Warning: scientists' advice about diet can be a recipe for confusion

Everyone tires, sooner or later, of being told what to do, especially when the advice is confusing, conflicting or plain contradictory. Nowhere is that more evident than in the area of diet.

The response to this week's report from the World Cancer Research Fund, the largest review of the link between diet and cancer which distilled the findings of more than 7,000 studies, was predictable. It concluded that a third of cancers were attributable to diet – something scientists have been saying for the past 25 years – and warned of the dangers of being overweight, where evidence of its role in at least six cancers is stronger than ever.

But what really stirred the passions of red-blooded Englishmen was its verdict on meat.

Consumption of red meat – beef, lamb, pork – should be cut to 500g a week and processed meats – bacon, sausage, salami, ham and other staples from the delicatessen – should be avoided altogether, it ruled.

"Save our bacon" trumpeted one front page the next day while others asked querulously "So what is safe to eat?" It was an understandable response. We have come to accept the idea that smoking causes lung cancer and that cigarettes kill. But who has ever suggested that a favourite uncle died because of his love of roast beef?

This is the crux of the problem. The link between smoking and lung cancer is crystal clear – cigarettes account for almost 90 per cent of deaths from lung cancer. If there were no smoking there would be almost no lung cancer.

Nothing in our diets has anywhere near this impact on our health. With lesser causes such as red and processed meats, other mitigating factors play a greater role – genetic inheritance, exercise, other elements in the diet. And while cigarettes have only negative effects, most foods have a mix of positive and negative effects – sugar, for example, is good for energy but rots the teeth. The message on diet is therefore necessarily complex – there is no magic bullet as there is with lung cancer (stop smoking).

Take the world's most widely used superfood, tea. It is drunk by millions, not because it is healthy but because it is soothing, thirst quenching and delicious.Recent research has shown that it is high in antioxidants and may protect against heart disease and cancer.
But adding milk and, worse, sugar, may negate its health-giving benefits. For people who drink a lot of tea the dash of milk in each cup adds up and can contribute significantly to the amount of fat in the diet, increasing the risk of heart disease and cancelling the protective effect of the antioxidants. Tea can be good or bad for you, depending on how it is drunk.

Source - Independent

In your dreams: The mysteries of sleep

We all know that we need it – and most of us want more than we get. But no one has ever been able to explain why we sleep, or what makes us dream.

Why do we sleep? More than 80 years after the world's first sleep laboratory opened in Los Angeles, and in spite of intensive investigations of the sleeping brain, we still do not know the answer. Sleeping and dreaming remain among the greatest mysteries of the human organism – essential to life, yet inexplicable and frustratingly unproductive.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Imagine the possibilities if we could do without it. It would be the equivalent of adding 25 or 30 years to the average life-span – an enormous gain, at the expense of nothing more than the loss of slumber.

The idea exerts a strong fascination for scientists and lay people alike, and it is investigated in a new exhibition, Sleeping and Dreaming, at the Wellcome Collection, which opens today.

Presented in a dark and dramatically lit space, more than 200 exhibits chart the scientific exploration of sleep, and the social and cultural areas of our lives to which it is linked. They include art works by Goya, Henry Fuseli and Catherine Yass.

While sleep is essential to life, most of us feel we do not get enough of it – even those with homes and beds to go to. We are a nation of insomniacs, with two-thirds of the population complaining they cannot sleep. Insomnia is so common that doctors say the preoccupation with it is now itself a medical problem. The greatest enemy of sleep is worry about not getting enough of it. Most people who lose sleep will be able to recover it the next night, and will be able to cope in the meantime.

Source - Independent

Onions 'cut heart disease risk'

Eating a meal rich in compounds called flavonoids reduces some early signs of heart disease, research shows.

An Institute of Food Research team focused on one of the compounds, quercetin, which is found in tea, onions, apples and red wine.

The Atherosclerosis study examined the effect of the compounds produced after quercetin is broken down by the body. They were shown to help prevent the chronic inflammation which can lead to thickening of the arteries. Previous research has shown quercetin is metabolised very quickly by the intestine and liver and is not actually found in human blood.

So instead the researchers concentrated on the compounds that enter the bloodstream after quercetin is ingested, absorbed and metabolised.

The compounds were used - in concentrations similar to those that would be produced following digestion - to treat cells taken from the lining of the blood vessels.

Source - BBC

When 17th-century women would seek out hare spittle

Despite the wonders of modern medicine, seeking treatment for infertility can still be a heartbreaking experience. But spare a thought for British women living in the 17th century.

Anyone having difficulty conceiving all those centuries ago might have come across one William Sermon, a notorious physician whose 1671 book recommended a bizarre array of cures for infertility, such as drinking wine mixed with hare spittle or mouse ear.

A copy of his book, The Ladies Companion, Or The English Midwife, has been unearthed in a Surrey attic and is expected to fetch up £2,000 when Sotheby's auctions it next month.
Sermon (c1629-1680) is said to have decided to study medicine after witnessing a woman giving birth alone in a wood while he was out hare-shooting – which may explain why hares feature so prominently in his cures.

"Take the slime that a hare will have about his mouth when he eateth mallows and drink it in wine," Sermon instructs his readers. "Two hours after lie with your husband and fear not (faith my author) but that you will conceive."

Another remedy Sermon recommends to husbands is to secretly feed their wives the womb of a hare. "Give to the woman without her knowledge the womb of a hare to eat. Or burn the same to powder, and give it to her in wine to drink."

Other fertility treatments read like a witch's spell book. "Take Mouse-ear three handful, Elicampane, Liquorice, of each half ounce, Currants... boil them in two quarts of old wine... of which drink a small draught every morning."

Although the remedies might appear bizarre and positively useless by modern medicinal standards, advice such as Sermon's would have been widely distributed and followed.

Source - Independent

How eating a burger and chips can make your baby a boy (and chocolate will produce a girl)

Folklore holds that what mothers eat is the key to the sex of their child.

Red meat and salty snacks are said to lead to boys while chocolate is thought to help to produce girls.

Now science suggests the stories may be true: mice with low blood-sugar levels - a good indicator of a sugar-rich diet - produce more female than male offspring.

Researchers gave 20 female mice a steroid, dexamethasone, which kept their blood-sugar levels low. The sex of their litters was then compared with that of 20 mice on a regular diet. Those eating normally produced offspring that were 53 per cent male. But those on the steroid produced litters that were only 41 per cent male.

The results showed that, in mice at least, a diet that is high in sugar can lead to more female offspring.

The scientists who carried out the research at the University of Pretoria in South Africa say the same could be true in humans.

But Elissa Cameron, who led the project, said it was unclear how blood-sugar levels affect the
sex of the offspring. Sex is determined by a chromosome contained in the sperm - X for a girl and Y for a boy. Women have two X chromosones.

But diet, in men, can have an impact by altering the proportion of sperm carrying X and Y chromosomes.

The latest research suggests food may affect the environment in the womb, creating conditions which are more favourable to male or female sperm.

Professor Cameron said her work raised the possibility that diet can influence the proportion of males and females in a population.

She said it also offered a possible answer to a key question in evolutionary theory - understanding the mechanisms through which animals 'select' the sex off their offspring.

Source - Daily Mail

Online, you needn’t suffer alone

Chatrooms provide invaluable support for people with a wide range of illnesses.

It’s a familiar pattern, and it tends to go like this: doctor delivers diagnosis of (manageable) ailment. Patient leaves doctor’s surgery confident. Patient checks condition on the internet. In seconds, patient is convinced that death is imminent.

Knowledge is power, according to the adage, but when it comes to our health and the internet, power can be confusing. Anyone who has turned to the web for advice on a medical condition will know that that way madness lies. Instead of finding hard facts and much-needed reassurance, the unwary surfer can swiftly drown in a tidal wave of scaremongering.

But if you use it correctly, the web can offer not just information but a much more valuable currency for the newly ill or scared: companionship. Message boards (also called discussion forums) and live, real-time chatrooms are proving an invaluable source of support, information and advice for people with every kind of health problem. Most health charities now have one.

Keying the words “cancer forums” into Google yields more than two million responses. The Department of Health acknowledges that the increase in the number of chatrooms over the past few years has been “significant”. And Saga reports that health is one of the most popular message subjects among users of Saga Zone, its new social networking website for the overfifties.

But as well as offering practical and emotional support, these forums have developed into an empowering tool for patients. In some cases they can also affect the prescribing habits of doctors, inform research and bring top-level medical expertise together. They have become more than online confessionals: exchanges and tips on symptoms, treatments and side-effects fill their pages.“People sometimes become lost for words when they see their physician,” says Dr Shani Orgad, a lecturer in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, who has researched breast cancer forums.

Source - Times

Cannabis compound 'halts cancer'

A compound found in cannabis may stop breast cancer spreading throughout the body, US scientists believe.

The California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute team are hopeful that cannabidiol or CBD could be a non-toxic alternative to chemotherapy.

Unlike cannabis, CBD does not have any psychoactive properties so its use would not violate laws, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics reports. The authors stressed that they were not suggesting patients smoke marijuana.

They added that it would be highly unlikely that effective concentrations of CBD could be reached by smoking cannabis.CBD works by blocking the activity of a gene called Id-1 which is believed to be responsible for the aggressive spread of cancer cells away from the original tumour site - a process called metastasis.

Past work has shown CBD can block aggressive human brain cancers.

The latest work found CBD appeared to have a similar effect on breast cancer cells in the lab.

Source - BBC

Half a glass of red wine 'protects from cancer'

Half a glass of red wine a day could protect you from colon cancer, scientists have discovered.

The study found that a diet rich in grapes can help prevent the third most common form of cancer, one that kills more than half a million people worldwide and over 16,000 in Britain every year.

The University of California, Irvine cancer researchers found an ingredient in grapes, called resveratrol, blocks a chemical pathway that helps cancer spread. They hope that as well as preventing cancer, the discovery could lead to new therapies for sufferers.

"This is truly exciting, because it suggests that substances in grapes can block a key intracellular signalling pathway involved in the development of colon cancer before a tumour develops," said Dr Randall Holcombe, who led the research.

The team studied patients diagnosed with colon cancer. One group was given 20 milligrams daily of resveratrol as a pill; another drank 120 grams (4oz) daily of grape powder mixed in water; and a third drank 80 grams (3oz) daily of grape powder.

While the supplements did not have an impact on existing tumours, biopsied colon tissue showed the patients taking 80 grams of grape powder drastically reduced the inter cell signals needed for tumours to spread.

Source - Daily Mail

Magnolia bark can take bite out of bad breath

Adding a pinch of magnolia bark to mints or gum can eliminate bad breath by killing most odor-causing germs, U.S researchers have found.

Most bad breath occurs when bacteria in the mouth break down proteins, producing foul-smelling sulfur compounds. But many anti-bacterial agents cause nasty side effects like tooth staining, making them impractical for oral care. Magnolia bark extract - a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat fever, headache and stress - has proven effective against germs that cause ulcers, and recent studies have shown it has low toxicity and few side effects.

Scientists at chewing gum maker Wm Wrigley Jr Co wanted to see if it could kill halitosis-causing bacteria, and if it could be used in a gum or mint. Researchers Minmin Tan and colleagues, reporting in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, tested magnolia bark's germ-killing ability in a Wrigley lab.

They found it highly effective against three types of oral microorganisms, killing 99.9 per cent of bad breath bacteria within five minutes.

Source - Daily Mail

Being overweight could be good for you, say U.S. researchers

Being overweight might not be all bad as far as health risks go, claims a group of U.S. researchers. They say it does not appear to raise your risk of dying from cancer or heart disease - and may even help people survive some illnesses.

However, the chances of dying from diabetes and kidney disease go up as the bathroom scales rise - and those who are classified as obese rather than just overweight have a higher risk of death from a wide range of disorders including cancer and heart problems.

A new study in the Journal of the Amercian Medical Association says there is a "grey" area where being up to around a stone and a half overweight may not be all bad.

But the findings are disputed by some specialists who point out the study looks only at death - not sickness and disability - and it's all too easy for people to end up going from pleasantly plump to obese.

The new study is the second carried out by US Government scientists who two years ago first suggested that deaths from being too fat were overstated. The report further analyses the same data, this time looking at specific causes of death along with new mortality figures from 2004 for 2.3million U.S. adults.

Lead researcher Dr Katherine Flegal, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which funded the study, said: "Excess weight does not uniformly increase the risk of mortality from any and every cause, but only from certain causes."

Source - Daily Mail

Vitamin D 'may help slow ageing'

A vitamin made when sunlight hits the skin could help slow down the ageing of cells and tissues, say researchers.

A King's College London study of more than 2,000 women found those with higher vitamin D levels showed fewer ageing-related changes in their DNA. However, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study stops short of proving cause and effect.

A lack of vitamin D has already been linked to multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The genetic material inside every cell has an inbuilt "clock", which counts down every time the cell reproduces itself.

The shortening of these strands of DNA called telomeres is one way of examining the ageing process at a cellular level.

Source - BBC

Babies 'show social intelligence'

At the age of six months, most babies have barely learnt to sit up, let alone crawl, walk or talk.
But, according to new research, they can already assess someone's intentions towards them, deciding who is a likely friend or enemy.

US scientists believe babies acquire the ability to make social evaluations in the first few months of life. It may provide the foundation for moral thoughts and actions in later years, they write in the journal Nature.

"By six months, babies have learnt quite a lot and they are taking things in," said Kiley Hamlin, lead author of the research. We can't say that it is hard-wired (exists in a newborn baby) but we can say it is pre-linguistic and pre-explicit teaching," she told BBC News.

"We don't think this says that babies have any morality but it does seem an essential piece of morality to feel positive about those who do good things and negative about those who do bad things - it seems like an important piece of a later more rational and moral system."

Source - BBC

Girls 'link weight to happiness'

Girls as young as seven believe being slim and attractive will mean you are more happy, popular and successful, research suggests.

A study published by Girlguiding UK found girls associated being overweight with being bullied and sad. However, girls polled said their families and friends made them feel happy and good about themselves.

The authors are calling for primary schools to teach children how the media airbrushes photographs of stars.

Researchers spoke to seven to 10-year-old members of the Brownies in a series of focus groups on body image and self-esteem for the report, published by Girlguiding UK and eating disorders charity beat.

Source - BBC

Breast milk cuts heart disease risk

BREASTFED babies could have a reduced risk of heart disease in later life, research showed yesterday, putting more pressure on women not to bottle-feed their children.

The new study found that heart-disease risk factors were reduced in adults who were breastfed as babies. The research is the latest evidence to emerge on the benefits of breast milk over formula feeds. But midwives and campaigners said women who could not or did not want to breastfeed should not be made to feel guilty. In Scotland, a target was set for 50 per cent of all mothers to breastfeed by 2005. Figures earlier this year showed that only 44.2 per cent were breastfeeding - a drop of nearly 1 per cent in a year.

The latest research, presented at the American Heart Association meeting in Orange County, California, involved almost 400 mothers and 1,000 of their children.

The research, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, found that middle-aged adults who were breastfed as infants were 55 per cent more likely to have high levels of "good" cholesterol, known as HDL. High levels of HDL cholesterol help protect against heart disease and stroke

Source - Scotsman

Omega 3 oils cut the risk of Alzheimer's, say experts

DIET rich in fish, omega 3 oils, fruit and vegetables could lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, according to research published last night.

But consuming oils rich in omega 6, such as sunflower or grapeseed oil, could increase the chances of developing memory problems, it found

Published in the medical journal Neurology, the study examined the diets of 8,085 men and women aged over 65 who did not have dementia at the start of the research.

Over four years of follow-up, 183 of the participants developed Alzheimer's and 98 developed another form of dementia.

Source - Scotsman

Arts and minds

Scientists are discovering how love, art and beauty affect our brains.

According to the 19th-century poet Keats, beauty is truth, truth beauty, and “that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know”. Modern neuroscientists beg to differ. They want to know much more. Today the UK’s largest medical research charity will announce that it is ploughing £1 million into the search for the nerve mechanisms that explain beauty – and with it love, truth and happiness.

The work is controversial because for the first time, brain researchers are scientifically measuring abstract concepts that artists, philosophers and clerics have long regarded as eternal.
The work is being led by Semir Zeki, the Professor of Neurobiology at University College London – one of a group of scientists who are using functional MRI brain scanning to study the “neural correlates of subjective mental states” – in layman’s terms, what happens in the brain when we experience strong feelings.

Zeki’s research has already revealed that beauty really does have a seat in the brain. Scanning the brains of volunteers looking at paintings they classified as ugly or beautiful, he found that beauty engaged a part of the brain called the orbito-frontal cortex. For Zeki, it was a rejection of Plato’s view that beauty had an independent existence of its own, but an affirmation of the more Kantian view that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Measuring the truth of beauty

“What my studies show,” Zeki says, “is that when you view a painting you regard to be beautiful, not only is there activity in the orbito-frontal cortex, but the more beautiful you perceive something to be, the more activity there is. So what you can say is that there is now an objective measurement of a subjective feeling. And you can also say that if you know something to be beautiful, that subjective opinion is far more important than any objective measurement.

Source - Times

The hidden danger of driving - sitting badly at the wheel

Thousands of drivers are suffering unnecessary injuries every day, but not as the result of drink-driving, speeding or other accidents.

Sitting in cars for long periods can cause long-term damage to the neck, back, arms, shoulders and knees, experts say.

At least half of high-mileage business drivers suffer from pains in their lower back from sitting — or slouching — according to reseachers at Loughborough University, who are now setting guidelines to prevent driving-related strains and injuries.

“Driving long distances is one of the worst things you can do to your body,” said Brian McIlwraith, an osteopath who specialises in car ergonomics. “There’s a tendency for you to be forced into a slumped position, so your back is bent, putting pressure on the hips, lower back and intervertebral discs.” Other potential dangers include stretching to reach steering wheels or pedals, and the way you pull yourself out of your seat, he added.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common form of work-related ill-health in Britain, with an annual cost of more than £200 million — and employees who drive more than 20 hours a week are at particular risk.

Source - Times

In defence of homeopathy

Picture this. I am staying in a remote cottage in Cornwall without a car. I have a temperature of 102, spots on my throat, delirium, and a book to finish writing. My desperate publisher suggests I call Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath who has practices in London and Penzance. She sends round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom. Four hours later I have no symptoms whatsoever.

Dramatic stuff, and enough to convince me that while it might use snake venom, homeopathy is no snake oil designed for gullible hypochrondriacs. Right now, though, a fierce debate is raging between those, like me, who trust homeopathy because it works for them, and those who call it shamanistic claptrap, without clinical proof or any scientific base.There have been a number of articles in the press recently criticising homeopathic remedies as worthless at best, and potentially lethal at worst, if they are being taken instead of tried-and-tested conventional medicines for conditions such as malaria or HIV.

I have found myself cited, and drawn into this, because I am on record as supporting homeopathic practice in general, and in particular the Maun homeopathy project, a clinic in Botswana set up by Fairclough.

The organisation Sense About Science and journalists such as Ben Goldacre and Nick Cohen are targeting a symposium in London in December that will discuss HIV and Aids and the homeopathic response to such diseases. Of particular concern is a claim by the British homeopath Peter Chapel and his Dutch colleague, Harry Van Der Zee, that Chapel has developed a remedy, PC1, that can be used to treat the HIV virus.

Source - Guardian

How to beat the winter blues

As the nights draw in, millions of us feel gloom setting in. But there are ways to lift your mood in the colder months.

The summer of 2007 has already gone down in history as the wettest since records began. If months of grey skies, rained-off barbecues and ruined trips to the seaside weren't depressing enough, this lack of sun could also be having an effect on the happiness of millions of us. Whether you are a signed up sufferer of seasonal affective disorder – along with more than a million other people in the UK – or simply feel your mood dip as the nights get darker, the consequences of a lack of sun can leave people lethargic, depressed, anxious and more likely to get colds and infections.

There are a number of theories about exactly what causes SAD but the common theme is that light triggers messages to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This controls sleep, mood and appetite so it's thought that the lack of sunlight in winter has an impact of how effectively it manages these functions.

However, there are a number of ways to combat SAD and one of the most effective is simple to use and can have results within three days. Exposure to bright light – phototherapy – helps 80 per cent of SAD sufferers, according to the mental health charity Mind. Ordinary light bulbs aren't strong enough, though, as the average domestic or office light only emits an intensity of 200-500 lux while the minimum dose necessary to treat SAD is 2,500 lux. The easiest way to get this kind of light is by investing in a light box – prices start from about £60 – and sitting in front of it for around one or two hours a day. Boots has seen sales of its range of light boxes soar by 147 per cent this year.

Source - Independent

Cancer and the bacon sarnie

When Professor Martin Wiseman published his study on cancer this month, he had no intention of demonising the bacon sarnie. Here, he sets the record straight

When I saw the headline in the Daily Express about "food fascists", I wondered what the story was about. On closer examination, I realised that they were actually talking about my colleagues and me.

The subject of the writer's ire was the World Cancer Research Fund report on cancer prevention, which we published this month and which, in my role as project director, has taken some six years.

While the Express headline might have been the extreme, even the general press coverage seemed to give the impression that our supposed war on the humble bacon butty was the greatest threat to the British way of life in living memory.

As someone not used to being in the public eye, I found this rather bemusing. I wonder whether the people have an image of us as a bunch of puritans who want to ban bacon and who consume nothing but brown rice, water and vegetables in a desperate attempt to live to 110.

The truth, I'm afraid, is rather more prosaic. Like many people, I enjoy good food and wine and when it comes to healthy living, including reducing cancer risk, there are areas where I could do better.

But this report was never about wagging the finger at people, nor about making them feel scared or guilty about the fact that their lifestyle is not as healthy as possible. We have never attempted to tell people how they should live. If my next-door neighbours want to have bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then that's up to them. What is important is that any decisions they make should be informed ones. Doctors have to give people information, some of it unwelcome, to help them decide between two treatment options, for example. But whether people like the facts or not, they need them if they are going to be able to make an informed choice. Our report has given them those facts.

Source - Independent

Natural protein 'heals the heart'

Scientists have found a naturally occurring protein can protect against heart cell damage after a heart attack.

Nerve growth factor (NGF) was thought to act only on nerve cells in the body, but mounting evidence suggests it acts on heart muscle cells too.

A Bristol Heart Institute team tested NGF in rats and this had promising results, Cell Death and Differentiation journal reports.

They are hopeful that the treatment would also benefit humans. Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the UK. In 2004, there were about 231,000 new heart attacks.

Heart attacks happen when one of the coronary arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked. If the blood supply is cut off, a part of the heart muscle dies. And this can lead to complications such as heart failure.

Drugs are already available to help prevent and minimise the damage caused by a heart attack.
These include aspirin, which works by thinning the blood to improve blood flow, and clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics to dissolve clots in the artery.

Source - BBC

Spinach 'helps you survive a heart attack'

To generations of children, it is the unpleasant-tasting vegetable that gave Popeye his bulging muscles.

Now it seems that spinach may be able to give our heart extra strength too.

Previous research had already indicated that eating spinach reduces the chances of having a heart attack in the first place.

But the latest findings suggest it also boosts survival rates by a third for those who do suffer an attack.

The tests also revealed that nitrite - found in high quantities in green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce - speeds recovery.

Biochemist Dr Nathan Bryan, of the University of Texas, which carried out the study, recommends eating five to nine ounces of nitrite-rich vegetables a day, three times as much as is typically consumed on current estimates.

Cardiovascular disease is Britain's biggest killer, accounting for four in ten deaths and claiming more than 75,000 lives a year.

The researchers found that mice whose drinking water was supplemented with nitrite for a week before having a heart attack fared better.

They suffered much less cardiac damage and were 33 per cent more likely to survive, reports the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Source - Daily Mail

Plastic beads work magic on wounds that refuse to heal

Tiny plastic beads are being used to help chronic wounds heal.

The treatment has been shown to help heal wounds that have failed to respond to other treatments for as long as four years.

Chronic wounds — such as leg ulcers and pressure sores — are a major public health problem, with more than half a million people in the UK affected. The NHS spends up to £1 billion a year on treating the problem, but in many cases the wounds fail to heal for weeks, months or even years. In severe cases, the only answer is limb amputation.

The wound healing process is complex — many different types of cells move to the area around a wound within a few hours. Their jobs include sealing the wound as quickly as possible, halting blood loss and creating a cover to stop infection getting in.

If wounds fail to respond in the first two to four weeks, despite treatment, they are classed as chronic.

A number of factors may be to blame, including poor blood flow, infection and a weakened immune response.

Source - Daily Mail

Bionade: The health drink that looks like beer

When Bionade launches in the UK next month, the makers of the German health drink may be thankful that we are a nation of beer-drinkers: that way, at least they won't have to explain what fermentation is.

That fermentation has anything at all to do with a health drink may take some explaining, as might the fact that Bionade is made by a brewery. "We have had people assume that Bionade must be some low-alcohol beer, especially because it comes in what looks like a beer bottle," concedes Peter Kowalsky, the company's managing director. "And in Germany we do have a lot of beer drinkers that drink Bionade when they can't drink beer, because it has that similar malty, tangy taste they recognise. But it is a health drink."

And something of an unexpected hit. When Bionade was relaunched in 2005, first year sales were just 20 million bottles. Last year it sold 70 million. This year, with distribution having rolled out to Scandinavia, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, it will sell 250 million bottles, and that is before it launches in the US, where health drinks are a boom market.

Indeed, Bionade might well claim to have invented the market, given that the drink was first sold in 1995. It was also the product of desperation. The Peter brewery was a small Bavarian family business that was being squeezed towards closure by major beer brands. Dieter Leipold, Kowalsky's step-father, was its master brewer and he spent five years, and almost the company's last pfennig, finding a way in which the fermentation process with which he was so familiar could be used to turn sugars into something drinkable but alchohol-free. The breakthrough came when he experimented with the bacterium kombucha, using it to convert sugars into gluconic acid. The result was Bionade, a naturally-flavoured soft drink made to the same ancient and exacting purity laws as German beer.

The whole idea was ahead of its time, never mind the method – there was no health drinks market, consumers were used only to big taste, high-sugar products and more educated attitudes to nutrition and diet were yet to develop. Now Bionade could hardly be more timely: last year juices, fruit and health drinks accounted for nearly 41 per cent of the entire soft drinks market, having grown some 31 per cent over the past four years alone, according to Key Note, the market research company. The health drink market is worth £2.8bn a year.
And no wonder, perhaps: last year a study by the Federal Drugs Administration in the US found some soft drinks containing benzene above the safe limits for tap water, while in Britain irritability in children has been attributed to their fondness for fizzy drinks."

"When we launched we didn't think there was a market for a health drink at all. You already had water, juices, mixtures of the two, products that came out of nature. And then you had typical sugary soft drinks that so many people liked. But nothing in between," says Kowalsky. "Even now launching a health drink is a high-risk venture which is why most play safe and tend not to have either a distinctive taste or content."

That certainly couldn't be said of Bionade. Its premise was a health drink in the sense that nothing unhealthy went into it, but one that was closer in taste and impact to a can of pop. This was a radical new take on what a soft drink could be. Many soft drinks are packed with stabilising and flavour-enhancing chemicals. Bionade has none. It is very low in sugar but because gluconic acid shares a similar molecular structure to glucose, drinkers are fooled into tasting sweetness. And while soft drinks are often loaded with cheap, aggressive acids, Bionade's is a product of natural micro-organisms at work. "And the presence of micro-organisms is a good indication of a healthy product," suggests Kowalsky. "Put these in a cola and they'd die."

Source - Independent

Could lazy living give you a double dose of diabetes?

Our unhealthy habits are making us prone to a new - and even more serious - form of this rampant disease.

Overweight and unhealthy, we are turning ourselves into a nation of diabetics. More people than ever before suffer from the condition - there are already 2.4 million in the UK, with the number rising at a rate of 100,000 every year.

While some people are born with the condition, the majority have developed it as a result of obesity. Treating diabetes costs the NHS more than any other disease, according to figures published last week.

But against this background, leading scientists think we might have been looking at the disease in the wrong way. Rather than suffering from the usual type 1 or type 2 diabetes, many people could have a new type - 'double diabetes', which is a mixture of the two. (It's also called, rather confusingly, type 1.5.)

And the consequences for their health are doubly serious because doctors have to treat both types at the same time - meaning more the needs of your body, then medication - and sufferers are at higher risk of complications such as heart disease and blindness.

Source - Daily Mail

Are you getting enough?

Modern life is too demanding to turn out the lights and we're more sleep deprived than ever before. How can we get back in the habit of grabbing shut-eye?

Ask someone how they are and their response, more often than not, is "fine but a bit tired". Not surprising when one in three of us have sleep problems, according to recent research.

The medical profession calls it tatt, short for "tired all the time". It's one of the most common complaints that doctors hear. The disappearance of rest from daily life is also one of the themes of a major new exhibition on sleep at the Wellcome Collection in London. Modern life is too demanding to turn out the lights and we're more sleep deprived than ever before. How can we get back in the habit of grabbing shut-eye?
We just aren't getting enough sleep and it's slipping down people's list of priorities. It seems modern life is just too demanding - and exciting - to switch off.

As a result sleep deprivation is becoming a national problem, say experts.

Sleep is so important because it allows the brain to recover from the rigours of the day. Not getting enough has been found to increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and depression. The government is keen to tackle these health issues, efforts doomed to failure unless getting enough sleep is made a priority as well.

"Sleep is as important as diet and exercise when it comes to the nation's health," says Doctor Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Source - BBC

The cures in your kitchen cupboards

Most of us keep the bathroom cabinet stocked with remedies for common ailments - but we could just as well look in our kitchen cupboards instead. Many everyday ingredients can double as home cures for a host of complaints, from toothache to sciatica - and with no worry of side-effects.

Camomile tea can help soothe the pain of mouth ulcers, according to London GP Dr Rob Hicks. Allow the herbal brew to cool with the tea bag in, then swill liquid around the mouth before swallowing. Do this every couple of hours. It is thought the herb contains substances that relieve inflammation.

To relieve the pain of a urinary tract infection, such as cystitis, mix half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in an 8oz glass of water and drink, says Dr Jenni Byrom, a gynaecologist at Birmingham Women's Hospital. This changes the pH level of the acidic urine so that it will burn less when passing water. Do this once or twice a day at the first sign of infection.
Drinking a glass of homemade cranberry juice twice a day can also help, she says. Cranberry juice contains chemicals which inhibit the activity of E. coli - the bacteria most often responsible for cystitis. To make the juice, boil fresh or frozen cranberries until soft, liquidise when cool and drink a standard glass. This way you know you are getting the benefit of pure fresh fruit, unlike with a commercial drink which may be diluted and contain added sugar.

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Source - Daily Mail

Healthy diet 'cuts dementia risk'

More evidence that a diet rich in oily fish and vegetables can reduce the chances of dementia later in life has been uncovered by scientists.

Studies published in US journals suggested that a "Mediterranean diet" or long-term beta-carotene supplements could ward off the illness. Both contain anti-oxidants, which could protect the brain from damage.

The Alzheimer's Society said that most people could cut their risk by eating a healthy diet. The first study, in the journal Neurology, looked at the diets of more than 8,000 healthy men and women aged over 65.

They found that those who regularly ate omega-3 oils, found in some cooking oils and certain types of fish, were far less likely to develop dementia over the following four year period. People who ate fish at least once a week had a 40% lower risk of dementia, while eating fruit and vegetables once a day reduced the risk by 35%.

However, eating other types of cooking oils containing omega-6 - such as sunflower oil - rather than omega-3 doubled the risk.

Dr Pascale Barberger-Gateau, from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux, said: "These results could have considerable implications for public health."

The second study looked at the effects of beta-carotene supplements over an average of 18 years.

Source - BBC

'Delay' in ADHD children's brains

The brains of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) do not mature at the same rate as their peers, a US study says.

Researchers looked at 450 children - half of whom had ADHD - and found an average delay of three years in the development of the cortex. This, the brain's outer mantle, is key for both attention and planning.

Researchers say the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study may pave the way for new treatments.

The team from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) looked at when and where the brain reached peak "thickness", a marker of maturity.

Among the 223 youngsters with ADHD, half of 40,000 cortex sites examined reached peak thickness at 10.5, compared to age 7.5 in a matched group without the disorder. But the researchers did find that despite the delay, the brain does follow a normal pattern of development.

"Finding a normal pattern of cortex maturation, albeit delayed, in children with ADHD should be reassuring to families and could help to explain why many youth eventually seem to grow out of the disorder," said Philip Shaw, the lead researcher.

Finding out why
Future studies will now look into why the delay happens, and examine ways of boosting recovery.

However UK experts warned that the findings do not indicate that children with ADHD "catch up" after the three year delay, as the brains of children without the disorder will continue to advance.

"During these later stages of development the cortex of the brain gets thinner due to a process called pruning which occurs as the brain refines its connections and becomes more organized," said Dr David Coghill of the University of Dundee.

Pregnancy link to active children

Mothers who are active during pregnancy end up having children who do more exercise, research shows. Children are also more likely to be sporty if they have an autumn birthday, the findings suggest.

The Bristol University-led study of 5,500 11 to 12-year-olds, ruled out any biological factors, the British Medical Journal reported.

Instead, the researchers said active pregnant women were likely to continuing to do exercise after birth.

Role models
This meant that they set the children a good example and encouraged their children to get into good habits.

Lead researcher Calum Mattocks said: "The early pre-school years are so important. It seems if they see their parents doing regular exercise this will have a positive impact."

The team gathered data on 11 and 12-year-old children's activity over the course of at least three days, analysing these against several factors including how active mothers were during pregnancy.

They found the children of those that took part in regular brisk walking and swimming while pregnant ending up 3% to 4% more active.

It comes as statistics show child obesity has doubled in the last decade with one in four now obese.

Source - BBC

Dogs to sniff out owner diabetes

Researchers at a Belfast university are to investigate if dogs can sniff out diabetes.

Dr Deborah Wells, from the School of Psychology at Queen's, said there were anecdotal stories of dogs detecting a drop in blood sugar in their owners.

She and Dr Shaun Lawson, from the University of Lincoln, have been awarded £10,000 funding from Diabetes UK for a year-long study.

They want 100 Type One diabetics to complete an online survey.

The researchers are also seeking video footage of dogs reacting to their owner's 'hypos' or low blood sugar levels.

Source - BBC

Kids' TV can 'harm' children and hamper their development, study shows

WATCHING even an hour of popular children's television programmes such as Power Rangers or Scooby Doo can damage the intellectual development of children under the age of three, a study has shown.

Researchers say "violent" programmes targeted at children can double the chance of youngsters showing signs of attention deficit disorder.Dr Dimitri Christakis, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington, said the first three years of a child's life involved critical brain development, specifically connections between neurons. Watching such programmes during this early period of brain "plasticity" meant children were being conditioned for a high level of stimulation which they were not going to get later in life.

With nearly a quarter of young children having a television in their bedroom, the latest findings will add to the debate about parents using the box as a "babysitter". This is the first time programme content has been investigated in such studies.

The research project found that popular shows such as Power Rangers, Lion King and Scooby Doo, involving fighting, hitting people, threats or other violence central to the plot, were shown to increase the signs of attention disorders.

But even "non-violent" entertainment such as Rugrats and The Flintstones carried a substantial risk of attention problems, but slighter lower.

Educational programmes such as Arthur, featuring the adventures of a well-adjusted anthropomorphic aardvark, or Barney the Dinosaur and Sesame Street had no adverse effects.

Source - Scotsman

Lack of B vitamins linked to obesity

BABIES whose mothers do not get enough essential B vitamins around the time of conception may grow up predisposed to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

A study of ewes showed that reducing their intake of B12 and folate prior to pregnancy produced major physical effects in their future offspring. At two, the young sheep were 25 per cent fatter than normal, had significantly raised blood pressure and showed signs of insulin resistance. They also appeared to have altered and hypersensitive immune systems.

Males were affected far more than females. The sheep, the equivalent of 20 to 30 years old in human terms, are being monitored to see how they progress. Scientists believe they are likely to become obese, be prone to heart disease and afflicted by Type 2 diabetes. They think the same pattern might occur in humans, but is masked, as people grow older, by diet and lifestyle. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists discovered altered DNA in unborn lambs, which they suspect is a causal factor.

Source - Scotsman

Scoliosis: Ahead of the curve

A spinal defect caused Newsnight's Madeleine Holt years of pain – she even wore a back brace on TV.

Then she found a radical new treatment. 'I have been on a seven-year back odyssey,' says Madeleine Holt, as she hangs from a set of wall bars to demonstrate her daily back exercises. "When I was 14 and diagnosed with scoliosis, I felt quite excited – I was special. But then later on, I realised what it really meant."

What it would mean for her was years of chronic neck pain, thousands of pounds spent searching for a cure and a whole year of wearing a brace round the clock – even on television for her job as Newsnight's culture correspondent.

Scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine – affects three or four children in every 1,000. It gets worse with age and can be identified by the Adam's Forward Bend Test, which used to be common in school medical exams; the patient bends at the hips, with the feet together and the arms hanging down. The tell-tale sign of scoliosis is when one side of the back is higher than the other.

Scoliosis is more common in girls, who account for eight out of 10 cases; there is also a genetic link, with 25 per cent of sufferers having a relative with spinal curvature. The measurement of the curvature is called a Cobb angle, an angle of 10 per cent being mild and 90 per cent severe.

The traditional treatment for scoliosis is a back brace, which limits the angle of curvature, or, in more extreme cases, surgery to insert metal rods in the spine. The latter became more commonplace after the invention of the Harrington Rod, which was inserted into the back and fused to the spine, holding it straight. Although modern implants are more flexible and are extendable, surgery for scoliosis carries the same risks as any other.

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Then last December, Holt found out about a new clinic, called Scoliosis SOS in Suffolk, which offered the Katharina Schroth method, a physiotherapy-based set of exercises to "re-educate" the back muscles. Once they are taught the techniques, the patient must do half an hour a day of maintenance exercises.

Source - Independent

The cures in your kitchen

The healing powers of ordinary foods could soon be used to make life-saving drugs. And you can cook up the benefits right now.

Preventive medicines made from rice, berries and red wine could soon be available to help to prevent cancer and other diseases – and pills could be available by 2010. Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK hope the active compounds will be used to create the first products in a family of drugs that stop disease before it takes hold. "These agents have proved highly effective in the lab – it is extraordinary," says Professor Will Steward, a cancer and molecular medicine expert who is involved in the research.

A single plant molecule can have a bewildering array of health-promoting effects – curcumin, for example, obtained from the spice turmeric, doesn't only protect against cancer, it's anti-inflammatory and could help combat Alzheimer's.

Many of the molecules scientists are getting excited about are plant pigments. In nature, these act to neutralise damaging molecules created by ultraviolet light. In the body, they do the same job – they stabilise damaging molecules on everything from cell membranes to the gut lining and blood vessels. By preventing damage, they help to prevent inflammation, cancerous changes and other ageing effects.

Other plant molecules with anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects exist to protect the plant from pathogens, but they have the same effect in the human body.

Drugs companies are looking for the most powerful plant molecules to use alone or in combination with existing drugs.

The only downside is that drugs companies don't always look to see how plants were used traditionally. In herbal medicine, whole plant extracts are used, rather than a single molecule. In these extracts, you get dozens of beneficial molecules working together in synergy.

While the new drugs are likely to consist of high concentrations of natural " super-molecules", you can access their health benefits now, in food or as supplements. So which of today's foods will be tomorrow's drugs and how can you use them to stay healthy now?

Source - Independent

Do DIY health tests work? We ask the experts for their verdicts

Unable to get an appointment with your GP? Too embarrassed by your symptoms? It's not surprising many of us now turn to home testing kits to diagnose potential problems.

Sales of these kits have risen massively over the past five years and we now spend an extraordinary £100 million on them each year.

The tests themselves have become increasingly sophisticated - early DIY kits could test only for cholesterol levels and blood pressure but you can now buy tests for prostate problems and even track the effects of recreational drinking - last month saw the launch of a home testing kit for liver damage. Each test is simple to use, and usually involves taking a tiny sample of blood or urine and comparing the results against a colour-coded chart provided with the pack. With some of the more expensive tests, you post off the sample to a laboratory and the results are usually returned within days.

But do DIY tests work?

Source - Daily Mail

Warning over STI web treatments

People with sexually transmitted infections are putting themselves at risk by buying treatments over the internet, say researchers.

The University of East Anglia found less than a quarter of internet vendors gave information on potential side effects of their treatments.

A similar number also failed to say if their products would interfere with prescription medicines.
The study features in the journal Biomedcentral Public Health.

The East Anglia team also found that few vendors offered advice on whether their products might harm patients who were breastfeeding or pregnant.

Less than a quarter of vendors provided advice on how to avoid transmission of the STI or becoming re-infected.

Source - BBC

A pain in the neck

The thyroid is a small gland that causes big problems - or does it? What topic do you think would get one of the biggest listener responses in the history of the BBC Radio 4 medical programmes?

Obesity, asthma, heart disease? In fact, it was the thyroid, the tiny gland in the neck that controls the speed of the body’s metabolism.

As well as being the topic of a recent episode of the health series Am I Normal?, which I present, controversies about treatment for thyroid conditions was the subject of fierce debate at a medical conference this month in Birmingham. So, why the big fuss?

First, thyroid problems, either underactive or overactive, affect as many women in the UK as diabetes. It’s a big problem. And with underactive thyroids affecting twice as many people as overactive ones — about one woman in 50 and one man in 500 — this condition cannot be ignored.

The problem in the UK lies in diagnosis and treatment, especially of underactive conditions. This is causing a medical tug-of-war between patients and doctors, with those affected saying that doctors are using inappropriate standards to judge their illness, and that they are being labelled as normal despite persistent symptoms.

Doctors, however, are concerned that some individuals are blaming their thyroid for problems that are not medical but social, such as weight gain, or even ageing.

Falling levels of thyroxine, the hormone produced by the thyroid, affect body and mind. Body temperature is reduced, a person feels tired all the time, becomes constipated, may gain weight, be sluggish and depressed, with lacklustre hair and nails. The extreme effect of low thyroid levels can be seen in countries where there is a lack of iodine, which is essential to the hormone’s manufacture in the body; 26 million people are brain damaged because of it.

But in Britain falling levels are usually caused by auto-immunity, when the body’s immune system creates thyroid autoantibodies that attack and damage the gland, causing it to produce less thyroxine than it should (hypothyroidism). It occurs ten times more often in women than men, and particularly in older women. For reasons that are not clear, this gender disparity is a feature of many other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Source - Times

Effects of anger last at least a week, study shows

Heather Mills needs to calm down. Outbursts like her infamous rant on GMTV may still be having an adverse effect on her health a week later, according to scientists.

New research shows that blood pressure increases during a bout of anger and that it still rises seven days later when the row is remembered. "Even after a week, there is no sign of any reduction of the effect,'' say researchers, who report their findings in the International Journal of Psychophysiology this week.

Anger has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other health problems. Research suggests that hardening of the arteries seems to advance faster in people who score high in anger and hostility tests.

One theory is that stress hormones constrict blood vessels, raise blood pressure and speed up the heartbeat. It had been thought that these effects would disappear when the row was over.

Researchers at the University of California and Columbia University looked at longer-term effects of anger triggered during a laboratory experiment with volunteers. "If cardiovascular responses are damaging to the cardiovascular system, then stressful events have the potential to continue to do harm long after they are ended."

Source - Independent

The French don't give a fig for fads

The French don't give a fig for fads

In France, eating well and staying slim is a constant preoccupation. But few people diet or go to the gym – and no one takes food scares seriouslyAnother day, another diet scare. As British consumers panic about the latest report saying that red meat and wine may cause cancer, I am here in France tucking into a birthday lunch with a French friend. We are eating lamb, roast potatoes, carrots and haricots verts. We will drink some red wine and, knowing my friend, we will finish off with a piece of dark chocolate.

In fact, if she doesn't have any, I will bring some out from my own handbag. Since the news last week that craving chocolate can actually make you fatter, I never travel without my own bar.

The French think we're hilarious with our faddy diets and food obsessions.

A few years ago we were supposed to avoid carbs. A meal without bread? You've got to be off your trolley. No red meat? I don't think so.

The French eat from every food group at every meal, regardless of whether or not they are healthy, super-healthy or protect us from disease.

Source - Telegraph

Work bad for our health, say almost 200,000 Scots

NEARLY 200,000 people in Scotland say their work has been bad for their health, according to a report. The figure includes those suffering from an illness which they believe was caused - or made worse - by either their present or past work.

The statistics were published yesterday by the Health and Safety Executive. The report also highlighted that 31 workers were killed in Scotland last year, and more than 12,000 were injured.

Some 4.3 million working days - the equivalent of more than two days per worker - were lost north of the Border from workplace injury or from work-related ill-health. Ninety-one offences were prosecuted in Scotland, of which 60 resulted in a conviction, with an average fine of £27,268.

Stewart Campbell, the HSE's director for Scotland, said: "We see every day the impact of poor health-and-safety practice, and it is this which drives us, not the desire to act as killjoys."
Mr Campbell said it was "high time" that common causes of fatal accidents were eliminated.

He added: "I hope the courts will continue to reflect the gravity of these offences in the penalties they impose."

Source - Scotsman

The baby brain-drain

DVDs that claim to make babies brighter are not only ineffectual, they take away vital development time with loving care-givers

A few years ago I was asked to help to launch Baby Einstein in this country. I was put off by the name – images of overzealous parents hot-housing their small children in the vain hope of growing their IQs – and became more dubious when I looked at the content, which was mainly coloured patterns and music reminiscent of Fantasia, but nowhere near as attractive. I couldn’t see what this was doing for babies, so I declined.

There are now a number of similar ranges, many having names that contain the same questionable promise – Brainy Baby, Baby Bright, which claims a scientific approach, and Baby IQ which has harnessed no less a mentor than the London Symphony Orchestra. Most of these titles consist of live action or simple animation and show bright patterns, other babies and basic scenes involving animals, nature, abstracts etc.

Overall, the content of these DVDs promotes passive viewing by a baby rather than using the DVD platform as an opportunity for interactive play with a parent or carer. The majority suggest that the baby will benefit intellectually from absorbing the visual and aural content. I’m aware of no credible scientific data to back up these claims and there’s no supporting material to help to guide or reassure parents. In short, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these are products with no real benefit to babies and give parents a false notion that watching television can improve a child’s intelligence.

All parents have a fervent desire to ensure that their children are given thebest possible chance to realise their full potential. Most parents, however, are unaware that babies start to develop their brain-power from the moment that they are born. They’re wired to communicate and, moments after birth, will poke out their tongues at you if you talk animatedly while making eye-contact. They’re already developing learning skills, memory and understanding.

In their first year, babies make half a million brain connections a second. That’s why their brains triple in weight in the first 12 months.

Source - Times

Consumers ignore cancer risks of eating red meat

There's nothing like a bacon sarnie with brown sauce," says 36-year-old Nicola Doran as she waits in the queue at JBS butchers in east London.

Ms Doran's sentiments have been echoed across the country by meat enthusiasts who are turning a blind eye to the latest announcement from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which states that bacon is such a cancer risk it should be avoided entirely. The mother-of-two said: "It wouldn't put me off eating pork or bacon. I'm Irish, and people in Ireland were born and bred on pork; it's their number one meat and it never did them any harm."

It is business as usual in the Tower Hamlets butchers, providers of meat to the east London community for the past 30 years. John Gaynor, manager of JBS, is convinced that shoppers will not take the latest scare over the relationship between meat consumption and cancer seriously.

"People have been eating pork for donkey's years," he said, standing behind a display of gammon, pork chops and ribs. "Cancer will either get you or it won't. People wouldn't eat anything if they listened to the news all the time."

Despite the WCRF warning on the dangers of processed meat, butchers and meat-lovers have remained optimistic. The study, which used analysis from 7,000 cancer studies from around the world, said that food such as salami, ham and bacon was such a risk factor for bowel cancer that it should be cut completely from our diets.

Lynn Church, a 46-year-old artist who has been going to JBS butchers for years, said that cutting out bacon completely seemed excessive. "You should have everything in moderation. Some of the things the media say might put me off but basically everything's OK in moderation."

The WCRF study also suggested a link between red-meat consumption and bowel cancer, and recommended that people should cut back their intake to 500g a week.

Source - Independent

A pint of beer is better for you after a workout than water, say scientists

Yesterday we were warned of the health dangers associated with alcohol - not to mention bacon, ham and sausages.

Today there is more cheering news from a different set of scientists.

They have come up with the perfect excuse for heading to the pub after a game of football or rugby.

Their research has shown that a glass of beer is far better at rehydrating the body after exercise than water. Researchers suspect that the sugars, salts and bubbles in a pint may help people absorb fluids more quickly.

The finding, which comes from a study at Granada University in Spain, will be welcome news for the legions of evening and weekend sports enthusiasts who enjoy a postmatch pint. It will also ease the worries of those still digesting the report from the cancer experts who linked alcohol and other products to an increased risk of some forms of the disease.

Professor Manuel Garzon, of Granada's medical faculty, made his discovery after tests on 25 students over several months.

Source - Daily Mail

Food v drugs

In the battle against heart disease, can you ditch the statins and eat your way instead to healthy cholesterol levels.

Out of all the things likely to shorten our lives in the UK, coronary heart disease is the most likely. It is believed that almost 80 per cent of adults have total cholesterol levels above the ideal and that raised cholesterol and fats in the blood are responsible for well over half the deaths caused by the disease.

Lowering cholesterol levels has, not surprisingly, become a big focus of the NHS, and to this end, the mass prescription of a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins is under way to those whose cholesterol levels register as “high” in routine GP tests. Statins work by blocking enzymes that play a key role in the production of cholesterol in your liver (most cholesterol in our blood is made in our liver rather than being eaten directly in food).

About three million of us are knocking back statins daily, millions more are being offered them and there is a proposal that these drugs should ultimately be offered to all men over 50 and women from the age of 60. Fat-busting drugs are the most costly class of drugs to the NHS and there has been a 17-fold increase in their prescription since 1997.

Which poses the question, is there an alter-native? For some people the answer is a definite “no”. If, for instance, you have an inherited form of raised cholesterol, have had a heart attack or stroke, have diabetes or raised blood pressure, you should do as your doctor tells you and take your medicine. Furthermore, some doctors argue that patients are more willing to pop a pill once a day than to change their diet. But for those who prefer not to take the pharmaceutical route, the outlook is brighter because recent studies have suggested that including a “portfolio” of certain foods – a portfolio diet – can help to lower cholesterol by up to 30 per cent, a result which reflects the achievement of statins.

Source - Times

The 'mystery sage'

In the US and UK teenagers smoke a powerful hallucinogen, video their experiences and post the results on YouTube. The substance is legal. Its defenders say it is harmless. To its opponents it is a potentially dangerous substance that must be investigated.

"My body felt like it was a palette of paint thrown on a canvas and slowly moving down it."
This description of the effects of digesting the plant salvia divinorum - a relative of common sage - sounds like a parody of 1960s mind-expanding hippies. But it is not untypical of a curious YouTube-centred subculture. Mexican shamans have been using the plant as part of religious rite for thousands of years, but it is now one of a range of "legal highs" sold on both sides of the Atlantic.

Smoked, the effect can be intense but lasts as little as 10 minutes, while chewing it creates a longer period under the influence. Its defenders say it is neither toxic or addictive, but legislators have been concerned enough for it to be banned in Australia, a number of European nations and a handful of US states.

Users can experience uncontrolled laughter, a temporary inability to speak, dramatic visual and auditory hallucinations, uncoordinated movement, a feeling of being out of the body and a wide range of other unsettling phenomena.

In the US, following the suicide of a teenager last year who had at some point smoked the plant, there were calls for a federal ban.

Here, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, recently tabled an early-day motion demanding the government urgently rectify its "oversight". "Some claims made about salvia are very bad. People will be shocked by this," he said.

Source - BBC

Australian men find solace in a shed

Australia has come up with a novel weapon in the fight against high rates of male suicide and depression - a variation on the humble shed.

The Men's Shed movement is booming in disused warehouses and other suburban buildings, which are being transformed into havens for mostly older men to socialise. At the last count there were 216 of them around the country and more are on the way.

Perched in between native bushland and a busy railway line is the North Sydney shed. The former scouts' hall is a fully equipped workshop. It hums with activity and a fair dose of cheeky Aussie humour.

"We talk about all sorts of things - from cake recipes to sex - so we cover a wide field," said supervisor John Marlin, a kind-hearted bear of a man who is in his early 70s. Supporters have insisted the workshops are a breakthrough in men's health as the informal atmosphere is encouraging them to talk more about their problems - such as depression and loneliness.

"Until I found this place I didn't realise how far I was going down," explained 80-year-old Kevin Hardacre, who was busy making environmentally-sound bird boxes.

"By being here you suddenly lift your mind up and you get better social interaction. Life becomes more funny," he said.

"Most members here are refugees from something - refugees from their own fears and frustrations."

Source - BBC

Organic milk for mothers cuts babies' allergy risk

MOTHERS who drink organic milk during pregnancy and while breastfeeding could help their babies avoid allergies, research suggested yesterday.

A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic dairy products might help children fight off asthma, eczema and other allergies.

The researchers, from Maastricht University's Louis Bolk Institute, suggested the conditions could be avoided if children also drank the milk.

Children who drank organic milk and whose mothers drank organic milk during pregnancy had a 36 per cent lower incidence of eczema than those using normal dairy products.
Previous research has shown that organic milk has higher levels of vitamin E, omega 3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants.

Studies also suggest milk from pasture-fed cows may contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) - a type of fat which might protect against health problems.

Source - Scotsman

Working nights cited as 'probable' cancer risk

NIGHT shift workers may face an increased risk of cancer, say researchers.

The World Health Organisation is to classify shift work as a "probable" carcinogen, suggesting it poses a similar risk to agents such as anabolic steroids, ultraviolet radiation and diesel engine exhaust. The theory could have ramifications for millions of people, especially in the developed world, where one person in five works nights.

It would also mark an about-turn for the scientific community, which has previously discarded such notions.

Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist and professor at the University of Connecticut Health Centre, admitted scientists had traditionally dismissed any link between night work and cancer as "wacky".

Two decades ago, he published a paper that suggested a link between exposure to light at night and the development of breast cancer. At the time he was trying to establish why breast cancer incidence suddenly shot up from the 1930s in industrialised societies, where night work was considered a mark of progress. Most scientists were bewildered by his proposal.

But in recent years, several studies have found that women working nights for many years are indeed more prone to breast cancer, and that animals which have their light-dark schedules switched grow more cancerous tumours and die quicker.

Source - Scotsman

Postnatal depression 'is grieving for your old self'

THE loss of identity a woman feels after having a baby is so strong it can feel like they have suffered a bereavement, researchers say.

Losing their financial independence, work status and freedom has such as profound effect that they can find themselves grieving for their former self, a conference in Falkirk is due to hear tomorrow. Melanie Clarke and Dr Cynthia McVey, from Glasgow Caledonian University, said that the pressures of modern life had led to rising rates of postnatal depression as women felt they had to "have it all".

It is estimated between 10 and 28 per cent of women will suffer postnatal depression. The British Psychological Society conference will hear that rates of postnatal depression could be reduced if this "bereavement" for the loss of their old self was considered a natural reaction which most will experience.

Mrs Clarke and Dr McVey interviewed new mothers with a history of postnatal depression. The women reported a feeling of being "lost". They had problems because of unrealistic expectations about childbirth and motherhood and because they had lost sight of the person they used to be.

Source - Scotsman

How Aaron trained his brain

Aaron has been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder…

When I spoke to 12-year-old Aaron Randall recently, he'd had a good day at school.

That's a small miracle, given that Aaron has been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder… "Just about everything, all rolled into one boy," he told me.

Until recently, going to school was an ordeal: "Every day I wanted to die because I was bullied and picked on."

His teachers told his mother, Marie, that her son was lazy, aggressive and an uncontrollable nuisance.

Today, Aaron not only enjoys his new school, St John Vianney in Blackpool, but his grades in English, maths and science have also gone from a level 2 to level 5 in just three months.

Emotionally, too, his life has been transformed. "My son has friends now, which is a huge step," says Marie. "Recently he made me a cup of coffee, sat down beside me and told me he loved me. There were tears in my eyes."

According to Marie, this remarkable change is down to the Dore programme, a brain-training system put together by Welsh entrepreneur Wynford Dore, who invested millions of pounds investigating a way to help his own dyslexic daughter (Susie had become so frustrated and depressed that she tried to kill herself).

The drug-free, noninvasive approach aims to correct cerebellar developmental delay (CDD), believed to be the root cause of learning difficulties. It's thought that, for some reason, the neural pathways connecting the cerebellum (which integrates data from our senses so we can learn efficiently) to the cerebrum (or 'thinking brain') are not fully developed. The result is that information isn't processed quickly or efficiently.

The Dore programme uses simple repetitive exercises to stimulate the cerebellum and create new neural pathways; this helps learning, language, emotions and coordination.

Source - Daily Mail

More speed, less pain

A new approach to running, using the principles of the Alexander technique, is claimed to hugely reduce the risk of injury.

I am trotting around Bedford Square in central London like a pony in the ring, steered by a hand on the back of my neck and another on my lower back. The potential for feeling foolish is high, but what I actually feel is a great sense of joy. I've been running for 18 years but it has never felt this easy and, well, bouncy.

"Think of running over the ground, rather than into it," says the owner of the guiding hands. He is Malcolm Balk, an Alexander technique teacher and running coach who has created a new approach to running.

Twenty-five years ago, Balk was a promising marathon runner, but he was plagued by injury. He stumbled across the Alexander technique when learning to play the cello and eventually trained to teach it. He soon noticed that he was running not only injury-free but faster, too. This prompted him to develop "the art of running" which combined the two.

In the same way that the Alexander technique isn't a precisely defined group of exercises, Balk's take on running isn't rigid. He aims to increase our awareness of what we're doing when we're pounding the pavements so that running becomes an ongoing process of exploration rather than simply a means of getting fit or reaching the finish line. "It's important to pay attention to your 'kinaesthetic conscience' - to what's going on within your body," he says. This attention is what allows us to become aware of faulty movement patterns, bad posture, muscular tension and tightness. In Alexandrian terms, identifying these habits of misuse is the first step to eliminating them.

Source - Guardian

Melanoma more common on left side of the body

Skin cancer is more common on the left side of the body, scientists have discovered. And sun bathing facing south may be to blame.

New research shows that there are up to 19 per cent more skin melanomas on the left sides of people in Britain than on the right.

Similar differences were also found in four other countries by the researchers who looked at the sites of almost 100,000 tumours.In the first study of its kind, researchers from the from the NHS, the US National Institutes of Health and other agencies, looked at cases of melanoma in England, Scotland, Australia, The Netherlands, and the US.

In England, there were 10,345 on the left side, and 9,267 on the right in England, showing a 12 per cent left side bias. In Scotland, there were 19 per cent more cases on the left - 1,667 compared to 1,410. Australia and the US were lowest, with an eight per cent left side bias

In all countries they found a left side bias in melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer whose incidence has doubled in the last 20 years to around 8,000 cases, with 1,800 deaths linked to spread of the disease. The research, being published in the European Journal of Cancer this week, shows that, overall, there were 51,338 melanomas on the left, and 46,883 on the right. The difference are found in both sexes.

Ultraviolet light exposure is the major cause of all types of skin cancer, but why there should be more melanomas on the left than the right is not clear.

The researchers say there are several possible reasons for such a bias. They reject the idea that it is a chance findings because the same trend was found in all cancer registries, and for the same reason they reject a possibly of reporting errors.

They looked at the idea that handedness - 11.5 per cent of the population are left handed - might have an effect on the way sunblocks are applied, but reject that too: "While handedness might result in differential application of sunscreen to the arms, this argument is unlikely to apply to the legs or to young children who have sunscreen applied by their parents," they say.

"The fact that there is an excess of left-sided melanomas on the lower as well as the upper limb makes handedness a less convincing explanation."

Source - Independent

Study reveals link between breastfeeding and child IQ

Babies who are breastfed stand a better chance of becoming intelligent children if they also inherit a version of a gene that is involved in the growth of the brain, researchers have found.

Two large studies of breastfed children confirm that mother’s milk does indeed raise IQ in later life – if combined with a gene involved in the metabolism of fatty acids.

Scientists believe the discovery blows a hole in the “nature versus nurture” debate, as it shows that there is a hitherto unconfirmed interaction between our environment and the genes involved in brain development.

Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, the husband-and-wife team who carried out the work at King’s College London, found that the IQ advantage for breastfed children was only true if they had inherited the “C” version of a gene known as FADS2, which handles fatty acids in the diet.

Breast milk is known to be rich in fatty acids, and these compounds are also thought to be important in certain aspects of brain development, such as the growth of nerve endings and the production of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers in the brain.

It was already accepted that breastfeeding increases a child’s IQ significantly, but some critics of earlier research pointed out that in the West this may be because higher social classes tend both to breastfeed their children and spend more money on their education than lower social classes.

The latest study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, claims to have eliminated these potentially confounding social factors.

“Our findings support the idea that the nutritional content of breast milk accounts for the differences seen in human IQ. But it’s not a simple connection: it depends to some extent on the genetic make-up of each infant,” Professor Moffitt said. “The argument about intelligence has been about nature versus nurture for at least a century. We’re finding that nature and nurture work together.”

About 90 per cent of the population have the “C” version of the FADS2 gene, so most babies could potentially benefit from breastfeeding in terms of a raised IQ.

Source - Independent

Is the sunshine vitamin the way to beat asthma?

Vitamin D could lower the risk of asthma in children by up to 40 per cent, according to a new report.

Researchers say that lack of vitamin D could be involved in the increase in asthma and allergies. They believe the increase in the two conditions has come at the same time as a decline in exposure to the sun, the main source of vitamin D.

The theory is that as people have become more prosperous over the past 50 years, more time is spent indoors - travelling in cars rather than walking, for example - which has resulted in less exposure to sunlight.

"Coupled with inadequate intake from foods and supplements, this then leads to vitamin D deficiency, particularly in pregnant women, resulting in more asthma and allergy in their offspring," say the researchers from Harvard University.

"Our studies show that higher vitamin D intake by pregnant mothers reduces asthma risk by as much as 40 per cent in children aged three to five."

They suggest that low levels of vitamin D may affect the development of foetal lungs and immune system, leading to a higher risk of asthma and allergies.

The researchers say the theory explains the geographic pattern for cases of asthma and allergies, with a higher prevalence in Westernised nations, and in areas further away from the equator.

They add: "We believe these patterns can be explained by a decrease in exposure to the sun and the limited sources of vitamin D in the diet to compensate for this decrease in sun exposure, leading to vitamin D deficiency.

"Providing adequate vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy may lead to significant decreases in asthma incidence in young children."

Source - Daily Mail

The chocolate bar that's 'healthier' than 5lbs of apples

Most of us need no excuse to tuck into a bar of chocolate. But here's one anyway.

Choxi+ is made by Prestat, chocolatiers to the Queen.

And it is bursting with health-boosting antioxidants - natural compounds said to stave off everything from heart disease to cancer. Refinements to the manufacturing process mean the product, which goes on sale today, is said to contain up to three times more antioxidants than other brands.

So high are the levels that just two small squares apparently contain more antioxidants than a pound of Brussels sprouts or an incredible 5lbs of apples.

And the even better news is, it's said to taste terrific.

Available in both dark and milk varieties and in mint and orange flavours, Choxi+ is the first chocolate bar designed to be extra-rich in antioxidants.

While the price of £1.99 per 70g or 75g bar might make it more of a luxury than an everyday snack, Prestat claims those two squares a day will provide all the health boost a person needs.
Tests carried out for the London-based chocolate-maker, which holds a royal warrant, show that weight for weight, Choxi+ contains higher levels of antioxidants than any other food.
As well as sprouts and apples, that also includes such superfoods as broccoli, spinach, raisins, blueberries and raspberries.

As dark chocolate is naturally far richer in antioxidants than milk chocolate, the squares in the dark bars are smaller to ensure chocolate-lovers get the same benefit, no matter which variety they choose.

Source - Daily Mail

The Big Question: Where do the latest findings leave the debate on breast-feeding?

Why are we asking this now?

Just when you thought scientists had made their minds up on a topic – from life on Mars to the health dangers of bacon butties – another study comes along to upset the consensus. This week researchers reported that breastfeeding babies boosted their IQs by seven points. However, this only occurs in those babies who have inherited a particular gene called FADS2, they found. Fortunately nine out of 10 children have the necessary gene. For the one in 10 who don't, breast feeding makes no difference to intelligence. Bottle feeding, in this regard, is equally good.

Is this the last word on the subject?

Unlikely. The link between breast feeding and intelligence has been debated since 1929 when the first paper on the subject was published. We thought we had heard the last word a year ago when the largest scientific study of the supposed link concluded that breast-fed babies were indeed smarter – but not because of the milk they were fed.

Instead the researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, said they were smarter because their mothers were. Women who breast-fed tended to be more intelligent and more highly educated, and provided more stimulation for their babies at home. The higher IQ of their babies was mostly inherited, accounting for 75 per cent of the difference. The rest of the difference was due to their environment – breast-fed babies had mothers who were older, better educated and lived in nicer homes where they received more attention.

Terrie and Abshalom Moffit, the husband and wife team who published this week's study based on 3,000 children in the UK and New Zealand, said they had corrected for these factors – and they still found a seven-point IQ difference.

Source - Independent

The case for and against homeopathy

A leading novelist who swears by it. A science expert who thinks it's tosh. Read these two fiercely opposing views of homeopathy - and you may find your own opinions suddenly change.

THE BELIEVER: JEANETTE WINTERSON Picture this. I am staying in a remote cottage in Cornwall without a car. I have a temperature of 102, spots on my throat, delirium, and a book to finish writing.

My desperate publisher suggests I call Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath who has practices in London and Penzance. She sends round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom.

Four hours later I have no symptoms whatsoever.

Dramatic stuff, and enough to convince me that while it might use snake venom, homeopathy is no snake oil designed for gullible hypochrondriacs.

Right now, though, a fierce debate is raging between those, like me, who trust homeopathy because it works for them, and those who call it shamanistic claptrap, without clinical proof or any scientific base.
( Article continues )

THE SCEPTIC: BEN GOLDACRE Homeopathic pills are made by taking a substance, such as arsenic, and diluting it in water by one part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
A drop of this water is put into a jar of pills, which are then sold at great cost, and prescribed by homeopaths.

Homeopaths claim that their pills make people get better. This is a very easy claim to test, and it has been tested, exhaustively.

The pills perform no better than ordinary everyday sugar pills which have never been given the magical treatment by a homeopath: no better than placebo pills, if you will. But is there anything wrong with using the placebo effect? No, and it's fascinating. The placebo response is about far more than the pills - it is about the cultural meaning of a treatment, our expectation, and it has been studied extensively by medical science.

We know that four placebo sugar pills a day will clear up ulcers quicker than two sugar pills, we know that a saltwater injection is a more effective treatment for pain than a sugar pill, we know that green sugar pills are more effective for anxiety than red, and we know that brand packaging on painkillers increases pain relief.
( Article continues )

Source - Daily Mail

Breast-fed babies less likely to develop heart disease

The list of health benefits to children who were breast-fed as babies is growing, with new research showing they are more likely as adults to have higher levels of "good" cholesterol.

Numerous studies have shown babies whose mothers breast-fed them enjoy health advantages over formula-fed babies.

These include fewer ear, stomach or intestinal infections, digestive problems, skin diseases and allergies, and less likelihood of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Now, a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting found that breast-fed babies are better off in two important heart disease risk factors as adults than bottle-fed babies -- levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and body mass index.

The study looked at 962 people, average age 41, taking part in the long-running Framingham Heart Study centered on Framingham, Massachusetts.

About a quarter of the children were breast-fed for at least a month as babies.

Those who were breast-fed were 55 percent more likely to have high average levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol in adulthood than low levels.

Those who were breast-fed on average had a lower body mass index, or BMI, as adults -- 26.1 compared to 26.9 for the bottle-fed counterparts.

Source - Daily Mail