The truth about moderate drinking has been muddied by anti-alcohol militants

Last Friday, Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, described the belief that moderate alcohol consumption was good for the heart as an ‘old wives’ tale’. This was the culmination of a long-running campaign within a section of the public health lobby to cast doubt on the large body of evidence showing lower rates of heart disease and lower rates of mortality among moderate drinkers. A report from researchers at Sheffield University, released on the same day, claimed that the health benefits of drinking were ‘disputed’ and the subject of ‘substantial debate’.

It is difficult to imagine any amount of evidence persuading Sally Davies that moderate drinking is healthy. The protective effect of alcohol on the heart was first observed in 1926 and countless studies from all around the world have confirmed it in the 90 years since. It seems that Davies places a much greater burden of proof on scientists who find a positive effect from drinking than on those who find a negative effect. This can be illustrated by looking at two light bulb moments in the career of the legendary epidemiologist, Richard Doll.

In 1950, Doll, along with Austin Bradford Hill, published the first epidemiological study showing a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Many people were sceptical and potential flaws were quickly flagged up. The study had been limited to hospital patients in and around London, the vast majority of whom were smokers. In response, Doll and Hill got back to work and published a further study in 1952 which expanded its geographic reach. It came to the same conclusion.

Doll then initiated a prospective study which tracked the health of smoking and non-smoking doctors around the UK. When the first full findings were published in 1956 they once again showed a clear link between smoking and lung cancer risk.

In the meantime, researchers from other parts of the world conducted similar epidemiological studies with similar results. Gradually, it came to be accepted that the relationship was causal — smoking caused lung cancer.

Scepticism did not disappear overnight but as the years went by it was increasingly confined to the vested interests of tobacco companies and to maverick scientists who put forward alternative theories which might explain the statistical association between smoking and ill health. For example, the great statistician Ronald Fisher suggested that the early stages of lung cancer gave people the urge to smoke. Implausible though they were, such theories were not rejected out of hand but were subject to rigorous empirical testing until they were found wanting.

By 1976, when Richard Doll and Richard Peto published another edition of the doctors’ study, there was a wealth of evidence to support ‘the smoking theory’ (as it had been known) and there was a broad scientific consensus that the relationship between cigarettes and cancer was causal and proven. Alternative explanations had been tested and debunked.

Some people still refused to believe it, but they were a dwindling minority. The sceptics now became ‘merchants of doubt’, cherry-picking individual studies that seemed to undermine the larger body of evidence and raising spurious objections that had already been addressed in the scientific literature. Some demanded an impossible burden of proof by calling for randomised control trials which could not possibly be conducted even if it were ethical (which it would not be). Others said they would not believe smoking caused lung cancer until the exact biological mechanism by which it did so was identified.

Then, in 1994, Doll (now Sir Richard Doll) identified another statistical association in the data from the doctors’ study. In a study published with Richard Peto, he found that all-cause mortality was lower among moderate drinkers than it was among non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. It was not the first time such an association had been observed but some people were doubtful — not about the risks of heavy drinking but about the apparent risks of not drinking. Alternative explanations were again put forward, notably the possibility that some non-drinkers may have been former drinkers who had put their health at risk and were therefore at greater risk of premature mortality. This came to be known as the ‘sick quitter’ hypothesis.

As he had done when conducting research into smoking, Doll addressed his critics by carrying out a new epidemiological study. He published an article in 1997 looking at the question of causality which rejected the hypothesis that the association was due to confounding factors. Then, a few months before his death in 2005, he published a study based on 23 years of data which replicated the results of his previous studies while disproving the sick quitter hypothesis by comparing lifelong non-drinkers with moderate drinkers. The latter had lower rates of heart disease and lower risk of premature mortality.

By this time, Doll concluded: ‘That the inverse relationship between ischemic heart disease and the consumption of small or moderate amounts of alcohol is, for the most part, causal should, I believe, now be regarded as proved’. A Department of Health working group appeared to agree, noting: ‘All the evidence we have received confirms that the relationship between all-cause mortality and alcohol consumption follows a J-shaped curve. Non-drinkers have higher all-cause mortality than light and moderate drinkers’.

Doll was not alone in this research. As with the smoking-lung cancer finding, he was supported by researchers from around the world whose studies came to the same conclusion: moderate drinking lowered the risk of all-cause mortality and of heart disease in particular. In 2006, a meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies concluded that men who drank up to four drinks a day and women who drank up to two drinks a day had a lower mortality risk than those who did not drink at all. The sick quitter hypothesis was repeatedly tested and found wanting. The protective effect on the heart was repeatedly shown to be real and not the result of unhealthy former drinks in the non-drinking group.

As before, a noisy minority continued to deny these findings. They insisted that the biological pathways were unproven, though plausible pathways had been identified. They made generic criticisms of epidemiology that could apply to any observational research, though they never made them of studies which showed negative effects from drinking. Above all, they treated the sick quitter hypothesis as an unanswered question, never acknowledging that it had been tested extensively.

Decades after the evidence on moderate alcohol consumption had first been identified, those who refused to accept it were embroiled in a campaign of doubt and denial similar to what Doll had witnessed in the mid-20th century, but this time the naysayers were on the inside of the public health establishment, albeit in its neo-temperance wing. For years, they chipped away at the science, repeating the same old criticisms, cherry-picking studies and demanding an impossible burden of proof from researchers. They received a sympathetic hearing from their public health colleagues who had long struggled with the nuanced message that heavy drinking was bad while moderate drinking was good. Preferring a simple, clear, strong message that alcohol was dangerous, they were similarly inclined to dismiss or downplay the epidemiology.

Taken as a whole, the evidence was too strong to overcome, but so long as the critics persisted the evidence would, by definition, be ‘disputed’ and there would still be a ‘debate’. That was the line taken by the authors of the Sheffield University report when the Chief Medical Officer commissioned fresh research for the new drinking guidelines. In the 20 years since the Department of Health’s working group had concluded that epidemiological studies ‘strongly indicate a direct causal relationship’ between moderate drinking and cardiovascular health, the evidence had grown and become stronger, but anyone reading the Sheffield report would have got the impression it was on the brink of falling apart. Anyone listening to the Chief Medical Officer on the Today programme would have assumed it had already fallen apart. ‘An old wives’ tale’, she said. And with that, the job was done.

Christopher Snowdon will be speaking at the Spectator’s annual health debate at IET London, Savoy Place, on Tuesday February 9


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  • HD2

    CMO justifying a grossly inflated salary, based on giving credence to vanishingly small levels of risk.

    I have news for her: breathing kills too (100% of those who do it, die).
    Mind you, 100% of those who do NOT do it are already dead…

    • Jack Listerio

      ….Chemical analysis of exhaled human breath using a terahertz spectroscopic approach
      2013

      “As many as 3500 chemicals are reported in exhaled human breath. Many of these chemicals are linked to certain health conditions and environmental exposures. This experiment demonstrated a method of breath analysis utilizing a high resolution spectroscopic technique for the detection of ethanol, methanol, and acetone in the exhaled breath of a person who consumed alcohol. This technique is applicable to a wide range of polar molecules. For select species, unambiguous detection in a part per trillion dilution range with a total sample size in a femtomol range is feasible.”
      http: //scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/apl/103/13/10.1063/1.4823544

      “Cynthia Lyons, East Sussex County Council acting director of public health, said, “Second hand smoke can harm our health and contains over 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer.”

      Well compared to the 3500 chemicals reported in human breath, some of them known to cause contagion, Cynthia Lyons’ concern over only 4,000 seems quite pathetic,

      I don’t particularly want to breath the contents of some stranger’s lungs either, but up until now had considered it unavoidable.
      Of course banning other people breathing in all enclosed public spaces would be impracticable – compulsory masks, perhaps?

  • Chris Oakley

    This is an excellent article that helps to emphasise the depths to which standards have plummeted and the degree to which vested minority interests have been allowed to undermine science and in fact society.

    The man who worked so diligently to persuade others of the link between smoking and lung cancer must be turning in his grave as lesser men and women abuse his legacy. According to some accounts Doll was in many ways not an especially nice man and he was a bit obsessive about tobacco smoking. I respect him because he never stooped to the low politics and misleading quackery favoured by the likes of Ian Gilmore but stuck at the science and let it ultimately do his campaigning.

    As for Sally Davies, dismissing the work of decades as “old wives tales” on the basis of a barely literate report from an unreliable and demonstrably partisan source is not acceptable behaviour for someone in her position. Her performance and that of her less than objective team is absolutely shameful. It speaks volumes about the sick society that we have created. There is much more to a healthy society than what can be gleamed from its cancer statistics.

    • Jack Listerio

      …………………..Epidemiologists Vote to Keep Doing Junk Science

      Epidemiology Monitor (October 1997)

      An estimated 300 attendees a recent meeting of the American College of
      Epidemiology voted approximately 2 to 1 to keep doing junk science!

      Specifically, the attending epidemiologists voted against a motion
      proposed in an Oxford-style debate that “risk factor” epidemiology is
      placing the field of epidemiology at risk of losing its credibility.

      Risk factor epidemiology focuses on specific cause-and-effect
      relationships–like heavy coffee drinking increases heart attack risk. A
      different approach to epidemiology might take a broader
      perspective–placing heart attack risk in the context of more than just
      one risk factor, including social factors.

      Risk factor epidemiology is nothing more than a perpetual junk science machine.

      But as NIEHS epidemiologist Marilyn Tseng said “It’s hard to be an
      epidemiologist and vote that what most of us are doing is actually harmful
      to epidemiology.”

      But who really cares about what they’re doing to epidemiology. I thought
      it was public health that mattered!

      we have seen the “SELECTIVE” blindness disease that
      Scientist have practiced over the past ten years. Seems the only color they
      see is GREEN BACKS, it’s a very infectious disease that has spread through
      the Scientific community with the same speed that any infectious disease
      would spread. And has affected the T(thinking) Cells as well as sight.

      Seems their eyes see only what their paid to see. To be honest, I feel
      after the Agent Orange Ranch Hand Study, and the Sl-utz and Nutz Implant
      Study, they have cast a dark shadow over their profession of being anything
      other than traveling professional witnesses for corporate hire with a lack
      of moral concern to their obligation of science and truth.

      The true “Risk Factor” is a question of ; will they ever be able to earn
      back the respect of their profession as an Oath to Science, instead of
      corporate paid witnesses with selective vision?
      Oh, if this seems way harsh, it’s nothing compared to the damage of peoples
      lives that selective blindness has caused!

      • Jack Listerio

        The rise of a pseudo-scientific links lobby

        Every day there seems to be a new study making a link between food, chemicals or lifestyle and ill-health. None of them has any link with reality.

        spiked-online.com/newsite/article/13287#.U6ibAzYo59A

    • Mr B J Mann

      Despite the fact that “he was a bit obsessive about tobacco smoking” Doll was adamant that there was no link between passive smoking and health problems and if there were they must be so so tiny there weren’t worth considering.

      And yet lesser men and women abuse his legacy by stooping to low politics and misleading quackery to promote the vested minority interests of the anti-smoking lobby that have been allowed to undermine science and in fact society!

  • disqus_IGiIg3mF0y

    The so-called charity sector is behind all this nonsense. Alcohol Concern and all the other parasitic vermin get tax-payers’ money based on exactly this sort of lie.

  • Tony

    I fully agree with your analysis as far as drinking goes. However I must take issue with your take on smoking. For instance :

    Fisher suggested genetic affinity for smoking might be linked to lung cancer vulnerability. Hence his small study into identical twins which did indeed confirm a correlation between genes and smoking.

    Over the years it did become accepted by many that smoking was a cause of lung cancer. After all, the anti-smokers such as Doll were shouting from the rooftops about it and there was no organised opposition. The tobacco companies generally avoided any real public comment. Take this statement made by Imperial Tobacco as part of their written testimony for the 2005 McTear vs ITL court case: “We agree that there should be one consistent public health message. Thisu is why, whatever our views on these complex issues, Imperial does not challenge the public health message. It has not done so for almost 40 years and intends, in the future, to continue its policy of not challenging the public health message that smoking causes these diseases [lung cancers].”

    Randomised Intervention studies (on persuading people to quit) were carried out, contrary to your implication. The multimillion dollar MRFIT study being a case in point. For ethical and practical reasons, all of them were concerned with whether persuading people to quit worked and with whether there were health benefits. All the studies found that persuading people to quit did work but did not lower overall rates of lung cancer or heart disease or even improve mortality .

  • My late grandmother had an arthritic condition all her life. Even her wedding photos, showed her leaning on a chair. She was married to a farmer and , despite having a large family, helped with the small ‘household’ chores, including chickens, eggs, milk churns, and so on. As she got older and with only one son to assist, her workload actually increased. She was very religious, reading her prayerbook every evening and praying. She was very conservative and did not approve, in any way, of excess drinking. She did, however, have a glass of brandy, at nine o’clock each evening, to relieve the pain, which was constant, before going to bed, for a six a.m. rise. I think she did this for over forty years and worked, although almost bent double, until she was ninety-two years, her last two years being bed-ridden. She used to ask God, for forgiveness, for her indulgence. I believe that alcohol, in moderate amounts can be of great mental and physical comfort to elderly people.

  • Summer Isles

    Some good analysis here by Christopher Snowdon that it is hard to disagree with.

    As he says there is a wealth of evidence to support what is called the J shaped curve. The lowest overall mortality is found among low to moderate drinkers, which in practice means 2 units a day for women and 3 for men. A very recent study from Harvard suggested that, in non smokers, the risk of serious illness at the level of consumption is zero. Link below

    Turning twenty years of advice on its head, removing the distinction between male and female consumption and claiming that every glass of sherry portends doom is, frankly, pretty daft and brings public health advice into disrepute.

    http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4238

  • I have no intention of becoming embroiled in a deep discussion here (that would normally be required to challenge complex anti-smoker mendacity). There are enough anti-smoker nutters out there for that (eg will berti turn up?) without debating with someone who is already aware of the inveterate mendacity that pervades the anti-smoker industry. I will simply draw attention to a few relevant points and matters of dispute that have allegedly been ‘proven’ (falsely) and underpin the whole anti-smoker/healthist movement.

    As Chris Oakley points out “Doll was in many ways not an especially nice man and he was a bit obsessive about tobacco smoking”. Apart from this, Doll worked as a scientific representative of the Asbestos, Chemical and Nuclear industries. (ie. those industries that have benefited substantially from deeming almost all public ill health as self-inflicted by smoking (now extending to drinking, over-eating and not exercising enough). Doll’s studies merely found that there were a lot of smokers and a lot of lung cancers in smokers. Other research that allegedly corroborated him were, as Fisher pointed out, mere repetitions of the same, NOT replications that could corroborate him using differing methodologies. In fact no other science, apart from these repetitions, has been able to corroborate Doll!

    As smoking has declined in western populations, lung cancers have INCREASED (raw count)! Adjusted statistics, favoured by the anti-smoker industry, that show a reduction in lung cancers ALSO show a reduction in lung cancers etc. in countries where smoking prevalence is high and probably increasing.

    Today there are lots of NON smokers and lots of lung cancers in NON smokers – reversing the correlation found by Doll.

    I am surprised you infer that proving causation by using REAL hard science, as opposed to theoretical assumptions, extrapolated from inexact epidemiological study, is not important;
    “Others said they would not believe smoking caused lung cancer until the exact biological mechanism by which it did so was identified.” This is not just VERY important, it is crucial! For goodness sake, the best scientists in the world have been trying for a generation and more to prove the ‘smoking causes lung cancer’ hypothesis but have consistently FAILED, often finding the opposite of harm.

    The anti-smoker industry did not win their ground by ‘science’, they did it by being much better at painting themselves as whiter-that-white and convincing the public etc that their opposition, the tobacco companies and those individuals associated with them, were liars and cheats. They created a hate figure (a God versus Devil pseudo-religious emotive scenario) using propaganda and smear tactics so that non-tobacco CONTROL ‘science’ would be discounted out of hand and theirs, however absurd, would be accepted with naive open arms. The tobacco companies did indeed buckle under at such pressure – but look at how well their business is doing now!

    It is worth bearing in mind that all the religious ‘experts’ at one time were convinced that the Earth was the centre of the universe and they refused to listen to Galileo for many years. Let’s not perpetuate the C20th – C21st version any longer than is necessary. Neither illness nor death were caused as a result of that earlier faith and ‘consensus’ dispute between ‘experts’ and reality.

    • bertl

      *Lol* Brighty,Of course, smoking has absolutely nothing to do with lung cancer but curious that smokers are at much higher risk (1500 percent higher!!!) in EVERY country
      A remarkable coincidence 😉
      http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/164/12/1233.long

      • Right on cue berti! Am I your obsession?

      • Jack Listerio

        …..The ranking goes for all cancer deaths/mortality:

        Per 100,000 population CDC NUMBERS/ smoking rates from tobacco free kids

        Kentucky at 207 Adults in Kentucky who smoke* 29.0% (971,000)

        Miss. 200 Adults in Mississippi who smoke* 26.0% (579,300)

        West Virginia 196 Adults in West Virginia who smoke* 28.6% (420,500)

        Louisianna 196 Adults in Louisiana who smoke* 25.7% (888,300)

        Arkansas 193 Adults in Arkansas who smoke* 27.0% (601,400)

        Alabama 190 Adults in Alabama who smoke* 24.3% (893,100)

        Indiana 187 Adults in Indiana who smoke* 25.6% (1,259,300)

        Maine 186 Adults in Maine who smoke* 22.8% (241,400)

        Missouri 184 Adults in Missouri who smoke* 25.0% (1,149,600)

        Delaware 184 Adults in Delaware who smoke* 21.8% (153,100)

        South Carolina 182 Adults in South Carolina who smoke* 23.1% (831,200)

        Lung and Bronchus. Invasive Cancer Incidence Rates and 95% Confidence Intervals by Age and Race and Ethnicity, United States (Table 3.15.1.1M) *†‡

        Rates are per 100,000 persons. Rates are per 100,000 persons.

        Note the age where LC is found…………..OLD AGE group incidence hits the 500/100,000 at age 75-85

        AGE it seems is the deciding factor……….

        http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/… Cancer Sites Combined&Year=2010&Site=Lung and Bronchus&SurveyInstanceID=1

  • Jack Listerio

    Doll then initiated a prospective study which tracked the health of smoking and non-smoking doctors around the UK. When the first full findings were published in 1956 they once again showed a clear link between smoking and lung cancer risk.

    Judge doesnt accept statistical studies as proof of LC causation!

    It was McTear V Imperial Tobacco. Here is the URL for both my summary and the Judge’s ‘opinion’ (aka ‘decision’):

    (2.14) Prof Sir Richard Doll, Mr Gareth Davies (CEO of ITL). Prof James Friend and
    Prof Gerad Hastings gave oral evidence at a meeting of the Health Committee in
    2000. This event was brought up during the present action as putative evidence that
    ITL had admitted that smoking caused various diseases. Although this section is quite
    long and detailed, I think that we can miss it out. Essentially, for various reasons, Doll
    said that ITL admitted it, but Davies said that ITL had only agreed that smoking might
    cause diseases, but ITL did not know. ITL did not contest the public health messages.
    (2.62) ITL then had the chance to tell the Judge about what it did when the suspicion
    arose of a connection between lung cancer and smoking. Researchers had attempted
    to cause lung cancer in animals from tobacco smoke, without success. It was right,
    therefore, for ITL to ‘withhold judgement’ as to whether or not tobacco smoke caused
    lung cancer.

    [9.10] In any event, the pursuer has failed to prove individual causation.
    Epidemiology cannot be used to establish causation in any individual case, and the
    use of statistics applicable to the general population to determine the likelihood of
    causation in an individual is fallacious. Given that there are possible causes of lung
    cancer other than cigarette smoking, and given that lung cancer can occur in a nonsmoker,
    it is not possible to determine in any individual case whether but for an
    individual’s cigarette smoking he probably would not have contracted lung cancer
    (paras.[6.172] to [6.185]).
    [9.11] In any event there was no lack of reasonable care on the part of ITL at any
    point at which Mr McTear consumed their products, and the pursuer’s negligence
    case fails. There is no breach of a duty of care on the part of a manufacturer, if a
    consumer of the manufacturer’s product is harmed by the product, but the consumer
    knew of the product’s potential for causing harm prior to consumption of it. The
    individual is well enough served if he is given such information as a normally
    intelligent person would include in his assessment of how he wishes to conduct his
    life, thus putting him in the position of making an informed choice (paras.[7.167] to
    [7.181]).

  • Jack Listerio

    ………….

  • Jack Listerio

    ……….

    This pretty well destroys the Myth of second hand smoke:

    Lungs from pack-a-day smokers safe for transplant, study finds.

    By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News.

    Using lung transplants from heavy smokers may sound like a cruel joke, but a new study finds that organs taken from people who puffed a pack a day for more than 20 years are likely safe.

    What’s more, the analysis of lung transplant data from the U.S. between 2005 and 2011 confirms what transplant experts say they already know: For some patients on a crowded organ waiting list, lungs from smokers are better than none.

    “I think people are grateful just to have a shot at getting lungs,” said Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a cardiovascular surgical resident at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, who led the new study………………………

    Ive done the math here and this is how it works out with second ahnd smoke and people inhaling it!

    The 16 cities study conducted by the U.S. DEPT OF ENERGY and later by Oakridge National laboratories discovered:

    Cigarette smoke, bartenders annual exposure to smoke rises, at most, to the equivalent of 6 cigarettes/year.

    146,000 CIGARETTES SMOKED IN 20 YEARS AT 1 PACK A DAY.

    A bartender would have to work in second hand smoke for 2433 years to get an equivalent dose.

    Then the average non-smoker in a ventilated restaurant for an hour would have to go back and forth each day for 119,000 years to get an equivalent 20 years of smoking a pack a day! Pretty well impossible ehh!

  • Jack Listerio

    ….OSHA also took on the passive smoking fraud and this is what came of it:

    Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

    This sorta says it all

    These limits generally are based on assessments of health risk and calculations of concentrations that are associated with what the regulators believe to be negligibly small risks. The calculations are made after first identifying the total dose of a chemical that is safe (poses a negligible risk) and then determining the concentration of that chemical in the medium of concern that should not be exceeded if exposed individuals (typically those at the high end of media contact) are not to incur a dose greater than the safe one.

    So OSHA standards are what is the guideline for what is acceptable ”SAFE LEVELS”

    OSHA SAFE LEVELS

    All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

    For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

    “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

    “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

    Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

    “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes.

    For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

    The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

    So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

    Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

    Why are their any smoking bans at all they have absolutely no validity to the courts or to science!

  • Jack Listerio

    Mummies’ clogged arteries take smoking, fatty foods, lethargy out of the mix

    By Tom Valeo, Times Correspondent

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013 4:30am

    You do everything right: You exercise every day, include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet, never smoke, minimize the stress in your life and take medication to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control. You’re preventing modern life from ruining your heart, right? • Well, maybe modern life isn’t as much of a problem as merely living. CT scans of 137 ancient mummies from three continents show that our ancestors had plaque in their arteries, too, even though they never smoked, never tasted ice cream or pork rinds, and had no choice but to exercise vigorously every day of their lives.

    According to the study, which appeared recently in the Lancet, at least one-third of the mummies, who lived as long as 5,000 years ago, had arteries that had narrowed as a result of atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty deposits in the arterial wall. Apparently the cardiovascular system has a tendency to clog up over time.

    “Our research shows that we are all at risk for atherosclerosis, the disease that causes heart attacks and strokes,” said Gregory Thomas, medical director of the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, and one of the authors of the study. “The data we gathered about individuals from the prehistoric cultures of ancient Peru and the Native Americans living along the Colorado River and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands is forcing us to look for other factors that may cause heart disease.”

    The diet of the mummies varied widely, but contained ample protein and vegetables (and presumably no cupcakes or pork rinds). Aside from the few Egyptian mummies who lived their lives as pampered royalty, these ancient people used their muscles constantly.

    Yet, the atherosclerosis was found in mummies who died in what we today would consider middle age (almost none made it to 60). And just as today, their arteries became more narrow as they got older. CT scans of modern people have demonstrated that after the age of 60 for men and 70 for women, some degree of atherosclerosis is all but universal. One large study found that teens ages 15 to 19 showed early signs of atherosclerosis, and 50 percent already had conspicuous accumulations of plaque.

    “All of us age in every tissue of our body,” says Dr. Donald LaVan, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. “It’s just a question of how rapidly it happens. There’s nothing you can do to stop aging. All you’re trying to do is prevent it from advancing faster than it should.”

    The authors of the paper agree. “Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in premodern humans raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease,” they concluded.

    “After that, we’re in the realm of treating disease,” he says. “If your lipids are up or you have hypertension, take care of it. If you have problems with rhythm disturbances, that must be treated, too, because it impairs the ability of heart to pump efficiently. We’re looking at common sense here, but getting patients to do these things is tough.”

  • Klaus K

    From the article “Smoking Claim Defeat Challenges Opinions on Causation” – International Law Office, Nov 2005:

    Re. McTear vs. Imperial Tobacco. The question: Can cigarette smoking cause lung cancer?

    “General causation: The judge found that the results of animal experiments conducted in the 1950s and 1960s failed to support the general causation hypothesis. Although this was not a crucial point in itself, it was nevertheless significant, as proof of a causal connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer would depend solely on the conclusions from epidemiological studies. The judge stated that, on one view of the scientific approach, these studies “could be regarded as yielding no more than untested hypotheses.

    It followed that the claim would stand or fall on the basis of what could be proved by the epidemiological studies. After hearing evidence on general causation, the judge was unable to decide whether cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. He was critical of the evidence given in this regard by the claimant’s expert [Sir Richard Doll] and concluded that there was no case for Imperial to answer.”

    http://www.internationallawoffice.com/Newsletters/Product-Regulation-Liability/United-Kingdom/Lovells/Smoking-Claim-Defeat-Challenges-Opinions-on-Causation