Sciatica, the 21st Century scourge: 60 per cent of new back patients suffer from this painful condition says expert

The thirtysomething woman who hobbled into my clinic last week was wretched with pain. It had started a month or so ago with a bit of irritation and numbness in her lower back at the end of the day. Then she started experiencing white-hot flashes in the backs of her legs, first around the knees and then in the calves.

Within weeks the jolts had intensified, coming on whenever she tried to walk or when sitting for long periods. Incredibly, she had soldiered on, taking handfuls of painkillers that her GP had recommended, until finally not even those would quell the agony.

I asked her to raise her legs while lying on her back and then pull her toes to her knees. She could not manage more than a 40-degree angle before yelping. I ruled out any serious underlying illness as she had no other symptoms, such as night sweats or sudden weight loss - each a red flag for cancer - before diagnosing a classic case of sciatica.

Source - Daily Mail

The yoghurt cure: Probiotics are good for our digestion. But they can also combat flu, allergies and bad breath

Most of us know something about the good bacteria (probiotics) in our stomachs, thanks to advertising.

Two million of us now consume them in the form of drinks, yoghurts, powders and capsules. Science has come to accept there is some truth in the enthusiastic claims made for probiotics that they help fight 'bad' bugs in your gut and improve intestinal health. And now research suggests that probiotics could have benefits that extend beyond the gut, such as treating illnesses from type-1 diabetes to fibromyalgia.

There is also interest in preliminary research suggesting that probiotics might even be able to enhance weight loss. Scientists are developing specific probiotics to prevent dental cavities, probiotic lozenges for sore throats, probiotic nasal sprays and probiotic deodorant sticks that deal with the bacteria that cause body odour.

Source - Daily Mail

Brush your teeth to reduce heart problems

People who fail to brush their teeth twice a day have a higher chance of heart disease, research showed today.

The link between gum disease and heart problems is already known but experts have now been able to measure the effect of daily brushing. A new study found that people who never or rarely brush their teeth are 70% more likely to suffer heart disease as those who brush twice a day. However, the overall risk from poor oral hygiene remains quite low, they said.

Experts from University College London analysed data for more than 11,000 people with an average age of 50 taking part in the Scottish Healthy Survey. They looked at people's brushing habits as well as their lifestyles, such as whether they smoked or took exercise.

People were asked how often they visited their dentist (at least once every six months, every one to two years, or rarely/never) and how often they brushed their teeth (twice a day, once a day or less than once a day). Separate details were collected on people's medical histories, blood pressure, and their family's history of heart disease. Blood samples were also taken to measure markers of inflammation in the blood. Just over six out of 10 (62%) people visited their dentist every six months while 71% said they brushed their teeth twice a day.

During eight years of follow-up, there were 555 examples of serious heart problems, mostly caused by heart disease, including heart attacks. Of these, 170 were fatal.

The experts found that people who never or rarely brushed their teeth were 70% more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brushed twice a day. This held true even when factors likely to influence the results - such as obesity and smoking -were taken into account. Poor oral hygiene was also linked to low-grade inflammation in the blood.

Writing online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), author Professor Richard Watt said: "Our results confirmed and further strengthened the suggested association between oral hygiene and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Source - Indpendent

Acupuncture 'can act as pain relief'

Scientists have identified a mechanism which explains why acupuncture can be effective at relieving pain. Researchers found that adenosine, a natural compound with painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties, is produced in tissues where needles are inserted.

In experiments involving mice with chronic inflammatory pains, they found that acupuncture dramatically reduced signs of discomfort. Adenosine levels in tissues punctured by needles were 24 times higher than usual. In contrast, there was no effect on mice which had been genetically prevented from responding to adenosine.

Researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also found that the cancer drug deoxycoformycin, which makes it harder for tissues to remove adenosine, extended the time acupuncture was effective as a pain reliever.

"Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical," said Maiken Nedergaard, of the University of Rochester Medical Centre.

Source - Independent

Guinness could really be good for you

The old advertising slogan "Guinness is Good for You" may be true after all, according to researchers.

A pint of the black stuff a day may work as well as a low dose aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks. Drinking lager does not yield the same benefits, experts from University of Wisconsin told a conference in the US. Guinness was told to stop using the slogan decades ago - and the firm still makes no health claims for the drink.

The Wisconsin team tested the health-giving properties of stout against lager by giving it to dogs who had narrowed arteries similar to those in heart disease. They found that those given the Guinness had reduced clotting activity in their blood, but not those given lager.

Heart trigger

Clotting is important for patients who are at risk of a heart attack because they have hardened arteries. A heart attack is triggered when a clot lodges in one of these arteries supplying the heart. Many patients are prescribed low-dose aspirin as this cuts the ability of the blood to form these dangerous clots.

The researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida, that the most benefit they saw was from 24 fluid ounces of Guinness - just over a pint - taken at mealtimes.

Source - BBC

Beware the chair: Hours of sitting down can give you a sluggish metabolism, high blood pressure and diabetes

You may hit the gym at lunchtime or go for a run when you get home. But such efforts will have minimal effect if you spend the rest of your time doing what you are probably doing now - sitting down.

In a glut of new research on the subject, experts are warning that we should 'beware our chair', as spending too long in it can raise the risk of high blood pressure, a sluggish metabolism and weight gain. With the average person sitting down for just under nine hours a day at the office, at home or in the car, even a daily workout is unlikely to offset the risks of being seated for too long.

Common pesticides 'could double risk' of ADHD in children

Children exposed to chemicals used on crops and in household products could have a higher risk of attention-deficit disorder, according to U.S research.

Researchers tracked pesticide breakdown products in children' urine and found those with high levels were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD as those with undetectable levels. The findings were based on data from the general population, meaning that exposure to the pesticides could be harmful even at levels commonly found in children's environment.

'There is growing concern that these pesticides may be related to ADHD,' said study researcher Marc Weisskopf from Harvard. 'What this paper specifically highlights is that this may be true even at low concentrations.'

The study focuses on organophosphates, which were originally developed for chemical warfare and are known to be toxic to the nervous system. There are about 40 organophosphate pesticides such as malathion registered in the United States, the researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics. UK farmers and growers regularly use OPs.

Mr Weisskopf said the compounds have been linked to behavioral symptoms common to ADHD - for instance, impulsivity and attention problems - but exactly how is not fully understood.

Source - Daily Mail

Overdone it? Take ginger to ease your aches and pains

Eating ginger can help ease muscle pain caused by heavy exercise, research suggests.

A daily dose of the spice can relieve the aches from sport, or even gardening and heavy housework, by as much as a quarter. For centuries, ginger root has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, such as colds and upset stomachs. And scientists have long known it has painkilling properties. But now it has been shown ginger is particularly good for staving off muscle pain.

Lead researcher Professor Patrick O’Connor, of the University of Georgia, said: ‘ Anything that can truly relieve this type of pain will be greatly welcomed by the many people who are experiencing it.’

Ginger has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in rodents, but its effect on muscle pain in humans has never been properly studied. It is known to contain chemicals that work in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Previous studies have shown it can be effective in relieving the pain of arthritis.

Source - Daily Mail

Processed meats 'raise risk of heart disease'

Eating processed meats like bacon, ham and sausages can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to new research.

Processed meats are already linked to a higher chance of developing bowel cancer but a round-up of worldwide research has shown a link with other conditions.

A review by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US found people who eat processed meats have a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. However, unprocessed red meats, such as beef, pork or lamb, do not raise the risk.

Experts examined 20 worldwide published studies involving more than a million people. They found a 42% increased risk of heart disease and 19% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes for each daily serving, on average, of 50g of processed meat. A serving of 50g is roughly the equivalent of two rashers of bacon or one hot dog.

Writing online in the journal Circulation, the authors said: "Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of coronary heart disease and diabetes mellitus (Type 2).

Source - Independent

Beetroot juice found to boost stamina

Beetroot juice boosts stamina by making muscles more fuel-efficient, scientists have found.

Last year the same researchers reported that the juice can increase physical endurance. The study focused on men aged 19 to 38 cycling on exercise bikes. Drinking 500ml of beetroot juice a day for a week enabled them to cycle 16 per cent longer before getting tired out. Now the scientists believe they understand how the beetroot boost works.

The new research showed beetroot juice doubled the amount of nitrate in the blood of volunteers, and reduced the rate at which muscles used their main source of energy. Beetroot juice helped muscles work more efficiently and lowered their oxygen uptake.

The scientists, from the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences, believe nitrate from beetroot juice leads to increased levels of nitric oxide in the body, which affects a range of functions including blood flow, hormone levels and cell signalling. The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Source - Independent

No proof of mobile cancer risk, major study concludes

Using a mobile phone does not appear to increase the risk of developing certain types of brain cancer, the largest study of its kind has concluded.

Analysis of more than 10,000 people by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found no relationship between years of use and risk. There is no known biological mechanism by which mobiles could cause cancer, but there has been public concern. It is hoped this study will allay some anxieties, as research continues.

The overall rate of brain cancer has not risen in countries where use has long been prevalent - like Sweden, and studies have mostly found no evidence of an increased risk. This latest research is consistent with this.

The 20m euro (£17m) Interphone study, which received some funding from the mobile industry, involved more than 5,000 men and women from 13 countries who had been diagnosed with one of two types of brain cancer - glioma and meningioma - between 2000 and 2004. These cancers, both rare, were judged to be among the most likely to be influenced by phone use.

The patients were asked to record their mobile phone usage, and then the results were compared with adults of similar age, sex and background who did not have the disease. Some had been using their phones for more than a decade, making this one of the longest-ranging studies to date.

Source - BBC

Dark chocolate could reduce risk of stroke

Researchers have found a compound called epicatechin, commonly found in dark chocolate, protects the brain against stroke by shielding nerve cells .

A team of researchers based their findings on tests in mice and it is hoped the effects can be replicated in humans. The researchers gave the mice a dose of epicatechin and then induced a stroke in mice by cutting of blood supply to the animals' brains. They found that the animals that had taken the epicatechin had significantly less brain damage than the ones that had not been given the compound. And in positive news for eventual human trials, researchers found epicatechin was a better treatment for stroke than current methods.

Researchers from America's Johns Hopkins University say the findings could be important in the possible treatment of strokes.

Source - Guardian

Painkiller overuse can trigger headaches

Could your headache be caused by the same painkiller you use to treat it? Many people rely on painkillers to get rid of a headache, but don't realise that taking these drugs on more than 10 or 15 days a month can lead to more headaches in the long run.

What do we know already?

Headaches are common - almost everyone gets them sometimes - and many people's first response is to reach for the aspirin, paracetamol, or ibuprofen. Migraine sufferers might use specialised migraine drugs, called triptans.

If you get very frequent headaches, however, painkillers may be part of the problem. If you get a headache on 15 days a month or more, and have been taking painkillers a similar number of times without seeing an improvement, it's possible that the painkillers are making your headaches worse.

Source - Guardian

Forget the gym! An open-air workout can work wonders for the mind

Exercising in the open air for just five minutes leads to an immediate improvement in mood and self-esteem, research shows. Scientists are now calling for doctors to prescribe 'green exercise' - working out in a park or the back garden - for patients who suffer from mental illness.

Dr Jo Barton, a sports scientist who conducted the study for the University of Essex, said that as well as protecting against future health threats, outdoor exercise could even increase life expectancy. Her research is the first to determine exactly how much time people have to spend in green spaces to decrease the risk of mental illness and improve the sense of well-being.

'The study showed there was a significant increase in people's self-esteem and mood, particularly when they exercised in the wilderness or by water,' Dr Barton said. 'This is because historically we are drawn to water to survive and it is in our genetic make up to be at one with nature.'

Dr Barton and her research colleague Jules Pretty, whose findings are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, studied more 1,200 people's reactions to 'green' exercise in locations across Britain.

Are your headaches caused by flat feet? Doctors say countless suffer from the problem

Country walks or strolling through Central London used to be Rachel Smith's favourite way of relaxing at weekends.

But then the 37-year-old began to suffer 'wild headaches' that forced her to go home and lie down in a darkened room.

'The headaches would come on almost every weekend,' says Rachel, a senior local government manager. 'I'd take painkillers, but usually the only thing that helped was to lie down. It was very frustrating. I'm young and active, but all I could do was go to bed and wait for the pain to ease.'

It was only when she sought help for a back problem that the unexpected source of both her back pain and headaches was identified: Rachel's feet.

Like one in five adults in the UK, Rachel has flat feet. While most sufferers experience no real problems, Rachel is one of the many thousands who suffer headaches and other problems as a result of the effect that flat feet have on your posture.

Source - Daily Mail

Broccoli could stop breast cancer spreading by targeting stem cells

Broccoli could hold the key to preventing and even treating breast cancer, claim scientists.

A chemical found in the vegetable superfood targets the cells that fuel the growth of tumours. Broccoli contains high levels of sulforaphane which can kill these cancer stem cells and prevent the disease from developing, or spreading when it is established.

U.S. scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre completed successful laboratory tests on mice and cell cultures. Study author Professor Duxin Sun said: 'Sulforaphane has been studied previously for its effects on cancer, but this study shows that its benefit is in inhibiting the breast cancer stem cells. This new insight suggests the potential of sulforaphane or broccoli extract to prevent or treat cancer by targeting the critical cancer stem cells.'

A report on the findings is published in the Clinical Cancer Research journal.

Source - Daily Mail

Common herb thyme 'could stop spread of MRSA'

Scientists have found that the common cooking herb, thyme, could be a miracle cure for the deadly MRSA bug.

Researchers at the University of Brighton, East Sussex, discovered that oils extracted from the plant can kill the bug - linked to at least 8,000 deaths each year - within two hours. They hope the findings, published in the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics, will be the first step in developing a new treatment to stop the spread of MRSA.

Source - Daily Mail

Regular lack of sleep is 'linked to early death'

Sleeping less than six hours a night increases the risk of early death, it was claimed today.

Scientists arrived at the result after analysing data from 16 studies involving more than 1.5 million participants. They found "unequivocal evidence" of a direct link between sleeping less than six hours a night and dying prematurely. People who regularly had this little sleep were 12% more likely to die over a period of 25 years or less than those who got the recommended six to eight hours.

An association was also seen between sleeping more than nine hours a night and early death. This was thought to be due to long-sleeping being a marker of serious underlying illness rather than any effect of sleep itself.

Professor Francesco Cappucio, head of the Sleep, Health and Society Programme at the University of Warwick, said: "Whilst short sleep may represent a cause of ill-health, long sleep is believed to represent more an indicator of ill-health."

Source - Independent

Women more at risk from stress at work

Women in high-pressure jobs are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, a study has shown. The finding suggests that the well-known damaging effects of job stress on men also extend to women.

During the study, among female nurses in Denmark, researchers assessed the impact of having a demanding job on the hearts of 12,000 women aged 45 to 64 over 15 years from 1993 to 2008. Those who complained of excessive pressure were at least 50 per cent more likely to have heart disease than those who said the pressure was manageable or appropriate. This figure was reduced to 35 per cent when lifestyle factors such as smoking were taken into account. The effect was greatest in younger nurses aged under 50, who ran twice the risk if they had a high pressure job.

The researchers from Glostrup University Hospital in Denmark say heart disease is more common in older people so causes such as stress are harder to distinguish from other lifestyle factors.
Source - Independent