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Antioxidant supplements no help in preventing heart disease

A comprehensive scientific review has concluded that a range of popular vitamin and antioxidant supplements fail badly in showing any evidence that they can help cut the risk of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in developed countries and is largely influenced by food and lifestyle choices. CVD is an umbrella term which includes heart attacks, heart disease, stroke and claudication (tiredness in the legs) of the peripheral blood vessels. Taking antioxidant supplements has been promoted for many years as being a valuable aid in helping someone prevent CVD, but just how effective are these supplements?

Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and beta-carotene are part of the body’s defence system and their main role is to mop up damaging free radicals. Free radicals are a normal by-product of body metabolism, but high levels can be found in people who are smokers or have a poor diet.

Terrorism hotspots: they're not in Afghanistan, or the West

If you had to guess the number one spot for terrorism worldwide, what would you guess? Afghanistan?

According to a new document from the defence and security intelligence and analysis group IHS Janes, first prize for terrorist attacks belongs to Syria. Putting aside the pedantic untidiness of who the terrorists actually were, Syria certainly suffered a lot of grief over 2012, with 2670 attacks, more than 10 times the number of attacks in 2011. No aspect of the war there is going well.

There would be a reasonable expectation that, putting aside this definitional anomaly, Afghanistan would slot securely in at number two, given the war still rages there. But the number of terrorist attacks in Iraq has increased 10% to 2296 following the conclusion of the war.

As more than a few pundits have observed, if the war in Iraq was a success, you’d hate to see a failure. Coming second in motorcycle racing is referred to as being "first of the losers", which seems particularly apposite in this context.

In a recent conversation with a foreign affairs colleague who was a survivor of one of the Afghanistan attacks, I suggested that Pakistan was really the centre of the anti-Taliban war now, rather than Afghanistan. The terrorist attack figures in Pakistan bear that out, with 2206 attacks, also up around 10% on 2011. Pakistan is a seriously dangerous place, and not one to be visiting any time soon for a holiday.

Try as Afghanistan (or some people there) might, it did not make the podium, in part due to an overall decline in attacks, from 1821 to a much more modest 1313. One might assume that this reflects the success of the International Security Assistance Force strategy there and the ultimate defeat of the Taliban. Or one might be a little more realistic and assume that the Taliban is dropping the tempo of its attacks until after the ISAF withdraws next year, at which time it will return in full force.

India is a surprise inclusion at fifth place, with almost three times as many attacks as Somalia in sixth, just ahead of Israel, which also suffered an increased number of attacks, in seventh place. Israel only just outpaced Thailand, which comes close to averaging an attack a day. Almost all of these attacks are in the troubled Muslim south.

What the HIS Janes figures show is that, if there really is a "war on terrorism", it has not been particularly successful. Overwhelmingly, things got worse, globally, rather than better.

If there is a positive side to any of this, at least very few terrorist attacks occurred in developed Western countries, which is where we live. We are safe, so long as we are careful about where we travel, for the time being.

Green tea: hype over substance for weight loss

Green tea is an increasingly popular weight loss supplement. A comprehensive review of the clinical evidence though has found that a person’s bank balance is probably the only thing that will get lighter by buying these supplements or consuming foods and drinks that have it added to them.

Green tea is a popular beverage with a long history of human consumption. Improvements in heart health, lower cancer risk and sharper mental function have all been linked to drinking green tea.

Philosophy under attack: Lawrence Krauss and the new denialism

I really shouldn’t let myself watch Q&A. Don’t get me wrong, the ABC’s flagship weekly panel show is usually compelling viewing. But after just a few minutes I end up with the systolic blood pressure of Yosemite Sam and so fired up I can’t get to sleep for ages afterwards. Good thing it’s on when the kids are in bed, or they’d pick up all sorts of funny new words from Daddy yelling at the screen.

I’m expecting more of the same this week when physicist and author Lawrence Krauss is on the panel. Krauss is an entertaining commentator and science populist – if often quite provocative, especially on matters of religion. He should be fun to watch.

Not well enough informed to "give a Gonski"

Clever marketing strategies, well designed t-shirts, coloured cars, and a social media campaign have increasingly asked members of the Australian public to position themselves as "Giving a Gonski" (see http://igiveagonski.com.au/what-s-gonski/). To badge oneself with this term, is to demonstrate visible support to proposed changes to the funding of Australian schools. I want to give a Gonski, as an educator who works closely across the schooling sector, but I can't because it is a complex discussion which is inaccessible to the average person.

The 'worried well': supplementing an already healthy diet

New research has found that people who take mineral supplements actually consume more minerals from their normal diet than non-supplement users. The notion of the 'worried well' is certainly alive and kicking

Vitamin and mineral supplements are big business. Reported figures in Australia suggest that 27% of women and 15% of men take some form of supplement with vitamin C, B complex, multivitamins, vitamin E and calcium all being popular choices.

Contrary to the rationale for needing supplements in the first place, people who take supplements are more likely to be healthier than people who don’t take supplements. Supplement users also tend to be leaner, smoke less, exercise more, and eat more fruit and vegetables.

School Education - a tangled and conflated web of public issues

It is easy to feel confused, disillusioned and a little disheartened by current critiques and critics of school education as it is portrayed in the media. There are many competing agendas, and a series of conflated issues raised by policy makers, politicians, media commentators and many graduates of the school sector. There is a lack of clarity in the language we use, and feelings we have about education as a society. in some respects, we may have lost sight of the significance and power of a strong, vibrant and robust schooling system, as an asset of our country.

 I love education. I am committed to contributing solid, innovative and rigorous education for pre-service teachers. I have rich partnerships with many amazing schools across public and private schooling sectors. I have a deep commitment to social justice, and believe that for every success we experience in life, we should contribute something back for a "greater good" in/for society. 

Timor-Leste: Security focus (on behalf of government of Timor-Leste, to Royal United Services NSW Security Dialogue)

Timor-Leste is a country born of a keen awareness of its security needs and aspirations. In the period of transition from Portuguese rule, the country and its people descended into a brief but bloody civil war, then almost immediately faced incursions from across the western border. Its people underwent 24 devastating years of occupation and resistance, emerging to confront a new security threat – that of a country largely destroyed. Timor-Leste has built since then, but again faced an internal security crisis as some of our citizens and institutions of state, still unready for full self-responsibility, took Timor-Leste back to the edge. It has since come out of that process having learned and grown.

Timor-Leste now has two security focuses:

Modern migrant's loyalty is an asset to the world

 It is staggering that with one albeit very serious case overseas, that of the Ben Zygier suicide, Ben Saul (The Age, 20/2/13) wants to turn back the clock of globalisation and multiculturalism. In so doing he demonstrates profound ignorance of the reality of the contemporary migrant experience and normative global legal practice around citizenship.

An Appreciative View of Religion and Development

With over 80 per cent of the world’s population professing religious belief, holding such belief must be considered a common human characteristic. Moreover, religious belief is relevant to both social and private realms. Religious belief systems provide a meaning for existence through which adherents interpret their own circumstances and make decisions on how to act and interact in wider society. The values and attitudes associated with religious beliefs within countries therefore affect both public policy settings as well as social behaviours (with both positive and harmful consequences possible).

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