Minute organs in the ear can alter brain blood flow

Minute organs hidden deep within the ear appear to directly alter blood flow to the brain, scientists have revealed.

Until now, experts thought the inner ear's job was to control balance alone. But the Harvard Medical School team, working with Nasa, found the balance organs also affect brain blood flow in their study involving 24 people.

They told BMC Neuroscience journal that the connection probably evolved to enable man to stand upright and still get enough blood up to the brain. The organs of balance are deep within the ear, inside a maze of bony chambers.

Off kilter

Two sacs, called the utricle and saccule, make up the inner ear's vestibule and three fluid-filled loops, known as the semi-circular canals, detect the rotation and tilting movements of the head.

Dr Jorge Serrador and his team from Harvard Medical School asked 24 healthy people to undergo a range of tests normally used on astronauts. These included a tilt test where the individual sits strapped to a chair that is then tilted to different angles, plus a ride inside a giant, spinning centrifuge.

Source - BBC

Scientists discover how wild mushroom cancer drug works

Scientists have discovered how a promising cancer drug, first discovered in a wild mushroom, works.

The University of Nottingham team believe their work could help make the drug more effective, and useful for treating a wider range of cancers.

Cordycepin, commonly used in Chinese medicine, was originally extracted from a rare kind of parasitic mushroom that grows on caterpillars. The study will appear in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The cordyceps mushroom has been studied by medical researchers for some time - the first scientific publication on cordycepin was in 1950. However, although the drug showed great promise, it was quickly degraded in the body. It can be given with another drug to combat this - but the second drug can produce side effects that limit its potential use.

As a result, researchers turned their interest to other potential candidate drugs, and exactly how cordycepin worked on the body's cells remained unclear.

Researcher Dr Cornelia de Moor said: "Our discovery will open up the possibility of investigating the range of different cancers that could be treated with cordycepin. It will be possible to predict what types of cancers might be sensitive and what other cancer drugs it may effectively combine with. It could also lay the groundwork for the design of new cancer drugs that work on the same principle."

Source - BBC

Feeling chilly? Boost circulation...with some chilli

If the freezing temperatures are leaving you with painfully sore fingers and toes, some circulation-boosting herbs might be just what you need. Medically proven to enhance blood flow, they will help to keep warm blood pumping to where you need it that much longer.

'Good blood flow is vital, not just for warmth, but to bring oxygen, glucose, vitamins and minerals to the tissues,' explains Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and author of Essential Guide To Vitamins, Minerals And Herbal Supplements.

'Unfortunately, cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, and when it is very cold they can constrict so much that blood supply becomes minimal. Fingers and toes can become painful, numb and stiff, making your hands difficult to use. You can also develop small, itchy and painful swellings called chilblains. At worst, freezing temperatures cause frostbite where tissue is damaged and may actually start to die.'

Women, says Dr Brewer, are particularly susceptible. 'We are more efficient at pooling blood centrally to maintain our core body temperature,' she explains. 'This reduces blood flow to the arms and legs, so we feel the cold more than men do.'


Here are plant extracts that have been shown to be effective at giving blood supply a boost.

CHILLI

Capsacain, the substance that gives chilli its fiery edge, stimulates receptors in the gut that, in turn, stimulate circulation to the hands, feet and head. 'Chilli promotes vasodilation, or widening of the arteries, and it stimulates nerve endings to produce a warming sensation,' explains Dr Brewer.

Tip: You don't need much to break into a sweat - a medium curry will give an instant warming effect.

Source - Daily Mail


Mistletoe, a new branch of cancer treatment

For years, it's been the perfect excuse for secret admirers to steal a kiss with the object of their desire. But research suggests mistletoe could do much more than just ignite Christmas passions.

Scientists have found an extract of the plant could help to fight bowel cancer, which affects 37,500 a year in the UK.

Patients who had the mistletoe treatment regularly injected into their blood had fewer side-effects from toxic chemotherapy and radiotherapy and survived longer than those who did not. The extract is thought to help the body's immune system fight tumours and speed up the disposal of toxic 'debris' left by chemotherapy.

Researchers led by Professor Kurt Zanker from the German Institute of Immunology and Experimental Oncology, concluded: 'The results suggest convincing evidence that there is a significant benefit from treatment with mistletoe extract.'

The scientists treated 429 cancer patients with the mistletoe jab and compared them with 375 receiving conventional care.

The results, published in the journal of The Society For Integrative Oncology, showed only 19 per cent of those in the mistletoe group suffered side-effects from toxic treatments, compared to 48 per cent in the other group. They were also 32 per cent more likely to still be alive five years after starting therapy.

Source - Daily Mail

Pomegranate lotion offers new hope in war on superbugs

The secret to beating the superbug MRSA could be found in the pomegranate.

Scientists have created an ointment that tackles drug-resistant infections by harnessing chemicals that are contained in the fruit's rind. They found that by combining pomegranate rind with other natural products they created a strong, infection-busting compound.

Boosting immunity can start naturally

With flu season in full swing -- and H1N1 looming large -- some medical experts are encouraging preventative medicine to keep the immune system functioning optimally to keep seasonal illnesses at bay.

With flu season in full swing - and H1N1 looming large - some medical experts are encouraging preventative medicine to keep the immune system functioning optimally to keep seasonal illnesses at bay.

According to ChicagoHealers.com, a popular website advocating natural and holistic approaches to health, priming the immune system starts with maintaining a healthy digestive tract. When the digestive system is healthy it can break down and access the nutrients in ingested foods. It also eliminates toxicity as well as harmful bacteria and viruses. Below are some naturally occurring immunity boosters (and that are also available in supplement form) the site lists that could help ward off colds and flu.

Garlic: The root's active ingredient, allicin, has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It cleans the liver, which in turn cleans the blood and stimulates the production of white blood cells.

Ginger: The root contains a number of volatile oils that warm the body and help it sweat, break a fever and eliminate toxins. It also stimulates the release of mucous and is effective for decongesting lungs and airways. It is also frequently used as a digestive aid because of its cleansing properties.

Honey: A natural antibiotic with antiseptic properties, honey also contains a number of immune-boosting and infection-fighting vitamins and minerals, including B-complexes, C,D, E vitamins and propolis. Honey also coats the throat better than cough syrup, some studies claim. Locally producted honey might be better for fighting off seasonal allergies, asthma and other respiratory troubles because it can fight off irritants typical of the area.

Source - Independent

Music therapy 'may help cut tinnitus noise levels'

Individually designed music therapy may help reduce the noise levels experienced by people who suffer from tinnitus, say German researchers.

They altered participants' favourite music to remove notes which matched the frequency of the ringing in their ears. After a year of listening to the modified music, individuals reported a drop in the loudness of their tinnitus. The researchers said the "inexpensive" treatment could be used alongside other techniques to relieve the condition.

It is thought that around 1-3% of the population have chronic ringing in their ears which is significant enough to reduce their overall quality of life.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said although the cause of tinnitus remains unknown, it has been shown that the part of the brain that processes sounds is frequently disrupted in people with the condition.

The theory behind the new technique is that removing the spectrum of noise associated with tinnitus from the music reduces activity in the brain relating to that frequency, alleviating the condition.

Source - BBC

The secret to a healthy life? Try tomato seeds

A natural ingredient found in tomato seeds has been identified by British scientists as a key component to a long and healthy life.

The gel prevents the blood from becoming sticky and clotting and so is being promoted as a natural alternative to aspirin. It was discovered by food researchers investigating the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

Patented as Fruitflow, it is already being used in one fruit juice product and is now expected to be added to dairy drinks, spreads and other foods. EU health watchdogs have accepted that the ingredient does improve blood flow and have approved the use of such claims on packaging.

Fruitflow was discovered in 1999 by Professor Asim Dutta-Roy at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen.

It is derived from the gel around tomato seeds. Clinical trials have shown it can help maintain a healthy blood circulation by preventing the clumping of blood platelets which can lead to clots.

Both Fruitflow and aspirin work by changing the characteristics of platelets, which are tiny cells in the blood. Normally they are smooth, but inflammation in the blood vessels - linked to smoking, high cholesterol and stress - causes them to become spiky and so stick together, forming clots. Aspirin strongly blocks one set of signals that causes this to happen. Fruitflow more gently damps down three others, enough to reduce the risk of clotting.

Source - Daily Mail

The vitamin jab that shrinks tumours in a day

A vitamin jab that shrinks tumours in a day is being hailed as a powerful new treatment for cancer.

British researchers who are testing the therapy say injecting an extract of vitamin E into the bloodstream has a rapid effect. Within 24 hours, tumours begin to shrivel and after ten days they have almost completely disappeared. So far, research has focused on the vitamin's ability to find and destroy skin cancers.

But scientists from the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, who led the research, are confident it will work for other types of tumours, too. Vitamin E is vital for helping the body to fight illness and is found in foods such as vegetable oils, cereals, nuts, green vegetables and eggs. It is rich in antioxidants that protect against disease by blocking damage from free radicals - harmful molecules that attack cells in much the same way as rust rots a car.

Source - Daily Mail

Do hearts have memories? Transplant patient gets craving for food eaten by organ donor

A heart transplant patient is craving the food his donor used to eat, prompting questions over whether the organ has a 'memory' of its own.

David Waters cannot stop eating an Australian-made snack food called Burger Rings, and he has now found out that the teenager whose heart he received was always eating the same snack.

The curious case adds weight to a theory that the brain is not the only organ to store memories or personality traits. Some researchers believe that a memory process can develop in other parts of the body, such as the heart, a phenomenon known as 'cellular memory'.

Antioxidants could blunt the benefits of physical exercise

Antioxidants, the naturally occurring nutrients present in certain fruits and vegetables, have been widely praised for their anti-aging benefits, their ability to ward off disease and their immunity-boosting capabilities. But getting too many of them could counteract the benefits of otherwise healthy exercise, recent research has shown.

A report in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 10) highlights a couple of studies investigating the relationship of antioxidants and physical exercise. Because exercise causes the body to produce its own antioxidants, getting them artificially through supplementation - notably in the form of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and resveratrol pills - could prevent the body from creating them on its own, the report says.

The report cites a study by researchers from the University of Jena in Germany (published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that found that taking antioxidant supplements dulled the body's ability to process insulin, one of the main benefits of physical exercise.

In their study, researchers showed that when healthy men took daily supplements of vitamin C and E for a month during which time they exercised regularly, their insulin sensitivity didn't improve, compared to other men on the same regimen who were given placebos, suggesting that supplementation shut down the physiological process needed to improve insulin sensitivity.

Source - Independent

A herbal, healthy Christmas

From the holly and the ivy to mistletoe and myrrh, it wouldn't be the festive season without traditional plants. But increasingly doctors think they could offer practical benefits year round.

James Wong, an ethnobotanist and presenter of this week's festive edition of BBC Two's Grow Your Own Drugs, says: "The natural benefits of our favourite Christmas plants are being uncovered all the time. But we can learn a lot from the past, too. Cherokee Indians, for instance, used to drink an infusion of spruce needles to help them stave off scurvy and keep the airways open."

However, you need to be careful when building a festive apothecary – mistletoe, for instance, is highly poisonous to humans. "You might want to stick to mince pies," says Wong. "You can't go far wrong with a dose of nutmeg and cinnamon."

1 Holly

Good for lowering cholesterol, staying awake

A recent report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that mat̩, a stimulating and emetic herbal tea containing Ilex paraguariensis, a relative of holly found in the rainforests, of South America can help lower cholesterol levels, even in patients already taking statins. Other studies have linked mat̩ to weight-loss and appetite suppression. "The tea is also great mood-lifter," says James Wong, "it's seriously caffeine-packed. I call it Argentinian rocket fuel." The holly-based Bach Flower Remedy is said to help control moods, especially hatred, suspicion or envy Рwhich makes it the perfect tincture for the festive season.

Source - Telegraph

The skull bone is different to the hip bone

Bones in the arms and legs become weak and brittle in old age often because they are not engaged in as much exercise and bearing of weight as they are in youth. However skull bone, which bears almost no weight throughout life, remains hard and particularly resistant to breaking.

Now the researchers at Queen Mary, University of London have examined the two parts of the skeleton and discovered they very different genetically. They hope that the findings will help them develop ways of stopping hip and wrist bones becoming brittle in old age.

"Everybody thought bones were just bones but they are not," said the lead author, Dr Simon Rawlinson, Lecturer in Oral Biology at Queen Mary, University of London, "But this shows they are very different.This research is exciting because it tells us why our skulls remain so tough as we age compared to the bones in our arms and legs.

“Now we understand this phenomenon better, we also understand osteoporosis better. And this has opened up many new lines of research into how the disease could be treated or even prevented.”

People who develop osteoporosis have fragile bones which are prone to breaking. The condition becomes more common as we age, especially in post-menopausal women when levels of oestrogen fall dramatically. In the over 50s it affects half of all women and a fifth of all men.

Source - Telegraph

Does loneliness raise breast cancer risk?

A new report suggesting that loneliness trebles the odds of developing breast cancer is the latest addition to a long list of recognised risk factors — such as being tall or having one breast bigger than the other — that cause widespread anxiety but do precious little to help in the fight against the disease.

My advice to the millions of British women who are single, separated, divorced or widowed is to take this news with a pinch of salt, not least because the link between loneliness and breast cancer is an overenthusiastic extrapolation of a study on laboratory rats.

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that rats kept in solitary confinement and subjected to stressors, such as being held down or exposed to the scent of a cat, were more likely to develop breast tumours than those living together. Ergo, loneliness in human beings must have the same effect. Er, no.

Stress and social isolation are a toxic combination that can precipitate or worsen myriad health issues from depression to high blood pressure, but existing research suggests that breast cancer may not be among them. “Real world” studies — looking at women rather than laboratory rats — suggest that stress does not significantly increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, or increase the odds of recurrence in those in whom it has formerly been diagnosed.

So what should women be worrying about? A bust that is not perfectly symmetrical? Being tall? Starting your periods early and going through the menopause late? Or being born into a professional family? All of these increase a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer but there is nothing she can do about any of them. And, frankly, they are not that important anyway.

Source - Times

Walk your way to fitness

It requires no costly gym membership and no personal trainer. It melts away fat and will create the same emotional high as jogging. Little wonder, then, that walking is now the nation’s favourite fitness activity, with the latest results from Sport England’s Active People Survey revealing that one fifth of the adult population regularly heads out for a walk of 30 minutes or longer.

According to exercise scientists and medical experts, walking is the most natural of all workouts. “Human beings are designed to walk,” says John Brewer, Professor of Sport at the University of Bedfordshire. “Biomechanically and physiologically, walking as often as you can is among the best forms of activity to improve fitness and health.”

Certainly, there is no shortage of research to show that a daily walk offers much more than a slimmer waist (although that is a side-effect, too). Walking has been shown to prevent everything from gallstones and strokes to sleep problems and can even help to cut cravings for cigarettes in people trying to give up smoking. Last month the American Association for Cancer Research found that men who walked four or more hours a week had a 23 per cent lower risk of death compared with men who walked less than 20 minutes a week. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that daily walking for six months had a profound effect on reducing the deep abdominal fat that settles around the vital organs and adds to the risk of heart disease.

Because walking is a weight-bearing exercise, it is also essential in countering the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. “Bones are like muscles in the way that they get stronger and denser the more demands you place on them,” says Lucy Knight, a personal trainer and the author of Walking for Weight Loss (Kyle Cathie). “The pull of a muscle against a bone together with the force of gravity when you walk will stress the bone, which responds by stimulating tissue growth and renewal.” Indeed, so potent are the disease-fighting benefits of daily walking that JoAnn Manson, professor in the department of epidemiology and health at Harvard University, describes it as being “as close to a magic bullet as you will find in modern medicine”. Manson says that “if there was a pill that could lower the risk of chronic disease like walking does then people would be clamouring for it”.

Source - Times

Brain gym for pupils is pointless, admits Balls

A programme used in thousands of classrooms in the hope of boosting children's brainpower has no scientific basis, Ed Balls's department has ruled.

Schools around the country have spent taxpayers' cash on Brain Gym, a system of 26 postures and movements invented in California. But in a statement issued to MPs, the Department for Children, Schools and Families warned that studies put its success-down to nothing more than the 'placebo effect' and the general benefits of breaks and exercise.

Officials said Brain Gym had been 'criticised as being unscientific in a wide-ranging and authoritative review of research into neuroscience and education'. Despite the department's concern, Brain Gym is still promoted in a range of Government-backed literature. The Young Gifted and Talented programme, supported by the DCSF to stretch the brightest children, claims on its website that Brain Gym 'can have a sustained impact on learning'.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of schools - mainly primaries - have used Brain Gym techniques since the system was introduced to the UK in 1984. Some councils have spent thousands training teachers to lead the movements. The exercises are said to work on the principle that coordinating mental and physical activity boosts energy, stimulates the brain and enhances performance in the classroom.

Source - Daily Mail

Plastics component affects intestine

The chemical Bisphenol A used in plastic containers and drinks cans has been shown for the first time to affect the functioning of the intestines, according to a French study published Monday.

National Institute of Agronomic Research researchers in Toulouse found the digestive tract of rats react negatively to even low doses of the chemical also called BPA, theProceedings of the National Academy Sciences journal reported.

Their research, also conducted on human intestine cells, found that the chemical lowered the permeability of the intestines and the immune system's response to digestive inflammation, it said. BPA is used in the production of polycarbonated plastics and epoxy resins found in baby bottles, plastic containers, the lining of cans used for food and beverages, and in dental sealants.

Over 130 studies over the past decade have linked even low levels of BPA, which can leach from plastics, to serious health problems, breast cancer, obesity and the early onset of puberty, among other disorders.

Source - Independent

Women have 'more sensitive touch thanks to small hands'

The sense of touch is more sensitive among women than men because their fingers are smaller, a study suggests.

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found greater sweat pore density in smaller fingers. The fingertip touch receptors, which cluster around sweat pore bases, were therefore more tightly packed, they told the Journal of Neuroscience. Higher sensitivity could improve the ability to perform tasks such as embroidery or surgery, they said.

The researchers pressed progressively narrower parallel grooves against the stationary fingertips of 100 volunteers Those with smaller fingers, and these tended to be the women, could discern tighter grooves.

The index finger is more sensitive than the little finger - but lead researcher Dr Daniel Goldreich said this could be because sensitivity improves with continued use.

Source - BBC

Eating our way to nirvana

As the decade draws to a close, hopes that just eating a bit more broccoli will help banish disease appear to be waning - and some are urging a rethink of how we approach the many messages about diet and disease.

The five-a-day campaign - with its roots in the US - hit England in 2003 with the aim of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a "national priority". But the role these play in protecting us from cardiovascular disease and cancer above and beyond acting as substitutes for more calorific fare now seems murkier than it did then.

A major piece of recent research found that while vegetarians did seem to develop fewer cancers than meat-eaters they were not protected against bowel cancer - one of the most common forms of the disease and one which had been thought to be particularly influenced by the consumption of red and processed meat.

"We're clear on obesity - and also alcohol - as disease risk factors," says Tom Sanders, Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics at King's College, London.

"But the suggestion of a reduced risk with increased fruit and vegetable intake once you take out all the other factors is much harder to prove. We are pretty much drawing a blank. One of the myths is that fruit is bursting with minerals - it's not. It's essentially vitamin C and potassium - and most of us really have enough of these without five-a-day."

Source - BBC

Listening to Mozart could help premature babies put on weight

The sounds of Mozart might help slow premature infants' metabolism, potentially helping them to put on needed weight, according to an Israeli study.

Most research into the so-called 'Mozart effect' has focused on whether listening to the composer can boost a person's IQ. Now researchers think music may help premature infants by aiding weight gain and growth.

The marigold miracle that saved my sight

As a retired optician, Harry Marsland knew better than most how serious it was when he was diagnosed with an untreatable eye condition. But his tale of despair has turned into an astonishing story of recovery - thanks to the marigold plant.

Mr Marsland, who at one stage needed help just to walk, could be the first person in the UK to have recovered from a devastating condition that causes blindness. Within months of starting to take a food supplement containing marigold extracts he is driving a car again, reads without a magnifier and has near-perfect vision in the affected eye.

Men should wake up and drink the coffee

A daily cup of coffee has been revealed as the latest weapon in the battle against prostate cancer - the most common form of cancer in men, with 35,000 diagnoses and 10,000 deaths a year.

A new study from the Harvard Medical School in America found those who regularly drank the beverage were 60 per cent less likely to develop fast-growing, hard-to-treat forms of the cancer, than others.

Cancer charities and experts urged caution, saying more research was needed and lifestyle factors played a bigger role. So what is proven to protect against the disease?

Q/ Can coffee prevent prostate cancer?

A/ It certainly looks as if it may help. The study from the US followed patients over a 20-year period, and showed those who drank coffee were less likely to develop the cancer. It is still unclear which component of the coffee is responsible, although it is not thought to be caffeine. The trial followed 50,000 men; that is not a huge number for a scientific trial, so more studies are needed to substantiate the results.

Q/ Should I start to increase my intake of coffee?

Drinking more coffee would not be advisable, not least because of the side effects of drinking too much caffeine.

Source - Daily Mail

At last, some good news: Champagne 'is good for the heart and brain'

If you need an excuse to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly this festive season, here it is: It's good for your heart.

British academics have found that champagne is packed with polyphenols - plant chemicals thought to widen the blood vessels, easing the strain on your heart and brain. And researchers believe the health benefits aren't limited to the expensive stuff but are also found in cheaper alternatives such as cava and prosecco.

The Reading University study builds on earlier findings that two glasses of red wine a day help keep heart and circulatory problems at bay. Polyphenols are believed to boost the levels of the gas nitric oxide in the blood, which then widens the blood vessels. They are found in relatively high levels in red wine but not in white.

Champagne, however, is most commonly made from a blend of red grape varieties pinot meunier or pinot noir and white chardonnay. Researcher Dr Jeremy Spencer said: 'The question was would champagne have the same impact as red wine or would it have the limited impact of white wine?' He showed that champagne had a far bigger impact on nitric oxide levels than a polyphenol-free 'dummy drink' of alcohol mixed with carbonated water.

Source - Daily Mail

My doctors aren't convinced - but I believe green tea cured my cancer

Sam Corti had a sense of foreboding as she drove to hospital. For more than a year, the 40-year-old had been suffering increasingly painful and heavy periods and cramping pain in between. Although her GP had reassured her it was probably nothing more sinister than fibroids - benign growths in the womb - her instinct was that it was much more serious.

‘Jade Goody had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and I’d had the same disease when I was 21,’ she recalls. ‘Unlike Jade, my cancer had been caught in the very early stages - it was picked up on a smear test - and treated successfully. Even though I’d had annual smear tests since, which were always clear, I had this horrible feeling the cancer had returned.’

Unfortunately, her instinct proved right. A scan and a further internal examination showed a grapefruit-sized tumour had wrapped itself round her bladder and bowel. The tumour was graded as a very aggressive 4a - with 1a being the least aggressive. Sam was also told they had found several inflamed lymph nodes in the groin area. Her chances of survival were 50:50.

Cell phones are safe, for now, say Danish researchers

A study by the Danish Cancer Society has found no link between cell phone use and the incidence of brain tumors, contradicting recently reported studies that have linked cell phones and increased rates of brain cancer.

In a study of over 60,000 people in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden diagnosed with brain tumors between 1974 and 2003, the researchers found that the rate of brain cancer remained stable, decreased or only increased gradually before the introduction of wireless devices.

Because rates of cancer remained stable after the dramatic rise in cell phone use in Scandinavia in the mid 1990s, the scientists were led to believe that there was no link to increased cell phone usage and brain tumors. But the findings are not definitively conclusive because widespread cell phone use hasn't been around long enough to see an increase in brain tumors, they say.

"Either it means that mobile phones don't cause brain tumors or it means that we don't see it yet or we don't see it because the increase is too small to be observed in this population, or it is a risk that is limited to a small subgroup of the population," said lead researcher Isabelle Deltour from the the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology at the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen, of the findings.

The researchers say they plan on continuing to monitor the study participants for the next several decades. The report appeared in the Dec. 3 online edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Source - Independent

Germ-free kids may risk more adult illnesses

Parents who let their kids romp in the mud and eat food that has fallen on the floor could be helping to protect them against maladies like heart disease later in life, a US study showed Wednesday.

"Our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases,including cardiovascular disease," Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, said.

Researchers at Illinios' Northwestern University looked at data from a study in the Philippines, which followed participants from birth to 22 years of age, to better understand how childhood environments affect production of a protein that increases when there is inflammation - a sign the body forced to fight infection or injury.

The data were compiled by tracking children born in the 1980s to 3,327 Filipino mothers. Researchers visited the children every two months for the first two years of their lives and then spaced out the visits to every four or five years until the kids reached their 20s.

Among items that the researchers assessed were the hygiene of the children's household environment - "whether domestic animals such as pigs and dogs roamed freely" - and their families' socioeconomic resources.

Source - Independent

Health Canada warns against tainted acai berry products

Canadian health authorities are warning against using some acai berry products because they could be laced with Sildenafil, a drug commonly prescribed for erectile dysfunction and that has many serious health risks associated with its use.

One of the most important "superfruits" to emerge on the marketplace in the last decade, the acai berry has been agressively marketed for its alleged anti-aging, energizing and weight-loss properties, to name a few. The berry itself, which originates from the South American Amazon, has been identified as one of the highest antioxidant fruits, rich in healthy omega fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, prompting many marketers to cash in on its alleged benefits with a raft of acai berry supplements, beverages, and personal care items.

Health Canada issued an advisory Tuesday against using certain acai supplements after finding large shipments of tainted and unauthorized acai products entering the country. Some of the brands affected include: Anti-Aging Acai Berry, Guarana Blast Brazilian Pure Anti-aging Vital Rez V, Weight Loss VitalAcai, Dietary Supplement Acai Power Blast, and Muscle Mass.

But because many of the affected acai berry products are sold on the internet, the danger of tainted acai products isn't limited to Canada, the agency warned.

Sildenafil, commonly known as Viagra, can cause potentially dangerous low blood pressure when taken in combination with nitrate drugs. People with heart problems are cautioned against taking Sildenafil because it puts them at higher risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.

Source - Independent

Drinking cups of tea and coffee 'can prevent diabetes'

Tea and coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a large body of evidence shows.

And the protection may not be down to caffeine since decaf coffee has the greatest effect, say researchers in Archives of Internal Medicine. They looked at 18 separate studies involving nearly 500,000 people. This analysis revealed that people who drink three or four cups of coffee or tea a day cut their risk by a fifth or more, say researchers. The same amount of decaffeinated coffee had an even bigger effect, lowering risk by a third.

Type 2 diabetes usually starts after the age of 40 and develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes is treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity. In addition to this, medication and/or insulin is often required. If the findings prove true, doctors may well start advising people to put the kettle on as well as take more exercise and watch their weight, say the researchers. When the authors combined and analysed the data, they found that each additional cup of coffee consumed in a day cut diabetes risk by 7%.

Lead researcher Dr Rachel Huxley, from the University of Sydney in Australia, said because of the finding with decaffeinated coffee, the link is unlikely to be solely related to caffeine. Instead, other compounds in coffee and tea - including magnesium and antioxidants known as lignans or chlorogenic acids - may be involved.

Source - BBC

The problems with therapy

Think of a happy place and ask yourself this: does it take more skill to heal the body or heal the mind? Few would entrust their physical health to anyone who was professionally unqualified, unaccountable and under no professional obligation to try to make you better. Which is why, if you seek help from a podiatrist, chiropodist, or several other health professions, you are protected by statutory regulation. If a physiotherapist gets too familiar, for example, you can complain to a government watchdog, which will decide whether to strike him or her off a national register. Those falsely claiming to be such professionals can be prosecuted or fined.

With matters of the mind, however, no such conditions apply. Anyone can put up a brass plate and call him or herself a psychotherapist or counsellor, and those looking for expert guidance through their most intimate issues must rely on trust, often at a time when they are most vulnerable.

This week, the Health Professions Council (HPC), the regulator chosen to correct this anomaly, will make its formal recommendations to the Government on how best to control the psychotherapy and counselling industry. “It will,” promised Marc Seale, the HPC’s chief executive, at the time of the watchdog’s appointment, “for the first time, create a legal framework that will allow for the removal of rogues and charlatans from practising and potentially harming the public.”

Ranks are split between therapists who grudgingly accept a need for regulation by a watchdog with teeth, and purists who argue the process of therapy should not be subject to the same biomedical codes of conduct that already govern, say, paramedics and X-ray technicians. The spectre of state intervention has also highlighted issues as old as Freud — namely, how do you regulate psychotherapy when no one can agree on what it is, and how do you find the right rulebook if, as some claim, there are many different types of therapy?

Source - Times

Forget aspirin, now you can have a nice cup of tea instead

It is the traditional British solution for soothing away worries. But now it seems a nice cup of tea may have health benefits beyond stress relief.

Researchers from Newcastle University found that a certain type of mint tea, Brazilian Hyptis crenata, could be as effective as aspirin in relieving pain. Brazilian healers have been using the tea as medicine for centuries but this is the first scientific proof of its healing properties - albeit only in lab animals. Traditional tea also has proven medicinal properties.

Its leaves, picked from the Camellia sinensis plant to produce black, green, or oolong tea, have a high concentration of flavonoids, which protect against heart disease, and polyphenols, which protect against cancer.

The antioxidant properties help build defences against skin cancer and other cancers, and lower cholesterol. Decaffeinated teas are marginally less effective owing to the processing to remove caffeine.

Source - Daily Mail

Boosting immunity can start naturally

With flu season in full swing - and H1N1 looming large - some medical experts are encouraging preventative medicine to keep the immune system functioning optimally to keep seasonal illnesses at bay.

According to ChicagoHealers.com, a popular website advocating natural and holistic approaches to health, priming the immune system starts with maintaining a healthy digestive tract. When the digestive system is healthy it can break down and access the nutrients in ingested foods. It also eliminates toxicity as well as harmful bacteria and viruses. Below are some naturally occurring immunity boosters (and that are also available in supplement form) the site lists that could help ward off colds and flu.

Garlic: The root's active ingredient, allicin, has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It cleans the liver, which in turn cleans the blood and stimulates the production of white blood cells.

Ginger: The root contains a number of volatile oils that warm the body and help it sweat, break a fever and eliminate toxins. It also stimulates the release of mucous and is effective for decongesting lungs and airways. It is also frequently used as a digestive aid because of its cleansing properties.

Source - BBC

Meditation 'cuts risk of heart attack by half'

Meditation is good for the body as well as the mind, scientists have discovered, as the practice significantly reduces the risk of a heart attack for people with heart disease.

Patients with heart disease who practised Transcendental Meditation cut their chances of a heart attack, stroke and death by half, compared with non-meditating patients, the first study of its kind has found.

Stress is a major factor in heart disease and meditation experts say the technique can help control it.

Transcendental Meditation, practised by the Beatles and based on an ancient tradition of enlightenment in India, involves sitting quietly and concentrating to focus the mind inwards by silently repeating a mantra. The practice is said to induce inner peace by allowing thoughts to flow in and out of the mind. The results of the research are being presented at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Over nine years, 201 African American people with an average age of 59 and who had all been diagnosed with heart disease were randomly assigned to either Transcendental Meditation or health education classes about diet and exercise. Both groups continued with their normal medication.

Source - Telegraph

The internet has turned us all into hypochondriacs

Remember the medical encyclopaedia? It was printed in an improbably small font and weighed a tonne, but every family used to have one – and many probably still do, gathering dust in an attic or on an unkempt bookshelf. It's strange to contemplate now, but for decades this hefty tome was our only reliable source of medical information.

A great deal has changed in the 15 years since the Telegraph website first went online, not the least of which is the transformation in how we keep ourselves healthy. From getting a diagnosis online, obtaining information and statistics on local hospitals or GPs to obtaining potions, lotions and remedies, the internet has become a one-stop shop for the sick, the infirm or just the worried well.

1994, the year when the good ship Electronic Telegraph first set sail, also saw the first major development in the field of internet health with the creation of PharmWeb. Originally conceived as a resource for pharmaceutical professionals, it revolutionised the way health advice was distributed by creating a community where professionals and patients could discuss medical and health-related issues. Four years later, MedlinePlus, an online health encyclopaedia run by the US National Library of Medicine, was launched, collating medical advice while adding elements such as health news and a directory of healthcare providers.

Online pharmacies have sprung up, offering a range of legal and not so legal remedies. As anyone who regularly checks their spam filter will know, online drugs are big business: the Royal Pharmaceutical Society estimates that two million people in the UK regularly buy drugs over the internet.

Source - Telegraph

Breastfeeding can reduce heart disease and diabetes

Breastfeeding a baby can significantly reduce a woman's chances of developing a condition linked to heart disease and diabetes, research has shown.

Breastfeeding could more than halve the risk of metabolic syndrome, a mix of symptoms including high blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol that if untreated can lead to major illness. For women with a form of disabetes associated with pregnancy, the effect was even stronger. Their risk was reduced by between 44 per cent and 86 per cent.

Previous research had shown that lactating women have improved blood levels of glucose and fats within several weeks after giving birth.

Scientists conducting the new 20-year study monitored the health of 704 women recruited at the age of 18 to 30. Over the follow-up period there were 120 new cases of post-pregnancy metabolic syndrome.

Study leader Dr Erica Gunderson, from US health care providers Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, said: "The findings indicate that breastfeeding a child may have lasting favourable effects on a woman's risk factors for later developing diabetes or heart disease."

The benefits did not appear to be due to differences in weight gain, physical activity, or other lifestyle factors affecting health. Women who did not develop metabolic syndrome typically had less belly fat and higher levels of "good" high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which unlike "bad" cholesterol is protective.

Source - Telegraph

Doctors abandoning patients over herbal medicine, claims charity boss

Doctors have been accused of "abandoning patients to quackery" by failing to push for tighter regulation on herbal and Chinese medicine.

The head of one of the Prince of Wales's charities launched an attack on doctors saying they were ''washing their hands'' over tightening the law alternative medicine. Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, said the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) had ''missed the point'' on introducing statutory regulation.

The Government is consulting on the issue after some people suffered liver failure and kidney problems as a result of taking herbal medicines. While the College is in favour of regulating acupuncture, it believes doing so for herbal and traditional Chinese medicine risks giving them credibility.

In its submission to the Government, it said acupuncture should be considered for statutory regulation because evidence had shown it could be beneficial. But it said herbal and traditional medicine was ''largely or completely of unproven benefit''.

It added: ''The vast majority of herbal and traditional Chinese medication is not based on scientific evidence of efficacy. Regulation (except for acupuncture) by regimes similar to those applied to medicine nursing midwifery etc runs the risk of leading the public to believe that these complementary approaches have a similar efficacy.''

The RCP thinks these practices should actually be regulated under consumer protection laws. However, the Prince's Foundation believes patients risk being ''abandoned to quackery'' if the Government fails to introduce statutory regulation of herbalists and acupuncturists.

Source - Telegraph

Mobile phones 'have not increased brain cancers'

There has been no substantial change in the number of adult brain tumours since mobile phone usage sharply increased in the mid-1990s, Danish scientists say.

The Danish Cancer Society looked at the rates of brain tumours among 20 to 79 year olds from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. They found that trends in cancer rates had not altered from the period before mobiles were introduced. But they say longer follow-up studies are needed.

The research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, says radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted from mobile phones have been proposed as a risk factor for brain tumours, but a biological mechanism that could explain the potential effects has not been identified.

Cancer incidence

The study was based on 59,684 brain tumour cases diagnosed over 30 years from 1974 to 2003 among 16 million adults.

Source - BBC

Is there an alternative treatment for enlargement of the prostate gland?

BENIGN PROSTATIC HYPERPLASIA

Nearly half of men over the age of 65 suffer from this condition, also known as enlargement of the prostate gland, which can lead to problems with urination.

THESE MAY WORK:

AFRICAN PLUM: The bark of the tree contains compounds that have an antiinflammatory effect; improving ability to urinate.

SAW PALMETTO: Plant extract that may help with urgency and frequency by preventing testosterone from being converted into dihydro-testosterone which boosts prostate growth.

URTICA DIOICA: Extract of stinging nettle has antiinflammatory effects; could help with reduced urine flow.

RYE GRASS POLLEN: Anti-inflammatory thatmay reduce frequency of night-time urination and the amount of urine left in the bladder.

THIS WON'T WORK:

PUMPKIN SEEDS: Contain compounds thought to stimulate urination, thus relieving pressure, but not enough studies have been done to confirm this.

How walking the dog beats going to a gym: It gives you EIGHT hours of exercise a week

For those who are keen to keep fit but low on motivation, a personal trainer is often the best option. But the human version may not be the most effective.

Dog owners get more exercise walking their pet than someone with a gym membership, researchers have found. On average they exercise the animal twice a day for 24 minutes each time - a total of five hours and 38 minutes a week, a study for the pet healthcare experts Bob Martin found.

On top of that, the average owner takes their dog out on three long walks each week, adding a further two hours and 33 minutes to the total. Those without a dog spend an average of just one hour and 20 minutes a week exercising by going to the gym or heading out for a stroll or jog. Worse still, almost half - 47 per cent - of non-pet owners admit they do absolutely no exercise whatsoever.

A spokesman for Bob Martin said: 'A couple of short walks a day soon adds up and this research shows that it amounts to more time than people spend in the gym.'

The study of 5,000 Britons, including 3,000 dog owners, revealed that 57 per cent see walking the dog as their main form of exercise. More than three quarters say they would rather take their pooch for a hike than go to the gym.

Source - Daily Mail

How a daily walk wards off prostate cancer AND can keep colds at bay

A daily walk lowers the risk of prostate cancer, say researchers reporting in the latest issue of the journal Urology.

Men who walked around three to six hours a week were two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with the disease than couch potato counterparts. Men who did one to three hours a week were also 86 per cent less likely to have an aggressive, fast-growing tumour, the study found.

Previous research has shown exercise lowers blood levels of testosterone and other hormones linked to the growth of prostate tumours. Activity is also known to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of cancer.

Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine found that people who exercise for at least 45 minutes for four days a week take up to 50 per cent less time off sick during winter. Professor David Nieman, an exercise physiologist at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, says: 'The reduction in winter illness from exercise far exceeds anything a drug or pill can offer and walking is the best thing you can do. Exercising when you have a cold can help you fight it off faster. '

But Professor Nieman warns: If you have chesty, flu-like symptoms, take a couple of weeks off the exercise.

Source - Daily Mail

What about eating one teaspoon of salt a day?

It's widely known that a diet high in salt causes high blood pressure, but new research suggests that reducing daily salt consumption by one teaspoon could also prevent millions of deaths from stroke and cardiovascular disease.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about one teaspoon of salt a day (5 g), the average daily consumption of salt in Western countries is more - about 10 g a day - and in Eastern Europe and in Asia it could be as high as 12 g, scientists say.

In a collaborative study by the University of Naples and the University of Warwick, researchers analyzed the results of 13 published studies involving over 170,000 people in the United States, Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Scotland and Taiwan and assessed the relationship of daily salt consumption and rates of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

They found that a difference of one teaspoon (5 g) a day in habitual salt intake was associated with a 23 percent difference in the rate of stroke and a 17 percent difference in the rate of total cardiovascular disease. By reducing daily intake by 5 g, nearly 3 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and 1.25 million deaths from stroke could be prevented each year, the researchers said.

Source - Independent

Tiny magnetic discs could kill cancer cells

Tiny magnetic discs just a millionth of a metre in diameter could be used to used to kill cancer cells, according to a study published on Sunday.

Laboratory tests found the so-called "nanodiscs", around 60 billionths of a metre thick, could be used to disrupt the membranes of cancer cells, causing them to self-destruct. The discs are made from an iron-nickel alloy, which move when subjected to a magnetic field, damaging the cancer cells, the report published in Nature Materials said.

One of the study's authors, Elena Rozhlova of Argonne National Laboratory in the United States, said subjecting the discs to a low magnetic field for around ten minutes was enough to destroy 90 percent of cancer cells in tests.

In a commentary on the report, Jon Dobson of Keele University in Britain said antibodies could be used to direct the discs towards tumour cells.

"This provides an elegant and rapid technique for targeting tumour destruction without the side effects associated with systemic treatments such as chemotherapy," Dobson wrote.

Source - Independent

Prince Charles: 'Herbal medicine must be regulated'

Prince Charles is urging government to press on with regulating herbalists to safeguard the public.

His Foundation for Integrated Health charity says without regulation new EU laws will ban most of the trade, forcing patients to use bogus outlets. From 2011 EU legislation will permit only statutorily registered professionals like doctors to prescribe manufactured herbal remedies. The government says it will reach a decision in the new year.

Britons spend about £1.6 billion a year on alternative remedies. There is currently no official system of regulation in the UK, meaning anyone can treat. But there are codes under which practitioners use remedies manufactured to recognisable standards.

The EU Directive that will be implemented from April 2011 will restrict herbal medicines that can be supplied over-the-counter to licensed "traditional" medicines used to treat "mild and self-limiting" conditions - basically meaning nothing worse than a cold.

Source - BBC

Vitamin D deficiency linked to strokes, heart disease: study

Insufficient intake of vitamin D, long known to play a key role in bone health, may significantly increase a person's risk of stroke, heart disease and even death, a US study said Monday.

Examining 27,686 Utah patients aged 50 or older with no history of cardiovascular disease, the study found those with very low vitamin D levels were 77 percent more likely to die early than those with normal levels. They were also found to be 45 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease and 78 percent were more likely to have a stroke, said the research by the Heart Institute at the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Those with very low levels of vitamin D were twice as likely to develop heart failure, said the study which was due to be presented later Monday at a conference organized by the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida.

"If increasing levels of vitamin D can decrease some risk associated with these cardiovascular diseases, it could have a significant public health impact," said study co-author Heidi May, noting that vitamin D deficiency is easily treatable. When you consider that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, you understand how this research can help improve the length and quality of people's lives."

Source - Independent

Drink half a dozen beers every day and have a healthier heart

Drinking a bottle of wine a day, or half a dozen beers, cuts the risk of heart disease by more than half in men, it has been shown.

In one of the largest studies of the link between alcohol and heart disease, researchers have found that the protective effects of a daily tipple are not limited to those who drink moderately but also extend to those who consume at what are conventionally considered to be dangerously high levels.

The researchers, who are from the public health department of the Basque government in San Sebastian, a region with one of the highest drinking rates in Europe, warned that alcohol caused millions of deaths a year around the world from other causes and their findings should not be taken as a licence to drink to oblivion. British scientists said the study, published in the journal Heart, was "flawed". The research was conducted among 15,000 men and 26,000 women aged from 29 to 69 who were followed for 10 years.

The results showed that those who drank a little – a glass of wine or a bottle of beer every other day – had a 35 per cent lower risk of a heart attack than those who never drank. Moderate drinkers, consuming up to a couple of glasses of wine a day or a couple of pints of ordinary bitter, had a 54 per cent lower risk.

The surprise was that heavy drinkers consuming up to a bottle of wine or six pints of ordinary bitter had a similar 50 per cent reduction in risk of a heart attack to moderate drinkers. Those drinking at even higher levels were still half as likely to suffer a heart attack as the teetotallers.

Source - Independent

Dirt can be good for children, say scientists

Children should be allowed to get dirty, according to scientists who have found being too clean can impair the skin's ability to heal.

Normal bacteria living on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt, the US team discovered. The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses that can cause cuts and grazes to swell, they say. Their work is published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

Experts said the findings provided an explanation for the "hygiene hypothesis", which holds that exposure to germs during early childhood primes the body against allergies. Many believe our obsession with cleanliness is to blame for the recent boom in allergies in developed countries.

'Good' bacteria

Researchers from the School of Medicine at University of California, San Diego, found a common bacterial species, known as Staphylococci, blocked a vital step in a cascade of events that led to inflammation.

Source - BBC

Plastic chemicals 'feminise boys'

Chemicals in plastics alter the brains of baby boys, making them "more feminine", say US researchers.

Males exposed to high doses in the womb went on to be less likely to play with boys' toys like cars or to join in rough and tumble games, they found. The University of Rochester team's latest work adds to concerns about the safety of phthalates, found in vinyl flooring and PVC shower curtains.

The findings are reported in the International Journal of Andrology.

Plastic furniture

Phthalates have the ability to disrupt hormones, and have been banned in toys in the EU for some years. However, they are still widely used in many different household items, including plastic furniture and packaging. There are many different types and some mimic the female hormone oestrogen.

The same researchers have already shown that this can mean boys are born with genital abnormalities. Now they say certain phthalates also impact on the developing brain, by knocking out the action of the male hormone testosterone.

Dr Shanna Swan and her team tested urine samples from mothers over midway through pregnancy for traces of phthalates. The women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, were followed up when their children were aged four to seven and asked about the toys the youngsters played with and the games they enjoyed.

Source - BBC

Meditation 'eases heart disease'

Heart disease patients who practise Transcendental Meditation have reduced death rates, US researchers have said.

At a meeting of the American Heart Association they said they had randomly assigned 201 African Americans to meditate or to make lifestyle changes. After nine years, the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes.

The research was carried out by the Medical College in Wisconsin with the Maharishi University in Iowa.

It was funded by a £2.3m grant from the National Institute of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

'Significant benefits'

The African American men and women had an average age of 59 years and a narrowing of the arteries in their hearts. he meditation group were asked to practise for 20 minutes twice a day. The lifestyle change group received education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.

Over 9 years, there were 20 events (heart attacks, strokes or death) in the meditation group and 31 in the health education group.

Dr Robert Schneider, lead author and director of the Centre for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the Maharishi University in Iowa said:

"At the end of the 9 years, 80% of the meditation group were still practising at least once a day. But there was very little change in the health education group. Their lifestyle was much the same in terms of diet and exercise - it's a very difficult thing to make those changes."

Source - BBC

Noise 'worse for dyslexic pupils'

Children with dyslexia find it harder to hear in noisy classrooms than those without the condition, a US study says.

Pupils with poor reading skills were also more likely to struggle to retain information when there was background noise, researchers reported in Neuron. They said the findings, based on tests on 30 children, might help to develop new ways to diagnose the condition.

The team from Northwestern University, in Chicago, said pupils with dyslexia might also need extra support in class.

Wireless technology

They said placing children with dyslexia in front of the teacher could make a big difference. And they suggested other steps, such as providing such pupils with wireless technologies and noise-reducing headphones to pick up information better.

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder which affects reading and spelling skills in between 5% to 10% of children.

Source - BBC

Hypnosis has 'real' brain effect

Hypnosis has a "very real" effect that can be picked up on brain scans, say Hull University researchers.

An imaging study of hypnotised participants showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain linked with daydreaming or letting the mind wander. The same brain patterns were absent in people who had the tests but who were not susceptible to being hypnotised. One psychologist said the study backed the theory that hypnosis "primes" the brain to be open to suggestion.

Hypnosis is increasingly being used to help people stop smoking or lose weight and advisers recently recommended its use on the NHS to treat irritable bowel syndrome. It is not the first time researchers have tried to use imaging studies to monitor brain activity in people under hypnosis.

But the Hull team said these had been done while people had been asked to carry out tasks, so it was not clear whether the changes in the brain were due to the act of doing the task or an effect of hypnosis.

In the latest study, the team first tested how people responded to hypnosis and selected 10 individuals who were "highly suggestible" and seven people who did not really respond to the technique other than becoming more relaxed.

The participants were asked to do a task under hypnosis, such as listening to non-existent music, but unknown to them the brain activity was being monitored in the rest periods in between tasks, the team reported in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Source - BBC

Warning over 'herbal Valium'

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said people should be on their guard over unlicensed herbal medicines containing the plant aconite.

Aconite, also known as monkshood, is "extremely poisonous" and could be fatal or cause serious illness, it said. The watchdog has received two reports of suspected serious side effects, with one person suffering kidney problems and another suffering dizziness and paresthesia, which is an abnormal sensation of skin numbness or tingling.

Richard Woodfield, head of herbal policy at the MHRA, said it was vital people did not confuse herbal medicines and homeopathic ones.

"Registered homeopathic products that contain aconite are considered acceptably safe as the active ingredient, aconite, is sufficiently diluted," he said. "Herbal medicines are made from plants and so can have a very significant effect on the body. In certain cases, such as with aconite, the medicine can be extremely potent. This is a classic case where 'natural' does not mean 'safe'."

Source - Telegraph

Zero Balancing: reclaim your body's natural balance

Zero Balancing is a hands-on therapy that claims to fix body and mind.

Good bodywork can soothe away the strains of modern life. It can unravel taut muscles, banish backache and even soften emotional stress. Yet many people flinch at the intimacy or intrusiveness.

Lying stark naked on the floor or having probing fingers dive under the ribs is a touch too much for those with a bashful disposition or a low pain threshold. So three cheers for Zero Balancing, a highly effective bodywork system tailor-made for the shy and retiring.

Zero Balancing (ZB) was developed by Dr Fritz Smith, an American doctor, acupuncturist and osteopath, who investigated a wide range of bodywork therapies and "energy healing" techniques. In 1973 he introduced his new form of therapy, describing it as "a blending of Eastern and Western ideas in terms of body and structure. It brings energy concepts into touch, or body handling".

Its practitioners train for two and a half years and are already healthcare professionals. In Britain, they tend to be doctors, nurses, osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists and acupuncturists. Sessions are pragmatic and non-invasive. You won't have to spill your deepest feelings or strip off.

I first experienced ZB about 17 years ago and was very impressed, but there weren't many practitioners around. Now there are more than 200 in Britain and I visited Richard Walters, near Exeter, to refresh my memory.

We chatted a little and Walters asked if there was anything that needed attention. I had the usual neck and back strain of the habitual desk-wallah, plus my knee had turned nasty and I was limping badly. Walters nodded and made me take off my shoes and sit on the couch, so he could evaluate my spine. Then I simply lay back and relaxed for the rest of the session.

The Zero Balance touch is quite deep (it works on the bone, rather than the soft tissue) but not unpleasant. "It doesn't make demands on the body," says Walters. "We don't have an opinion of how a body should be. We just find places that are tight and see what the body wants to do."

Source - Telegraph

How would you cope on a silent retreat?

Charmian Evans turned her back on her busy, urban life and spent three days on a silent retreat. f Harry Potter had walked in and yelled “Expelliarmus!”, the effect could not have been more dramatic. At the ting of a tiny gong, 30 chattering strangers – a doctor, bank manager, farmer, builder, solicitor, nurse – became mute, and remained like that for an entire weekend. They shut up as part of a three-day retreat to get away from the ever noisier world.

“A silent retreat?” shrieked friends when I told them where I was going. I grinned sheepishly knowing that it would be a bit like trying to muzzle me. I didn’t care; I could do with some peace and quiet. For townies, at least, this is the noisiest time of the year, with Diwali firecrackers and Bonfire Night fireworks providing a nightly chorus that lasts for weeks.

So when that gong sounded, I was relieved. The tranquility of this Buddhist retreat – held at Gaia House, an imposing Georgian house near Newton Abbott in Devon, set in acres of beautiful gardens – would be good enough for Buddha himself.

Previously a convent, what used to be the nun’s chapel is now the main hall, where we had our introduction to meditation. No previous experience was necessary, though I noted that as we sat down for a 10-minute welcome speech, several people folded themselves up in yoga-like positions that would make a chiropractor proud. I plumped for a chair with a big cushion.

Based on a Burmese technique called Mahasi, which teaches you to be aware of your every action, right down to the way you walk, the retreat was lead by a cheery Buddhist monk, Bhante Bodhidhamma, from the Satipanya Buddhist Retreat near Shrewsbury.

He showed us a breathing pattern to lull us into a meditative state, and soon his reassuring tones began to make me unfurl from the day, glad to be rid of the phones, the car and the computer. Life seemed to slow, like a gramophone record played at the wrong speed, and before I knew it we were shaking ourselves down in readiness for bed.

Source - Telegraph

Just how safe are herbal medicines?

While many of us believe that "herbal" is synonymous with "safe", herbal remedies can in fact be deadly

Herbal remedies made from plant leaves, bark, berries, flowers, and roots have been used to heal illnesses, diseases, and psychological disorders for centuries. Today, with the ease of the internet, you can self-diagnose, order next day delivery, and even learn how to make your own. Last year three million Britons took herbal remedies to treat everything from fever to joint pain.

But renewed debate about the safety of these remedies was sparked last week following the news of an EU crackdown on herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners who operate unregulated at present. Under the new law, from 2011 sales of all herbal remedies except for a small number of products for minor ailments will also be banned. Regulators warn that many of us believe that "herbal" is synonymous with "safe", whereas herbal remedies can be deadly.

"Research we conducted last year found a significant proportion of people believed 'herbal' means 'benign'," says Richard Woodfield, Head of Herbal Policy at the Medicines and Health care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). "That means people are more liable to self-medicate, and to neglect to inform their doctors, even though there's a risk that the herbal remedy will react with any prescription drugs. They're also more vulnerable to fraudulent, even criminal operators who put products out which are heavily adulterated with dangerous pharmaceuticals."

The actress Sophie Winkleman is reported to have taken aconite, or monkshood, found in some 'herbal Valium' last month to calm her nerves prior to her wedding to Freddie Windsor. The plant while relatively harmless in licensed homeopathic remedies in which it is rigorously diluted, can be extremely dangerous, in herbal remedies, even lethal.

"If you were to buy aconite root, which is banned from licensed herbal products in the UK, but can still be found in products bought over the internet, and make yourself a herbal tea with it, you'd be dead within five minutes," says Dr Linda Anderson, Pharmaceutical Assessor of the MHRA.

Last year, scientists at Boston University found that a fifth of Ayurvedic medicines – popular traditional Indian herbal remedies – bought over the internet contained dangerous levels of lead, mercury or arsenic, which could cause stomach pains, vomiting or liver problems.

Source - Telegraph

Is lack of sleep taking its toll on children?

How many hours of sleep does a five-year-old need? Does the time at which a child sleeps matter? What hormones are produced only during sleep? If, as a parent, you don’t know the answers, you are not alone. According to a new survey by the Sleep Council, most parents cannot answer these or even more basic questions about children’s sleep. Neither can most GPs, health visitors or teachers — and children are paying the price in health problems.

Mandy Gurney, an expert on children’s sleep, says that an increasing number of children spend their formative years “chronically sleep-deprived”. As a result they are not only tired, ratty and inattentive but are more prone to a spectrum of health problems including obesity, hypertension and clinical depression.

Gurney has been asked to set up a sleep clinic by a North London health authority because it recognises that simply getting children to sleep better will produce huge cost savings in health treatments over their lifetimes.

Why is the problem not more widely recognised? Because sleep is seen as something that we “just do”, says Gurney. “It is seen as organic rather than a medical issue, and people looking after children don’t connect the chronic and often serious symptoms with simple lack of sleep. Children are even less likely to see the connection.”

Which is why the Sleep Council is calling for sleep to be taught in schools.

Source - Times

Is your mobile phone bad for you?

Some overseas studies have rekindled fears of a link to brain tumours.

With its 12.1-megapixel camera and sleek touchscreen, the Sony Ericsson Satio is one of the most desirable mobile phones you could buy this Christmas. You may recognise it from its high-profile advertising campaign: carefree twentysomethings bouncing on colourful spacehoppers. But one thing the advert fails to tell the viewer is that the Satio is one of the highest emitters of low-level radio waves on the mobile phone market.

Different models record different levels of radiation, and some experts want radio wave readings advertised as prominently as are the salt and fat content on food labelling. Professor Denis Henshaw, head of radiation research at the University of Bristol, says: “While we don’t have an advanced state of knowledge about the harmful effects of mobile phones, a number attached to a phone is at least a start in giving the consumer an informed choice.”

The reading is recorded as a specific absorption rate (SAR): the rate at which head tissue absorbs the phone’s radiation. The higher the reading, the more radiation is emitted. Nine years ago Henshaw advised the Stewart Report, the UK’s first committee to tackle the issue in depth. It failed to find concrete evidence of adverse effects, but it did recommend that radiation readings be displayed on the back of mobile phone boxes and as a menu option. (The Mobile Manufacturers Forum claims that it is “impractical” to put these figures on packaging, but they can usually be seen on the manufacturers’ websites.) The European guideline for maximum radiation exposure is 2W/kg in 10g of body tissue. The Satio’s reading is 1.58W/kg. The LG Crystal’s is 1.47W/kg. Samsung phones record consistently low SAR values, while the Apple iPhone 3GS is between the two extremes with 1.1W/kg. All these models fall safely within the guidelines, so should you worry about SAR? Perhaps yes, if the preliminary findings of the Interphone study, the biggest of its kind, are to be believed. It is conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its conclusions will be drawn from research by scientists in 13 countries.

Source - Times

Could tomato pips protect you from a heart attack?

A syrup extracted from tomato pips is the latest treatment for preventing blood clots.

As well as cutting the risk of heart attacks and stroke, the food supplement may have advantages over a standard drug treatment, low-dose aspirin. Aspirin is taken by millions of otherwise healthy people to thin their blood and lower the risk of dangerous clots.

No, probiotics aren't a waste of money - and here's why...

Are probiotics good for you or a complete waste of money? There are so many apparently contradictory stories about probiotics you'd be right to be confused.
Probiotics are the 'good' strains of gut bacteria that are important to digestive health and our immune system.

Recently there has been a slew of studies showing the health benefits of them. Yet many probiotic products themselves have been criticised.

Only recently scientists at the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) threw out 180 health claims made for probiotics (such as 'maintains digestive comfort' or 'boost defences') on the basis that there simply wasn't enough evidence.

Yet nearly 60 per cent of UK households regularly buy probiotic drinks, supplements and yoghurts, so are they wasting money?

While there may be erroneous or unvalidated claims for specific products, many experts disagree with the EFSA stance, says Glenn Gibson, Professor of Food Microbiology at Reading University, a leading authority on gut bacteria.

'There's convincing evidence that the right products will do us good,' he says. Specifically, 'a properly formulated probiotic drink or pills should benefit people who are travelling abroad and coming into contact with different bugs that might upset their system'.

Probiotics will also help anyone taking antibiotics, which kill good bacteria as well as bad, 'or people going into hospital where gut infections are rife'.

Source Daily Mail