Doctors call for total NHS ban on homoeopathy

Doctors will this week call for a total ban on all homoeopathic treatment on the NHS.

Hundreds of delegates to the British Medical Association's conference are expected to support seven motions all opposed to the use of public money to pay for remedies which they claim are, at best, scientifically unproven and, at worst, ineffective.

Critics of the 200-year-old practice also want junior doctors to be exempt from working at homoeopathic hospitals because it goes against the principles of evidence-based medicine. Sugar pills and placebos have no place in a modern health service, they say, especially as the NHS must find £20bn in savings over the next few years.

But supporters claim homoeopathy helps thousands of patients with chronic conditions such as ME, asthma, migraine and depression who have not responded to conventional medical treatments. The British Homoeopathic Association (BHA) points out that less than 0.01 per cent of the massive NHS drug bill is spent on homoeopathic tinctures and pills.

Nevertheless, the conference will also hear calls for homoeopathic remedies to be banned from chemists unless they are clearly labelled as placebos rather than medicines. The over-the-counter market is worth around £40m a year, and rising, according to Mintel, the consumer research organisation.

Source - Independent

Housework cuts breast cancer risk

Women who exercise by doing the housework can reduce their risk of breast cancer, a study suggests.

The research on more than 200,000 women from nine European countries found doing household chores was far more cancer protective than playing sport. Dusting, mopping and vacuuming was also better than having a physical job.

The women in the Cancer Research UK-funded study spent an average of 16 to 17 hours a week cooking, cleaning and doing the washing. Experts have long known that physical exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer, probably through hormonal and metabolic changes.

But it has been less clear how much and what types of exercise are necessary for this risk reduction.

Source - BBC

'Tactile environment' affects decision making

If you want to negotiate a tough deal, make sure you are sitting on a hard chair, say US researchers.

In a mock haggling scenario, those sat on soft chairs were more flexible in agreeing a price. The team also found candidates whose CVs were held on a heavy clipboard were seen as better qualified than those whose CVs were on a light one. It shows that the "tactile environment" is vital in decision making and behaviour, they report in Science. Overall, through a series of experiments, they found that weight, texture, and hardness of inanimate objects unconsciously influence judgments about unrelated events and situations.

It suggests that physical touch, which is the first of sense to develop, may be a scaffold upon which people build social judgments and decisions, the Harvard and Yale University researchers said.

Source - BBC

Gardening 'makes children happy and teaches new skills'

Taking part in gardening can make a child feel happy and boost their development, research suggests.

The study of 1,300 teachers and 10 schools was commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It found children in schools that encouraged gardening became more resilient, confident and lived healthier lives. The RHS says school gardening should be used as a key teaching tool, rather than as an extra-curricular activity.

Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research carried out the study and found teachers who used gardening as part of learning said it helped improve children's readiness to learn. They also said it encouraged pupils to become more active in solving problems, as well as boosting literacy and numeracy skills.

The report said: "Fundamental to the success of school gardens in stimulating a love of learning was their ability to translate sometimes dry academic subjects into practical, real world experiences."

Source - BBC

How vitamin pills could save you from a heart attack

Cholesterol famously comes in two versions - the good and the bad. Heart health, we're told, depends on lowering the bad (LDL) cholesterol, and pushing up the good (HDI).

But it's no longer that simple. Bad cholesterol turns out to be part of a double act. What's more, this discovery suggests that a new treatment for heart disease could be a simple vitamin tablet.

Researchers recently found that bad cholesterol has a twin called lipoprotein(a), which can also raise your risk of heart disease. Having both of them would be a double whammy and raise the risk of blocked arteries even further. Doctors have known for some time that people with a high level of Lp(a), as it is known, were more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke.

What wasn't certain was whether it could cause them or whether it was an innocent bystander. Now, researchers have found a definite link between higher levels of lp(a) and cardiovascular problems.

'The work confirms unequivocally that Lp(a) is a causal factor for coronary heart disease,' says Dr Robert Clarke, of the Clinical trial service Unit at Oxford University.

Source - Daily Mail

Why your child's meningitis jab may NOT offer protection after all

Parents have their children vaccinated in the belief it offers vital protection against serious infections. But now there are concerns that the meningitis C vaccine may not be effective during key times in their child's life.

New research has revealed that within seven years of receiving the jab, three quarters of children are unprotected against meningitis C because the vaccine has worn off.

The study, by scientists from the Oxford Vaccine Group at Oxford University, looked at 250 British children aged six and 12 who had received the vaccine. Researchers found that only 25 per cent retained sufficiently high levels of the antibodies in their bloodstream to protect them against the disease.

This is worrying, as although babies and toddlers are at highest risk of catching the disease, the next high-risk group is teenagers and young adults. Meningitis C is an inflammation of the meninges (the layers that surround the brain and the spinal cord), which can cause deafness, blindness, loss of limbs, blood poisoning and death.

Diabetic girl, 6, has life saved four times a WEEK by dog which knows when she needs insulin

Like most children, Rebecca Farrar adores her family's dog - but the six-year-old diabetic has a particularly special reason.

Her young pet Shirley is one of the country's only 'hypo-alert' hounds who SMELLS when Rebecca's blood sugar reaches dangerously low levels. The youngster says her life is 'saved' by the Labrador-golden retriever cross four times a week as she provides early of potential diabetic attacks.

The three-year-old dog can detect a change in scent when Rebecca's blood sugar levels drop dangerously low or high and licks her owner's hand to alert her. Shirley will even drag a sugar-level testing kit to the youngster's side to prevent her from slipping into a coma and sleeps faithfully by her side every night.

She is one of only eight registered 'hypo-alert' dogs in Britain which have the unique ability to sniff out a hypoglycaemic attack.

Caesarean babies prone to disease

Giving birth by Caesarean section may leave a baby vulnerable to disease and allergy by upsetting its natural balance of bacteria, scientists believe.

A study found that delivery method has a major impact on the kinds of bugs carried by newborn infants. While babies born naturally appeared to acquire bacteria from their mother's vagina, those born by Caesarean section harboured microbes typically found on the skin.

The latter were dominated by strains associated with food poisoning, diphtheria and acne. Allowing the bugs in at the time of birth could affect the health of babies as they grow, say researchers. Previous studies suggest that babies born by Caesarean section may be more susceptible to certain infections and allergies than naturally delivered babies.

The transmission of a mother's vaginal bugs to her infant could offer protection against colonisation by more harmful invaders, it is claimed. More than 20 per cent of babies born in the UK today are delivered by Caesarean section, compared with only 9 per cent in 1980.

The procedure is usually carried out for safety reasons, to prevent complications that might harm either mother or baby. Two thirds of Caesarean sections are performed as a result of unexpected emergencies and a third are planned.

Dr Noah Fierer, one of the study leaders from the University of Colorado in the US, said: "In a sense the skin of newborn infants is like freshly tilled soil that is awaiting seeds for planting – in this case, bacterial communities. The microbial communities that cluster on new-borns essentially act as their first inoculation."

Source - Independent

Coffee reduces risk of cancer, study shows

Drinking coffee may protect against mouth and throat cancers, research suggests.

Four or more cups of coffee a day can reduce the combined risk of both diseases by 39 per cent, it is claimed. Scientists pooled information from nine studies of head and neck cancers comparing regular coffee drinkers and those who avoided coffee. They found a strong association between frequent coffee drinking and lower rates of oral cavity and pharynx (mouth and throat) cancers. Tea consumption had no effect on head and neck cancer risk, and data on decaffeinated coffee was too sparse to be of use.

Dr Mia Hashibe, the lead researcher, from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, said: "Since coffee is so widely used and there is a relatively high incidence and low survival rate of these forms of cancers, our results have important public health implications that need to be further addressed.

Source - Independent

Study finds no link between phone masts and childhood cancers

Pregnant women living close to mobile-phone base stations are at no greater risk of having children who develop cancer, researchers have found.

The first study to examine the effects of the 81,000 phone masts across Britain on mothers-to-be has found no link with early childhood cancers such as leukaemia, which is thought to be triggered in the womb, and brain tumours. The study, by researchers at Imperial College, London, is the most detailed yet of the claimed link between phone masts and childhood cancer.

Reports of clusters of cancer cases among families living close to the masts led to demands that the masts be moved. But the numbers involved have been too small, and the risks of a biased selection of cases too high, to draw firm conclusions. Paul Elliott, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine, said the big advantage of the new study was that it was nationwide and not focused on areas where there was concern about cancer risk.

"We looked at the exposure of the child at the birth address and nine months before," he said. "So we were effectively looking at the exposure of the foetus. Within the limitations of the study, these results are reassuring."

The increase in mobile phone use – from 9 million handsets in 1997 to 74 million in 2007 – has raised worries about the effects of exposure to low-frequency radiation. Several studies, including the Interphone study involving more than 10,000 people from 13 countries that was published last month, have found no damaging health effects from mobile phones themselves.

Source - Independent

Magnets can improve Alzheimer's symptoms

To sceptics of alternative medicine, it will come as a surprise. Applying magnets to the brains of Alzheimer's disease sufferers helps them understand what is said to them. The finding by Italian scientsts, who conducted a randomised controlled trial of the treatment, suggests that magnets may alter "cortical activity" in the brain, readjusting unhealthy patterns caused by disease or damage. The study was small, involving just 10 patients, and the results are preliminary.

But the scientists from Brescia and Milan say they "hold considerable promise, not only for advancing our understanding of brain plasticity mechanisms, but also for designing new rehabilitation strategies in patients with neurodegenerative disease."

Sweeping claims are made for magnet therapy, including stimulating hair growth, boosting energy and warding off arthritis. Magnetic bracelets and jewellery, hairbrushes, insoles and even dog bowls are a lucrative branch of the alternative medicine industry.

Evidence for most of these claims is dubious or non-existent. But one product gained sufficient credence in orthodox circles to to be made available on the NHS. Since 2006 a device called the 4UlcerCare – a strap containing four magnets that is wrapped around the leg – has been available on prescription from GPs. Its maker, the Bristol-based firm Magnopulse, claims that it speeds the healing of leg ulcers and prevents their recurrence. It is believed that the magnets stimulate the circulation but it is not known how.

Findings from the latest study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, are likely to be seized on as further evidence of magnetism's healing powers. Although many may scoff, the capacity of magnets to affect the working of the brain is already well established.

Source - Independent

NHS watchdog NICE calls for trans-fats ban in foods

Trans-fats should be eliminated from food in England, NHS watchdog NICE has said.

The artificial fats are often found in biscuits, cakes and fast food - but they can damage health. NICE is also pressing for further reductions in salt and saturated fats, to help prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease. The British food industry said it was already leading the world in promoting healthier production.

Cardiovascular disease, which comprises heart disease and stroke, is the biggest cause of death in the UK. Experts who worked on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines say 40,000 of the 150,000 annual deaths are "eminently preventable". They believe that reducing salt and saturated fats, as well as banning trans-fats, would save the NHS more than £1bn.

The group's vice-chairman, Professor Simon Capewell, who is a public health physician in Liverpool, said: "Everyone has the idea that prevention is worthy, but takes decades to be fulfilled. We were pleasantly surprised when we looked into this. We found evidence from Poland, the Czech Republic and Cuba that changes in diet can lead to results with improved health in two to three years."

Source - BBC

Four cups of tea a day 'raise arthritis risk'

Drinking a lot of tea increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, researchers claimed yesterday.

Their study of 76,000 women found that four or more cups a day caused the highest risk. It made the women 78 per cent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who drank no tea. Drinking any amount of tea increased the chance by 40 per cent, compared with those who abstained entirely. No similar effect was found with coffee.

The findings were presented at the annual congress in Rome of the European League Against Rheumatism.

Christopher Collins, of Georgetown University Medical Centre in the U.S., said he was surprised by the differences between coffee and tea. 'We set out to determine whether tea or coffee consumption, or the method of preparation of the drinks was associated with an increased risk [of rheumatoid arthritis],' he added.

'It is surprising that we saw such differences in results between tea and coffee drinkers. This does make us wonder what it is in tea, or in the method of preparation of tea that causes the significant increase in risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.'

Source - Daily Mail

Tea and coffee 'protect against heart disease'

Drinking several cups of tea or coffee a day appears to protect against heart disease, a 13-year-long study from the Netherlands has found. It adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting health benefits from the most popular hot drinks.

Those who drank more than six cups of tea a day cut their risk of heart disease by a third, the study of 40,000 people found. Consuming between two to four coffees a day was also linked to a reduced risk.

While the protective effect ceased with more than four cups of coffee a day, even those who drank this much were no more likely to die of any cause, including stroke and cancer, than those who abstained. The Dutch tend to drink coffee with a small amount of milk and black tea without. There have been conflicting reports as to whether milk substantially affects the polyphenols - believed to be the most beneficial substance in tea.

Source - BBC

Wounds take longer to heal when you are anxious or stressed, study finds

Stress and anxiety can make it harder for wounds to heal, scientists have shown. Researchers inflicted small "punch" wounds on healthy volunteers whose levels of life stress were gauged using a standard questionnaire.

The wounds of the least anxious participants were found to heal twice as fast as those of the most stressed. Changes in levels of the stress hormone cortisol reflected the differences in healing speed. A similar pattern emerged from an analysis of pooled data from 22 studies by different research groups examining stress and wound healing.

Professor John Weinman, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, presented the findings at the Cheltenham Science Festival. Previously, he had shown that healing can be enhanced by psychological help aimed at easing emotional stress.

Source - Independent

Windscreen water could be legionnaires' disease risk

Motorists who do not use screenwash for their windscreen wipers risk getting potentially deadly legionnaires' disease, a study revealed today.

The warning comes after health experts discovered professional drivers were five times more likely to be infected with the dangerous bug, which is found in warm, stagnant water. Drivers are now being urged to add screenwash to their wiper water after traces of the legionella bacterium were found in one in five cars that did not have the additive - but in no cars that did. It is feared that around 20% of legionnaires' disease cases could arise from this type of exposure.

The findings come from a Health Protection Agency-led study, which looked at why people at the wheel were more likely to be infected. Most at risk were found to be those driving a van, people who drive through industrial areas, and people who often had the car window open. But the "most intriguing" higher-risk group was drivers not using screenwash - which kills off the legionella bug, the study authors found.

Source - Independent

High meat diet 'linked to early periods'

Girls who eat a lot of meat during childhood tend to start their periods earlier than others, a study suggests.

UK researchers compared the diets of more than 3,000 12-year-old girls. They found high meat consumption at age three (over eight portions a week) and age seven (12 portions) was strongly linked with early periods. Writing in Public Health Nutrition, the researchers said a meat-rich diet might prepare the body for pregnancy, triggering an earlier puberty.

During the 20th Century, the average age at which girls started their periods fell fairly dramatically, although it now seems to be levelling off. This is widely thought to be due to better nutrition and rising levels of obesity, which has an impact on hormones.

In the latest study, the team used data from a group of children followed from birth.

At the age of 12 years eight months, they split the girls into those who had already started their periods and those who had not. Comparing their diets at the ages of three, seven and 10, they found that meat intake at a young age was strongly linked with earlier periods.

Source - BBC

Brain regulates cholesterol in blood, study suggests

The amount of cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is partly regulated by the brain, a study in mice suggests.

It counters assumptions that levels are solely controlled by what we eat and by cholesterol production in the liver. The US study in Nature Neuroscience found that a hunger hormone in the brain acts as the "remote control" for cholesterol travelling round the body. Too much cholesterol causes hardened fatty arteries, raising the risk of a heart attack.

The research carried out by a US team at the University of Cincinnati found that increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin in mice caused the animals to develop higher levels of blood-circulating cholesterol.

Source - BBC

White rice 'raises diabetes risk', say US experts

Replacing white rice with brown rice and wholemeal bread could cut the risk of diabetes by a third, US experts say.

White rice poses a diabetes threat because it causes steep rises in blood sugar, say Harvard researchers in Archives of Internal Medicine. Brown rice and other wholegrain foods are a healthier option as they release glucose more gradually, they say.

The study is based on questionnaires; some say the data is not robust enough to base firm conclusions on. It may be that people who eat less white rice tend to live healthier lifestyles, for example.

'Brown is better'

In the study of nearly 200,000 US people, white rice consumption was linked to type 2 diabetes.

After adjusting for age and other diabetes risk factors, those who ate five or more 150g servings of white rice per week had a 17% increased risk of diabetes compared with people who consumed less than one serving - about a cup of rice - per month. Although few people - only 2% - in the study ate this much white rice, the finding was significant.

Source - BBC

White Rice or Brown?

According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health, replacing white rice with brown rice and wholemeal bread could cut the risk of diabetes by a third, US experts say.

White rice poses a diabetes threat because it causes steep rises in blood sugar, say Harvard researchers in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Brown rice and other wholegrain foods are a healthier option as they release glucose more gradually, they say.


Children who eat a Mediterranean diet are less prone to asthma

Children who eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish have a lower risk of asthma and wheezing, but eating three or more burgers a week can increase the risk, scientists have concluded.

Researchers from Germany, Spain and London examined data from 50,000 children aged eight to 12, from 20 different countries, collected between 1995 and 2005. Parents were asked about their children's usual diet and whether they had ever been diagnosed with asthma or suffered wheezing.

Almost 30,000 children were given a skin-prick test to see if diet directly affected their chances of developing common allergies. The experts found diet did not increase the risk of allergies to grass and tree pollen but did have an effect on asthma and wheeze.

Source - Independent

Parents reminded to avoid honey in babies

Parents are being reminded not to feed honey to babies after three cases of botulism in the past year.

Children under the age of one year are unable to fight off the botulism bacteria which can cause serious illness and lead to paralysis, The Food Standards Agency warned. Some parents may be tempted to use honey as a sweetener, it said. There have been only 11 confirmed cases of infant botulism in the past 30 years.

A statement from the FSA said the illness was "rare but serious". The three cases that have occurred in the past year have all had possible links to honey. The most recent case involved a 15-week-old baby.

Source - BBC

'People become immune to coffee boost', experts believe

Using coffee for a pick-me-up may be pointless if you drink it all the time, researchers believe.

Experts say they have discovered that people who drink a lot of caffeine develop a tolerance to its stimulatory effects.

While caffeine can give people a buzz, raising alertness, the effect only works in those unused to the drink, they tell Neuropsychpharmacology journal. They base their assumptions on the results of an experiment that they carried out on 379 volunteers.

Cold turkey

To put coffee to the test, the scientists from the UK and Germany asked all of the trial participants to abstain from the beverage for 16 hours.

Half of these were medium to heavy coffee drinkers who consumed at least one and up to six cups a day, and half were non or low drinkers. Next, they gave half of the participants a 100mg espresso-sized dose of caffeine, and the other half a placebo shot containing no caffeine.

The medium/high caffeine consumers who received placebo reported a decrease in alertness and an increase in headache, neither of which were reported by those who received caffeine. However, their post-caffeine levels of alertness were no higher than the non/low consumers who received a placebo.

Source - BBC