Do herbal medicines improve our health?

Herbal medicines are used by about a quarter of adults in the UK, the market is worth at least £485m, and they have a powerful advocate in Prince Charles. In one of his recently published “black spider” letters, sent to Tony Blair in 2005, the Prince urged a delay implementing EU restrictions on herbal medicines:  “I think we both agreed this was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” But concerns over safety, standardisation, interactions with other drugs, as well as extravagant claims and lack of evidence for efficacy have all led to attempts to regulate herbal medicine and its practitioners.
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, says they should be judged in the same way as conventional ones: “If a therapy demonstrably generates more good than harm, it should be considered for routine use.” The problem is that, without good clinical trials, it is hard to say whether a medicine does work – and trials are expensive, time-consuming and hard to organise, especially for small manufacturers.
Since 2011, products have to be registered with the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and granted a traditional herbal registration (THR) before going on sale. The MHRA usually requires drugs to be of sufficient quality, safety and effectiveness but, in the case of herbal medicines, it recognised the difficulty in providing evidence of effectiveness and asked only for proof of quality and safety and patient information. Reassuringly, registration means that hundreds of potentially dangerous products have been banned.

Stress won't kill you - if you handle it right

It was two in the morning and my mind was still replaying a conversation I had with a colleague that afternoon - what I said, what he said, what I should have said; over and over. My heart was racing, the clock was ticking and, as the birds started singing, I realised I’d wasted any chance of sleep and would start the day exhausted and irritable - with things only getting worse from there.
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To put this into context, I was 40, (generally) happily married with two healthy children, a solid group of friends and a reasonably successful career as a writer. Yet my mind was over the place. I didn’t just lie awake, worrying about things I couldn’t change. I made diet and exercise plans, then abandoned them. I felt anxious, on edge, unable to relax.
Perhaps you recognise the feeling. I wasn’t suffering from anxiety or depression as such - certainly nothing serious enough to see a psychologist about - but I was constantly worried about what this constant state of low level stress was doing to my body and mind, which increasingly seemed to falter at the slightest of forces.
Just this week, yet another study (at Pennsylvania State University) linked stress with obesity, heart disease and cancer. The kicker? It’s not stress itself that causes these problems, it’s how you react to it. Which, if the answer is “not well”, just gives you something else to worry about. But why is it that some people cope well with difficult experiences - some even thrive on them - while others seem to crumble with the stress of daily life? While many talk about mindfulness, the new big buzzword among self-improvement circles is resilience - the mental muscle that makes you emotionally tough enough to bounce back and carry on.

Low GI diet CAN ease symptoms of autism

A diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains could help ease the symptoms of autism, according to a new study.
Researchers found eating a low glycaemic index (GI) diet, similar to that used by people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels stable, reduced symptoms of the disorder.
Their findings could also offer clues to help understand one potential cause of autism, they added. 
The GI is a measure of how quickly foods containing carbohydrates, such as breads, cereals and baked goods, raise glucose levels in the bloodstream.

Those that cause a sharp spike in blood sugar levels over a two-hour period are said to have a high glycaemic index. While those that don't cause the big rise, including vegetables, fish, lean meats and while grains, have a low glycaemic index.
The researchers wanted to investigate whether a low GI diet could help people with autism - a spectrum of disorders characterised by social avoidance, repetitive behaviours and difficulty communicating.


Nuts 'protect against early death'

Eating half a handful of nuts every day could substantially lower the risk of early death, a Dutch study suggests.
Previous studies had already indicated a link with cardiovascular health, but this is the first to look at specific nuts and diseases. Maastricht University researchers found a 23% lower chance of death during the 10-year study in people eating at least 10g (0.3oz) of nuts or peanuts a day.
There was no benefit for peanut butter, which is high in salt and trans fats.More than 120,000 Dutch 55-to-69-year-old men and women provided dietary and lifestyle information in 1986, and then their mortality rate was looked at 10 years later. The premature mortality risk due to cancer, diabetes, respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases was lower among the nut consumers.

Australian doctors told not to prescribe homeopathic items as 'they do nothing'

The official body for Australian GPs has asked pharmacists to strip their shelves of homeopathic products and warned doctors not to prescribe them because they do nothing.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has formally recommended GPs stop prescribing homeopathic remedies and says pharmacists must also stop stocking such products because there is no evidence they are effective in any way. The RACGP’s position statement on homeopathy, released on Wednesday, follows recent findings by the National Health and Medical Research Council that homeopathy produces no health benefits over and above a placebo.
The RACGP president, Dr Frank Jones, warned people who turned to homeopathic products to address health issues could be putting themselves at risk. Such unproven products might cause them to delay seeking out proper medical care, or lead them to reject conventional medical approaches entirely, he said. He expressed particular concerns about so-called homeopathic vaccines.
“These alternatives do not prevent diseases or increase protective antibodies and there is no plausible biological mechanism by which these alternatives could prevent infection,” he said.