people often get better while on the way to the doctor. That’s when the innate ability for self-healing kicks in, another example of the placebo effect.

Mindfulness Practice Specifically Affects Regulatory Pathways

The results of Davidson’s study show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What’s more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.

Biologists have suspected for years that some kind of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the cellular level. The different kinds of cells in our bodies provide an example. Skin cells and brain cells have different forms and functions, despite having exactly the same DNA. There must be mechanisms–other than DNA–that make sure skin cells stay skin cells when they divide.

Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.

The key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities — an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.

Previous studies in rodents and in people have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise within just a few hours.

“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” Davidson says.

“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions,” Kaliman says. “Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”

Subconscious Beliefs Are Key

Too many positive thinkers know that thinking good thoughts–and reciting affirmations for hours on end–doesn’t always bring about the results that feel-good books promise.

Dr. Lipton didn’t argue this point, because positive thoughts come from the conscious mind, while contradictory negative thoughts are usually programmed in the more powerful subconscious mind.

“The major problem is that people are aware of their conscious beliefs and behaviors, but not of subconscious beliefs and behaviors. Most people don’t even acknowledge that their subconscious mind is at play, when the fact is that the subconscious mind is a million times more powerful than the conscious mind and that we operate 95 to 99 percent of our lives from subconscious programs.

“Your subconscious beliefs are working either for you or against you, but the truth is that you are not controlling your life, because your subconscious mind supersedes all conscious control. So when you are trying to heal from a conscious level–citing affirmations and telling yourself you’re healthy–there may be an invisible subconscious program that’s sabotaging you.”

The power of the subconscious mind is elegantly revealed in people expressing multiple personalities. While occupying the mind-set of one personality, the individual may be severely allergic to strawberries. Then, in experiencing the mind-set of another personality, he or she eats them without consequence.

The new science of epigenetics promises that every person on the planet has the opportunity to become who they really are, complete with unimaginable power and the ability to operate from, and go for, the highest possibilities, including healing our bodies and our culture and living in peace.

Article sources:
wisc.edu
brucelipton.com
ts-si.org

Read more http://www.tunedbody.com/scientists-finally-show-thoughts-can-cause-specific-molecular-changes-genes/#

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Improve your performance with this mantra: ‘I am excited’ December 27, 2013

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Emotion, Experiments, Health, Integrative Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, Research.
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By: Relaxnews

Next time you’ve got a public speaking engagement or exam coming up, psych yourself up by telling yourself how excited you are rather than trying to calm down and you may actually perform better.

That’s according to a new Harvard study published by the American Psychological Association,  which found that affirmative statements like “I’m excited” helped people improve their performance compared to self-pep talks that urged relaxation such as “I am calm.”

“People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective,” said study author Alison Wood Brooks in a statement.

“When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”

The results of the study are based on several different experiments. In one experiment, 140 participants were instructed to prepare a public speech on why they would be good work partners. Researchers videotaped the speeches and participants were told they would be judged by a committee to increase anxiety levels.

Before delivering their spiel, subjects were instructed to say either “I am excited” or “I am calm.” Judges found that those who made the first statement were more persuasive, competent and relaxed, the study says.

Similar results were observed during a math exam, with those who psyched themselves up with the mantra “I am excited” scoring an impressive eight percent higher on average compared to the “I am calm” and control groups.

In a karaoke experiment in which participants’ heart rates were monitored with a pulse meter, again singers who repeated the mantra “I am excited” scored an average of 80 percent on the karaoke machine which measures pitch, rhythm and volume. Those instructed to tell themselves they were calm, angry or sad scored 69 percent.

The moral of the study?

“It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement,” Brooks said.

A 2012 study out of the University of Chicago also found that performing math equations under anxiety prompts responses in the brain similar to physical pain.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/body-and-mind/improve-your-performance-with-this-mantra-i-am-excited-1.1608359#ixzz2ohpOvCB5

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Trade groups take ‘supplements save health care costs’ message to Capitol Hill December 11, 2013

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Big Pharma, Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, Diet, Dreamhealer, Experiments, Government, Health, Integrative Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine.
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Adam McLeod

By: Hank Schultz

The Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus in conjunction with the leading dietary supplement industry associations held a briefing yesterday for members of Congress to drive home the point that supplements are not only good for users’ health, but good for the nation’s health care bottom line, too.

The briefing, titled “Smart Prevention: Health Care Cost Savings Utilizing Dietary Supplements,” was held by the DSC and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Natural Products Association (NPA), and the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA).

The message given to Congressional staffs was backed by data gather in the recent Frost and Sullivan survey commissioned by the CRN Foundation that showed that demonstrated that supplementation at preventive intake levels in high-risk populations can reduce the number of medical events associated with heart disease, age-related eye disease, diabetes, and bone disease in the United States, representing the potential for significant cost savings.

High engagement

Mike Greene, the vice president of government relations for CRN, said the message seemed to get through.  Such briefings tend to be high traffic affairs, with Congressional staffers coming and going as competing needs arise for their time.

“Typically staff members are very busy. I was interested in the simple fact that people stayed. We weren’t talking about the health benefits of dietary supplements, but we were talking about the economic benefits of dietary supplements,”Green told NutraIngredients-USA.

Part of the meeting consisted of a presentation of the report’s findings by Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, and included a statement by John Shaw, executive director of NPA.

“Chronic diseases are one of the greatest contributors to health care costs in this country,” said Mister. “If we can identify and motivate those at risk to effectively use dietary supplements, we can control rising societal health care costs, but also give sick individuals a chance to reduce the risk of costly events and, most importantly, to improve their quality of life.”

The new report by economic firm Frost & Sullivan that examined four different chronic diseases and the potential for health care cost savings when U.S. adults, 55 and older, diagnosed with these chronic diseases, used one of eight different dietary supplement regimens.

Systematic review

The report, performed a systematic review of hundreds of scientific studies on eight dietary supplement regimens across four diseases to determine the reduction in disease risk from these preventive practices. The firm then projected the rates of medical events across the high-risk populations and applied cost benefit analyses to determine the cost savings if people at high risk took supplements at preventive intake levels.

The report, demonstrated that supplementation at preventive intake levels in high-risk populations can reduce the number of medical events associated with heart disease, age-related eye disease, diabetes, and bone disease in the United States, representing the potential for significant cost savings.  Calculated potential savings in health care costs ranged as high as $3.9 billion for omega-3 supplements in the reduction of significant cardiac disease events.

 “Nutritional supplements proactively contribute to the overall health and well-being of American consumers. But as we can see from this data, the benefits of supplementation are much more far-reaching,”  Shaw said.

 “I’ve always known that dietary supplements have benefits. Most people know that.  But by doing this report we’ve shown that dietary supplements can reduce health care costs as well. This information is new and its fresh and it’s interesting to see how it has been received,” Greene said.

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Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors December 5, 2013

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Emotion, Genetics, Health, Integrative Medicine, Research.
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Article by: Richard Gray

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Memories may be passed down through generations in DNA in a process that may be the underlying cause of phobias

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with an arachnid.

Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: “We have begun to explore an underappreciated influence on adult behaviour – ancestral experience before conception.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In the study, which is published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed.

The offspring produced showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered them before.

The following generation also showed the same behaviour. This effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.

The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.

The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.

They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory.

He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, however, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.

He said: “These types of results are encouraging as they suggest that transgenerational inheritance exists and is mediated by epigenetics, but more careful mechanistic study of animal models is needed before extrapolating such findings to humans.”

It comes as another study in mice has shown that their ability to remember can be effected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk

Dr Miklos Toth, from Weill Cornell Medical College, found that chemokines carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory in later life.

Article retrieved from:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10486479/Phobias-may-be-memories-passed-down-in-genes-from-ancestors.html

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Flu Deaths reality check November 21, 2013

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Adam Dreamhealer

By: Kelly Crowe, CBC News

Do thousands of Canadians really die every year from the flu? The flu folks keep saying so. I’ve already heard it repeated several times this year and flu season has just started. This is what the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a recent press release: “Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and its complications.”

In a CBC interview a few weeks ago an editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal said: “Four thousand to 8,000  people die every year of influenza.”

It comes directly from the desk of Canada’s chief public health officer. “The flu is serious,” he tells us from his website. “Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and its complications.”

Did you ever wonder how they know that? The fact is, they don’t know that. “This is a scientific guess. This is not the truth,” Dr. Michael Gardam, director of the infection prevention and control unit at the University Health Network in Toronto and a longtime flu watcher, told me.

The fact is, no one knows how many people die after being infected with the flu virus. The death estimates are not based on body counts, lab tests or autopsies.

“I think people may have the misconception that every person who dies from the flu is somehow counted somewhere, and they’re not,” Gardam said.

The “2,000 to 8,000” numbers are based on computer models — a statistical guess that comes out of the end of a mathematical formula that makes a range of assumptions about death and flu.

“They’re tossing it into a big computer and they’re churning out estimates,” Gardam said as he scribbled numbers on a white board to show me how the models work.

One model counts all respiratory and circulatory deaths — that’s death from heart and lung failure — as flu deaths.

“As an upper limit, they are looking at everybody who died of a heart and lung problem,” Gardam said. “So you could imagine this could include people who died of a heart attack that had nothing to do with flu, but the feeling is that anybody who died of flu should be captured in there, plus a lot of other people.”

At the lower end of that model they count the number of deaths officially listed as “influenza” on the death certificate, plus all deaths from pneumonia — even though not all pneumonia is caused by flu.

“That is going to include obviously people who died specifically of those, but it might miss people who died of influenza but who didn’t get tested, for example,” Gardam said.

Data can include deaths by poison

Another model assumes that every extra death that happens in the winter is a flu death. At the risk of oversimplifying, this is the basic formula of that model: winter deaths (minus) summer deaths = death by flu virus.

That includes winter deaths from slippery sidewalks, snowy roads, freezing temperatures, plus all the winter heart failure, lung failure and deaths from cancer. In the language of the computer model, all excess mortality in winter is considered “death by flu.”

The model extrapolates that the flu virus will cause more deaths across all causes, including “disorders of the nervous system,” stroke and “disorders of the digestive system.” Which means that according to the model, flu causes 33 more “accidental falls” every year, 18 more “accidental poisonings,” and 68 more deaths from “psychotic conditions.” But what does flu have to do with deaths from accidental poisonings or accidental falls?

‘If they don’t collect that information, how do they know that their policies will work? This is called faith-based medicine.’— Dr. Tom Jefferson

How reliable are the computer model estimates? “I don’t think they’re reliable at all,” Dr. Tom Jefferson told me. He is a Rome-based researcher with the Cochrane Collaboration, and he spends his days reviewing all the research on acute respiratory infections and vaccines. He said hard data on flu deaths “are difficult to get hold of for obvious reasons. So enter modelling, which is nothing more than guesswork, highly sensitive to the assumptions you feed into the model. ‘Give me a model and I will make it say whatever you want,’ a colleague of mine always repeats.”

The models are only as good as the data sets that are fed into them. And death can be complicated. If someone already extremely fragile with heart or lung disease is tipped over the edge with a flu infection, is that a flu death, or a heart death or a lung death? Which database gets to claim it?

“The only mortality estimates which have any credibility are those based on post mortem examinations and tests which were done before death,” Jefferson said.

Flu death statistics not collected

In a perfect world, the flu death statistic would be based on an actual count of confirmed deaths after infection with the flu virus. But that’s difficult to do, because autopsies are almost never done, lab tests for the flu virus are rarely done, and someone could die from the complications of flu even though the virus is no longer detectable in their bodies.

The numbers we do have don’t even come close to the computer estimates. In Statistics Canada’s “deaths and mortality” table, under “cause of death: influenza,” there were only about 300 deaths a year between 2000 and 2008. Public health officials don’t trust that number. They believe it underestimates the true death toll from flu.

But Jefferson believes the models overstate the risk from influenza. “There are no real figures on deaths from influenza. They don’t collect that information,” he said. “So if they don’t collect that information, how do they know it’s a threat? And if they don’t collect that information, how do they know that their policies will work? This is called faith-based medicine, not evidence-based medicine.”

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease expert at Toronto’s University Health Network, says estimates of the number of flu deaths each year “vary a great deal depending on which research paper you read.” (CBC)

“Could the deaths be being caused by other pathogens? It’s an important question,” Dr. Kumanan Wilson told me. He holds the Canada Research Chair in public health policy at the University of Ottawa. He’s also a hospital clinician who has seen many flu seasons.

“We see lots of people coming in with upper respiratory infections and we don’t know what causes it. Sometimes if they are really sick, we’ll test for influenza. We rarely test for anything else.”

One of the few attempts to check the accuracy of the models in assessing flu deaths was done by one of Wilson’s master’s students, and her thesis is interesting reading.

Using data from three Ottawa hospitals over seven flu seasons, Tiffany Smith did two things. First, she counted the patients who died from flu, according to a doctor’s diagnosis. Then, using one of the official flu modelling methods, she ran a computer model to see how close the actual body count matched the statistical estimates. Her result? The statistical model predicted eight times as many deaths from flu as there were actual clinical cases.

“I have found evidence to suggest that point estimates of influenza burden generated using statistical models may not be reliable,” she concluded, “and that more research is required to understand the limitations of this methodology.”

Remember, that’s an unpublished thesis, not a peer-reviewed study. But Wilson said it was a well done paper that posed some important questions.

Flu models versus counts

Getting back to the question of how deadly influenza really is, fate did offer up a chance to check the model predictions when the flu pandemic hit in 2009, and the world faced a new influenza threat called H1N1.

Back then a flu expert told me that the pandemic would be a rare opportunity to check the true death toll from flu, because, for the first time, there was widespread lab testing, a national reporting system, and all eyes were on potential flu-related deaths. The final count: 428 deaths, which is much closer to the seasonal average of around 300 recorded in the vital statistics tables than to the 2,000 to 8,000 deaths estimated for the average flu season by the computer models.

So how did the models rate after a real life test? “The predictive models of 2009 of influenza have actually been a complete failure,” respiratory-infection expert Jefferson said.

“Ranges like 2,000 to 4,000 or even 8,000 influenza-related deaths a year are thrown around each flu season, and policy decisions and flu shot campaigns are based on these numbers,” Michael Gardam told me. “I think it is important for us to remember that these numbers are estimates and certainly not written in stone. These numbers vary a great deal depending on which research paper you read.”

There’s another point to consider here. Using death estimates is the scariest way to talk about the risk from flu, because 8,000 thousand sounds like a lot of deaths. But if you ask, “8,000 deaths out of how many people?” suddenly the risk seems much smaller. In fact, it would be 8,000 deaths among 35 million Canadians. In other words, in a normal flu season, about  0.02 per cent of Canadians are in danger of dying from the flu, using the highest estimate. Another way to look at it is this: 99.98 per cent of Canadians will not die of flu this year.

Undermining flu campaigns

So are the statistical models exaggerating the death toll from flu? “Not enough people have been asking these questions,”  the University of Ottawa’s Wilson said. “These are complicated models. There are multiple ways to calculate the information. Five different analysts with the same data can come up with five different estimates. It depends on how they calculate base line risk, how they define when the season begins, how to run the model. There are lots of potential variables in the model that will influence your answer.”

Influenza prevention has become an industry fuelled by poor science, says Dr. Tom Jefferson. (CBC)

For proof of how models keep changing their estimates, look back at Canada’s flu files. More than a decade ago, flu was estimated to kill about 500 to 1,500 Canadians every year. But in 2003 Health Canada changed models, and the estimates jumped to “700 to 2,500 per annum.” The 2,500 deaths at the upper end of that range quickly became the lower end, when an even newer model was tried in 2007, pushing the upper limit to 8,000 based on the severe flu seasons of 1997 to 1999.

“Influenza prevention has become an industry fuelled by poor science and propelled by conflicted decision makers,” Jefferson said. “This is the significance of the upward creep that you have been witnessing and the chasm that now exists between policy makers and evidence.

“The proof of what I am saying is in the answer to the question: How many die every year? Answer: maybe 300 or maybe 9,000. We are not sure. If you do not know, how can you have such a costly policy and most of all how can you evaluate it?”

When I asked him if there are consequences from over-stating the mortality impact of flu, Jefferson answered: “Yes. Scaring people justifies evidence-free policies. Yes, no one knows exactly what the threat is. The only certainty are the returns for industry.”

Wilson is concerned that overstating deaths could undermine the annual flu campaign. “I think this is a potential risk,” he said. “It’s a good idea to try to capture the number of deaths. People just need to reflect the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty in these numbers and that has not necessarily been conveyed. Even if the estimate is 1,000 or 2,000, it’s a big number. A more conservative approach might be better to convince people it’s a real disease that we have to take seriously.”

One expert I talked to suggests that at least some of the cost of the annual flu campaign should be directed at finding out how much death the virus actually causes every year, by using a system of doctors and hospitals to track laboratory confirmation of flu infections and flu mortality.

The flu virus has lots of ugly company in the winter — less famous viruses such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus); the ubiquitous cold bugs, including the coronavirus and the adenovirus; as well as Streptococcus pneumonia and all of its bacterial friends. Influenza is certainly one of the nastiest viruses in the group. It also happens to be the only one with a vaccine.

“You’ve got to wonder: The stuff we’re attributing to influenza, how much of that is actually true and how much of that is other viruses? We don’t know because they haven’t been studied,” University Health Network’s Gardam said.

Just 1 death this year

For the record, how many official deaths from flu have been reported so far this year? One.

And finally, as promised, here’s the official response I received  from the Public Health Agency of Canada:

Q1. How are the numbers derived? (i.e., how is it counted? are there any statistical models?) The number of flu related hospitalizations and deaths is not a straightforward estimate, given that influenza is such a non-specific illness and its diagnosis is under-reported. Patients with influenza complications or an exacerbation of their underlying chronic medical condition are often not reported as influenza related.

PHAC has taken data collected by Statistics Canada and hospital discharge records from the Canadian Institute of Health Information and applied statistical techniques to provide an estimate of influenza related deaths.

Q2. Are the numbers an average over the last 10 years? Have the numbers stabilized?

As previously indicated, it is difficult to assess the true burden of influenza in terms of incidence, deaths and hospitalization. However, it is estimated that, on average, the flu and its complications send about 20,000 Canadians to hospital every year, and between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die.

Q3. Why is it important to inform Canadians about  these death statistics?

Reporting on these death statistics informs Canadians that infection with influenza can be severe and in some cases result in death. Hence, Canadians should get their seasonal flu shot to prevent infection and to practice infection control measures such as hand washing, cough etiquette and staying home when sick to prevent spread.

Article retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/health/story/1.1127442

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