Helena Bonham Carter: 'I would have tried anything, even IVF'

Pregnancy at 41 certainly agrees with Helena Bonham Carter. Seven months into carrying her second child, vibrant and beaming, she is licking big globules of Marmite – her latest craving – off her fingers.

She knows she is lucky. Not because of her successful acting career maintained over 25 years but because, after trying for two long years, she finally managed to conceive naturally.

Bonham Carter already has one son, Billy Ray, four, with her partner, the cult film director Tim Burton, best known for the Gothic Edward Scissorhands and two of the Batman films. But she was desperate to have a second child and, while more women are becoming mothers over the age of 40 – there has been a 50 per cent increase in the past 10 years – she was well aware that only 7.8 per cent of women over the age of 42 are able to conceive with their own eggs.

So, like many women in her position, the actress, whose career has moved from playing Merchant Ivory heroines to the evil Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies, was open to considering all options.

And while Bonham Carter is renowned for her interest in alternative therapies, after trying and failing to get pregnant she decided to try conventional fertility medicine. The experience was not a happy one.

Source - Telegraph

Comics prove laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to mental illness

JOKING about mental illness may not seem the most obvious way of breaking down taboos and tackling discrimination.

But that is exactly what a group of comedians are hoping to achieve as Scotland battles to reduce the stigma around a problem which affects a quarter of the population. Yesterday saw the launch of Scotland's first Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.

As well as films, debates and exhibitions, comedians are using humour to address what is still a very sensitive issue despite being such a massive problem. It is hoped that by doing so they can bring in a new audience and help to change attitudes to mental illness.

While humour is now being used to address mental illness, many top comedians have suffered their own very personal experiences of the problem.

Entertainers including Stephen Fry and the late Spike Milligan have suffered depression while maintaining high-profile careers.

Yesterday Raymond Mearns, one of the comedians taking part in the festival, said he thought comedy would make people listen to a subject they would otherwise ignore.

"It helps to add a wee bit of sugar to the medicine," he said. "If you ask someone to listen to a talk about depression, they will just say, 'That is too boring'.

"But if there is a bit of humour, a bit of comedy, people will be more willing to sit up and take notice. I think using comedy is a fantastic idea and I really believe in this project."

Source - Scotsman

Health foods 'don't protect against sight loss'

A DIET rich in foods containing antioxidants does not protect against the UK's leading cause of sight loss, experts believe.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) relates to the progressive breakdown of light- sensitive cells in the centre of the retina in the eye. Sufferers can find it virtually impossible to read, drive or carry out tasks requiring sharp, central vision.

AMD is most common among the elderly and smokers are thought to be more at risk. A review of research published online today in the British Medical Journal found no evidence that a healthy diet staves off AMD.

Source - Scotsman

Sit down, switch off, zone out: the ultimate stress buster

Just a few minutes' daily meditation can make all the difference between an anxious existence and a life of quiet contentment.

Pop stars know it, movie stars, too – and so do saffron-robed monks. While stress may be the great scourge of the modern age, man has long known the secret of how to beat it. Confirmation came this week in the pages of the august journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – a scholarly tome a cosmic lifecycle away from the internet twitterings of the New Age.

Research from the University of Oregon claims to prove that attaining a state of "restful alertness" for 20 minutes a day over a period of just five days can physically reduce anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The millions of people worldwide who practise meditation in its myriad forms may well allow themselves a wry smile at receiving the empirical blandishments of modern science. For theirs is a tradition that dates back nearly 3,000 years.

Not that anyone is certain exactly when it emerged, although most agree that the first meditators could be found sitting cross-legged among the Hindu tribes of the Indus valley shortly after Egyptian slaves had put the finishing touches to the Pyramids.

Source - Independent

Mothers' smoking is to blame for up to 90% of cot deaths

Nine out of ten cot death victims had mothers who smoked during pregnancy, a major study has revealed.

The scientists who carried out the research warn that mothers to be who smoke are four times more likely to see their child die from cot death than non-smokers.

The report, from Bristol University's institute of child life and health, calls on the Government to ban expectant women from buying tobacco.

Its authors say smoking in the presence of pregnant women and infants should be seen as being 'anti-social, potentially dangerous and unacceptable'. Ministers are considering whether to rewrite their advice for mothers-to-be on smoking.

Authors Peter Fleming and Dr Peter Blair based their analysis on the evidence from 21 international studies on smoking and sudden infant death syndrome.

Dr Blair said: 'If smoking is a cause of SIDS, as the evidence suggests it is, we think that if all parents stopped smoking tomorrow more than 60 per cent of SIDS deaths would be prevented.'
Around 300 babies a year die of cot death in Britain, usually between the ages of one and four months.

The report, to be published later this week, calls on the Government 'to emphasise the adverse effects of tobacco smoke exposure to infants and among pregnant women'.

It found that many women are still ignoring the risks of smoking when they were carrying a child.

'A gym 'prescription' got me mobile'

As a former PE teacher, sport was Cherry Protheroe's life.

If she was not teaching it, she was taking part, training every spare minute and very fit and active.

But a bout of psoriasis as a teenager led her to develop psoriatic arthropathy at the age of 28 - this causes pain and swelling in joints and tissue, accompanied by associated stiffness, particularly in the morning.

Doctors told Cherry, now 60 from North Bedfordshire, that she had to give up sport or face life in a wheelchair.

Special treatment
So for nearly 30 years Cherry, who later also developed severe osteoarthritis, did no sport.
Her health deteriorated and four years ago she was forced to take early retirement from her post as deputy head of a large comprehensive school. Then her doctor wrote her a very special prescription - for exercise.

On her GP's advice she joined a local gym and started using the treadmill, cross trainer, rower and bikes.

"And I started to feel much better. I have got more mobility back," she said.

"Before it was so bad I could do very little. At one stage I had to walk with a stick.
"I would not have gone to the gym had it not been for the doctor, because I had been told that exercise was wrong for me. But it was really the intensity of the exercise I was doing that was the problem.

The power of positive thinking might help, but it won’t beat cancer

People who are told that they have cancer are often advised to stay positive. But doing so does nothing to help you to survive the disease, according to a study.

The self-help guru Louise Hay extolled the virtues of positive thinking in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, which has sold 35 million copies worldwide over the past 20 years. Some small studies have suggested a benefit.

But the latest study, published in the journal Cancer, provides strong evidence that while it may be good advice to remain as upbeat as possible, the cancer doesn't take any notice.

James Coyne, of the University of Pennsylvania, said that previous studies used patients with many different diseases, small sample sizes and an inadequate number of deaths to be conclusive.Instead, he used data from two studies of patients with head and neck cancer to examine whether emotional wellbeing at the time the study started had any effect on survival.

His sample consisted of 1,093 patients who completed a quality-of-life questionnaire during treatment.

This included an emotional wellbeing (EWB) scale, which was calculated by asking participants how closely various statements such as "I feel sad" and "I am losing hope in my fight against my illness" reflected their own personal feelings.

The higher the score on the EWB scale, the more emotional wellbeing and the less depression.

Over the course of the study, 646 of the patients died. The analysis showed that emotional status was not linked to survival.

Source - Daily Mail

Standing on your head really DOES help you think

The idea that standing on your head helps you think may be more than just a myth.

Scientists believe blood flowing through the brain may affect the way nerves transmit signals to other parts of the body.

If the theory is true, it could be used to treat brain diseases including Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine and yoga have long taught that standing on your head can boost memory and sharpen alertness.

It was already known that blood transports oxygen and fuel to brain cells.

But scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the U.S., argue that blood may actually influence nerve function and help to regulate information passing through the brain.

Other studies have shown that changes in blood flow affect the activity of nearby neurons, altering how they transmit signals to each other. The theory is borne out by brain scan studies of the sensory homunculus — the brain's detailed map of body parts such as fingers, toes, arms and legs.

When more blood flows to an area of the brain corresponding to the fingertip, for example, people appear to feel a light tap on their finger.

Dr Christopher Moore, from MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, said: "Many lines of evidence suggest that blood does something more interesting than just delivering supplies. If it does modulate how neurons relay signals, that changes how we think the brain works."

Source - Daily Mail

Revealed: Resisting chocolate just makes you want more, say psychologists

For those keen to lose weight, cutting out chocolate would seem to be common sense.

But banishing all thoughts of chocolate could actually end up making you fatter.

Psychologists have discovered that those who try to stop thinking about chocolate eat nearly 50 per cent more than than those who have a more liberal approach to their craving. They say it could explain why some women are prone to "yo-yo" dieting or go on to develop binge-eating disorders.

Psychologist James Erskine, of the University of Hertfordshire, who led the independent research, said: "The act of avoidance seems to completely backfire. We found that if you try not to think about eating chocolate, it tends to lead you to eat more. In other words, thinking about chocolate is not dangerous – but trying not to think about it is."

Dr Erskine, who calls the phenomenon a "behavioural rebound", claims his findings could help those struggling to give up unhealthy foods and even smoking.

The study, called "Resistance Can Be Futile", and published in the scientific journal Appetite, looked at 134 undergraduates.

Source - Daily Mail

Chilli compound fires painkiller

A chemical from chilli peppers may be able to kill pain without affecting touch or movement.

This might in theory mean a woman in labour could have an epidural without losing the ability to move her legs, or the sensation of her baby being born. Conventional local anaesthetics affect all nerve cells.

But the researchers Harvard team, writing in Nature, said that with capsaicin, the chilli chemical, they can target just pain receptors.

However, a UK expert said it might be difficult to inject it safely.

Numbness is actually a side-effect of the pain-killing properties of local anaesthetics - caused when the drug blocks signals not only from the nerve endings which cause pain, but other nerve endings which simply detect the sensation of touch.

And when anaesthetic "blocks", are injected into the spine, they can interfere with other nerves, causing temporary paralysis - such as that felt in the lower limbs after an epidural injection.

Source - BBC

Sleepwalking: a nation in meltdown

Hotel receptions are apparently thronged with nude sleepwalkers, while an epidemic of insomnia grips the country.

Somnambulists are on the move. Last week, Travelodge hotels revealed that staff dealt with more than 400 cases of sleepwalking last year, a seven-fold increase.According to the chain's "director of sleep", Leigh McCarron, such guests mostly turned up at reception in the middle of the night, trying to check out or looking for a newspaper. Almost all were male. Many were naked.

"We have seen an increased number of sleepwalkers over the years," says McCarron, "so it is important that our staff know how to help them when the problem arises." For starters, receptionists now keep a handy supply of towels to protect the dignity of their guests.

Solving the problem of sleepwalking is not so simple, though. What most somnambulists are crying out for is a restful night's sleep – just like the many others who suffer from different types of disturbed sleep, including leg-twitchers, insomniacs and even snorers.

The frustration suffered by the sleep-deprived was neatly summed up by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman recently, when it was reported that he had suffered from insomnia for more than 25 years.

Source - Telegraph

Old cures for new ills

[ The article covers hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage and homeopathy. ]

Trace the chequered history of some of our favourite alternative health remedies


Hypnotherapy was invented by a Viennese doctor called Franz Anton Mesmer. He took his trance-inducing technique, which became known as mesmerism, to Paris in 1778 and set up shop claiming that he could employ it to cure people of a variety of ailments.
Dr Mesmer believed in an invisible fluid that floated around the body, a force a bit like magnetism, which had recently been discovered. One of his techniques involved asking clients (usually rich women) to grasp the metal handles of tubs full of water and iron-filings, which he said helped to channel this “mesmeric fluid”.
It wasn’t his medical claims that irritated the intellectual elite of France, but his reputed mental power over women. In those days, a male doctor was not allowed to examine an undressed female patient and the idea that Dr Mesmer could put his female patients into a suggestible trance was intolerable and he was eventually hounded from Paris in 1785.
However, by this time, word of mesmerism had spread to the rest of the world. The English physician James Esdaile was reported to have used it in India to remove a huge 47kg (103lb) tumour from a patient (who weighed only 52kg) without the need for anaesthetic.
Nevertheless, the medical establishment wasn’t convinced, and the technique had been tarnished by scandal. Several rich women brought legal cases against men, claiming that they had used mesmerism to seduce them or to hoodwink them into marriage.
Perhaps to escape its salacious reputation, mesmerism split into two types in the late 1800s. Some doctors believed that the trance-inducing technique was useful and renamed it hypnotherapy. The practice of mesmerism still continued but in a more light-hearted way as a popular after-dinner party trick. Entertainers put on shows in which members of the public would be mesmerised in front of an audience.
Both hypnotherapy and mesmerism survived into the 20th century, but dwindled in popularity. However, hypnotherapy enjoyed a resurgence in the 1950s when fresh research was conducted into its medical potential for treating anxieties and phobias. And it became increasingly popular in the 1960s, as people began to turn away from conventional medicine and look for alternative therapies.
Today there are more than 7,000 registered hypnotherapy practitioners, including some doctors and dentists. Practitioners have found hypnotherapy particularly useful for treating addictions, such as smoking.

Beware the calorific trap under the ‘healthy’ label

Packages featuring pictures of sunkissed oats and fresh papaya are not what they seem.

Nobody expects to pick up a Nigella Lawson book and find mung beans and lentil salad recipes. Equally, it is a pretty safe bet that Marco Pierre White would be more likely to serve pig’s trotters than Quorn burgers were you to be invited for dinner.

Celebrity chefs tend to corner markets: indulgent, classic haute cuisine, fish, rustic and so on. So I was not surprised to see a Jamie Oliver recipe in a magazine for homemade granola with berry compote. It was described as a healthy pud that was quick, easy and delicious.

With nuts and seeds, dried fruits, honey, oats and yoghurt on the list of ingredients, it appeared to live up to its healthy image. Yet an uneasy feeling told me that I might be better off with sticky toffee pudding. Indeed, when I analysed the recipe it had 912 calories and 33g of fat per serving. You could have sticky toffee pudding and a piece of cheesecake instead and still be 162 calories better off.

It is not that Jamie had the ingredients wrong. He had just used a lot of them and, maybe, had not appreciated that too many nuts, seeds and dried fruit, combined with more than a jar of honey and a family-sized pot of yoghurt, can turn a “good for you” idea into a calorific minefield.

It is an easy mistake for a chef to make, but one that makers of peach and apricot cereal bars, crunchy tropical breakfast cereals and lemon sunrise muffins play on ruthlessly to lure us into the hidden calorie trap.

Take a typical flapjack. Most of the ones you buy at railway stations, garage forecourts and paper shops weigh about 100g. As they are packed with oats, usually with a few raisins thrown in and a picture of the sun rising over a golden crop on the packet, you could be forgiven for thinking you were making a virtuous choice.

Source - Times

Diet fights cancer

The risk of cancer can be cut by as much as 40% by taking more exercise and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, according to a study.

The World Cancer Research Fund report, to be published this week, will urge Britons to change their lifestyles and will warn that obesity must be tackled if cancer rates are to be reduced significantly.

The study, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer, ( I think this is the link - it was really difficult to find! If not I apologize. ) analysed more than 7,000 studies. It is expected to highlight research showing that regular exercise can cut the risk of some cancers, including those of the colon and breast, by up to 40% and that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help, too.

Specialists say that many people are not aware of how small changes in their lifestyle can help to beat cancer.

Source - Times

We can't work it out

We all know exercise helps you lose weight. But does it? There is almost no scientific evidence to support the orthodoxy. Indeed, it could even do the exact opposite...

Let us begin with a short quiz: a few questions to ponder during the 30 (or 60 or 90) minutes a day you spend burning off excess calories at the gym, or perhaps while feeling guilty because you're not so engaged. If lean people are more physically active than fat people - one fact in the often-murky science of weight control that's been established beyond reasonable doubt - does that mean that working out will make a fat person lean? Does it mean that sitting around will make a lean person fat? How about a mathematical variation on these questions?

Let's say we go to the gym and burn off 3,500 calories every week - that's 700 calories a session, five times a week. Since a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories, does that mean we'll be a pound slimmer for every week we exercise? And will we continue to slim down at this pace for as long as we continue to exercise?

For most of us, fear of flab is the reason we exercise, the motivation that drives us to the gym. It's also why public-health authorities have taken to encouraging ever more exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. If we're fat or fatter than ideal, we work out. Burn calories. Expend energy. Still fat? Burn more. The dietary guidelines of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, now recommend we engage in up to 60 minutes daily of 'moderate to vigorous intensity' physical activity just to maintain weight - that is, keep us from fattening further.

Considering the ubiquity of the message, the hold it has on our lives, and the elegant simplicity of the notion - burn calories, lose weight - wouldn't it be nice to believe it were true? The catch is that science suggests it's not, and so the answer to all of the above quiz questions is 'no'.

Source - Guardian

i4 + (x X t3) + (y X i1) - a1 - t4 + t2 - i3 + (2 X (p+p2)) + L1 = cold cure

If there's anything worse than having a cold, it's being kept up all night by a cold. But salvation is at hand. All you have to do is: i4 + (x X t3) + (y X i1) - a1 - t4 + t2 – i3 + (2 X (p+p2)) + L1.

This, er, simple formula is the brainchild of Dr Chris Idzikowski, the director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre. It is based on a survey of 2,000 people and combines four groups of factors that influence getting to sleep when you're sick: temperature, position, light and the food and drink you've taken.

Taking a hot bath (t2 in the formula) before bed opens capillaries in the skin, so that the body can shed heat after you get out of the tub. And opening a window (y) for fresh air makes breathing easier. Watching the telly (a1) is a distraction to be avoided.

Late-night channel surfing is just one of the things people should avoid when they prepare for bed with a stuffy nose and a throbbing head, said Dr Idzikowski. Bed socks (t4) and hot water bottles actually make it harder to sleep, he added. "The brain wants to lower the body temperature for sleep. You don't want to catch a chill but you shouldn't be too warm."

Another mistake sick people make is to take a sedative, which depresses breathing. Patent medicines (i4), particularly those containing paracetemol, can reduce symptoms such as headaches, but decongestants make it harder for the body to fight the virus.

More controversial is the role of alcohol. Dr Idzikowski suggested a hot toddy (i1) before bed will help to relax the sufferer, but not more than two units (x).

The final surprise is that the bug itself helps to make people sleep. Virus fragments are similar to sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain, said Dr Idzikowski.

Source - Independent

Headache pills increase chance of car crash, says study

Next time you take a headache tablet, take care on the roads. New research reveals that taking everyday drugs such as ibuprofen can increase the chances of a car crash by 50 per cent.

Other pills are even worse. Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health matched prescription drug use with road accidents among about three million people. They looked at seven groups of commonly prescribed drugs including natural opium alkaloids such as codeine and morphine, benzodiazepine tranquillisers, anti-asthmatic drugs and penicillin.

During the research period, 79 per cent of the men and women had drugs on prescription.

Among those involved in an accident as driver, 82 per cent had drugs on prescription. One
theory is that some of the drugs may have a detrimental effect on the central nervous system.

"Further studies are needed to clarify a possible important central nervous system effect of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Nsaids, which include ibuprofen) on driving ability," say the researchers, whose study is based on 13,000 car accidents involving personal injury.

Source - Independent

Clock change may cause tiredness

Many people use the clocks going back to gain an extra hour in bed - but a sleep expert says the change can actually leave people tired.

Even such small changes, said Dr Neil Stanley, can disrupt sleep routines and cause semisomnia - low grade exhaustion caused by inadequate rest.

He estimated that it could take three days to fully adjust to the change.

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital expert said people should set aside time to wind down before going to bed.
"People may feel relaxed and refreshed as they wake up this morning after an extra hour in bed, but it will actually take three days for their body to catch up with this one-hour time shift. "

Source - BBC

Smoking 'raises psoriasis risk'

Smokers have a higher risk of developing psoriasis, a study suggests.

US researchers found that heavier smokers have a greater risk of the skin condition and this only falls back to normal 20 years after quitting.

The study of 79,000 nurses published in the American Journal of Medicine also found that people with psoriasis who smoke had more severe disease.

It is thought that toxins in cigarette smoke may affect parts of the immune system associated with psoriasis.

Psoriasis, which occurs when the skin replaces itself too quickly, affects more than one million people in the UK. There are many different forms. It usually appears as red, scaly patches that when scraped or scratched reveal fine silvery scales.

Previous research has reported links between smoking and psoriasis but was unable to look at whether smoking occurred before the onset of the condition.

Source - BBC

Organic produce 'better for you'

Organic produce is better for you than ordinary food, a major European Union-funded study says.

The £12m four-year project, led by Newcastle University, found a general trend showing organic food contained more antioxidants and less fatty acids.

But researchers did admit the study showed some variations.

The findings call into question the current stance of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which says there is no evidence that organic food is better.

Researchers grew fruit, vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and non-organic sites across Europe, including a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University. They found levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle were between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk.

Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce had between 20% and 40% more nutrients.

But the study, which is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, also showed there were significant variations.

Source - BBC

Public health: The hidden menace of mobile phones

Research into the link between regular handset use and disease reveals the risks rise significantly after 10 years, despite official assurances that they are safe. Using a mobile phone for more than 10 years increases the risk of getting brain cancer, according to the most comprehensive study of the risks yet published.

The study – which contradicts official pronouncements that there is no danger of getting the disease – found that people who have had the phones for a decade or more are twice as likely to get a malignant tumour on the side of the brain where they hold the handset.

The scientists who conducted the research say using a mobile for just an hour every working day during that period is enough to increase the risk – and that the international standard used to protect users from the radiation emitted is "not safe" and "needs to be revised".

They conclude that "caution is needed in the use of mobile phones" and believe children, who are especially vulnerable, should be discouraged from using them at all.

The study, published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Occupational Environmental Medicine, is important because it pulls together research on people who have used the phones for long enough to contract the disease.

Cancers take at least 10 years – and normally much longer – to develop but, as mobile phones have spread so recently and rapidly, relatively few people have been using them that long.
Official assurances that the phones are safe have been based on research that has, at best, included only a few people who have been exposed to the radiation for long enough to get the disease, and are therefore of little or no value in assessing the real risk.

Last month, Britain's largest investigation into the health risks of the technology, the £8.8m Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme – funded by "government and industry sources" – reported that "mobile phones have not been found to be associated with any biological or adverse health effects".

But its chairman, Professor Lawrie Challis, admitted that only a small proportion of the research had covered people who had used the phones for more than a decade. He warned: "We cannot rule out the possibility at this stage that cancer could appear in a few years' time."

Source - Independent

In the raw

It's the drink of choice for West-Coast health fiends, and now it's coming over here.

It’s organic in the truest sense of the word, but the latest food fad from America is not without controversy. Raw milk – unpasteurised and straight from the cow – is billed by many as the ultimate tonic, higher in nutrients and disease-fighting compounds than regular milk, and linked to relieving all manner of ailments, from hay fever to irritable bowel syndrome. It is drunk by more than 100,000 health-conscious Californians, and New Yorkers apparently can’t get enough of it. Now farm shops in England and Wales, where it is sold in green-topped bottles, are reporting a sharp increase in demand.

What makes raw milk so good, claim proponents, is not just its rich, creamy flavour, but its unadulterated, wholesome nutritional profile. They argue that pasteurisation – a process by which milk is subjected to short bursts of heat, followed by rapid cooling, to kill harmful bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E.coli – also destroys vitamins, beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes. According to the Campaign for Real Milk, a US-based organisation, raw milk contains 10% more B vitamins and 25% more vitamin C. That’s not all, they say. Homogenisation, which is widespread in regular milk production to ensure even distribution of fat globules and avoid separation, can make pasteurised milk difficult to digest.

But critics argue that, far from being beneficial, raw milk is potentially dangerous. In Britain, the government’s Food Standards Agency says that tests on raw milk have shown it contains “illness-causing pathogens” in the form of bacteria that could leave people prone to infection. The Food and Drug Administration in America recently issued a warning to consumers that getting caught up in the raw-milk trend could damage their health. Sales of the milk, which must carry a label warning of its risks, are restricted to farm shops or milk rounds in England and Wales; in other words, it cannot be sold in supermarkets. In Scotland, raw milk has been banned for more than 20 years. “Milk is pasteurised for a reason – to keep it safe from harmful bacteria,” says Bridget Aisbitt, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

Despite such warnings, the demand for its natural properties is soaring. Raw milk is sold at the fashionable Chelsea Farmers’ Market in London, and John Barron, of Beaconhill Farm, in Herefordshire, says he now sells about 50 litres a week. “There has never been a single case of food poisoning reported to me,” he says. Celia Haynes, who bottles raw milk at Meadow Cottage farm in Hampshire, says her customers are increasingly couples with young families and adds that “many doctors are referring children with asthma and eczema, because they are not getting adequate exposure to bacteria in mass-produced milk”.

Source - Times

Wine and berry pills to aid fight against cancer

Pills made from rice, berries and red wine could soon be available to help prevent cancer.

British scientists are pioneering the use of food compounds to protect against tumours in the breast, colon and prostate.

They are studying four different pills after examining the diets of people who are less likely to develop cancer.

The tablets are made from isolated chemical compounds in Thai sticky rice, bilberries, red wine and spices, and should be available by 2010. Scientists have been given financial backing to test the red wine pill in the laboratory by Cancer Research UK.

Professor Will Steward, a cancer and molecular medicine expert, said it was the latest step in the fight to find drugs that stop cells becoming malignant - a technique called chemoprevention.

"These agents have proved highly effective in the laboratory - it is extraordinary," he said.
"They act in numerous ways on pre-cancerous cells but they also appear to be effective on cancerous cells. We know they are safe to use but we want to establish if they are effective in humans."

Many people already take supplements such as selenium in the belief it might cut the risk of them developing lung, bowel and prostate cancer.

A trial in America is looking at the role of selenium in protecting against prostate cancer but the full results are not expected until 2012.

Professor Steward said: "We want to be more scientific about developing a tablet that can have an effect by focusing on the chemical compound that already appears to reduce the risk in some people."

His work at the University of Leicester is based on evidence that rural populations in Thailand who eat a high proportion-of sticky rice are less likely to develop breast cancer.

Source - Daily Mail

Simple eye exercises that help the blind see again

The world is a dismal looking place for anyone with macular degeneration.

They can't distinguish between people's faces, can't drive, can't read or even watch TV — words and images are just a blur. Some can't see in colour.

For the half a million Britons who have it, macular degeneration is a pretty bleak diagnosis — and there is no cure.

But now a simple new approach to treating the condition could greatly improve patients' lives.

This treatment — known as "eccentric viewing" involves changing one's angle of vision to make use of healthy parts of the eye that can still see. It can help even those with severe sight impairment to read and see people more clearly.

Two years ago Richard Elliott, 66, a retired civil engineer, from Shrewsbury, developed macular degeneration in his right eye.

"My vision became distorted, so straight lines, like lampposts, looked bent," he says.
"I sing with my church male-voice choir and started singing wrong notes because I wasn't seeing the first note in each bar; only the second. I was terrified I was going to go blind."

He underwent eccentric viewing training in July and is now able to read again.

"I was so moved I cried," he says. "I was elated."

Ophthalmologists describe the technique as a breakthrough.

Source - Daily Mail

Tailored herbal medicine 'futile'

There is no evidence to suggest herbal medicines "tailored" to the individual work, and they may even do serious damage, according to a study.

Scientists writing in the Postgraduate Medical Journal examined what they said were the only three clinical trials to have been conducted on the treatments.

They expressed doubts as to the skills of those in the UK who offer treatments specially formulated for individuals. But UK herbal practitioners said such treatments can make a real difference. The UK is currently reviewing the law in relation to the regulation of this field, so at present it is unclear how many such practitioners there are in the country.

Drawing on Chinese and European traditions among others, the practitioners offer a wide variety of treatments for conditions ranging from minor skin ailments to cancer, using a multitude of herbs.

The team from the Peninsula Medical School, a partnership between Exeter and Plymouth universities and the NHS in Devon and Cornwall, stressed that there were many herbs with health benefits, but that studies on these tended to involve standard preparations or single herb extracts.

They said they searched widely for randomised clinical trials of tailored treatments across the world in any language and contacted 15 professional bodies in the process, but were only able to find three trials.

One compared a tailored Chinese herbal preparation with a standard herbal preparation and a placebo for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Source - BBC

Hocus pocus or reliable remedy?

The UK's most eminent expert in complementary medicine says high street herbal remedies are either useless or dangerous, while a study suggests the "tailored" preparations concocted by herbal practitioners are a waste of money. But are we really wrong to have fallen in love with the humble herb?

It is said we've never had it so good: living longer thanks to the leaps and bounds made by medical science.

And how do we express our thanks? According to the critics, by turning our backs on the mainstream and dabbling in the occult - or at the very least the unproven: spending millions of pounds each year on herbal formulas for conditions ranging from an itchy patch of skin to terminal disease.

"I used to say if it made my patients feel better then it was ok by me," says Professor Michael Baum, a professor emeritus of surgery.

"But increasingly I feel one has to speak out against it - because there's no knowing where this hocus pocus will end up."

Really that bad?
As far as Professor Baum is concerned, if a treatment is subjected to scientific rigours and found to be efficacious then it should be integrated into mainstream medicine and put in the hands of doctors - at which point the label "alternative" ceases to apply.

And there are indeed herbs which have passed these tests - although only about a dozen of the many hundreds on offer.

Source - BBC

Why rubbing it better can really soothe bumps and cuts

It seems mother really does know best when it comes to treating troublesome aches and pains.

Gently rubbing the ailment not only helps to soothe soreness, but can also reduce stress and pain, according to a new study.

Research by the University of Cumbria shows that patients' symptoms improved when "touch healing" was used to treat bumps and bruises. Three hundred patients with a wide range of ailments were given four hour-long treatments within six weeks at the Centre for Complementary Care in Muncaster, Cumbria.

Following the sessions, patients showed significant improvements in psychological and physical functioning, particularly in stress reduction, pain relief, and increased general health. The most substantial improvements were seen in clients with the most severe symptoms when they entered the study.

Further analysis of clients with cancer, musculo-skeletal ailments and with mental health disorders or psychological stress also showed clear benefits.

Gentle touch healing is based on sessions of about 40 minutes in which complementary medicine experts apply light, non-invasive touches to the patient's head, chest, arms, legs and feet. Benefits include improved sleep, reduced pain levels and increased energy levels.

Helen Leathard, professor of healing science at the University of Cumbria, said: "On the basis of this evidence, healing by gentle touch should play a part in the treatment of people with cancer, mental health problems, or a wide variety of illnesses where help with pain or stress reduction will enhance their wellbeing.

Source Daily Mail

Folic acid fortification warning

Fortifying flour with folic acid to cut birth defects may lead to a range of health problems, warn scientists.

The move was approved earlier this year by the Food Standards Agency as a way to reduce defects such as spina bifida.

However, an Institute of Food Research team has shown the liver could easily become saturated by folic acid.

Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, they warn this could lead to unmetabolised folic acid entering the blood, which could damage health. The latest study follows a letter to the Food Standards Agency from Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer of England, requesting further expert consideration of two recent studies linking folic acid to bowel cancer before the government gives the final go-ahead for mandatory fortification.

Source - BBC

Cleaning sprays 'raise the risk of asthma'

Using household cleaning sprays and air fresheners as little as once a week can raise the risk of developing asthma, scientists say.

A study found air fresheners and furniture cleaners could be contributing to as many as one in seven cases of adult asthma. Although these products have been associated with increased asthma rates in cleaning professionals, this is the first time a similar effect has been found in those who use such products occasionally.

Asthma is very common in Briton with one in every 13 adults receiving treatment for the condition. Allergens and chest infections are known to trigger asthma attacks in which the airways become inflamed.

The latest study looked at more than 3,500 subjects across 22 centres in 10 European countries. Subjects were assessed for asthma, wheezing and allergies twice over nine years. They were also asked to report the number of times per week they used cleaning products. On average the researchers found the risk of asthma was forty per cent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others.

The risk of developing asthma increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used. The researchers found that cleaning sprays, especially air fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass-cleaners, had a particularly strong effect.

"Frequent use of household cleaning sprays may be an important risk factor for adult asthma," wrote lead author Dr Jan-Paul Zock, from the Municipal Institute of Medical Research in Spain.

Source - Daily Mail

Wii computer games to help stroke victims

Stroke victims are being nursed back to health by playing on the smash-hit games console Nintendo Wii.

Doctors have discovered the game helps to rewire the brain after it has been damaged by a blood clot. Unlike most computer games, the Nintendo Wii involves acting out all the physical movements involved in normal sports, such as tennis, golf or boxing. The player strikes the ball or throws a punch by swinging their arms and pressing a button on a hand-held controller.

Doctors in the U.S. have started to use it to help stroke victims regain movement in their arms and legs. German clinicians are also reported to be using it to speed up recovery in injured soldiers.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in England and Wales, after heart disease and cancer. The NHS spends an estimated £2.8 billion a year dealing with the aftermath of strokes.

They occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut off because of a clot in a blood vessel in the head. Blood carries vital nutrients and oxygen to the brain and, without it, cells become damaged or destroyed. Any damage has a knock-on effect on things most of us take for granted - such as lifting a cup or brushing our hair.

Six months after a stroke, around 50 per cent of survivors need help with everyday tasks like eating, dressing and going to the toilet.

Doctors know that intensive physiotherapy can help the brain 're-learn' how to move the limbs.
Although brain cells cannot regenerate once they have been damaged or killed, the brain can be trained to find new ways of getting messages to the arms and legs. It does this by recruiting other undamaged nerve cells to set up new 'pathways', through which instructions can be passed.

But to do this requires prolonged and repeated therapy, during which patients must try to move their paralysed limbs. It can take months of intensive exercises before results are seen.
American experts believe the Nintendo Wii could be a fun and cheap form of therapy.

Researchers at the Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis have started experimenting on patients who find conventional exercises too tedious.

Source - Daily Mail

How your mother's hips can raise the risk of cancer

Women whose mothers have wide hips could be seven times more likely to develop breast cancer, researchers have warned.

A study of thousands of women has revealed a clear link between the two. In general, daughters of women with wide hips are 60 per cent more likely than others to be diagnosed with breast cancer, which claims the lives of more than 1,000 British women a month.

But the risk rises to more than seven-fold if the mother carried them for the full 40 weeks of pregnancy and if they have older siblings.

Researcher Professor David Barker said the phenomenon can be explained by the effect of oestrogen and could eventually lead to a drug to prevent breast cancer.

It is thought that high levels of the hormone in a woman's blood at the start and end of pregnancy cause dangerous changes to the immature breast tissue in the developing baby. The width of a women's hips is directly related to the amount of oestrogen she is producing - and so the amount her unborn baby is exposed to.

Prof Barker, of Southampton University, an internationallyrenowned medical researcher, said: "A women's hip size is a marker of her oestrogen production. Wide, round hips represent markers of high sex hormone concentrations in the mother, which increase her daughter's vulnerability to breast cancer."

Source - Daily Mail

How a rocky relationship can give your heart a bad beating

Being in a stormy relationship is bad for the heart.

Research shows those in a marriage or relationship marred by rows are 34 per cent more likely to suffer from heart disease - including fatal heart attacks - than those in more peaceful partnerships.

It is thought the strain of conflict can damage the heart in a range of ways, from causing fluctuations in heart rate and blood pressure to interfering with blood clotting and the immune system.

The University College London researchers made the link after tracking the health of civil servants for more than 12 years.

At the start of the research, the women, who were aged between 35 and 55, were asked how often they argued with those closest to them. By the end of the study, almost 600 of the 8,500 taking part had had a heart attack or been diagnosed with angina.

Further analysis showed those in the most tumultuous relationships were 34 per cent more likely to have suffered heart problems than those with the most calm partnerships.

Both men and women were equally affected - despite women being generally thought to be more susceptible to relationship ups and downs.

The link held true even when other factors linked to heart disease, such as obesity and smoking, were taken into account, the journal Archives of Internal Medicine reports.

The researchers said bad relationships and marriages were linked to depression and low self-esteem, which can cause changes in heart rate, blood pressure, the immune response, blood clotting and hormones.

Over time, these changes can cause cumulative "wear and tear" on the heart.

Source - Daily Mail

Apple faces legal threat over ‘toxic’ iPhone

Environmentalists have threatened to sue Apple if it does not make its iPhone a “greener” product or tell consumers of the toxins allegedly used in the device’s manufacture.

The Centre for Environmental Health (CEH), a campaign group based in Oakland, California, said that it would begin a lawsuit in 60 days unless Apple took action.

The threat comes after a report by Greenpeace, the environmental organisation, which alleged that the iPhone contained dangerous levels of bromine, chlorine and phthalates - chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastic.

David Santillo, a senior scientist at Greenpeace, said in a video posted on the campaign group’s website: “Electronics companies have traditionally relied on the cool, clean image of their devices in order to sell them. What we have found over the years is that once you get behind that shiny cover, the story is very different.”

The level of phthalate esters, which are linked to birth defects, in the plastic coating of iPhone headphone wires is greater than that allowed in toys or childcare items sold in Europe, Greenpeace alleged.

Source - Times

Postures new

Two-thirds of British workers suffer from back pain. Lucy Mangan, who spends too many hours hunched over a desk or lugging around a heavy handbag, looks at ways of understanding your body and using it properly.

Once, the phrase "good posture" brought to mind either a violently perpendicular, ramrod-backed sergeant major stance, or a deportment class full of debutantes balancing books on their heads.

Nowadays, the definition of good posture cleaves to a far more natural ideal. "Ideally, your body should be aligned so that if you were to drop an imaginary plumb line from your ear it would pass down your neck, through your shoulder, hip and knee and just in front of your ankle into your heel," says Martin Knight, a consultant spinal surgeon and director of the Spinal Foundation charity. "There should be a gentle curve to the lumbar [lower] spine, known as lordosis."

But if maintaining good posture seems simple in the abstract, the reality is very different. Modern life is filled with activities that could have been designed with the express purpose of causing us musculo-skeletal grief. My own waking hours are a case in point.

Like most people, I spend around 60% of them hunchbacked over a desk, occasionally by way of vertebral variation cradling the phone between my neck and shoulder while typing ever onwards. This is the kind of thoughtless behaviour that explains why two-thirds of the working population suffer some kind of back pain and that campaigns such as the recent Straighten Up UK, by the British Chiropractic Association, are valiantly trying to discourage. Like all of us, I poke my head towards the computer or TV screen for extended periods without acknowledging that the slender stalk of my neck was not designed to carry such a grotesquely heavy weight - the human head can weigh as much as 12lbs (5.4kg) - at such an angle for any length of time. And although my hamstrings have been saved much abuse by the fact that I am not a habitual high heel wearer, that other enemy of good female posture - the handbag that weighs even more than your head and gleefully pulls the spine off course with every step - is my constant companion.

What can be done? The first thing to note is that although our sitting and standing positions are important, they do not exist in isolation - which is to say that good posture is not simply a static thing. As fitness instructor Jayne Nicholls puts it, "I can teach you to stand with your pelvis in neutral and your stomach pulled in, but how much use is that? How many times a day are you standing still? Good posture is a dynamic matter as well, enabling you to perform efficiently and comfortably in all areas of your life." In other words, you are more likely to end up with less damaging ways of sitting, standing, working, driving etc if you have an integrated understanding of your body and learn to use it properly in the first place.

The most popular ways of doing this are currently yoga, Pilates and the Alexander technique. Many people head for classes on advice from their GP or other medical expert after a problem has developed. Others, like me, sign up as a pre-emptive strike against a modern lifestyle they realise offers them every chance of ending up looking like the bastard offspring of Quasimodo and the Witch of Endor, and spending their declining years shuffling crab-like towards the chemist for those repeat painkiller prescriptions unless they engage in some prophylactic exercise now. But how do they each measure up?

Source - Guardian

Innocent found guilty of making false health claims

Innocent, the smoothie maker, has been criticised for suggesting that a "superfood" drink removed bodily toxins and could supply more antioxidants than eating the recommended daily intake of five portions of fruit and vegetables.

The Advertising Standards Authority said that Innocent, whose sales more than doubled last year to £96m, was unable to back the claims with medical science and ordered them not to be repeated.

Innocent promoted the Superfoods Smoothie, made of crushed pomegranates, blueberries and acai berries, and packed with vitamins and minerals, as a "natural detox". In press advertising, it boasted that the drink offered "even more antioxidants than the average five a day", adding: "We think it's the world's superest smoothies recipe."

Innocent, founded in 1998 by Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, told the advertising watchdog the high level of antioxidants neutralised free radicals and therefore removed toxins from the body. The London-based firm added that the product had an oxygen radical absorption capacity value of 1,640 umol per 250g serving, compared with between 1,470 and 1,870 umol for an average five-a-day diet. But the ASA ruled that neutralising free radicals did not amount to removing toxins from the body, which could be done by drinking plenty of water and cutting out alcohol.

Dietary advice suggested that fruit juice and smoothies could make up no more than one of the Government's recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, no matter how many were drunk, the watchdog concluded. It added that even if Innocent's evidence had been correct, the Superfood Smoothie was in the middle of the antioxidant levels cited, so suggesting the drink could provide "even more" could not be justified.

The ASA said: "We welcomed Innocent's assurance that they had no plans to use the ad again or to use similar claims in the future. We told Innocent to delete the claims and to ensure they could provide suitable evidence to back up any future claims."

Today's ruling is a further skirmish in thebattle between Innocent and the authorities over the nutritional value of its drinks. Innocent insists that one of its smoothies provides "at least" the equivalent of two portions of fruit and vegetables, but the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health disagree with the company.

They say that crushed, squeezed or pulped fruit drinks provide only one portion because the structure and fibre of the natural product is altered or lost.

Source - Independent

Eczema baths 'a waste of money'

Bath products to help ease the skin inflammation caused by allergic eczema may not be worth the amount of money the NHS spends on them, a study says.

There is no clinical evidence these emollients work, nor any consensus of medical opinion, researchers writing in Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin contend.

They calculate the NHS is spending £16m per year on emollients, which can cost as much as 70p per bath.

Allergic eczema is a condition which most commonly affects children. Applying specialist ointments and lotions straight onto the skin may be effective, the paper concedes. Although there is little published evidence on whether topical treatments work, it says "long clinical experience has suggested that emollients applied directly to the skin are effective and safe".
But the same cannot be said for bath water products, the researchers said, calling for a proper evaluation of their use.

Bath emollients are thought to be an easier way of applying the treatment to a large skin surface area and they are also thought to trap moisture into the skin.

But the researchers said there was nothing to suggest they did this, and that they may even have undesirable effects, such as accidents caused by a slippery bath.

The National Eczema Society accused the researchers of ignoring "the extensive evidence from those patients and parents who find the use of bath emollients both soothing and extremely beneficial".

Source - BBC

Here's to a healthier heart

It's the moment you dread when you go for a medical - when you're asked about your alcohol consumption. I was seeing a cardiologist, having been diagnosed with angina - ironically after years of a health-conscious diet low in saturated fat, reasonable fitness and never having smoked. "How much do you drink?" she asked. Sheepishly, I suggested maybe a glass or two of wine or beer most nights. "You need to drink red wine, not white or rosé. One glass a day isn't enough; two's better, preferably three," came the reply. "It's very good for your blood vessels."

The instruction was almost as much of a shock as the onset of my angina, the chest pain that occurs when your heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen because of reduced blood flow caused by blockages (atheroma) in the arteries.

Drinking three glasses of red wine daily, much of which contains up to 15% alcohol, is well over the British Heart Foundation's (BHF) recommended drinking limits. These are based on three to four units of alcohol a day for a man (two to three for a woman) where each unit is 125ml - a small glass - of 8% strength wine. These days, it's much easier to find a beer at that strength than such a weak wine.

The health virtues of a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and veg, oily fish and olive oil, washed down with red wine, are well known. But is the wine really significant?

Drunk in moderation, and preferably with food so that the alcohol absorption is slowed, all the population studies indicate that it is. But drink it in excess and, as recent studies on the dangers of hazardous drinking testify, it will do you much more harm than good.

Source - Guardian

The happiness workout

If you're feeling miserable, medication might not be the answer for you.

Misery: it's everywhere these days. We are all popping happy pills like Smarties, checking ourselves into the Priory and stocking up on happiness books. But for every report telling us it is all down to our ever-longer working hours, additive-laden food and endless commutes, there is a growing body of scientific research suggesting that happiness is, quite literally, a state of mind.

"You have to decide to be happy," says Paul Jenner, author of Teach Yourself Happiness. "Most people think happiness is something that arrives by itself, like rain. But it isn't. Barring seriously depressed people, most westerners have plenty to be happy about, but they choose to focus on things they haven't got. It really is that simple.

"Scientific research is starting to back this idea up. Rather than happiness being something we earn through circumstances, it seems we can work at it in the same way we work our bodies at the gym, reaching beyond our "genetic set point", the predisposition to happiness (or unhappiness) we were born with.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has been researching happiness, there is converging evidence that some people are born happier than others, but that all of us can learn from their habits to raise our own happiness levels.

How do we do this? By adopting certain exercises - or "happiness strategies"- that Lyubomirsky, in her tests, found very effective in perking people up.

Source - Guardian

Thinking yourself sick

Why do some patients not respond to treatment? Is it because of the nocebo effect?

Every day, many of us take clinically proven drugs that fail to work as planned or that trigger unexplained side-effects.

The reasons for this can be chemically complex, but new research suggests that there may also be a far simpler explanation: we think that they are having a bad effect.

It is called the nocebo effect, and it’s the dark side of the well-known placebo effect, when a patient’s health improves because he or she believes that a treatment is going to make them better. The nocebo effect can worsen symptoms, exacerbate side-effects and can render drugs less effective. In other words, expectation of sickness begets sickness.

There are a lot of pessimistic patients: one report suggests that more than a quarter of us may experience the nocebo effect when we take a drug. Researchers from the Cardarelli Hospital, Naples, say in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology: “Our data, collected in a large population, confirm that the nocebo effect occurs frequently in clinical practice.” UK doctors agree. “We think that it is a relatively common phenomenon,” says David Blake, Professor of Joint and Bone Medicine at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Bath, who has written on the subject.

The positive power of the placebo effect has long been known. According to a report from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, a study of clinical trials for antidepressants indicates that 40 per cent of people taking the active drug usually feel better, but so do 31 per cent of those taking a dummy pill.

Much less is known about the nocebo effect, and there may even be a biological trigger contributing to it. A paper from Turin University Medical School, in the current issue of Neuro-science, implicates the compound cholecystokinin (CCK), which is involved in pain signalling.

Source - Times

Vitamin D downgrade as scientists advise there is no real proof it fights cancer

Vitamin D, once heralded as a major weapon in the war on cancer, in fact does little to cut the risk, a study has discovered.

The sunshine vitamin has been widely credited with warding off cancer, strengthening bones and cutting the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

But a ten-year study of thousands of men and women has questioned its cancer-fighting properties. It was found that those with high levels were no less likely to die of the disease than others.

The statistics for bowel cancer were the only ones to show a clear benefit from taking the vitamin. Cancer experts who carried out the U.S. government-funded research said not enough is known about the benefits and limitations to use it for the prevention or treatment of disease.

They looked at how vitamin D affected the health of almost 17,000 men and women and started by measuring the amount in their blood. A decade later, 536 of the volunteers had died from cancers ranging from lung cancer to breast cancer. Analysis carried out at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland did not find a link between the risk of death from all types of cancer and vitamin D.

Those with high levels of the vitamin were, however, 72 per cent less likely to die of bowel cancer which claims 16,000 lives a year in Britain. Only lung cancer kills more. It was recently estimated that almost 30,000 cases of breast and bowel cancer could be prevented each year if Britons spend more time in the sun.

Although it is found in food, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, most of the vitamin D in our bodies is made when our skin is exposed to sunlight.

Researchers from the Office of Dietary Supplements in the U.S. said: "Health professionals and the public should not assume that vitamin D is a magic bullet and consume high amounts of it.
"More definitive data on both the benefits and potential adverse effects of high doses are urgently needed."

Source - Daily Mail

Be thin to cut cancer, study says

Even those who are not overweight should slim down if they want to cut their risk of cancer, a major international study has claimed.

The World Cancer Research Fund carried out the largest ever inquiry into lifestyle and cancer, and issued several stark recommendations.

They include not gaining weight as an adult, avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol, and not eating bacon or ham.

Everyone must also aim to be as thin as possible without becoming underweight. People with a Body Mass Index (BMI), a calculation which takes into account height and weight, of between 18.5 and 25, are deemed to be within a "healthy" weight range. But the study says their risk increases as they head towards the 25 mark, and that everyone should try to be as close to the lower end as possible.

There is no new research involved in this document: the panel examined 7,000 existing studies over five years. The result, they say, is the most comprehensive investigation ever into the risks of certain lifestyle choices.

Limit red meat
Limit alcohol
Avoid bacon, ham, and other processed meats
No sugary drinks
No weight gain after 21
Exercise everyday
Breastfeed children
Do not take dietary supplements to cut cancer

They see body fat as a key factor in the development of cancer, estimating its significance to be much higher than previously thought.

The report's authors say they have produced a list of recommendations, not "commandments".
"But if people are interested in reducing their cancer risk, then following the recommendations is the way to do it," said Professor Martin Wiseman.

"Cancer is not a fate, it is a matter of risk, and you can adjust those risks by how you behave. It is very important that people feel that they are in control of what they do."

Source - BBC

Online therapy helps people beat depression more quickly

Counselling by computer can cut NHS waiting times by a quarter. New research reveals that an hour a day of online therapy has a huge impact on depressed patients.

A study by London's The City University found that more than three in five people can stop treatment after eight sessions. This allows doctors to discharge patients more quickly and reduce the need for drugs.

Computer counselling uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help patients develop a more positive outlook on life.

Programmes such as Beat the Blues challenge negative thinking through a special psychological self-help course. With conventional therapy, patients have to be face-to-face with a psychiatrist or counsellor.

Online therapy allows those with mild mental health problems to manage their own treatment either at a referral centre or at home.

Doctors can already prescribe the treatment on the NHS. Trials have shown it is as effective as other clinical treatments and can produce faster results.

Source - Daily Mail

Broccoli stops skin cancer, claims scientists

Broccoli extract could be better protection against skin cancer than sunscreen, scientists claimed yesterday.

They said that tests on volunteers showed that redness caused by ultraviolet rays was markedly reduced in skin treated with the extract.

The finding was backed by parallel evidence from research on mice, said the team at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, U.S.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Talalay said the vegetable did not act as a sunscreen which absorbs UV light, stopping it getting into the skin. Instead, it works inside the body by boosting protective enzymes which defend cells against sun damage. The extract has to be applied at least 24 hours in advance to give it time to work.

But the protection lasts for several days, even after the broccoli is no longer present in the skin, said a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source - Daily Mail

Why dementia hits its brighter victims harder

Better educated dementia victims go downhill faster than those with less schooling because they manage to "mask" the disease in its early stages, scientists believe.

They found that university graduates suffer a memory decline that is 50 per cent faster than someone with a minimal education. The scientists believe that by the time dementia becomes apparent, both groups will have suffered the same damage to the brain.

However, the well educated go downhill quicker because their greater "thinking power" allows them to compensate subliminally for their disease in its early stages.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, with about 500 cases diagnosed every day in the UK as more live longer.

Among the brilliant minds who have fallen victim to it are novelist Iris Murdoch, who died in 1999 aged 79, and author and broadcaster Bernard Levin, who died three years ago, aged 75.

The condition is caused by an accumulation of "plaques and tangles" or protein deposits in the brain which may first lead to difficulty finding words.

This progresses to typical symptoms of dementia, loss of memory, confusion and agitation.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, looked at 117 people who developed dementia out of an original group of 488 from the 1980s onwards.

Source - Daily Mail

Putting on weight 'raises breast cancer risk by up to one and half times'

Gaining weight at any time can increase the risk of breast cancer by up to 50 per cent, warn researchers.

But women can counter this by losing the excess pounds and returning to a "healthy" size. This then reduces the risk back to that of those who kept their weight stable.

There was no difference in risk according to how overweight the women were. The key factor was that any amount of weight gain was important in relation to breast cancer risk.

It is already known that being obese after the menopause pushes up the chances of developing the disease. But now it appears from work at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, U.S., that the threat is linked to a woman's weight from the age of 18 onwards.

The pattern was seen in women who did not take hormone replacement therapy, which can increase the likelihood of breast cancer during long-term use. Dr Jiyoung Ahn and colleagues analysed data from 99,039 post-menopausal women.

In 1996, they reported their current body measurements and weight, as well as their weight at ages 18, 35 and 50, and were classified as underweight, normal, overweight or obese.

Throughout 2000, a total of 2,111 of them developed breast cancer.

Periods of weight gain after 18 were each associated with an increased risk of breast cancer when compared with maintaining a stable weight.

Women who were not overweight at 18 but were at 35 and 50 had a 40 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer in middle age.

Losing weight appeared to offer protection, according to the report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Those who lost weight had the same breast cancer risk as those whose weight remained stable.

Source - Daily Mail

Exercises for a better back

Have you ever had backache? Four out of five of us will experience back pain at some stage according to the charity BackCare, and the NHS spends more than £1billion treating the condition. Here we have a number of gentle daily exercises that will increase the flexibility of your back:

These exercises should be carried out slowly and deliberately each day. If you have a pain when you perform any of them, limit the particular exercise movement so that you are comfortable.
If you feel pain when you start any movement, then it should not be carried out.

( Click source link to see pictures of the excercises )
Source - Daily Mail

The Big Question: What is transcendental meditation, and is it the cure for society's ills?

Why are we asking this now?

Film director David Lynch and Sixties pop star Donovan have teamed up to launch a campaign to encourage children to meditate in school. In a series of talks , the pair will promote the technique of transcendental meditation practised by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and popularised by the Beatles 40 years ago.Another TM convert to have just emerged is Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, who has been honoured with the Achievement in African Leadership award.

Has David Lynch done this before?

Yes. Lynch is reported to have persuaded 20,000 US pupils to take twice daily transcendental meditation lessons with their teachers. He has also donated millions to the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education. He said: "The technique of transcendental meditation has seen a drop in stabbings, violence, depressions, suicides and the use of illegal drugs in some of the worst schools in the US you can imagine." Lynch has also spoken of the benefits he has gained from TM: "When I started meditating I had a real anger in me, and I would take this out on my first wife. Two weeks after I started meditating, this anger lifted."

What does Donovan say about TM?

He claims it is the secret of his success as a musician. Last year the Scots-born troubadour, famous for hits such as "Mellow Yellow" and "Jennifer Juniper", said he was planning a world tour to reawaken people to the mind-expanding wonders of meditation. "I had all the western trouble of the psyche: anxiety, anger, stress and fear which all cause illness. Over the past 40 years I have experienced the way this system has absolute healing benefits."

How many people practise TM, and what does it involve?

About 6 million people worldwide, according to the official TM website. The technique involves a form of concentrated attention in which the mind is turned inward and focused on a single point of reference. This is achieved by uttering the mantra, a word given to the student during the initiation ceremony which is chanted silently over and over. The aim is to empty the mind of thoughts, feelings and fantasies, not by blocking their intrusion, which is impossible, but by observing them as they intrude and then always returning to the central task of attending to the mantra. In this way a state of inner peace is achieved.
With practice, it is said, the mind can transcend thought, is no longer bound by feelings or fantasies, and experiences "awareness of itself alone." Hence "transcendental" meditation.

Is there evidence that it is beneficial?

Yes. Scores of scientific studies have been published since the 1970s, a number of which have shown benefits in lowering stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, drinking and anxiety. In 2005, the American Journal of Cardiology reported that among 202 patients with raised blood pressure who were followed for 18 years, those who practised TM had a 23 per cent lower death rate. In 2006, a study in Archives of Internal Medicine found patients who practised the technique for 16 weeks had improved blood pressure, insulin resistance and nervous system. The National Institutes of Health in the US has found that people practising meditation have lower breathing and heart rate yet "higher EEG coherence" indicating greater concentration and alertness. Long-term practitioners speak of an experience of "unboundedness."

Source - Independent

How powerful placebos could save the NHS millions - AND still cure illnesses

Sticking needles randomly into your body is almost as good as real acupuncture when it comes to back pain, according to a new study published last month.

Random needles are also just as good at improving the quality of life for Crohn's disease patients, another study found.

Why is this so? Sceptics say it's because complementary medicine is nothing more than a placebo.

A placebo is a treatment that has no active ingredient but makes the patient feel better simply because they trust the person administering it and believe the treatment will help. The placebo effect has long been used by conventional doctors as a label to discredit alternative treatments.

However, in the past few years there has been a revolution in scientists' understanding of placebos - indeed, some experts now believe they could even replace treatments such as anti-depressants.

"The placebo effect tells us that we have a powerful natural ability to control pain and produce other beneficial effects," says Professor Irvine Kirsch, psychologist and expert on placebos at the University of Hull. "We should be using this to boost the response to drugs and other treatments."

The medical interest in placebos has been stirred partly by brain scanning technology which has meant scientists can see what happens when you take a placebo.

Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that placebos can bring about genuine physiological changes in people suffering from pain, depression and even Parkinson's disease.

But the medical speciality that benefits the most from the placebo effect is pain treatment.

Source - Daily Mail

Why garlic is good for the heart

Researchers have cracked the mystery of why eating garlic can help keep the heart healthy.

The key is allicin, which is broken down into the foul-smelling sulphur compounds which taint breath.

These compounds react with red blood cells and produce hydrogen sulphide which relaxes the blood vessels, and keeps blood flowing easily.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, UK experts warned taking garlic supplements could lead to side effects.

Hydrogen sulphide generates a smell of rotten eggs and is used to make stink bombs. But at low concentrations it plays a vital role in helping cells to communicate with each other. And within the blood vessels it stimulates the cells that form the lining to relax, causing the vessels to dilate.
This, in turn, reduces blood pressure, allowing the blood to carry more oxygen to essential organs, and reducing pressure on the heart.

The Alabama team bathed rat blood vessels in a bath containing juice from crushed garlic.

Striking results
This produced striking results - with tension within the vessels reduced by 72%.

Source - BBC

The appendix does have a use - re-booting the gut

For generations medical orthodoxy has maintained that the appendix is useless, warranting attention only for its tendency to become painfully inflamed and requiring swift removal. But now the reputation of this cul-de-sac in the human gut has been rehabilitated by a theory from a team of immunologists .

The US scientists found that the appendix acted as a "good safe house" for bacteria essential for healthy digestion, in effect re-booting the digestive system after the host has contracted diseases such as amoebic dysentery or cholera, which kill off helpful germs and purge the gut.

This function has been made obsolete by modern, industrialised society; populations are now so dense that people pick up essential bacteria from each other, allowing gut organisms to regrow without help from the appendix, the researchers said.

But in earlier centuries, when vast tracts of land were more sparsely populated and whole regions could be wiped out by an epidemic of cholera, the appendix provided survivors with a vital individual stockpile of suitable bacteria.

"The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria that populates the human digestive system," said Bill Parker, a professor of surgery and one of the scientists responsible for establishing its status as a useful organ. "The location of the appendix, just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine, helps support the theory."

Other studies had shown that, in less-developed countries where the appendix may still be useful, the rate of appendicitis was lower than in the US, he said.

The theory, developed by a team from Duke University Medical School, North Carolina, and published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, has sent ripples through the scientific community. It "seems by far the most likely" explanation for the function of the appendix and "makes evolutionary sense", said Douglas Theobald, a professor of biochemistry at Brandeis University in Boston.

"I'll bet we'll eventually find the same sort of thing with the tonsils," said Gary Huffnagle, a professor of internal medicine and microbiology at the University of Michigan.

The appendix is a worm-like tube between two and four inches long protruding from the start of the large intestine. Doctors routinely remove it should it become infected and inflamed – a burst appendix can cause peritonitis, which can kill.

Source - Independent

Meditation 'works in just one week'

Those who are put off by meditation by the thought of months of practise can take heart, researchers believe you can reap the benefits in just one week.

The study of 40 undergraduates at Oregon University found just five 20 minute sessions of 'integrative meditation' improved attention and lowered stress levels among participants. The pupils used a number of body and mind techniques during the daily lesson.

They also reported an improvement in mood, and lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue, compared with students in a control group who participated only in relaxation training.

Research leader Dr Yi-Yuan Tang and colleagues have reported their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They said integrative meditation "incorporates several key components body and mind techniques including body relaxation, breathing adjustment, mental imagery, and mindfulness training, which have shown broad positive effects in attention, emotions, and social behaviors in previous studies.

Source - Daily Mail

Public 'misled' on exercise needs

"Misleading" government guidelines have led to many Britons wrongly believing that moderate exercise is as beneficial as a vigorous workout, a study alleges.

In a survey of nearly 1,200 people, around half of men and three quarters of women thought moderate exercise conferred the greatest health benefits. Guidelines urge 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day five days per week.

But the authors of the study, published in Preventive Medicine, said vigorous exercise was best for averting disease.

The NHS guidelines say "taking a brisk walk, spending some time doing the gardening or doing a few laps of the local swimming pool on the way home from work" can all improve health.

But the researchers from Exeter and Brunel Universities said these activities were unlikely to do much for them.

"It's extremely worrying that British adults now believe that a brief stroll and a bit of gardening is enough to make them fit and healthy," said Dr Gary O'Donovan, lead author.

"Brisk walking offers some health benefits, but jogging, running and other vigorous activities offer maximal protection from disease."

Academic debate

Other specialists said the survey results were not surprising, and that few people in any event met the guidelines for moderate exercise.

But Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan, said it was very difficult to formulate a "one size fits all" policy to exercise, as moderate exercise for one would be intense for another.

Source - BBC

Work stress linked to heart risk

People who go back to a stressful job after a heart attack are more prone to a second attack than those whose work is not stressful - a study says.

Canadian researchers followed some 1,000 patients returning to work.

In six years, over 200 suffered heart problems again. Those with job strain were twice as likely to fall ill. The Journal of the American Medical Association study defined job strain as having a high pressure workload but few decision-making powers.

Studies have also shown a link between job strain and a first heart attack, but researchers at Laval University in Quebec said little was known about the association with subsequent heart problems.

They said their findings on Canadian patients held up even after other risk factors had been accounted for, including lifestyle, socio-economic group and clinical prognosis.

Source - BBC

Health warning over 'ready-to-eat' food

PRE-PREPARED salads and other "ready-to-eat" foods pose a salmonella threat, according to one of Britain's leading microbiologists. Professor John Threlfall, of the government's Health Protection Agency (HPA), has urged consumers to disregard assurances on packaging and wash the contents again before eating.

Prof Threlfall warned that salmonella infections linked to ready-to-eat salads and herbs were rising, while other experts warned that such products could also be a source of E coli 0157 which can be fatal. His warning sent shockwaves through the food industry, which has created a £400-million-a-year business selling bagged salads to Britons who lack the time to wash and prepare their own.

Representatives of the ready-to-eat salads industry expressed disbelief at Prof Threlfall's comments and maintained that there was no need to re-wash their products.

The HPA is a key government quango, issuing advice and monitoring UK public health issues and infectious diseases. It is a sister organisation of Health Protection Scotland. Prof Threlfall, the director of the HPA's Laboratory of Enteric Pathogens - which monitors intestinal disease - said he wanted to alert the public about the potential risks when eating pre-washed salads.

"People could be putting themselves at risk by not washing these vegetables," he said.
"There have been a lot of outbreaks linked to ready-to-eat vegetables and herbs, often those shipped in from other countries."

In comments in the agency's magazine, Health Protection Matters, Prof Threlfall said: "Ready-to-eat products and fresh herbs are a common cause of salmonellosis, and these infections appear to be on the increase."

Source - Scotsman

Why size does matter

Long, short or tall – scientists claim that matching your body shape to a sport could turn you into a medal winner.

Marathon runners are wiry, basketball players are human skyscrapers and weightlifters are short, squat, muscular beefcakes. Gymnasts are petite and as bendy as pipe-cleaners, while swimmers have hands and feet like in-built flippers. It is said that choosing your parents is the most important step towards reaching the top in sport, with genes determining physique and how your body functions.

So if you are not genetically blessed, should you kiss goodbye to hopes of being a sports champion at birth?

Experts say that body build is a crucial factor in determining aptitude for sport. Professor Andy Jones, the chair of applied physiology at the University of Exeter’s school of sport and health sciences, goes as far as to say that “success at elite level is largely down to nature” rather than nurture. “In Olympic finals, the importance of body type is quite obvious,” he says. “The build of a marathon runner, for instance, is very different from that of a hammer thrower or hockey player.”

Professor Richard Davison, the chair of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences and an exercise physiologist at Napier University in Edinburgh, agrees. “If you are very short, you are never going to be a top-class basketball player. And if you are too tall, you will not make a world-class gymnast. It is not just physical leverage issues that make it difficult for people with long limbs to perform rotation movements, but tall gymnasts would be penalised by judges for not looking linear and elegant.”

Source - Times

Special report: Prescription medicines

Each year, Britons are dying in their thousands because of the side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Reported deaths are up 155 per cent in a decade – and experts are seeking new safeguards. Thousands of patients are dying each year as a result of side effects from pills prescribed by GPs and hospital doctors.

And while the number of deaths from suspected adverse reactions to prescription drugs has more than doubled in the past 10 years to 973 last year, medical experts warn that as few as one in 10 deaths and other serious complications are being reported.

Doctors' poor prescribing skills and repeated failures to recognise accurately adverse drug reactions in patients have seen deaths multiply by about two and half times since 1996. Experts are calling for a revamp of the current warning systems designed to alert doctors to potentially lethal prescription drug treatments.

They believe tens of thousands of patients suffer life-threatening, disabling or other serious reactions that need hospital treatment because of a failure to spot and report many dangerous side effects and drug interactions quickly enough.

One study estimated that the equivalent of all the beds from seven general hospitals – 5,600 places – are occupied with patients suffering from drug reactions at any one time, costing the NHS more than £450m each year. Researchers believe around 70 per cent of adverse reactions could be avoided through better training, computerised prescribing systems and staff spending more time talking and listening to patients.

The latest revelations follow The Independent on Sunday's exclusive report two months ago highlighting the dramatic rise in the number of drugs that doctors are now prescribing. The report in August showed that the NHS faced an £8.2bn bill for prescription medicines in England in 2006, as doctors issued 51 per cent more drugs than they did 10 years earlier.

But today's revelations highlight a 155 per cent rise in reported deaths from adverse reactions to prescribed and over-the-counter drugs – a far steeper increase that will shock the both medical profession and patient groups.

An international conference on drug safety which convenes in Bournemouth tomorrow will hear that "too little progress" has been made in the past 15 years in training doctors to use medications more safely.

Professor Saad Shakir, director of the Drug Safety Research Unit at Southampton University, said: "Doctors need to know how to use medications – this is the most important ethical responsibility for us. Surgeons wouldn't conduct an operation they haven't studied and trained for, and these same standards should apply to medications.

(The National Patient Safety Agency aims to put patient safety at the top of the NHS agenda.)

Source - Independent