Mobile phones 'more dangerous than smoking or asbestos'

Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.

It draws on growing evidence – exclusively reported in the IoS in October – that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

Earlier this year, the French government warned against the use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany also advises its people to minimise handset use, and the European Environment Agency has called for exposures to be reduced.

Source - Independent

Scientists probe meditation secrets

Scientists are beginning to uncover evidence that meditation has a tangible effect on the brain.

Sceptics argue that it is not a practical way to try to deal with the stresses of modern life. But the long years when adherents were unable to point to hard science to support their belief in the technique may finally be coming to an end.

When Carol Cattley's husband died it triggered a relapse of the depression which had not plagued her since she was a teenager. "I instantly felt as if I wanted to die," she said. "I couldn't think of what else to do."

Carol sought medical help and managed to control her depression with a combination of medication and a psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

However, she believes that a new, increasingly popular course called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) - which primarily consists of meditation - brought about her full recovery.

It is currently available in every county across the UK, and can be prescribed on the NHS.

One of the pioneers of MBCT is Professor Mark Williams, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. He helps to lead group courses which take place over a period of eight weeks. He describes the approach as 80% meditation, 20% cognitive therapy.

Source - BBC

Tai Chi 'helps improve diabetes'

Tai Chi exercises can help people with type 2 diabetes control their condition, research suggests.

Two separate studies found a 12-week programme of exercise was enough to boost the immune system, and to cut blood sugar levels. The traditional Chinese martial art combines deep breathing and gentle movement to boost relaxation levels.

Both studies, by researchers in Taiwan and Australia, appear in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Around 1.8 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes and another 750,000 are thought to be undiagnosed.

The first study, by a team in Taiwan, compared 30 people with diabetes with 30 healthy people acting as controls. Over 12 weeks the participants learned 37 Tai Chi movements under the guidance of an expert, and took home a video to study the correct poses. They took part in three hour-long sessions a week.

At the end of the programme, tests on the group with type 2 diabetes showed a drop in their blood sugar levels, and a boost in the level of cells and chemicals key to a healthy immune response.

Strenuous physical activity is known to depress the immune system, but the latest study suggests that more moderate exercise may have the opposite effect.

Source - BBC

Cleaning 'improves mental health'

Working up a sweat while performing household chores may not just improve the cleanliness of your home, but your mental health too, a survey suggests.

Just 20 minutes of sustained exercise a week - from cleaning to jogging - can impact upon depression, the British Journal of Sports Medicine study found. The more strenuous and frequent the activity, the greater the effect. University College London researchers looked at a survey of 20,000 people on weekly exercise and state of mind.

Another study in the journal also found such exercise among the middle-aged and elderly may delay the ageing process.

No gentle dusting
In the Scottish Health Survey, 3,000 people reported stress or anxiety. The more active they were, the less likely they were to be suffering in this way. Taking part in sports at least once a week lowered the risk by 33%, while housework and walking could cut it by as much as 20%.
However, light dusting or meandering to the bus stop strictly did not count. The activity needed to be for at least 20 minutes at a time, and had to induce breathlessness.

One theory as to why activity might work is that it curbs some biological risk factors for depression, including glucose intolerance, inflammation and cardiovascular problems. Researchers did however concede they were unable to work out the nature of the relationship, and that those with mental health problems may be less likely to exercise in the first place.

"Many studies suggest benefits for mental health from exercise, and for the first time we have been able to quantify the amount of activity which seems to make a difference," said Mark Hamer of University College London.

Lots of water 'is little benefit'

UK experts say research which finds drinking lots of water does little to improve health should not discourage people from topping up regularly.

A scientific review by the University of Pennsylvania said some people, such as athletes, may need to drink a lot. But they found little evidence that flushing out toxins through drinking copious amounts improved health.

However, the Food Standards Agency is sticking to its recommendation to drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day. The body's natural systems normally keep us topped up with water by making us feel thirsty, but various arguments are used to justify drinking extra. It has been claimed that it can help remove toxic chemicals from the body, stop headaches, make you eat less, and even keep your skin healthier.

Dr Dan Negoianu, and Dr Stanley Goldfarb, writing the the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, say that while dehydration can be harmful, there is scant evidence that large amounts of water offer any benefits.

In fact, they said, there was no evidence supporting the standard US recommendation of "8x8" - eight glasses, each containing eight ounces of water (a total of 1.8litres), a day. They wrote: "There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water. Although we wish we could demolish all of the urban myths found on the Internet regarding the benefits of supplemental water ingestion, we concede there is also no clear evidence of lack of benefit. In fact, there is simply a lack of evidence in general."

Looking at other scientific papers revealed that while drinking more water did effect the rate at which various substances were cleared by the kidney, there was no suggestion that this led to any actual health benefits.

Source - BBC

Daily caffeine 'protects brain'

Coffee may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body, research suggests.

The drink has already been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease, and a study by a US team for the Journal of Neuroinflammation may explain why.

A vital barrier between the brain and the main blood supply of rabbits fed a fat-rich diet was protected in those given a caffeine supplement.

UK experts said it was the "best evidence yet" of coffee's benefits.The "blood brain barrier" is a filter which protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful chemicals carried around in the rest of the bloodstream. Other studies have shown that high levels of cholesterol in the blood can make this barrier "leaky".

Alzheimer's researchers suggest this makes the brain vulnerable to damage which can trigger or contribute to the condition.

The University of North Dakota study used the equivalent to just one daily cup of coffee in their experiments on rabbits.

After 12 weeks of a high-cholesterol diet, the blood brain barrier in those given caffeine was far more intact than in those given no caffeine.

Source - BBC

Are we being hoodwinked by alternative medicine? Two leading scientists examine the evidence

Just how effective is complementary medicine?

In a new book, Edzard Ernst, the UK's first professor of complementary medicine, and Simon Singh, a leading scientist and documentary maker, set out to answer that question.

They have produced a definitive - if controversial - guide to what works, and what doesn't. It makes indispensable, if sometimes alarming, reading... Which therapies work and which ones are useless? Which therapies are safe and which ones are dangerous? These are questions that doctors have asked themselves for millennia in relation to all forms of medicine.

And yet it is only comparatively recently that they have developed an approach that allows them to separate the effective from the ineffective, and the safe from the dangerous.

This approach, known as evidence-based medicine, has revolutionised medical practice, transforming it from an industry of charlatans and incompetents into a system of healthcare that can deliver such miracles as transplanting kidneys, removing cataracts, combating childhood diseases, eradicating smallpox and saving millions of lives each year.

Evidence-based medicine is about using the current best evidence - gathered through clinical trials and other scientific investigations - to make medical decisions. Alternative medicine claims to be able to treat the same illnesses and diseases that conventional medicine tries to tackle.

We set out to establish the truth of these claims by using the principles of evidence-based medicine.

Source - Daily Mail

The way to a man's heart? Through his left ear

If you're thinking of asking your beloved to marry you, make sure that you utter your declaration of love into his or her left ear; it may increase your chances of hearing a heart-lifting “yes”.

New research suggests that declarations of love, jokes, or words of anger are best remembered when they are heard through the left ear, while instructions, directions and non-emotional messages have more impact on the right side.

It is all to do with how our brains process information. Although the left and right hemispheres, or sides, of the brain are similar structures, they have specialised functions. The left side, it is suggested, is more logic-based and dominant, while the right is the more imaginative side, more visual, intuitive, emotional and spatially aware. Because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, the left ear has been shown in some research to be the route to the emotional side of the brain, and the right ear to the non-emotional, logical side.

But it's not just ears that are affected. The right eye has been shown to be best for processing colours, the right foot is the most vulnerable to tickling, the left cheek the more favourable one to kiss, and the left side is the favoured one for holding babies. Support for the idea comes from a number of psychological and brain scanning studies, and from research based on patients with brain injuries or structural changes.

Source - Independent

Having a dog could be the best remedy for hay fever

Keeping a dog in the home may help prevent children from developing allergies, a study claims.

Researchers found children up to the age of six who lived with a dog were 50 per cent less likely to become sensitised to allergens such as pollen.

It is thought the pets bring germs into the home, stopping it being "too clean" and kick-starting the child's immune system. Children who are licked by dogs may also be protected by early exposure to bugs that live in the dogs' mouths and on their coats. Previous generations were exposed to more dirt - and the micro-organisms in it - which helped their immune systems develop resistance.

The six-year study, published today in the European Respiratory Journal, surveyed 9,000 parents in Germany. Scientists at the National Research Centre for Environmental Health in Munich asked them to answer detailed questionnaires on possible allergic symptoms and the children's exposure to dogs.

In addition, blood samples were taken from more than 3,000 children at the age of six and tested for markers which indicate an allergic response to pollen, dust mites, cat and dog hair, and mould spores.

Lead researcher Dr Joachim Heinrich said: "Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitisation to pollens and inhaled allergens."

Source - Daily Mail

Eating chocolate during pregnancy can help prevent pre-eclampsia in babies

Eating chocolate during pregnancy could help prevent pre-eclampsia, research shows.

It suggests women who eat chocolate at least five times a week are 40 per cent less likely to develop the condition than those who consume it less than once a week.

Although the causes of pre-eclampsia - which kills 1,000 babies a year in the UK - are unknown, it leads to blood vessels in the placenta failing to develop. This can drive up a woman's blood pressure and reduce the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to the foetus. As a result, babies are often born prematurely and many die.

The research, published in the journal Epidemiology, also suggests that the chemical theobromine - which occurs naturally in chocolate, particularly dark varieties - could be responsible for the protection.

Source - Daily Mail

Can starving yourself help combat cancer?

Starving the body of food for a couple of days could help in the fight against cancer, according to new research.

Scientists have discovered that a 48-hour fast seems to protect the body's healthy cells against the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs. The breakthrough could provide a solution to a problem that has confounded cancer experts for years - how to target chemotherapy so it destroys cancer cells but leaves healthy ones intact.

It seems depriving healthy cells of the food they need for fuel sends them into a kind of survival mode, where they become highly resistant to stress or damage. Experts describe this behaviour as similar to animals waiting out winter food shortages by hibernating.

But cancer cells do not react in the same way. Instead, they carry on growing and remain just as susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy as they do when the body has a full supply of food.
The result could be that doctors can cure more cancers by using higher doses of chemotherapy drugs to shrink or destroy tumours.

Source - Daily Mail
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Tomato dishes 'may protect skin'

Pizza and spaghetti bolognese could become new tools in the fight against sunburn and wrinkles, a study suggests.

A team found adding five tablespoons of tomato paste to the daily diet of 10 volunteers improved the skin's ability to protect against harmful UV rays. Damage from these rays can lead to premature ageing and even skin cancer.

The study, presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology, suggested the antioxidant lycopene was behind the apparent benefit. This component of tomatoes - found at its highest concentration when the fruit has been cooked - has already been linked to a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

Now researchers at the universities of Manchester and Newcastle have suggested it may also help ward off skin damage by providing some protection against the effects of UV rays.

Source - BBC

Playgroups 'cut leukaemia risk'

Children who attend daycare or playgroups cut their risk of the most common type of childhood leukaemia by around 30%, a study estimates.

Researchers reviewed 14 studies involving nearly 20,000 children, of which 6,000 developed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

It is thought early infections may help the body fight off the disease.

The University of California, Berkeley study will be presented to a leukaemia conference in London. Leukaemia is the most common cancer found in children in the industrialised world, affecting about one in 2,000 youngsters.

ALL accounts for more than 80% of leukaemia cases among children, and most often occurs in those aged between two and five. Scientists believe that for most types of childhood leukaemia to develop, there must first be a genetic mutation in the womb, followed by a second trigger - such as an infection - during childhood.

However, it is also thought that contracting some childhood infections - which are often readily spread in environments such as playgroups where children are in close contact with each other - may prime the immune system against leukaemia.

Conversely, if the immune system is not challenged in early life, this is thought to raise the risk of an inappropriate response to subsequent infections, making the development of leukaemia more likely.

Source - BBC

Crash diets 'may reduce lifespan'

Scottish scientists have found that binge eating and crash dieting may significantly reduce life expectancy.

Researchers from Glasgow University observed that fish given a "binge then diet" food regime had a reduced lifespan of up to 25%.

Their study compared the growth rate, success of reproduction and lifespan of stickleback fish.
They believe the findings could have implications for teenagers and children who follow extreme patterns of dieting. This is because they are still growing.

The study was conducted by researchers in the University of Glasgow's faculty of biomedical and life sciences. The findings are published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Professor Neil Metcalfe said: "The fish on the fluctuating diet put just as much effort into breeding - the males became brightly coloured as usual and the females produced the normal number of eggs.

"However, on average their lifespan was three-quarters that of animals eating a constant amount every day."

The research found that the difference in lifespan was not a consequence of more rapid ageing but an increase in the risk of sudden death.

Source - BBC

Food additives 'could be as damaging as lead in petrol'

Artificial food colours are set to be removed from hundreds of products after a team of university researchers warned they were doing as much damage to children's brains as lead in petrol.

Academics at Southampton University, who carried out an official study into seven additives for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said children's intelligence was being significantly damaged by E-numbers. After receiving the advice last month, officials at the FSA have advised their directors to call for the food industry to remove six additives named in the study by the end of next year.

The advice, which will be put before the FSA board next week, would be voluntary. However, manufacturers would be expected by the regulator to remove the additives, replacing them with natural alternatives if possible. Some sweetmakers have unilaterally agreed to remove the suspect colours following the latest scientific evidence.

Researchers have linked E-numbers to behavioural problems since the 1970s but the debate has intensified after the Southampton study, published last September, found that seven additives such as sunset yellow (E110) and tartrazine (E102) were causing temper tantrums among normal children.

The FSA, which funded the £750,000 study, was criticised by health groups for failing to ban the additives after taking the advice of the Committee on Toxicology, which said they had only a moderate effect on some children.

Source - Independent

Have you got a lame duck? Try homoeopathy for pets

Having just co-authored a book on alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst, I have spent the last week fending off attacks from practitioners. Even though we endorse some alternative therapies, it seems that the alternative medicine community is unhappy with our conclusion that many others (such as reiki, homoeopathy, magnet therapy and crystal healing) offer nothing except a placebo effect. In other words, the supposed benefits of therapies such as homoeopathy are merely the result of wishful thinking.

In the case of homoeopathy, there have been more than 200 scientific trials and the overall conclusion is that homoeopathic remedies are nothing more than sugar pills. It is the expectation of recovery that boosts a patient's sense of wellbeing, and this is magnified by an encounter with an empathetic homoeopath in a relaxing environment. This explains why a bogus therapy can give the impression of being an effective medicine.

Despite all the evidence indicating that homoeopathic pills are placebos, practitioners continue to argue that this cannot possibly be the case. One of their most convincing claims, at least at a superficial level, is that many pet owners give their animals homoeopathic pills and they are convinced that they see remarkable improvements. Of course, the animals have no special expectation, so the placebo effect is irrelevant.So what is the explanation?

One possibility is that the pets make a real recovery soon after receiving a homoeopathic remedy, but the improvement is due to natural healing processes that would have taken place regardless of any intervention. The owner, who has put time, money and effort into providing a homoeopathic remedy, would rather give credit to homoeopathy than consider the natural recovery possibility. Hence, pet owners might be unreliable witnesses.

The only way to find out if homoeopathy really works on animals is to conduct a clinical trial, which means taking a large group of animals with a particular condition and giving them homoeopathic pills, while giving sugar pills to a parallel control group. The trial is conducted in a double-blind format, which means that neither the animals nor the vets know which creatures are receiving which treatment. This is revealed only when all the results have been gathered. This double-blinding reduces biases and leads to a more reliable result. The question being addressed in such trials is simple: does homoeopathy perform better than placebo sugar pills.

Source - Times

Kids' vitamins on trial: Packed with goodness or just a load of dangerous junk?

What can you do if your priority is five a day - but your child's is chips and ice cream?

Many parents reach for multi-vitamins to fill the gap.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the market for children's supplements is growing rapidly: in 2005 we spent over £33 million on them, a year later it was nearly £38 million. But what many parents will be alarmed to learn is that a worrying amount of "junk" can be in some of these supposedly healthy food supplements.

Last year the Food Commission, which campaigns for safer, healthier food, found that many medicines for babies and children contain artificial colours, sweeteners and other additives. It seems that many supplements contain them, too.

In an analysis exclusively for the Mail, Dr Alex Richardson - a leading authority on the impact of nutrition on child behaviour and learning - assessed some of the leading brands of children's multi-vitamins.

As well as looking for products with the best levels of vitamins and minerals, she discovered that many supplements contain a wide range of additives. These are used to make the pills brightly coloured, chewy and extremely sweet so that they will appeal to children. Several best-selling children's supplements contain artificial colourings.

Sanatogen Kids A-Z strawberry flavour, for instance, has Ponceau 4R, and both strawberry and blackcur-rant flavoured Bassetts Soft & Chewy Vitamins A, C, D and E have Allura Red AC.
These are two of the additives the Foods Standards Agency recently warned parents to be careful about because of possible links with hyperactivity in children.

As Anna Glayzer of Action on Additives, a campaign set up by the Food Commission, said: "It is ridiculous that some supplement manufacturers choose to include entirely unnecessary ingredients that could affect susceptible children.

Source - Daily Mail

The yellow mushroom that could fight cancer

An exotic mushroom could help in the fight against cancer, it emerged yesterday.

Tests show extracts from Phellinus linteus, a yellow tropical fungus, can combat breast, prostate, skin and lung cancers. It is thought the mushroom, a mainstay of Oriental medicine since ancient times, stops blood vessels from growing and feeding tumours. Study of the fungus, which grows on the bark of dead mulberry trees, could lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs.

Alternatively, the extract itself may be used to treat patients. Dietary supplements could even help ward off the cancer in healthy individuals, the U.S. researchers believe.

Scientists from the Methodist Research Institute in Indianapolis showed that a powdered extract of the mushroom can halt the growth of breast cancer cells. Experiments suggest it does this by blocking an enzyme involved in the development of the blood vessels needed to nourish the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Sliva said: "We saw a number of positive results from our investigation of aggressive human breast cancer cells, including a lower rate of uncontrolled growth of new cancer cells, suppression of their aggressive behaviour and the formation of fewer blood vessels that feed cancer cells' essential nutrients."

Previous studies have shown the mushroom is also effective against prostate, lung and skin cancers.

Source - Daily Mail

Vitamins 'may shorten your life'

Research has suggested certain vitamin supplements do not extend life and could even lead to a premature death.

A review of 67 studies found "no convincing evidence" that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying. Scientists at Copenhagen University said vitamins A and E could interfere with the body's natural defences.

"Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality," according to the review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration.

The research involved selecting various studies from 817 on beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium which the team felt were the most likely to fairly reflect the impact of the supplements on reducing mortality. It has been thought that these supplements may be able to prevent damage to the body's tissues called "oxidative stress" by eliminating the molecules called "free radicals" which are said to cause it. This damage has been implicated in several major diseases including cancer and heart disease.

'Just eat well'
The trials involved 233,000 people who were either sick or were healthy and taking supplements for disease prevention.

Source - BBC

Pneumonia 'linked' to pollution

High levels of pollution may have contributed to the deaths of thousands of people in England from pneumonia in recent years, a study suggests.

A team at the University of Birmingham examined death rates from the disease and pollution levels in 352 local authorities between 1996 and 2004.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they reported a "strong correlation" between the two. But the researchers conceded that social factors may also be at play.

Calculations were made by looking at how many deaths there were in each locality in excess of the national average. These figures were then cross-checked with a range of pollutant levels, including engine exhaust emissions.

Culprit car
In total, 386,374 people died of pneumonia during the eight years examined, but there were significant regional variations. Lewisham in London had the highest number of deaths per head, Berwick-on-Tweed the least.

In the 35 local authorities with the highest rates of pneumonia, there were 14,718 more deaths than the national average. These areas also tended to see higher rates of some cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and rheumatic heart disease.

Source - BBC

Two glasses of wine a day 'puts breast cancer risk up by 50 per cent'

Just two large glasses of wine a day can raise the risk of breast cancer by more than half, research shows.

A study of almost 185,000 women found even moderate drinking significantly increases the risk of the disease. A single large glass of wine a day raises the risk by almost a third. Those who enjoy two large glasses a day are 51 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who never drink.

The study - one of the largest of its kind - adds to growing evidence that links alcohol to a disease that kills more than 1,000 British women a month. Experts believe alcohol is the biggest factor behind surging rates of breast cancer in the UK - and is to blame for one in 20 of the 44,000 cases diagnosed each year. Drinking is also blamed for increasing numbers of women suffering liver and fertility problems.

Government statistics show a third of women are drinking beyond the recommended limit every week - and the middle classes are heavier drinkers than lower earners. In the latest study, researchers from the University of Chicago tracked the health and drinking habits of almost 185,000 post-menopausal women for an average of seven years.

Analysis showed a clear link between drinking patterns and the development of the most common type of breast cancer - a form that is fuelled by the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. The link applied to wine, beer and spirits and held even when other factors such as age, weight and family history of breast cancer were taken into account.

Source - Daily Mail

Does alternative medicine generate more good than harm? Two leading scientists give their verdict

Just how safe is alternative medicine?

Here, in the second part of our series, Professor Edzard Ernst and scientist Simon Singh explain how "natural" doesn't necessarily mean "safer".

Most people view alternative medicine as a safe option. On the other hand, conventional medicine is often criticised because of the side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs or the risks associated with surgery. But does alternative medicine generate more good than harm?

We saw last week that chiropractic therapy carries a range of risks - so, too, do other alternative therapies.

Studies have shown that acupuncture treatments can result in slight pain, bleeding or bruising.
These adverse reactions are only minor and transient, but they occur in roughly 10 per cent of patients so are relatively common. Slightly more serious side-effects include fainting, dizziness and vomiting, but these are less common and usually associated with anxious patients who may have a fear of needles.

Although most patients may accept such risks as an unsurprising consequence of being pierced with needles, there are two serious adverse effects to consider.

The first is infection. There have been several documented cases of patients contracting diseases such as hepatitis. The journal Hepatology documented how 35 out of 366 patients contracted hepatitis B from an acupuncture clinic in America. The infection was caused by re-using needles that have not been properly sterilised, and part of the problem may be due to the Chinese tradition of storing needles in alcohol solutions, which is not sufficient to protect against hepatitis viruses.

The second is that needles might puncture a major nerve or organ. For example, needling at the base of the skull can lead to brain damage, and there are more than 60 reported cases of punctured lungs.

Most worrying of all, there is a report of an acupuncturist inserting a needle in the chest of an Austrian patient which pierced her heart and killed her. Normally, needling at this point is entirely safe because the sternum protects the heart, but one in 20 people have a hole in that bone which cannot be felt or seen.

Although acupuncture carries some common and serious risks, it is important to stress that the common risks are not at all serious and the serious risks are not at all common - they need to be seen in the context of the millions of treatments given each year.

Source - Daily Mail

The great medicine rip-off

A huge industry exists to sell us pills and powders for ailments we can often treat ourselves.

Walk in to any pharmacy and you'll find a dazzling array of tablets, capsules, salves and linctuses available to buy "over the counter" (OTC). These are medicines that can only be sold by a pharmacist, but do not require a prescription.

The bestsellers are usually found directly behind the chemist's counter, at eye level, just like the cigarettes in a newsagent. While some of them work, others are overpriced, ineffectual, or sometimes even harmful. With a little simple advice, you can treat yourself very effectively without them – and save yourself some money.

Painkillers
This is a huge, lucrative market: 80 per cent of people with a headache will purchase painkillers over the counter. There are three mild but effective analgesics – aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen – that have long outgrown their product licenses and so can be manufactured, and sold, very cheaply. This means that drug companies have to come up with ingenious ways of packaging the same medication.

For example, the manufacturers of Nurofen have come up with no fewer than 20 different products to get the same active ingredient, ibuprofen, into your body. Two of these preparations have an added ingredient, but the other 18 are simply ibuprofen, in various guises and coatings – some designed to act quickly, others to last a long time. You can buy a pack of 16 Nurofen caplets, each containing 200mg of ibuprofen, for £1.79 – or a pack of 16 generic ibuprofen tablets, exactly the same strength, for 37p. ( Article continues )

Source - Independent