Since 2006, U.S. honey bee populations have been in precipitous decline, with some estimates suggesting losses as high as 30% per year.1 While that’s terrible, the problem is far greater than just the loss of a species. Without bees, a big piece of our food supply is in serious danger. Pollination by honey bees is key in cultivating the crops that produce a full one-third of our food.
Scientists have been scrambling to understand the crisis â€” termed Colony Collapse Disorder â€” but have yet to find a single, definitive cause. There are likely multiple interacting causes, and mounting evidence suggests that one widely used class of pesticides may be a critical factor.
One such chemical, called clothianidin, is produced by the German corporation Bayer CropScience. It is used as a treatment on crop seeds, including corn and canola, and works by expressing itself in the plants’ pollen and nectar. Not coincidentally, these are honey bees’ favorite sources of food.
Shockingly, no major independent study has verified the safety of this pesticide. While clothianidin has been used on corn â€” the largest crop in the U.S. â€” since 2003, it was officially approved by the Environmental Protection Agency last year on the basis of a single study, conducted by Bayer. However, recently leaked documents show that the study was actually debunked by the agency’s own scientists, so the pesticide was effectively approved with no scientific backing.2
It is outrageous that the E.P.A. is putting a vital species, the livelihoods of farmers and beekeepers, and our very food supply at risk just so Bayer can peddle its pesticide. Click here to automatically sign the petition asking the E.P.A. to immediately issue a ban on clothianidin.
When clothianidin first came to market, there was little or no scientific review of its effect on the environment. The E.P.A. allowed “conditional registration” in 2003 but requested additional study to establish the safety of the chemical. Bayer, the producer of the chemical, conducted one such study, and without public notice, the E.P.A. granted unconditional use in early 2010.
But E.P.A. documents3 leaked at the end of last year expose a more sordid story. Agency scientists who reviewed Bayer’s study determined that the evidence was by no means sound, and even downgraded the study to a level at which it should not have been allowed as the basis for an unconditional approval of the pesticide.
Additional independent studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides like clothianidin are highly toxic to honey bees, providing compelling evidence that they should be immediately taken off the market until the E.P.A. can conduct a full and valid scientific review.
This appears to be a case of the E.P.A. catering to the needs of a large chemical corporation at the expense of a lynchpin species in our ecosystem. France, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany â€” the home of Bayer â€” have already banned clothianidin.
The stakes are simply too high to continue the use of this chemical in the absence of any scientifically verified evidence that it is safe to use. Click here to automatically sign the petition telling the E.P.A. to immediately prohibit the use of clothianidin and conduct a full scientific review to determine its impact on honey bee and other non-target populations.
Thank you for speaking out to protect the honey bees and our food supply.
Adam Klaus, Campaign Manager
Scientists have identified a protein that acts as a â€œmaster switchâ€ in certain white blood cells, determining whether they promote or inhibit inflammation. The study, published in the journal Nature Immunology, could help researchers look for new treatments for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that involve excessive inflammation.
Inflammatory responses are an important defence that the body uses against harmful stimuli such as infections or tissue damage, but in many conditions, excessive inflammation can itself harm the body. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints become swollen and painful, but the reasons why this happens are not well understood.
Cells of the immune system called macrophages can either stimulate inflammation or suppress it by releasing chemical signals that alter the behaviour of other cells. The new study, by scientists from Imperial College London, has shown that a protein called IRF5 acts as a molecular switch that controls whether macrophages promote or inhibit inflammation.
The results suggest that blocking the production of IRF5 in macrophages might be an effective way of treating a wide range of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, boosting IRF5 levels might help to treat people whose immune systems are compromised.
Researchers from Imperial College London previously developed anti-TNF treatments, a class of drug that is widely used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The drugs target TNF, an important signalling chemical released by immune cells to stimulate inflammatory responses. However, about 30 per cent of patients donâ€™t respond to anti-TNF drugs, so there is a serious need to develop more widely effective therapies.
Dr Irina Udalova from the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at Imperial College London, the senior researcher on the study, said:
â€œDiseases can affect which genes are switched on and off in particular types of cells. Understanding how this switching is regulated is crucial for designing targeted strategies to suppress unwanted cell responses.
â€œOur results show that IRF5 is the master switch in a key set of immune cells, which determines the profile of genes that get turned on in those cells. This is really exciting because it means that if we can design molecules that interfere with IRF5 function, it could give us new anti-inflammatory treatments for a wide variety of conditions.â€
Gene association studies have linked variations in the gene that encodes IRF5 with an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. This led Dr Udalova and a PhD student in her lab, Mr Thomas Krausgruber, to investigate what role the protein plays in controlling inflammation.
They used engineered viruses to introduce extra copies of the IRF5 gene in human macrophages grown in the laboratory, making the cells produce more IRF5. When they did this to macrophages with anti-inflammatory characteristics, it made them switch to promoting inflammation. When they blocked IRF5 in pro-inflammatory macrophages using synthetic molecules, this reduced the cellsâ€™ production of signals that promote inflammation. The researchers also studied genetically modified mice that were unable to produce IRF5. These mice produced lower levels of chemical signals that stimulate inflammation.
IRF5 seems to work by switching on genes that stimulate inflammatory responses and dampening genes that inhibit them. It can either do this by interacting with DNA directly, or by interacting with other proteins that themselves control which genes are switched on. Dr Udalovaâ€™s group are now studying how IRF5 works at a molecular level and which other proteins it interacts with so that they can design ways to block its effects.
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the European Community, and Arthritis Research UK.
A pill containing a mix of essential oils has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Researchers writing in BioMed Centralâ€™s open access journal Reproductive Health tested the tablets by carrying out a randomised, controlled trial in 120 women.
Edilberto Rocha Filho worked with a team of researchers from the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil, to conduct the tests. He said, â€œThe administration of 1 or 2 grams of essential fatty acids to patients with PMS resulted in a significant decrease in symptom scores. Furthermore, the administration of the dietary supplement did not result in any changes in the total cholesterol in the patients evaluatedâ€.
Women who were given capsules containing 2 grams of a combination of gamma linolenic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, other polyunsaturated acids and vitamin E reported significantly eased PMS symptoms at both 3 and 6 months after they began the treatment.Â Few adverse events were recorded and these were mild, insignificant and did not appear to be directly related to the medication. Speaking about the results, Rocha Filho said, â€œThe negative effect of PMS on a womanâ€™s routine activities and quality of life may be significant, in addition to the repercussions on economic costs resulting predominantly from a reduction in productivity. Essential oil capsules can now be said to show much promise as a treatmentâ€.
Full bibliographic information‘Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study’
Edilberto A Rocha Filho, Jose C Lima, Joao S Pinho Neto and Ulisses Montarroyos
Project Breadâ€™s Healthy School Food Initiative Paves the Way for the New USDA Guidelines for School Meals
January 20, 2011 â€” BOSTON â€” When USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack presented updated guidelines for school meals as part of the â€œHealthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,â€ the Board and staff members at Project Bread gave him a standing ovation.
The proposed changes, which include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are especially important for the stateâ€™s low-income schoolchildren because healthy school meals are the single most effective way to protect them from hunger and boost their health.
â€œWeâ€™ve recognized the critical importance of healthy school meals for the past five years and weâ€™ve put that knowledge into action in low-income Massachusetts school districts,â€ said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread. â€œThe Chefs in Schools program, led by our own Chef Kirk Conrad, has demonstrated that healthy school meals can be prepared within budget. The Harvard School of Public Health evaluated the program and gave us an A+.â€
The Chefs in Schools Initiative was created through a pioneering collaboration between Project Bread, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the Harvard School of Public Health. In 2006, Project Bread began supporting a professionally trained chef to work directly with staff in the cafeterias of eight low-income Boston schools, training them to prepare appealing and cost-effective healthy breakfasts and lunches that met the kid â€œtaste test.â€ Over time, Project Breadâ€™s Chef Kirk replaced the high-calorie standards with menu options like freshly made soups, fresh spaghetti sauce with multi-grain pasta, and fresh roasted turkey roll-ups, among other healthy items. Chef Kirk is currently bringing these best practices to schools in East Boston, Lawrence, and Salem.
The Chefs in Schools Initiative is grounded in Project Breadâ€™s mission to protect food-insecure children from hunger. Itâ€™s located in schools because the school meal program is a reliable and predictable system that provides a federally reimbursed breakfast and lunch to 300,000 of the most vulnerable children in the Commonwealth. School meals are a primary source of nutrition for low-income children, providing more than 55 percent of their daily caloric intake. And the Chefs in Schools Program links good cooking with real food that kids like to eat.
â€œIn Massachusetts, we have been ahead of the curve,â€ continued Parker. â€œThe truth is that low-income schoolchildren are experiencing a public health crisis. They are at high risk for both hunger and obesity. Itâ€™s a big problem, and itâ€™s time we correct it.â€
The program has been well received by students, and was even brought into the Boston Arts Academy by high-school students who demanded that â€œtheir chefâ€ come with them when they graduated from middle school. It has also been measured once in a rigorous study led by the Harvard School of Public Health, proving that children will eat healthy, well-presented food thatâ€™s also good for them.
â€œWeâ€™ve got everything we need to take this statewide: the recipes, the training techniques, the kidsâ€™ approval, and an evaluation that reinforces our vision of the value of good food served at school,â€ continued Parker. â€œNow we have Vilsackâ€™s recommendations.
â€œWe were especially heartened that Vilsackâ€™s guidelines challenge the argument that good food costs too much. He asks schools to become more creative in looking at their budgets. Based on our experience over the past five years, we know that financial opportunities exist in schools and feel itâ€™s time to identify cost inefficiencies and invest that money in the health of our children.â€
Continued Parker: â€œWe call for Vilsackâ€™s guidelines to be put into practice both in schools with self-operated kitchens and in schools where the meals are prepared and brought in. No child should be left out:Â because school is the very best place for the 300,000 low-income students in Massachusetts to eat two healthy meals a day. These Massachusetts children, and their families, desperately need the help â€” itâ€™s their turn to get it.â€
About Project Bread
As the stateâ€™s leading antihunger organization, Project Bread is dedicated to alleviating, preventing, and ultimately ending hunger in Massachusetts. Through The Walk for Hunger, the oldest continual pledge walk in the country, Project Bread provides millions of dollars each year in privately donated funds to over 400 emergency food programs in 130 communities statewide. Project Bread also advocates systemic solutions that provide food for families in natural, everyday settings, such as schools, after-school programs, summer programs, community health centers, hospitals, and elder home care organizations. For more information, visit www.projectbread.org, www.facebook.com/projectbread, or www.twitter.com/walkforhunger.
A European study investigating the links between diet and disease has found that people who consume more fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of dying from ischaemic heart disease â€“ the most common form of heart disease and one of the leading causes of death in Europe. However, the authors point out that a higher fruit and vegetable intake occurs among people with other healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and that these factors could also be associated with the lower risk of dying from IHD. The study is published online today (Wednesday 19 January) in the European Heart Journal .
Data analysed from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Heart study has shown that people who ate at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from IHD than did those who consumed fewer than three portions a day. A portion weighed 80 grams, equal to a small banana, a medium apple, or a small carrot.
Dr Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, UK, and the first author of the paper by the EPIC study collaborators, said: â€œThis study involved over 300,000 people in eight different European countries, with 1,636 deaths from IHD. It shows a 4% reduced risk of dying from IHD for each additional portion of fruit and vegetables consumed above the lowest intake of two portions. In other words, the risk of a fatal IHD for someone eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day would be 4% lower compared to someone consuming four portions a day, and so on up to eight portions or more.â€
Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) is characterised by reduced blood supply to the heart; people suffering from it can develop angina, chest pains and have a heart attack.
The EPIC study started in 1992 and recruited participants from a total of ten European countries  until 2000. For the analysis of IHD deaths, data from eight countries for people aged between 40 and 85 were used. Participants answered questions about their diet at the time of entry to the study and other questions about health, socio-economic status and life-style, such as smoking, drinking and exercise habits. They were followed-up for an average of nearly eight and a half years.
The researchers found that the average intake of fruit and vegetables was five portions a day; people in Greece, Italy and Spain ate more, and those in Sweden ate less.
When analyzing the data, the researchers made allowances for confounding factors such as differences in lifestyles and eating habits. However, the study could be limited by errors in measuring correctly peopleâ€™s fruit and vegetable intake as well as other aspects of their diet. In addition, the study had a higher proportion of women, which might not be generalizable to the wider European population.
Dr Crowe said: â€œThe main message from this analysis is that, in this study, people who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower risk of dying from IHD. However, we need to be cautious in our interpretation of the results because we are unsure whether the association between fruit and vegetable intake and risk of IHD is due to some other component of diet or lifestyle.
â€œIf we could understand, by means of well-designed intervention studies, the biological mechanisms that could underlie the association between fruits and vegetables and IHD, this might help to determine whether or not the relation between fruit and vegetables with IHD risk is causal.â€
In an accompanying editorial , Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the University College London (UCL) International Institute for Society and Health, head of the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, and chairman of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, writes that it is difficult to reach firm conclusions about causation from results that show a 22% lower risk of dying from IHD (an odds ration of 0.78) in people who eat eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
He continues: â€œSuch an odds ratio is, however, of huge practical importance. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death. A reduction of 22% is huge. But… this reduction in mortality comes with consumption of eight portions a day, or 640g. Such a high consumption was found in only 18% of the men and women in these eight cohorts. There would need to be big shift in dietary patterns to achieve this healthy consumption of eight portions a day. It is worth trying to move in that direction. Reductions in cancers of several sites, in blood pressure and stroke, would add to this reduction in fatal CHD. Moving to a diet that emphasises fruit and vegetables is of great importance to public health.â€
 â€œFruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart studyâ€. European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq465
 The ten countries include: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. For the Heart component of the study, data from France and Norway were excluded due to the small number of IHD deaths at the end of the follow-up period.
 â€œFruit and vegetable intake reduces risk of fatal coronary heart diseaseâ€. European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq506