Is alternative medicine effective?

The Statement: “Traditional Chinese Medicine plays an important and valuable role in the health and well-being of Ontarians as many are choosing this complementary and alternative approach to health care. It is in this spirit that we are committed to the regulation of this profession,” – Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care,01/09/2011
The field of complementary medicine is huge and growing. In Canada, recent estimates put out-of-pocket spending on alternative-care providers at $5.6 billion—a substantial amount, even when compared to the $31.1 billion spent on pharmaceutical drugs last year.
Governments have been making attempts to rein in the gargantuan industry. As Deb Matthews suggests, since Ontarians are turning to alternative care like Chinese Medicine, and it “plays an important and valuable role in [their] health and well-being,” we should regulate it. The Canadian Medical Association, however, argues that any guidelines for or regulation of alternative medicine “should respect the conviction of many physicians and clinical researchers, that [alternative medicine] has minimal scientific validity and that recommending it to patients achieves no clinical purpose and may be unethical.” In other words, warn the huddled masses about this quackery.

Source  -  Macleans

Yoga won't help me walk again.

I have never tried yoga, so I arrived for a class at Triyoga in Chelsea feeling pretty intimidated. My inner cynic expected sinewy people standing on their heads in a fug of incense, but instead I find a large white room scattered with purple mats, foam bricks, blankets and other participants. I choose a space and sit on a mat on the floor.
When our teacher, Matthew Sanford, arrives he lays a calming hand on my shoulder and in a soft American voice describes me as sporty and determined to the point of bloodymindedness. He recognises this, because I am on the floor with my wheelchair parked next to me – and we are both paraplegic.
Sanford was just 13 when his family's car hit a patch of ice and slid down an embankment. His mother and brother survived, but his father and sister were both killed. Asleep at the time of the accident, he suffered a broken neck and back, among other injuries. He was in a coma for three days.
"I was a very athletic kid, and I loved feeling my whole body," he tells me. "After the accident, doctors told me I didn't have sensation and I believed them. They called the tingling and burning in my legs phantom feeling, in case I took it to mean I would walk again." Actually, as I know myself, the constant "noise" in my legs, which can be anything from an almost pleasant, warm tingling to excruciating pain, may not be functional, but it is certainly real.

Source  - Guardian

Popular herbal supplement used to treat prostate pain 'does not work'

A popular herbal supplement bought by men to relieve discomfort caused by an enlarged prostate does not work, say researchers.
Thousands of men take the remedy saw palmetto, which comes from the fruit of a type of palm tree, to improve urinary problems caused by benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). But a new study found even taking three times the standard dose of the supplement produced no benefit.
Many older men take saw palmetto capsules bought from health food shops or on the internet as a first option when they are diagnosed, before drugs to make the prostate shrink or surgery.  It is the most popular supplement for BPH, and part of a growing £396 million a year market in health supplements.
The latest US research involved more than 300 men aged 45 and older who had moderate symptoms of a swollen prostate, including frequent urination and difficulty emptying their bladders. They were randomly selected to receive a daily saw palmetto supplement or a ‘dummy’ placebo capsule that smelled and tasted the same. 

Source  - Daily Mail 

12p pills 'could help smokers quit'

A nicotine substitute which can be bought online for 12p more than triples a smoker's chances of quitting for at least a year, research has shown.
Tabex, which contains the active ingredient cytisine, is obtained from laburnum seeds. Experts believe the drug is as effective as conventional stop-smoking treatments and could save the NHS many millions of pounds a year.  But despite four decades of use in eastern Europe, the pills are unlikely to be available on prescription in the UK for another two to three years.
The British scientist who led the new trial spoke of the "Alice in Wonderland" regulatory system responsible for the delay. Professor Robert West, from the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, said he expected to see a flood of internet orders for Tabex once news about the drug got out.
"It's been available in central and eastern Europe for more than 40 years, we have safety data on millions of people, and we know it's effective, but it's not licensed in Britain," he said.
"People can make their own choices. A licence is not a licence to buy, it's a licence to market. There's nothing illegal about buying this drug online, but there's always the risk that you might not get what you expect."
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which licences drugs for sale in the UK, warned of the risks of buying unregulated drugs over the internet, however. 

Fighting Cervical Cancer With Vinegar and Ingenuity

POYAI,Thailand — Maikaew Panomyai did a little dance coming out of the examination room, switching her hips, waving her fists in  the air and crowing, in her limited English: “Everything’s O.K.! Everything’s O.K.!”
Translation: The nurse just told me I do not have cervical cancer, and even the little white spot I had treated three years ago is still gone.
What allowed the nurse to render that reassuring diagnosis was a remarkably simple, brief and inexpensive procedure, one with the potential to do for poor countries what the Pap smear did for rich ones: end cervical cancer’s reign as the No. 1 cancer killer of women. The magic ingredient? Household vinegar.
Every year, more than 250,000 women die of cervical cancer, nearly 85 percent of them in poor and middle-income countries. Decades ago, it killed more American women than any other cancer; now it lags far behind cancers of the lung, breast, colon and skin.
Nurses using the new procedure, developed by experts at the Johns Hopkins medical school in the 1990s and endorsed last year by the World Health Organization, brush vinegar on a woman’s cervix. It makes precancerous spots turn white. They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide,

Source  - New York Times

How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain

Can exercise make the brain more fit? That absorbing question inspired a new study at the University of South Carolina during which scientists assembled mice and assigned half to run for an hour a day on little treadmills, while the rest lounged in their cages without exercising.
Earlier studies have shown that exercise sparks neurogenesis, or the creation of entirely new brain cells. But the South Carolina scientists were not looking for new cells. They were looking inside existing ones to see if exercise was whipping those cells into shape, similar to the way that exercise strengthens muscle.
For centuries, people have known that exercise remodels muscles, rendering them more durable and fatigue-resistant. In part, that process involves an increase in the number of muscle mitochondria, the tiny organelles that float around a cell’s nucleus and act as biological powerhouses, helping to create the energy that fuels almost all cellular activity. The greater the mitochondrial density in a cell, the greater its vitality.

Source  - New York Times

Coffee may prevent depression, scientists say

Women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed, research suggests.
It is not clear why it might have this effect, but the authors believe caffeine in coffee may alter the brain's chemistry. Decaffeinated coffee did not have the same effect.
The findings, published in Archives of Internal Medicine,  come from a study of more than 50,000 US female nurses. The experts are now recommending more work to better understand the link. And they say it is certainly too soon to start recommending that women should drink more coffee to boost mood.

Source  - BBC

Diabetic dog owner reveals how her untrained pooch has saved her life... twice

A dog owner has another reason to love her loyal companion and friend - her pet has saved her life twice.
Tracey Poole is an insulin-dependent diabetic and can suffer from hypoglycemic attacks at night, when her blood sugar falls to dangerously low levels. If left untreated the condition can lead to a diabetic coma and can on occasion cause brain damage or even death.

But her clever black and white pooch has worked out when Tracey is having an episode and wakes her up by urgently licking her hand.
Ms Poole, 41, lives alone in Hoo in Kent. She said if her dog Stella hadn't woken her up in the early hours of Friday last week, she could have been in serious trouble.
Tracey said: 'She was licking my hand and nudging me with her nose. She kept nudging and nudging until I woke up. At first I didn't realise what was happening and then when I came round a bit, I realised I was having a hypo and was able to get up and sort myself out. My blood sugar was dangerously low. If she'd not woken me up I could have slipped into a coma.'
Tracey said Stella had performed the same action about seven months ago when Tracey had another attack during her sleep.

 Source  - Daily Mail

Moderate drinking reduces asthma risk

Moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of asthma but heavy drinking increases chances of suffering from it, according to research.
Scientists compared alcohol intake with asthma risk over eight years in more than 19,000 twins aged 12-41. Fewer than 4 per cent of those who drank one to six units of alcohol per week developed asthma but more than 6 per cent of those who rarely or never drank alcohol suffered symptoms.
Around 4.5 per cent of people who consumed four or more units of alcohol per day became asthmatic. Lovers of beer were more likely to develop the condition than those who did not indicate a preferred drink.
The findings were presented yesterday at the European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress in Amsterdam. Researcher Sofie Lieberoth, of Bispebjerg Hospital, Denmark, said: "Whilst excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems ... our study suggests that a moderate intake ... can reduce the risk of developing asthma."

How to breathe

Familiarise yourself
Take some time to get to know your breath better. Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your upper chest, close your eyes and take a big inhale through your nose, and let it out. Take note of which hand moved the most – the bottom or the top. Eighty per cent of us are upper chest breathers, 20 per cent belly breathers. Discovering which you are can help you make the most out of your breath
Upper chest breathers
 The upper chest is associated with anxiety and stress. When you start breathing from your abdomen, it induces calm. Sit back at about 45° and make sure your neck is supported. Put your hands on your abdomen and breathe through the nose, imagining there is a balloon where your abdomen is. Take a deep inhale, inflating the 'balloon’ . Feel the abdomen rise. Then let it go, and repeat. Keep doing this for five minutes. If you find it an effort, put a book flat on your abdomen for a bit of weight, and breathe to push the book away. I use Harry Potter because it’s so heavy

Source  - Telegraph

Car fumes 'raise heart attack risk

Breathing in heavy traffic fumes can trigger a heart attack, say UK experts.
Heart attack risk is raised for about six hours post-exposure and goes down again after that, researchers found.
They say in the British Medical Journal that pollution probably hastens rather than directly cause attacks.
But repeated exposure is still bad for health, they say, substantially shortening life expectancy, and so the advice to people remains the same - avoid as far as is possible.
Prof Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, said: "This large-scale study shows conclusively that your risk of having a heart attack goes up temporarily, for around six hours, after breathing in higher levels of vehicle exhaust."

Source  - BBC

Garden therapy could bear fruit for dementia care

Dementia patients across the country may be spending 24 hours a day locked in hospital wards - an unacceptable regime even for convicted prisoners. And there is concern too many people with dementia are kept under a chemical cosh - powerful drugs used to control behaviour.
But now growing numbers of experts say access to the outdoors, and physical activity such as gardening, could transform life for patients with conditions such as Alzheimer's or dementia.
Donald Stewart, 79, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago. His wife raised the alarm when he was becoming more and more forgetful. When a psychiatrist sent him for a brain scan, it confirmed he had the condition.
He has been gardening at the Potager Garden - a community garden in Kinross - for more than a year.

Source  -BBC

Two cups of coffee every day 'may cut stroke risk'

Just two cups of coffee a day can significantly reduce the risk of stroke, research shows.
Experts have previously been divided over the drink, with some suggesting the beverage is a dangerous stimulant, and others that it could save lives.  But a comprehensive analysis of the health benefits of coffee has confirmed it can have a powerful preventative effect against one of Britain’s biggest killers.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, pooled results of earlier studies to find a definitive answer.  They gathered statistics from eight studies surveying nearly half-a-million people, carried out from the mid 1960s to 2011.

Source  - Daily Mail

Alcohol DOES give you cancer, say scientists

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of cancer because ethanol is itself a carcinogen on certain parts of the body, scientists have found.
Researchers said they found that when ethanol is broken down by the body, it can cause DNA damage that may lead to dangerous changes to the cells.
The U.S team from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Maryland, used human cells engineered to produce an enzyme that is found in liver and breast tissue.
They exposed the cells to a concentration of alcohol similar to blood alcohol levels attained after having a few drinks on a night out. The results confirmed that the alcohol (ethanol) was being converted to acetaldehyde, causing DNA damage and switching on the cell's DNA repair genes.

Source  - Daily Mail

Eating seeds could 'reduce risk of dying from breast cancer

Eating flaxseeds can help cut the risk of dying from breast cancer later in life by 40 per cent, scientists claim.
Foods including seeds, wheat and vegetables contain special plant compounds called phytoestrogens, the most important of which are lignans. Scientists found these compounds kill off cancer cells and prevent Flaxseeds were found to be particularly high in lignans. They can be sprinkled on cereals or salads, added to cakes or mixed in with yoghurt.
Once in the body, these phytoestrogens attach to oestrogen, the female sex hormone, and are thought to help protect against cancer.
German researchers analysed blood samples of over 1,000 women diagnosed with premenopausal breast cancer over a three year period.
They analysed levels of enterolactone, which is what phytoestrogens become when they enter the bowel.

Source  - Daily Mail

Want to be happier and slimmer? Get up earlier

The next time you are tempted to hit the snooze button on your alarm clock, hold fire.

Research suggests that early risers are slimmer, happier and healthier than those who get up later in the day. Worst off are night owls, with late nights seemingly taking their toll on health and happiness.
Roehampton University researchers quizzed almost 1,100 men and women about their health and sleeping habits.

An apple or pear a day keeps strokes at bay

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables with white flesh may help to protect against strokes, says a study in the journal Stroke.
But Dutch researchers say they do not know why people with a high intake of apples, pears, bananas or cauliflower reduce their risk of stroke by 52%. The study followed more than 20,000 adults over 10 years.
Stroke experts said people should not be put off eating other colours of fruit and veg.
At the start of the study, carried out in The Netherlands, participants were asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire on diet and lifestyle for the previous year. By using this information and tracking the health of participants over the next decade, researchers were able to examine the link between the colour of fruit and vegetables consumed and stroke risk.
The study found that a 25g per day increase in white fruits and vegetables was linked to a 9% lower risk of stroke. Of the white fruit and veg eaten, over half was apples and pears. An average apple weighs 120g.
But no link was found between stroke incidence and green (dark leafy vegetables, cabbages and lettuces) orange/yellow (mostly citrus fruits) or red/purple fruits and vegetables.

Source  - BBC

Spicing up broccoli with wasabi or horseradish makes it an even better cancer-buster

Spicing up broccoli with  horseradish or wasabi can enhance the vegetable’s  cancer-fighting properties, according to researchers.
Scientists say overcooking  broccoli instead of lightly steaming it affects its cancer-fighting properties, but these can be revived by adding horseradish or the spicy Japanese equivalent, both of which contain the enzyme myrosinase.
Professor Elizabeth Jeffery, a nutritionist at Illinois University, said spicing up broccoli increased absorption in the upper part of the digestion system, boosting its impact.
She said: ‘Spice up your broccoli with mustard, horseradish or wasabi. The spicier, the better.’
In the study, when fresh broccoli sprouts were eaten with broccoli powder, the scientists measured bioactive compounds in the blood 30 minutes later. 

Source  - Daily Mail 

Poor diets may be to blame for 'allergy' boom

The thought of a latte or milkshake brings many people out in a cold sweat because they are convinced they are allergic to dairy. But researchers say most people who think they have such an allergy or are lactose intolerant are mistaken.
Many people who claim to react to the proteins in milk or the sugar lactose are simply stressed or may be eating too much fatty food.
Professor Peter Whorewell, a gastroenterologist at the Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, told Mail Online: 'We see quite a few people who think they are either allergic or intolerant of milk and it is quite a difficult one to sort out. I often think that it is the fat in the milk rather than the milk itself that can cause trouble and we do see people who seem to be OK on skimmed milk.   We also see a lot of people who have changed to soya milk based on the belief that they are milk intolerant and we often encourage them to go back on milk again to check up on this.  However, it is sometimes quite difficult to persuade people to change their ways once they are convinced a food is upsetting them.'

Vitamin B trial offers hope to cut dementia

Scientists are hoping to start a nationwide clinical trial next year involving 1,000 elderly people across Britain to see whether taking vitamin B supplements can reduce the chances of developing senile dementia.
Research published last year on 270 men and women with mild cognitive impairment showed that a pill containing high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid can significantly reduce the chances of brain shrinkage over two years.
Scientists hope that using dietary supplements to improve mild cognitive impairment, which is associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease, might delay the onset of dementia. 

Study reveals laughter really is the best medicine

People feel less pain after a good laugh, because it may cause the body to release chemicals that act as a natural painkiller, research has suggested.
The researchers at the University of Oxford also think the ability to belly laugh was unique to early humans. This, they believe, enabled our ancestors to form much larger tribal groupings than the ape-like species that lived alongside them.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The experimenters first tested the pain thresholds of volunteers. They were then split into two groups, with one being shown 15 minutes of comedy videos, while the other was shown material the researchers deemed boring - such as golfing programmes.
The researchers found that those subjects that had recently experienced belly laughs were able to withstand up to 10% more pain than they had done before watching the videos. To their surprise, the scientists also found that the other group was less able to bear pain after watching 15 minutes of the "boring" programmes.

Source  - BBC

Fish oils block chemotherapy drug

Fats found in fish oil supplements can stop chemotherapy drugs working, according to researchers.
Writing in the journal Cancer Cell, they advise cancer patients not to take the supplements. The two fatty acids involved, which are also produced by stem cells in the blood, lead to tumours becoming immune to treatment.

Cancer Research UK advised patients to ask their doctor whether they would be affected. Scientists in the Netherlands were investigating how tumours develop resistance to treatments.

Source  - BBC

The mental illness industry is medicalising normality

In 2000 the World Health Organisation named depression as the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease and predicted that by 2020 it would rise to second place. I suppose WHO didn't mean it to sound like a target to be aimed for, but we seem to be rising to the challenge in any case.

A new survey from the European College of Psychopharmacology, a meta-analysis of a gathered mass of earlier research, reports that a staggering 164.8 million Europeans – 38.2% of the population – suffer from a mental disorder  in any year. As well as depression, this includes neural disorders such as dementia and Parkinson's; childhood problems from ADHD to "conduct disorder"; and the leading anxiety disorders – everything from panic attacks to obsessive-compulsive disorder to shyness. Depression and anxiety, they tell us, are disproportionately women's ailments. Men, it seems, become alcoholics (another illness category) rather than depressives, particularly in eastern Europe.

Such reports are worrying. They may draw attention to a rising toll of human suffering, but they pinpoint the imperialising tendency of the mental health sector. Our ills and unhappiness are squeezed into a package labelled "disorder" and an ever-proliferating assortment of supposedly objective diagnostic categories. A cure is somehow promised, though it rarely seems to come, certainly not for everyone or for ever.

Source  - Guardian

Annoying? Yoga? Surely not

In addition to being somewhat crazy – a shrink once diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder, which I thought was a bit of a stretch until I realised that, like everyone else, he just wanted to have sex with me – I am a yoga teacher. Should you, recoiling in horror as you read this, find yourself asking, "But how does someone like this become a yoga teacher?", the short answer is that I gave a man with a beard and his hot wife $3,200. The long answer is … well, I'd like to say that it's because if I hadn't become obsessed with yoga I'd probably be dead, because that's what people always say about things like this. But that would be, frankly, a little overdramatic. Let's just say that if I didn't do yoga everything bad about me would just be worse, and what is bad is already bad enough.
Now, because you can't get something for nothing, there's a problem: yoga can be extremely annoying. There's no getting around it. Yoga has moments of such profound annoyingness that after I finished Eat, Pray, Love (I read the ashram section 100 times) all I could think was: "You wrote an entire book about yoga and meditation and you never mentioned, 'Oh, by the way, sometimes you will want to punch these people in the face'."
And this is where I perform my public service; in yoga we call that a seva (how annoying is that?). All the stuff Elizabeth Gilbert was too high on homemade pizza and Javier Bardem penis to mention, you need to know. Everyone's always telling you how great yoga is, and that's true, but then you go and maybe the studio smells like onions steamed in cat pee, and it might have been helpful to know about that beforehand.

Source  - Guardian

British flowers are the source of a new cancer drug

The search for more effective cancer treatments may soon harness the healing power of the Autumn crocus.

Researchers are poised to start clinical trials with a new "smart bomb" treatment, derived from the flower, targeted specifically at tumours. The treatment, called colchicine, was able to slow the growth of and even completely "kill" a range of different cancers, in experiments with mice. The research was highlighted at the British Science Festival in Bradford.

The team behind it, from the Institute for Cancer Therapeutics (ICT) at the University of Bradford, has published the work in the journal Cancer Research.

The native British Autumn crocus, otherwise known as "meadow saffron" or "naked lady", is recorded in early herbal guides as a treatment for inflammation. This is because it contains the potent chemical colchicine, which is known to have medicinal properties, including anti-cancer effects.

But colchicine is toxic to other tissues in the body, as well as cancer, so until now its use has been limited.
The researchers at ICT have now altered the colchicine molecule so it is inactive in the body until it reaches the tumour. Once there, the chemical becomes active and breaks up the blood vessels supplying the tumour, effectively starving it.

Source  - BBC

A drink a day 'is good for older women's health'

Women who enjoy an alcoholic drink in the evening tend to be healthier as they move into old age, research shows.
This nightcap could be a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a single measure of spirit, PLoS Medicine journal reports. A study of 14,000 women concluded that those who drink in moderation were far more likely to reach 70 in good health than heavier drinkers or abstainers. Spreading consumption over the week is better than saving it for the weekend, the researchers say. Women who drank little and often fared better than occasional drinkers.
Compared with non-drinkers, women in their mid-50s who drank 15-30g of alcohol (one to two drinks) a day had a 28% greater likelihood of achieving what the US researchers call "successful ageing", meaning good general health free of conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease in their 70s and beyond.

Source  - BBC