The research that 'disproves MMR jab link to autism'

British researchers say they have disproved a link between the MMR jab and autism.

Their finding follows a study of 250 children - some with autistic disorders - who had been given the measles, mumps and rubella injection. They said there was no evidence of infection with the measles virus, introduced by the jab, persisting in the blood long after vaccination. It is one of the central claims among parents campaigning against MMR that autism can be caused by a lingering measles infection from the jab.

The findings come ten years after Dr Andrew Wakefield raised fears that MMR was linked with autism and bowel disease.

His study of 12 children led to parents shunning the jab for mumps, measles and rubella.
Last night the Government's top vaccine expert, Professor David Salisbury, insisted that the new study, said to be the largest of its kind, would quash concerns over MMR.

But critics said it failed to address the possible persistence of measles virus in the gut - the continuing claim of parents of autistic children with bowel problems. Researchers say it is "ethically not possible" to carry out such an investigation on children without symptoms.

But Jackie Fletcher, who runs the Jabs support group, said parents who believed their children were damaged by MMR had been left "high and dry".

Source - Daily Mail

Lack of folic acid dementia link

Dementia is three times more common in people whose blood is low in folates, a form of vitamin B particularly found in green vegetables, a study suggests.

The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry study followed 518 South Korean pensioners for two years.

There is growing evidence linking levels of folates - or folic acid - and Alzheimer's disease, though deficiency could be a symptom of dementia.

The UK is currently considering adding the vitamin to bread and flour. This is primarily for the benefit of pregnant women and their unborn children, as folic acid has been proven to prevent spinal problems in the growing foetus, but research increasingly suggests it could also ward off dementia.

However, the exact relationship between folate deficiency and dementia remains unclear, as it could well be a symptom as much as a cause.

Source - BBC

Ministers launch fluoride drive

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has called for fluoride to be added to England's water supplies as a key means of tackling tooth decay.

He wants strategic health authorities (SHAs), which are already able to compel water companies to add the chemical, to use those powers.

Critics argue the long term health risks of fluoridation are unknown.

But advocates, including much of the medical profession, say it is a safe, proven way of improving dental health. Mr Johnson said he wanted public debate at a local level before any such measures are carried out.

"I don't want this to be carried out in areas where there has been no consultation whatsoever," he told the BBC. "But every time the public hear the arguments they overwhelmingly go for fluoridisation - the problem is the debate has stopped."

Final say
At present, about 10% of England's water is fluoridated - mainly in the north-east and West Midlands.

While legislation was introduced in 2003 giving SHAs the final say on whether fluoride should be added to local supplies, so far none of them have made use of those powers. The government has no power itself to compel SHAs to act.

The last time a fluoridation scheme was introduced was 1985.

Anti-fluoride campaigners say more research is needed to establish the risks. There have been suggestions of a heightened risk of cancer, infertility and bone fractures, but these have never been substantiated.

However excess fluoride is associated with discolouring of the teeth, a condition known as fluorosis.

Source - BBC

Caution: Some soft drinks may seriously harm your health

A new health scare erupted over soft drinks last night amid evidence they may cause serious cell damage.

Research from a British university suggests a common preservative found in drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA.

The problem - more usually associated with ageing and alcohol abuse - can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. The findings could have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who consume fizzy drinks. They will also intensify the controversy about food additives, which have been linked to hyperactivity in children.

Concerns centre on the safety of E211, known as sodium benzoate, a preservative used for decades by the £74bn global carbonated drinks industry. Sodium benzoate derives from benzoic acid. It occurs naturally in berries, but is used in large quantities to prevent mould in soft drinks such as Sprite, Oasis and Dr Pepper. It is also added to pickles and sauces.

Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance. A Food Standards Agency survey of benzene in drinks last year found high levels in four brands which were removed from sale.

Now, an expert in ageing at Sheffield University, who has been working on sodium benzoate since publishing a research paper in 1999, has decided to speak out about another danger.

Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the "power station" of cells known as the mitochondria.

He told The Independent on Sunday: "These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether. The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it - as happens in a number if diseased states - then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA - Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing."

Source - Independent

Anti-depressants' 'little effect'

New generation anti-depressants have little clinical benefit for most patients, research suggests.

A University of Hull team concluded the drugs actively help only a small group of the most severely depressed.

Marjorie Wallace, head of the mental health charity Sane, said that if these results were confirmed they could be "very disturbing".

But the makers of Prozac and Seroxat, two of the commonest anti-depressants, said they disagreed with the findings.

A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Seroxat, said the study only looked at a "small subset of the total data available".

Reviewed data
And Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac, said that "extensive scientific and medical experience has demonstrated it is an effective anti-depressant".

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has announced that 3,600 therapists are to be trained during the next three years in England to increase patient access to talking therapies, which ministers see as a better alternative to drugs.

Patients are strongly advised not to stop taking their medication without first consulting a doctor.

Source - BBC

Air pollution in British cities is 'as toxic to the heart as an oil spill'

Air pollution in Britain's cities could be as toxic to the heart as an oil slick, scientists have warned.
Research shows that chemicals responsible for seriously damaging the hearts of fish caught up in the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster could also doing untold harm to human cardiac health.

It is feared the compounds, which are found in petrol, coal and diesel fumes, are causing irregular heartbeats - a potentially life-threatening condition that can raise the risk of stroke. US government scientist John Incardona (CORR) warned the chemicals were "ubiquitous in urban air. In essence, people in big cities are breathing in an aerosolised oil spill", he said.

The warning centres around polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, compounds which are abundant in crude oil and found in high levels in polluted city air. Although some larger PAHs have long been linked to cancer, smaller types had been largely thought to be harmless.

Now, research shows they may be toxic to the heart.

The link was first made after the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, when salmon and herring embryos caught up in the slick were found to develop heart defects. To pin down the effects of PAHs, Dr Incardona, a developmental biologist, turned to the zebrafish, a tiny tropical fish with a surprisingly human-like heart. Studies on zebrafish embryos showed smaller PAHs had dramatic effects on the developing heart, causing swelling and irregular heartbeats or arrhythmia.

Source - Daily Mail

Diet foods weight gain puzzle

A study which showed that rats fed on artificial sweetener still put on weight has baffled researchers.

Scientists from Purdue University in the US now believe that a sweet taste followed by no calories may make the body crave extra food.

Their research, published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, found that rats fed sugar subsequently had lower appetites.

But nutritionists say that low-calorie sweeteners are still best for health.

Source: BBC News

How safe are your daily supplements?

Nutritional supplements have come a long way since the cod liver oil and fortified bread of the postwar years. More than 40 per cent of us now pop a pill once a day and the industry is booming. Britons spent about £360million on supplements last year and in America the annual spend was a massive $6billion.

Last Friday, a report extolled the benefits of a cocktail of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. We tend to see supplements as a harmless way of making sure we're fully stocked with all the nutrients we need; but a growing body of research is beginning to challenge this view.

A different study published last week found that about a million women taking calcium supplements to combat osteoporosis were 50 per cent more likely to have a heart attack than those on placebos. Recent US research suggested that men taking multivitamins have a higher risk of advanced prostate cancer, while beta-carotene supplements were linked to an increase in the ominously non-specific "overall risk of dying".

Patients prescribed supplements on medical grounds must balance these risks with the beneficial impact they might have, but we should all be aware of the risks. Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's hospital in London and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, talked me through six of our favourite supplements.

Source - Telegraph

Tomatoes: The humble superfood in your salad

Pomegranates, pumpkin seeds, green tea, goji berries and, most recently, beetroot have all jostled for position at the top of the superfood tree. But never has the case for the superfood crown been argued more persuasively than it has now for the humble tomato.

In his new book, The Red Bodyguard, pharmacist Ron Levin has, for the first time, collated decades of research confirming the powerful health-giving credentials of this everyday fruit.

Tomatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps maintain healthy skin and tissue lining. They are packed with antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin E, both of which are essential for heart health, and are a good source of potassium. One medium-size tomato provides 50 per cent of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C; they contain no saturated fatty acids, are low in salt, starch and sugars, high in dietary fibre and have a low glycaemic index.

But that's not all. Tomatoes are the richest source of an exceptionally potent antioxidant called lycopene - the pigment that gives them their deep red colour. A single lycopene molecule can neutralise 13 free radicals which, if allowed to build up, can cause cell damage and trigger cancer - that's twice the free radical busting power of beta-carotene, another powerful antioxidant.

Source - Telegraph

Why the breast is still best

“INFANT feeding may affect brain” was the somewhat alarming headline this week for what turned out to be a good news story. Researchers at the University College London Institute for Child Health have established that babies fed enriched formula milk consistently outperform other babies in IQ tests, a benefit that seems to continue into the teenage years.

So does this mean that new mums should switch to formula? In short, no, though you might find this news a bit confusing. After all, weren’t we always told that it was breast milk not formula that made them brainier?

There have been confusing stories for and against formula feeding, and this is but the latest. This new report, part of a long-running study, actually concerns premature babies, who have very specific developmental needs. They used to have food and fluid intake routinely restricted in an effort to keep them clinically stable. But then research established that they really need super-feeding with formulas enriched with protein, vitamins and minerals if they are to thrive.

Premature babies have received enriched formula since the 1980s. There have been other reports that may have erroneously pushed mothers of full-term children towards formula feeding. In 1999, the World Wide Fund for Nature claimed that more than 300 “inherently toxic” chemicals had been found in breast milk.

So if super- formula works for premature babies, might it not be even better for full-term babies and protect them from those chemicals, too?

Well, the WWF claim is scaremongering at its worst. Finding chemicals is easy with today’s supersensitive testing, but there is no evidence that the tiny traces found cause harm. As for super-formula, no one has yet tested it in full-term babies, so we don’t know if it holds benefits.

Source - Times

Diabetics urged to cut out the coffee to lower blood sugar levels

Cutting out tea and coffee could help diabetics cope with their disease, a study suggests.

Researchers have shown that a daily dose of caffeine raises blood sugar levels by 8 per cent, undermining the effects of drug treatment.

The U.S. findings back up a growing body of research suggesting that eliminating caffeine might be a good way to help manage type 2 diabetes, which usually develops in middle age.

James Lane, who led the study at Duke University, North Carolina, said: "Coffee is such a common drink in our society that we forget that it contains a very powerful drug - caffeine.
Our study suggests that one way to lower blood sugar is to simply quit drinking coffee, or other caffeinated beverages. It may not be easy, but it doesn't cost a dime and there are no side effects."

His team studied the blood sugar, or glucose, levels in ten diabetics who drank at least two cups of coffee a day. When the patients had a caffeine fix, their average daily blood sugar levels were seen to rise by 8 per cent. Caffeine - which is found in tea, coffee and some fizzy drinks - also exaggerated the rise in glucose after meals.

Source - Daily Mail

Acupuncture may increase chances of success in IVF

Acupuncture may offer a cheap, safe and efficient way of boosting success rates in fertility treatment, researchers have found.

Women undergoing IVF were 65 per cent more likely to become pregnant when they combined the procedure with the ancient complementary technique using needles, a study has shown.

The remarkable success rate occurred across seven acupuncture trials involving 1,366 women.
Acupuncture was delivered either just before or just after embryo transfer – the moment when the embryo fertilised in the laboratory must attach itself to the wall of the womb to establish a pregnancy.

The research was carried out by scientists from the University of Maryland in America and the VU University Amsterdam in Holland. They claim that because acupuncture costs only about £50 per session compared to £4,000 to £6,000 per cycle for IVF it would be cost effective to introduce it alongside IVF.

It is thought that acupuncture stimulates the neurotransmitters that trigger the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone, which controls the menstrual cycle and a woman's ovulation.
Acupuncture is also thought to stimulate blood flow to the uterus and boost the production of endogenous opioids, inducing the body to relax.

Acupuncture has been used in China for centuries to regulate fertility. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for chronic pain.

The new study is published on the British Medical Journal's website.

Source - Independent

Could Ginko cause a stroke?

A herbal supplement taken by thousands of Britons to keep their memory sharp into old age may do more harm than good.

Ginkgo biloba, first used medicinally by the Chinese more than 5,000 years ago, has been thought to stave off Alzheimer's disease and improve circulation. But research shows it increases the risk of a stroke, while its effects on memory are unclear. The U.S. study looked at the effect of three tablets a day on 118 men and women aged 85 and over. Half were given ginkgo biloba tablets or supplements and half were given placebos - dummy pills.

During the three-year trial, seven of those taking the supplement had a stroke or mini-stroke - but none of those in the placebo group did. Study author Dr Hiroko Dodge, an expert in age-related mental decline, said:

"Ginkgo has been reported to cause bleeding-related complications but the strokes in this case were due to blood clots, not excessive bleeding, and were generally not severe."

During the Oregon State University study 21 people developed memory problems which could be classed as dementia. Of these, 14 had taken placebos and seven the herbal supplement.

When the researchers took into account how well the volunteers had remembered to take their tablets, however, they found those who followed the instructions the best were 68 per cent less likely to have developed memory problems.

Source - Daily Mail

Age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness, has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers found the risk of dying from the cardiovascular conditions was at least doubled in people with AMD.

The study raises the possibility - disputed by UK experts - that drugs for the condition may be to blame. The University of Sydney research appears in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

AMD affects the centre of the retina (macula) at the back of the eye, which is used for fine central vision tasks, such as reading and driving. It is most common in the elderly, among whom it is a major cause of untreatable blindness in developed countries. It is estimated to affect 500,000 people in the UK alone.

The Sydney team assessed the general and eye health of over 3,600 people, all aged at least 49 years at the start of the study. Of these 2,335 people were re-examined five years later, and 1,952 were examined again 10 years later. Among people under the age of 75 at the start of the study, early AMD was associated with a doubling in the risks of dying from a heart attack or stroke within the next decade.

Those with late stage disease at the start of the study had five times the risk of dying from a heart attack, and 10 times the risk of dying from a stroke.

Source - BBC

Exercise aids depression, say GPs

Doctors are increasingly prescribing exercise for people with depression, mental health campaigners have found.

In a survey of 200 English GPs, the Mental Health Foundation found 22% suggest exercise to help people with milder forms of the condition. This compares with just 5% in a similar survey three years ago.

The foundation said it was important that doctors did not just prescribe antidepressants for patients, and looked for other options.

Tackling isolation
Research has shown that exercise can help people with mild forms of depression by improving self-esteem - through better body image or achieving goals, and by relieving feelings of isolation which can fuel their depression.

It also releases feel-good brain chemicals such as endorphins. Celia Richardson, campaigns director for the Mental Health Foundation, said: "It can help people physically, socially and biologically.

"They often meet others who have been in the same situation as them, but are now further down the line and feeling better."

The survey found there is now a wider belief by GPs that exercise therapy can be beneficial.
Three years ago, 41% thought it was "effective or very effective", rising to 61% now.

But half of the GPs questioned did not have access to an exercise referral scheme. Two thirds of these doctors said they wished they had.

More patients are also interested in how exercise can help them - one in six GPs say they have noticed an increase in the number of people asking whether exercise could help them.

Source - BBC

Can a seaweed wrap help beat diabetes?

Seaweed could hold the secret to curing diabetes.

An ingredient extracted from it is being wrapped around insulin-producing cells taken from pigs and injected into patients' bodies. The jelly-like substance, called alginate, effectively hides the pig cells from the immune system, so it does not destroy them once they are injected. This allows the animal cells to carry on producing insulin, potentially banishing the need for patients to inject themselves with the hormone up to four times a day.

Diabetes affects around 1.8million people in the UK. It develops when the pancreas, which produces insulin, packs up completely or does not make enough to help cells absorb glucose from the blood. Doctors have tried in the past to transplant whole human pancreases, but this has proved very difficult and there is a shortage of donated organs.

Instead, attention has turned to harvesting insulin-producing islet cells from healthy donors and injecting them into the patient's liver, where they start to make insulin.

Source - Daily Mail

Study finds snoring partners can be bad for your health

As most couples know to their cost, it is all too easy to raise one's partner's blood pressure while awake. Now scientists have shown that we may be liable to do it in our sleep, too.

A study of the effect of noise on sleep has found that a snoring partner can raise a sleeper's blood pressure by as much as a low-flying aircraft or a lorry reversing in the street. Scientists who monitored 140 volunteers in their homes near Heathrow and three other European airports found the noises penetrating the bedroom had the same effect as those emanating from the neighbouring pillow.

Blood pressure went up in direct relation to noise loudness, by 0.66 mm Hg for every five-decibel increase, the researchers say in the European Heart Journal. The type of sound or its origin did not appear to be important. It was only the volume that mattered.

Lars Jarup, an author of the study from Imperial College London, said: "We know that noise from air traffic can be a source of irritation, but our research shows that it can also be damaging for people's health. This is particularly significant in the light of plans to expand international airports." He added: "Our studies show night-time aircraft noise can affect blood pressure instantly and increase the risk of hypertension."

High blood pressure is a known risk factor for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and dementia.

Source - Independent

Vitamin deficiency may cause modern ills

A chronic shortage of vitamins and other "micronutrients" in the diet may be responsible for triggering many of the ills of modern life such as cancer, obesity and the degenerative diseases of ageing.

Professor Bruce Ames, of the University of California, Berkeley, who invented one of the standard tests for cancer-causing chemicals, said many people's diets were deficient in one or more of the 40 micronutrients essential for a healthy life.

Taking dietary supplements in the form of vitamin pills could help to counteract many of the disorders associated with ageing, Dr Ames told the American Association meeting.

He said many people on a high-calorie diet in the West or poor diet in developing countries were short of micronutrients and this caused the body to go into an emergency "triage" response in which it tried to keep its metabolism in balance by a process of compensation. This ensures immediate survival, but the consequences are an increase in DNA damage, which causes future cancers, a lowered immune defence, and a decay of the mitochondrial "power plants" of the cells, which causes accelerated ageing," he said.

He said a shortage of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients could also be partly responsible for obesity.

Source - Independent

'Cancer link' to heavy mobile use

Heavy mobile phone use may be linked to an increased risk of cancer of the salivary gland, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at 500 Israelis who had developed the condition and compared their mobile phone usage with 1,300 healthy controls. Those who had used the phone against one side of the head for several hours a day were 50% more likely to have developed a salivary gland tumour.
The research appeared in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

Numerous studies have focused on the risk of tumours among those who use mobile phones, and overwhelmingly found no increased cancer risk. But researchers at Tel Aviv University say these have tended to focus on brain tumours, and often did not include long-term users.

Cancer of the salivary gland is a very rare condition. Of the 230,000 cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK for instance annually, only 550 relate to this area.

Source - BBC

Side-effects 'should be reported'

A campaign has been launched to get members of the public to report any side-effects they experience after taking medicines.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) wants pharmacists to promote and make better use of the "Yellow Card" scheme.

The scheme, which includes online reporting, was set up in 1964 in the wake of the Thalidomide tragedy. It has since helped detect dozens of unexpected side-effects. While drugs are heavily tested prior to release, some "adverse effects" may not be spotted, or the medicine may interact with other drugs or even foods in an unexpected way.

Reports on the Yellow Card scheme helped scientists find out that cranberry juice could weaken the effects of warfarin, one of the most commonly prescribed blood thinning drugs. In 2001, other Yellow Card reports revealed a connection between smoking cessation drug Zyban and seizures.

The MHRA also wants community pharmacists to file more reports on drug reactions to them.
Most of the 20,000 reports every year come directly from doctors, but only a few hundred from community pharmacists.

Source - BBC

The towns where people live the longest

The quest to live longer is one of humanity's oldest dreams and three isolated communities seem to have stumbled across the answer. So what can they teach us about a longer life?

Something remarkable links the remote Japanese island of Okinawa, the small Sardinian mountain town of Ovodda and Loma Linda in the US.

People live longer in these three places than anywhere else on earth. At an age when the average Briton is predicted to die - 77 years for men and 81 for women - inhabitants of these three places are looking forward to many more years of good health. Often they're still working in jobs as demanding as heart surgery.

Okinawa has a population of one million and of those 900 are centenarians, four times higher than the average in Britain or America. Even more remarkably, Ovodda is the only region in the world where as many men as women live to be 100 years of age, bucking the global trend.

But what is even more intriguing is that each community is distinct from the others and raises a different theory as to why residents live longer. In all three communities scientists have dedicated themselves to trying to uncover these unique secrets. So what can we learn from the towns where people live the longest?

Source - BBC

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.

Source - BBC

Teaching happiness: the classes in wellbeing that are helping our children

Binge drinking, mental health issues, adolescent suicide: how can we solve the problems that beset so many children? The answer may lie with the new science of positive psychology.

In a classroom in South Tyneside, a small group of 11-year-olds is considering the finer points of Stoic philosophy. The teacher, Mrs Carrahar, points helpfully at the blackboard. “Come on now, kids, remember your ABC: Adversity, Belief, Consequence. Sometimes how we feel about things depends on ... what? It begins with P ... Yes, Darren?” “Perspective, miss!” says a small child. “Very good, Darren!”

The class is the latest experiment in a new movement called “positive psychology”, which is slowly but surely revolutionising the way that education is approached in the English-speaking world. It is the brainchild of Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

If there is one figure responsible for the deluge of books, articles and TV programmes on happiness with which we have been inundated over the last five years, it is Seligman. So, when I meet him in a hotel suite in London, it is a relief to discover that he is not some moronically upbeat figure, like the self-help guru played by Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko.


In fact, he tells me, “I was a slightly depressive grump for the first 40 years of my life”. After considering a career as a professional bridge player, then turning down a Fulbright scholarship in analytical philosophy at Oxford, he eventually became a psychologist and forged a distinguished name for himself studying “learned helplessness”, or how animals (and people) learn to give up in apparently hopeless situations.

While researching the phenomenon, Seligman was struck by something: some people, and even some animals, didn't give up even in highly adverse circumstances. He began to be interested in the opposite phenomenon, “learned optimism” - why some people possess unusual powers of resilience and self-control, and whether those powers can be taught or cultivated in others.

Source - Times

How healthy are dietary supplements?

Sales of dietary supplements are rocketing, but their drain on plant and animal life makes them a bitter pill.

It is a wonder most of us don't make a rattling sound as we walk around, such is the penetration of the dietary supplement industry. From St John's Wort to exotic cure-alls, globally, 300m of us now pop one pill or another every day.

The 'ethical' demographic is something of a sitting duck here. Historically, vitamin pills have been a mainstay of health food shops, and vegetarians and vegans are under particular pressure to supplement their diets because of their 'restricted' menus.Despite this important audience, the BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) reports that 'cruel and unnecessary tests are being driven by the country's growing infatuation with both super foods and health supplements', with non-medicinal tests on animals rising to 4,000 procedures last year.

But, increasingly, our yearning for 'natural' means plant-sourced supplements. As well as concerns over harvesting, processing and food miles, regulators grapple with all kinds of variables. According to biologist Massimo Maffei, 'There's the presence of potentially toxic pesticide residues, and purity concerns, such as the potential for contamination with bacteria and fungal growth.'

Because of the threat of pesticide residues in supplements (visit www.consumerlab.com - one of the few websites to analyse supplements), many pill poppers take the organic route, and the Soil Association now certifies a number of organic supplements (www.ethicalvitamins.co.uk).

But I worry about sustainability in general. Many supplements are trend-driven, so if 300m westerners suddenly decide an Amazonian plant is the ticket to shiny hair, it could spell ecological disaster. Exploitation of a limited botanical resource can involve raiding an indigenous community's plants and lead to a loss of erosion control.

According to Leland Cseke, author of Natural Products from Plants: 'The largest number of plant species occur in developing countries that do not have the resources for conducting an extensive screening of their national biodiversity.' Increasingly, 'ethical' companies spot this and put the emphasis on farming.

Source - Observer

Music 'can aid stroke recovery'

Listening to music in the early stages after a stroke can improve a patient's recovery, research suggests.

The researchers compared patients who listened to music for a couple of hours a day, with those who listened only to audio books, or nothing at all. The music group showed better recovery of memory and attention skills, and a more positive general frame of mind.

Writing in journal Brain, the Finnish team who studied 60 patients said music could be a useful addition to therapy.

Lead researcher Teppo Sarkamo, from the University of Helsinki, said music could be particularly valuable for patients not yet ready for other forms of rehabilitation. It also had the advantage of being cheap and easy-to-conduct.

Source - BBC

Salt 'could fuel child obesity'

Salt-rich diets could be the key to why some children battle with obesity, University of London researchers say.

In a study of data on 1,600 children, they found that children eating a salty diet tended to drink more, including more fattening, sugary soft drinks.

They reported in journal Hypertension that halving the average daily salt intake of six grams a day could cut 250 calories a week from a child's diet. They called for further work by the food industry on reducing salt content. One in five children in the UK is overweight and there are fears that this will contribute to a rising trend in adult obesity, heart disease and stroke in years to come.

Eating products high in salt tends to make people thirsty and it is known that in adults, a salt-laden diet tends to increase the amount of sugary soft drinks consumed.

Source - BBC

'Anger control' key to recovery

Learning to control your anger may also speed up the healing process after surgery, US research suggests.

The Brain Behavior and Immunity study indicates stress has a major impact on the body's ability to repair itself.

Nearly 100 participants were asked to rate how well they could control their temper, and the speed at which they recovered from a blister was monitored. Hotheads were more than four times likely to take more than four days to heal than mild-mannered counterparts. The team at Ohio State University gave participants blisters on one of their arms and then monitored how the wound healed over the course of eight days.

They were asked to fill in a questionnaire which looked at how anger was expressed - whether externally, by shouting at others, for instance, or internally, when one rages insides but keeps a cool exterior. They were also asked to judge their general ability to manage their anger. Whether one directed one's anger externally or internally proved to have no bearing on recovery - what was crucial was just how much control the individual was able to exert over their feelings. Those with low anger control produced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which was in turn, associated with delayed healing.

"Such stress-induced delays in healing could increase the susceptibility to infection at the wound site, a process that fuels further decrease in the speed of repair," the team, led by Jean-Philippe Gouin, wrote.

They suggested that therapeutic strategies such as relaxation, or even cognitive therapy, could help those at risk make a swifter recovery.

Source - BBC

Infant feeding 'may affect brain'

Nutrition in the first weeks of life could have a profound impact on the way the brain develops, research suggests.

London researchers found preterm babies fed enriched formula milk in their first weeks consistently outperformed other premature babies in IQ tests. Their latest study, published in Pediatric Research, shows the benefits continue into the teenage years. It also found a particular part of the brain is better developed in those given the enriched milk.

The team from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the UCL Institute of Child Health note that while nutrition has been linked with behaviour, their findings are among the first to show how early feeding may even alter brain structure.

Lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Isaacs said: "It is not clear whether this just relates to preterm infants, who have very specific development issues. But obviously a next question would be if there are any wider implications, both for feeding beyond those first few weeks, and for babies who are born at term."

Source - BBC

Six minute nap 'may boost memory'

Even the shortest of catnaps may be enough to improve performance in memory tests, say German scientists.

Just six minutes "shut-eye" for volunteers was followed by significantly better recall of words, New Scientist magazine reported.

"Ultra-short" sleep could launch memory processing in the brain, they suggested.

One UK researcher disagreed, saying that longer sleep was needed to have an impact on memory. Dozens of studies have probed the relationship between sleep and memory, with clear evidence that body's natural sleep-wake cycle plays an important role. The team from the University of Dusseldorf wanted to see just how short a sleep could have any discernable impact. They used a group of students who were asked to remember a set of words, then given an hour's break before testing.

During that hour, some of the students were allowed to sleep for approximately six minutes, while the rest were kept awake. Remarkably, on waking, the napping students performed better in the memory test.

Some theories suggests that the processing of memories takes place in deep sleep, a phase which does not normally start until at least 20 minutes after falling asleep.

Source - BBC

Chinese herbal medicine: how effective is it?

Are Western scientists crazy to be dabbling in Chinese herbal medicine? Not if it holds the key to Alzheimer’s disease.

A jar of browny-green goo is all it took to end Dr Stephen Minger’s doubtsabout whether traditional Chinese medicine could teach anything to Western science. When a colleague walked into the leading stem cell scientist’s lab at King’s College London with a Chinese remedy that he believed could boost brain cell growth, and asked if he could test his theory on some neurons that Dr Minger had grown in his lab, he wasn’t keen.

“My first thought was ‘you’re not putting that on my cells’. But it turned out to be amazing stuff. It really stimulated the cells to grow; they grew like weeds,” recalls Dr Minger, the ponytailed scientist who has has been in the spotlight since 2003, when his team created the UK’s first lab-grown human embryonic stem cells. These are the “blank-slate” cells that have the power to turn into any cell of the body and may be key in producing more effective treatments for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s.

But for all of his scientific credentials, Dr Minger is about to step out of the conventional and into the alternative. At the time of the “green-goo” incident, neither he nor his colleague had the time or money to investigate further the ancient remedy that produced such an astonishing effect.

But the experience stayed with Dr Minger and he began to view Chinese medicine in a different light. If its remedies could make brain cells grow, could they help to treat diseases that destroy the brain such as Alzheimer’s?

Now the Government has asked him to head a two-year project aimed at strengthening links between UK and Chinese scientists. He immediately thought of using the project as a way of probing the ancient cures of traditional Chinese medicine, often referred to as TCM, to see if they can be converted into modern treatments.

Source - Times

How a cuppa could cut the risk of Parkinson's

Just one cup of tea a day could reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease by almost three-quarters, say researchers. Scientists studied more than 63,000 Chinese men and women.

Those who drank at least 23 cups of black tea a month were 71 per cent less likely to develop the neurological condition.

The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was unusual in analysing the health benefits of black tea - drunk by the majority of Britons - rather than green tea. What caused the beneficial effects remains unclear.

About 125,000 Britons have Parkinson's - which destroys brain cells that control movement - and 10,000 sufferers are diagnosed each year. It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys the cells in the part of the brain that controls movement. The condition affects all sorts of movement, including walking, talking and writing. The main symptoms are tremor or shaking, muscular rigidity or stiffness and slowness of movement.

There is no cure for Parkinson's, but there is a range of treatments available to help control symptoms including drugs and surgery.

Parkinson's Disease Society spokesman Dr Kieran Breen said the results were "promising" and more research was needed.

Source - Daily Mail

Four out of ten children's medicines contain additives linked to hyperactive behaviour

Four out of ten children's medicines contain additives linked to hyperactive behaviour, researchers say.

A study reveals that even some products deemed suitable for under-threes contain the suspect chemicals.

The Food Commission campaign group looked at 70 over-the-counter and prescription medicines, including pain relievers, cough syrups and antibiotics. Its report, published today, said 28 of the products contained one or more of the seven food additives shown by a landmark Southampton University study to trigger hyperactive behaviour.

The chemicals were found in 17 of 37 paracetamol-based products, including the Calpol brand.
They were also in two out of 11 ibuprofen products and four out of nine throat syrups, including Benylin Children's Tickly Coughs syrup. Among antibiotics, three of five amoxycillin products and two of eight erythromycin formulations contained the chemicals.

The additives are the colours Tartrazine (E102). Quinoline Yellow (E104). Sunset Yellow (E110). Carmoisine (E122). Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129) and the preservative sodium benzoate (E211).

The Southampton research found that the behaviour of children from all backgrounds - not just those diagnosed as hyperactive - could be affected by a combination-of these chemicals. The youngsters, aged between three and nine, found it more difficult to sit still and concentrate and became loud and impulsive.

Source - Daily Mail

Work is making you mentally ill

Reports says work is affecting the mental health of thousands every year. How are businesses dealing with anxiety, depression and stress?

What’s the biggest challenge that British business will face in the next decade? The competitive threat of India and China? Recession? Another series of The Apprentice starring Alan Sugar? Each of my colleagues in the Times business team has come up with a different answer, but, intriguingly, no one cited the problem high-lighted by a spattering of recent reports: mental ill-health.

The definition of what counts as mental illness varies in the studies, with the terms stress, anxiety and depression used almost interchangeably. Estimates of the size of the problem also vary, with reports claiming that “nearly three employees in ten have a mental health problem in any year”, that “depression is estimated to affect as many as one in five people at some point during their lives”, and that “one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental ill-health in the course of one year”. But what is clear is that mental illness is a major headache for employers, and will become an even bigger one.

Workplace “stress” is now the second-biggest occupational health problem in the UK after musculoskeletal conditions and, according to a World Health Organisation report, “depression” is the fourth most significant cause of suffering and disability after heart disease, cancer and traffic accidents. By 2020 it will rank second, behind heart disease. It’s no surprise that calculations vary as to what this might cost British business in lost productivity. Different reports have put the annual cost at £3 billion, £9 billion and a massive £32 billion. But the extent of the problem is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in 2006, BT admitted that it had about 500 people off sick with psychiatric problems every single day.

Source - Times

Adult mental illness blamed on stress in early pregnancy

Children born to women who suffer the death of a close relative during the first three months of pregnancy may be at higher risk of schizophrenia, research has shown.

Severe stress triggered by major life events in the early stages of pregnancy could have a damaging effect on the mental development of the foetus, researchers say.

A study of almost 1,400,000 people in Denmark found the risk of schizophrenia was increased by 67 per cent among the offspring of mothers who experienced the death of a partner, older child, sibling or parent during early pregnancy.

In all, mothers of almost 22,000 children suffered the death of a close relative antenatally or during pregnancy. Among the children of those who went through tragedy in the first three months of pregnancy, 16 later developed schizophrenia.

Professor Philip Baker, consultant obstetrician at St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, who led the study, said: "Increasingly, we are learning that the environment a baby is exposed to inside the womb is determining long-term health.

Source - Independent

There's no rash with mash - potatoes are the safest food on the menu

The potato has been identified as the safest item on the menu.

It is the food least likely to cause migraine, eczema, fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome, a study has found.

Analysis of more than 8,000 volunteers who took a food intolerance test revealed less than 1 per cent tested positive on potatoes. Other foods topping the safe list were grapefruit, apricot, apple, barley and lemon. But the potato was declared the outright winner. The study was carried out by YorkTest, a food intolerance testing firm.

Spokesman Les Rowley said: "When you consider that each and every person in the UK eats on average 200lb of potatoes a year, this is really quite surprising. Whereas some food intolerances appear to be caused by too much of the same food, on a too regular basis, it seems that the potato is the exception to the rule."

He said the potato caused so few health problems because it breaks down easily in the digestive system.

The study found the three foods most likely to cause an adverse health reaction were cow's milk, yeast and egg white.

Source - Daily Mail

Mobiles 'not brain cancer risk'

Mobile phone use does not raise the risk of brain tumours, a Japanese study suggests.

The research is the first to look at the effects of hand set radiation levels on different parts of the brain.

Tokyo Women's Medical University found no increased risk of the three main types of brain cancer among regular mobile phone users.

The study, comparing 322 brain cancer patients and 683 healthy people, appears in British Journal of Cancer. The cancer patients had one of the three most common types of brain tumour - glioma, meningioma or pituitary adenoma. The researchers rated each subject according to how many years they had been using a mobile phone, and how long they spent talking on it each day.

They studied the radiation emitted from various types of mobile phone, and placed them into one of four categories relating to radiation strength. And they also analysied how each phone was likely to affect different areas of the brain.

Lead researcher Professor Naohito Yamaguchi said: "Using our newly developed and more accurate techniques, we found no association between mobile phone use and cancer, providing more evidence to suggest they don't cause brain cancer."

Source - BBC

Beetroot 'may cut blood pressure'

Drinking 500ml of beetroot juice a day can significantly reduce blood pressure, UK research suggests.

The key beneficial ingredient appears to be nitrate, which is also found in green, leafy vegetables. The researchers found that in healthy volunteers blood pressure was reduced within an hour of drinking the juice.

The study, by Barts and the London School of Medicine and the Peninsula Medical School, could suggest a low-cost way to treat hypertension. Previously the protective effects of vegetable-rich diets have been attributed to their antioxidant vitamin content.

While it took less than an hour to note a reduction in blood pressure in the beetroot juice tests, it was more pronounced after three to four hours and a degree of reduction continued to be observed for up to 24 hours, the report published on the online journal Hypertension said.

Source - BBC

Coffee, mobiles and breast implants 'won't give you cancer'

Drinking coffee, using mobile phones or having breast implants is unlikely to cause cancer, according to a risk ranking system devised by a cancer specialist to debunk popular myths.

The cancer risk assessment reaffirms smoking, alcohol and exposure to sunlight as leading risk factors, but allays concerns about coffee, mobile phones, deodorants, breast implants and water with added fluoride.

The five-point system created by Professor Bernard Stewart from the University of New South Wales in Australia, lists the risk of cancer from proven and likely, to inferred, unknown or unlikely.

"Our tool will help establish if the level of risk is high, say on a par with smoking, or unlikely such as using deodorants, artificial sweeteners, drinking coffee," Stewart said.

He found active smokers and ex-smokers to be the most at risk, although the risk is reduced for people who quit smoking.

Drinking coffee, using a mobile phone and having breast implants are unlikely to cause cancer according to the ranking systemDrinking alcohol was also a high risk factor, particularly for people who also smoke, although Stewart said no specific type of alcoholic drink was most strongly to blame.

Drinking chlorinated water and using a mobile phone was far less likely to cause cancer, Stewart said, although the risks associated with the long-term use of mobile phones had not been fully established.

Source - Daily Mail

Yoghurts used to combat superbugs

Yoghurts containing "friendly bacteria" are being used as part of a trial to cut the risk of patients developing superbugs at a Sussex hospital trust.

Free pots of probiotic yoghurt are being handed out at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath. They are being given to patients on wards where there have been higher cases of Clostridium difficile.

The trust said evidence suggested the yoghurt might cut the risk of C.diff.

Key chemicals

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust medical director Matthew Fletcher said:

"We are providing Actimel probiotic yoghurt to patients on the wards where we have previously had more cases of C.diff. There is some evidence to suggest that using these probiotics may reduce a patient's risk of C.diff and we will be evaluating the difference this has made to the number of cases."

Why tackling that itch feels so good: Scratching helps to block unpleasant thoughts

Doctors have put their finger on why it feels so good to scratch an itch.

Scans reveal that scratching numbs part of the brain linked to unpleasant thoughts and memories. It also raises activity in brain regions related to compulsion - perhaps explaining why we sometimes can't help but scratch and scratch.

Understanding how the process works could lead to better treatments for severe itching, including eczema, which affects up to six million Britons.

The U.S. researchers used a hi-tech version of the MRI scanners used every day in British hospitals to shed light on how scratching affects the brain. Doctors from Wake Forest University in North Carolina repeatedly used a small brush to scratch the legs of 13 healthy volunteers.

Scans showed that the parts of the brain linked to bad emotions and memories became much less active during the scratching.

Dermatologist Dr Gil Yosipovitch said: "We know scratching is pleasurable, but we haven't known why. It's possible that scratching may suppress the emotional components of itch and bring about its relief."

The imaging studies also showed that some areas of the brain were made more active by the scratching, including a region is associated with compulsive behaviour.

"This could explain the compulsion to continue scratching," said Dr Yosipovitch, whose research is reported in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Source - Daily Mail

Now researchers say 'safe' lifting advice DOESN’T protect your back

For years we have been trying to bend at the knees, keep a straight back and squeeze those tummy muscles when picking up something heavy.

But maybe we should have saved ourselves the strain. Researchers claim there is no evidence that the techniques taught around the world to encourage safe lifting can prevent back injuries.

The findings from their study of more than 18,000 workers suggest that training courses for handling heavy items - which are often mandatory for employers and workers - could be a waste of time and money.

Researcher Jos Verbeek said: "It seems that what is currently accepted as best practice for heavy lifting does not prevent back pain."

Dr Verbeek and his colleagues at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki analysed 11 studies. Eight dealt with health workers who manually handled patients and the remainder looked at baggage handlers and postal workers. All those taking part had jobs where there was a strain on the back and training was recommended to avert possible injuries, according to the report published in the British Medical Journal Online First.

The researchers found no difference in back pain in studies where one group received training in lifting techniques and the other did not. The researchers conclude that either the recommended techniques do not actually work in reducing the risk of back injury, or workers don't change their habits sufficiently for them to make a difference.

In Britain it is estimated that four out of five adults will experience back pain during their life.

Source - Daily Mail

Could a secret ingredient in junk food help the fight against obesity?

Scientists have found a way to make snacks keep hunger at bay for longer.

They are working on a plant extract which could be added to fatty foods, such as ready meals and burgers, to suppress the appetite. It is hoped it will help dieters stick to smaller portions and combat obesity. The ingredient, found naturally in most plants, seeds and cereals, could be added to fast food to ward off hunger for up to 12 hours.

The compound works by coating fat before it is digested, stopping the enzymes that naturally break it down from working as fast as usual. This sends a signal to the brain that a person has had enough to eat, even though their stomach may only be half full.

Experts at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, who are yet to start tests in humans, hope to work with food manufactures in a couple of years to develop the supplement.

They are focusing on lipids found in chloroplasts the parts of plant cells used in photosynthesis. Oats, wheat and common seeds are also a good source of the substance. But researchers concede that manufacturers may be reluctant to add an ingredient that actually puts people off from buying more of their products.

Head of the project Dr Peter Wilde said: "Tests show that in the lab when we isolate the lipids, they can suppress appetite. In theory they could be added to any food with fat in it. We are still at a laboratory stage, but in two to three years we will be looking for volunteers."

There are already several food products on the market which claim to beat hunger and make you feel full. But many are based on the fibre found in whole grain. This would be the first time that foods that do not contain fibre could be artificially engineered to induce the same feeling of being full.

Source - Daily Mail