How to meditate

Mind racing? Unable to relax? Sit back, breathe deeply and focus on these calming words.

Start at the Beginning
Meditation is often seen as something mystical and disconnected from normality. But in fact it's an incredibly powerful tool for reducing stress and is something that can be incorporated into anyone's everyday life. The benefits come from focusing your attention entirely on the present moment and being fully 'mindful' of whatever it is you are doing, rather than letting your mind race back and forth. Once you have perfected this technique, it can be done anywhere and at any time

Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
Pay attention to your head and shoulders. Think about the point between the eyebrows, and the tension stored in your jaw, just under the ears. Scrunch up your muscles as if you were frowning, then widen your face and feel it relax. Breathe in gently and let go of all the tension. Follow with your shoulders, moving them up and down to become aware of how you hold them. Breathe gently in, and then allow them to relax down as you exhalece back and forth. Once you have perfected this technique, it can be done anywhere and at any time

Source - Telegraph

Oh baby you're amazing

Zoologist Desmond Morris admits that his latest study has left him in awe of the power and potential of the human infant

The human baby is truly amazing; the unfolding of his qualities and abilities a complex story. His tiny body has the backing of a million years of human evolution, helping different features to develop in a special sequence.Evolution has armed the infant with an irresistible appeal that ensures his parents care for him, feed him, and keep him clean and warm.

For human beings, the parental burden is huge, lasting nearly two decades for each child, but it can also be a source of intense joy. And babies are our only certain form of immortality, ensuring that our genes do not die out.

But the importance of a baby's first two years cannot be overestimated. Many of the qualities he acquires in that time mark him for life. Nestling inside his fragile head, a newborn baby has the genetically inherited equipment that is needed for this development. All his parents have to do is offer him the setting in which this equipment can whirr into action. Read on for amazing facts about a baby's potential…

Source - Telegraph

Healthy drinking: Tea total

Nothing soothes us like our favourite cuppa, but can we have too much of a good thing?

Why is it that the things we love most are bad for us? That is what we've been led to believe about tea. Nearly 80 per cent of the population drinks it regularly, yet we keep being told to cut down our caffeine intake. We've heard the scare stories. Earlier this year fertility experts claimed four caffeine drinks a day could cut pregnancy success rates by a quarter. So what are the myths?
Here, we sort the hearsay from the hard facts.

What do the scientists say?
Bridget Aisbitt, a scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, says there is strong evidence that tea helps to keep the heart healthy. In studies across Europe, drinking three or more cups a day has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. "We're not certain why they help, but flavonoids are thought to be one reason."

Source - Telegraph

Cracking up?

Work related stress can ruin your life, not just your job.

After three weeks of summer holidays with her family in Italy, Laura Hughes was preparing to return to her job of producing current-affairs documentaries. Flipping open her laptop, she heard her son Oscar, 6, remarking glumly to his father that “Mummy’s going back to work, so she’s going be really angry with us all again and we better stay out of her way”. It was a reminder that she wasn’t fooling anyone; managing a high-octane career was making her intolerably stressed.

“Oscar’s words hit me hard,” she says. “Although my work is demanding, I thought I’d shielded my family from the stress I was under. But he was spot-on. When I’m working hard, I take it out on my family by shouting or getting tearful, and really resenting the perfectly reasonable demands they place on me — they’re my children, after all. At a certain level, stress is exciting and motivating. But there’s another moment beyond that — and it’s hard to identify when it’s approaching — when I’m like a frightened bunny. I become paralysed with fear, waking at 4am feeling sick, which means I’m a nightmare by evening. It’s not just me paying the price: the kids do, my husband does and my employee does, too, because I know I’m less productive in that state.”

The psychological manifestations of stress that Laura describes — sleeplessness, nausea, fear — are familiar to many people. Work-related stress can be responsible for numerous physical conditions, including raised blood pressure, headaches, indigestion and increased heart rate, but the emotional toll is often the thing that is most difficult for women to handle. At its worst, acute stress can be responsible for severe depression and panic attacks, devastating for the individual, but also for society as a whole, because it is estimated that 13.8m working days are lost every year due to work-related emotional stress.

Source - Times

Will using a mobile phone really cause brain cancer?

New research suggests that using a phone increases your risk of cancer, but the numbers tell a different story.

Ever since the Stewart report into mobile phone safety was published in 2000, many parents have been nervous about their children's fondness for fashionable handsets. While this expert inquiry found no evidence of harm, it recommended a precautionary approach for children, citing uncertainties about their developing brains.

Those fears have been heightened this week by a spate of alarming headlines, triggered by a story in the Independent on Sunday. “Children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones,” it declared.

A study by Lennart Hardell, a Swedish scientist, had found an increased risk of two types of tumour, acoustic neuroma and glioma, among under-16s who used mobile phones. Here, it appeared, was evidence that concern was justified. The story, however, was not quite what it seemed. In fact, it is an object lesson in how not to report risk.

A five-fold risk sounds extremely frightening. But it is what is known in statistics as a relative risk, and on its own, it is meaningless for judging health hazards. The question you need to ask is: “Five times what?” If the original risk is reasonably high, a five-fold rise might be worth worrying about, but a tiny risk multiplied five times will still be tiny. It is absolute risks - the overall chance of getting a condition - that matter for health. The Independent on Sunday did not supply them.

Source - Times

How safe is your blast of caffeine?

Energy drinks are a £1billion-a-year industry in the UK and hugely popular among the young. But some experts caution that the caffeine content is a potential health risk and can bring on symptoms of a heart attack.

Energy drinks have become the elixir of a generation that considers itself in need of more of a jolt than can be obtained from a mere cup of coffee. Around 330 million litres of products such as Red Bull, the UK's bestseller, are consumed every year in Britain and the super-caffeinated drinks market is worth £1billion annually.

As they flood our shelves, though, some experts are concerned that they are potentially so harmful that they should carry health warnings. With some containing seven times as much caffeine as a strong cup of black coffee and 14 times that in a can of cola, there is a risk of harmful addiction, it has been claimed.

Professor Roland Griffiths, of The Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, said in a study last week that there was a danger of some people becoming physically dependent on energy drinks and experiencing side-effects ranging from panic attacks and nausea to chest pains and racing pulses.

Source - Times

Why faith in God really can relieve pain

For centuries, religious believers have endured suffering with impressive fortitude.

Now scientists claim to have discovered that faith in God really can relieve pain. New research at Oxford University has found that the Christian martyrs may well have been able to draw on their religion to reduce the agony of, for example, being burnt at the stake.

In a bizarre experiment, academics at The Oxford Centre For Science Of The Mind ‘tortured’ 12 Roman Catholics and 12 atheists with electric shocks as they studied a painting of the Virgin Mary.

They found that the Catholics seemed to be able to block out much of the pain. And, using the latest brain-scanning techniques, they also discovered that the Catholics were able to activate part of the brain associated with conditioning the experience of pain.

The findings were welcomed by the Anglican Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright, who said: ‘The practice of faith should, and in many cases does, alter the person you are. It can affect the patterns of your brain and your emotions. So it comes as no surprise to me that this experiment has reached such conclusions.’

Source - Daily Mail

Health news: Eat pistachio nuts to lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease

Snacking on pistachio nuts twice a day can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, according to new research.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University compared cholesterol levels of three groups - volunteers who snacked on the nuts twice a day, those who ate them once a day, and those who had none. All three followed a healthy low-fat diet.

The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed levels of low-density lipoprotein - the 'bad' type of cholesterol - dropped by 11.6 per cent after a few weeks in those eating two portions of pistachios a day. Among those on one portion a day, LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 3per cent, but there was little change in the control group.

Nuts are thought to reduce the risk of a range of illnesses because they are high in antioxidants.

Source - Daily Mail

Pomegranate juice boosts your sex life? It's fantasy!

You may, or may not, have seen the adverts for pomegranate juice which were splashed all over the papers last week.

But if a good love-life really could be attained by simply downing a couple of glasses of pomegranate juice, as is suggested, there would be such demand for the stuff it would have to be rationed. A real case of marketing spin if ever I saw one!

Every week it seems there's a new superfood on the market - one minute it's goji berries, the next, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, wheatgrass juice and on and on. It's amazing there's any disease left in this world of ours when it has such a cornucopia of wondrous 'superfoods'.

The idea that any of these is going to be the cure-all makes me mad - the fact is, the superfood culture is a monster created by the food-marketing machine. If the rest of your diet is processed junk, a punnet of 'super' berries or a glass of juice is not going to rescue your body - they're not wonder-pills. You'd also have to eat massive amounts of, say, dried cranberries or goji berries to enjoy the benefits.

And have you noticed that these superfoods always cost more? Some of these berries in particular are extraordinarily expensive. Well, there's no need to feel guilty about not buying your child blueberries.

The true superfoods are your common or garden brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, grapes and apples.

Source - Daily Mail

Is our water being poisoned with a cocktail of drugs?

Traces of potentially dangerous medicines may be contaminating tap water and putting unborn babies at risk, scientists have warned.

There are growing concerns that powerful and toxic anti-cancer drugs are passing unharmed through sewage works and finding their way back into the water supply. The Government is taking the threat so seriously it has asked scientists to start testing untreated river water at the point it is abstracted for human consumption. Although the levels of individual prescription medicines are thought to be too low to pose a direct threat to health, some researchers are concerned that a mixture of drugs could be harmful to foetuses.

Experts will meet in the next few weeks to decide which five drugs to test for and where sampling will take place. The Thames Valley is the most likely location.

Doctors are most concerned about 'cytotoxic', or cell-killing, cancer drugs. They are taken by 250,000 Britons. The drugs are easily dissolved in water and are flushed from the body and into sewers largely unaltered, remaining highly toxic. They are hard to destroy in water treatment plants. The trials will also test for anti-inflammatory drugs, sedatives and at least one illegal drug such as cocaine or heroin.

Source - Daily Mail

Chinese herbal remedy 'horny goatweed' could be nature's Viagra

A Chinese herbal remedy called horny goatweed could provide an alternative to Viagra for impotent men, according to researchers.

Experiments with an extract from the herb could lead to new drugs with fewer side effects, they claimed. The herb has long held a reputation as a natural aphrodisiac. The lab experiments, which did not look at whether the plant actually increases desire, could lead to new drugs to help men get erections, said Mario Dell'Agli, a researcher at the University of Milan, who led the study.

'This could be the natural Viagra,' said Mr Dell'Agli.

Source - Daily Mail

Babies have a sense of rhythm, which could be used to help them develop

It will be months before they talk, walk or even sit up. But at just a day old, babies have a strong sense of rhythm, say researchers. Newborns are also sensitive to pitch and melody, they found.
Experts said that introducing a child to music at an early age could enhance these innate musical abilities and also help them learn to talk. The fledgling musical talent was discovered by Hungarian researchers during a study of more than 100 boys and girls who were only one or two days old. They played the babies music as they slept and measured their brain activity.

The researchers found that their brains computed changes in beat, tone and melody. For instance, if a key beat was missed from a rhythmic pattern, the baby's brain registered the change. A change in pitch, similar to that between male and female voices, also provoked a reaction.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences study was part of a threeyear European project on how the brain processes music and other sounds, co-ordinated by Dr Susan Denham, of Plymouth University.

Source - Daily Mail

'Friendly bacteria' could slash baby's odds of developing eczema, new study shows

Taking a 'friendly bacteria' during pregnancy and when breastfeeding could halve the baby's odds of developing eczema, a study found.

Mothers who took a probiotic supplement in the last month of pregnancy and in the first few months of breastfeeding had babies who were half as likely to develop the skin condition.
When they were tested at age two, those exposed to the probiotic were half as likely to have developed eczema as those exposed to dummy powders. However, the effect only applied to one of the two types of probiotic tested. The other bacteria tested in the study, Bifidobacterium animalis, did little to prevent eczema, the New Zealand study reports in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The researchers asked around 300 women to take probiotic capsules in the last month of pregnancy and while breast-feeding. The contents of the capsules were also sprinkled on the babies' food and drinks. All of the babies studied had a family history of allergies, putting them at higher risk of eczema.

Source - Daily Mail

What HOT yoga can do for you

At 6ft 3in and with a body-fat content of just 6.5 per cent, tennis ace Andy Murray appears to be leaner, stronger and having more success on court than earlier this year.

Witness his performance at the recent US Open when he outplayed Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal before losing to Roger Federer in the final. Murray's secret? Like Elle Macpherson and Daniel Craig, he is a convert to Bikram yoga.

He was introduced to it by his strength and conditioning coach, Matt Little, to improve his flexibility.But, performed in sweltering rooms heated to 43C, just what is so special about this steamy form of yoga?

Walk into a typical Bikram studio, where vents pump steam into the room from all sides, and you're hit by a wave of sauna-like intensity. Everyone is equipped with a towel and a two-litre bottle of water, while the teacher encourages pupils to stretch themselves.

Hot Bikram Yoga in Fulham, West London, where Murray goes regularly for a steamy stretch, counts Olympic athletes, Fulham footballers and tennis professionals among its members.
The reason for its popularity is clear. Stretching in high temperatures, say fans, allows you to push your body twice as far - which means you really see results. And, as for all the sweating, it's a wonderful way to detox.

In each Bikram class, 26 poses and two breathing exercises are performed in a specific order.
Olga Allon, founder of Hot Bikram Yoga, says it provides a 'holistic workout' that stretches you physically and mentally, leaving you feeling balanced and calm.

Source - Daily Mail

Breastfeeding 'significantly' lowers cancer risk, study finds

A major study has strengthened the theory that breastfeeding significantly reduces a mother's risk of breast cancer.

Women who breastfeed for a year over their lifetime are almost 5 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who do not breastfeed at all, it showed. The researchers said that while the reduction may seem small, breastfeeding for longer would cut the risk even more. Breast cancer is Britain's most common cancer, affecting more than 45,000 women a year and claiming more than 1,000 lives a month.

An analysis of cancer statistics by the World Cancer Research Fund showed that breastfeeding for a year cut the odds of developing the disease by 4.8 per cent. The year did not have to be continuous, with breastfeeding two babies for six months each having the same effect. And the more months of breastfeeding a woman clocked up, the lower her chances of the disease. The process lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother's blood and, at the end of breastfeeding, the body rids itself of damaged breast cells that could turn cancerous in the future.

Breastfeeding may also cut the baby's chances of cancer in later life by reducing his or her odds of obesity.

Source - Independent

The deadly legacy of room 2.62 – or just a cancerous coincidence?

He was the man who launched the world into the nuclear age, winning a Nobel prize and laying the foundations for modern nuclear physics.

But now it appears that radiation left over from 100-year-old experiments by Ernest Rutherford, the first man to split the atom, could be partly responsible for the deaths of up to four Manchester University staff.

For years between 1909 and 1917 Professor Rutherford conducted experiments in room 2.62 of an austere red-brick Victorian building which now bears his name. There he investigated the properties of radon and polonium – which killed the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko – and experiments using radioactive material were carried out there until 1947. But the building was never tested for radiation and in 1972 it was handed over to the university's psychology department.

Concerns about the building's safety were raised last year after the premature death of the psychologist Hugh Wagner, who died of cancer aged 62, having worked for 20 years in room 2.62. His colleague John Clark, who worked in room 1.54, directly below Dr Wagner's room, succumbed to a brain tumour in 1993.

Then last week Arthur Reader, 69, who also worked in the Rutherford building, lost his battle against cancer, fuelling fears among his family that his death was "more than a coincidence". the Manchester Coroner Nigel Meadows has called for an inquest into his death. "I'm going to have a post-mortem examination to determine whether or not his death was unnatural – that is, whether or not he was exposed to anything during the course of his employment that may have caused or contributed to the cancer," he said. There are also concerns over the death of Vanessa Santos-Leitao, who died from a brain tumour in February after being ill for less than a year.

Source - Independent

Feeding babies fish cuts chance of eczema

Babies given fish to eat within the first nine months of their lives are less likely to develop eczema, research reveals. Introducing fish into the diet cut the chance of a baby developing the skin condition by 24 per cent.

Eczema affects one in five babies before they are a year old and its incidence has been rising across the Western world. The researchers from Sweden found that it did not matter whether babies ate lean and white fish or oily types, such as mackerel and fresh tuna, according to the study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Keeping pet birds in the home also reduced eczema by 65 per cent. Previous studies have suggested contact with feathers can prevent allergies, possibly by exposing infants to toxins. The study included almost 5,000 families who were interviewed after the birth of their child and when their offspring was a year old.

The strongest factor affecting the incidence of eczema was family history. Children with a sibling or mother who suffered from eczema were twice as likely to suffer from the condition themselves. Breastfeeding, the age at which dairy products were introduced into the diet and keeping a furry pet in the house had no effect.

Source - Independent

Soy may benefit stroke patients

A chemical found in soybeans and chickpeas could benefit people who have suffered a stroke, say researchers.

The University of Hong Kong team say the treatment effect of the chemical, isoflavone, is comparable to that of cholesterol-busting statin drugs. The European Heart Journal study showed isoflavone helped improve blood flow through the arteries. Previous research has suggested that eating soy may help prevent breast and prostate cancer and lower cholesterol.

Protective effect
Soya isoflavones in particular have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk as they inhibit the growth of cells that form artery-clogging plaque. All of the 102 patients in the latest trial had suffered a first or recurrent ischaemic stroke -caused by a blood clot - in the previous six months and had established heart disease.

The patients were split into two groups, with one receiving a 12-week course of isoflavone as an 80mg daily dietary supplement, and the other given a dummy pill or placebo. The scientists measured the way the brachial artery - the main artery of the arm - dilated in response to an increase in blood flow. This measurement, the flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), is an indicator of the functioning of the cells that line the inner surfaces of blood vessels - the endothelium - which are implicated in cardiovascular disease.

At the start of the study the prevalence of impaired FMD was similar between the two groups.
But after 12 weeks, the FMD improved significantly in the patients given the isoflavone supplement.

Source - BBC

Is detox safe?

Alternate-day fasting is the latest diet craze. But is it good for your waistline or your health?

News that detoxing is potentially dangerous will have caused ripples of panic among those who rely on it for inner cleansing and occasional inch loss. Dawn Page, a 52-year-old mother of two from Oxfordshire, made headlines when she received more than £800,000 after suffering permanent brain damage while on a detox diet that instructed her to reduce her salt intake and consume large amounts of water.

Long before this case, reputable dieticians were questioning the effectiveness and safety of detoxing. A detox diet can last anything from 48 hours to 21 days, and most involve drinking two litres or more of water a day, along with dandelion coffee and herb teas that are thought to help expel environmental nasties. Most also recommend additional fluids - carrot and apple juice are favourites because of their “digestion boosting” properties - and some allow unlimited consumption of raw fruit and vegetables, but little else. Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's Hospital in London, says she has seen dozens of people with debilitating detox side effects, usually as a result of consuming more water and less salty food, often in conjunction with increased activity.

Source - Times

Breakthroughs, tips and trends

Everything you need to know about the latest research, the newest discoveries and the strangest science.

The secret of youth's boundless enthusiasm for life has been found - it's not simply the joy of a constantly unfolding new world and an apparently infinite wealth of future possibilities: it's all down to three brain circuits.

An MRI-scan study by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US has found that youthful joie de vivre depends on the number of reward circuits at the front of your brain that can become stimulated by dopamine, a key chemical reward messenger.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, asked 13 sixtysomethings and 20 twentysomethings to play a slot-machine game, and scanned their brains. When the young people won, three reward-centre areas became active in response to a dopamine surge - the striatum, the cingulate and the parietal area: “Whoopee.” When the sixty-somethings hit the jackpot, only one section of the reward system, the parietal area, was activated: “Oh, that's nice.”

The researchers say that older people's brains may be simply less sensitive to important rewards. The lead author, Karen Berman, says: “In addition to enhancing our understanding of changes we experience in ageing, this line of research may one day shed new light on disorders of the dopamine system and reward processing, such as schizophrenia, pathological gambling, drug addiction and Parkinson's disease.”

Source - Times

Can a damaged brain change its own structure and replace lost functions?

As a role model for active old age, Stanley Karansky is exemplary. A doctor until he was 70, he retired, got bored, retrained as a GP and practiced for another ten years. At 89 he noticed that his words were becoming less fluent, his driving was deteriorating and he found himself withdrawing. This prompted him, at 90, to begin an auditory memory programme, played on his computer, and he worked on the exercises for 75 minutes, three times a week, for three months.
After six weeks he began to feel more alert, and the motor and social deterioration that he had observed began to reverse. “I was talking to people more and talking came more easily,” he says. “In the past few weeks I think my handwriting has improved.”

It is no coincidence that Karansky is a lifelong self-educator and that when he engages in something, whether it is serious mathematics, Su Doku, or a period of history, he gives it his full attention. This, says the psychiatrist Norman Doidge, is the necessary condition for creating change in the brain.

In his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, Doidge argues that the discovery that thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains - even into old age - is the most important breakthrough in neuroscience in 400 years. His collection of case histories, Karansky among them, is inspiring: people who have had strokes and been declared incurable have been helped to recover, learning disorders have been cured, IQs raised, obsessions and traumas overcome, and there are 80-year-olds whose memories have been restored to the function of people 20 years younger. “There are controlled studies for these things,” says Doidge. “It's a great example of adult plasticity.”

Source - Times

Acupuncture 'helps IVF women to have babies'

It has already been credited with helping to reduce the pain of childbirth. Now research suggests acupuncture could also play a crucial role in helping women undergoing fertility treatment to fall pregnant in the first place.

Women who underwent the ancient Chinese treatment during IVF treatment increased their chances of having a baby from one in five to one in three, according to the major scientific study.

Researchers led by Dr Ying Cheong, from the reproductive medicine unit at the University of Southampton and the city's Princess Anne hospital, concluded that 'acupuncture around the time of embryo transfer achieves a higher live birth rate of 35 per cent compared with 22 per cent without active acupuncture'.

Embryo transfer is when an embryo that has been fertilised in the laboratory is implanted into a woman's womb. The research found that, while the chances of the embryo implanting successfully - resulting in successful pregnancy - increased significantly if a woman had acupuncture around the same time as the transfer, there was no benefit if the treatment took place a few days later.

Dr Cheong said: 'Our research is good news because it shows that acupuncture can help with fertility in patients undergoing IVF.

Source - Daily Mail

Rosehips 'protect the joints from arthritis'

A herbal medicine made from rosehips may regenerate joints in people crippled by arthritis, say scientists.

Studies show it can protect the cartilage cells which facilitate joint movement.

Researchers claim the red hips - one of nature's richest sources of vitamin C - also improve activity levels by damping down an over-active immune system.The Swiss studies looked at the action of the sugary fatty acid GOPO, the active ingredient in the rosehip supplement LitoZin.

Researchers from the department of human nutrition and health in Basle, Switzerland, measured the effects of different doses on human cartilage cells.

Source - Daily Mail

Heart disease risk of chemical used in food and drink containers

One of the world's most widely used chemicals, a key constituent of plastic food and drink containers, has been linked for the first time with increased rates of heart disease and diabetes in adults.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the 10 most common chemicals produced worldwide and gives plastic its rigidity, durability and light weight. Researchers now fear that tiny amounts which leach out of plastic containers into food and drink may cause harm to health.

A team of British toxicologists analysed findings from an American survey of 1,455 adults and showed that the 25 per cent with the highest levels of the chemical were more than twice as likely to have heart disease and/or diabetes compared with the 25 per cent with the lowest levels. They also had higher levels of liver enzymes indicative of metabolic abnormalities.

Yesterday, the scientists from the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter and the University of Iowa presented their findings to a panel of the US Food and Drug Administration which is hearing evidence on the risks of BPA.

Ninety per cent of the population were exposed to BPA, which is ubiquitous in products such as CD cases and dental sealants, the researchers said. Vast quantities were buried in landfill sites which could potentially have leached into drinking water and was also present in the air around manufacturing facilities.

Source - Independent

Paracetamol given to babies is linked to global rise in asthma

The global rise in asthma over the past 50 years, which has mystified doctors for decades, may be linked to the growing use of paracetamol, researchers suggest today.

A major international study, involving more than 200,000 children in 31 countries, has found those treated with paracetamol in the first year of life had a 46 per cent increased risk of developing asthma by the age of seven.

The risk was up to three times higher among children who were the heaviest users of the drug, indicating a strong dose-dependent link. The study, published in The Lancet, adds to a growing body of evidence linking the painkiller with the disabling lung condition. Eczema and rhinitis were also increased. Previous research has linked asthma with exposure to paracetamol in the womb, infancy, childhood and adulthood.

A study by the Global Allergy and Asthma Network of 1,000 people, half of whom had asthma, found the incidence of the condition was increased threefold in people who used the drug weekly.
The results are published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Source - Independent

Mobile phone use 'raises children's risk of brain cancer fivefold'

Alarming new research from Sweden on the effects of radiation raises fears that today's youngsters face an epidemic of the disease in later life.

Children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones, startling new research indicates. The study, experts say, raises fears that today's young people may suffer an "epidemic" of the disease in later life. At least nine out of 10 British 16-year-olds have their own handset, as do more than 40 per cent of primary schoolchildren.

Yet investigating dangers to the young has been omitted from a massive £3.1m British investigation of the risks of cancer from using mobile phones, launched this year, even though the official Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme – which is conducting it – admits that the issue is of the "highest priority".

Despite recommendations of an official report that the use of mobiles by children should be "minimised", the Government has done almost nothing to discourage it.

Last week the European Parliament voted by 522 to 16 to urge ministers across Europe to bring in stricter limits for exposure to radiation from mobile and cordless phones, Wi-fi and other devices, partly because children are especially vulnerable to them. They are more at risk because their brains and nervous systems are still developing and because – since their heads are smaller and their skulls are thinner – the radiation penetrates deeper into their brains.

The Swedish research was reported this month at the first international conference on mobile phones and health.

Source - Independent

Sweet smells foster sweet dreams

Sleep with flowers in your bedroom if you want sweet dreams, work suggests.

When the smell of roses had been wafted under the noses of slumbering volunteers they reported experiencing pleasant emotions in their dreams. An odour of rotten eggs had the opposite effect on the 15 sleeping women, the German scientists found.

They told a Chicago meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology that they now plan to study people who suffer from nightmares.

Sweet dreams
It is possible that exposure to smells might help make their dreams more pleasant, believe

Professor Boris Stuck and his team from the University Hospital Mannheim.

They waited until their subjects had entered the REM phase of sleep, the stage at which most dreams occur, and then exposed them to a high dose of smelly air for 10 seconds before waking them up one minute later.

Source - BBC

Can illegal drugs help depression?

Ketamine for depression and LSD for improving brain power; meet the lady who funds the science that no-one else will do.

Many people will enjoy some yoga or meditation this weekend. Both practices have proven health benefits, but for some people knowing that it works is never enough. They have to know why it works - what is really happening in the brain - and they will stop at nothing to find out, even if it means initiating and funding the research themselves.

Amanda Feilding is one of those people. Last week she started an investigation that will examine the changes in blood flow during meditation, and how this prompts states of relaxation.

But this is just one of Feilding's curiosities. Also known as Lady Neidpath, Feilding is not a scientist, but spends a six-figure sum of her own money each year to explore the inner workings of our mind: how we think; where creativity comes from; and how we can harness this knowledge. Through her charitable trust, the Beckley Foundation, she instigated the first scientific trial in 35 years to use LSD on human subjects.

Based in Beckley Park, the Oxfordshire estate where Feilding has spent all her life, the foundation's remit is to push for drug policy reform and fund research that will delve into the altered states of consciousness induced by meditation, deep breathing and powerful psychoactive drugs such as LSD. Even trepanning, the ancient practice of drilling a hole in the skull, is a line of modern inquiry as a treatment for Alzheimer's. It is research that - in the UK at least - no one else appears willing to back. “We are on the verge of making real breakthroughs,” she says.

Why would an English Lady want to spend her money on high-risk projects with poor-to-zero financial returns? Feilding's fascination with consciousness started at an early age. Interested in spirituality through her Roman Catholic upbringing, she was sent aged 16 to India to visit her godfather, a Buddhist monk. She went on to study mysticism and comparative religion at Oxford University and dabbled with drugs throughout the Sixties. But her interest in the medical applications of such substances sprung from a friendship with Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who invented LSD, and who pushed for the medical benefits of the drug to be investigated. Hofmann died this year aged 102, shortly before the foundation published his last book, Hofmann's Elixir: LSD and the New Eleusis, a collection of his essays and lectures.

Source - Times

The science of laughter

Humour may play a vital role in children's development.

We all appreciate the importance of humour. It can lift the glummest of moments, forge a friendship, and relieve stress after a hard day at work.

In relationships, a sense of humour rates consistently highly in surveys of desirable qualities in a partner, often beating physical attraction to the top of the list. So much store do we set in humour, that incompatibility of what we find amusing can damage or even break a relationship for good. But humour is not only vital to a successful relationship. A new understanding of its workings tells us that it has helped human beings to evolve into the intelligent species we are today, and may play a vital role in childhood development.

In recognition of the importance of humour, announcement of the shortlist for Booktrust's first Roald Dahl Funny Prize, awarded to outstanding books for children aged 6 or under, and 7 to 14 was made this week.

So what is humour, and why is it so important? By studying more than 10,000 examples, ranging from stock formats such as sarcasm and slapstick, through to individual instances of both popular and high-brow comedy, we began to notice a pattern. What the research tells us, essentially, is that the brain finds something amusing when it recognises a pattern that surprises it. These patterns take a variety of different forms, from simple repetition to more complex variations. The reason we are beginning to understand this only now is because the process of recognising the patterns is unconscious.

Source - Times

Mouthwash or hogwash?

Experts argue that not only is a mouthwash useless, but it can also be harmful to your health.

Waking up with the unpleasant hum of dog breath is far from uncommon. Whether it is the after-effects of a curry, or a more lingering problem of sewer-scented oral odour, around 95 per cent of Britons suffer bad breath at some time in their lives. Such is the social embarrassment that £350 million a year is spent on products that promise to sweeten breath. But is it money well spent? An increasing number of medical experts think not, with some going as far as to caution that swilling with a mouthwash can cause more problems than it purports to cure.


Central to the debate about the efficacy of mouthwashes is that many contain exceptionally high levels of alcohol. Some varieties - such as the UK's bestselling brand Listerine - contain 26.9 per cent alcohol, double the amount in wine and more than five times that in beer. It is not just that the alcohol in these products is risky to young children who might get hold of them. According to some critics, it may also render a mouthwash useless. Alcohol can dry out the mouth by drawing moisture from the tissues and slowing the flow of saliva. With limited saliva to flush away or dilute bacteria, it is suggested that rinses that contain alcohol cause germs to become more, not less, concentrated in the mouth - making smelly breath possibly worse.

Source - Times

Why a big hug is better than medicine and really will make you feel better

When we're feeling under the weather, most of us welcome a big hug.

And scientists say there's a good reason why. For a soothing touch really can ease away pain.
According to the Swedish research, when skin is heated to a temperature that makes us say,'Ouch', the pain can be lessened if you are stroked gently with a brush.

This could explain why parents instinctively cuddle a child who has fallen over or offer to kiss a bruise better.

Even a comforting hand on the shoulder in times of crisis has its origins in the biology of touch, the British Association's Festival of Science, in Liverpool, heard.

Research also shows that our skin is teeming with nerve fibres which spring into action when we are cuddled, stroked or gently touched.

Source - Daily Mail

How the scent of lavender can ease those fears about going to the dentist

For generations, the scent of lavender has been used as a calming agent.

Now it appears it even works on-the-spot ... to help patients scared of the dentist's drill.

Spraying the scent 'significantly' lowered patients' anxiety levels, says a study to be presented today at the British Psychological Society's health psychology conference at the University of Bath.

Researchers from King's College London measured the anxiety levels of 340 patients using a questionaire while they waited for a scheduled dental appointment. Half were exposed to the scent given off by a candle warmer activating five drops of lavender oil in water during regular clinics over a four-week period, while the rest were not.

The anxiety level of those not exposed to lavender was 10.7 compared with 7.4 among those smelling the scent.

Source - Daily Mail

Help stave off heart attacks... keep your teeth clean

Keeping your teeth clean could save you from a heart attack, scientists say.

Researchers have found that poor dental hygiene and bleeding gums could allow up to 700 different types of bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This increases your risk of a heart attack regardless of how fit and healthy you are, they believe.

Gum disease is already known to cause bad breath, bleeding gums and, if untreated, cavities, receding gums and tooth loss. But experts say the biggest danger to health is the route into the bloodstream for the hundreds of bacteria found in the mouth.

Researcher Professor Howard Jenkinson said: 'Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents and we now recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases. In other words it doesn't matter how fit, slim or healthy you are, you're adding to your chances of getting heart disease by having bad teeth.'

Details from research into how harmful bacteria interact with blood cells will be released today at the Society for General Microbiology, in Trinity College, Dublin.

Source - Daily Mail

Why a Mediterranean diet 'protects against all major diseases'

Eating a Mediterranean-style diet helps you live longer by protecting against all the major chronic diseases, a study has shown.

Those who eat lots of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grains are less likely to die prematurely, according to the research. The diet was also found to be an effective defence against heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

Scientists looked at 12 international studies using a nine-point scale to assess how closely 1.5million volunteers stuck to the Mediterranean diet.

Those with higher scores were shown to be less likely to die of any cause, or have a major chronic disease, says the study published today in the British Medical Journal Online First.

The diet has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and healthy fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products. Drinking alcohol, particularly red wine, is encouraged in moderation. Populations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Spain and Italy, tend to eat these foods.

Researchers from the University of Florence, Italy, looked at the previous studies, which collectively included more than 1.5million participants. Their dietary habits and health were tracked for follow-up periods ranging from three to 18 years.

Source - Daily Mail

From rose hips for joints to blackberries for lung cancer - wild plants are being harnessed for new wonder drugs

They're bursting with health benefits, require no prescription and cost nothing. Research shows that Britain's hedgerow plants are full of vitamins and antioxidants. Furthermore, scientists are investigating their uses as medicines for a host of conditions, including cancer and high blood pressure.

ROSEHIPS
Orangey-red, oval berries, sometimes as much as an inch long. They're the fruit of the dog rose and found in hedgerows from August until November. Seeds should not be eaten because they can irritate the mouth and stomach.

Contain: One of the richest sources of vitamin C, but also A, D and E, iron, calcium, antioxidants and fatty acids. Rosehip syrup was given to children during World War II for its vitamin C content. One cup of 30 berries contains as much as 40 oranges.

What's new: Powdered rosehip is three times better at reducing the pain of osteoarthritis than paracetamol, according to research at the University of Copenhagen, though just why is unclear. There were also none of the sideeffects associated with conventional painkillers such as constipation, diarrhoea or drowsiness.
'There is now good evidence for rosehips for osteoarthritis from a series of studies,' says Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula School of Medicine in Exeter and Plymouth.

At home: Make rosehip tea for a cold. Boil one tablespoon of fresh, ripe rosehips in two cups of water for ten to 15 minutes, and then strain, getting rid of any seeds. Traditionally sweetened with cinnamon. Rosehip can also be used to make jellies and syrup.

Tip: Remove hairs from rosehips before use because they can cause irritation - they were used in joke itching powders.

Source - Daily Mail

Could control pants give you back pain? Experts fear 'bodysculpting' undies could cause long-term damage

Bridget Jones swore by them; pop temptress Kylie Minogue recently paid special tribute to them.

Now, thanks to style makeover gurus Trinny and Susannah, and more recently Gok Wan, millions of British women have also discovered the joys of control pants. At Marks & Spencer alone, a million items of Magicwear - as its control range is known - are sold every year. It's one of the company's biggest sellers, a spokesperson confirmed.

But some experts now believe that 'miracle cure' support underwear could be bad for women.
This is because pot bellies and 'muffin tops' - where a woman's stomach spills over her waistband - are often the result of weak abdominal muscles, which are linked to back problems, incontinence and even prolapse of the womb.

Furthermore, by hiding behind their control pants, women aren't tackling an even more serious problem: their excessive weight, which puts them at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

As Neville Rigby, director of public policy at the International Obesity Taskforce, explains: 'We are sleepwalking towards an epidemic of obesity and all the health complications that go with it.

Source - Daily Mail

Camomile tea 'can help keep diabetes under control'

It has long been used to soothe frayed nerves and guarantee a good night's sleep. But drinking camomile tea could also help keep diabetes under control, scientists claim.

Research suggests the drink lowers blood sugar levels and can help prevent complications arising from the condition, including blindness, kidney disease, and nerve and circulatory damage.

Researcher Professor Robert Nash said: 'It is quite fascinating, it seems to be doing a lot of different things all at once.'

The study looked at the effects of the tea on the health of rats with Type 2 diabetes. Those who suffer from the disease do not make enough of the hormone insulin and so are unable to regulate properly the amount of sugar in their blood.

The rats given an extract similar to camomile tea for three weeks saw the amount of sugar in their blood fall by a quarter, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports. The researchers say that, taken with meals each day, the tea may also protect against hyperglycaemia - a potentially fatal condition caused by very high blood sugar levels.

The researchers, from Aberystwyth University in Wales and the University of Toyama in Japan, claim the findings could lead to the development of camomile-based drugs to treat the disease.

But Dr Victoria King, of Diabetes UK, said: 'This study was carried out on rats with diabetes during a 21-day period.

Source - Daily Mail

Vitamin B12 may protect brain, says report

A key vitamin found in meat, fish and milk may help protect the brain as it ages, researchers said.

Vitamin B12 could help stop the brain shrinking - possibly preventing memory loss in older people and dementia.

A study of 107 people aged 61 to 87 found that those with lower vitamin B12 levels in their blood were six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had higher levels of the vitamin.

Anna Vogiatzoglou, from the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics at Oxford University, which led the study, said: "Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory.

"Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem." She said more research was needed into whether taking a B12 supplement would result in less shrinkage.

In the study, published in the journal Neurology, brain volume loss was measured every year for five years. None of the people enrolled in the study were suffering memory loss at the start of the study and none had a vitamin B12 deficiency. The participants were given yearly physical examinations, MRI scans of their brains, tests to check their cognitive and memory skills, and blood tests to determine their levels of vitamin B12.

The results showed that the decrease in brain volume was greater among those with lower vitamin B12 levels. The authors concluded: "Low vitamin B12 status should be further investigated as a modifiable cause of brain atrophy and of likely subsequent cognitive impairment in the elderly."

Source - Independent

Broccoli 'may help protect lungs'

A substance found in broccoli may limit the damage which leads to serious lung disease, research suggests.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is often caused by smoking and kills about 30,000 UK residents a year. US scientists found that sulforapane increases the activity of the NRF2 gene in human lung cells which protects cells from damage caused by toxins. The same broccoli compound was recently found to be protective against damage to blood vessels caused by diabetes.

Brassica vegetables such as broccoli have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Cell pollutants
In the latest study, a team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found significantly lower activity of the NRF2 gene in smokers with advanced COPD.

Writing in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, they said the gene is responsible for turning on several mechanisms for removing toxins and pollutants which can damage cells.

Source - BBC

Britain's first barefoot park

Squelching through mud and wading through water. Kick your shoes off for a sensory stroll along Britain's first reflexology trail.

I am standing on the threshold of Britain's first - and only - barefoot park. It's a sort of playground for feet, an unorthodox nature trail covered with a variety of surfaces; and, amazingly, it's meant to boost our health and vitality. The trail, one kilometre long, is in a partly wooded area in the Italian gardens of the Trentham Estate, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

“On a sunny day, it's hugely popular with children and families,” says Simon Johnson, the operations manager. It's too bad, then, that on the day I visit the rain is bucketing down and it's deserted, apart from two girls in cagoules sporting muddy limbs and wide grins, with their equally sodden but stoic grandparents. Inspired by their cheeriness, I roll up my trousers, remove my shoes - there are lockers here, as well as foot showers - and gingerly wiggle toes that are unaccustomed to, and a little anxious about, getting touchy-feely with nature.

The textures on the trail, to my mind (or should that be feet?) fall into two broad categories: those that feel good, and those that are high on the “yuck” and “ouch” factor. Into the former fall logs that massage my arches (bliss), a sloshy trough of water, timber slices laid out like Smarties, soft sand, hay, and a warm burbling stream. But the pine cones are too damp, I hate the way the mud oozes through my toes, and the pebbles and gravel are sheer purgatory - like hopping on daggers, lots of them.

It has taken me half an hour to walk the loop and when I've finished, my hitherto humid, trainer-clad hooves feel airy and refreshed, a bit like the rest of me. I could put the effects down to exercise and fresh air, but there's more to it than a shoeless tramp in the great outdoors.

Officially the trail is called a Barfuss Park. “Barfuss” is German for “barefoot”, and the parks are popular in Germany and Austria. Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian monk, developed the concept in the 19th century. He is the founder of a natural health system called Kneippen (pronounced knipen), a kind of waterborne reflexology. Kneipp believed that wading barefoot on wet grass or in shallow water stimulated the internal organs, strengthened the immune system and helped the body to heal itself.

Source - Times

The golden touch

Gold injections can treat arthritis and silver coating fights hospital infections.

Precious metals are increasingly likely to be in the medication prescribed by hospitals. Gold, silver and platinum have each been the subject of rigorous scientific study recently - and they crop up in the most surprising places.

Gold
Gold is present in everything from pacemakers and insulin pumps to pregnancy-testing kits and cancer treatments. "Gold has a long history of medical uses," says Dr Richard Holliday, head of industrial applications at the World Gold Council. "In ancient China, doctors added gold flake to drinks for its reputed health benefits and it is still widely used in some aspects of Indian Ayurvedic medicine."

In western medicine, it first shot to prominence about 100 years ago. Rheumatologists discovered that because of its anti-inflammatory properties, injections of pure gold (usually into thigh or buttock muscles) have some success in treating rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which joints become painful and inflamed. A spokesperson for the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) confirms that "intramuscular gold injections are sometimes used to treat patients because they can reduce swelling, stiffness and pain" but adds that possible side effects include problems with the blood, kidneys and skin, as well as nausea, so they are usually a last resort when other drugs have failed.

However, emerging research might change that. Trials at the University of Washington suggested that as many as 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis - which affects 350,000 people in the UK - could benefit from gold injections. A study currently under way in Denmark is investigating whether gold injections might also benefit people with osteoarthritis of the knee, a painful condition that occurs when joint surfaces become damaged, usually with wear and tear. It is thought that gold may slow down damage to the cartilage and bone, reducing joint pain.

Source - Guardian

A toxic combination

Yesterday it was reported that one-fifth of the ayurvedic medicines available online contain potentially dangerous metals. With many people now buying herbal remedies on the web, just how hazardous are they?

A mysterious, itchy rash appears on your skin. Where do you head for an explanation? In an age of instant gratification the answer is increasingly likely to be your computer keyboard, where you can find an instant (if unreliable) diagnosis and get a treatment delivered straight to your door. More than two million people in the UK are now thought to buy medications on the web; but in doing so, say experts, many are risking their health rather than finding a means to improve it.

Yesterday it was reported that researchers at Boston University school of medicine have found that one fifth of the Indian herbal medicines available online contain potentially toxic heavy metals, including lead, mercury and arsenic. Dr Robert Saper and his team found 25 websites through an internet search engine and randomly selected and purchased 193 products made by 37 different manufacturers. They then subjected them to laboratory analysis.

Their results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that medicines used in a branch of ayurveda called rasa shastra, used to treat serious illnesses, including paralysis, contained the highest levels of toxic metals, and that 20.7% of all products tested exceeded "one or more standards for acceptable daily metal intake".

Source - Guardian

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: I beat my arthritis with a vinegar cure passed down from my mother

Intrepid explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is no stranger to pain. Since the Sixties he has undertaken gruelling physical expeditions worldwide. He has suffered frostbite, resulting in the loss of fingertips on his left hand, and a heart attack that necessitated a double heart bypass.

But one pain from which the 64-year-old adventurer does not suffer is that caused by arthritis.
This is no small achievement. It is more than 20 years since Fiennes felt the first twinges of arthritis in his hands and one hip, an ailment he attributes to cold, wet sleeping conditions during several expeditions. Fiennes's wonder cure is a natural remedy consisting of four parts apple cider vinegar and one part raw honey. It is called Honeygar and is available from health food shops without a doctor's prescription.

Although you may think that vinegar would exacerbate symptoms, the cider vinegar component of Honeygar is a source of malic acid, which is found naturally in apples, pears, tomatoes, bananas and cherries. It is known to neutralise uric acid and has an alkaline effect in the bloodstream which, by balancing the pH of the blood, limits the negative effects of acids such as lactic and uric.

Fiennes 'inherited' Honeygar from his mother. By her mid-80s Audrey Fiennes was bedridden with arthritis in her back. 'My sisters and I encouraged her to look into an alternative cure after she showed us the doctor's X-ray, which highlighted the arthritic band in her back,' says Fiennes.
Her miraculous remedy was found in a library book that extolled the virtues of a natural cure for arthritis that included daily doses of cider vinegar, honey and black molasses, and regular Epsom salt baths.

'My mother tried this method and after 18 months her condition started to improve, which was unusual in someone of her age,' says Fiennes. Indeed, it successfully held pain at bay for the remaining six years of her life.

Source - Daily Mail

How to think yourself better

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
A new Australian study suggests that the faster speed that athletes achieve when taking performance-enhancing drugs is all in the mind. The study compared athletes on growth hormones with those given a placebo. Those taking the dummy pills sprinted faster, jumped higher and were able to lift heavier weights than those taking the hormones. The results imply that if you think you will perform better, you really will. That's not news to many professional athletes who for years have used creative visualisation to boost performance. "If you visualise being stronger, running faster or winning, you are priming your nervous system to do just that," says Dr Aimee Kimball, the director of mental training in sports medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "Studies have found that the method can enhance physical performance significantly, sometimes by 20 per cent or more."

What to do: Visualise your forthcoming race or match. See yourself win with ease, confidence and coordination, in as much detail as possible. Feel the appropriate emotions as you play and win, and get a sense that you really "know" you can do it.

PMS
Imagining longer menstrual cycles and less menstrual pain may be able to actually alter your cycle, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Twelve out of 15 women who used imagery for three months lengthened their menstrual cycles by nearly four days. They also slashed their perceived levels of premenstrual distress in half and reported fewer mood swings.

What to do: Focus on the area around your womb. Imagine any bloating, tension, heaviness or pain dispersing in a watery mist. Imagine the area immersed in a cooling light of whatever colour springs to mind.

Source - Independent

The good news about coffee

Once, we were advised to cut out caffeine. But the latest research shows a daily cup could be a lifesaver.

Giving up your skinny latte or double espresso every morning is currently top of the list of finance editors' tips for pain-free belt-tightening in the face of the looming recession. Apparently, the nation is listening – Starbucks and other coffee-shop giants are now seriously feeling the pinch. And a good thing too, you may think. Coffee may be your favourite stimulant, but isn't it also a dangerous diuretic that has also been linked to a range of serious illnesses, including heart disease and cancer?

Well, before you let your local supplier go to the wall, it's worth getting the bigger picture on the health benefits of coffee, which has emerged from studies that have monitored large populations over several years. The results from these long-term studies tell a very different story – showing just how badly earlier research misjudged the health benefits of the roasted bean. So here are some reasons why drinking coffee early and often is good for you:

Source - Independent

Crunch time for peanut allergies

The number of cases are soaring and doctors don't know why. But could a cure finally be in sight?

Why the peanut? That is the mystery. What is it about this humble legume that causes humans to react so powerfully? The distressing answer is that no one knows.

Sensitivity to peanuts is one of the fastest-growing food allergies worldwide and has become a major health concern. In England, cases more than doubled between 2001 and 2005. Today, an estimated 440,000 children and adults under 45 suffer anything from a mild stomach upset or rash to a life-threatening collapse when they eat a peanut.

In those worst affected, exposure to even a tiny amount of nut can trigger an anaphylactic reaction involving sudden swelling, breathlessness and low blood pressure requiring emergency medical treatment. About 30,000 people a year suffer potentially life-threatening anaphylactic attacks from all causes, the most common triggers of which are insect stings and peanuts. There is no cure for peanut allergy and doctors remain baffled by the rise. The most severely affected sufferers have to carry syringes of adrenaline with them for injection in the event of an anaphylactic attack. But specialists say there is hope of a treatment that would prevent people suffering life-threatening reactions.

Source - Independent

Tunes to soothe: The healing power of music

It's long been known that listening to music can ease stress – but scientists are discovering that it has a powerful effect on pain, immunity – and even recovery from heart attacks.

The sound of piano music coming from the operating theatre was the first clue that something unusual was afoot. As the theatre doors swung open and the trolley was wheeled in, the patient was greeted by a smiling surgeon sitting at a piano playing "The More I See You". As the surgeon played on, with random extracts from other piano works, the patient was sedated and prepared for surgery. With the patient and theatre team ready, the music finally stopped, and the surgeon stood up and began his day job.

The experiment in Hawaii, a world first, was testing whether music has an effect on health, pain and vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart and breathing rates, as well as levels of hormones and antibodies. Meanwhile, a second team of researchers has found that music has a powerful effect on the immune system, boosting compounds that defend the body against infections.

Evidence is growing that music can have a beneficial effect for patients. Researchers have been looking for effects in conditions as varied as stroke, autism, heart problems, mental health, depression, pain, fractured limbs, Alzheimer's and lung disease. Piped music has been used to ease anxiety before operations, and harp music to reduce pain after surgery, with some research suggesting it can be as effective as the sedative Valium.

Listening to music has been found to aid recovery after a stroke and heart attack. A study of 60 men and women at Helsinki University found that patients who listened to music soon after having a stroke recovered better. Three months after the stroke, memory had improved by 60 per cent in those provided with music, compared to 29 per cent in a control group. Concentration, mood and attention to detail also improved in the music group by 17 per cent, compared to no change in the other.

Source - Independent

Pollution can make you fat, study claims

Children exposed to pesticide in womb twice as likely to be overweight, refuting idea of sole personal responsibility.

Pollution can make children fat, startling new research shows. A groundbreaking Spanish study indicates that exposure to a range of common chemicals before birth sets up a baby to grow up stout, thus helping to drive the worldwide obesity epidemic.

The results of the study, just published – the first to link chemical contamination in the womb with one of the developing world's greatest and fastest-growing health crises – carry huge potential implications for public policy around the globe. They undermine recent strictures from the Conservative leader, David Cameron, that blame solely the obese for their own condition.

A quarter of all British adults and a fifth of children are obese – four times as many as 30 years ago. And so are at least 300 million people worldwide. The main explanation is that they are consuming more calories than they burn. But there is growing evidence that diet and lack of exercise, though critical, cannot alone explain the rapid growth of the epidemic.

It has long been known that genetics give people different metabolisms, making some gain weight more easily than others. But the new study by scientists at Barcelona's Municipal Institute of Medical Research suggests that pollution may similarly predispose people to get fat.

The research, published in the current issue of the journal Acta Paediatrica, measured levels of hexachlorobenzene (HCB), a pesticide, in the umbilical cords of 403 children born on the Spanish island of Menorca, from before birth. It found that those with the highest levels were twice as likely to be obese when they reached the age of six and a half.

HCB, which was mainly used to treat seeds, has been banned internationally since the children were born, but its persistence ensures that it remains in the environment and gets into food. The importance of the study is not so much in identifying one chemical, as in showing what is likely to be happening as a result of contact with many of them. Its authors call for exposures to similar pesticides to be "minimised".

Source - Independent