Body matters

In my twenties, when I had more time for pampering, I thought massages were a marvellous indulgence.

I had no problem paying someone in a white tunic £50 every once in a while to smother me in aromatherapy oils. Only now, with an achy back, a stiff neck and barely any time for beauty parlours, I realise the rub-downs of yesterday were wasted on the younger, time-rich me. I just didn't appreciate how necessary they were.

From India to China, South America to Africa, every ancient culture has some form of massage technique ingrained in its philosophy of optimum health. Greek and Roman civilisations used massage, too, as a bona fide medical tool, yet even now in Britain, thanks to censorious tradition when it comes to human physical contact, we view it as a luxury.

Having come to massage via the beauty parlour, I was, until recently, agnostic about its benefits. The more I learn, however, from medical practitioners, the more I realise how powerful it is as a means to keep the body in top condition.

Source - Telegraph

Does the Alexander Technique really cure back pain?

WHAT are we to make of this week's news that the complementary therapy Alexander Technique is an effective treatment for long-term back pain, better than painkillers, physiotherapy, massage or exercise alone? The findings came in an authoritative study in the British Medical Journal.

Chronic back pain can be soul-destroying. With pain researchers increasingly convinced of the importance of psychological, as well as physical, factors in producing pain, what's also becoming evident is that approaches that address only the physical aren't as effective as those that influence our feelings too.

It seems amazing that little more than a decade ago, rest and painkillers were still standard treatment for back pain. In the past 20 years research has consistently shown that active approaches - when the patient takes responsibility for exercise - are far more effective than passive ones. It has gone on to show that approaches that give detailed attention to an individual and tailored treatment - such as osteopathy and physiotherapy - are more effective than off-the-peg approaches.

But more recently, as good-quality research studies have been conducted into complementary techniques, the possibility has arisen that yoga and the Alexander Technique hold benefits beyond manipulation and exercise. It has something to do with our minds.

The theory behind the Alexander Technique may be hard for medics to take because it revolves around simultaneously releasing emotional and physical stresses by improving posture. But it may be in this difficult mind-body link that its success lies. This means that, for all the benefits shown by research, it may be a while before it is available on the NHS.

So what are you to do if you want to try the technique? Since the report came out, the organisation for Alexander Technique training has reported a huge public demand for details of teachers (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique There are only 900 in England, and most of these are in the SouthEast.

Aronia berry, 'the healthiest fruit in the world,' hits the High Street

A berry reckoned to be the healthiest fruit in the world will soon be available in Britain's shops for the first time.

The aronia is a 'superfood', richer in anti-cancer antioxidants than raspberries and more modern imports such as the goji and acai. It even has three times the level of antioxidants found in blueberries. Now a six-year plan by Marks & Spencer to cultivate the berries in Scotland has come to fruition and they will be in its stores from Monday.

The plant is native to North America, where early settlers gave it the name 'chokeberry' because it is so sharp when eaten raw. The aronia berry – which is similar in appearance to a cranberry – is also said to help ward off heart disease. American Indians believed it was a good aphrodisiac.

The move to grow the plant in the UK will satisfy environmentalists, because it will be more ecologically sound to transport the berries to M&S shops than if they were imported. Because it needs damp, mild conditions in which to grow, it is an ideal crop for parts of Scotland.

The introduction of the aronia berry has also been influenced by Britain's Polish population – it has long been popular in their home country. The introduction to shop shelves of the aronia berries will feed the growing demand for 'superfruits'.

Source - Daily Mail

The two-week dark chocolate diet that reduces risk of heart disease

Eating dark chocolate daily for two weeks may lessen the risk of heart disease.

Eating a couple of chunks daily for a fortnight is enough to ward off high blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes, both major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.

Although the healthy benefits of dark chocolate have been highlighted before, this is believed to be one of the first studies to show it can have such a rapid effect in preventing illness. The research raises the possibility that chocolate could help some patients boost their health without the need for prescription drugs.

Italian and US researchers who carried out the study deliberately chose a small group of patients who already had problems with blood pressure and the early stages of diabetes. But they stressed only dark chocolate is good for the heart. Milk chocolate, which is more popular in Britain, does not contain the same quantities of disease-busting ingredients. Heart disease is Britain's biggest killer, claiming the lives of one in five men and one in six women.

In recent years scientists have discovered certain plant-based foods and drinks such as fruits, vegetables, red wine tea and cocoa can protect the heart against disease. This is because they are all rich in natural ingredients call flavanols, a type of chemical found in plants. Cocoa beans, the main ingredient for chocolate, contain relatively high levels of flavanols.

Source - Daily Mail

Moisturisers 'raise skin cancer risk'

Moisturisers used by millions every day may be increasing the risk of common skin cancers, scientists have warned.

Most such creams have never been tested for their cancer-causing effect on the skin. Now scientists have found that they increase the carcinogenic effect of sunlight in mice. The skin cancers involved are common in humans.

Although mostly non-fatal and easily removed, deaths do occur, especially from squamous cell cancers. These are distinct from melanoma, the less common form of skin cancer, which causes over 1,000 deaths a year in the UK but was not the subject of the research.

Experiments on mice had shown that when caffeine was given orally or applied direct to the skin, it appeared to inhibit cancer. Scientists at Rutgers University, New Jersey, planned to test caffeine as a cancer preventive in humans by adding it to a common moisturiser, Dermabase. Before starting the study they decided to test Dermabase's carcinogenic activity.

To their surprise, they found that it increased the production of tumours in mice that had previously been exposed to ultraviolet light. They then tested three other common moisturisers, all of which increased the production of tumours by an average of 69 per cent.

The significance of the findings for humans has still to be established, the team reports in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Source - Independent

Red Bull: it promises energy, but doesn't mention sticky blood...

Australian researchers have found that the sugar-free version of Red Bull may increase the danger of blood clots, and creates "sticky" blood, raising the risk of heart attack or stroke. How this affects the sales of Red Bull – last year 3.5 billion cans were sold in 143 countries – is yet to be seen.
* In 1982 the jet-lagged marketing director of an Austrian toothpaste company tasted Krating Daeng, a Thai energy drink. He saw the potential for a product to fight mental and physical exhaustion.
* With a few tweaks to the recipe, Red Bull was launched in Austria in 1987.
* It's named after taurine, the organic acid it contains that was first isolated in a bull.
* In early marketing tests half the tasters declared it disgusting. For years Austrian bars did not sell it, regarding it as medicinal.
* It was launched in the US and Europe in 1997; but it is still prohibited as a soft drink in Norway, Uruguay, Denmark and Iceland.
* The formula contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of filter coffee, around 80mg. It's meant to taste of mixed berries, but some liken it to sweet cough mixture.
* A variety of celebrities have been associated with the brand, including Britney Spears and Madonna, but these were dubious endorsements: Britney had a can with her when she shaved her head last year. Madonna was quoted in 2006 as saying: "Sometimes I drink Red Bull. That's only when I'm desperate... when I need some serious artificial stimulation."
* When a teenager in Darlington was taken to hospital in February with heart palpitations after consuming eight cans, a Red Bull spokesman recommended only drinking one to two cans per day, for "optimum effect".

Source - Independent

'Social injustice killing people', says report

A "toxic combination" of bad policies, economics and politics is killing people on a large scale, according to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Health inequalities are rife around the world and largely avoidable, WHO experts concluded after a three year investigation. Not only was the burden of ill health and early death shared unfairly on a global scale, but also within individual countries - including affluent nations such as the UK, said the WHO's Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.

The Commission brought together hundreds of researchers and other experts from universities, institutions, ministries and non-government organisations to contribute to the study.

Evidence from the UK included the fact that a boy born in the Calton suburb of Glasgow was likely to live, on average, 28 years less than one born a few miles away in Lenzie. Life expectancy at birth for men in Hampstead, north west London, was on average 11 years longer than it was for men born in the vicinity of nearby St Pancras railway station. Adult death rates were generally 2.5 times higher in the most deprived parts of the UK than in the most affluent.

An example from the US recorded the fact that 886,202 deaths would have been averted between 1991 and 2000 if death rates between white and black Americans had been equal.
Highlighting inequalities between different parts of the world, a girl born in Lesotho, Southern Africa, was likely to die 42 years younger than another born in Japan. In Sweden, one in 17,400 women died during childbirth, compared with one in eight in Afghanistan.

The report, Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity Through Action on the Social Determinants of Health, stressed that the reason for such inequalities was not biology but social environment.

Source - Independent

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: a passing problem

As many as one in five adults in this country, most of them women, suffers from a condition that is not just painful but socially debilitating.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the kind of non-specific, non-fatal condition that busy GPs can easily dismiss but, with symptoms ranging from stomach cramping to diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, excessive wind and incontinence if there is no lavatory nearby, it can be a colossal problem.

"It is excruciatingly embarrassing," says Lyn Brooks, a lawyer in her thirties who has had IBS for seven years. "At a dinner party recently I was trying so desperately hard to hold in my wind that I was soon doubled up on the floor. People thought I was drunk."

Some sufferers, not surprisingly, become afraid to leave home, losing careers, friends or even lovers. The internet is alive with IBS support groups where people can unburden themselves anonymously. One woman recounts crouching in a school playing field at night, terrified she would be caught on CCTV; another recalls how she fainted from stomach cramps, bringing the New York traffic to a halt.

If you have these symptoms, it is important to get a diagnosis from your GP as they may signal other illnesses such as Crohn's disease. Although there is no magic cure for IBS, and its causes are not fully understood, a GP may be able to prescribe medications such as anti-spasmodics. Most experts agree, however, that self-help is the best approach.

Source - Telegraph

How chocolate can help your heart

We are a nation in love with chocolate, that renowned aphrodisiac.

But the link between sex and chocolate is looking shaky. All the feel-good chemicals it contains, such as tryptophan and phenylethylamine, can also be found in foods like cheese. Chocolate's sensual image may be under threat but it is currently being trumpeted as the ideal health food. On sale now is a new kind of polyphenol-rich chocolate called Acticoa. Manufacturers including Delvaux, Minerva and Prestat are using Acticoa, as is Hadleigh Maid of Suffolk, which combines the new chocolate with cranberries and cherries.

Most of the health claims are focused on the antioxidant powers of cocoa. But while everyone agrees that chocolate can be very good for you, a body of scientific opinion suggests that putting all the benefits down to the antioxidant effect might be wrong. My understanding is that our bodies have their own defences anyway and that much of the research into antioxidants has been done in the test tube rather than the human body.

So which kind of chocolate is good for us, and why? The good types are high in flavanols, a sub-group of polyphenols. But cocoa, the raw ingredient, can lose large amounts of flavanols depending on how it is treated early on.

Source - Telegraph

The alternative Holby City that treats 30,000 patients a year

With an annual NHS budget of about £5million, the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital is one of four run by the NHS. It treats 30,000 patients a year for a variety of conditions including eczema, arthritis, allergies and stress. Such is the demand that it has just opened a 'herbal clinic'.

But with budgets in crisis, critics claim spending on complementary medicine is frivolous - and last week it was revealed that GPs' homeopathic prescriptions have fallen by 40 per cent in two years.

Yet according to the journal Homeopathy, among those receiving these remedies, 60 per cent say their health improved after treatment. We spoke to a range of patients at the hospital who have turned to homeopathy.

Daphne Thornton, 66, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Problem: autoimmune disease.
Six years ago I began suffering stiffness in my neck, shoulders, back, groin and knees. I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease polymyalgia rheumatica and my GP prescribed prednisolone, a steroid.
I was reluctant to take it because of the side effects, such as weight gain, puffiness and muscle stiffness, but the results were remarkable. I was like a new person after one day.
But a few months later I did begin to put on weight and my face appeared swollen, so I wanted to try complementary methods to try to control the side effects.
I first came here in July 2005. Dr Saul Berkovitz, who leads the clinic, put me on homeopathic remedies at first - causticum, which is supposed to help stiffness, and cimicifuga, which alleviates aches. Neither helped. We then tried phosphorus - but that didn't work.
It was only when I was put on a cocktail of herbal medicines including Rehmannia, Bupleurum (both Chinese herbal preparations), black cohosh, celery seed and liquorice root that I began to notice any effect. After a month or two of taking it I began to feel less stiff.
We reduced the steroids by half a milligram at a time every few months until eventually I came off them completely. And I've been off them ever since.

Revealed: How health chiefs plan to put fluoride in half our water supply to halt tooth decay

Nearly half our drinking water could have fluoride added to it under a 'secret' Government plan.

Dental health chiefs want to add the chemical to 40 per cent of England's water supply to combat high levels of tooth decay.

But critics said the 'mass medication' of water without the population's consent was an invasion of their human rights. They also accused dentists of being in denial about the dangers of fluoride, which has been linked to diseases including brittle bones and cancer.

Dental experts, however, said there is overwhelming evidence that adding fluoride to water helps reduce tooth decay, with children the biggest beneficiaries.

Fluoride, which is tasteless and odourless, occurs naturally but is also found in drinking water supplies - usually at levels too low to affect dental health. At present, only 10 per cent of tap water has fluoride added - in the West Midlands and the North East.

Although plans to add the chemical to more of the nation's water supply were first announced by Health Secretary Alan Johnson in February, the scale of the Government's intentions has remained under wraps until now.

Source - Daily Mail

Frankincense 'can ease arthritis'

A herb known as "Indian Frankincense" can reduce the symptoms of arthritis, US researchers have suggested.

Extracts from Boswellia serrata, a similar species to the variety famous for its role in the Christian nativity, were tested on dozens of patients. Those who received it reported better movement and less pain and stiffness.

The herb has been used for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, reports the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of the condition, and normally affects the weight bearing joints such as hands, wrists, feet and spine. Current treatments carry a great many adverse effects, and scientists have been hunting for an alternative. The investigation into the properties of Boswellia serrata was led by Dr Siba Raychaudhuri at the University of California, Davis.

Eventually they tested an extract of the plant enriched with the chemical - AKBA - thought to be its active ingredient. Some of the 70 patients with severe arthritis in their knees recruited into the trial were given a low-dose capsule, some a higher dose capsule, and the remainder were given a dummy pill with no active ingredients.

In as little as seven days, patients taking the frankincense drug reported improvements in their pain and stiffness levels compared with the placebo group, and these continued until the 90-day mark, when the study ended.

Source - BBC

Don't put Henbane in your salad!

In a magazine interview about watercress and other wild foods, Mr Worrall Thompson said the weed henbane was "great in salads". He had meant to recommend fat hen, which is a wild herb.

So here's an urgent warning "henbane is highly toxic". In fact the notorious murderer Dr Crippen is thought to have used the henbane plant to kill his wife in 1910.

Source: The Wright Stuff

What the case of Radovan Karadzic tells us about alternative medicine

Tighter regulation of complementary medicine is urgently required.

The dramatic capture of Radovan Karadzic, the “butcher of Bosnia”, dominated headlines this week. For many, his arrest has stirred up images of horror, but the whole episode also had something of the surreal about it.

Karadzic, a war crimes suspect and former psychiatrist, had reinvented himself as a complementary therapist. I was intrigued by his business card, which was headed: “human quantum energy”. I think you'll find that's Serbian for “bollocks”.

For those offering talking and complementary therapies, the revelation of Karadzic's success as an energy healer was unfortunately timed. It came in the same week that the woman who suffered brain damage while on a “hydration diet” recommended by a nutritionist had been awarded £800,000 and regulation is in the air.

New occupational standards for psychological therapies are being developed, for instance. As Andrew Billen outlined in The Times last week, they haven't gone down well with psychoanalysts, who complain that they reduce their profession to a series of tick-box questions.
There are other moves to protect the public in non-medical fields, with 12 types of complementary practitioners set to be regulated by a Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. The idea is to provide a one-stop shop for the public to check out, via a website, a practitioner's fitness to practise.

But is there ever going to be a way to regulate the wilder fringes of alternative therapy? Many are based on fashion, not science. In fact, lack of research means that the mechanism of most is hazy. If people feel the benefit, it may be largely through belief in the practitioner. How can that be regulated?

Source - Daily Mail

Why I swapped partying for meditation

I don't know what I expected to happen while I was in Thailand on my gap year, apart from some kind of weight loss from dysentery. The year didn't start well: I'd suffered from anorexia during sixth form and my recovery had included a humiliating cycle of bingeing and starving.

By the time I arrived in Thailand in February of this year, the bingeing had won out and I was heavier than I had ever been. Aged 18, I covered up in frumpy kaftans, feeling fat and middle-aged. My hope was that I would get a nice tan and return home triumphant, skinny, gorgeous and happy.

In reality, I found myself with no money, no friends and a large dose of homesickness, and ended up staying in a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok for six weeks. I lived with the monks, meditating for eight hours a day. And, to my surprise, this turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to me.

I had planned to work at a children's charity in Pattaya, in eastern Thailand, for six weeks. But I hated this notorious sex town, and the balding, fat, sweaty men going with tiny Thai girls (and boys) in hotpants. The charity didn't turn out as I expected: I thought there'd be lots for me to do and lots of other young people to make friends with. In fact, I was excruciatingly lonely. Terrified of this vast, noisy country, still hating myself, I just wanted to go home.

Strange turn of events
Less than two weeks into my stay I was robbed of all my money, including £400 cash and almost £1,000 from my bank card, which I had stupidly left in my guesthouse room. Distraught, I used my last bit of cash to buy a bus ticket to Bangkok, and spent the entire journey wailing into the bosom of a wonderful Thai woman. On arrival in Bangkok, she bought me a McDonald's and gave me some money. Then she headed me in the direction of the monastery, where I could stay free, after I had mumbled something about “meditation” and “Buddhism” and “spiritual enlightenment”.

Several hours later, I was speaking to an old, cross-looking monk, asking sheepishly whether I could spend a few nights there, and feeling a fraud as I explained my lifelong fascination with Buddhism and my desire to improve my meditation. After a long and bemusing conversation about the “Eprisets” (the Eight Precepts of Buddhism, as they turned out to be), he said I could stay, but that I'd have to “work very hard”. He showed me to my floor space in one of the sleeping rooms, which I shared with up to six Thai women. I spent the night wishing I was home watching Midsomer Murders.

The next few days passed frustratingly slowly. We awoke at 5am and prepared breakfast - usually a selection of fish, rice porridge, vegetables and fruit - which we presented to the monks before eating ourselves at about 6am. At 7am I went to my meditation room, and there I would sit cross-legged, watching my breath coming in and going out, and concentrating on the present moment. This is pretty hard, especially when all I wanted to do was think of my sorry situation. Mid-morning lunch was followed by more meditation, and then a two-hour break, during which I either cried or rang my mother, or both, sitting on the front steps with a cup of tamarind-leaf tea and watching the big brown dogs that lazed about in the sun all day, waiting to be kicked by the passing monks.

Source - Daily Mail

Being married halves the risk of developing Alzheimer's, say scientists

Being married halves your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, say researchers.

A study shows the importance of close companionship in midlife, with a 50 per cent lower rate of dementia affecting those who have a partner. It found those who stay alone after divorce have a threefold risk of suffering Alzheimer's in later life. The 21-year study highlights a higher risk of developing memory and cognitive problems for all those who live alone, whether single, divorced or widowed.

Previous research has suggested social isolation or lack of personal contact carries an increased risk of dementia and mental decline, with U.S. experts claiming last year that lonely people were more likely to develop the degenerative brain disease in old age.

But the Swedish study presented yesterday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago is the first to look specifically at whether being married cuts the risk.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, afflicting more than 700,000 Britons.
In the latest study, researchers led by Dr Krister Hakansson at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm investigated records on 1,449 people living in Finland in mid-life and again in 1998, an average of 21 years later.

Altogether 139 had some form of dementia, 82 with mild cognitive impairment and 48 with Alzheimer's. The research team found those living with a partner in mid-life had a 50 per cent lower risk of having dementia in late-life compared to those living alone. This remained the case even after adjustments were made for factors linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer's, including education, obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, occupation, physical activity, smoking habits, depression, genes, age and gender.

The researchers found people who had been single all their life had a doubled risk of dementia.
Divorcees who remained single after a marriage split in mid-life had a tripled risk.

Most dramatically, those who lost a partner before mid-life and remained alone had a six times higher risk of developing dementia compared with those married throughout mid and late life.

Source - Daily Mail

A daily dose of garlic can save your life by cutting blood pressure, say researchers

Garlic may lower blood pressure just as effectively as drugs, according to researchers.

Scientists looked at 11 international studies in which patients were given a daily garlic supplement in powdered form for between three and five months. They found significant blood pressure falls among participants - with the greatest drops among those who had higher blood pressure readings to begin with.

In some cases, the effects were similar to those achieved with common anti-blood pressure drugs, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, said Dr Karin Ried, of Adelaide University in South Australia.

More than 16million Britons have high blood pressure and many more are thought to suffer from it without knowing. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to heart attacks and
strokes. Doctors recommend that sufferers lower their blood pressure by cutting their intake of salt, losing weight and getting fit.

Source - Daily Mail