Complementary medicine: Health risk or the real heal?

Do you receive reiki or put your feet in the hands of a reflexologist? Have you ever tried crystal therapy? Does an acupuncturist give you a needle? In short, are you one of the estimated 5.75 million people in Britain who visit a complementary health practitioner? f so, according to Professor Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh, authors of Trick or Treatment, you're not only potentially wasting your money, you could be putting your health at risk.

''Millions of patients are wasting their money and risking their health by turning towards a snake-oil industry,'' they say.

Unsurprisingly, practitioners of complementary medicine have been less than ecstatic about the authors' stance. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) accused Singh of libel over an article he wrote in The Guardian.

The BCA claimed he was, in effect, accusing chiropractors of knowingly supporting bogus treatments. The Court of Appeal has ruled that Singh can use the "defence of fair comment" in the ongoing dispute.

Source - Guardian

Could martial arts help people with weak bones?

Techniques used by martial artists to break their falls could help people with weak bones avoid fractures, researchers say. Judo-style training could help reduce the impact of a fall, possibly preventing serious problems such as a broken hip for people with osteoporosis.

What do we know already?

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the world, and causes about 200,000 broken bones every year in the UK. It's more common in older people, especially women, and causes bones to become thinner and weaker. Broken bones in the spine, hip, or wrist are particularly common for people with osteoporosis.

Many martial arts include techniques for breaking a fall, in order to avoid injuries while being tripped or thrown. For example, judo and aikido players learn how to change a fall into a rolling movement, and spread the impact over a larger area of the body. If people with osteoporosis could learn similar techniques, they might be less likely to break a bone during a fall.

Researchers wanted to find out whether it would be safe to teach people with osteoporosis how to fall, or whether the training itself would be too dangerous for people with weak bones. They asked six healthy young adults to go through the training, and measured the stresses acting on their bodies using 3D cameras and a pressure-sensitive plate placed under a judo mat.

Source - Guardian

The tiny magnets that can cure your heartburn

A magnetic bracelet that sits inside the body could be a radical new treatment for heartburn. The bracelet is made up of a dozen titanium beads, each of which contains a tiny magnet.

The device is fitted around the bottom of the oesophagus - the 'pipe' through which food travels to the stomach. Once in place, the magnets pull together. This stops acid from the stomach leaking back up into the oesophagus and burning its delicate lining, causing heartburn.

When the patient swallows, the beads are gently forced apart, sliding along the tiny metal arms that link them together. This allows food to pass through into the stomach. Once it has, the magnets pull together again to form a seal.

Around 150 patients in the U.S. have already been fitted with the revolutionary device, and results have been very encouraging.

Source - Daily Mail

Chillis, the red hot way of losing weight

Eating chillis can make you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism and burning fat, scientists have found.

Researchers claim that heat generated by the spicy food oxidises layers of fat as well as increasing metabolism. And those with mild taste buds can also benefit from peppers without having to endure the stinging aftertaste. An equivalent of the main ingredient, capsaicin, has been found in non-spicy varieties of the food as well.

Eating brown rice could prevent high blood pressure and heart attacks

Swapping white rice for brown could prevent high blood pressure and lower the risk of heart attacks, experts say.

Brown rice is a better source of fibre than the white grain and also fights high cholesterol. Tests revealed that brown rice contains a compound that protects the heart from a damaging protein, but that compound is removed when it is polished to make white rice.

Researchers in the U.S. and Japan said the findings could help to explain why cases of heart disease are lower in Japan - where most people eat rice daily. Professor Satoru Eguchi, of Temple University, Philadelphia, said: 'Brown rice might have an advantage over white rice by offering protection from high blood presure and atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries". This suggests that the sub-layer of rice offers protection against high blood pressure.'

Source - Daily Mail

Fallacy of fish oil revealed as study finds supplements DON'T boost children's brain power

Parents who buy fish oil tablets to boost their children’s brain power are wasting their money, the largest study of its kind suggests.

An analysis of primary school pupils found that reading, spelling and handwriting were not improved by taking omega-3 ‘clever capsules’. It contradicts a raft of other research which has credited the pills and powders with boosting mental ability and exam grades.

But the academics say their study is more thorough than many others. Rather than just giving fish oils to all the children, some were given dummy pills instead, a technique that allows for a truer picture of any resulting benefits. For four months, 450 children aged eight to ten at 18 schools in South Wales took either omega-3 supplements or placebos.

The children, parents, teachers and even the researchers were unaware of who had taken what until the end of the study. The results of a battery of tests revealed the fish oil pills did not improve the youngsters’ work – although it did appear that those taking them were more attentive.

Researchers also found that around 30 of the 450 children had very low levels of omega-3 fat in their blood to begin with.

Source - Daily Mail

Talc link to raised womb cancer risk: Once a week use increases the threat by 24 per cent

Using talcum powder just once a week to keep fresh can raise the risk of womb cancer by up to 24 per cent, a study has claimed.

It warned that powder particles applied to the genital area can travel into a woman's body and trigger inflammation, which allows cancer cells to flourish. Around 40 per cent of women are thought to use talc regularly as part of their personal hygiene routine. Previous studies have linked talcum powder use with ovarian tumours.

However, this is the first research to suggest that it could also cause womb, or endometrial, cancer, a disease that kills around 1,000 women a year in England and Wales.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School in Boston investigated talc's health risks and found a significant increase in risk in older women who had been through the menopause. In the U.S. report, which was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, they said older women may be more at risk because they have been exposed to talc's effects for longer.

Source - Daily Mail

Baby's Breath flower can boost anti-leukaemia drugs by up to a million times

Scientists unveiled a major medical breakthrough that could revolutionise the treatment of leukaemia patients and save thousands of lives.

Experts have discovered that an extract from the white flower commonly known as Baby's Breath can boost the efficiency of anti-cancer drugs by a staggering million times. They found that molecules called saponins, extracted from the Gypsophila Paniculata plant, appear to break down the membrane of cancer cells. This makes it much easier for antibody-based drugs, known as immunotoxins, to attack the cancerous cells. As a result, immunotherapy used to treat certain types of leukaemia and lymphoma is increased in potency by 'over one million-fold'.

Acupuncture 'doesn't relieve agony of childbirth'

Women giving birth cannot rely on acupuncture to relieve the agony, claim researchers.

They found no evidence that needle therapy reduces labour pains despite its growing popularity in pregnancy and during delivery. A new review of 10 trials says there is 'no convincing evidence' to support the use of acupuncture in childbirth and those who support it could be influenced by the 'mysticism of the East'. The best that can be said is that it 'does no harm', according to the review published today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Water babies 'have better balance and grasping skills' than non-swimmers

Teaching babies to swim from just a few months old helps them to develop impressive physical skills later in life.

A university study found baby swimmers balance better and grasped objects easier than non-swimmers. This difference persists even when children are five years old, according to the research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Popular fruit and vegetables 'not the healthiest'

Obvious choices of fruit and vegetables are not necessarily the healthiest, new research suggests. Scientists have come up with a list of five "powerhouse" foods that may be better alternatives.

Experts recommend five portions a day of fruit and veg in a healthy diet - plant foods are known to contain "phytonutrient" chemicals that can protect the heart and arteries and prevent cancers - but the most popular varieties may not be the best, according to US researchers.

Scientists analysed data from US health surveys of people's dietary habits to examine sources of phytonutrients. They found that for 10 of the 14 phytonutrients studied, a single food type accounted for two-thirds or more of an individual's consumption. It made no difference whether or not a person was a high or low consumer of fruit and veg.

The most common food sources for five key phytonutrients were: carrots (beta-carotene), oranges/orange juice (beta-cryptoxanthin), spinach (lutein/zeaxanthin), strawberries (ellagic acid) and mustard (isothiocyanates).

Source - Independent

Why eco-friendly products are not as green as they appear

Faced with a choice between normal cleaning products and more expensive "green" alternatives, many shoppers pay more to do their bit for the environment.

But store chains and specialist manufacturers may be exaggerating some of their claims for "eco" cleaners and washing powders, a process dubbed "greenwashing". according to a survey by a consumer group today.

The claims of 14 "green" household cleaners, laundry tablets, nappies and baby wipes were put to the test by a panel of experts assembled by Which?. While all the products made by the likes of Ecover, Green Force and Tesco did some good for the planet, almost half of them made claims that seemed not to be justified.

Which? assembled a panel of experts including Dr John Hoskins, a toxicologist and former adviser to the Commons Environment Select Committee, and Dr John Emsley, a chemist who has written extensively about the impact of chemicals in everyday life.

While they gave a thumbs-up to disposable nappies and wipes made by Sainsbury's, Asda, Earth Friendly and others, they disputed some of the claims made for laundry tablets and, especially, lavatory cleaners.

Source - Independent

Chocolate lovers 'are more depressive', say experts

People who regularly eat chocolate are more depressive, experts have found.

Research in Archives of Internal Medicine shows those who eat at least a bar every week are more glum than those who only eat chocolate now and again. Many believe chocolate has the power to lift mood, and the US team say this may be true, although scientific proof for this is lacking. But they say they cannot rule out that chocolate may be a cause rather than the cure for being depressed.

In the study, which included nearly 1,000 adults, the more chocolate the men and women consumed the lower their mood. Those who ate the most - more than six regular 28g size bars a month - scored the highest on depression, using a recognised scale. None of the men and women were on antidepressants or had been diagnosed as clinically depressed by a doctor.

'Mood food'

Dr Natalie Rose and her colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, say there are many possible explanations for their findings, and that these need to be explored.

Source - BBC

Biggest study on mobile phone health effects launched

The biggest study to date into the effects of mobile-phone usage on long-term health was launched yesterday, aiming to track at least a quarter of a million of people in five European countries for up to 30 years.

The Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS) differs from previous attempts to examine links between mobile phone use and diseases such as cancer and neurological disorders in that it will follow users' behavior in real time.

Most other large-scale studies have centered around asking people already suffering from cancer or other diseases about their previous mobile-phone use. They have also been shorter, since mobile phones have only been widely used for about a decade.

"One of the limitations of research to date is that when you ask people about their mobile phone use say five years ago there's a lot of error," said Jack Rowley, director of research and sustainability at industry body the GSM Association.

About 5 billion mobile phones are in use worldwide. To date, groups such as the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health have found no evidence that cellphone use harms health.

"Research to date has necessarily mainly focused on use in the short term, less than 10 years," principal investigator Professor Paul Elliott of the School of Public Health at London's Imperial College told a news conference.

"The COSMOS study will be looking at long-term use, 10, 20 or 30 years. And with long-term monitoring there will be time for diseases to develop," he said.

Source - Independent

Tea 'healthier' drink than water

Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits, say researchers.

The work in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates. Tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers, UK nutritionists found. Experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health.

Healthy cuppa

These polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent cell damage.

Source - BBC

Dreams 'can help with learning'

Napping after learning something new could help you commit it to memory - as long as you dream, scientists say.

They found people who dream about a new task perform it better on waking than those who do not sleep or do not dream.

Volunteers were asked to learn the layout of a 3D computer maze so they could find their way within the virtual space several hours later. Those allowed to take a nap and who also remembered dreaming of the task, found their way to a landmark quicker. The researchers think the dreams are a sign that unconscious parts of the brain are working hard to process information about the task.

Dr Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, one of the authors of the paper, said dreams may be a marker that the brain is working on the same problem at many levels.

He said: "The dreams might reflect the brain's attempt to find associations for the memories that could make them more useful in the future."

Source - BBC

Medics call for ban on trans-fats in UK food

Calls to ban trans-fats from all foods in the UK have been backed by US public health experts.

Trans-fats - solid fats found in margarines, cakes and fast food - are banned in some countries.

An editorial in the British Medical Journal said 7,000 deaths a year could be prevented by a 1% reduction in consumption. But the Food Standards Agency said the UK's low average consumption made a complete ban unnecessary.

In January this year, the UK Faculty of Public Health called for the consumption of trans-fats (also know as trans fatty acids) to be virtually eliminated. It says that although trans-fats make up 1% of the average UK adult food energy intake - below the 2% advised as a dangerous level - there are sections of the population where intake is far higher and these groups are being put at risk.

In the BMJ article, doctors from Harvard Medical School backed this view and said bans in Denmark and New York City had effectively eliminated trans-fats, without reducing food availability, taste, or affordability.

Source - BBC

Swapping bad fats for good really does cut heart attack risk

Eating less saturated fats in favour of more polyunsaturated fats reduces the risk of heart attacks and other serious problems from heart disease, a new review of studies reports. This is the first review to confirm that changing your diet in this way can cut your risk of heart attacks, although experts have long thought that cutting down on saturated fats improves heart health.

What do we know already?

Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death for adults in the UK. You get this disease when the arteries that carry blood to your heart become narrowed with fatty deposits. If an artery becomes blocked, this can lead to a heart attack.

We don't know exactly why fatty deposits build up in some people's arteries. But we do know that some things can increase your risk, such as smoking and not taking much exercise. Another key risk factor is eating a lot of saturated fats, which are plentiful in meat, butter, cream, and other dairy products. These fats boost the level of 'bad' cholesterol in your blood, and it's this cholesterol that creates the fatty deposits in your arteries.

To reduce the risk of heart problems, doctors often recommend swapping saturated fats for a healthier kind called polyunsaturated fats, which are found in vegetable oils and fatty fish, such as salmon. Instead of increasing levels of 'bad' cholesterol, these fats can help lower it.

However, not much good-quality research has shown that this dietary approach actually reduces the risk of heart attacks and other serious problems from heart disease. There are also concerns that eating a diet high in polyunsaturated fats might ultimately increase a person's risk of heart problems, and some experts have recommended getting only 5 percent to 10 percent of your total energy from these fats.

In the new review, the researchers addressed these concerns and gaps in the research by looking closely at the best studies on replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. They also did a meta-analysis, which means they pooled the results of the studies to see what conclusions they could draw from this larger body of research. In all of these studies, people were randomly assigned to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats in their diet, or to make no change. They were then compared over time.

Source - Guardian

Fruit and vegetables have little effect on cancer risk, study finds

Research points to weak link between five a day and protection against cancer

Eating a lot of fruit and vegetables has only "a very modest" effect on protecting against cancer, according to a study. Researchers suggest that the "five portions a day" health mantra has strong validity only when it comes to preventing the disease in heavy drinkers. Even then the benefits may apply only to cancers caused by alcohol and smoking, such as those in the gut, throat and mouth.

The verdict is based on a study of almost 500,000 people in 10 European countries and suggests that even the small overall association of fruit and vegetable consumption with prevention of cancer may be linked to other factors. Fruit and vegetable intake was compared with cancer data covering nine years up to 2000 for the research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers adjusted the results for other factors likely to influence the results, such as smoking, alcohol intake, obesity, consumption of meat and processed meat, exercise and whether women had taken the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy. The results showed that eating an extra 200g of fruit and vegetables a day reduced the overall risk of cancer by 3%. The link between eating a large amount of vegetables and reduced cancer risk applied only to women.

The study, led by Paolo Boffetta from the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, suggested a "weak" association between high fruit and vegetable intake and reduced cancer risk.

Source - Guardian

Exercise for lifelong better health

Getting enough exercise improves health and cuts the risk of illness from teenage years to old age, according to two new studies published this week.

What do we know already?

Exercise has long been recognised as a good way to keep your weight down, avoid heart problems and boost mood. But despite this, few people in the UK do the recommended half an hour of exercise every day, or an hour for children.

Two new studies released this week give good reasons to keep exercising, whatever your age.

What do the new studies say?

The studies say:

  • Teenagers who are genetically pre-disposed to become overweight are much less likely to do so if they exercise for an hour a day. Researchers looked at teens with one or more copies of a gene for obesity. They found that those who met exercise guidelines had less body fat, a lower BMI and a smaller waist measurement than those who didn't exercise
  • Women aged 45 and older who walk briskly, or who walk for more than two hours a week, are less likely to have a stroke than less active women. The risk was reduced by about a third. Brisk walking is defined as a rate of 3 miles per hour. Interestingly, the researchers didn't find that other forms of vigorous exercise reduced stroke risk, but this was probably because few women in the study did vigorous exercise.

Children who become overweight are more likely to grow into obese adults, which puts them at higher risk of illness such as diabetes and cancer in later life. Stroke is a major cause of long-term disability and death in older people. So it's good news that a healthy, free activity such as exercise can help prevent these problems.

Source - Guardian

Can meditation stop me getting angry?

New evidence suggests that meditation helps anxiety and depression. But what about serial bad temper?

A few months ago, I tore up a copy of Grazia and spat on it because I had decided my byline was too small. So a friend, who witnessed the assault, suggested I try meditation. "It might help you with your anger," she said, observing the drool dribbling over my chin and on to the magazine. "But I like living my life in homage to An American Werewolf in London," I replied. "No, you don't," she said. "And I have seen you shouting at buses."

It seems that meditation does have health benefits, particularly for neurotics with anger and anxiety issues such as myself. This week American academics published the results of their research into the joys of transcendental meditation (TM). Apparently guinea pigs (human ones) who practised TM showed a 48% decline in depressive symptoms. Last year another study indicated that there were 47% fewer heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths among transcendental meditation-heads, which tunes in with what my friend Yogi Cameron, the former male supermodel, has told me. "Yogis," he once said, "choose when to die." So – could meditation save my copy of Grazia? Could it save me?

There are many different types of meditation, I learn – it is a big aromatic buffet of love. It is popular with the great religions – praying or clutching a rosary can be considered a type of meditation – and, as a leisure activity, it is at least as old as war. There is mantra meditation, where you continually repeat a chosen word or phrase (transcendental meditation is a type of this) mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. All promise serenity and healing and an end to assaults on blameless magazines. I choose to try out mindfulness because, according to my blurb, it will help me "experience myself" and learn to "live in the moment" through posture and breathing work. (For Tai Chi, on the other hand, you have to stand up.)

Source - Guardian

Multivitamins may boost breast cancer risk

Women who regularly take multivitamins have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who don't, according to a large new study. However, it's not clear whether these supplements actually increase a woman's risk, or whether other factors might be at work.

What do we know already?

Many people take multivitamins as an insurance policy of sorts, to make up for any nutritional gaps in their diet. By upping their daily intake of vitamins and minerals, they hope to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of disease.

But it's uncertain whether multivitamins deliver on such expectations. Although certain supplements are recommended for some groups, such as folic acid for pregnant women, research hasn't shown they provide clear benefits for most healthy people. Some studies even suggest that multivitamins may increase the risk of certain health problems.

One area of concern is a possible link between multivitamins and breast cancer. Some studies (but not all) have reported a higher risk of this cancer among women taking multivitamins. Also, a recent study found that women who take multivitamins tend to have denser breast tissue, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer.

Researchers have now done a large study with more than 35,000 Swedish women aged 49 to 83 years old. Using questionnaires, the researchers recorded the women's use of multivitamins, as well as details about their health and lifestyle. They then followed up with the women for an average of 9.5 years to assess their breast cancer risk.

Source - Guardian

Knicker magnets, breast pillows, exotic herbs... women desperate to avoid HRT are fuelling an industry in bizarre menopause treatments

For Edy Reilly, they came every half-hour without respite. The tyranny of her menopausal hot flushes disrupted every aspect of her life and caused her agonies of embarrassment, discomfort and tiredness.

'I hit the menopause at 54, and immediately the hot flushes started. They were horrendous. Every time I had one I felt as if I'd run ten miles in a fur coat which I couldn't remove,' recalls Edy, a soft furnishings adviser from Hertfordshire. The 57-year-old adds: 'My heart raced; sweat dripped down my back. Then the furnace heat would subside and I'd be cold. I'd wear layers of clothes and take them on and off to accommodate my constantly changing temperature. The flushes affected every aspect of my life, at home and at work, during the day and at night. I never had a restful night's sleep and I was constantly exhausted. I felt absolutely desperate.'

Edy - like many women suffering similarly debilitating mid-life symptoms - had briefly tried and rejected hormone replacement therapy. HRT, once heralded as a cure-all for every malaise that accompanies the menopause, suffered a huge drop in demand in 2002 when a Women's Health Initiative study linked it with an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

It is still on the GP prescription list, and is used by an estimated 50 per cent of menopausal women, but will usually be prescribed for just five years - and only if a patient does not have other risk factors such as family history of heart disease or breast cancer.

However, eight years after the WHI study, research has focused on safer alternative ways of minimising symptoms.

Source - Daily Mail

Chant yourself healthy: Meditation hailed as antidote to high blood pressure and depression

It was embraced by The Beatles and became synonymous with the 1960s hippy lifestyle of peace and love.

Now medical experts believe transcendental meditation could be used to treat high blood pressure and psychological problems. More than five decades after the relaxation therapy became popular, two studies have found that it worked significantly better than good diet and exercise in tackling the stresses of modern life.

Essential Oils to Fight Superbugs

Could this be Aromatherapy? Oh no! That's an alternative therapy! Can't have that!!

Essential oils could be a cheap and effective alternative to antibiotics and potentially used to combat drug-resistant hospital superbugs, according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh.

Professor Yiannis Samaras and Dr Effimia Eriotou, from the Technological Educational Institute of Ionian Islands, in Greece, who led the research, tested the antimicrobial activity of eight plant essential oils. They found that thyme essential oil was the most effective and was able to almost completely eliminate bacteria within 60 minutes.

Source - Science Daily

Unequal Leg Length Tied to Osteoarthritis, Study Finds


A new study shows that arthritis in the knee is linked to the common trait of having one leg that is longer than the other. Whether or not leg length differential is a direct cause of osteoarthritis is not clear, but the findings may allow people to take preventive measures before the onset of the chronic and painful condition.

Developing early strategies for treatment may be possible, says Derek Cooke, Queen's University adjunct professor and a co-author of the study.

"Most pediatricians adopt a 'wait and see' attitude for children with limb misalignment when they're growing," says Dr. Cooke. "If we can spot factors creating changes in alignment early in bone development, theoretically we could stop or slow down the progression of osteoarthritis."

Source - Science Daily

Neural pathways

Nine interesting articles about the mind/body connection.


Drinking too much cola could lower men's sperm count

Men who drink around a litre of cola every day could be harming their sperm, according to a new Danish study.

On average, these men's sperm counts were almost 30 per cent lower than in men who didn't drink cola. While most of the sperm counts would still be considered normal by the World Health Organization, men with fewer sperm generally have a higher risk of being infertile.

The link is unlikely to be due to caffeine, the researchers say, because coffee did not have the same effect, even though its caffeine content is higher. Instead, other ingredients in the beverage or an unhealthy lifestyle could be involved.

Eating chocolate 'can cut heart attack and stroke risk'

Eating just one square of chocolate a day can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by 39%, researchers said today. Eating 7.5g of chocolate daily also leads to lower blood pressure, a study found. Researchers in Germany followed 19,357 people aged between 35 and 65 for at least a decade.

Those who ate the most amount of chocolate - an average of 7.5g a day - had lower chances of heart attacks and stroke than those who ate the least amount (1.7g a day on average). The difference between the two groups amounted to 6g of chocolate - less than one square of a 100g bar.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, concluded that if those people who ate the least chocolate increased their intake by 6g a day there would be fewer heart attacks and strokes. Of those who ate the least chocolate, there were 219 strokes or heart attacks per 10,000 people but there could be 85 fewer if they ate 7.5g a day on average, researchers said.

Those who ate the most chocolate had a 27% reduced risk of heart attacks and nearly half (48%) the risk of strokes compared with those eating the least amount. Eating chocolate lowered blood pressure, which accounted for some of the reduced risk, but falls were seen in heart attacks and strokes even when this was taken into account.

Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany, who led the research, said: "People who ate the most amount of chocolate were at a 39% lower risk than those with the lowest chocolate intakes. If the 39% lower risk is generalised to the general population, the number of avoidable heart attacks and strokes could be higher because the absolute risk in the general population is higher."

However, he warned people against eating too much chocolate and putting on weight or cutting down the amount of healthy foods they eat.

Source - Independent

Workplace chemicals linked to breast cancer

Young women exposed to certain chemicals and pollutants in the workplace before their mid-30s may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer in later life, a study suggests. Women exposed to petroleum products and to synthetic fibres including acrylic, rayon and nylon appear to be at the highest risk, Canadian researchers have found. But UK experts said the findings were highly likely to be the result of chance and would need replicating in other studies to be of significance.

The research, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined more than 500 women in Canada with breast cancer and compared their exposure to about 300 different chemicals with women who did not have cancer.

The results showed that exposure to nylon fibres in the workplace before the age of 36 increased the risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer by almost double, while exposure to acrylic fibres increased the risk more than seven times. Exposure to chemicals formed during the burning of coal, oil and gas increased the risk of one type of breast cancer threefold. The researchers admitted their findings could be due to chance alone but said they were consistent with the theory that breast tissue is more sensitive to harmful chemicals if exposure occurs when breast cells are still active – before a woman reaches her 40s.

David Coggon, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Southampton, said of the findings: "As the authors recognise, in a study of this sort, positive associations often occur simply by chance. They carry little weight in the absence of stronger supportive evidence from other research."

Source - Independent

Government 'must follow Europe's lead and ban BPA'

Scientists have rounded on the Government for refusing to take action on a controversial chemical widely used in baby bottles – even though other countries have begun bringing in their own bans.

Denmark has become the first European country to forbid the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in any food containers for young children, amid growing scientific evidence which suggests the chemical could inhibit brain development and lead to serious health issues. Most mainstream baby bottle manufacturers have already begun producing BPA-free lines, but an investigation by The Independent this week revealed how leading high-street retailers, including Boots and Mothercare, were still selling off older bottles containing the chemical. Boots has since said it will phase out BPA bottles within "a couple of weeks" but Mothercare will continue to sell them until early August.

The British Government is resisting any sort of ban and continues to insist that BPA poses no threat to public health. Its stance contrasts with that of a growing number of Western governments which have decided to err on the side of caution and bring in temporary bans until more evidence emerges.

Canada and three states in the US have already forbidden the chemical in baby products, and the French Senate has backed a temporary ban.

There has also been a major shift in attitude towards the health implications of BPA in the US. After years of insisting that the chemical posed no risk, America's Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) changed its position in January and advised that "reasonable steps" should be taken to minimise exposure to the chemical.

Source - Independent

Magnets 'can modify our morality'

Scientists have shown they can change people's moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses.

They identified a region of the brain just above and behind the right ear which appears to control morality. And by using magnetic pulses to block cell activity they impaired volunteers' notion of right and wrong.

The small Massachusetts Institute of Technology study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Dr Liane Young said: "You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour. To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing."

The key area of the brain is a knot of nerve cells known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ). The researchers subjected 20 volunteers to a number of tests designed to assess their notions of right and wrong.

In one scenario participants were asked how acceptable it was for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knew to be unsafe. After receiving a 500 millisecond magnetic pulse to the scalp, the volunteers delivered verdicts based on outcome rather than moral principle.

Source - BBC

Herbal therapists face regulation crackdown

The government has announced plans to force all providers of unlicensed herbal medicines to register with a regulator.

It comes after several public consultations on how best to police the industry. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), will ensure practitioners are properly trained and operating a safe business. But some have said the proposals do not go far enough.

From 2011 EU legislation will permit only statutorily registered professionals to prescribe manufactured herbal remedies. It is estimated that Britons spend about £1.6 billion a year on alternative remedies.

The CNHC was launched in 2009. Its main purpose was to hold a voluntary register of complementary therapists such as massage therapists, nutritional therapists and reflexologists. Those providing unlicensed herbal medicines - thought to be around 8,000 practitioners - are not currently covered by the council.

In future, to be accepted on the register those providing unlicensed herbal medicines will have to show they have the right training and experience, abide by a code of conduct and ensure they have insurance in place. Clinics are not judged on whether the therapies they provide are effective.

Source - BBC