Labour pain? It's in the mind

Kate Robinson, pregnant and sceptical, tests out hypnotherapy
Births on television always mean crisis. If it's a period drama, there are shouts for hot water and towels. If it's an American production, the whole episode might as well be entitled Primal Scream.
At six months pregnant, I have been as much exposed to the notion of birth as a noisy, painful affair as any first-time mother.
So when the clinical hypnotherapist Maggie Howell tells me "I birth silently - the only time anyone knew I was having a contraction was when I lifted my finger", I'm cynical. Silent with that amount of pain?
Howell became interested in self-hypnosis when having her first child, and says that the relaxation techniques she used during his birth, and her subsequent two, ensured she was able to enjoy "an exquisite birth experience".
It took two days on Howell's Natal Hypnotherapy Birth Preparation Course to begin to understand what she was promoting.
The first part of the course is much like an AA meeting: "Hello, my name's Kate, I am having a baby and what scares me most is…well, probably not drinking for nine months, actually."
Listening to my fellow participants, I am surprised by how many fears I could have been harbouring. Calming those fears, according to Howell, is key to a less painful birth.

Source - Telegraph

Pesticides and Parkinson's disease linked

AMATEUR gardeners are at an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease as a result of exposure to pesticides, a new study has shown.
Researchers who studied almost 1,000 people in five European countries, including Scotland, found the risk of developing the disease increased according to the level of exposure.
Those who had been exposed to low levels of pesticides - such as gardeners - were found to be 1.13 times as likely to have Parkinson's, compared with those who had never been exposed. Professionals, exposed to high levels - such as farmers - were 1.41 times as likely to be affected.
Previous studies have already pinpointed a potential link between the use of pesticides and Parkinson's. But the new study has shown for the first time that the risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease increases according to the level of exposure.
Dr Finlay Dick, a senior lecturer in the department of environmental and occupational medicine at Aberdeen University Medical School, which carried out the research, said the findings were based on a study of 959 people suffering from parkinsonism, including Parkinson's disease, and 1,989 controls in five European countries. "We have been able to show that the higher the exposure, the greater the risk," Dr Dick said.
He said the figures equated to a 9 per cent higher risk factor for low-level exposure and a 39 per cent increased risk for higher exposures.

Source - Scotsman

Body and mind: how the power of music lifts and heals

Maxim Vengerov is considered by many to be the best violinist in the world and commands upwards of £20,000 a performance – but few are as rewarding as the one he gave for nothing at a hospital for those with severe neurological conditions and traumatic brain injuries. If any encounter can be both heart-rending and heart-warming, this is it. On one side of the hall stands a virtuoso musician in the prime of life. Some say he is the world’s finest violinist. Certainly you would have to go a long way to find a human being who so obviously demonstrates such a perfect rapport between mind and body, eyes and brain, brain and fingers, physique and inner emotion. As Maxim Vengerov plays, so his whole torso sinuously sways and arcs in an ardent physical expression of the music that flows from his Stradivarius. This is the package – the handsome, 32-year-old Russian, the mesmerising virtuosity, the priceless piece of old wood – that is said to command fees of £20,000 or more for a night’s work in the world’s top concert halls.
But today Vengerov plays for nothing. Or rather, he plays for love. We are in a magnificent panelled hall at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney, southwest London. Arrayed in front of the musician are about 60 wheelchair-bound patients who, in many cases, have minimal control over their limbs, their minds – and their lives.
Rarely can such contrasting extremes in the human condition have been brought into such charged proximity. Rarely can a man capable of conjuring such transcendental beauty out of thin air have faced an audience that knows such physical deprivation.
“What appeals to an audience like this, what gets through to their subconscious, are two things,” Vengerov tells me later. “Rhythm and serenity.”

Source - Times

Lung disease halved by right diet

A traditional Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish can cut the risk of developing serious lung disease by half, researchers say. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for conditions such as emphysema and bronchitis. It leads to damaged air-ways, making it harder for people to breathe.
Smoking is the most important risk factor for getting COPD, which experts predict will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2020.
Not all smokers develop the disease, which has led researchers to examine how genetic and environmental factors, such as diet, play a role.
A study released before it is published today in the journal Thorax, found that eating a Mediterranean diet cut the risk of developing COPD in half.

Source - Times

Go easy on the vitamins

More and more of us are taking food supplements to 'balance' our diets. But are they doing us more harm than good?
They are exculpation, insurance and saintliness in handy pill form. They supposedly guard against anything from wrinkles to cancer. But are dietary supplements - from the humble multi-vitamin to the mega-dose antioxidant - really as benign as they seem?
A study published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men with prostate cancer who took more than seven multivitamins a week were 30% more likely to get an advanced and fatal form of the disease. This comes after a large - though hotly contested - review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February found that people who took antioxidant vitamin tablets (particularly vitamins A and E and beta-carotene) were more likely to die earlier than those who did not.
Such research seems to fly in the face of common sense. We all know vitamins are "good" for us. Indeed, thanks to a national obsession with TV diet "gurus", many people believe they are de facto deficient in key nutrients and can only be healthy if they supplement their food with pills or potions. Even those not downing spirulina algae with breakfast probably own at least one pack of multi-vitamins.
However, says Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's hospital, London, "The whole idea that you must meet some vitamin and mineral target every day of your life is a marketing myth: you can eat lots of fruit and veg one day and not much the next, but over a week you will still get the right amount of nutrients." What's more, she says, "There is very little scientific evidence of any benefit whatsoever in taking a daily multi-vitamin, even in old people." Indeed, taking daily vitamins could be positively harmful if you eat a poor or highly restricted diet, then assume you are nutritionally covered by popping a pill.
"You cannot exist on a poor diet and then shore yourself up with a multi-vitamin," says Collins.

Source - Guardian

Stress in mothers affects unborn babies

Mothers who are stressed out in pregnancy 'transmit' the effect to their unborn baby as early as 17 weeks, claim scientists.
They have matched the level of stress hormones found in the mother's blood to those in fluid surrounding the fetus.
It is the first time a link has been established between mother and child's stress levels at such an early stage in pregnancy.
Previous research suggests stress hormones activated by maternal anxiety may have a long-term effect on the child's brain development and future behaviour.
Researchers led by Professor Vivette Glover at Imperial College London and Dr Pampa Sarkar of Wexham Park Hospital, Berkshire, studied 267 women, taking a blood sample from the mother and a sample from the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
They measured levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in both samples, says a report published today (thurs) in the journal Clinical Endocrinology (must credit).
At the age of 17 weeks and older, they found the higher the level of cortisol in the mother's blood, the greater the level of cortisol in the amniotic fluid.

Source - Daily Mail

Folic acid 'reduces stroke risks'

Adding folic acid to their diet can cut a person's stroke risk by a fifth, cumulative evidence suggests.
Food advisors have already recommended to ministers that the vitamin should be added to flour or bread.
This is to benefit pregnant women and those trying to conceive, by protecting the unborn child against birth defects.
The Lancet review of eight studies shows the benefits could be more widespread, but experts warn that this must be balanced against other risks.
An increase in folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency in older people.
This type of anaemia can cause serious health problems, like nerve damage.
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements and added to fortified foods
Both folic acid and vitamin B12 are essential for good health and good levels can be achieved by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Green vegetables are rich in folic acid or folate, while B12 is found in foods such as eggs and meat.
Yet 13 million people do not consume enough folate, according to the Food Standards Agency.

Women warned on iron 'overdose'

Healthy pregnant women should think twice before taking iron supplements, say researchers who have linked high doses to blood pressure problems.
Iron is often given to combat anaemia in pregnancy, but many women take extra iron, on its own or in a multivitamin.
The Iranian university study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, gave some women a 30mg daily dose as part of its research.
UK experts say that this amount should only be taken on GP advice.
The UK Food Standards Agency says that lower doses in UK multivitamins are unlikely to harm women.
Anaemia is a common condition in pregnant women, which, if left unchecked, can contribute to premature births and low birthweight babies.
It is caused by a lack of red blood cells, and taking iron on prescription helps the body produce more.
The researchers from Tarbiat Modarres University wanted to check the effect of iron supplements on women whose red blood cell level was normal.
They gave 370 women a 150mg dose of ferrous sulphate, which equates to approximately 30mg of actual iron, every day throughout their pregnancy.
A similar number of women were given a "placebo" dummy pill containing no iron.

Source - BBC

How to succeed without really trying

I am lying fully clothed in my own front room on a gurney, eyes shut, rocking and wobbling this way and that beneath layers of white blankets.

It sounds like something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I am, in fact, experiencing The Trager Approach, a form of therapeutic body work named after its American founder Milton Trager, an American doctor whose technique took off in the 1970s in California.
A Trager practitioner uses "compassionate touch" - a series of soft rocking and stretching movements - to "ease" the client's body into "comfort" (that is, help you to relax).
Devotees include model Jerry Hall, who encountered the technique in a BBC documentary in which she described her first Trager session as a "huge physical release. And emotional. And mental".
Marvellously, the idea behind this therapy is to do literally nothing.

Source - Telegraph

Can food save your memory?

While any possibility of a cure for Alzheimer's is several years away, lifestyle choices may affect your risk of contracting it, says Jerome Burne
When some mice were put into a tank of water in a research lab in New York recently, something remarkable happened.

Instead of swimming aimlessly round, they were able to find their way back to an underwater platform that they had visited before.
It was a breakthrough because these mice had been genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's disease and should have been as slow-witted, confused and forgetful as human sufferers.

They had received a new vaccine that can dissolve a protein, called beta-amaloid, that progressively clogs up neurons in the brain.
As a result, their memory and problem-solving abilities were returning. For the first time since this dreadful disease was first identified more than 100 years ago there is the possibility of a cure on the horizon.
"In before-and-after images from brain scans carried out on the mice it's clear that globs of toxic plaque have almost gone," says neuroscientist and biochemist Dr Menelas Pangalos. "And you can reverse their memory to normal, like a young mouse."

Source - Telegraph

Why tomatoes with everything may put you in good heart

GIVEN the choice of basing your whole diet on a single food type, most people would not immediately reach for a tomato.
But this is exactly what one group of Scots are about to do in the name of science.

Researchers in Aberdeen want to find out exactly what role tomatoes play in improving heart health.
To do this, they are looking for 250 volunteers to take part in the four-month programme, in which one group will be asked to eat a high-tomato diet.

According to Dr Frank Thies, a senior lecturer in human nutrition, the minimum tomato intake would be equivalent to four bolognese-based dishes and two bowls of tomato soup a week, perhaps with some tomato sauce on the side.
But he said if they wanted to eat tomatoes at every meal, this would not be discouraged.
"Each meal is given points so we can see what level of consumption is most beneficial.
"If they want to have tomatoes in every meal, they can, but they must reach the minimum level."

Much research has linked eating tomato-based foods with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease - Britain's biggest killer.
The benefits are thought to be due partly to the high concentration of the bright red pigment lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
But trials of dietary change have yet to prove the link.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is funding the Aberdeen University study, in which a high-tomato diet group will be compared with those on a low-tomato diet - a fairly normal British diet - and a group on a low-tomato diet taking a lycopene supplement.

Source - Scotsman

Crohn's disease: 'I won't let this illness control me'

Clare Lewis endured years of drug treatment for Crohn's disease - but the agonising pains remained. Then she found the best cure lay in her own hands

Looking in the mirror, it was clear there was something very wrong. My face was gaunt and pale and my hair was brittle and my skin flaky. I had been losing weight steadily for the past year. By then I weighed just over seven stone and had lost my appetite completely. My stomach hurt all the time and all I wanted to do was sleep. As a 16-year-old girl, this change to my appearance was unbearable.

My ambition at the time was to become a dancer but I was soon too tired to keep up with the daily training and gradually I let my practice time slide, unable to do anything after a long day at school but curl up and go to sleep. And it was difficult to hear my friends whispering behind my back; discussing their own diagnosis of my anorexia. I wasn't starving myself. It just hurt too much when I tried to eat and meals were always followed by bouts of diarrhoea which was excruciatingly embarrassing if it happened in school. My friends were going out, meeting new people and having their first boyfriends but I was too exhausted, depressed and self-conscious to join them. At an age when I should have been enjoying life I just felt drained of energy and was in continual and unexplainable pain and discomfort.

Along with the suspicion of starving myself, my symptoms had been put down to growing pains and stress, but the effect on my appearance was more like those of drug addiction as my weight continued to plummet. It was not until I had a series of fainting fits at school that I was finally referred to a hospital for proper tests. I remember the consultant looked very serious when he gave me my diagnosis. The abdominal pain, the fever, the bleeding, the weight loss and exhaustion meant that I had Crohn's disease. I stopped listening.
"What is it?" I finally asked. I had never heard of it and was later to discover that few people at the time knew much about it. It was a disease more commonly diagnosed in older people, but there had been a gradual increase in the number of young people developing the illness.
"It's a chronic disease - that means it can't be cured; at least not today, but great strides are being made in drug research..."

I left the consultant's room with a few information leaflets in my hand. It's a strange thing to say but I remember feeling relief as I left the hospital. All these symptoms had a name; at last I knew what was happening to me.
My mum was waiting anxiously.
"So, what were the results?"
This was the first time I had to take ownership of this disease; it was part of me whether I wanted it or not. And the disease was incurable, it was mine forever.

Blackcurrants are the berry best fruit for you

It may not be as fashionable as its more exotic cousins but the humble blackcurrant is the healthiest fruit of all.
Research shows that the common or garden blackcurrant is more nutritious than other fruits, from home-grown apples and strawberries to tropical mangoes and bananas.
Blackcurrants also contain the highest levels of health-boosting antioxidants - natural compounds credited with the ability to stave off a range of illnesses from heart disease to cancer.

Researcher Dr Derek Stewart said his findings, which come amid a growing appetite for exotic berries, colourful juices and other superfoods, prove the British blackcurrant is the healthiest fruit of all.
Dr Stewart, who came to his conclusion after comparing the properties of 20 popular fruits, said: "The motivation for the research came from the huge publicity surrounding superfoods, coupled with lack of consumer knowledge.
"We wanted to find out which fruit came out on top.
"The combined beneficial composition and impact in health-related studies mean that blackcurrants can claim to be the number one superfruit."

Source - Daily Mail

Skin care products 'can actually damage skin'

Women absorb up to 2kg of the products they apply to their skin, many of which is harmful to their general health, claims an expert
Biochemist Richard Bence, founder of, also argues that the repeated use of a cocktail of chemicals can affect the skin.
He states that, unlike chemicals we consume, those which are absorbed through the skin enter the blood stream directly.
Mr Bence said: "We have become accustomed to believing the claims made by companies who manufacture conventional health and beauty products, assuming certain protection is in place that ensures these products will not harm.
"Over the last few years this has been brought into question more and more, evidenced by the move by many companies to drop ingredients such as parabens and SLS, which up until about 3-4 years ago were perceived as safe."
The key issues include:
• Commonly used ingredients such as methylparaben can actually cause skin to age;
• Ingredients in conventional products often interact with one another and as a result become far more harmful than any of the original ingredients;
• The number of artificial chemicals to which we are exposed daily has been linked to a rise in allergies;
• Concern has been raised about how we are chemically stressing our bodies and what the long term effects will be;
• The negative environmental effects of ingredients found in conventional products that are constantly washed down the drain;
• Many so-called "natural" and non-certified organic products are not covered by a governing body and the ingredients are often similar to conventional products

Can goats' blood help beat MS? My mother is walking proof it can

When her mother, Diana, began taking an unlicensed experimental drug made from goats' blood for multiple sclerosis, you might imagine Jackie Llewellyn-Bowen would have had a few nagging doubts.
But if she did, these were quickly allayed. 'Three weeks after she started taking it, I went to my parents' home. My mother was standing in the hallway,' says Jackie, wife of Laurence Llewellyn- Bowen.
'She beamed at me and said: "Look - no stick!" She wasn't using a frame, hobbling or grabbing at furniture to find her balance. She had gone back to the mobility she had the year before.'
All over the country, sufferers of MS and their families were hearing of Aimspro and clamouring for it. Some were able to get hold of it, although no one has ever established how many.

Yet, just three years later, its true value is being challenged by medical experts and charities, many of whom are unable to speak publicly because they are involved in complicated litigation with Daval International, the pharmaceutical company behind the drug.

Most significantly, the MS Society has just revealed it is concerned that users of Aimspro, a potential anti-inflammatory treatment, are spending their life savings and placing too much faith in a drug that is untried and not properly tested. As the drug has not been formally evaluated, it is impossible to judge whether it works.

Source - Daily Mail

Pureed baby food is 'unnatural'

Spoon-feeding babies pureed food is unnatural and unnecessary, a childcare expert has warned.
Gill Rapley, deputy director of Unicef's UK Baby Friendly Initiative said feeding babies in this way could cause health problems later in life.
She said children should be fed only with breast or formula milk for six months, then weaned onto solids to improve control over how much they ate.
This could prevent babies becoming picky about food.
Mrs Rapley has spent 25 years as a health visitor, and she said: "I found so many parents were coming to me with the same problems - 'my child is constipated, my child is really picky' - and they couldn't get them on to second stage baby food."

Source - BBC

Ginseng thought to reduce cancer fatigue

The Chinese herb ginseng could give exhausted cancer patients a physical and emotional boost, research suggests.

A US team at Rochester's Mayo Clinic found daily doses improved energy levels and emotional well-being, in a study of 282 patients.

They say that as studies show over half of cancer patients experience crippling fatigue, adding ginseng to cancer therapies is worth exploring.

Cancer experts urged caution until more work was carried out.

How a racy read can help you stay slim

She is not known for books on slimming. But if you want to lose weight, Jilly Cooper is apparently the author to turn to.
Scientists claim that simply reading a racy novel can help you fight the flab.
They have calculated that a few hours engrossed in a book can double your basal metabolic rate.
On average, we burn around one calorie per minute when sitting still, but reading encourages the production of adrenaline, causing BMR to rise to up to 1.75 calories per minute, say the researchers, commissioned by book store Borders.
Top of the fat-busting list is Jilly Cooper's novel, Polo. With more than 770 pages of sex and scandal it ensures that, if you read at a rate of 300 words a minute, you burn off more than 1,100 calories - the equivalent of a Big Mac meal - by the end.
The other works in the top ten are -

The DaVinci Code: Dan Brown (885 calories)
The Shining: Stephen King (745)
Runaway Jury: John Grisham (722)
Bravo Two Zero: Andy McNab (605)
The Day of the Jackal: Frederick Forsyth (604)
The Exorcist: William Peter Blatty (465)
Dirty Blonde Diaries: Courtney Love (444)
Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen (443)
And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie (327)

Source - Daily Mail

Harsh soaps blamed for allergies

Excessive washing with harsh soaps and abrasive skin care products is being blamed for a rise in allergic diseases such as eczema.
The "hygiene hypothesis" pins the rise on people being too clean, resulting in the immune system becoming too sensitive to infection.
But University College London's Institute of Child Health believe there could be a more direct cause.
They believe over-use of harsh products strips away a protective layer of skin.

This, they write in the journal Trends in Immunology, could make people more vulnerable to an allergic disease.
Rates of eczema and other allergic diseases are rising across the developed world.
Researcher Professor Robin Callard said many strong soaps, exfoliant beauty products and biological washing powders were all potent enough to strip away the skin's protective outer layer.
His research has shown that this protective layer is weakened in people with a rare genetic skin disease who develop eczema or other allergies.

Source - BBC

Cod liver oil 'treats depression'

It may make the stomach turn, but scientists in Norway suggest that taking a spoonful of cod liver oil each day could stave off depression.
In a study of almost 22,000 people aged over 40, those who regularly took the oil were less likely to suffer depression than those who did not.
The study in the Journal of Affective Disorders also suggested the longer one took it, the less depressed one became.
The oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which are linked to various benefits.
Children's brains are said to be boosted by Omega-3s, which have also been claimed to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and cancer, although some studies have cast doubt on this.

Source - BBC

Hands up who wants peanuts for tea?

Britain is undergoing an epidemic of food allergies in children, and no one knows why. But one doctor thinks he may have the answer

Gideon Lack peers into Jessie Martin's nostrils. 'I'm looking for my friend, the butterfly, who may have flown up your nose.' Entranced, she lifts up her head. Aged three, she is showing signs of a peanut allergy, and Lack needs to see if there are signs of other illnesses.
The paediatric allergy specialist can tell that the persistent colds that she's been suffering are, in fact, hay fever. As she is already thought to be asthmatic, it means her risk of a bad reaction to nuts is also high. Her mother only realised there was a problem on a recent holiday, when a friend gave Jessie a cashew nut. 'She started to be sick, and then spots appeared all over her face. She was gasping for breath, and it was bad, fairly scary.'

Britain is undergoing an epidemic of food allergies, and no one knows why. You can see it in the clinic in the Evelina Children's Hospital, which is part of St Thomas's in London, where patients who have waited for months, and in some cases for years, for a diagnosis finally reach one of the few specialists such as Professor Lack. This new unit opened just six months ago. Staff already have enough work for the rest of the year.
One in three of us will suffer some kind of allergy during our lifetime, but many food allergies begin in early childhood, typically between 18 to 24 months of age. They are particularly difficult to detect because often the symptoms are not specific: a bad cold, colic, tummy upset or a common skin rash. Nothing special will flag up the fact that your child has an allergy to egg, for example, but these are the signs - eczema, vomiting, irritability, tiredness.

Source - Guardian

What's good for the guru

Nothing from a tin, no preservatives: Ayurveda makes tough demands, but it's worth it.

I've become an India bore. I lugged home pashminas, swiftly made clothes and new yoga techniques, but most of all I brought back a new diet. I'm an Ayurvedic nut, just like Cameron Diaz, Madonna and Cindy Crawford.
I became a convert in its birthplace - the Ananda spa in the Himalayas. Ayurveda is India's most ancient holistic healing system, founded some 5,000 years ago. Its Sanskrit meaning is 'science of life' and it aims to maintain good health and avoid illness by treating body, mind and soul.

The basic premise is that what you eat affects you profoundly. It's a practical philosophy that can be adapted to wherever you live but is based on simple principles: food free of pesticides and additives and as freshly picked as possible; milk from cows that haven't received growth hormones (tricky, I get organic); nothing from a tin (also tricky) or containing preservatives.

Source - Guardian

Sun and sea diet: How the Med's healthy eating habits could add years to your life

More than half of UK holidaymakers say healthier food is now high on their list of holiday must-haves. Two-thirds admitted to putting on weight during their trip, with 5 per cent boarding the plane home up to a stone heavier. This is despite the fact that 60 per cent of over-40s hope to lose weight on their summer break.
But it is more than possible to lose weight on a European holiday - if you chose the right food.

Adopt the habits back home and you could significantly improve your health. Scientists have been studying the benefits of the Mediterranean diet since the 1950s, when research suggested that the diet and lifestyle of those living in countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece could be adding to their life expectancy. The traditional diet is based around starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, potatoes and bread; beans and pulses; fish; and fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, which grow plentifully in the warmer climates.

Generally, vegetables and fruits are low in energy and are good sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other bioactive microconstituents. Antioxidants are involved in DNA repair and cell maintenance and they specifically protect DNA and cell membranes against oxidative damage, including that induced by carcinogenic agents. It is therefore biologically plausible that diets rich in antioxidants protect against cancer, says the World Cancer Research Fund.

According to the charity's report, "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective" the fibres found in vegetables and fruits may also protect against cancer.
It is thought that diets high in vegetables and fruits protect against excessive weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancer. The WCRF states that eating a diet that is rich in plant-based foods, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of cancer by up to 40 per cent.
So, which foods should you look for on your next holiday and which foods should you avoid?

Source - Independent

Tooth whitening kits can be bad for your health

You may seek to dazzle with your grin . . . but whitening your teeth could be putting you at risk.
Experts have discovered that 18 out of 20 whitening kits tested contain illegal levels of bleach.
One product they looked at contained 230 times the legal level of hydrogen peroxide, the common active ingredient.
The chemical, which can be used to dye hair blonde, could cause serious burning to the mouth.
The findings were revealed by the Trading Standards Institute yesterday at its annual conference.
Manufacturers and suppliers of those kits which did not meet the legal limit of 0.1 per cent for hydrogen peroxide, are being advised to withdraw them for sale and could face prosecution.
However, the unsafe brands have not been named.
Chief executive Ron Gainsford said: "Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical well known in the hairdressing industry, but it is also used in teeth whitening products to bleach teeth.
"Many people these days aspire to having the perfect Hollywood smile and some stars have paid a lot of money to achieve this through cosmetic dental treatment.
"There are much cheaper kits on sale for home use, for instance, some of those tested by Trading Standards cost as little as £14.
"But this could end up burning more than a hole in your pocket.
"We strongly recommend that anyone considering having their teeth whitened cosmetically should consult a qualified dentist."
In the last five years, the desire for cosmetic dentistry has increased.
But as well as causing chemical burns to the mouth, high levels of the bleach can aggravate gum disease and cause sensitive teeth.

Source - Daily Mail

Supercure or snake oil - what's the truth about echinacea?

At the first sign of flu or a cold, many people reach for echinacea. For years this humble purple flower has been the remedy of choice for those seeking an alternative to over-the-counter drugs.
Herbalists routinely recommend it as an immune booster, and even the World Health Organisation acknowledges it as a treatment for the common cold.
So popular is echinacea that UK sales are now worth around £30 million a year. During last winter's cold season, Boots reportedly sold 7,000 packets of echinacea a week - or one packet a minute. Many doctors, however, are extremely sceptical about its benefits. And the confusing message from research has only confirmed their view. For while some studies suggest echinacea could reduce the risk of catching colds, others show that, at best, it has no effect and, at worst, actually makes you more ill.

Indeed, in 2002 a study of 150 students found that those given echinacea suffered from cold symptoms for half a day found that those given echinacea suffered from cold symptoms for half a day longer than those not given it.
Now, adding to the confusion is the report yesterday in the highlyrespected medical journal The Lancet which suggested that echinacea cuts the chance of catching a cold by half.

Source - Daily Mail

'This wacky therapy could work'

After years of struggling with two disabled sons, Henrietta Spink has placed her hope in a new treatment, says Cassandra Jardine
Henrietta Spink found a note from her 15-year-old son's teacher in his home/school book last Wednesday. "Freddie's walking seems to be improving hugely," it said. "We walked to the leisure centre and he's been very sprightly on his pins!'' The surprised tone of the note delighted Henrietta because she and her husband, Michael, have deliberately not told their sons' school that they've been trying a new therapy - repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) - to alleviate some of both boys' disabilities.
Over the 19 years since her elder son, Henry, was born -looking perfect, but strangely floppy and unfocused -Henrietta has been engaged in a ceaseless struggle to solve the medical puzzle presented by his brain. On scans, it appears normal, yet he is unable to walk or talk.
Freddie was born missing half his diaphragm and with his organs in the wrong places. His parents assumed that he would develop normally, once those defects were fixed, but he was slow to walk and talk, and displayed compulsive behaviours that led to a diagnosis of autism.
Caring for two such severely disabled boys has been a nightmarish struggle, as their mother described in her best-selling book, Henrietta's Dream. Henry needs to be watched constantly because he can have 20 fits a day. He has to be carried everywhere and needs two adults to feed him: one to hold the spoon, the other to stop him making an uncontrolled gesture that will throw the bowl across the room.
Freddie can be wildly destructive, trashing his room at night and constantly waking his parents. He also projectile vomits, due to a constriction in his throat that has required numerous operations.
"I've always had this vision, with Henry, that one day we will find the key that unlocks him," Henrietta says. That drive led her to investigate endless therapies, and to become so distressed with the money and emotion wasted on some of them that, more than a decade ago, she set up the Henry Spink Foundation, a charity that gives parents information on a range of therapies.
She knows how easy it is for hope to overrule reason, so when her boys tried rTMS she wanted objective evidence on its benefits. That is why the note from the teacher, who didn't know they were trying something new, was a real boost.

"rTMS sounds and looks wacky," she admits. A device like a plastic doughnut is placed on the head and a rapidly alternating current is sent through the coil, producing a magnetic field that passes unimpeded through the brain. This "repolarises" cells: depending on the frequency, it can slow down or speed up brainwaves.
Studies have shown that the treatment can help adults with a range of disorders from depression to schizophrenia, migraine to epilepsy. In Canada and Israel it is approved for therapeutic use - but it hasn't been used on teenagers with autism or developmental delays. Working with scientists in Britain and America, the Spink boys are guinea pigs in an experiment that could have a far-reaching impact.

A diet to ease the trauma of epilepsy

Jardine how their tragedy grew into a charity helping some of the UK's 59,000 epileptic children
Daisy Garland was 18 months old when her mother, Sara, started her on a strange new diet.

The first meal consisted of mackerel in olive oil, a little kiwi fruit and goat's cream mixed with water and vegetable oil. " 'This is awful,' I thought as I gave it to her," says Sara.
Three times a day, Daisy ate meals that would make even Atkins dieters feel queasy: omelettes with extra mayonnaise, lots of salmon and avocado, fatty frankfurters, cream, butter and olive oil galore, but very little carbohydrate and protein.
The diet was so precise that even her toothpaste and sunscreen were sugar-free.
"It was half scary, half exciting," says Sara, 43, who remembers vividly those early days when she would spend six hours calculating menus and weighing everything to the nearest gram.

It was worth it. Within a week of starting the diet, she and her husband David noticed a change in Daisy, who suffered from epilepsy: "It felt like a veil was lifting. Previously she had had as many as 100 seizures, day and night, but her fits became fewer, shorter and less violent."
The seizures had begun in October 1998 when Daisy was five months old, a couple of days after her second polio, diptheria and tetanus vaccination.
Indeed a study published last year in Australia on vaccine links to Daisy's form of epilepsy - severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy - has found an underlying genetic cause, with the first seizure possibly triggered by the rise in temperature following vaccination.
Most of Daisy's seizures involved jerky movements, but she had many sorts: screaming seizures, tongue-biting incidents and others where she would stare into space.
"They would come out of the blue - just when you were ready to go out," her mother remembers.
"You never knew what state she would be in afterwards. Sometimes she was fine, but after longer ones - her longest was six and a half hours - she had headaches and had to rest. Epilepsy was stealing her childhood; it left her little time to play or learn, and each seizure may have inflicted some brain damage."
Penny Fallon, consultant paediatric neurologist at St George's Hospital, South London, tried various anti-convulsant medications and a steroid on Daisy.
The drugs only made her worse. "She was like a little zombie: drowsy and with little appetite. She also became aggressive and would stare into space and dribble," says Sara.

It was then she decided to try the ketonic diet she had heard about.

Source - Telegraph

Taking the country cure

Why do rural children have fewer allergies than townies? The answer lies in the cowshed.

The mystery of why farm children have far fewer allergies may have been solved. For years scientists have speculated that something in the rural environment protects against allergies such as hay fever, asthma and eczema, with some research showing the risk is half that of someone living in a city. But exactly what is responsible for such an effect has not been tracked down.
Now scientists have discovered that the answer lies in the cowshed and, in particular, in two strains of bacteria, Acinetobacter lwoffiiand Lactococcus lactis. When they made the bacteria into nose drops and gave them to laboratory animals, they were immediately protected from allergies. Now the aim is to develop a human version of the drops, which could be the first preventive treatment for the growing problem of allergies. “This is the first research to suggest that the use of cowshed bacteria can protect against allergy,” says Professor Otto Holst, one of the international team who made the breakthrough, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
There has been an increase in allergies, asthma, hay fever and some forms of eczema in the past two to three decades. It has been estimated that 5.1 million people – one adult in 13 and one child in eight – are being treated for asthma and that 18 million people may develop an allergy at some point in their lives. Allergic reactions are caused by the immune system becoming hyper-sensitive to everyday things such as pollen, dust and to certain foods.
A number of theories have been put forward to explain the rise: for example, a health immune system needs to be exposed in early life to bacteria, infections and other potential problems. If this doesn’t happen, later exposure may result in allergies, especially where there is genetic predisposition. In effect, exposure to bacteria and infections helps to calibrate naive immune systems. The new research comes in the wake of more than 20 studies all of which have indicated that children brought up on farms have low levels of allergy, hay fever and asthma. But while they established a link, they did not track down what was responsible.

Source - Times

The truth about HRT

Survey after survey has linked hormone replacement therapy to cancer, strokes, blood clots and heart disease. Why, then, are so many women so relaxed about using it? And why do some doctors insist that the dangers are exaggerated? Sarah Boseley investigates

It was the mid-60s and sex had emerged into the daylight. Young women had the pill and those who felt so inclined shortened their skirts and slept around. But why should they have all the fun? The hormone industry was about to deliver for their mothers, too - or perhaps one should say for their fathers.
In 1966, one of those epoch-changing books was launched on a generation of women around the age of 50. It told them that they did not have to lose out on the hormonal revolution. In fact, it implied it was their duty not to lose out. Forever Feminine, by Dr Robert Wilson, a gynaecologist in Manhattan, told them that the menopause was a disease that could be treated. They could stay well, beautiful and sexually active - they could, in fact, continue to please their husbands - if they took hormone therapy. They must simply replace the oestrogen their bodies had stopped producing.

It was the beginning of a myth that has resolutely refused to die - that HRT will undo the ageing process. Over most of the past four decades, women have been prescribed HRT for all sorts of reasons, not just to stop menopausal hot flushes and night sweats and strengthen their bones, but to improve their sex life, their hair, their skin and their morale. For a long time it was almost a case of, well, why not?
Wilson's book was funded by Wyeth, one of the biggest manufacturers of HRT. But that fact did not emerge until 2002, when his son admitted it to the New York Times just the day after a major trial - astonishingly, the first randomised controlled trial on the effect of HRT on women - was stopped three years early. The trial, known as the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), was set up after repeated calls from women's health activists to find out whether, as drug companies and doctors believed, HRT prevented heart disease. Shockingly, it found the opposite to be true. By far the most common form of treatment, which combines oestrogen and progestin, actually increases the risk of heart attacks, blood clots and strokes. The investigators pulled the plug when they found that women taking it also had a greater chance of invasive breast cancer. The WHI is one of the two biggest and most important studies ever carried out on the effects of HRT. The other is the Million Women Study in the UK, which has published a series of papers on breast cancer and other risks with HRT. The latest bad news from this hugely respectable study, published in the Lancet in April, is that HRT must have caused 1,000 deaths from ovarian cancer between 1991 and 2005.

Source - Guardian

Always read the label ...

Food additives have once again been linked to hyperactivity in children, and a new study says they could damage cell DNA. So which of the E-numbers are causing the most concern.

You would think we'd all be pretty well versed in the dangers of food additives by now. The British Nutrition Foundation, however, says most of us lack a "sufficient understanding", and last month called for better education. This campaign could not be more timely - Professor Peter Piper from Sheffield University has just issued a stark warning that certain compounds found in fizzy drinks could damage cell DNA, while a study into additives and their effect on children's behaviour is currently being conducted by the University of Southampton on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It will be published in a few months, but a leaked report revealed certain colourings and additives could increase hyperactivity.

The leak coincided with a promise from Britain's major supermarkets to ban potentially dangerous additives from the majority of their own-brand products: Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Tesco will be additive-free by the end of the year.
A spokesperson for the FSA says, "All additives approved for use in this country undergo stringent tests and are safe for use. The health dangers are either non-existent or controlled by the safe levels within the food." But some experts fear that although additives may have been approved on an individual basis, we still don't know what their combined effect on the body may be. Professor Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist and professor of bioimaging at the University of Ulster, who has conducted research into the "cocktail" effects of food additives, says, "These chemicals are tested one at a time and declared safe one at a time, but we are exposed to a mixture of chemicals. Their combined effect could be more than simply adding two or three separate chemicals."
Both the FSA and experts raising awareness of additives agree that if you want to live an additive-free life, the easiest option is to eat food that is freshly prepared. But if you do buy processed food, it can't hurt to know exactly you are feeding your body.

Source - Guardian

Are you allergic to Teflon?

A chemical found in Teflon non-stick coatings could raise the risk of allergies, researchers have said.
The scientists claim the product may prime the immune system to overreact to allergy triggers, or allergens, such as dust mites or animal hair.
Lab mice given the chemical - perfluoro-octanoic acid - before being exposed to an allergen suffered more trouble breathing than those exposed to the allergen alone.
The results suggest a possible explanation for the rising incidence of childhood asthma.
The acid is also used to make all weather clothing and stain-resistant fabrics and carpets.
The researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in West Virginia examined the immune responses of mice subjected to an allergen. They found that those exposed to the acid first were more likely to have a reaction.
The doses of the chemical given to the mice were considerably higher, however, than the levels humans are likely to be exposed to.

Perfluoro-octanoic acid has become so widespread over the years that almost everyone has it in their body, including newborns.
Although the concentrations in human blood are relatively low there are fears about the potential health effects. The acid can contribute to thyroid problems, immune changes and testicular, liver and pancreatic cancer in laboratory animals.

Source - Daily Mail

HRT 'could cut the risk of heart disease'

Hormone replacement therapy could help women to beat heart disease, a controversial study has revealed.
Women using one type of HRT were shown to have healthier arteries than those using other forms of the drug or receiving no treatment.
Doctors say the findings show that millions of women may have been scared into abandoning the therapy unnecessarily.
The study, by the Women's Health Initiative and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 1,064 women aged between 50 and 59, taking either Premarin - an oestrogen-only HRT normally reserved for those who have had hysterectomies - or a placebo pill, over seven years.
A year after treatment had ended, each woman was given a CT scan to measure the levels of calcium plaque in their arteries.
Researchers found the HRT group was 30 to 40 per cent less likely to have coronary artery calcium than the placebo group.
Calcium in the arteries is considered an early warning sign of blocked blood vessels and heart disease.
The study also found that younger post-menopausal women using oestrogen-only HRT built up significantly less calcium deposit in their arteries than those of the same age not receiving treatment.

Source - Daily Mail

Rose-hip 'remedy' for arthritis

Rose-hips could offer a cheap and effective way of treating debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, research from Germany and Denmark has suggested.

Seventy-four sufferers, mostly females, took part in the six-month trial. Just under half took the rose-hip remedy LitoZin while the others took a placebo. Both groups continued to take their usual medication.

Activity among the first group improved by 20-25%, according to results presented at the annual Eular meeting. The number of joints causing pain or discomfort fell by 40%, but did not change for those treated with the dummy.

Coffee 'could prevent eye tremor'

Drinking coffee protects against an eyelid spasm that can lead to blindness, a study suggests.

Italian researchers looked at the coffee drinking and smoking habits of 166 people with blepharospasm. Sufferers have uncontrollable twitching of the eyelid which, in extreme cases, stops them being able to see.

One or two cups of coffee a day seemed to reduce the risk of the condition, the team reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

On a wild food foraging course, Fiona Sims grasps the nettle and discovers a healthy larder in the hedgerow

got some very strange looks as I munched on a clump of weeds growing by the side of the road. I was on a wild food course, run by Marcus Harrison, a forager and writer, from his home near by.

Did you know that there are about 160 wild plants growing in the British Isles that we can eat? OK, many of these plants, like the greater plantain, which grows in Harrison’s large back garden, are strictly for survival – fiddly to prepare and only vaguely palatable after hours wandering ravenous in the wilderness.But Harrison grows 60 wild plants in his garden – usually only 40 at any one time, depending on the seasons – much to the amusement of his neighbours, who can’t understand why he is lovingly tending what looks like a garden full of weeds.

Move over, spinach, I’m going to be scoffing the wonderfully named Good King Henry from now on, with its spinach-like leaves, it crops all year round. Harrison likes his splashed with a few drops of oyster sauce. Then there is the pale green lovage. My granny used to put a few leaves in her potato soup. “It’s got a fabulous celery flavour, hasn’t it?” Harrison says.
And the great thing is that we can keep fit while we’re looking for the wild food – scrabbling around hedgerows and fields, striding up and down country lanes. But, despite the fresh air and exercise – these wild food tours incorporate country walks that last between one and eight hours, depending on fitness and enthusiasm – there is a down-side to wild food foraging. You need to know what you’re doing. For starters, not all parts of the plant are edible, and some are toxic for one person and not for another.

“You need to try it first, nibble on a little bit of it before spitting it out – if there’s no tingling, nausea or headache, then you’re OK,” says Harrison. And if in any doubt at all, leave it well alone. He showed me four leaves that looked similar at first glance but one was a foxglove (toxic), and another was comfrey (edible).
“Don’t worry, most of the things growing in my garden are benign,” he says, reassuringly. I chow down on a miniature lily pad-like leaf called a pennywort, which is nice and juicy but not bursting with flavour. I prefer bladder campion with pale and pointy leaves, it tastes like freshly picked peas and I can see it working well in salad.

The plan is to pick some wild garlic and nettles to go in a quiche made with acorn flour for lunch. Yup, acorns aren’t just for pigs, we can eat them too, apparently. Though getting them into an edible form takes some doing. First, you take your acorn, then you remove the shell. The next stage is to remove the tannin content; a lengthy process involving repeated soaking, then steeping and boiling until you get a mush. You can freeze the mush for later use, or dry it at a low temperature in your oven and store it in an airtight jar. Harrison uses it mostly for making pastry and bread. The pastry he’s making for lunch today uses 4oz of acorn mush (not too damp), 2oz of plain flour and 3oz of butter.

Nettles must be the most ubiquitous of wild foods, growing on every verge, path and field, and packed with vitamins A and C. Not that I’ve ever picked any myself, I don’t want to get stung. Maybe there’s a method to it?
“Er, no, just wear some gloves,” laughs Harrison. “And go for the young leaves – the greener bit at the top of the plant, or new plants just a few inches off the ground.”

Source - Times