From Punk to acupunture

For every rocker who, in true rock'n'roll style, fails to make it beyond his or her twenties, there are many more who defy Roger Daltrey's early wish and do get old before they die. Many of those who reach middle age admit to owing their survival to some form of therapy. And for a notable few, it's the giving, not receiving, of such therapies that underpins their endurance.

Take Terry Chimes, formerly of punk band the Clash. He is more likely to be manipulating spines at his Essex chiropractic clinic than playing drums.

Similarly, Steve Guthrie, of the post-punk group Theatre of Hate, runs an acupuncture practice in Brighton. It is also where Matt Irving, a psychologist, and his wife Liz Morris, an osteopath, also have a clinic, having both worked in the music industry for years - Morris was a US record company executive; Irving a musician who recorded and toured with many bands.

What prompted them to take up such altruistic second careers?Susan Hallam, a psychologist and former musician, believes musicians are generally more tuned into their emotions. “It's this and the desire that many have to change things for the better.” Kevin Porée, who runs London's Berry Street recording studio, and has worked with James Brown and Radiohead, adds: “Despite the caricature of a musician as self-absorbed egoist, many are selfless people who are driven to make the world a better place.”

Providing therapy, it seems, is one way they can do this.

Source - Times

If music be the food of love ... then it also lowers cholesterol

Take a tune and come back to see me in the morning. Doctors have found that prescribing music can improve heart health and lower cholesterol levels.

Their research found that if a patient listens to 30 minutes a day of their favourite music, it does more than relaxing them mentally – it also benefits them physically by expanding and clearing blood vessels.

Doctors have tried the method on some patients in America and it has been welcomed by British experts. It is believed to work by triggering the release into the bloodstream of nitric oxide, which helps to prevent the build-up of blood clots and harmful cholesterol. The findings are part of a growing body of research into the effects of music on the human body. Scientists have found that songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Madonna can improve endurance, while 18th-century symphonies can improve mental focus.

When it comes to the effect on the bloodstream, however, the key is not the type of music but what the listener prefers. The same is true of volume and tempo.

“The music effect lasts in the bloodstream for only a few seconds but the accumulative benefit of favourite tunes lasts and can be very positive in people of all ages,” said Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at Maryland University, who carried out the research. He added: “We were looking for cheaper, nonpharmacological aids to help us improve our patients’ heart health and we think this is the prescription.”

The Maryland study, based on healthy nonsmoking men and women with an average age of 36, found the diameter of blood vessels in the upper arm expanded by 26% in volunteers listening to music they found enjoyable.

Miller said blood vessel expansion indicated that nitric oxide was being released throughout the body, reducing clots and LDL, a form of cholesterol linked to heart attacks. He also warned that listening to stressful music, which for many in the experiments included heavy metal and rap, can shrink blood vessels by 6% – the same effect, according to previous experiments, as eating a large hamburger.

Source - Times

Vitamin pill could reverse hearing loss caused by loud noise

Scientists have formulated a pill that could prevent or even reverse hearing loss caused by loud noise.

Clinical trials of the pill are about to start, but early research suggests it can reverse the damage up to three days after it occurs. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common reason people lose their hearing. It has been estimated that 15 per cent of those between the ages of 20 and 60 have hearing loss caused by personal stereos, rock concerts or factory machinery. The damage can be caused by a single exposure to a very loud noise, such as an explosion, but more often it is caused by continuous or chronic exposure to loud sounds over time.

Exposure to these affects the delicate hair cells in the ear. The cells convert sound into electrical signals which then travel to the brain. Once damaged, hair cells cannot grow back, so hearing is reduced. One theory is that the force of vibrations from the noise damages the cells. The new pill is based on the idea that these vibrations cause the release of destructive molecules called free radicals into the bloodstream. These free radicals damage the hair cells.

Researchers had thought that antioxidants - chemicals that protect against this cell damage - might prevent hearing loss only if the antioxidants were given before noise exposure.

But research at Michigan University has shown that when the antioxidants were given up to three days after noise exposure, hearing loss was significantly reduced.

Source - Daily Mail

Women lacking vitamin D are more likely to need a Caesarean, says report

Pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to need a Caesarean, say researchers.

The reason the deficiency causes problems in childbirth is unknown but could be related to the fact that lack of vitamin D is linked to poor muscle strength. In the latest study, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Centre checked the blood levels of vitamin D in pregnant women.

In total, 253 women were enrolled in the study, of whom 43 (17 per cent) had a Caesarean section. Some 28 per cent of women with low levels of vitamin D had to have a surgical delivery, compared with 14 per cent of women with high levels, according to the study published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Source - Daily Mail

Cheers! Now they tell us beer and wine give us cancer

Just one pint of beer a day increases the risk of liver and bowel cancer by a fifth, drinkers have been warned.

A large glass of wine or a double measure of vodka or gin can have the same damaging effect and zero alcohol is the safest way to avoid cancer, say scientists.

Figures from the World Cancer Research Fund show two units of alcohol a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent and liver cancer by 20 per cent. The assessment comes from detailed analysis of data first presented in a report last year which also concluded that processed meats including ham and bacon should be avoided to cut the risk of bowel cancer.

Dr Rachel Thompson, from the WCRF, said: ‘When you consider how many cases of these types of cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, it is clear that drinking even relatively small amounts of alcohol can make a significant difference. Yet despite strong evidence, most people still do not know that alcohol increases risk of cancer so it is clear we need to do more to get this message across.’

Source - Daily Mail

Sleepers who hit out 'prone to dementia'

People who punch or kick out in their sleep are more likely to develop dementia or Parkinson's disease, research revealed today.

Scientists studied 93 people with "REM sleep behaviour disorder", the symptoms of which can include lashing out during dreams. The study found 26 patients went on to be diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition over the next five years.

Of those, 14 developed Parkinson's Disease, seven developed a rare form of dementia called Lewy body dementia and five standard dementia. The other patient developed multiple system atrophy, which involves both Parkinson's and dementia symptoms.

During the dream state REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, a person's muscles normally relax but people with certain sleep disorders can lash or cry out. Sufferers of certain degenerative brain diseases, including Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia, can also exhibit similar symptoms.

The Canadian study concluded: "Although we have found a slightly lower risk than other reports, the risk of developing neurodegenerative disease in REM sleep behaviour disorder is substantial, with the majority of patients developing Parkinson disease and Lewy body dementia."

Volunteers for the tests, published in US publication Neurology, were aged on average 65 years old.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said the research could help doctors to predict the onset of dementia, which an estimated 700,000 people in the UK currently suffer from.

Source - Independent

A glass of wine with your fish 'increases the benefits to your heart'

Drinking wine with your fish boosts the benefits to your heart, a new study suggests.

A glass or two of wine per day increases the amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in a person's blood, the researchers said. The study found that those who drank in moderation had higher blood levels of omega-3 - even when intake of fish, the major dietary source of the fats, was taken into account. The link was strongest among wine drinkers, compared with those who favoured beer and spirits.

The findings suggest that wine, in particular, may affect the body's metabolism of omega-3 fats, according to the researchers, led by Dr Romina di Giuseppe of Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy.

The results also help explain why wine drinking, in moderation, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Source - Daily Mail

The Big Question: Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy help people with eating disorders?

Why are we asking this now?

An estimated one million people in Britain suffer from eating disorders which are notoriously difficult to treat. They have the highest death rate of any mental disorder, either from suicide or form the effects of starvation.

Researchers have developed a new form of psychotherapy which they say has the potential to treat more than eight out of ten adults with eating disorders. The therapy is an "enhanced" form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which was tested on 154 patients in Oxfordshire and Leicestershire. Two thirds showed a "complete and lasting response", sustained over the following year, and many of the rest showed substantial improvement, according to the researchers from the University of Oxford. The results are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

What is cognitive behaviour therapy?

At its simplest, it is a technique for helping people replace habitual negative thinking with positive thinking, by getting them to see the glass as half full not half empty. The aim is to help the individual replace dysfunctional thoughts such as "I knew I would never be able to cope with this job" with alternatives such as, "The job is not going well but I can work out a plan to deal with the problems." Negative thinking is very prevalent in western societies with their emphasis on competition and success. The problem is getting people into treatment.

How does it differ from other forms of therapy?

It is brief, it is direct and it works. It is one of the few therapies for which there is good clinical evidence of its effectiveness. CBT has revolutionised the way doctors approach the treatment of depression. Whereas in the past they might have prescribed Prozac or other antidepressant drugs, CBT is now the treatment of first choice – where it is available.

Instead of focusing on the causes of distress or symptoms, that may lie buried in the past, the therapy examines ways to improve the patient's state of mind now. A course of treatment would usually last for six to eight half hour sessions with a trained counsellor who would offer practical help to the individual to alter ways of thinking to challenge feelings of hopelessness.

Source - Independent

Here's to the wine that clears your arteries

Australian doctor ups the antioxidants for a tipple that's good for blood vessels

It sounds too good to be true, but an Australian doctor insists he has created the world's healthiest tipple: a wine that cleans the arteries as you drink it, reducing the risk of heart attack.

Philip Norrie, who owns a vineyard in New South Wales, is producing wines with up to 100 times the antioxidant content of a standard drop. He calls them "vascular pipe-cleaners", saying the antioxidant they contain – resveratrol, which occurs naturally in grapes – helps to keep blood vessels free of fatty deposits.

Dr Norrie said yesterday that while the positive effects of moderate wine consumption had long been documented, "the inclusion of such large quantities of this beneficial antioxidant is very good news for wine drinkers". He added: "What we've been able to do is boost the amount of resveratrol in wine – and you won't even know it's there. You're effectively clearing your arteries while you drink."

The GP, who works in Sydney's northern beaches area, points to Australia's long tradition of wine-making doctors, with some of its best-known vineyards – including Penfolds and Lindemans – founded by medical practitioners who accompanied the convict ships to Britain's new penal colony. Wine, claims Dr Norrie, is man's oldest medicine.

As for resveratrol, it helps maintain blood flow by keeping the arteries free of the fatty deposits known as atherosclerotic plaque. Since it is an odourless and tasteless substance, the flavour and bouquet of wines are not affected. And lovers of semillon and sauvignon blanc will be pleased to learn that whites have the antioxidant, too, although in smaller quantities than red wine.

Source - Independent

Dieter died after drinking too much water

A company behind a meal replacement diet today defended their programme after it emerged that a woman died after drinking four litres of water in under two hours.

LighterLife said the death of Jacqueline Henson, 40, was a tragic accident and stressed she had been given proper advice on how much water to consume. Mrs Henson, who weighed about 14st at the start of the diet, collapsed in the bathroom of her home in Almondbury, Huddersfield, last year after consuming the water. Death was caused by cerebral oedema - swelling of the brain.

Huddersfield Coroner's Court was told the mother-of-five died three weeks into the diet. West Yorkshire Coroner Roger Whittaker recorded a verdict of accidental death at yesterday's inquest and said he was satisfied that the company had given clear guidance on how much water to consume. He said no-one should drink water in the quantities involved over such a short period.

A spokesman for LighterLife said: "We were so sorry to hear about Jacqueline and extend our sympathies to her family.

"Our programme gives clear guidance that water should be consumed regularly over the course of the day, and the coroner confirmed that the events were a tragic accident."

The diet is aimed at people who are three or more stones overweight and involves dieters consuming just 500 calories a day for 12 weeks by replacing meals with shakes, soups and bars, as well as drinking water.

Source - Independent

Study finds hot drinks help colds

Granny's advice about taking a hot drink to fight the effects of a cold was correct all along, say experts.

Researchers at Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre found a hot mug of fruit cordial could help ease the coughs and splutters of a cold or flu. They believe the research, published in the latest edition of clinical journal Rhinology, is the first of its kind.

The effect of an apple and blackcurrant drink served at room temperature or hot was monitored on 30 volunteers. Centre director Professor Ron Eccles urged anyone suffering from a cold or flu to have a hot drink to help reduce their symptoms.

"It is surprising that this is the first scientific research on the benefit of a hot drink for treating cold and flu symptoms," he said. "With temperatures falling and Christmas just round the corner, cold viruses love this time of year. Having a bottle of fruit cordial in the cupboard and making a hot drink could help fight off the symptoms of festive cold and flu."

Source - BBC

Daily nuts may help boost health

Adding nuts to a healthy diet may help release people from a dangerous combination of health problems.

Up to 25% of people in the UK are thought to have "metabolic syndrome", which includes obesity and high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

A Mediterranean diet of vegetables, fruit and fish plus daily nuts boosted health in more than one in eight at-risk volunteers, a Spanish study found. The research was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.

Disease risk

The healthy properties of certain kinds of nuts, eaten in moderation, has been noted before. However, the researchers from the University of Rovira i Virgili in Spain, tested more than 1,200 volunteers with metabolic syndrome to see if adding nuts could boost existing healthy diets.

People with metabolic syndrome are at greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The group was split into thirds, the first of which were just given advice on low-fat eating.

Source - BBC

How teaching children to eat more slowly 'cuts cancer risk'

Teaching children to savour their food could help combat cancer, experts believe.

A study of British youngsters showed that the faster children eat, the fatter they are. As obesity raises the risk of at least five forms of cancer, something as simple as teaching children to eat slowly could have a huge impact on public health.

The researchers videoed more than 120 sets of twins between ten and 12 as they ate sandwiches and fruit salad. They worked out how many bites a minute the children took and compared this with their weight. Fastest eaters were the overweight children, at 4.3 bites a minute. Next came those on the heavy side of normal with 4.1 bites a minute. The thinnest youngsters took only 3.8 bites a minute, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports.

The study by Cancer Research UK's health behaviour research centre also suggested that genes influence our eating rates more than upbringing.

Professor Jane Wardle, the lead researcher, said: 'We are all different and the more we understand about our funny little propensities the better.'

Source - Daily Mail

Can red wine mimic the health effect of oily fish?

A glass or two of wine a day helps the body make oils that are good for the heart, research suggests.

A study of hundreds of couples revealed that drinking small amounts of alcohol boosts levels of omega 3. The oils, which are more usually associated with eating oily fish, are credited with a host of health benefits, from cutting the risk of heart disease to boosting brain power.

It is thought that alcoholic drinks enhance the production of the fats in the body, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports.

Most effective of all is red wine, with one small glass a day for women and two for men providing optimum benefit, the Italian study found. The researchers made the link after studying the health of around 800 couples from London, Belgium and Italy. The analysis showed that those who drank small amounts of alcohol had higher levels of omega 3 in their blood, even when the amount of fish they ate was taken into account.

The researchers, from the Catholic University of Campobasso, said the finding could help explain how red wine protects against heart disease. Researcher Dr Licia Iacoviello said: 'We consider these data to be a major finding.'

Source - Daily Mail

Happiness 'rubs off on others'

Happiness is infectious and can "ripple" through social groups, according to US researchers.

A study of 5,000 adults suggests a person's happiness is dependent on the happiness of those around them. A friend who becomes happy and lives less than a mile away increases your likelihood of happiness by 25%, the British Medical Journal reported.

But the mood of work colleagues did not have an effect, the Harvard Medical School-led study found.

The researchers used data on adults who took part in the US Framingham Heart Study - set up to look at the risks leading to future heart disease - between 1971 and 2003. Participants were asked to identify their relatives, close friends, place of residence, and place of work and were followed up every two to four years. They were also asked whether they agreed with statements on whether they enjoyed life, felt hopeful about the future, were happy and felt they were just as good as other people.

It was found that live-in partners who become happy increased the likelihood of their partner being happy by 8% and similar effects were found for siblings living close by (14%) and neighbours (34%). The relationship between people's happiness levels seemed to extend up to three degrees of separation - to the friend of a friend of a friend.

Source - BBC

It's not just the power of suggestion: 'Placebo effect' is in the genes

Why some people miraculously get better when given a placebo has baffled doctors for years.

But scientists have now linked the mysterious phenomenon to a gene. Placebos are usually sugar-coated pills that doctors give patients in clinical studies to compare the response to the actual drug and sham treatment. Until now, most people put the surprise effect down to the power of suggestion.

But Tomas Furmark, of Uppsala University in Sweden, has now pinned the placebo effect of people with an exaggerated fear of public humiliation to the gene for tryptophan hydroxylase-2, which makes the brain chemical, serotonin.

They studied 25 people with the condition, known as social anxiety disorder. Volunteers had to challenge their fear by giving two speeches, before and after a ‘treatment’ period of eight weeks. Participants believed they were given an active drug when they actually received the placebo.

Ten people ‘responded’ to the sham treatment. They felt half as anxious during the second speech while the others were just as nervous.

Source - Daily Mail

Wartime diet of regular fasting slashes prostate cancer risk

Rationing food intake every few weeks could slash men's risk of prostate cancer, scientists believe.

Men who halve the amount they normally eat for a week or two once a month could markedly lower their chances of a tumour at a young age. Animal studies carried out at the University of Minnesota showed wartime eating habits significantly delayed the onset of cancer.

In human terms, researchers said, it was the equivalent of men getting cancer in their seventies or eighties rather than their fifties. But the study showed going on a permanent low-calorie diet did not have the same powerful effect. Scientists think occasional rationing may ward off cancer by constantly adjusting the balance of certain fat hormones.

High levels of leptin, a hormone released by fat cells, have been found to stimulate cancer cell growth, while high levels of another hormone, called adinopectin, appear to have a protective effect. The latest findings, published in the journal Prostate, suggest frequent rationing cuts leptin levels and boosts those of adinopectin.

Several other studies have suggested limiting calories could be crucial to good health and a longer life.

In 2004, experts at Harvard Medical School in Boston, found women who regularly rationed their food were half as likely to get breast cancer as those who always ate until they were full.

More recently, researchers studying daughters of women caught in the Dutch famine of 1944-45 found they were more fertile and had a higher number of pregnancies than those born to mothers with better food supplies.

In Australia, meanwhile, scientists have recently embarked on a clinical trial to see if depriving cancer patients of food for a couple of days before chemotherapy treatment can protect the body against its toxic effects.

Source - Daily Mail

Increase in asthma linked to Caesareans

The rise in asthma in industrialised countries over the past 30 years may have been driven by an increase in Caesarean births, researchers report.

Babies born by Caesarean delivery are more likely to develop asthma than those delivered naturally, doctors say. Exposure to bacteria in the vagina during birth is thought to play a key role in priming the immune system, providing a defence against the development of allergies. In Caesarean children, exposure to bacteria happens later and research has shown they have different intestinal flora – gut bacteria – suggesting the maturation of their immune systems is delayed.

A study of 3,000 children in the Netherlands who were followed until they were eight years old showed those born by Caesarean delivery were 80 per cent more likely to have developed asthma than those delivered traditionally. Among the one in 10 children with two allergic parents, the incidence of asthma was three times higher among those born by Caesarean. These children have a strong inherited predisposition to the disease.

Caesarean rates have risen from 5 per cent of all births in the 1970s to more than 30 per cent in some regions of the world, as doctors have sought to reduce the risks of childbirth. In the UK the current Caesarean rate is around 22 per cent of all births.

Over the same period, asthma rates rose strongly until the mid-1990s. Official figures show the prevalence has since remained stable in many European countries, but some experts have disputed the accuracy of the data and claimed the condition is still increasing but the definition has changed.

Source - Independent

Is technology rewiring our brains?

What does a teenage brain on Google look like? Do all those hours spent online rewire the circuitry? Could these kids even relate better to emoticons than to real people?

These sound like concerns from worried parents. But they're coming from brain scientists.

While violent video games have gotten a lot of public attention, some current concerns go well beyond that. Some scientists think the wired world may be changing the way we read, learn and interact with each other. There are no firm answers yet. But Dr. Gary Small, a psychiatrist at UCLA, argues that daily exposure to digital technologies such as the internet and smart phones can alter how the brain works.

When the brain spends more time on technology-related tasks and less time exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills like reading facial expressions during conversation, Small asserts. So brain circuits involved in face-to-face contact can become weaker, he suggests. That may lead to social awkwardness, an inability to interpret nonverbal messages, isolation and less interest in traditional classroom learning.

Small says the effect is strongest in so-called digital natives - people in their teens and 20s who have been "digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood." He thinks it's important to help the digital natives improve their social skills and older people - digital immigrants - improve their technology skills.

At least one 19-year-old internet enthusiast gives Small's idea a mixed review. John Rowe, who lives near Pasadena, California, spends six to 12 hours online a day. He flits from instant messaging his friends to games like Cyber Nations and Galaxies Ablaze to online forums for game players and disc jockeys.

Social skills? Rowe figures he and his buddies are doing just fine in that department, thank you. But he thinks Small may have a point about some other people he knows.

"If I didn't actively go out and try to spend time with friends, I wouldn't have the social skills that I do," said Rowe, who reckons he spends three or four nights a week out with his pals. "You can't just give up on having normal friends that you see on a day-to-day basis."

Source - Independent

Putting pain into perspective - breakthroughs, tips and trends: November 29th

Everything you need to know about the latest research, the newest discoveries and the strangest science

THROW out those painkillers: the secret to salving physical aches may lie in using a pair of binoculars the wrong way round, claims research performed at Oxford University. The study, published in Current Biology, reveals how powerfully pain and even swelling can be a product of our mental attitude.

Researchers asked ten people who suffered chronic pain in one arm to move the limb around while looking at it through a pair of binoculars that were either the right or wrong way round.When they saw their arm magnified to double its size, the patients reported that their levels of pain increased, but when they exercised the arm while watching a minimised image of it through inverted binoculars, their pain levels were cut significantly.

But it was not only their perceived pain levels that changed, says the lead researcher, G. Lorimer Moseley. Their levels of physical swelling in the affected areas were also reduced through using the backwards-binocular trick.

Moseley says he is not sure how this phenomenon works in terms of specific neurons firing, but he believes that the brain changes its protective responses according to its perception of danger levels. “If it looks bigger, it looks sorer, therefore the brain acts to protect it,” he explains.

Moseley hopes that the optical-trick discovery will lead to a practical method for lowering pain and trauma levels in hospitals.

Source - Times

How to keep your gut in mint condition

Even as far back as ancient Greece, herbal practitioners have pointed towards the peppermint plant - mentha piperita - as a cure for digestive disorders. Now scientific research is backing up some of their claims.

Last week, the British Medical Journal reported that almost half of sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) found their symptoms disappeared after taking peppermint oil.

Symptoms of IBS include severe abdominal cramps as well as gastric problems and the condition affects about eight million people in the UK. But because the exact cause is not understood, it is often difficult to treat.

Peppermint oil is a pure oil extracted from the peppermint plant. Its constituents include the organic compounds menthol, menthone and eucalyptol, which have a wide range of pharmaceutical uses - as topical pain relievers and decongestants, among others. It can be taken as neat oil in water or as Colpermin, a prescription or over-the-counter drug with an enteric coating so that it dissolves in the intestines rather than the stomach.

Source - Daily Mail

Dying for a burger: Eating junk food may raise your risk of getting Alzheimer’s

Eating junk food could increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

Scientists found that eating meals rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol triggered changes in the brain associated with the early stages of the debilitating disease. Their study adds to the growing evidence that eating healthily can cut the odds of developing Alzheimer’s, a dementia affecting 400,000 Britons. The number is forecast to double within a generation, so any method of cutting the number of cases would have a huge impact on public health.

Researchers in Sweden looked at the effect of a junk food diet on mice genetically altered to be prone to Alzheimer’s. The creatures’ brains were tested after they were fed a diet laden in fat, sugar and cholesterol for nine months.

Researcher Susanne Akterin, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said: ‘On examining the brains of these mice, we found a chemical change not unlike that found in the Alzheimer brain.’ Her tests showed the food altered the formation of a protein called tau which forms tangles inside the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, causing brain cells to shrink and die.

The study also suggested that cholesterol cut levels of a brain protein called arc that is key in storing memories.

Source - Daily Mail

We took up to £20 of vitamins a month - then went cold turkey

They are believed by millions to be an easy way to maintain health. In the UK alone, one third of the population pops at least one vitamin pill a day, and the supplements industry is worth in excess of £330million a year.

Yet studies now suggest vitamin supplements are ineffective and may even increase the risk of illness.A recent review by Copenhagen University found 'no convincing evidence' that supplements helped keep disease at bay.

Researchers also concluded that taking supplements of Vitamins A and E 'significantly increased mortality'. Vitamin A was linked to a 16 per cent increased risk of dying, and Vitamin E to a four per cent increased risk. Taking Vitamin C or selenium didn't seem either to prolong or to diminish life.

Scientists at the University of Washington also reported this year that taking daily supplements of Vitamin E for ten years may increase the risk of lung cancer. And New Zealand researchers suggested calcium supplements, often prescribed after the menopause to counter the loss of bone density, raised the risk of a heart attack in older women.

So, just how effective are vitamin pills? To find out, we asked three devotees who spend up to £200 a year on supplements, to stop taking them for a month, while not making any changes to their diet.

Source - Daily Mail

Pregnant women warned off make-up

Spare a thought for the mum-to-be: no booze; no fags; no pâté; no fancy cheese; no eggs; and, probably, a wild craving for coal. Now pregnant woman have been told they have to make do without beauty products.

Growing concerns over the exposure of pregnant women to chemicals that may lead to birth defects have prompted calls for a new EU-wide cosmetics labelling system which would mark out some products as off-limits to mothers-to-be.

The move follows the publication of a study which found that women exposed to high levels of hairspray during pregnancy were twice as likely to have babies born with hypospadias, a condition in which the urinary tract grows on the underside of the penis. The Imperial College London study suggested that the birth defects were linked to chemicals in hairspray shown to disrupt the hormonal systems in the body and affect reproductive development.

Fears over the effects of chemicals such as parabens, commonly used in cosmetics as a preservative, and phthalates, used in hairspray, have led to calls for closer monitoring of cosmetics. High levels of phthalates, also used to soften plastics such as PVC, have been found to affect hormone levels, while parabens have been the subject of concern since 2004, when a study claimed to have detected parabens from deodorants in cancerous breast tissue.

The French health minister Roselyne Bachelot sparked debate last week by announcing that the French health authorities were considering a labelling system for cosmetics that would indicate whether or not products were safe for pregnant women. But the UK government said that the EU should address the issue as a whole, adding it to a range of changes currently being made to the European Cosmetics Directive.

Source - Independent

Blueberries 'reverse memory loss'

Eating blueberries can reverse memory loss and may have implications in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer's, University of Reading scientists claim.

Scientists found adding foods like blueberries to a regular diet, resulted in improvements in memory. The foods, known as flavonoids, were historically believed to act as antioxidants in human bodies.

But the study indicates they also activate the part of the brain which controls learning and memory.

Dr Jeremy Spencer, from the department of food biosciences at the university, said: "Scientists have known of the potential health benefits of diets rich in fresh fruits for a long time.

Source - BBC

Group therapy 'beats depression'

Group-taught meditation is as effective as staying on drug treatments for stopping people slipping back into depression, say UK scientists.

Compared to one-to-one sessions, or medication, "mindfulness-based cognitive therapy" (MBCT) is cheaper for the NHS, they say. The trial of 123 people found similar relapse rates in those having group therapy and those taking drugs. The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Recent years have seen much more evidence that so-called "talking therapies" can be as effective as drugs in alleviating mild to moderate depression, and health secretary Alan Johnson recently announced millions in new funding for the treatments. However, this is the first time, according to its authors, that a group therapy has been shown as an alternative to a prescription.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council, found MBCT, developed in 2002 by a team of psychologists from Canada, Oxford, and Cambridge, was actually more effective than medication in improving patients' quality of life. The sessions involve the teaching of meditation techniques based on some found in Buddhism.

The aim is to teach skills which help patients recognise and cope with their tendency towards depression.

Source - BBC

Web searches feed health fears

Health information online is breeding a generation of cyberchondriacs - people who needlessly fear the worst diagnosis after surfing the net, say researchers.

A team at Microsoft studied health-related Web searches on popular search engines and surveyed 515 employees about their health-related searching. Web searches had the potential to escalate fears - like a headache was caused by a brain tumour, for example.

Experts said people concerned about their health should see a doctor.

Self-diagnosis by search engine

Microsoft conducted the study to improve its own search engine.

Roughly 2% of all the Web queries were health-related, and about 250,000 users, or a quarter of the sample, engaged in a least one medical search during the study.

Source - BBC

Antioxidants 'cannot slow ageing'

Diets and creams claiming their antioxidant properties could cheat ageing may be worthless, a study says.

Using Nematode worms, scientists found even those given enhanced antioxidant powers to deal with tissue damaging "free radicals" did not live longer. The team from University College London said, in the Genes and Development journal, there was "no clear evidence" they could slow ageing.

Antioxidants are a staple of the beauty and health industries. This has been based on a 50-year-old theory.

In 1956, it was suggested that ageing was caused by a build-up of molecular damage caused by reactive forms of oxygen, called superoxides or free radicals, circulating in the body. This is known as oxidative stress. Antioxidants supposedly worked to mop up these free radicals, minimising their damage.

This week's study, however, could explain why many studies aimed at proving the theory have been inconclusive.

Source - BBC

Oregano could help eradicate MRSA superbug

A natural oil found in oregano could help fight deadly hospital superbug MRSA, early research has indicated.

Scientists have discovered that the herb, commonly used in cooking, could eradicate the deadly infection from hospital wards. A team at the University of the West of England in Bristol, working with partners in India, found that tiny quantities of carvacrol, a naturally occurring compound in oregano, is a more effective antimicrobial agent than 18 pharmaceutical drugs it was compared against. The discovery could lead to a new defence in the fight against hospital infection.

Carvacrol has been found to contain potent anti-fungal and antibacterial properties with a range of medicinal uses. It can sterilise septic water, kill giardia, treat fungal infections such as candida and rivals pharmaceutical antibiotics such as streptomycin and penicillin in its ability to eliminate microbes.

Research into the medicinal properties of oregano has been led by Biolaya Organics, a company that specialises in the conservation and sustainable production of Himalayan medicinal herbs. Set up by British environmentalist Ben Heron in 2007, the award-winning company works with villagers to encourage sustainable methods of farming in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Oregano grows in abundance in the region's high alpine valleys.

Biolaya is now working to publish its research in a scientific journal and find partners to develop oregano oil-based soaps and sprays.

Source - Telegraph

'Quack foods' that claim to aid weight loss are 'waste of money'

Consumers are wasting billions of pounds on 'quack' foods that promise to help them lose weight, a nutritional expert has warned.

New legislation must be enforced to prevent the deception, Prof Michael Lean, of University of Glasgow said, as the marketing of food stuffs do not face the same stringent controls as medicines.

Writing in the British Medical Journal online, he said marketing foods as 'low fat' and 'helps lower cholesterol' have to be substantiated under current rules and labelling foods as preventing or treating disease is illegal, but 'huge numbers' of such claims are still being made overtly or implied.

Prof Lean wrote: "Unscrupulous trading is most commonly linked to obesity. In 2000, $35bn (£22bn; €28bn) was spent in the United States on weight loss products. Many of these products use false and unsubstantiated claims, enticing seven per cent of the entire population to buy them every year."

He said only appropriate diets, exercise, licensed drugs such as orlistat and sibutramine along with bariatric surgery which includes stomach stapling and gastric bands, are safe and effective. Prof Lean hopes new European Union (EU) Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, adopted this year in UK, will finally protect vulnerable consumers who are tricked into to buying useless food products or supplements in attempts to combat their disease.

Source - Telegraph

Stress of modern life cuts attention spans to five minutes

Attention spans have halved to just five minutes over the last decade, with young people the worst at maintaining concentration, new research claims.

The pressures of modern life are affecting our ability to focus on the task in hand, with work stress cited as the major distraction, it said. Declining attention spans are causing household accidents such as pans being left to boil over on the hob, baths allowed to overflow, and freezer doors left open, the survey suggests. A quarter of people polled said they regularly forget the names of close friends or relatives, and seven per cent even admitted to momentarily forgetting their own birthdays.

The study by Lloyds TSB insurance showed that the average attention span had fallen to just 5 minutes, down from 12 minutes 10 years ago. But the over-50s are able to concentrate for longer periods than young people, suggesting that busy lifestyles and intrusive modern technology rather than old age are to blame for our mental decline.

Source - Telegraph

Is a glass of red wine the way to perk up your painful back?

A substance found in red wine could help to mend damaged backs. New research shows that resveratrol slows down the rate at which discs in the spine degenerate.

Scientists found that injecting the substance into injured backs stopped further damage to the cartilage in the discs. So far the results have been seen only in animal studies, but it's hoped the red wine ingredient could help thousands of people who suffer pain from worn discs. Up to 85 per cent of adults in Britain have back pain at some point in their lives.

Many develop problems because supportive muscles waste away through lack of use, often caused by sitting at computers all day. This can cause long-term damage to the soft discs which act as cushions between the vertebrae, the bony joints in the spine. The latest research, published in the journal Spine, suggests that injecting the red wine ingredient could help.

Why a bad boss can send you to an early grave

Staff whose managers have the worst leadership skills are more likely to develop heart disease than those whose supervisors offer better support.

Researchers found that the higher senior managers were rated, the lower was the risk of a serious heart problem or death among their rank and file. But the association between poor leadership and the risk of serious heart disease strengthened the longer an employee worked for the same boss.

The study, to be published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said this suggests the effect of bad leadership could be cumulative. If a direct cause and effect is confirmed by further research then managers' behaviour should be targeted in a bid to stave off employee health problems.

Psychologist Anna Nyberg, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said this could focus on improving bosses' ability to provide clear objectives, communicate effectively and show consideration for staff.

Source - Daily Mail

Jane Clarke: Forget reading the label - just enjoy your food

Pop into your local supermarket and you'll see plenty of people studying the labels to gauge which food is the healthiest, lowest in fat or least calorific.

But I think they're missing the point.

In theory, the traffic light warnings on food and GDAs (guideline daily amounts) help people make healthy choices by flagging up the fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content. But instead, we're getting in a real mess with nutritional labels. There is a much simpler answer.

Rather than obsessing over every dish's fat and sugar content, we need to get back in touch with savouring food; a far better solution to the crisis of obesity and illness through poor diet.

We need to stick to this simple framework: your meals should contain a protein (lean meat, fish, chicken, maybe lentils or beans), a carb (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread), vegetables, fruit and a little dairy (cheese, yoghurt).

Processed foods, anything we don't make ourselves - biscuits, cakes, chocolates, cream sauces, pastries, pies - should be eaten in only small amounts and considered a treat, not the norm.

Source - Daily Mail

Reality TV is making people think they are in their own Truman Show, say psychiatrists

Reality TV is to blame for a rise in psychiatric problems where the sufferers become convinced their own lives are being played out in front of the cameras, experts say.

The phenomenon has been dubbed Truman syndrome, after hit movie The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey plays the unwitting star of a lifelong reality show. Psychiatrist Ian Gold said reality TV shows such as I'm A Celebrity..., with their ability to turn strangers into intimates, may add critically to the psychological pressure on people who already have underlying problems.

Dr Gold, a philosophy and psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, stressed that he was not saying reality shows made healthy people delusion, but added: 'At the very least, it seems possible to me that people who would become ill are becoming ill quicker or in a different way.'

Researchers in London described a Truman syndrome patient in the British Journal of Psychiatry in August. The 26-year-old postman 'had a sense the world was slightly unreal, as if he was the eponymous hero' in The Truman Show, the researchers wrote.

Source - Daily Mail

The reason our stiff upper lip could be fatal

Britons' reluctance to go to the doctor may explain poor cancer survival rate.

The British stiff upper lip could account for the country's poor showing in the European cancer survival league – but no one knows for sure, the Government's cancer tsar has warned.

Professor Mike Richards, the national cancer director, said thousands of lives could be saved in Britain if patients consulted their doctors sooner with suspect symptoms and were diagnosed and treated more quickly. Ignoring symptoms such as a lump in the breast, blood in the faeces or a persistent cough could be a death sentence.

Up to 11,000 deaths from cancer could be prevented every year if Britain improved its survival rates to match the best-performing countries in Europe, according to figures published yesterday by Cancer Research UK. Asked to explain the gap with Europe, Professor Richards said: "It is a very interesting question to which we do not have the answer. We may be too stoical – I don't know."

"We know that cancer treatment in Britain has improved vastly in recent years and we are now beginning to see the impact on our survival rates. But we have still got work to do if we are going to catch up with the rest of Europe," he said. "I believe that if we can tackle delays in diagnosing cancer, we will be able to save thousands more lives in the future."

Professor Richards authored a review of "top-up" payments for cancer treatment – allowing individuals to pay privately for drugs not available on the NHS – which was published earlier this month, and recommended quicker access to new treatments.

He admitted Britain had been slow in the past to take up new drugs. But he added: "I don't believe that had any significant impact on survival rates. I am quite sure earlier diagnosis is far more important. I feel really strongly this could make a real difference."

Under a National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative, launched today, research is planned in conjunction with a number of countries "whose survival figures we trust" to examine differences in culture, attitudes and awareness that could affect attendance for diagnosis and treatment, he said. Work is also underway in the UK to improve public awareness of cancer, with pilot schemes in 20 primary care trusts run by the Improvement Foundation.

Source - Independent

Vitamins A and E 'do not help prevent cancer'

Taking vitamin A and E supplements does not lower your risk of getting cancer, according to an authoritative new study.

The antioxidant vitamins are known to help fight free radicals, which cause cell damage that can lead to cancer, but new research suggests they are ineffective at preventing the disease when taken in pill form. The study involved 14,641 male doctors, all aged 50 or over, who were split into four groups and given regular doses of vitamin A, E, both, or placebos.

Over eight years the cancer rates were similar for each of the groups. Even rates of prostate cancer, which many had hoped vitamin E would prevent, were unaffected by the supplements.

Howard Sesso, of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the Physicians Heath Study, said: "The lack of an effect that we observe for vitamin E or C on cancer does convince us that these particular doses that we tested really have no role for recommendation for cancer prevention."

Marji McCullough, of the American Cancer Society, said that patients should get their nutrients from eating fruits, vegetables and grains, rather than taking pills.

"Well-conducted clinical trials such as this are rapidly closing the door on the hope that common vitamin supplements may protect against cancer," she said.

"It's still possible that some benefit exists for subgroups that couldn't be measured, but the overall results are certainly discouraging."

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and several vitamin makers. The results were reported on Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Washington.

Earlier this year a report from the Copenhagen University Hospital found that taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamins A and E may actually increase mortality.

Source - Telegraph

Vitamin D 'could boost fertility in women with ovulation problems'

Vitamin D could boost the fertility of women suffering from ovulation problems, a new study has found.

The vitamin - found in oily fish and eggs - helped to restore regular periods, thereby improving the chances of conception. The women in the study suffered ovulation problems or were diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where cysts form on the ovaries. The condition is thought to affect around one in five women in the UK and symptoms include irregular or no periods, problems getting pregnant, excess body hair and being overweight.

The latest research on vitamin D, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in San Francisco, involved 67 women, of whom 18 had problems ovulating.

Of these, 13 suffered from PCOS, which was the main reason for their infertility. Only 7 per cent of the 67 women were found to have normal vitamin D levels while 66 per cent had low levels of vitamin D and 27 per cent were clinically deficient.

The researchers, led by a group from Yale University School of Medicine, said those with ovulation problems or PCOS were far more likely to be lacking in vitamin D than the other women. They suggested that women with these conditions should be given vitamin D to help restore their periods.

Source - Daily Mail

Doctors' DIY secrets: Eat cereal to stop a headache, mend chipped teeth with chewing gum and beat colds with a hot bath

For most of us, treating minor health problems usually involves a trip to the local pharmacy or our GP. But what do medical specialists do when they succumb to ailments that fall within their particular range of expertise? To find out, we asked some leading health care professionals how they use their specialised training for a quick fix. Here, they pass on their inside knowledge.


Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre, Cardiff University: 'As soon as I suspect I'm getting a cold - the first sign is usually a scratchy feeling at the back of the throat - I run as hot a bath as I can bear, and sit in it for at least 20 minutes.

'Very high temperatures can stop the cold virus in the nose from reproducing, killing the cold. Any hot, steamy environment will do; a sauna or steam room at your local gym or leisure centre is equally effective.'


Robin Shepherd, acting chairman of the General Osteopathic Council: 'The other week I was moving some heavy crates around at home, when my muscles suddenly went into spasm and my back started to ache.

'To relieve the pain, I lay on my back with both knees bent and my feet on the floor, with a tennis ball under my back at the sorest point. I then pressed down hard on to the ball and rolled on this point - after about five minutes the muscles were relaxed again and the pain gone.'

usually a scratchy feeling at the back of the throat - I run as hot a bath as I can bear, and sit in it for at least 20 minutes.

'Very high temperatures can stop the cold virus in the nose from reproducing, killing the cold. Any hot, steamy environment will do; a sauna or steam room at your local gym or leisure centre is equally effective.'

Source - Daily Mail

Eating tomatoes could help fight a painful womb condition that affects 2 million women in UK

A tomato a day could help fight endometriosis, a painful womb condition affecting two million British women.

Researchers have discovered that an antioxidant called lycopene - found in high concentrations in tomato products - may prevent the internal scarring caused by the disease. Experiments by U.S. scientists found lycopene cut by up to 90 per cent the chemical activity that leads to the build-up of scar tissue. Experts say a tomato a day, 8oz of tomato juice,150g of pasta sauce or one lycopene tablet a day is enough to raise levels of lycopene in the blood.

There is no cure for endometriosis and it can damage the fertility of sufferers, who include singer Louise Redknapp and TV presenter Anthea Turner. The problem arises when cells normally found in the womb lining attach themselves to other parts of the pelvic area, causing scar tissue called adhesions, pain and inflammation.

In a study, adhesive tissues such as those found in endometriosis were treated with lycopene in the laboratory. Lycopene is a nutrient that gives the red colour to tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit.

Source - Daily Mail

Ancient English apple could boost heart health of millions

A rare ancient breed of English apple is the source of a 'secret' food ingredient that could boost the heart health of millions.

It has been extracted from Evesse apples because they are a rich source of polyphenols that help increase blood flow and relax the arteries. Just a tumbler full of Evesse juice is the equivalent of eating 30 raw red-fleshed apples, but the effect makes the arteries 10 years younger than their actual age.

The ingredient, which has a neutral taste and odour, will be made as a liquid and powder and added to juices, yoghurts and other foods to help consumers maintain a healthy circulation. Scientific studies carried out by the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, show that Evesse works on arterial stiffness with 30 minutes, with the relaxing effect lasting for up to eight hours.

Regular consumption over five to six weeks leads to a gradual improvement in the baseline stiffness of the arteries. As people age, their arteries tend to stiffen and blood pressure rises which impedes blood flow around the body and means some people have a 'vascular' age older than their chronological age.

Independent trials that used Evesse as part of fresh fruit juices found the relaxing effect on the arteries of both older people and young healthy individuals.

Women with breast cancer 'live longer' with group therapy

Joining a support group could double a woman's chances of surviving breast cancer, research suggests.

Breast cancer patients who attended regular stress-busting sessions with psychologists were around half as likely to die from the disease as other women, a study found. The disease was also less likely to come back, and when it did, it took longer to recur, increasing the amount of high-quality time they had with their loved ones, the journal Cancer reports.It is thought the support the women received, including relaxation and problem solving techniques and advice on how to approach family and friends, helped thwart the cancer by cutting stress levels.

Although a link between patient support and quality of life has been made before, this study is the first to credit it with the ability to prolong life. Researcher Barbara Andersen (CORR) said: 'The results suggest that we can help breast cancer patients make positive steps that may help them live longer and make recurrence less likely.'

Professor Andersen, of Ohio State University, tracked the wellbeing of 227 breast cancer patients for an average of 11 years. At the start of the study, all had undergone breast surgery but the cancer had not spread. All received the usual medical treatment but half were also asked to attend regular group counselling sessions. Led by a psychologist, these included relaxation techniques and advice on how to avoid becoming too tired and how to approach family and friends for support.

The 26 sessions held over the course of a year also included some diet and exercise advice and information on how to deal with side-effects of cancer treatment. The cancer recurred in 62 of the women and 54 died. However, analysis showed the women who took part in the group sessions or 'intervention programme' we around half as likely to have died.

Source - Daily Mail

Probiotics, not so friendly after all?

New research indicates that many probiotics are ineffective and some may even cause harm. Now scientists say we should switch to prebiotics.

Over the past two decades, it seemed that our guts had never had it so good. Probiotic products claiming to rid the body of the bad bacteria that causes illness burst on to the market and two million of us now swallow their promise of improved digestive health, provided by so-called “friendly bacteria”. We spend almost £350 million a year on drinks, yoghurts, powders and capsules, in the hope of improving our gut health. But is it money well spent? A growing number of experts think not. While they do not dispute that a balance of gut flora is beneficial, many believe that probiotics are not as helpful as was once thought.

Studies supporting the use of probiotics for general wellbeing, and as an additional support for people with specific illnesses, have been plentiful in recent years. This month, for instance, Swedish researchers revealed that a course of probiotics can offer protection for those with pneumonia. But critics are now doubting their usefulness. “In some areas, there is evidence that taking a probiotic supplement can be helpful,” says Anna Denny, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “But it is not clear-cut and not all probiotics are helpful to all people.”

The Russian Nobel prize winner, Élie Metchnikoff, is credited with having discovered probiotics at the beginning of the 20th century when he discovered that Bulgarian peasants who consumed milk containing fermenting bacteria appeared to enjoy extraordinarily good health.

It is now accepted among nutrition scientists that so-called friendly bacteria account for 10-15 per cent of bacteria in a healthy adult gut and that levels become depleted through a poor, low-fibre diet, or other factors such as stress, courses of antibiotics or illness. Proponents claim that probiotic supplements, which provide a regular shot of live, beneficial bacteria, help to top-up a body's natural supplies. But even those who were once self-confessed fanatics are questioning their place and proposing alternatives.

Source - Times

Exercise tips to beat seasonal affective disorder

How a work out can lift those early winter blues

It's that time of year again when our spirits begin to droop as the days get shorter and darker. Our soggy, sunlight-starved summer is likely to swell the numbers, estimated at half a million people in the UK, who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

It's believed that low light levels are responsible for leaving SAD sufferers feeling depressed, fatigued and sometimes craving carbohydrates and sweet foods from late autumn until early spring.

Get a natural high

As anyone who works out regularly knows, being active gives you a natural high through a combination of adrenalin, endorphins and oxygen being released in greater quantities in your body. Add in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is generated in increased amounts through exercise, and you have a natural chemical pick-me-up. Exercise also keeps your immunity levels high, so you are also less likely to succumb to colds, coughs and bugs.

It's important at the outset to keep your self-image high. Put simply, when you feel out of shape, you tend to do things that do more harm than good, such as eating calorific comfort food and avoiding exercise.

Here are some tips to stop you feeling SAD:

Source - Times

Should you trust health advice from internet forums?

There are internet forums for all kinds of illness. We explore whether you can rely the advice and information you can get from these sites

Health information on the internet used to be shaped by doctors. Now it's being shaped by patients. And it's patients, not doctors, who are making the real progress in providing health information that delivers what people really want to know. But how do you know if this information and advice is trustworthy, and worth heeding?

Many people will be familiar with, or have experienced, the following scenario. Your doctor delivers the news that you are suffering from a condition or ailment. After the initial shock has passed, you are hungry for information, and once back at home, type the condition into Google. In front of you appears reams upon reams of information, including countless forums where patients share advice and support. But how do you navigate through this information minefield; will reading other people's experiences prove beneficial, or instead deliver an unhealthy dose of fear, anxiety and misinformation?

Separating fact from fiction

Certainly, health consumers are not blind to the net's problems. Blatant commercial agendas which present opinion as fact, the downright barking bonkers, the health conspiracist - the net has them all. Six out of ten of us say in surveys that we know the net to be full of misinformation.

But we love it on so many counts. Immediacy, confidentiality, the linking with others, and most can navigate round its faults by more exhaustive searching and comparing of sites, for instance. And an overarching reason for the existence of these sites is the gap between what health professionals think we ought to know and our actual health information needs. After all, how many of us have emerged from the doctor's office feeling slightly confused about a diagnosis, and how it will affect our quality of life?

Source - Times

Alternative medicine professions 'need statutory regulation'

Acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners and medical herbalists should be formally regulated to ensure they are "fit to practise", the Health Professions Council (HPC) told the Government today.

The professions are not currently subject to statutory regulation but the HPC formally recommended a system was introduced to make it easier to ensure people were "meeting standards".

HPC chief executive Marc Seale said: "The HPC has made a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Health advocating the regulation of acupuncturists, medical herbalists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

"The HPC was set up in order to protect the public and we strongly believe that statutory regulation can more effectively assure that practitioners are meeting standards and are fit to practise."

A Department of Health steering group report in June said regulation was "in the public interest". It said it was important people had confidence that practitioners from these fields were "properly trained, understand the limits of their competence and know when and to whom to refer".

The report added: "There has also been widespread concern about the safety, in particular, of traditional Chinese medicines when inappropriately administered." The HPC already regulates 13 health professions, including chiropodists and podiatrists, dieticians, paramedics, physiotherapists, radiographers and speech therapists.

Source - BBC

Warning over MP3 volume levels

Listening to an MP3 player at its highest volume for one hour a day is enough to seriously damage people's hearing, according to a study for European politicians.

It claims being exposed to loud music could lead to people getting tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

The condition already affects more than 3 million people in the UK and it's feared a million more are at risk. Studies by charities working with deaf people estimate that two thirds of 16 to 34-year-olds listen to music at very high volumes without knowing the risks.

David Brinn is 33 and from Chippenham in Wiltshire. Until a few years ago he loved listening to music on his MP3 players and would use his for around three hours a day. He admits he would turn his up high.

"In the gym when you are on the treadmill and your favourite song comes on I'd turn it up as loud as it goes," he said.

David owned half a dozen MP3 players, buying new ones hoping they would be louder. Three years ago doctors diagnosed him with tinnitus. He describes his condition as a "whistle blowing" in his ear constantly, when he's eating, sleeping and working.

Source - BBC

'Old treatments' better for IBS

Older "overlooked" treatments for irritable bowel syndrome may end up being the best option for patients, research suggests.

Fibre, anti-spasmodic drugs and peppermint oil were all found to be effective in a review of the evidence. Guidelines on IBS should be updated in light of the findings, the researchers say in the British Medical Journal.

A UK expert said there had been a general feeling among doctors that the therapies "didn't work".

Between 5% and 20% of the population is estimated to suffer from IBS which is characterised by abdominal pain and an irregular bowel habit. The exact cause of the condition is unknown and recommendations for treatment include dietary advice, antidepressants and alternative therapies. Fibre, antispasmodics and peppermint oil are used to treat IBS, but evidence of their effectiveness is unclear because of conflicting results from studies, the researchers said.

They have also been overlooked because of the focus on newer more expensive drugs which ended up being withdrawn due to lack of efficacy and safety concerns, they added.

Source - BBC

Ministers agree food colour ban

Ministers have agreed that six artificial food colourings should be phased out after research found a link with hyperactivity in children.

The Food Standards Agency called for the voluntary removal earlier this year while European regulators work to agree a continent-wide ban. The food colourings should now be phased out by 2009. Campaigners said it was good news, although they accepted many companies had stopped using them already.

In September 2007, UK researchers reported children behaved impulsively and lost concentration after consuming a drink containing additives. In the study, 300 children were randomly given one of three drinks, either a potent mix of colourings and additives, a drink that roughly matched the average daily additive intake of a child of their age or a "placebo" drink with no additives.

Their hyperactivity levels were measured before and afterwards, and researchers found that the drink with the highest level of additives had a "significantly adverse" effect compared with the placebo drink.

The six colourings concerned are found in many products such as sweets, confectionery, processed food and takeaways. In light of the research, the FSA advised parents of hyperactive children to be aware of the potential risks of consuming the colourings.

Source - BBC

'Love handles' raise death risk

Carrying extra fat around your middle dramatically increases your risk of early death, even if your overall weight is normal, say researchers.

A study of almost 360,000 people from nine European countries found waist size a "powerful indicator" of risk. Each extra 2ins (5cm) raised the chance of early death by between 13% and 17%. The New England Journal of Medicine study stressed GPs should regularly measure patients' waists as a cheap and easy way to assess health.

The link between waist fat and health problems has been established for some time, but the sheer size of the study gives scientists a far more accurate picture. The researchers, including some from Imperial College London, followed the volunteers, who were an average of 51 years old at the start of the study, for the next 10 years, during which time 14,723 of them died.

The standard measure of obesity, body mass index (BMI) remained a reasonable predictor of health problems, with those with a high reading more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However, the 'hip/waist ratio', a number produced by dividing the waist size by the hip measurement, and just the waist measurement on its own, were both good ways of sorting out those at highest risk.

Source - BBC

Warning over untested remedy use

Patient groups have launched a campaign to warn people against trying untested remedies.

Many of the organisations believe that misleading information on the internet is leading to an increase in the number of vulnerable people turning to alternative treatments that cost them a lot of money and do not work.

When Daniela Muallem was first diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis ten years ago conventional treatments were of limited help. She was left exhausted and immobile for periods. In desperation she turned to alternative treatments.

These included reflexology, applied kinesiology - which involved listening to the sound of vitamins she might be lacking - and seeing a nutritionist. At the time she felt she had nothing to lose by trying them - but now she feels cheated.

"I started these things with huge hopes," she said. "Week by week you are investing energy and time, but you are getting more and more demoralised because you are still not improving. Practitioners will often imply that it's sort of your fault - that if you had the right attitude it would be working."

It was a similar story for Jane Chippendale in Kent whose husband Mark has MS.

Source - BBC

Nanoparticle cosmetic creams safety warning

Tiny particles that may be toxic are being used in beauty creams without proper safety testing, a consumer group has claimed.

Nanoparticles, which are 80 times thinner than a human hair, are used by firms including Boots, The Body Shop, Avon, Nivea and Unilever, especially for UV filters in sunscreens.
Some manufacturers believe the technology can deliver the benefits of products in a more effective way.

But critics say the size of the particles may allow them to permeate protective barriers in the body, such as those surrounding the brain or a developing baby in the womb. Their scale also changes the way they interact with other cells, which might lead to unforeseen toxic effects.

Following a report which raised concerns that some firms are not declaring their use of nanoparticles, Which? has called for the technology to be banned unless it is proved to be safe.
Its concerns have been backed by Professor Dame Ann Dowling, of the Royal Society, the UK's independent science academy.

Source - Telegraph

Dietary supplement 'could help elderly avoid broken bones'

Half of all elderly women will suffer some form of fracture, studies show, in part because of the effects of osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease.

But scientists have found that Beta-alanine, an amino acid found in the body, can help to build muscle in older people, improving function by up to almost one third. The researchers believe that using the supplement regularly could allow elderly people to perform everyday tasks more easily and avoid falls, which can often lead them to need hospital care.

The study tested the supplement on 26 elderly men and women, the oldest of whom was 92 years of age, who were given daily dose of the acid for three months, and recorded their fitness levels at the start and end of the experiment. Those on the supplement saw their muscle performance improve by up to 29 per cent.

The findings, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, suggests that regular supplements could improve muscle endurance in the elderly.

Dr Jeffrey Stout, PhD from the University of Oklahoma, who led the study, said: "This could have importance in the prevention of falls, and the maintenance of health and independent living in elderly men and women."

Source - Telegraph

Fruitless ways to lift depression

Dr Harald Stossier is the king of food intolerances. Head of the famous Viva Mayr clinic in Austria, and now also practising in London, he can spot a gluten intolerance or an adverse reaction to dairy products a mile off. So when he attributes my tiredness, depression and bloating to one kind of food I’m expecting the usual suspects.

''Fruit,’’ he says, smiling. ''Or rather, should I say, fructose.’’

Fruit? How on earth can anyone be intolerant of fruit? We are told to eat more fruit because it is so incredibly good for us. But for the estimated 30-35 per cent of the population who suffer from fructose malabsorption (FM), eating something as seemingly innocuous as an apple could cause bloating and stomach pains, fatigue and confusion, depression and anxiety and even sore, aching eyes.

Fructose is a sugar that occurs in varying degrees in fruit, while fructan (chains of fructose molecules) occurs in some vegetables and also in wheat. Usually these are processed in the small intestine but for people with FM, they pass largely unchanged into the large intestine where they wreak havoc.

''The sugars stay in the bowel and produce hydrogen or methane gas, hence the pain and gassiness,’’ explains nutritional therapist and lecturer Emma Wells. She believes a large proportion of her clients with irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue have problems with fructose.

But how can it affect mood? Dr Stossier says that FM affects levels of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, one of the major hormones that regulate mood and sleep. Many people, he says, are taking antidepressants unnecessarily when they just need to change their diet.

The good news is that the right diet can apparently switch off FM — and you don’t need to avoid all fruits all the time. Australian research (reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association) found that steering clear of foods high in fructose helped the majority of sufferers.

Source - Telegraph

Fight dementia with a keen social life

New research shows that there is hope for people with dementia, the key is to keep up their social life.

For many of us, there's little more bleak than the prospect of Alzheimer's disease - it's that idea of the loss of self that is so frightening. Yet a new study turns on its head the assumption that a good quality of life ends once Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia take hold. Not only does it indicate that those affected can lead fulfilling lives, but that there's something that will make happiness almost guaranteed: keep up the social life.

The study, from University College London published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, is one of the first to ask people with dementia directly about their feelings over time, to try and gauge their quality of life.

Dementia is the accelerated loss of brain cells, usually due to a disease such as Alzheimer's. It affects 750,000 people in the UK. This new study comes at a time when news stories about the need for treatments, and the decline of high-profile figures such as Iris Murdoch have consistently painted a picture of loss. Baroness Warnock, an expert in medical ethics, has controversially proposed euthanasia for dementia sufferers because of the strain they put on their families and public services.

But Cornelius Katona, a leading expert in old-age psychiatry from University College London's medical school, believes we should pay more attention to the factors that can make a difference to the lives of people affected by this potentially terrifying condition. And his research suggests that if we make sure the right activities and environments are available, we can give people with dementia a good quality of life without searching for elusive, expensive drugs.

Source - Times

Why optimism isn't always the best strategy

World-weary cynics are rarely floored by grief when outcomes are not as sunny as the Pollyannas among us might hope.

WHAT struck me about Barack Obama's victory in the US Presidential elections this week was the optimism with which he opened and closed his emotional and intensely moving acceptance speech.

Suddenly the world seemed a little less grim. Hope was bursting on to the horizon. He began with the words, “America is a place where all things are possible”. And, in case there were any doubters in his ecstatic audience, ended with the chanted message: “Yes, we can”.

Well, who really knows whether that's true? Sceptics might call such optimism “hope in the face of reason”, and question how one man can possibly change all that is wrong with the United States and, indeed, with the world.

But optimism itself can be a surprisingly powerful force that is shown to extend lives and improve people's health and wellbeing. Optimism comes in two varieties: dispositional and situational. The former is hardwired. Some of us are just sunnier than others, no matter what our circumstances, thanks to the helpful deck of genes that fate dealt us when we were born.

Situational optimism, on the other hand, is what we feel when we use information to calculate success at a particular point - when the state of Virginia went for Obama for instance. What is curious (and contrary to our assumptions) is that pessimism is not the opposite of optimism. They are actually quite separate traits. And while optimism is good for our health, pessimism is not.

Source - Times

Health news: Tea tree oil 'cures warts', shockwave therapy unblocks arteries and how massage lowers blood pressure

Tea tree oil is a warts-and-all cure

Tea tree oil may be an effective remedy for warts, according to a report published in the Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practice journal.

Doctors at Belfast City Hospital have reported the case of a girl whose hand warts disappeared after 12 days of daily treatment with the oil, which is rubbed into the skin.

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the melaleuca alternifolia tree, which is native to Australia. It has already been shown to have antiseptic benefits. Now the oil is thought to have anti-viral effects as well.

Warts are caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes a hard material called keratin, found in the top layer of the skin, to grow too much - producing the classic hard texture of a wart.

Source - Daily Mail

Popular fish oil supplements fail ingredient tests

More than half the brands of popular cod liver oil and omega 3 supplements do not contain the amount of active ingredients they claim on the label, according to the results of new tests.

Fish oil capsules are one of the UK's most popular nutritional supplements and have been shown by a number of studies to help maintain joint flexibility, keep the heart healthy and aid brain development.

But scientists from the new review website tested 27 brands of the widely sold supplements - and found that more than half did not meet trading standards guidelines. The organisation, which claims to be the only independent website providing unbiased analysis of UK health supplements, says that one of the worst offenders was Tesco's High Strength Cod Liver Oil, which had just 79 per cent of active ingredient, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), claimed on the bottle.

Meanwhile, the report found Boots Brain and Heart Health Omega 3 supplements contained only 84 per cent DHA and 87per cent EPA stated on the label. Seven Seas Pure Cod Liver Oil had 87per cent of active ingredient it was said to contain.

At the other end of the scale, Numark's Omega 3, Healthspan's Concentrated Omega 3 and Asda's Omega 3 contained higher levels of the active ingredient than claimed. say the test results were analysed by independent laboratories and reviewed by experts. Products were considered to have failed if they contained less than 95 per cent of the active ingredients they claimed to have.

Source - Daily Mail

Vitamin B supplement could slow Alzheimer's disease

An over-the-counter vitamin pill could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, according to a promising new study.

A six-month human trial will go ahead next year, after scientists found a form of vitamin B3 protected animals from memory loss associated with the condition. The vitamin tends to be found in foods that are good sources of protein such as red meat, poultry, fish and nuts.

High doses of the water-soluble supplement Nicotinamide, which is sold in health food stores, will be given to 70 people recently diagnosed with the degenerative condition in a trial due to start next year.

If a success, it could provide a cheap and effective treatment for the estimated 417,000 people in Britain diagnosed with Alzheimer's. There is currently no cure for any type of dementia.

The vitamin was first tested on mice by a team from the University of California, who have revealed their results in the Journal of Neuroscience. The team tested rodents modified to develop Alzheimer's using a water-maze and object recognition tasks over four months.
They found that treated Alzheimer's mice performed at the same level as normal mice, while untreated Alzheimer's mice experienced memory loss.

Source - Daily Mail

Light drinking when pregnant may lead to calm babies, says study

Drinking one or two glasses of wine a week during pregnancy does not harm the mental development of the baby and is even linked with an overall improvement in the behaviour of toddlers, a major study found.

Heavy drinking while pregnant carries a high risk of serious health problems to the growing foetus but light drinking – defined as taking one or two units of alcohol per week or per occasion – produces no ill effects, the study of nearly 12,500 three-year-olds found.

Toddlers born to women who drank lightly during their pregnancy were found to have significantly fewer emotional problems and better cognitive skills than those born to mothers who abstained completely or drunk heavily.

Research into the drinking patterns of the mothers of 12,495 three-year-olds born in Britain found no evidence that drinking lightly at any stage of pregnancy has any discernible effect on the mental development of the foetus and baby. "Our research has found that light drinking does not increase the risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits [in the baby]," said Dr Yvonne Kelly of University College London, who led the study, published in the International Journal Of Epidemiology.

"Indeed, for some behavioural and cognitive outcomes, those born to light drinkers were less likely to have problems compared to children of abstinent mothers, although those born to heavy drinkers were more likely to have problems compared to children of mothers who drank nothing while pregnant."

Source - Independent

Probiotics 'may stop pneumonia'

Probiotics could be used to protect critically ill patients from developing pneumonia, according to scientists.

The friendly bacteria can block the colonisation by dangerous bugs of the airways of ventilated patients, the Swedish study concluded. The probiotic solution performed just as well as normal antiseptics used to keep pneumonia-causing bacteria at bay, the journal Critical Care reported.
Being more natural it could pose fewer side effects, the authors said.

Friendly bugs
The probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus plantarum 299 is normally present in saliva and is also commonly found in fermented products like pickles and sauerkraut. Although rare, some patients are allergic to the antiseptics normally used to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia, namely chlorhexidine.

There is also a very small risk of the pneumonia-causing bacteria developing chlorhexidine resistance. Pneumonia is a common complication in patients on breathing machines and occurs when harmful bacteria from the mouth, throat or breathing tube are inhaled into the lungs.

Source - BBC