Spirituality: Mediums put faith to the test

It would be easy to dismiss psychics and mediums as fakes. Illusionists such as Penn & Teller certainly believe they can explain what they do in perfectly rational terms. They, and countless other sceptics, contend psychics are “cold reading” – a combination of reading body language, clever guessing and suggestion – and that, at their worst, unscrupulous practitioners prey on the bereaved or distressed.

But there is no denying a growing interest in the paranormal in Britain. Training schools for psychics are springing up across the country and for many, spirituality has replaced religious faith. Even health spas are offering psychic readings and healing sessions alongside facials and massages. One is EarthSpa in London’s Belgravia. “A lot of spas are now offering things that deal in healing energy,” says EarthSpa’s co-owner, Susan King. “Some of our customers may have a massage and it seems a logical extension of that to talk to someone who explores the spiritual or mental side of what’s causing their stress. I think people feel safe in this environment with a reputable practitioner.” A 50-minute session with their psychic reader, Elizabeth Rose, who claims to channels angels’ energy, costs £80.

Meanwhile, Joe Power, who charges half that fee, is taking the spiritual world by storm. The 43-year-old Liverpudlian, who readily admits to an “interesting” past, which includes a spell in prison, regularly sees clients who have lost loved ones in violent circumstances. He’s written an autobiography, entitled The Man Who Sees Dead People, and is currently doing a live show of the same title at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Source - Guardian

Beer’s not to blame for weight gain

With just four ingredients, Britain’s beer is as healthy as it is tasty

Summer’s almost done. And although it hasn’t been a bad one, I seem to have had more than my fair share of rain. Seven days in Portmerion, for example, was seven days of downpour. We began to feel like the Prisoner himself. A week in the Scilly Isles wasn’t much better.

The upside, though, is that I’ve kept my middle-age spread pretty much under wraps. No half naked disporting on the beach for me, frightening the horses. I managed to shed several stone a couple of years ago but, maddeningly, I find that one of them has crept surreptitiously back, partly due to lack of exercise and partly due to diet. put it down to drinking too much beer over the past few weeks, either sheltering in the pub from another Welsh waterspout or watching the World Cup. My old friend Rupert Ponsonby, a founder of the Beer Academy, disagrees.

“There’s no fat in beer and no cholesterol either, and it’s ridiculously low in calories and carbs,” he says. “Your spare tyre is probably due to all those pork scratchings you ate alongside your pint or even due to your breakfast orange juice which, health clubs please note, does contain fat.”

Source - Telegraph

The life-saving qualities of pizza

Research – from Italy, would you believe – suggests that pizza can be good for your health

A series of Italian research studies suggest that eating pizza might do good things for a person's health. These benefits show up, statistically speaking and seasoned with caveats, among people who eat pizza as pizza. The delightful statistico-medico-pizza effects do not happen so much, the researchers emphasise, for individuals who eat the pizza ingredients individually.

Back in 2001, Dario Giugliano, Francesco Nappo and Ludovico Coppola, at Second University Naples, published a study in the journal Circulation called Pizza and vegetables don't stick to the endothelium. The thrust of their finding was that, unlike many other typical Italian meals, pizza does not necessarily cause clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and death.

Silvano Gallus of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, in Milan, has cooked up several studies about the health effects of ingesting pizza.

In 2003, together with colleagues from Naples, Rome and elsewhere, Gallus published a report called Does pizza protect against cancer, in the International Journal of Cancer. It compares several thousand people who were treated for cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, colon, or rectum with patients who were treated for other, non-cancer ailments. Several hospitals gathered data about what the patients said they habitually ate. The study ends up speaking, in a vague, general way of an "apparently favourable effect of pizza on cancer risk in Italy".

A year later, in a monograph in the European Journal of cancer prevention Gallus and two colleagues wrote that: "Regular consumption of pizza, one of the most typical Italian foods, showed a reduced risk of digestive tract cancers."

Source - Guardian

Chocolate can be good for women's hearts, say researchers

An occasional chocolate treat can help prevent heart failure in older women, research suggests.

One or two servings of good-quality chocolate a week reduced the risk of middle-aged and elderly women developing the condition by almost a third, a study found. Scientists studied almost 32,000 Swedish women aged 48 to 83. Moderate chocolate consumption significantly reduced heart failure risk, but the protective effect lessened as more or less was eaten.

One or two 19g to 30g servings a week led to a 32% risk reduction. This fell to 26% when one to three servings a month were eaten, while one serving a day or more showed no benefit.

A typical chocolate bar weighs around 100 grams, but the amount of healthy cocoa solids it contains varies greatly. Dark chocolate can contain as much as 75% cocoa while standard milk chocolate may have 20% or less. Antioxidant plant compounds called flavonoids in cocoa are believed to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure.

The study authors pointed out that chocolate eaten in Sweden tends to have a high cocoa content.

Source - Guardian

Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature

Cows hibernate in winter, grey squirrels are native to this country, conkers come from oak (or maybe beech, or is it fir?) trees, and of course there's no such thing as a leaf that can soothe a nettle sting. Or so, according to a new survey, believe between a quarter and a half of all British children. You can't really blame them: if, like 64% of kids today, you played outside less than once a week, or were one of the 28% who haven't been on a country walk in the last year, the 21% who've never been to a farm and the 20% who have never once climbed a tree, you wouldn't know much about nature either.

The survey, of 2,000 eight-to-12-year-olds for the TV channel Eden, is the latest in a string of similar studies over the last couple of years: more children can identify a Dalek than an owl; a big majority play indoors more often than out. The distance our kids stray from home on their own has shrunk by 90% since the 70s; 43% of adults think a child shouldn't play outdoors unsupervised until the age of 14. More children are now admitted to British hospitals for injuries incurred falling out of bed than falling out of trees.

Does any of this matter? In an age of cable TV, Nintendos, Facebook and YouTube, is it actually important to be able to tell catkins from cow parsley, or jackdaws from jays? Well, it obviously can't do any harm to know a bit about the natural world beyond the screen and the front door. And if, as a result of that, you develop a love for nature, you may care something for its survival, which is probably no bad thing.

Source - Guardian

Migraine: the alternative solutions

My earliest memory is of a migraine. I was sitting outside in a blue-and-white striped deckchair. The sun was too hot and the light was too bright and the pain was like a white fire up the sides of my face, and in my eyes. I drank some orange squash. It was like I'd taken a thick, choking gulp of orange-scented washing-up liquid. I knew I was going to be sick. I didn't know how to communicate any of this. My mother and I have dated this memory to a family holiday in Bournemouth when I was 18 months old.

Migraines are part of my inheritance: my father gets them, and his mother remembered her mother going to bed with "sick headaches". My usual routine when one begins is to take ibuprofen or Migraleve and then sit in a darkened room for 16, 18, 24 hours, staring into the darkness and waiting for the tentacles of pain to recede from my skull. In the last couple of years they have become more frequent. In the first four months of this year, I had about six to eight a month. Each one wipes out a day and leaves me jittery when it's over.

What to do? I could beg my doctor for preventative beta-blockers, but the list of side-effects including depression, insomnia and loss of libido sounds even less attractive than the migraines. I'd go for homeopathy or reiki except I think they're nonsense.

Instead, I spoke to an NHS migraine consultant. Are there any remedies that have actually been researched and tested? It turns out there's a very long list. And I agreed, with a certain amount of hesitation, to follow all the recommendations for a few months.

Number one, I was told, was to cut back on painkillers – it's counterintuitive, but they can cause "rebound" headaches, especially those, such as Migraleve, which contain codeine. Different people respond differently, but it's a good rule of thumb not to take them for more than two days in a week. Second, cut right back on caffeine. Migraineurs – that's people who suffer from migraine – often overuse caffeine in an attempt to regulate their sleep, but end up not getting good-quality rest.

Source - Guardian

Therapy in a pencil case

'It is typical of Oxford," says Charles Ryder after his return from an idyllic summer at Brideshead, "to start the new year in autumn." Evelyn Waugh presumably meant to suggest that this was a characteristically perverse thing for an ancient university to do. It has never seemed perverse to me.

Granted, I was the sort of studious child who was secretly pleased by the sight of the "back to school" displays in the shops. But I always liked the idea of starting the new year in September when, instead of that post-Christmas fag-end feeling, you got the excitement of stocking up on new stationery.

The contents of a pencil case were my first encounter with the aesthetics of material objects. For me the smell and feel of a new eraser are as evocative of autumn as falling leaves. Stationery was also my understated introduction to the idea of utopia, the triumph of hope over experience. Forgetting all the false dawns of autumns past, I believed that if I could just find a pen with the right nib, or highlighters in ideal colour combinations, I would at last have the tools to accomplish great deeds.

Source - Guardian

Birdsong: the cure for all ills?

Keats and Shelley certainly knew the power of birdsong, as in their respective odes to a nightingale and skylark. Now medical science has woken up to the therapeutic powers of the dawn chorus. An art project at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital, using recordings made by children, is being used to calm young patients as they receive injections and other treatments.

The project is the brainchild of Chris Watson. Calling Chris a sound recordist is a bit like saying George Best could kick a ball about, or Michelangelo was handy with a paintbrush. This former stalwart of 80s prog-rock combo Cabaret Voltaire is famous for putting microphones where our ears cannot go: inside a glacier, under the waves, and inside a zebra carcass being eaten by vultures.

His passion for birdsong is shared by more people than we might think. Two years ago, when digital radio station Oneworld closed down, the frequency was kept open by the playing of birdsong. This was far more popular than the radio station it replaced, attracting hordes of listeners.

Source - Guardian

Parsnips gave me blisters!

A keen gardener has suffered horrendous blisters all over her body after she brushed against parsnip leaves.

Jo Miles, 48, was working in her vegetable patch on a sunny day and took off her shirt in a bid to cool down. Her bare skin then came into contact with the parsnip leaves she was trimming to feed to her pigs. Sap from the vegetable reacted with sunlight causing her skin to inflame.

The mother-of-two initially didn't worry about the small red, itchy weals which formed on her arms, hands and stomach after cutting the leaves last Friday. But two days later they had ballooned into huge, painful blisters.

Jo, from Surlingham, Norfolk, said: 'I woke up on Sunday and everything had blistered up and was getting worse and worse. I called the out-of-hours service on Sunday night as I was sitting there and they were getting sorer and sorer and I could see them getting bigger and bigger.

Mrs Miles added: 'I went to get some tablets and they said I should go to a doctor first thing in the morning. They sent me to the dermatology unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

'It was so painful I couldn't move my hand and changing gear in the car was agony.'

Source - Daily Mail

Can cinnamon help beat heart disease and diabetes?

Cinnamon could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, say scientists.

A study found that a cinnamon-water solution contains antioxidants that can cut the chances of getting either disease by up to 23 per cent.

Researchers at the Centre for Applied Health Sciences in Fairlawn, Ohio, USA studied 22 'pre-diabetic' obese people. Pre-diabetes occurs just before the onset of full-blown diabetes. Half the participants were given 250mg of water-soluble cinnamon to take everyday, the other half had a placebo. Sufferers become resistant to higher-than-normal levels of insulin - the hormone used to regulate blood-sugar levels - produced by the pancreas.

Blood was collected at the start and end of the survey, published by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, with the cinnamon drinkers recording a 13 to 23 percent increase in antioxidants linked to lowering blood-sugar levels.

Richard Anderson, who led the study for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that more research was needed into the effectiveness of cinnamon juice in preventing diabetes and heart disease.

He said: "Only more research will tell whether the investigational study supports the idea that people who are overweight or obese could reduce oxidative stress and blood glucose by consuming cinnamon extracts that have been proven safe and effective. In the meantime, weight loss remains the primary factor in improving these numbers."

Source - Daily Mail

'Extra healthy' apples on the way as scientists crack genetic code for Golden Delicious

The genetic code of the apple has been mapped by researchers, paving the way for crunchier, juicier and healthier fruits to be developed.

The information from the Golden Delicious variety is already being used to breed red-fleshed apples with more anti-oxidants, which are credited with health benefits from keeping joints healthy to warding off Alzheimer’s. Apples that suppress appetite could also be in the pipeline, with the first varieties on shelves within five years.

Researcher Roger Hellens of New Zealand firm Plant & Food Research, said: ‘Now we have the sequence of the apple genome, we will be able to identify the genes which control the characteristics that our sensory scientists have identified as most desired by consumers – crispiness, juiciness and flavour.’

The decoding of the apple’s DNA has also shed new light on its origins. It suggests that a plant that became the apple tree was born around 65million years ago, when a comet is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Source - Daily Mail

Frog skin may help beat antibiotic resistance

Frog skin may be an important source of new antibiotics to treat superbugs say researchers. So far, more than 100 potential bacteria-killing substances have been identified from more than 6,000 species of frog.

The team at the United Arab Emirates University are now trying to tweak the substances to make them less toxic and suitable for use as human medicines. The work was presented at the American Chemical Society meeting.

Drug resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, are becoming an increasing problem worldwide. Yet there is a lack of new treatments in the pipeline.

Among the substances found by the researchers are a compound from a rare American species that shows promise for killing MRSA. Another fights a drug-resistant infection seen in soldiers returning from Iraq. The idea of using chemicals from the skin of frogs to kill bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing agents is not a new one.

But it is not a straightforward process to use these chemicals in humans because they are either destroyed in the bloodstream or are toxic to human cells.

Source - BBC

Cannabis may relieve chronic nerve pain

Smoking cannabis from a pipe can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients with damaged nerves, a study suggests.

A small study of 23 people also showed improvements with sleep and anxiety. Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers said larger studies using inhaler-type devices for cannabis were needed. UK experts said the pain relief seen was small but potentially important, and more investigation was warranted.

Around 1 to 2% of people have chronic neuropathic pain - pain due to problems with signalling between nerves - but effective treatments are lacking. Some patients with this type of chronic pain say smoking cannabis helps with their symptoms. And researchers have been investigating whether taking cannabinoids - the chemicals within cannabis that effect pain - in pill form could have the same effect.

But the team from McGill University in Montreal said clinical trials on smoked cannabis were lacking.

Source - BBC

Grapefruit 'can help to treat diabetes'... Antioxidant found in the fruit has same benefits as two separate drugs

Eating grapefruit could help treat diabetes, a study has found.

Naringenin, an antioxidant which gives grapefruit its bitter taste, can do the same job as two separate drugs currently used to manage Type 2 diabetes, scientists said. Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce enough of the hormone insulin to properly regulate blood-sugar levels.

Naringenin helps to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. It also helps sufferers maintain a healthy weight, which is a vital part of diabetes treatment. Following a meal the blood is flushed with sugars, causing the liver to create fatty acids, or lipids, for long-term storage. Weight gain puts diabetics at risk of health problems and reduces the effectiveness of insulin.

Source - Daily Mail

Black rice is the new cancer-fighting superfood, claim scientists

Black rice - revered in ancient China but overlooked in the West - could be the greatest 'superfoods', scientists revealed today. The cereal is low in sugar but packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer, say experts.

Scientists from Louisiana State University analysed samples of bran from black rice grown in the southern U.S. They found boosted levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants. Anthocyanins provide the dark colours of many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and red peppers. They are what makes black rice 'black'.

Research suggests that the dark plant antioxidants, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.

Food scientist Dr Zhimin Xu said: 'Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants. If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants.'

Source - Daily Mail

Broccoli 'boosts' healthy gut

Extracts of broccoli and banana may help in fighting stomach problems, research suggests.

Laboratory studies show fibres from the vegetables may boost the body's natural defences against stomach infections. Trials are under way to see if they could be used as a medical food for patients with Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes symptoms such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain. It affects about 1 in 1,000 people, and is thought to be caused by a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. The condition is common in developed countries, where diets are often low in fibre and high in processed food.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool looked at how roughage from vegetables influenced the passage of harmful bacteria through cells inside the gut. They found that fibres from the plantain, a type of large banana, and broccoli, were particularly beneficial. But a common stabiliser added to processed foods during the manufacturing process had the opposite effect.

Dr Barry Campbell, from the University of Liverpool, said: "This research shows that different dietary components can have powerful effects on the movement of bacteria through the bowel. We have known for some time the general health benefits of eating plantain and broccoli, which are both high in vitamins and minerals, but until now we have not understood how they can boost the body's natural defences against infection common in Crohn's patients. Our work suggests that it might be important for patients with this condition to eat healthily and limit their intake of processed foods."

Source - BBC

The day I ate as many E numbers as possible

Food labels such as "natural" and "pure" are confusing shoppers, according to a survey. But even more misunderstood are the E numbers that populate ingredient lists, says Stefan Gates, who set out to see if additives are as bad as is often assumed.

Why would anyone do something as irresponsible as try to overload on sweeteners, flavourings, emulsifiers and preservatives, when food additives are a byword for culinary evil? In Europe, these are given E numbers; in the United States and elsewhere, the full name is increasingly listed on food labels.

Yet how many consumers would believe that such additives may actually be good for us? The boom in organic and natural foods in recent years betrays our trust in nature over science. Yet a survey by Which? magazine has found terms such as "natural", "fresh", "pure" and "real", which readily appear on the front of food packaging, are confusing consumers because they are largely unregulated.

Conversely, it is the additives tucked way in the small print of a product's ingredients list that are heavily regulated. And when you look at clinical rather than anecdotal evidence, and speak to clinical dieticians, it appears these are actually good for us - and many seem to be very good for us indeed.

Source - BBC

Meditation is proven to be the serene way to get smarter

It has long being credited as the way to a serene mind. But scientists have now discovered that meditation physically enhances the brain.

Even a brief course of meditation strengthens connections between the regions of the brain that regulate our emotional responses, they found. This could make it easier for us to keep calm, they said.

Chinese and U.S. researchers at the University of Oregon focused on effects of a meditation technique known as integrative bodymind training, or IBMT. Based on ancient Chinese medicine, IBMT combines posture, mental imagery and body relaxation and breathing techniques.

In the study, meditation novices took part in IBMT group sessions for half an hour on weekdays for a month. Another group received the same amount of tuition - 11 hours - in basic relaxation techniques.

Brain scans revealed the brain connections of those in the IBMT group - but not the other group - started to strengthen after six hours' practice. Differences were clear after 11 hours, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. These 'structural changes' were greatest in the fibres connecting the anterior cingulate, the part of the brain which helps regulate emotions and behaviour.

Source - Daily Mail

A garlic tablet a day... It could keep high blood pressure at bay

Garlic was once used to combat the Black Death, but doctors now claim it can tackle a modern-day epidemic of heart disease.

Just 12 weeks' treatment with garlic tablets led to a 'significant' cut in blood pressure, slashing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Researchers claim people with hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, could control their condition better by adding garlic to conventional medication. The latest research used supplements rather than the raw herb to ensure people got a guaranteed dose of active ingredients.

Dr Karin Ried from the University of Adelaide, Australia, led a new trial of 50 people with high blood pressure who were taking prescription drugs for it. She said 'There is a large proportion of people out there who are on medication and some people are on four different types but they still have high blood pressure - it is uncontrolled. When we gave them this garlic supplement we were able on average to reduce their blood pressure under the hypertension threshold - so garlic might be a good complementary treatment option to control hypertension.'

Source - Daily Mail

Peony could ease side-effects for patients enduring chemotherapy

It is already a perennial favourite of gardeners the country over. But the peony may soon be giving fresh hope to cancer patients.

Its beautiful blossoms could help ease the distressing side-effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and weight loss. Given in combination with three other plants, it also cuts tumour growth, research from the Yale University School of Medicine in the U.S. suggests.

Chemotherapy works by killing cells that are rapidly growing and dividing - a hallmark of cancers. But fast-growing cells in other parts of the body are also attacked, causing unpleasant side-effects that cannot always be controlled. The research centres on a centuries-old Chinese traditional medicine put into drug form.

Known as PHY906, the drug is made up of four plants: the peony, liquorice, extracts of date and extracts of the skullcap plant. When the drug was given to mice being treated for bowel cancer, their tumours shrunk more quickly and they did not lose any weight, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports.

Source - Daily Mail

Most new drugs do little good, study finds

Drug companies have been accused of conning the public by hyping up patented medicines with little new to offer while downplaying their side-effects.

A study concluded that up to 85 per cent of new drugs offered few if any new benefits while having the potential to cause serious harm due to toxicity or misuse.

The author of the research, Donald Light, professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, said: “Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side-effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits. Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug.”

Professor Light presented his paper, entitled “Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm”, yesterday at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The study includes data from independent reviewers which suggest that 85 per cent of new drugs provide few, if any, new benefits. Hyping a drug began with clinical trials designed to minimise evidence of harm and published literature that emphasised its advantages, said Professor Light.

Source - Independent

Dark chocolate can be good for the heart, study says

Older women who eat dark chocolate once or twice a week could be lowering their risk of heart failure, says a US study. It found those eating chocolate once or twice a week cut the risk of developing heart failure by a third, but those eating it every day did not benefit.

The Boston study, in a journal of the American Heart Association, looked at nearly 32,000 Swedish women aged between 48 and 83 over nine years. Dieticians say eating chocolate too often can be damaging and unhealthy.

The study notes that one or two 19 to 30 gram servings of dark chocolate a week led to a 32% reduction in heart failure risk. This fell to 26% when one to three servings a month were eaten.

But those who ate chocolate every day did not appear to reduce their risk of heart failure at all. The researchers conclude the protective effect of eating chocolate reduces as more or less is eaten than the optimum one to two servings a week.

Source - BBC

Green leafy veg 'may cut diabetes risk'

A diet rich in green leafy vegetables may reduce the risk of developing diabetes, UK research says.

In an analysis of six studies into fruit and vegetable intake, only food including spinach and cabbage was found to have a significant positive effect. A portion and a half a day was found to cut type 2 diabetes risk by 14%, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports. But experts urged people to continue to aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The researchers from Leicester University reviewed data from the studies of 220,000 adults in total. They found that eating more fruit and vegetables in general was not strongly linked with a smaller chance of developing type 2 diabetes but "there was a general trend in that direction". Yet when it came to green leafy vegetables, which the researchers said also includes broccoli and cauliflower, the risk reduction was significant.

The team calculated that a daily dose of 106g reduced the risk of diabetes by 14% - a UK "portion" is classed as 80g. It is not clear why green leafy vegetables may have a protective effect but one reason may be they are high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and another theory is that they contain high levels of magnesium.

Source - BBC

Ignorance is as big a killer as obesity

While we're quick to condemn the overweight, smokers and drinkers, we should consider the social and educational conditions in which people are raised. Professor Steve Filed says it is up to individuals to take responsibility for their own health. I agree. Except that insight does not provide much of a guide to knowing what to do. The evidence suggests that simply telling people to behave more responsibly is no more likely to be effective than telling someone who is depressed to pull his socks up.

Nor does a focus on individual responsibility take us far in understanding the health problems we face as a nation. A striking feature of smoking and obesity is their close link with people's socioeconomic position: the lower their status the more likely are people to be obese and to smoke. Suppose you were tempted to think that the poor are simply irresponsible. How would that explain why among people who work hard in stable jobs, those with less education are more likely to smoke?

In my review of health inequalities, Fair society, Healthy lives, we drew attention not only to the causes of ill-health but to the causes of the causes. Smoking, obesity and heavy drinking are causes of ill-health, but what are the causes of these behaviours?

Source - Guardian

Why baby leaves will always give you the best salad days: How that healthy lunch may not be as good as you think

If you spend your lunch hour chomping your way through salad in the hope of a health boost, you may not be getting the goodness you want – unless you choose your leaves carefully.

Food scientist Steve Rothwell (www.stevesleaves.co.uk), who has a PhD in the health benefits of watercress, explains that the most beneficial salads contain baby leaves – young plants that have not grown to full maturity.

'Leaves in general are nutritious because they contain a range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (natural plant compounds) including carotenoids that help plants catch light and convert it to energy,' he says.

Beta carotene is a source of Vitamin A, for healthy skin and vision, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are important for eye health. But it's the leaves exposed to light that contain the highest amounts of these beneficial compounds.

'If you take an adult iceberg lettuce, for instance, the outer leaves are exposed to light,' says Rothwell. 'But these are often discarded in favour of the pale, tender – yet less nutritious – inner leaves. Juvenile plants usually consist of a few loosely gathered leaves which all get exposed to the sun. This is why baby plants are better for you.

Source - Daily Mail

Is barefoot running good for you?

Are there really any benefits to barefoot running?

Studies into barefoot running have shown that unshod runners tend to land their stride on the ball of their foot or with a flat foot, whereas shod runners, possibly due the increased amount of support offered by modern running shoes, land on the heel of their foot. Over a period of time, in certain people, this pressure on the heel can lead to various problems, such as ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints and even back problems. Up to 30% of running enthusiasts are said to experience injuries relating to their running technique.

Madhusudhan Venkadesan, a postdoctoral researcher in applied mathematics and human evolutionary biology at Harvard who has been involved in detailed studies into the effects of barefoot running, writes that: "Heel-striking is painful when barefoot or in minimal shoes because it causes a large collisional force each time a foot lands on the ground. Barefoot runners point their toes more at landing, avoiding this collision by decreasing the effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land, and by having a more compliant, or springy, leg."

Source - Guardian

Why barefoot is best for children

Most parents would balk at the idea of toddlers in high heels, but what about sandals or trainers? Some experts now believe that all shoes are best avoided in childhood.

While Katie Holmes was vilified by the press and public alike for stepping out with her four-year-old daughter in high heels last year, many of us wouldn't think twice about putting our kids in a dinky pair of mini-me trainers. But there's a growing belief among experts that when it comes to children's footwear, the best shoe may be no shoe at all.

Tracy Byrne, a podiatrist specialising in podopaediatrics, believes that wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child's walking and cerebral development. "Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot," she says. "The feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and causes them to fall down." Walking barefoot, she continues, develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot's arch, improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.

"We've come to regard the way we dwell permanently in shoes as normal and natural," says John Woodward, an Alexander Technique teacher who has been barefoot for 25 years. "It's anything but. True, we are no longer hunter-gatherers. True, our urban environments are full of 'unnatural' dangers. But we can still learn from our origins - footwear was designed to protect the soles of the feet where necessary, and it was temporary."

Source - Guardian

Mothers-to-be warned off liquorice over fears it can give children diseases later in life

Expectant mothers who eat liquorice could be increasing their unborn child’s risk of disease in adulthood.

Experts have found eight-year-olds who were exposed to liquorice in the womb had levels of the hormone cortisol up to a third higher than those whose mothers never ate it. Cortisol helps the body deal with stress, but it is also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

In the study by London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Helsinki, mothers were asked how much liquorice they ate in pregnancy. Their children were tested aged eight for cortisol levels. The study found that those whose mothers ate half a gram a week of liquorice – less than one Liquorice Allsorts sweet – or more in pregnancy had cortisol levels a third higher than those whose mothers did not eat it.

Experts believe the presence of the naturally occurring, very sweet ingredient glycyrrhizin in liquorice ultimately affects the mechanism which regulates hormone levels. Clinical scientist Alexander Jones of Great Ormond Street, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘For those who eat a lot of liquorice, it may be a good idea to cut down when pregnant.’

Source - Daily Mail

Could sitting down be the death of you? Experts reveal all those hours perched on chairs could be having a disastrous effect on our health

As I write this, I am standing up. In fact, I've been answering emails, making phone calls and tapping away at a computer for an hour without sitting. I drank my morning coffee pacing the room.

I own a comfy office chair, but all this standing around - I've been doing it on and off for a week - should do me a power of good. Am I losing my marbles? Not according to the latest research. Sitting is seriously bad for you.

A recent U.S. study found that the more hours you spend sitting, the more your cardiovascular health suffers. Men who sit for 23 hours a week have a 64 per cent greater chance of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who spend only 11 hours sitting. Research published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, found an 11 per cent increased risk of death from all causes for every extra hour of TV viewing (ie sitting down) a day.

Another study found that sitting increases your chances of dying from any cause. The news was worse for women; those who sat more than six hours a day were 37 per cent more likely to die than those who sat for fewer than three, regardless of physical activity at other times.

Source - Daily Mail

How to improve your health with ayurveda

Getting started

I used to be a business writer, working 13 hours a day, six days a week, and would manage my stress levels with yoga and massage. I realised that for my own peace of mind I needed to have more of these two elements in my life, and decided to retrain and learn about ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine. My grandfather was an ayurvedic doctor, so there was some sort of lineage in my family

Diagnose your body type

The term ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit words: ayus, meaning life, and vid, meaning knowledge. To make the most of ayurveda, you should be aware of your body type or constitution. The three main constitutions are vata, pitta and kapha, and they determine the characteristics of your body. But altogether there are seven constitutions, so if you want a real analysis, have a consultation with a specialist.

Source - Telegraph

Treating anxiety

I am sitting at home with two electrodes attached to my earlobes. Electric currents are passing into my brain and down my spinal column. I feel like Frankenstein’s monster.

To the casual observer, it might appear that I am being subjected to torture. In fact, I am attempting to quell my predisposition to anxiety, which I have managed to elevate beyond the realms of mere psychological symptom into a complete lifestyle. Electricity, it seems, could be the answer – the new Valium, if you will.

The machine is called Alpha-Stim SCS. It is a small device with two wires that clip on to your ears. It uses “cranial electrotherapy stimulation” – 50-100 microamps of electricity (a microamp is a millionth of an amp) – to increase alpha brain waves. These waves occur at the frequency of about 8-12 cycles per second, or hertz, compared with the “normal”, or beta, state of 13-25 hertz, which is the state in which most of us spend our working days. Alpha waves induce relaxed, yet alert, states that, it is claimed, calm the central nervous system.

Source - Telegraph

Folk remedies

Medicine being a progressive forward-looking endeavour, it would seem highly unlikely that a ''folk remedy’’ from almost a century ago would have much to contribute to, say, the treatment of epilepsy in children. But it does.

In 1920, Dr Rawle Geyelin, a New York physician, presented a paper describing the case of the son of a friend with epilepsy of such severity that for the previous four years ''he has had several fits virtually every day’’.

His father had sought the opinion of numerous specialists to no avail, until he was advised to consult a naturopath, who put his son on a fast for 15 days. This was followed by a period of feeding, followed by another fast and so on. From the second day of this new regime he had not had a further convulsion.

The consequences of fasting include the breakdown of protein stores in the body to generate energy, resulting in a slight acidification of the blood known as ketosis. The same effect can also be induced by a (very) high-fat diet (butter, cream, meat) which doctors at the Mayo Clinic, inspired by Dr Geyelin’s report, adopted – reporting the results in the American Journal of the Diseases of Childhood the next year: “Ten children are currently free from convulsions and a further four have shown a marked improvement.”

Source - Telegraph

Read, eat well and keep spirits high to avoid dementia

Keeping one's brain active, trying not to become depressed and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables are the best ways to ward off developing dementia, a study of almost 1,500 volunteers has found.

If younger people were to follow such advice, millions worldwide could avoid or postpone the debilitating condition in old age, the research suggests. The combined effects would far outstrip the theoretical possibility of eliminating a gene known to increase the chance of dementia, according to the study, published today in the British Medical Journal.

Dr Karen Ritchie, a neuropsychologist at the French National Institute of Medical Research, led a team who assessed how the cognitive ability of 1,433 pensioners in Montpellier changed over a seven-year period. They asked them a series of questions about their lifestyle, medical history and educational background, as well as carrying out reading tests.

Their results indicate that how much intellectual exercise a person takes has an enormous effect on their likelihood of developing dementia. Those with lower reading scores were 18 per cent more likely to develop "mild cognitive impairment or dementia" – the former widely seen as a forerunner of the latter.

Source - Telegraph

Prayers really can heal the sick, finds international study

The power of prayer really can help to heal the sick, an international study has found - especially if the well-wisher is standing near the person they are praying for. Researchers say the vision and hearing of patients in their tests improved after healing practitioners prayed for them.

One elderly woman who could not see a person's hand when they held two fingers up in front of her face from a foot away is said to have been cured after a healer placed their hands over her eyes and prayed for less than one minute.

The tests were carried out by a team from Indiana university, led by religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown, who were looking into 'proximal prayer' - or prayers near the patient. However, experts at the National Secular Society branded the research 'highly suspect.'

Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said: 'This is a highly suspect study, based on vague results in places where checking would be impossible. There is a quite obvious religious motivation which undermines its impartiality.'

Source - Daily Mail

Newborns to be screened for 92 genetic conditions: Trial which focuses on liver problems aims to improve disease management

Newborn babies with suspected liver problems are to be screened for 92 genetic conditions as part of a trail to improve treatment of rare and poorly diagnosed diseases.

The trial is scheduled to begin next month at Birmingham Children's Hospital, with other centres carrying out testing in eight other countries. Thousands of children are admitted to liver unites every year suffering from jaundice, poor growth and itchy skin, all symptomatic of liver problems. Doctors are often unable to identify if there is an underlying genetic condition that might benefit from more targeted treatment.

In general, metabolic and other inherited disorders can hinder an infant's normal physical and mental development in a variety of ways. And parents can pass along the gene for a certain disorder without even knowing that they're carriers. Chris Hendriksz, a consultant in clinical inherited metabolic disorders at Birmingham Children's Hospital, said that the pilot liver study provided proof of the feasibility of concurrent screening.

Source - Daily Mail

Lie-ins are 'good for your health'

Sleeping later at the weekend could be vital to our health and wellbeing, research has suggested.

Tests showed lie-ins provided an antidote to the effects of days of sleep deprivation during the week. But one or two hours might not be enough, the research in the journal Sleep found. For serious sleep loss, even 10 hours in bed may be insufficient to cancel out the negative effects.

Experts say most people need between 7.5 and nine hours' sleep a night. Previous research found that even moderate sleep deprivation can seriously impair brain functions.

Source - Independent

The placebo effect – now on the NHS

Imagine going to see an NHS doctor with a serious illness, and coming away with a prescription for sugar pills. Now imagine that you had no idea that the medicine was nothing more than sugar, and that you were deliberately kept in the dark about the contents of those pills prescribed under the NHS. How would you feel about that?

This is effectively what is happening now, under the current rules governing the prescription of homeopathic products by the NHS, rules the Department of Health, citing "patient choice", refuses to change.

It is apparently quite alright to prescribe homeopathic pills – which are so diluted that they contain none of the active ingredients they are said to contain – because of the fact that some patients choose to have them, even though they may be quite unaware that their medicine is nothing more than a sugar pill.

Last February, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons severely criticised government policy on the use of homeopathy by the NHS, in its report "Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy". The committee concluded that by providing homeopathy on the NHS (admittedly in rare and apparently exceptional circumstances), and by giving official licences to homeopathic products sold in pharmacies, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine.

Source - Independent

Government ignored our advice on homeopathic remedies, say experts

The coalition Government ignored scientific advice on the questionable nature of homeopathy by continuing to allow the NHS to fund homeopathic treatment despite there being next to no evidence that it works, leading scientists have told The Independent.

Last week, health ministers refused calls from the House of Commons science and technology committee to stop the NHS funding homeopathic treatment on the grounds that such a ban would limit patient choice and contradict the Government's stated aim of devolving more power to the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) of the NHS.

However, the Government's own chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, said that he had spoken informally to coalition ministers about his grave concerns about homeopathy and the Department of Health's policy of allowing it to be prescribed under the NHS.

Source - Independent

Chilli may lower blood pressure, scientists say

Spicy food flavoured with hot chilli peppers contains a natural chemical ingredient that may lower blood pressure, according to a study on a strain of laboratory rats with hypertension.

Scientists have discovered that the long-term ingestion of capsaicin, the ingredient in chillies that makes them taste hot, can reduce blood pressure – at least in rats.

Previous studies have produced mixed results when it comes to finding a link between hot chillis and blood pressure, but this may be because they were carried out over relatively short time periods, the scientists said. he latest findings are the first to establish a link between the ingestion of capsaicin over a longer period of time and a subsequent lowering of blood pressure in animals genetically predisposed to having hypertension.

"We found that long-term dietary consumption of capsaicin, one of the most abundant components in chilli peppers, could reduce blood pressure in genetically hypertensive rats," said Zhiming Zhu of Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China.

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, suggests that capsaicin works by activating a special "channel" in the lining of the blood vessels called the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1). When the channel is activated, it increases the production of nitric oxide in the blood vessels that is believed to protect against inflammation and other vascular problems.

Source - Independent

Larger people 'more likely to suffer midges attack'

Tall men and women with a high body mass index are more likely to be bitten by midges, experts said today.

Researchers studying the feeding habits of the Scottish biting midge said bigger people were more likely to be attacked because they "provide a more substantial visual target" for the insects. Midges are also found in greater numbers at increasing heights - meaning tall people are more likely to be bitten.

The study, by the University of Aberdeen and Rothamsted Research, also suggested children may inherit a tendency to be bitten from their parents, and that women were more likely to react to insect bites than men.

The survey-based study was carried out at the 2008 First Monster Challenge - a 120km duathlon on the shores of Loch Ness in the Highlands. They asked "hundreds" of competitors about their bites in the largest investigation of its kind for any biting insect.

Professor Jenny Mordue, retired professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Aberdeen, who led the study, said: "The setting around the shores of Loch Ness is classic midge territory."

Source - Independent