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Pesticide use: the tide appears to be turning

14 May

Bayer, the German company which bought the US agrochemical firm Monsanto, acquired its lucrative portfolio of pesticides and genetically modified seeds – and more than 13,000 pending cases relating to glyphosate sold under the brand name Roundup. At its annual meeting in Bonn last month, in an unprecedented revolt, more than 55% of shareholders declared they had no confidence in management. The ongoing fall in its share prices has accelerated. (Reuters 14.5.19).

Prof. Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the UK government points out that regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, that other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and quoted a UNGA report denouncing the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

Recent reports in the BMJ, the International Journal of Epidemiology and the European Food Safety Authority, add weight to Professor Boyd’s stance

Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population based case-control study, BMJ, 20 March 2019 (open access) notes that common pesticides have been previously shown to cause neurodevelopmental impairment in experimental research and environmental exposures during early brain development are suspected to increase risk of autism spectrum disorders in children. The study’s findings suggest that an offspring’s risk of autism spectrum disorder increases following prenatal exposure to ambient pesticides (including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and permethrin) within 2000 m of their mother’s residence during pregnancy, compared with offspring of women from the same agricultural region without such exposure. Infant exposure could further increase risks for autism spectrum disorder with comorbid intellectual disability.

• In February, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) published a new scientific analysis of glyphosate (PDF) (right), the active ingredient in Monsanto-owned Bayer’s Roundup, the world’s most popular weedkiller. They concluded that evidence supports a “compelling link” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer.
• Glyphosate exposure increases cancer risk up to 41% according to a study published in the IInternational Journal of Epidemiology (March). Observations in this analysis of >300 000 farmers and agricultural workers from France, Norway, and the USA, included elevations in risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoid malignancies (NHL) overall in association with the organophosphate insecticide terbufos, of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) with the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin and of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) with the organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate.

• More transparency sought: an EU court ruled on 7 March that the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should publicise studies about Monsanto’s glyphosate weedkiller. The General Court’s statement said that it annulled decisions by the EU food watch agency “refusing access to the toxicity and carcinogenicity studies on the active substance glyphosate”.

• On March 29th – after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns – EU states voted for a ban of chlorothalonil, a fungicide, after a review by the European Food Safety Authority was unable to exclude the possibility its breakdown products, cause damage to DNA. EFSA also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”. Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees.

Reuters reports that a California jury found on Monday that Monsanto’s Roundup likely caused a couple’s cancer and awarded them a staggering $2.055 billion in damages, in a third consecutive Roundup trial loss for the Bayer-owned unit. In one trial last August, a US court in California awarded damages and costs against Monsanto to 46-year-old park worker Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed with cancer after using the chemical.

But there’s still way to go; Monsanto – apparently undaunted – offers another  product, said to have less damage potential

Monsanto is reformulating its dicamba pesticide which tended to drift and earlier damaged millions of acres of crops and wild trees in 2017.

Farmers in 25 states had submitted more than 2,700 claims to state agricultural agencies that year and it was banned in the state of Arkansas last year, where almost 900,000 acres of crop damage (above) were reported. Monsanto unsuccessfully sued the state in an effort to stop the ban.

A lower volatility formulation, M1768, ‘a product with less potential to volatilize and move off the target area’ has been approved by the EPA for use until 2020 – on corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and other crops – though it has not been evaluated by experts independent of Monsanto. It was obliged by the American government’s Environmental Protection Agency to agree to registration and labelling changes for the 2018 growing season, including making these products restricted-use and requiring record-keeping and additional measures to prevent spray drift.

 

 

 

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MMR: why not allow the single vaccine option, in use elsewhere and widely accepted in ‘60s & ‘70s Britain?

30 Apr

 

As Dr Michael Jarmulowicz (FRCPath, MBBS) wrote in the BMJ:

“What I find puzzling is the adamant refusal of the authorities to facilitate the availability of the single measles vaccine, to the point that the Department of Health has banned its use within the NHS. How does this fit with the growing acceptance of patient autonomy and patient
choice? . . .

“Other countries with equivalent medical and ethical standards make them freely available.”

Other countries with equivalent medical and ethical standards do indeed make single vaccines freely available – indeed, Japan, a country with an excellent child health record, completely stopped using the MMR vaccine in 1993 after 1.8 million children had been given two types of MMR and a record number developed non-viral meningitis and other adverse reactions

The Merck measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a mixture of live weakened viruses of the three diseases. The first dose is generally given to children around 9 to 15 months of age and a second dose at 15 months to 6 years of age, with at least 4 weeks between the doses, according to PubMed (US government document – though the country’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that the vaccine is only licensed for use in children who are 12 months old.

The scientific argument for immunising infants against measles is to establish a good herd immunity, protecting unvaccinated babies, children and adults who could not be given the vaccination.

Doctors and parents are urged to acquire and carefully read the information leaflets relating to whatever vaccine they are considering and an online search of medical journals finds material which would make a thoughtful parent pause before agreeing to have their baby injected with the MMR vaccine.

The World Health Organisation (a UN affiliated body) reports that Live Attenuated Vaccines (LAVs) raise some general safety and stability concerns and lists six. A snapshot of the measles section follows:

Mass measles immunization campaigns – reporting and investigating adverse events following Immunization – notes that seizure risk is age-dependent, and lower for children over six years, who are unlikely to have febrile seizures. Allergies (especially to gelatine) and general illhealth is a contraindication to vaccination with MMR vaccine.

The most common programme error is an infection as a result of non-sterile injection. The infection can manifest as a local reaction (e.g., suppuration, abscess), systemic effect (e.g., sepsis or toxic shock syndrome), or blood-borne virus infection (e.g., HIV, hepatitis B).

Establishing a profitable monopoly

In the U.S. more than a million dollars has been paid in compensation over the last ten years to parents alleging their children were harmed by the MMR jab, Merck and Co USA. Despite this, the manufacturers of Mumpsvax (Jeryl Lynn strain) announced in January 2010 that it would no longer provide mumps vaccines as single doses. The single dose rubella vaccine has also been halted. Single measles vaccines and a combined measles/rubella vaccine are still available.

Prolonged legal action in its tenth year against Merck, the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine.

The Wall St Journal and many other news outlets have reported that Stephen A. Krahling and Joan A. Wlochowski, former Merck virologists, filed a lawsuit in 2010, accusing the drug maker of falsifying data about its mumps vaccine. The case has not yet been settled nine years later and the virologists complain that the company is not making some documents available to the court.

Single vaccines are used privately in Britain

Although separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella are now unlicensed in Britain, it is not illegal for doctors and clinics to import the vaccines as long as they inform the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) that they are bringing the vaccine into the country.

Dr Richard Halvorsen, a GP with over 20 years’ experience and the author of OK Vaccines: Making the Right Choice for Your Child (2017), has written widely on the subject. He runs an immunisation service in Britain that offers parents a choice of buying single and small combination vaccines which includes the single measles and measles/rubella vaccines.

Should not all parents have the right to request the single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella under the NHS system?

 

 

 

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Report research results separately to ensure new medicines are safe and effective for both sexes

19 Mar

“Women are not small men,” said Jeanine Roeters van Lennep. of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam (right):

“There are biological differences in hormones and body composition. Women have smaller kidneys so it’s more difficult to clear medication. They have a different fat and water composition.”

A study published in February showed that trials were more likely to report results for women separately if they had a female lead author, with only one in three papers reporting results separately. The Lancet, which published that research, is one of the few major journals that tell researchers to analyse separately.

Research on drugs withdrawn from the market published by the United States General Accounting Office found that eight out of ten drugs withdrawn from the market between 1997 and 2001, after approval in the US, turned out to have higher health risks for women.

One example was Posicor, which was approved for the treatment of hypertension and angina and slowed or stopped the heart rate in otherwise healthy people, especially elderly women, and interacted with 26 different drugs.

Cholesterol-lowering statins are Britain’s most commonly prescribed medicine but in 45 trials Dr van Lennep analysed, 82% of those studied were men and only five trials made data available on men and women separately. This meant that there was not enough data to show statins prevented heart attacks, strokes and deaths in women with an acceptable number of side-effects, unlike for men.

She said it was probable that statins did work for women, with previous studies suggesting a similar benefit for both sexes, and is not advising women prescribed them to stop. However, she argues, doctors cannot be certain because of sexism which is largely unconscious:

“It’s shocking. Men forget to do sex-specific analysis, to be really polite about it. If 50% of the population is female you can’t just say it’s an optional extra. It’s a blind spot because right now the triallists are generally men. I don’t think it’s malice that they don’t want to perform this analysis; they just really don’t think about it . . . We think journals should make it compulsory to report results for men and women separately.”

A Times article summarises the problem: doctors argue that an absence of women in clinical trials and failure to report results by sex have resulted in an evidence gap that is likely to be hampering treatment. They insist that medical journals should force researchers to report results for men and women separately to be sure that new medicines are safe and effective for both sexes.

 

 

 

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Medic’s warning: prescribed medication caused a 50% increase in emergency admissions & nearly 100,000 hospitalisations a year in England

10 Feb

 

An article by Dr Mark Porter (December 2018) opens, “The first thing I do when faced with a poorly patient is to look at their medication to see if it could be responsible. You would be surprised how often it is”. Polypharmacy is rife: 1 in 18 of the population is taking ten medicines or more and potent pharmaceuticals carry risks as well as benefits. Millions of people are taking medication such as blood pressure pills and statins to prevent problems they may never have.

The really important message that reducing your risk of heart disease is best done by an improved diet and lifestyle is getting ‘crowded out’

Repeated campaigns have advocated mass medication – for example the February 2014 drive by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (the ‘health watchdog’) saying that the vast majority of men aged over 50 and most women over the age of 60 should take the drugs to guard against strokes and heart disease – though studies have suggested that up to one in five patients taking statins suffers some kind of ill-effect, including muscle aches, memory disturbance, cataracts and diabetes.

The Times reported on February 1st that a study published in the Lancet says all men over 60 and women over 75 are at high enough risk of cardiovascular problems to be eligible for the drugs. Professor Colin Baigent from Oxford University, a ‘co-investigator’, says “The risk of heart attacks and strokes increases markedly with age, and yet statins are not utilised as widely in older people as they should be”.

Dr Porter writes: “it is not illegal drug use in older people that concerns me most. I am embarrassed to report that prescribed medication exacts a far bigger toll on the nation’s health. Since 2008 there has been a 50% increase in the number of emergency admissions to hospitals for adverse drug events caused by medicines. In England alone such reactions are responsible for nearly 100,000 hospitalisations a year”.

He explains that anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen can work wonders for aches and pains from arthritic joints, but they have worrying side-effects and don’t mix well with many drugs commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure (BP). They can damage the lining of the stomach, causing life-threatening bleeds (responsible for thousands of admissions every year) and can lead to kidney failure (on their own and when taken with BP drugs).

More subtle reactions impairing the quality of life are far more common and much easier to miss. Dr Porter gives a few examples from an ‘endless list’:

  • Blood pressure and heart pills that cause coughs (e.g. ramipril) and erectile dysfunction.
  • The prostate drug tamsulosin that can make you light-headed and increase the risk of falling.
  • Statins that cause aches and pains and reduce mobility.
  • Sleeping tablets that lead to addiction.
  • Cramp pills (quinine) that can cause heart problems.

He gave a striking case history:

“An elderly man with “early dementia” and diabetes was admitted to a residential home on our patch, where the staff reported that their new resident just sat in the corner all day looking vacant. His drug chart revealed he was taking an old-fashioned treatment for diabetes (gliclazide) that was pushing his blood sugars too low. It was stopped and two weeks later he was a new man and back in his own home. It is a lesson I have never forgotten”.

In October, an analysis in the British Medical Journal cautioned against any expansion in prescribing. One of its authors, Dr John D Abramson, clinical lecturer in primary care, from Harvard Medical School, last night said: “I think we have become victims of the drug companies. All the research is funded by them, and the really important message – that reducing your risk of heart disease is best done by an improved diet and lifestyle – is getting crowded out.”

 

 

 

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