Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Sadness and the Silence of the Chickens

There are some topics I don’t write about on Twitter or here in this blog. Directly reporting on politics is one such topic. Whilst I might have an allegiance to a set of politics, it is something I choose not to share publically. However, I absolutely respect the right of others to hold beliefs that may not be congruent with mine. Being able to articulate those views without fear or persecution through engagement with others in discussion, is fundamental to ensuring a healthy democracy. Last week, the discussion over whether the UK should stay in the EU or not, (a discussion that was becoming increasingly acrimonious) suddenly ceased.

The immediate and deafening silence of the EU referendum debate resulted from the news of the horrific and senseless murder of Jo Cox. She was a member of parliament who, at the time of her death, was simply doing what all MPs do, talking to her constituents. Jo was said to be a women who through the passionate articulation of her beliefs, and the life she led, inspired many others. She epitomised the notion that it’s possible to make a difference and bring about change. At this very sad time my thoughts, like many others, are with her family.

Whilst I choose not to enter into political debates, I do love it when there is a difference of opinion in the academic world – when two or more individuals challenge the legitimacy and authenticity of their research – thankfully, such debates are usually conducted with restraint and respect. The arguments are around 'safe' aspect of the research - methodological issues, reliability and replication and so on. However, such challenges are important as poor research can have a serious impact upon the health of individuals, particular groups, and in some cases, the health and well-being of whole nations.

In 1998, research undertaken into the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination was said to be linked to an increased risk of autism and some bowel disorders in children. The research sparked an international reduction in the uptake of the MMR vaccination. 1000's of children risked the serious and sometimes fatal complications of meningitis, encephalitis and of deafness these diseases can bring. However, the original research, involved just 12 children and was undertaken by someone being paid by a legal firm seeking to find evidence they could use against the vaccine manufacturers.  

The study and its findings have long been discredited with much better and more reliable evidence showing that the MMR vacation is safe (see here). Last week's academic debate was on whether cholesterol causes heart disease in older people or not, and whether trying to lower cholesterol with drugs like statins is a waste of time and money. The research (a systematic review of previous studies) found there was no link between what has been termed 'bad' cholesterol and the premature death of those over the age of 60 from cardiovascular disease. Indeed the paper, published in the BMJ open journal found that 92% of those with a high cholesterol level lived longer!

Well that was an assertion that brought out the academic sceptics. The debate was started and somewhat predictably, the discussion coalesced around two issues: (1) the effect of cholesterol on the body and (2) the methodology used to gain the results. Whilst systematic reviews are at the top of the research methodology hierarchy (see here) many researchers rate the randomised control trial as providing more valid and reliable results.

Read the paper and come to your own conclusions about cholesterol. As for me, my health message is simple: eat more eggs. A single egg contains approximately 180 – 186 mg of cholesterol. Our livers produce 1000 – 2000 mg per day depending on what you eat, so eating a high or low cholesterol meal will have little impact. Eggs contain HDL 'good' cholesterol rather than the 'bad' LDL cholesterol, the type that clogs up arteries. They are rich in vitamins (A, B6 and E) and many minerals such as iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. Not many foods are as nutrient rich as eggs. 

And while I would say eggs are good for you, the age old question as to which came first – the chicken or the egg still remains. My favourite story last week has to be of French round the world sailor Guirec Soudee and his companion Monique, a back yard hen. They have been traveling around the world in a boat together now for the last 2 years. It’s a great story, see it for yourself here! In a week of sadness it was a story that absolutely gave me something to smile about.