Folic acid in all bread 'could put pensioners' health at risk'

All loaves of bread will be treated with vitamins under controversial plans which have been condemned as 'medication of the masses.'

A Government-commissioned report is this week expected to back the compulsory fortification of flour with folic acid to prevent babies being born with spina bifida.

But the move has sparked warnings that it would take away individual choice - and could endanger the health of elderly people by masking vitamin deficiencies.

Around 150 babies are born with birth defects such as spina bifida every year and another 750 pregnancies are terminated after scans reveal the problem in an unborn child.

Folic acid can prevent the problem so women are encouraged to take daily supplements of 400 micrograms from the moment they stop using contraception up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

However as half of all births in the UK are unplanned many fail to do so.

Research suggests that adding folic acid to all white and brown flour, as they do in the USA, would cut cases by more than 40 per cent.

In light of this, a new report by the Scientific Committee Advisory Committee on Nutrition, is this week expected to call for folic acid to be added to flour used in the UK.

When its draft report was published, Professor Sheila Bingham, chair of the committee's subgroup on folate and disease prevention, pointed out that many food and drinks are already fortified.

Source - Daily Mail

Folic acid may be ‘force fed’ via bread

BRITAIN will take the first step towards mass medication of the population this week with the publication of proposals to add the vitamin folic acid to bread.
A report commissioned by ministers will recommend the compulsory fortification of flour and bread with folic acid to help prevent babies being born with birth defects.



It will say the benefits seen in the United States and Canada, where the strategy has helped reduce birth defects such as spina bifida by as much as 50%, justify such state intervention.

It will, however, be controversial: critics claim it takes away individual choice and could have other health risks, including contributing to neurological damage in the elderly.

In Australia, where a similar proposal is being advocated, there has been vocal opposition from the food industry, which claims it is backed by up to 90% of the public in polls.

In Britain, the move is being proposed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which was commissioned by ministers to examine the case for adding folic acid to bread.

Source - Times

Paws for thought

Acupuncture for animals in pain? Sounds barking


Like most bull mastiffs, three-year-old Nellie loves nothing more than a long, vigorous walk. But when her owner, Heather Smith, bought Nellie at eight weeks old, in September 2003, it didn’t take long to realise that something was seriously wrong. “When Nellie walked, she was wobbly on her hind legs,” she recalls. “Her legs were bowed and sometimes she seemed in pain.”
Her vet took X-rays, which revealed a genetic condition called hip dysplasia. In Nellie’s hind legs the balls at the end of the femurs do not fit snugly into their sockets, and are ragged, impairing proper movement. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition that can, in severe cases, leave dogs immobile. Often the only solution is a hip replacement. “My vet told me that the joints on her hind legs would become severely arthritic,” says Smith, a full-time carer from Burlesdon, Southampton. “At the time I could walk her for only ten minutes on a lead so she didn’t overdo it. It’s heartbreaking when a dog can’t even run across the beach.”



The vet recommended a double hip replacement when Nellie was fully grown. But the operation is traumatic and has a long recovery time. Anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed, but a blood test revealed an underfunctioning kidney that might be aggravated by medication. Soon after the diagnosis, Smith began taking Nellie for twice-weekly, 30-minute aquatherapy sessions at a pool for dogs. It kept Nellie exercised but didn’t change the long-term prognosis.

Source - Times

Drink up your greens

Juicing fruit and veg is all the rage for detox, weight loss and even disease prevention. But how much good does it really do, asks Lucy Atkins
Between lectures, Leeds University students are busy necking slammers and buying grass at a popular campus bar. This is perhaps not so startling news until you know that the grass is wheatgrass, and the bar is a "Juice Master" juice bar. These days, the truly fashion-conscious no longer accessorise with cardboard buckets of latte, but clutch biodegradable cups brimming with freshly juiced raw fruit and vegetables.
Juice bars are nothing new. But this year Santa's sack is likely to be stuffed with DIY juicing machines as the trend for "squeeze your own detox" takes off. Celebrities such as Jordan, who lost 28lb on a juicing diet devised by "Juice Master" Jason Vale, members of Take That and even Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans have all recently sung the praises of juicing. Naturopath newspaper and magazine columnists are recommending juice blends to cure anything from psoriasis to PMT. Amazon is similarly buzzing with juicing regimes that promise to cure all ills. In The Big Book of Juices and Smoothies, Natalie Savona provides an ailment chart, cross-referenced to 365 juice blends. The Juice Master's 7lb in Seven Days Super Juice Diet, meanwhile, includes a breakdown of what each combination of fruit and veg will do for you ("anti-cancer", "great for hair, skin and nails", "detoxing" and so on). Jo Pratt's In the Mood for Food cookbook, out next January, includes two smoothies - breakfast berry and tropical fruit, designed to improve your mental wellbeing. And The Complete Idiot's Guide to Juicing by Ellen Hodgson Brown will be out in time for the January detox boom.


Juicing is big business. According to the consumer research group Mintel, the UK fruit juice market is worth around £1.4bn a year. Smoothies and juices are the biggest boom area in a total non-alcoholic drinks market that rose by 26% between 2000 and 2004 alone. Drinking fresh juice is an undoubtedly healthy way to get more fresh fruit and veg into your system. According to Vale, however, to get maximum nutrients, "Juice must be unpasteurised, made only with fresh and raw ingredients, no concentrates or added sweeteners." This is something that bottled products and some juice bars don't always achieve.
But sometimes the juice hype is scientifically shaky. "Our colons are clogged with rotting food and cannot absorb nutrients properly" says Vale, so "our cells are starved". "Think of your digestive system as the clogged M25 at rush hour on a bank holiday weekend," he suggests. "Juice is a fast motorcycle courier bypassing the blockage".

This is a great image, but according to Dr Adam Harris, consultant gastroenterologist at Kent and Sussex hospital, and honorary secretary of the British Society of Gastroenterologists, biologically inaccurate. If your colon was blocked or your digestion not functioning or absorbing nutrients properly, you would be very obviously ill. "Some disease processes such as a tumor, diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease and severe constipation can narrow the diameter of the colon," Harris explains. "In the absence of disease, the only thing found in the lumen [lining] is faeces, which is entirely normal. If it wasn't, we would all be sitting on the loo all the time."


Source - Daily Mail

Herbal Supplement Fails To Relieve Hot Flashes In Large NIH Trial

The herbal supplement black cohosh, whether used alone or with other botanical supplements, did not relieve hot flashes in postmenopausal women or those approaching menopause, who participated in the Herbal Alternatives (HALT) for Menopause Study, according to results from the clinical trial. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that women using menopausal hormone therapy, however, did receive significant relief from their hot flashes and night sweats.

The 12-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, compared several herbal regimens and menopausal hormone therapy (estrogen with or without progesterone) to placebo in women ages 45 to 55.

The HALT Study was conducted by Katherine M. Newton, Ph.D., of the Group Health Center for Health Studies, Seattle, and the University of Washington, and colleagues. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), two components of NIH, funded the research. The findings are reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"In recent years, scientific studies have raised questions about the safety of certain types of menopausal hormone therapy in some women. Interest has grown in alternatives to hormones, including herbal supplements, for controlling hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause," says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "Testing the safety and efficacy of various treatments in randomized clinical trials such as HALT is critically important in helping women in mid-life and their doctors to make informed choices."

Three-hundred and fifty-one women, ages 45 to 55, took part in the HALT Study, conducted at the Seattle-based Group Health Center for Health Studies. Each participant was experiencing at least two hot flashes and/or night sweats daily at the start of the study. The women were approaching menopause, having missed at least one menstrual cycle in the preceding 12 months, or were postmenopausal, having had no menstrual cycle in at least 12 months. Researchers included women who were perimenopausal (or in the menopause transition) because most previous studies looked only at postmenopausal women, who tend to have fewer symptoms than women going through menopause.


Source - Medical News Today

Olive oil 'can cut cancer risk'

Adding plenty of olive oil to a diet could help protect against cell damage that can lead to cancer, experts say.

A study of 182 European men found those who had 25 millilitres of olive oil per day had reduced levels of a substance which indicates cell damage.

The Danish team said it may explain why many cancer rates are higher in northern Europe than the south, where olive oil is a major part of the diet.

The study is in the Federation American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Expert Advice Online On Alternative Medicine

As alternative medicine becomes more popular, a growing number of people are accessing the internet for information. The problem is sifting through tons of web pages, and deciding what is reliable and what isn't. Hence the creation of www.safealternativemedicine.co.uk.
SafeAlternativeMedicine was created at the end of 2005. It is a unique reference point on safe alternative medicine. Their features and articles are written by experts and professional journalists who have a particular interest in this area.

There are several dedicated sections in the website, including:

-- Anti Ageing
-- Aromatherapy
-- Beauty and Skin Care
-- ComplementaryTherapies
-- Complementary Therapy
-- Heart Health
-- Helping with Cancer
-- Herbal Health
-- Massage
-- Men's Health
-- Mental Health
-- Mind & Body Health
-- Nutrition
-- Sports Health
-- Women's Health

Opinion of the Editor of Medical News Today

I found it easy to navigate around this web site, the information is clear and useful. Of all the alternative medicine web sites I have seen on the internet, I would say this one, for me, is the best.

Source - Medical News Today

Protect Patients From Exploitation By Alternative Medicines Industry

It is time to protect patients from 'vile and cynical exploitation' by the alternative medicines industry, argues a cancer expert in this week's BMJ.

It is estimated that up to 80% of all patients with cancer take a complementary treatment or follow a dietary programme to help treat their cancer, writes Jonathan Waxman, Professor of Oncology at Imperial College London.

Yet the rationale for the use of many of these approaches is obtuse - one might even be tempted to write misleading, he says.

Indeed the claims made by companies to support the sales of such products may be overtly and malignly incorrect and, in many cases, the products may be doctored by chemicals borrowed from the conventional pharmaceutical industry. The reason that these products are accessible to patients is that they are not subject to the testing of pharmaceuticals because they are classified as food supplements.

So why do patients take alternative medicines" Why is science disregarded" How can it be that treatments that don't work are regarded as life saving"

Waxman believes that it is because the complementary therapists offer something that doctors cannot offer - hope. If you eat this, take that, avoid this, and really believe this then we can promise you sincerely that you will be cured.

And if the patient is not cured, it is the patient who has failed, not the alternative therapy. The patient has let down the alternative practitioner and disappointed his family who have encouraged his 'treatment.'

Source - Medical News Today

Swedish Massage Benefits Osteoarthritis Patients

Massage therapy is a safe and effective way to reduce pain and improve function in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee, researchers at the Yale Prevention Research Center and at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) report in the first clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of this treatment.

The 16-week study conducted to identify the potential benefits of Swedish massage on osteoarthritis patients with pain, stiffness and limited range of motion was published in the December 11 Archives of Internal Medicine. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that affects 21 million Americans and causes more physical limitation than lung disease, heart disease and diabetes mellitus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The 68 study participants, who were at least age 35 with x-rays confirming their diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the knee, were randomly assigned either to an intervention group that received massage therapy immediately, or to a wait-list control group that received massage after an initial eight-week delay. Both groups were encouraged to continue previously prescribed medications and treatments.

Participants in the massage intervention group received a standard one-hour Swedish massage twice a week for four weeks, followed by Swedish massage once a week for the next four weeks at the Siegler Center for Integrative Medicine at the Saint Barnabus Ambulatory Care Center in Livingston, New Jersey. After the first eight weeks of massage therapy, participants had improved flexibility, less pain and improved range of motion.

Source - Medical News Today

Spiritual Interventions Do Not Help Recovery, But May Relax Heart Patients

Stress and depression can increase the risk of heart disease and impair recovery from heart attacks. And although not as soundly proven, optimistic and relaxed patients seem to weather illness better than the gloomy and anxious. Can spiritual interventions make tests and treatments easier for patients? Like many areas of alternative medicine, this has not been fully investigated, reports the December 2006 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. But two studies serve as models for further research.

In the first study, researchers looked at whether prayer on behalf of a patient could assist recovery from bypass surgery. A third of the patients were prayed for after being told that this might or might not be done; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer after being told this would occur. The researchers concluded that prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from bypass.

In the second study, researchers randomly assigned patients to one of four groups before elective cardiac catheterization and angiography. One group received standard care. The others, in addition to standard care, received either prayer; music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy; or both prayer and MIT therapy. MIT therapy included instruction in meditation and deep breathing, and the application of "healing touch" hand positions by trained practitioners. The investigators found that neither prayer nor MIT therapy was beneficial in preventing subsequent heart problems.

However, patients who received MIT therapy experienced a clear decrease in anxiety and distress before the catheterization-and were less likely to die during the subsequent six months. But it's not clear whether it was the music, imagery, or touch that might have helped, reports the Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Source - Medical News Today

Depression: the great happy pill betrayal

The Christmas holiday period is the toughest time of year for many. More people commit suicide during the festive season, and the Samaritans helpline expects to receive a call every six seconds as people confront their loneliness or mounting debts.

At this time of celebration, it is a sobering thought that, as a nation, we are becoming less successful at beating misery - and that's a year-round problem.

• Depressed or stressed?

The statistics make pretty grim reading. Across the UK, more people than ever are suffering from depression. One in ten people is depressed at any one time, affecting one in three families. Every 14 minutes, someone in the UK kills themselves, and depression is one of the main causes.
At the same time, depression and chronic anxiety cost the taxpayer £7 billion a year. Add to that the £12billion in lost productivity - or 1 per cent of our total national income - and it's clear depression is not a problem merely for the individual.

So what are we doing to tackle this problem? Not enough, say the experts. Doctors have agreed a step-by-step approach to tackling depression which recommends all patients should be offered a short course (ten to 12 weeks) of psychological treatment or 'talking therapy'.

The guidelines, drawn up in 2004 by the Government's treatment advisory body NICE, recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a form of therapy that helps people recognise unhappiness triggers and develop coping strategies.

Research has shown that talking therapies work just as well as antidepressant drugs in the short term, but in the long term they are more effective at preventing relapse.

However, a Mail investigation has found these guidelines are being consistently ignored, because talking therapies are not funded across the NHS.


Source - Daily Mail

Bad hangovers: Why alcohol is only half the story

A couple of drinks was enough to give Louisa Saunders a sore head and coughing fits. Then she learnt that it was nothing to do with alcohol - and that she wasn't the only one reacting against a hidden chemical
There comes a point in everybody's life when it's time to put the brakes on. Babies arrive, the long-hours culture begins to wear you down and, well, the years roll on. With the best will in the world, you find you just can't put it away like you used to. It's what used to be called middle age.

I had to accept, as I reached my mid-thirties, that I'd become an awfully cheap date. Once an enthusiastic drinker of beer, proud to swill pints like a man, now a couple of halves was all it took to put me under the table.

But it was more than just a problem of capacity. Even after one or two drinks, it seemed the hangover would begin halfway through the evening and continue for the rest of the night. I'd get home feeling like hell - ravenously hungry, even if I'd been out to dinner, yet with evil indigestion. I'd down some water and sugary foods in an attempt at first aid, then spend a fitful night with a foggy head and a heart full of feverish anxieties. A full recovery could take several days.

So, you can imagine how much fun my social life was. Parties soon lost their pull when the consequences were so punishing. Weeks would go by without me touching a drop.

When I noticed that I also lost my voice after a night out, I assumed this was caused by the cigarettes that went with the drinks. Curiously, though, a recent rash of non-smoking parties quickly brought about just the same rasping hoarseness.

Then one day in the office here at The Independent, someone cracked open some birthday champagne. I took one sip and began to cough. A few sips later and I was coughing and wheezing like a chain-smoking, 80-year-old miner. The reaction was so sudden and dramatic that it prompted me to put a few words into an internet search engine and soon I was pretty sure I'd nailed the culprit: sulphites.


Source - Independemt

Liver reprieve

OUR livers can take a battering at this time of year, but there are supplements that can give this vital organ a boost. Milk thistle (£6.80 for 30 capsules or £4.95 for 50ml), for example, cleanses and repairs the liver and offers some protection against hangovers. Take it after a big night, or even better, before you go out.

If you already have a hangover, Nux Vomica 30c (£5 for 125 tablets) can help if you're feeling irritable and nauseous. It is also a good remedy if you have overindulged in food, alcohol or tobacco.

One last tip is to drink lots of water, which will rehydrate your system.


Source - Scotsman

Nutrition the key to beating the bottle

Ever more doctors believe that a diet of fish, high-cholesterol food and vitamins is the best cure for alcoholism


The news earlier this year that Britons are the heaviest drinkers and the most obese in Europe is no coincidence to Dr James Braly, the author of Nutrition Revolution and Dangerous Grains. Braly, though still a lonely voice, belongs to a growing band of alternative practitioners who believe that nutrition and alcoholism are intrinsically linked. In Braly’s addiction recovery centre, Bridging the Gaps, based in Winchester, Virginia, the emphasis is placed squarely on diet rather than drugs.
“Patients are first hooked up to an IV [intravenous drip] for ten days and fed high levels of fish oils (3 and 6), vitamins B and C, calcium, magnesium and zinc because their gastrointestinal systems have been grossly compromised by their habit,” he says. “This is followed with a wholefood diet (including four to six servings of fish a day, as well as high-cholesterol foods such as eggs), exercise and therapy. The combination has meant that 85 per cent of my patients do not succumb to a relapse. Coffee is also forbidden because it raises cortisol levels, reduces dopamine and leads to cravings of carbohydrates and sugar.”



Braly’s theory is that most alcoholics are depressed, and that depression and low cholestoral are linked. Ergo, by attacking depression with high-cholesterol foods such as eggs and foods high in mood-boosting amino acids, such as fish, patients are more open to the therapy needed to beat their addiction. The severity of “abstinence symptoms” (cravings, anxiety, fuzzy thinking, restlessness) are radically reduced within the first few days of his treatment, he says, allowing patients to be receptive to counselling and exercise programmes.



Source - Times

No long term benefits of baby massage

A gentle massage appears to lower levels of stress hormones in unsettled babies, but there's no evidence that infant massage has any benefit on growth or development, a scientific analysis shows.

Infant massage has long been used in many Asian and African cultures to ease colic and crying, help babies sleep, and even aid their growth and development.

There has also been growing interest in infant massage among parents in Western countries.

UK researchers seeking to assess the science behind the practice analysed 23 clinical trials.

They report their findings in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation that evaluates medical research.

The trials involved infants aged six months and under who were randomly assigned to receive massage or not.


Source - Health News

Mangoes for diabetes?

A mango a day may one day protect against diabetes and high cholesterol, a preliminary study suggests.

The study is analysing how individual components of the luscious summer favourite affect human cells.

And early results, presented at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Melbourne this week, suggest that some mango components act on the same pathways that diabetes and cholesterol drugs target.


Source - Health News

Beat back pain - by slouching

You boy! Over there! Slump down and pay attention. For generations, we have been told that an upright posture brings productivity and a life free from back pain. The word "slouch" is redolent of laziness and moral decrepitude, which is why it is surprising I can even write this, slumped at a deckchair-style 135 degrees.
Far from indicating that I am a decadent cad fully deserving of spinal agonies, this rakish angle is, according to researchers, the ideal posture for office workers. If you sit with back and legs at 90 degrees, nearly all upper-body weight is concentrated on the lowest two spinal levels. Spinal disc material can shift out of line, leading to chronic back pain, according to the study of 22 volunteers at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen.

Source - Guardian

Have yourself a chilli little Christmas

Nigella Lawson has, apparently, switched from kitchen goddess to kitchen devil. The reason: her new series on BBC2, Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, is full of chillies. Heaps of them, in ribs, in soups. She tells the Radio Times: "Because a lot of Christmas is dominated by leftover turkey, having some hot things to go with it is divine." This means "turkey is boring, and chillies are quite exciting". She continues: "Quite apart from the fact that chillies are so red and shiny, I feel they've been fashioned by Santa's elves." This means, "I'm a bit nutty, but aren't I delicious!"Jamie Oliver, meanwhile, is likewise chucking chillies about on the new Sainsbury's advert. He puts them on a butternut squash. I couldn't agree more, but I worry about Jamie; this is his 200th advert for Sainsbury's. He's going to start annoying people soon.
Jamie's overexposure, though, is nothing compared with that of the chilli. This vegetable is the new garlic, except that unlike garlic - "blood thinner" this, "gets rid of veruccas" that - its medicinal properties are actually proven. It stimulates the adrenal glands, which is why it gets rid of hang-overs. The hot part also shrinks cancerous tumours, apparently. As with garlic, it used to be acceptable to use it powdered, until someone said, "Why are we using this disgusting thing for convenience when it isn't even that convenient?" and overnight it became unacceptable.

Fresh chilli, however, is the most brilliant thing - the equivalent of putting a thumping bass line under a mediocre tune, the way young people do. It will work whatever happens. Some foods are tastier with it than others, but its impact is a constant. It's like an incredibly strong personality that is also very friendly - you'd never call it bland, but do you not find it a bit suspect, the way it gets on with everybody? It's also hard to modulate.

Source - Guardian

Herbal Supplement Fails To Relieve Hot Flashes In Large NIH Trial

The herbal supplement black cohosh, whether used alone or with other botanical supplements, did not relieve hot flashes in postmenopausal women or those approaching menopause, who participated in the Herbal Alternatives (HALT) for Menopause Study, according to results from the clinical trial. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that women using menopausal hormone therapy, however, did receive significant relief from their hot flashes and night sweats.

The 12-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, compared several herbal regimens and menopausal hormone therapy (estrogen with or without progesterone) to placebo in women ages 45 to 55.

The HALT Study was conducted by Katherine M. Newton, Ph.D., of the Group Health Center for Health Studies, Seattle, and the University of Washington, and colleagues. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), two components of NIH, funded the research. The findings are reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"In recent years, scientific studies have raised questions about the safety of certain types of menopausal hormone therapy in some women. Interest has grown in alternatives to hormones, including herbal supplements, for controlling hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause," says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "Testing the safety and efficacy of various treatments in randomized clinical trials such as HALT is critically important in helping women in mid-life and their doctors to make informed choices."

Three-hundred and fifty-one women, ages 45 to 55, took part in the HALT Study, conducted at the Seattle-based Group Health Center for Health Studies. Each participant was experiencing at least two hot flashes and/or night sweats daily at the start of the study. The women were approaching menopause, having missed at least one menstrual cycle in the preceding 12 months, or were postmenopausal, having had no menstrual cycle in at least 12 months. Researchers included women who were perimenopausal (or in the menopause transition) because most previous studies looked only at postmenopausal women, who tend to have fewer symptoms than women going through menopause.

Does Chocolate Have Health Benefits?

By Art Vine

THE UPSIDE OF CHOCOLATE!

Chocolate contains high levels of beneficial chemicals and antidioxants such as Seratonin, Phenylethylaminea, Pentamer and flavonoids. It is also high in essential trace elements, minerals and vitamins such as iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins A. B1, C, D, and E as well as many nutrients. Cocoa powder is also the highest known natural source of Magnesium.

Because it contains Seratonin and Phenylethylamine, chocolate can be good for mental health. These substances are 'mood lifting' agents which are released naturally into our system by the human brain when we are feeling happy or in love. Eating chocolate also releases Seratonin and Phenylethylamine into the system, thus (as all chocoholics know), when we are feeling down or depressed chocolate can provide a 'lift', instantly improving our mental state.

Studies indicate that a chemical found in chocolate called Pentamer help can protect against cancer.

Chocolate is very high in anidioxants in the form of flavanoids Also found in lesser amounts in tea, fruit and red wine, studies indicate they protect the heart and arteries from damage by free radicals.

Magnesium deficiency is linked with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and pre-menstrual problems, otherwise known as PMT or PMS. This condition is caused by a pre-menstrual drop in progesterone levels and it's this which precipitates the violent mood swings familiar to so many women (and their families). Adding magnesium to the diet has been proved to increase pre-menstrual progesterone levels, helping to reduce or even eliminate the problem.

There are benefits for men too, as well as the high Magnesium and flavanoids content which are beneficial for the heart, arteries and hypertension, studies indicate that the cocoa butter in high quality chocolate, although technically a 'saturated fat', does not fur up the arteries or contribute to high cholesterol levels.

Chocolate is an unsurpassed nutritional source, providing high levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, a single chocolate chip can provide enough energy for the average man to walk about 170' or 50m. Napoleon carried chocolate with him on his campaigns and today most armies provide chocolate in daily ration packs for soldiers in the field. For over 100 years the British, army have issued soldiers with emergency or 'Iron Rations' of chocolate, containing very high levels of cocoa (80%+), for use in emergencies. Each 'iron ration' of 8oz's - 227g of chocolate can not only provide enough nutrition to keep a soldier going for 7 days or more, it also helps keep up moral in difficult circumstances.

STOP PRESS Nov, 06: Results of a study by Johns Hopkins University indicate that chocolate acts in a similar way to Aspirin in effectively preventing blood clots in the arteries, reducing the likelihood of heart attacks.

THE DOWN SIDE OF CHOCOLATE!

They say "there's no such thing as a free lunch" and chocolate, like all good things in life, has it's problems too. It contains sugar and fat in the form of chocolate butter and eating too much of either will cause health problems. As a result, chocolate has developed an undeserved reputation for being unhealthy.

But, although recognised as being addictive to many people, particularly to Women, chocolate itself is not really the cause of the major health problems it's been associated with.

These problems are caused by the simple fact that many chocoholics choose to satisfy their chocolate cravings in the unhealthiest way possible, by buying heavily advertised, mass produced, brand name, milk and white chocolates.

These products are generally very low in chocolate solids (ave less than 20%) and very, very high in sugar and saturated fats. The beneficial cocoa butter has usually been replaced with Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (HVO's), and there's no question that HVO's are catastrophically ruinous for your health. To make matters worse, because of the very low chocolate content, chocoholics have to eat 3 or 4 times more of this type of product to satisfy a craving for chocolate.

Filled chocolates, both the commercial variety and, sadly, many handmade chocolates, are some of the worst culprits, with centre's consisting almost exclusively of flavoured Fondants and pralines - fondant is virtually 100% sugar and many pralines aren't much better.

The upshot is, if you want a guaranteed way to to get very unhealthy in a very short time, this is one of the most effective ways to way do it.

WHAT IS THE HEALTHIEST CHOCOLATE?

To find the healthiest chocolate the first thing you need to do is start reading the labels, real chocolate should only contain the following ingredients:

Dark chocolate should contain: Cocoa, Sugar, Vanilla and Lethicin in that order.

Milk chocolate should contain only Cocoa, Sugar, Milk solids/fats, Vanilla and Lethicin.

White chocolate should contain only Cocoa Butter, Sugar, Milk solids/fats, Vanilla and Lethicin.

Flavoured chocolates may also contain a natural flavouring such as Orange oil, spices etc, it should not contain Vanillin (artificial Vanilla), vegetable fats or anything else.

For our purposes here, the healthiest chocolate is going to be that which contains the maximum cocoa solids and the minimum sugar. This would make 100% pure chocolate the healthiest option, unfortunately this is virtually inedible because of it's bitterness.

In practice all chocolate has to have some sugar added simply to make it palatable. Dark chocolate containing 70% (or more) cocoa content is generally recognised as being the healthiest option, simply because it contains more chocolate and less sugar.

If you must eat milk or white Chocolate, you should moderate your consumption and make sure your milk chocolate contains a minimumn 35% cocoa and your white chocolate contains a minimum 30% cocoa butter, with the balance of both made up of milk solids and sugar in about equal proportions.

If you like filled chocolates, either handmade chocolate or otherwise, choose those chocolates with fillings containing high cocoa content, covered with high quality chocolate coverture. Not mass produced, high sugar content Pralines or Fondants covered with low quality coatings that barely even qualify as chocolate.

Chocolate should contain ABSOLUTELY NO Vegetable oils or artificial additives of any kind.

BUT ALL'S NOT DOOM AND GLOOM!

If you love chocolate and/or filled chocolates, there's good stuff out there if you look, and as chocolate lovers become more and more discerning, demand for the real thing grows, so it's getting more plentiful by the day. For the healthiest way to satisfy a craving for chocolates, you just have to be more choosy over what you buy to eat (or for gifts) remember, the higher the cocoa content, the healthier it is..... and the nicer it tastes.

About the Author: Art Vine is half of a wife/husband team dedicated to making real handmade chocolates.

Visit Aphrodite Chocolates website for a range of handmade chocolate gifts and chocolate articles.

Reproduced with permission.