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Blame Mary Jane

Thursday, January 12, 2017

By Ross Walker

In Australia over the past few years, there has been increasing debate about the potential health benefits of medical cannabis. This was highlighted by three very important examples demonstrating significant benefits.

The first was the case of Dan Haslam, the young man who died of bowel cancer in his 20s. His mother, Lucy, has become a very active campaigner for the widespread use of medical cannabis for a variety of conditions, because cannabis was the only treatment that relieved his suffering, from not just his condition, but also the treatment. The second example was the 60 Minutes program Charlotte’s Web, which highlighted the case of a young girl with severe refractory epilepsy caused by a rare condition, Dravet’s syndrome. Medical cannabis stopped her severe recurrent fitting. The third high profile case was that of Barry and Joy Lambert’s granddaughter who also suffers Dravet’s syndrome. Since commencing medical cannabis 18 months ago, she has had no further seizures.

Although there are no large, long-term randomised controlled trials of medical cannabis for a variety of conditions, there is growing scientific evidence for the benefits of medical cannabis for many cases of refractory epilepsy, especially in children.

There is also increasing work for a variety of aspects of cancer management, such as nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, cancer pain and, potentially, reduction in cancer growth and spread.

There’s also some good work for medical cannabis relieving the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, with some early potential studies suggesting benefits for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, a number of autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, osteoporosis and a number of mental health issues.

But, this does not give a clean bill of health to the smoking of illegal, so-called recreational marijuana which is a completely different form of cannabis – which in my view should stay illegal.

Over the years, a large body of evidence has accrued suggesting the smoking of illegal marijuana may lead to mental health issues, predisposition to dementia, and possibly even cardiac rhythm disorders. There’s also evidence to suggest hormonal abnormalities, affecting a variety of endocrine glands such as the pituitary, adrenals and sex glands.

Although there are 100s of cannabinoid compounds that occur in a cannabis plant, there are two well known cannabinoid receptors in the body. The first is CB1 and the second, logically CB2. CB1 is basically found in the brain and nerves, whereas CB 2 is more a regulator of the immune system and gastrointestinal tract.

Recent research has demonstrated that CB1 is located in the mitochondria of nerve cells. The mitochondria are the fuel packs of the cells as they convert nutrients and oxygen into the energy or fuel that the cell needs to function. The activation of CB1 receptors within the mitochondria leads to damage to the nerves, with memory loss through reduced production of energy within nerves.

Another recent study also demonstrated that individuals who smoked illegal marijuana had a marked reduction in blood flow to nearly all areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus (which had the largest reduction in flow).

The hippocampus is the brain region associated with learning and memory and is also the first region affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers use the technique known as SPECT to accurately measure the blood flow within the brain. They examined just under 1000 individuals who had been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder and compared this with 92 controls who did not smoke marijuana. The SPECT study, which is a specific form of CT scanning, measures blood flow and activity during a mental concentration task. Clearly, the combination of a direct effect on the CB1 receptors in the mitochondria of nerve cells, coupled with reduction in blood flow, is a very cogent explanation as to why high concentration THC may lead to Alzheimer’s disease in regular users of marijuana.

In another blow for people who believe recreational marijuana use is of no concern, it has also been shown that high concentration THC (as found in the modern marijuana joint) can have a direct effect on dopamine levels which is the key chemical in the brain’s pleasure-reward system. Dopamine plays a key role in many aspects of brain function, including learning, movement, motivation, emotion and reward. It appears that the chronic ingestion of marijuana can significantly lower the levels of dopamine within the brain which has been associated with changes in mood, depression, lack of motivation, fatigue and associated with a number of other disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and ADHD.

Long-term marijuana use is associated with the number of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia, and again, this may be related to low dopamine levels, not to mention the previously stated reductions in blood flow and effects on the fuel packs in the cells (the mitochondria).

Although I am a great supporter of the introduction of medical cannabis for specific health conditions, the overwhelming evidence for the detrimental effects of recreational, illegal marijuana places this drug in an entirely different category.

It is vital that the public understands the incredible difference between smoked, illegal marijuana and what may well be one of the next big things in medicine, medical cannabis.

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The dangers of Irukandji jellyfish

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Ross Walker

Just recently, we heard about the tragic deaths of two French tourists whilst snorkelling on the Barrier Reef. These people, both in their 70s, were snorkelling in the same area and suffered cardiac arrests within a few minutes of each other. The people owning the dive company and the local tourism authorities tried to infer this was a tragic coincidence. Two days later in a different location on the Barrier Reef a 60 year old English tourist died whilst scuba-diving.

The reality is that there have now been 10 deaths of divers and snorkelers in far north Queensland in 2016. The first death occurred in February and continued until May with a total of five deaths this during this period. From October until now there have been five more deaths. The break in the middle coincides with the time of the year when there are no marine stingers in the water.

When there was initial talk two weeks ago about the two deaths within a few minutes of each other whilst the French tourists were snorkelling, I was interviewed about the potential causes of their deaths. Of course, it may have been a pure coincidence that two elderly people with pre-existing heart disease both suffered cardiac arrests within a few minutes of each other. This is a simple explanation but, in reality, highly unlikely. When I suggested the most likely cause was the Irukandji Jellyfish, my comments were met with significant consternation by the people whose livelihood would clearly be affected if this was the case i.e. The people who own dive companies and members of the Queensland tourism bureau.

The Irukandji Jellyfish

The Irukandji Jellyfish

Mr Allan Wallish, who is the managing director of Passions of Paradise dive company said, “We don’t get Irukandji Jellyfish at this time of year and one of the people who arrested had a full stinger suit on.”

I ask the logical question, if there are no Irukandji Jellyfish at this time of the year why would someone bother to wear a stinger suit. Prof Mike Kingsford, who is the head of James Cook University Marine and Tropical Biology School said it was highly unlikely that the Irukandji Jellyfish was the cause for the deaths and proceeded to say there were multiple possibilities for why these people died without actually mentioning what these multiple possibilities were. Even one would’ve been good! 

The Irukandji syndrome is well described and it involves a reaction within 5 to 120 minutes of being stung with the average time being around 30 minutes. Symptoms of the sting can vary from headache, backache, muscle pains, chest & abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating, anxiety, rising blood pressure and heart rate and even fluid on the lungs.

One of the interesting components of this syndrome is a feeling of impending doom which may be mistaken for an anxiety attack. Interestingly, a third member of the French group was having what was described as a panic attack on the shore after the deaths of the two tourists, one of whom was his partner.

Clearly, the most feared reaction to an Irukandji sting is a cardiac arrest, possibly the cause for these 10 deaths in far north Queensland this year. The suggested management for an Irukandji sting is vinegar to the area, pain relief, antihistamines and possibly intravenous magnesium.

We won’t know for certain whether Irukandji sting was the cause for these deaths until we have the toxicology report from the autopsies. Regardless, I wouldn’t be swimming in the waters of far north Queensland from October to May regardless of whether I was offered a stinger suit. Even though there is no doubt we live in a magnificent country, there are clearly many hazards when trying to enjoy the magnificent outdoors life our country has to offer. The Irukandji Jellyfish is certainly one of them.

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5 tips to beat the Christmas bulge

Thursday, December 15, 2016

By Ross Walker

Well, it is that time of the year when the very common burnout sets in and most of our thoughts turn to the Christmas break. Although Christmas should always be a time for rest, reflection and rejuvenation, it often becomes a time for excessive partying, overeating and overindulging in other bad habits, not to mention those interactions with relatives who we hardly see throughout the year.

Rather than heading towards the inevitable Christmas weight gain, the very common New Year’s Day hangover and the perennially failed New Year’s resolutions, why not resolve before the holiday season gets into full swing to really make this Christmas break the chance to make a fresh start by following, what I call, my 5 Point Power Plan.

1. Decision

Decide what life habits you want to break and which ones are not working for you. A very good start here is to create a journal or a diary where you actually write down, in decreasing order of importance, your life goals for the coming year, including the list of bad habits that are not serving you well and you wish to change.

2. Correct your limiting patterns

What is stopping you right now from not making these changes? If, for example, you wish to cease smoking but every Friday night you go down to the hotel with your friends and have a few drinks, this will certainly weaken your resolve and this pattern may need to change.

Many people, as another example, are comfort eaters, often sitting in front of the television consuming unnecessary food. Rather than doing so, now that it is daylight saving, why not go for a walk instead?

3. Create a new pattern

Nature abhors a vacuum. When you change a bad habit that has occupied a significant amount of your time, whether it be excessive eating, drinking or smoking, it should be replaced with a better, more healthy habit. One of the greatest examples I have witnessed in my medical practice was a patient of mine who was a serious alcoholic. He consumed around 20 schooners of beer per day leading to a severe dilated cardiomyopathy. This gentleman made the decision to stop alcohol on my very strong advice and replaced this with an interest in Egyptology.

All of the money he used to spend on alcohol was placed into a bank account. He had eventually saved up enough money to take him and his wife to Egypt where he had the trip of a lifetime.

4. Train the habit

Any new habit requires discipline. You need to discipline yourself for a full month for this new habit to be trained and to become a normal part of your life. It is very important, also, to associate rewards with this new habit. For example, once I had destroyed my knee through too much sport, I needed to replace my very enjoyable soccer and squash games with a less rigorous form of exercise. I therefore started using an exercise bike eight years ago, but my reward was to watch an enjoyable TV series while exercising to associate pleasure with the habit, rather than the boredom of the exercise bike for 45 minutes staring out the window. I am delighted to say that I have already broken one exercise bike through excessive use and now onto my second bike.

5. Live the program

A number of years ago I wrote a book “Diets Don’t Work”. The reason diets don’t work is that you go on a diet in the same way as you go on a holiday. You always come back from the holiday. 12-week programs also have a finite ending which see you return to your old habits. When you have created new good and healthy habits, these need to stay with you for the rest of your life. You need to have a commitment to maintaining these habits as part of your new way of thinking.

Life is not about making the big decision to be healthy and happy, it is about making 30-50 small decisions every day of your life. Decisions like “I won't eat that biscuit”, “I’ll walk up the stairs rather than take the escalator”, and, “I will not yell at that fool who just cut in front of me in the traffic”.

These are split second decisions that can either take you towards good health and happiness, or bad health and unhappiness. Why wait for the new year to make these decisions and resolutions? Why not start right now before the often bad habits of the Christmas break take over.  

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Does anxiety increase your risk for heart disease?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

By Ross Walker

There are five major categories of risk factors for heart disease:

1) Hypertension 

2) Genetic, metabolic and dietary fat/cholesterol issues 

3) Diabetes and metabolic syndrome 

4) Cigarette smoking 

5) Family history of vascular disease before age 60 

One, or a combination of any of these factors, is the major reason people develop fat build up in the wall their arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. 

But what puts the fat there in the first place has nothing to do with what makes a stable fatty plaque rupture. 

There are five major categories of the precipitation of plaque rupture:

1) Psychosocial factors

2) Infection

3) Extremes of exercise

4) Dietary excesses 

5) Bad life behaviour 

Let's focus on psychosocial factors, and in particular, anxiety. Around 20% of the population suffer some form of anxiety. Recent studies have shown that anxiety increases heart disease risk by a factor of eight times. Closely linked to this is depression, which is also associated with an increased risk for heart disease. A recent meta-analysis showed that anxious people have a 48% increased risk for a heart problem. It therefore appears that health anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Health anxiety is defined as excess worrying over serious illness, seeking medical advice at an excessive level despite the absence of any obvious physical disease.

People with health anxiety often misread physical symptoms as serious illnesses and they seek repeated medical assessments for the same issues. This is also called, of course, hypochondria. As I have mentioned previously, my daughter, Bridget, bought me a cup that I have in my medical clinic that says, “Please do not confuse your Google search with my medical degree”. 

A new study from the British Medical Journal-Open, looked at just over 7000 patients for 12 years who were born between 1953 to 1957. They had standard physical measures such as pulse rate, BP and weight, along with routine blood tests. They also reported their anxiety levels via the Whiteley index. Scores greater than 90% were deemed as anxiety levels. Over this 12-year period, 234 patients or 3.2% experienced a heart attack or angina. Health anxiety doubled the rate of heart disease, or in other words, increased heart disease risk by 73%. The absolute figures were a 6.1% risk of heart disease in those with health anxiety, compared with only 3% in those who did not exhibit this trait. 

It is an interesting phenomenon that people who are very concerned about their health and often attend doctors with large folders of health monitoring and their own health records, recording every single health parameter they possibly can, falsely believe that this form of taking control of their health will reduce their risk for disease.

This study, and a number of others, actually suggest it is the complete opposite. 

It appears that anxiety begets anxiety and subsequently anxiety begets heart disease. It appears that it's much better to smell the roses then to analyse them. It is situations like this where the wonderful parable of the little boy who cried wolf comes to mind. 

Maybe the epitaph on the hypochondriac's grave says it all: It says, I told you so.

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The lowdown on Vitamin D

Thursday, December 01, 2016

By Ross Walker

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that has an important place in calcium metabolism, steroid and cholesterol production. There are three possible sources of vitamin D which include sunlight, certain foods such as oily fish, fish and beef liver, egg yolks and certain fortified foods. The final source of vitamin D is supplementation. It is estimated that somewhere between 30 to 40% of adults are deficient in vitamin D. The definition of vitamin D deficiency is a blood level less than 50 nmol per litre.

Is the deficiency being overestimated?

A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, has raised concerns that the degree of vitamin D deficiency is being widely overestimated. A flow on effect of this alleged overestimation is excessive blood testing for vitamin D levels. The costs to governments has skyrocketed over the last decade, with vitamin D assessments being said to be the fifth most common test measured. The authors of this editorial are suggesting that the cut-off point of 50 nmol per litre is an overestimation of deficiency and for the vast majority of people less than 70, 600 international units daily from any of the sources mentioned, and 800 international units daily for people over 70, is adequate intake.

The bottom line

The bottom line from their interpretation of the studies is that, in reality, only 6% people living in the US up to age 70 are deficient, and we’re not really living in the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. I must say, this is in contradiction to many studies that have been performed over the past decade, and just because it has been written up in the New England Journal of Medicine does not make it gospel truth. Interestingly, many conservative researchers are only focusing on the link between low vitamin D and osteoporosis, tending to ignore the other significant associations. There have been a number of research studies suggesting a link between low vitamin D levels and cardiovascular disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Type II diabetes and depression.

The benefits of normal vitamin D levels

Two recent reports have highlighted the potential benefits of maintaining normal vitamin D levels. In Australia alone, around 15,000 women are diagnosed each year with breast cancer with just under 3000 deaths per year from the disease. There is mixed information around the benefits of vitamin D as an adjunctive therapy for cancer, with strong evidence in animal experimentation that the active version of vitamin D known as calcitriol can reduce the proliferation and growth of cancer cells, decrease cancer blood vessel formation, and stimulate cancer cell death. There is not enough human data as yet to strongly support the use of vitamin D supplements as a way of preventing and treating cancer, but, some of the preliminary work is certainly suggestive. 

The studies

A new study from New York looked that just under 1670 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. These women were part of the Pathways Study and followed regularly for an eight-year period. The average age was 59 years, and half were said to be vitamin D deficient. The lowest levels of vitamin D were found in women with advanced tumours and especially in premenopausal women with triple negative breast cancer. Levels of vitamin D were inversely proportional to disease progression and death rates. This was a purely observational trial, where vitamin D therapy was not actually used. It is not known whether the advanced nature of some women’s disease actually dropped the vitamin D levels or whether the low levels of vitamin D predisposed them to the disease in the first place. A proper placebo controlled trial needs to be implemented.  

Another recent trial presented at the Society for Endocrinology conference in Britain looked at the association between low vitamin D levels and bladder cancer. The group, from the UK, carried out a systematic review of seven studies to determine this link. The number of participants ranged from between 112 up to 1125. Five out of seven studies found a higher rate of bladder cancer with low vitamin D levels. High vitamin D levels also correlated with better survival outcomes in these groups. The researchers also looked at the cells that line the bladder known as transitional epithelial cells. The cells responded to vitamin D and vitamin D affected the local immune response recognising abnormal cells and preventing cancer formation. 

Although we do not have any large, well-controlled randomised trials of vitamin D for the number of the conditions I have mentioned above, it is my opinion that the evidence is so compelling that taking 1000 international units of D3 on a daily basis is harmless, and almost never puts the vitamin D into potentially toxic ranges, and it is certainly something I do on a daily basis for all of the above reasons.

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Are you still smoking?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

By Ross Walker

Believe it or not, but despite the overwhelming evidence for the harm from cigarette smoking, a proportion of the population continues to smoke. Fortunately in Australia, this is now only 13% of the adult population, but in my view, it should be zero. Without all of the civil libertarians coming out of the woodwork wanting to throw knives at me, it’s my opinion that no one has a right to smoke. Certainly, no one has a right to smoke in front of any other human being, and especially in front of children. Smoking in front of anyone else is a form of abuse.

Every time you put one of those disgusting things in your mouth and suck the smoke in, you are potentially causing significant mutations in your cells, possibly building up fat in the walls of your arteries, and over many years, accumulating significant damage to your lungs.

I often tell the story of the 42-year-old man who was a 20-cigarettes-a-day smoker who woke up one night coughing blood. He visited his general practitioner the following day. A chest X-ray was performed and lung cancer was diagnosed. He died six weeks later, leaving his wife and two small children without a husband and father. I’m sorry, but no one has any right to do this to themselves and their family and, in my view, with the overwhelming evidence of harm from cigarette smoke, it should be banned completely.

The most preventable cause of cancer

A recent report from the US clearly shows that tobacco is still the most preventable cause of cancer, contributing up to 40% of diagnosed malignancies. Most people associate cigarette smoking with lung cancer, but there’s also a significant association with acute myeloid leukaemia, cancers of the mouth, throat and larynx. There are also associations with oesophageal, stomach, kidney, liver, bladder, cervical, colon and rectal cancer.

80% of drug related deaths in the modern world are directly related to cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, one in five people carry strong receptors in the brain for nicotine addiction, so once they are exposed to this toxic habit, it’s very difficult for them to give up.

Three choices

Life basically comes down to three choices. These choices include protection, life maintenance and following our urges. Protection, of course, refers to avoiding danger and when confronted with certain situations, is always our primary choice.

Life maintenance, although rather obvious, is following the five keys to being healthy:

1) You cannot be healthy and have any addictions, including cigarette smoke. Therefore, anyone who smokes is clearly unhealthy.

2) Seven to eight hours of good quality sleep is as good for your body as not smoking.

3) Eat less and eat more naturally.

4) Three to five hours of testing exercise per week.

5) Cultivate peace and happiness in your life.

Following these five keys to good health will reduce your risk for all diseases by around 70% and cardiovascular disease by 83%.

Your final choice is to follow your urges. The paradox of life is rather obvious i.e. following your urges will always bring you down. Whether it’s the urge for the next cigarette, desire to over consume alcohol, infidelity, or bad habits such as gambling – I’ve never seen anyone experience significant benefits.

Forget about New Year’s resolutions and think about where you are right now. If you are still smoking, why not make the commitment to yourself and your loved ones to give up immediately. I promise you, it will be one of the most important health decisions you’ll ever make.

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Busting the myths about type 2 diabetes

Thursday, November 17, 2016

By Ross Walker

Over the past few decades, there has been an explosion of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the Western world. Currently, around 8% of the Australian adult population are type 2 diabetic. 70% of Australian males are obese or overweight, along with 50% of females.

There’s no doubt that this epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity is clearly related, in many ways, to lifestyle issues. In particular, the excessive consumption of high density, poor nutrient food such as quick-fix, take away food, processed, packaged muck masquerading as food and bakery items, along with many people living sedentary lifestyles.

The insulin resistance gene

However, especially over the past decade, there’s increasing evidence that metabolic factors, genetics and the gut microbiome may also be contributing. As I’ve mentioned before, the human body was only physiologically designed to work well for 30-40 years wandering around a jungle with a spear. When we hit our use by date of around 40 years old, our metabolism starts to slow, and without a rearrangement of our energy equation, i.e. calories in versus calories burnt, it’s not difficult for the fat to start accumulating around the belly.

This is especially so for the 30% of Caucasians, the 50% of Asians and close to 100% of people with darker skin who carry the gene for insulin resistance. This gene is a survival advantage if you are hunter-gatherer, but a survival disadvantage if you live in modern society. The gene aids your survival in the hunter-gatherer environment by storing some fat temporarily around the belly until your next major feed following the kill of an animal, and also runs your blood sugar levels slightly higher to maintain normal brain function. Enter the world where we have 3 square meals a day (with snacking in between) along with increasing sedentary jobs and the vast array of mechanical forms of transport.

This insulin resistance gene is the major factor contributing to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol abnormalities with increased cholesterol, increased triglycerides and low HDL, along with the ever-present and ever-increasing fat around the belly.

For males, this becomes an issue when the waist circumference is greater than the 95cm, and for females with a waist circumference greater than 80cm.

The research

Now, let's bring in the elegant work of Professor Clay Semenkovich from Washington University in St Louis. Professor Semenkovich has performed seminal work in mice around the enzyme system fatty acid synthase. This particular enzyme system is vitally important in the generation of fat in our body. The fat produced by this enzyme in the lining of the gut acts as a protective coating preventing bacteria and crossing the bowel wall. With the unhealthy, pro-inflammatory bacteria created by our modern diets, it’s likely that there’s also damage to the enzyme system and the vicious cycle created leads to more pro-inflammatory chemicals leeching into the bloodstream.

Interestingly, Professor Semenkovich’s group has also demonstrated that reducing fatty acid synthase, in particular inflammatory cells, paradoxically prevents the generation of obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the mice studied. The key here is to develop pharmaceutical drugs that will block fatty acids synthase within inflammatory cells, but not in the bowel wall.

The second interesting consideration here is looking at a toxic fats known as Ceramides. These ceramides prevent fat tissue from working normally. When we overeat, excess fat is either stored or burned as energy. But, in some people, excess fat is converted to ceramides which have three different and damaging actions to the body. Firstly, Ceramides can contribute to the death of pancreatic cells. Ceramides increase insulin resistance and decrease insulin gene expression. These are three major factors that can contribute to type 2 diabetes, regardless of bodyweight. This may also explain why some people still develop type 2 diabetes.

Finally, that spare tyre sitting around your belly is not just an ugly lump of lard but depending on your exposure to synthetic chemicals over the years, may also be a toxic reservoir. Many of the chemicals I have already mentioned, but also the well-known chemicals from plastics and the lining of aluminium cans such as BPA, can accumulate in fat. It’s been shown, for example, that obese people with the highest levels of BPA compared with those with the lowest levels have a 30 times higher rate of type 2 diabetes.

The bottom line

Clearly, our lifestyle is the strongest contributing factor to type 2 diabetes and obesity. However there are many more subtle factors that we're just beginning to understand that may explain why some people gain weight more easy easily, and also why some people who are overweight do not appear to have such severe metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes.

This comes back to the age old saying, “it’s your genes that loads the gun but your environment that pulls the trigger". The key here is finding what particular environmental triggers we can actually affect.

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What's wrong with our modern diet?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

By Ross Walker

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women in Australia. The risk of diagnosis by age and 85 is one in 11 for men and one in 15 for women. There are many factors that contribute to colorectal cancer including genetics, diet, inflammatory bowel disease, inactivity and to a lesser extent, alcohol and cigarette smoking. 

There is increasing evidence that the modern diet commonly consisting of processed, packaged muck masquerading as food may strongly be contributing to this cancer risk. Over the past decade there has been increasing emphasis placed on the importance of the gut microbiome. The mix and diversity of gut microbes are now being strongly linked to a variety of diseases. These diseases not only involve the bowel itself, but disorders of gut microbes are also increasingly being linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a number of common cancers including colon cancer. 

Research in mice, from the US, has demonstrated that even in low concentrations of the commonly used emulsifiers in food there is low grade inflammation in the body, with subsequent, obesity and metabolic syndrome. This has occurred at even a 10th of the dose commonly used in foods. 

When they studied mice and administered emulsifiers at the same concentration given to humans in food, there was a marked increase in pro-inflammatory gene expression and a change in the balance between cell proliferation and cell death, which tips the balance towards tumour development. 

These emulsifiers - carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 - are commonly used in many processed foods throughout the western world. 

Energy drinks

Equally disturbing is a recent report discussing the potential problems of energy drinks which I have mentioned and wrote about repeatedly. This report from the US suggested that the majority of energy drinks are consumed by young males in the 18 to 34-year-old age group, and also disturbingly, a third of teenagers consume energy drinks regularly between the ages of 12 to 17. Between 2007 to 2011, the number of energy drink related emergency visits doubled. This is especially so when combined with alcohol, which leads to a marked increase in binge drinking. It is felt that the combination of caffeine and sugar imparts the biggest risk and there is no doubt that these are major culprits. 

But, just in the same way as we don't really consider the significant potential health risks of all the additives in processed, package foods that may be contributing to poor health, rather we focus on the fat, sugar or protein content of the food.

It appears the combination of caffeine and sugar imposes the biggest risks here. 

But, an interesting case report has highlighted the potential for more hidden components of energy drinks to cause harm. This report detailed a 50-year-old man who was consuming 4 to 5 energy drinks on a daily basis and had done so for three weeks. He had no change in his diet, alcohol consumption, prescription or over-the-counter medications, did not use illegal drugs and he did not have a family history of liver disease. He was admitted with an acute severe hepatitis and what surprised me is the research has suggested it was the excess dose of vitamin B3 in the form of Niacin in the energy drinks that led to the liver damage. When his liver was biopsied there was acute fatty liver and inflammation in the liver. He was also found to have hepatitis C which may have contributed as well. 

Regardless of the nuances of either of these examples, it certainly highlights the facts that there are downsides to our modern “Quick fix” approach. It’s clear to me that if it is in a box or a container it is probably not particularly good for your health, and the information I have included above certainly supports this argument. 

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The facts behind the chemotherapy dosage ‘scandal’

Thursday, November 03, 2016

By Ross Walker

This week has seen the start of the inquiry into the chemotherapy issues that have occurred at St Vincent’s Hospital. Again, we have been bombarded in the media with words such as scandal or bungle. The inferences have been that the under-dosing of chemotherapy has actually caused death or harm to the patients involved. There has been denials and misinformation leading to many ill-informed people being scared to have treatment at a fine institution such as St Vincent’s.

So, let’s look at the facts.

1) The oncologist involved, Dr John Grygiel, did not follow strict hospital protocols. It appears the administration was well aware of his attitude.

2) There are no well-done randomised controlled trials to strongly suggest that the higher dose chemotherapy designated by the protocols gave an enormous benefit over the flat or lower dose chemotherapy used by Dr Grygiel.

3) 20% of patients in the higher-dose trials could not tolerate these doses.

4) There has been (to my knowledge) no reported increased rate of death or disability in the patients who were not following designated protocols.

I see the situation somewhat analogous to the uproar over the ABC’s Catalyst program, suggesting there was no link between saturated fatty acids and heart disease and the rather obvious fact that statin drugs are being overprescribed by the medical profession.

The MJA even published an article extrapolating data from high-risk trials, suggesting that if a certain amount of people stopped statins as a consequence of the Catalyst program, we should see a certain amount of heart attacks and deaths as a consequence of the cessation of these drugs. But, again the MJA article did not actually look at the amount of deaths and heart attacks. But, as far as I’m aware, we haven’t actually seen more heart attacks or death as a consequence of the Catalyst program, probably because many people who shouldn’t be taking statins in the first place actually stopped the drugs.

Doctors have been treating patients off protocol on numerous occasions for many years. It is also very important to realise that the commonest cause of death in our society is cardiovascular disease, closely followed by cancer. Disturbingly, coming a very close third is Western health care.

In the Unites States alone, there are an estimated 760,000 deaths per year as a direct consequence of western healthcare. These deaths include prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, unnecessary antibiotic therapy, and unnecessary surgical and medical procedures along with superbugs.

Could it possibly be that Dr Grygiel was purely being cautious by not using large doses of chemotherapy? I would ask an independent expert in the area of chemotherapy and oncology to please show me, and the public, the evidence that Dr Grygiel has actually caused harm in any way, because as yet, I have not seen any.


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Is human longevity capped at 115?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

By Ross Walker

When Joe hockey was Treasurer, he made the statement that at some stage in the near future, we can expect our lifespan to extend to around 150 years.

Prolonging our life span is one of the holy grails for researchers. Like Mr Hockey, some researchers believe there is no ceiling, and some people known as trans-humanists are saying that immortality is possible.

A few decades ago, cryogenics was all the craze, but certainly it doesn’t appear to be anyone, apart from some savvy businessmen, who have actually benefited from being frozen at the moment of their death.

A recent report from the well-known journal Nature, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, suggested we have hit the ceiling of longevity. The average life expectancy from 1900 up until 1916 was around 50 years old. This included the carnage from infectious diseases in the pre-antibiotic era, along with the very high infant mortality rates.

Now, the average life expectancy is around 80 for males and 82 for females. A number of animal and laboratory studies have suggested that maximum lifespan is flexible and can be altered by a variety of genetic, pharmaceutical and dietary interventions. This work, however, has not been extrapolated to human beings. Professor Roy Walford wrote the book, “The 120 year diet” inferring that if you followed a 1500 cal, all plant food diet with no alcohol, caffeine or meat, you would live until you are 120.

He has a small bunch of loyal followers all over the world who follow his diet. They do not have an ounce of body fat, are constantly cold, tired and miserable, not to mention often depressed but they have this delusion they will live to the age of 120. I would like to report that recently and tragically, Prof Roy Walford died at the ripe old age of 79. The longest living person ever with a birth certificate was Jean Louise Calment, who died in Paris at the age of 122. She is definitely an outlier. 

This recent study said that we have hit the ceiling of 115 for maximum lifespan which is, of course, different to average life expectancy. This new study looked at the Human Mortality Database, which examines the mortality and population data for 40 countries.

But, since 1900, the survival improvements for those living beyond the age of 100 have plateaued. They examined the maximum lifespan in the US, Japan, France and the UK. The maximum reported lifespan since the mid 1990s has plateaued and as I’ve stated, is 115. It appears that even with further progress against infectious and chronic diseases, we may continue to boost the average life expectancy, but not the maximum lifespan.

The conclusion of the study was that our resources should be spent on improving health span and not increasing lifespan. Healthspan is defined as the duration of old age spent in good health. With the obvious fact that the world’s population is markedly increasing, and there are only so many resources to sustain adequate nutrition, fluid and shelter, even if we did have some magic bullet to offer us all what immortality, would our planet be able to accommodate us?

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