Gout surge blamed on sweet drinks
Sugary drinks have been blamed for a surge in cases of the painful joint disease gout.
Men who consume two or more sugary soft drinks a day have an 85% higher risk of gout compared with those who drink less than one a month, a study suggests.
Cases in the US have doubled in recent decades and it seems fructose, a type of sugar, may be to blame, the British Medical Journal study reports.
UK experts said those with gout would be advised to cut out sugary drinks.
About 1.5% of the UK population currently suffers from gout and there has been an increase in numbers over the last 30 years – although the condition is more associated with Victorian times.
The symptoms of painful, swollen joints, mainly in the lower limbs, are caused when uric acid crystallises out of the blood into the joints.
US and Canadian researchers said the increase in cases had coincided with a substantial rise in the consumption of soft drinks.
Previous research had also shown that fructose increases levels of uric acid in the bloodstream.
To look in more detail, the team carried out a 12-year study of 46,000 men aged 40 years and over with no history of gout, asking them regular questionnaires about their diet.
Over the period, 755 newly diagnosed cases of gout were reported.
The risk of developing the condition was significantly increased with an intake level of five to six servings of sugary soft drink per week.
This link was independent of other risk factors for gout such as body mass index, age, high blood pressure and alcohol intake.
Diet soft drinks did not increase the risk of gout but fruit juice and fructose rich (my emphasis, think HFCS) fruits (apples and oranges) were associated with a higher risk, the researchers said.
But this finding needs to be balanced against the benefit of fruit and vegetables in preventing other chronic disorders like heart disease and stroke.
Dr Hyon Choi, from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver said dietary advice for gout had focused on restricting purine-rich foods, such as red meat and beer.
He said practitioners should advise patients with gout to reduce their fructose intake.
“I can think of some situations, for example in severe treatment failure gout, where reducing sweet fruits, such as oranges and apples could help,” he added.
Dr Andrew Bamji, president of the British Society for Rheumatology, said anecdotally cases of gout appeared to be rising.
“When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense in that fructose inhibits the excretion of uric acid.
“I will certainly change my advice to patients and I suspect the number drinking fructose is quite large.”
Methane hydrate: Dirty fuel or energy saviour?
The world is addicted to hydrocarbons, and it’s easy to see why – cheap, plentiful and easy to mine, they represent an abundant energy source to fuel industrial development the world over.
The side-effects, however, are potentially devastating; burning fossil fuels emits the CO2 linked to global warming.
And as reserves of oil, coal and gas are becoming tougher to access, governments are looking ever harder for alternatives, not just to produce energy, but to help achieve the holy grail of all sovereign states – energy independence.
Some have discovered a potential saviour, locked away under deep ocean beds and vast swathes of permafrost. The problem is it’s a hydrocarbon, but unlike any other we know.
Otherwise known as fire ice, methane hydrate presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas locked inside. They are formed through a combination of low temperatures and high pressure, and are found primarily on the edge of continental shelves where the seabed drops sharply away into the deep ocean floor, as the US Geological Survey map shows.
And the deposits of these compounds are enormous. “Estimates suggest that there is about the same amount of carbon in methane hydrates as there is in every other organic carbon store on the planet,” says Chris Rochelle of the British Geological Survey.
In other words, there is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together.
By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrate simply breaks down into water and methane – a lot of methane.
One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel. This, together with abundant reserves and the relatively simple process of releasing the methane, means a number of governments are getting increasingly excited about this massive potential source of energy.
The problem, however, is accessing the hydrates.
Quite apart from reaching them at the bottom of deep ocean shelves, not to mention operating at low temperatures and extremely high pressure, there is the potentially serious issue of destabilising the seabed, which can lead to submarine landslides.
A greater potential threat is methane escape. Extracting the gas from a localised area of hydrates does not present too many difficulties, but preventing the breakdown of hydrates and subsequent release of methane in surrounding structures is more difficult.
And escaping methane has serious consequences for global warming – recent studies suggest the gas is 30 times more damaging than CO2.
These technical challenges are the reason why, as yet, there is no commercial-scale production of methane hydrate anywhere in the world. But a number of countries are getting close.
The US, Canada and Japan have all ploughed millions of dollars into research and have carried out a number of test projects, while South Korea, India and China are also looking at developing their reserves.
The US launched a national research and development programme as far back as 1982, and by 1995 had completed its assessment of gas hydrate resources. It has since instigated pilot projects in the Blake Ridge area off the coast of South Carolina, on the Alaska North Slope and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, with five projects still running.
“The department continues to do research and development to better understand this domestic resource… [which we see] as an exciting opportunity with enormous potential,” says Chris Smith of the US Department of Energy.
The US has worked closely with Canada and Japan and there have been a number of successful production tests since 1998, most recently in Alaska in 2012 and, more significantly, in the Nankai Trough off the central coast of Japan in March last year – the first successful offshore extraction of natural gas from methane hydrate.
Of all the countries actively researching methane hydrate, Japan has the greatest incentive. As Stephen O’Rourke, of energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, says: “It is the biggest importer of gas in the world and has the highest gas import bill as a result.”
However, he points out that at just $120m (£71m; 87m euros) a year, the Japanese government’s annual budget for research into gas hydrates is relatively low.
The country’s plans to establish commercial production by the end of this decade do, then, seem rather optimistic. But longer-term, the potential is huge.
“Methane hydrate makes perfect sense for Japan and could be a game changer,” says Laszlo Varro of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Elsewhere, incentives to exploit the gas commercially are, for now, less pressing. The US is in the middle of a shale gas boom, Canada also has abundant shale resources, while Russia has huge natural gas reserves. In fact, Canada has put its research into methane hydrate on hold, and deferred any additional funding.
China and India, with their rampaging demand for energy, are a different story, but they are far behind in their efforts to develop hydrates.
“We have seen some recent progress, but we don’t foresee commercial gas hydrate production before 2030,” says Mr O’Rourke.
Indeed, the IEA has not included gas hydrates in its global energy projections for the next 20 years.
‘Mad Max movie’
But if resources are exploited, as seems likely at some point in the future, the implications for the environment could be widespread.
It is not all bad news – one way to free the methane trapped in ice is pumping in CO2 to replace it, which could provide an answer to the as yet unsolved question of how to store this greenhouse gas safely.
But while methane hydrate may be cleaner than coal or oil, it is still a hydrocarbon, and burning methane creates CO2. Much depends of course on what it displaces, but this will only add to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
However, this may be a far better option than the alternative. In fact, we may have no choice.
As global temperatures rise, warming oceans and melting permafrost, the enormous reserves of methane trapped in ice may be released naturally. The consequences could be a catastrophic circular reaction, as warming temperatures release more methane, which in turn raises temperatures further.
“If all the methane gets out, we’re looking at a Mad Max movie,” says Mr Varro.
“Even using conservative estimates of methane [deposits], this could make all the CO2 from fossil fuels look like a joke.
“How long can the gradual warming go on before the methane gets out? Nobody knows, but the longer it goes on, the closer we get to playing Russian roulette.”
Capturing the methane and burning it suddenly looks like rather a good idea. Maybe this particular hydrocarbon addiction could prove beneficial for us all.
The internet needs oiling, had trouble loading this page this morning, kept sticking.
All oiled and running smoothly again.
Now it’s 3:30am (making graphics takes time), do I need coffee or do I need more sleep?
Sleep now, coffee later.
I woke at 6am, still too early.
It’s now 9… Boy, did I sleep. I need more coffee.
Clorinha is not ‘green’. She likes plastic.
She also likes boxes and empty bottles, they are so wonderful to roll around the floor.
After admitting on last week’s CTWW that I used a squirt of air freshener, I saw the suggestion of orange peel in vinegar as an alternative air freshener on another blog, Living Simply Free, I am trying that. I have the first orange peels in a small jar of vinegar. I have perforated the lid, hopefully during the process it will allow the smell to spread.
I will have to buy a small spray bottle to try the full effect of the infused vinegar as suggested.
So another example of how blogs can change habits.
On with this week’s CTWW.
A health issue this week. One that I didn’t know about.
Small’s CTWWs are often full of surprises.
You’ll have to zip across to Reduce Footprints for the preamble to know that we are specifically talking about kidneys…
Wanting to know more, I googled it, and found a site that confirms Small’s preamble, although I rejected what the site said about saturated animal fats, which more recent studies have debunked. Natural fats are good for you, it’s the trans and hydrogenated fats like margarine and vegetable cooking oils (canola, soya, etc) that are the killers. But that’s another story, already posted on here.
Animal protein does make the kidneys work harder, a lot harder.
So the suggestion is to go for a vegan diet to avoid the risks.
I have in the past written that I am a carnivore, and I still am. Meat is a major part of my diet, although I have reduced my beef intake dramatically not because of my health, but on discovering that beef takes more natural resources to produce than other meats.
Animal protein also features high in my diet. I eat half a dozen+ eggs weekly, I drink at least a litre (nearly a quart) of milk daily, my cheese intake would be higher than most people’s, I use butter and I use lard or dripping for cooking.
Now, my health is generally good, albeit that I am a little overweight due to my sedentary life style inflicted on me through a motor accident. Touch wood I have never had kidney stones or any such thing. The only malady that I can attribute to animal products is gout (high uric acid because the kidneys can’t process it all), in my case not serious, manifesting slightly at times and going again.
So, I thankfully consider my lot. For those who don’t know, I am 62 and rapidly (all too rapidly) heading for 63. So health-wise, I haven’t fared too badly.
I would no more think of a vegan diet than fly to the moon. Although, occasionally, unconsciously, I do eat vegan meals. Not because they are vegan, but that’s what I feel like eating. I am more likely to eat a vegetarian meal like yesterday, curried beans on rice.
Some observations: Do vegans use margarine instead of butter, being under the illusion that it is inline with a vegan/healthy diet? Do vegans use vegetable cooking fat or oils (canola, soya, etc) for the same reason? I don’t know, I am asking. If you do then you are far more at risk of heart disease and obesity than using natural fats. These products are amongst the most dangerous in the western world, if the governments weren’t so cowardly (quivering at the feet of the corporations), they’d ban them. Having said that, the US government is taking a close look at new research results.
I don’t consider vegan to be the whole answer.
Nor is it the answer to saving the planet because meat takes too many resources to produce. The problem there is simply too many people, that’s what we have to look at, over population.
We are living on a dirt ball that can support 500 million people, and we are stretching resources to feed 7 billion; we are 13½times over capacity.
Therein lies the problem.
Vegan is not the solution.
New bird family discovered in Asia
A unique family of birds containing just one species has been discovered by researchers.
Scientists investigating families within the Passerida group of perching birds identified 10 separate branches in their tree of life.
The analysis also revealed that the spotted wren-babbler sat on its own branch and was not related to either wrens or wren-babblers.
Experts recommend the distinctive bird should now be referred to as Elachura.
The discovery is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
“This single species is the only living representative of one of the earliest off-shoots within the largest group of [perching birds], which comprises [around] 36% of the world’s 10,500 bird species,” said Prof Per Alstrom from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, who undertook the study alongside researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.
Elachura formosa is a small perching bird – or passerine – that is found from the eastern Himalayas to southeast China.
Prof Alstrom describes it as “extremely secretive and difficult to observe, as it usually hides in very dense tangled undergrowth in the subtropical mountain forests.”
“However, during the breeding season, when the males sing their characteristic, high-pitched song, which doesn’t resemble any other continental Asian bird song, it can sometimes be seen sitting on a branch inside a bush.”
He suggests the bird had previously been overlooked because it looks “strikingly similar” to wrens and wren-babblers.
“This similarity is apparently either due to pure chance or to convergent evolution, which may result in similar appearances in unrelated species that live in similar environments – some wren-babblers can be neighbours to the Elachura,” Prof Alstrom explained.