Little pill, big trouble

Over and over again, the doctor told her she was being silly. But Gemma knew there was something wrong. She’d fall asleep on the sofa and couldn’t be woken. She’d see strange shapes and colours. She was having difficulties remembering things in the office. And yet every time she saw the doctor, he would say the same thing: you’re just a young girl, panicking.
Eventually, they found tumours on her brain, and they grew and spread. They tried chemotherapy. She felt sick. She gained four stone in four weeks. Her hair fell out over one weekend. She had to lift her eyelids with her finger to see. She had a wheelchair, a stick. Her bowels stopped moving. Her sight was so bad she couldn’t watch television or read. So she just lay there.
Then, in October 1995, the oncologist visited her hospital bed. “These are your options,” he said. “You can stay here, you can go to a hospice or you can go home.” Gemma was groggy; confused. She thought, well, let me think: sick people go to hospital, dying people go to a hospice, fit people go home.
“I’ll take home.” “Well,” said the doctor. “You’ve got those little pills and you’ve got Him up there. Make sure you have a happy Christmas.” It took Gemma a while to realise that this was her doctor’s way of telling her the cancer was, in fact, terminal.
Despite her dark prognosis, she carried on taking the “little pills” her oncologist had mentioned with a gently patronising smile. They’d been given to her by a homeopath recommended by her sister-in-law – she went out of politeness, really. But the more she took, the better she felt. At Christmas, her eyelids opened up. Her sight returned. A year later, she saw her oncologist. He wrote in his notes: “Gemma has made a remarkable recovery. Her case will remain a mystery.” But it wasn’t a mystery to Gemma, who has been telling me her story in the front room of her modest Sutton Coldfield house over the past hour. Gemma Hoefkens believes those little homeopathic pills had not only saved her life but changed it. She’s now a practising homeopathist who claims not to have been to the doctor for years.

Source  - Telegraph

Why fish is good for your brain

Eating oily fish such as salmon and trout can significantly improve your memory say scientists.
A new study found that a fatty acid found in fish and seafood can boost memory function by 15 per cent. Scientists are now highlighting the importance of a fish-rich diet for maintaining optimal brain health and preventing the onset of dementia.
Over a six month period 176 healthy adults were given supplements containing DHA - an Omega-3 fatty acid found in foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, prawns and mussels. During this time memory and cognitive function were assessed and compared to a placebo group. After treatment, memory, working memory and speed of working memory all showed significant improvements.
It is believed that DHA could be key in preventing Alzheimer's disease, one of the most common forms of dementia, characterised by a decline in mental abilities, such as memory and reasoning and often associated with increasing age.
Lead researcher Professor Welma Stonehouse of Massey University in New Zealand said: 'This is the first robust study to show that a DHA-rich supplement can improve some aspects of memory functioning in young healthy adults.'

Source  - Independent

Scientists question if wi-fi laptops can damage sperm

Scientists are questioning if using wi-fi on a laptop to roam the internet could harm a man's fertility, after lab work suggested ejaculated sperm were significantly damaged after only four hours of exposure.
The benchside tests showed sperm were less able to swim and had changes in the genetic code that they carry.
Experts stress this does not mean the same would occur in a real-life setting and say men should not worry unduly. But they are recommending more studies.
The preliminary research, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, looked at semen samples from 29 healthy donors. Each donor sample was separated out into two pots. One of these pots was then stored for four hours next to a laptop that was wirelessly connected to the internet. The other was stored under identical conditions, minus the laptop.
The scientists, from Argentina and the US, suspect that the effect seen is unrelated to the heat kicked out by a laptop, although heat can damage sperm.

Source  - BBC

Probiotic drinks that tame irritable bowels

For the first time in three years, Lynette McMeekin is looking forward to her staff Christmas party.
Previously, the nurse from Newcastle has declined the invitation — bloating and pain caused by her irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) made the idea of socialising unthinkable.
‘It left me feeling so bloated and exhausted that all I could manage was to go to work, do the odd bit of shopping and come home,’ says Lynette, 53, who has an adult son. ‘And I was so bloated that when I was at work I often felt embarrassed even walking across the ward.’
Around one in five people in Britain are affected by IBS, thought to be caused by a sensitive gut.  But Lynette’s symptoms were eased by a new drink containing ‘friendly’ bacteria, suggested to her by a colleague.
‘My attitude was “Not another probiotic!”, but I decided to give it a go,’ says Lynette. After a few months the bloating and discomfort have gone.  The drink she tried has just been the subject of a large British trial — one of the first to show convincingly that probiotics can make a difference to health.

Source  - Daily Mail

Dreaming 'eases painful memories’

Scientists have used scans to shed more light on how the brain deals with the memory of unpleasant or traumatic events during sleep.
The University of California, Berkeley team showed emotional images to volunteers, then scanned them several hours later as they saw them again.
Those allowed to sleep in between showed less activity in the areas of the brain linked to emotion. Instead, the part of the brain linked to rational thought was more active.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, said it showed the links between dreams and memory.
Most people have to deal with traumatic events at some point in their lives, and, for some, these can produce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), leaving them emotionally disturbed long after the event itself.

Source  - BBC

Meditation really is good for the brain

Meditation could help temper the symptoms of ADHD and Alzheimer's scientists say.
A groundbreaking study has revealed that the ancient relaxation technique can switch off areas of the brain associated with a range of psychiatric disorders.
It is now hoped that the findings will shed light on how neurological diseases work and prompt the development of effective treatment.
Past research has shown meditation, which has become increasingly popular over recent years, has helped people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis.
But scientists at Yale University now believe it can help people to stay focused and boost happiness, slowing down the onset of dementia.
Lead researcher Judson Brewer said: 'Meditation's ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years. Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one's own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect.'

Source  - Daily Mail

Training your brain to be happy... the key to a longer life

Is there a person on the planet who doesn’t want to be happy? Probably not. After all, happiness makes life more pleasant. And studies show that contented humans live longer than miserable ones, and are less inclined to turn to crime and much more likely to form relationships.
Happiness is a hot topic. Various governments, including our own, are bent on measuring it. This is because they’ve woken up to scientific claims that happy adults are more productive – and are therefore good for the economy.
But isn’t it unnatural to be happy all the time? As one of my depressed clients recently asked: ‘Aren’t I entitled to be sad if I want to be?’
Of course, in her case her illness meant that, at first, she was very resistant to treatment – psychotherapy takes hard work and some tough self-examination. But it did make me think: should we just accept unhappiness as a natural state of being?
The answer is no. True happiness is not about being perpetually chirpy. But neither does it have much to do with the momentary ecstasy we might feel when our team scores a goal, or we make an impulse buy of some lovely shoes.
It’s about a deeper sense of contentment and, and about valuing ourselves, and others. It’s also about looking for positives in situations, and feeling confident that we have the resilience to deal with life’s reverses. And this, I believe, is achievable for all.

Source  - Daily Mail 

Antibiotics can't cure colds – but a placebo may

The news that doctors are under pressure to prescribe antibiotics for colds and flu offers a tremendous opportunity to make complementary medicine work for us all. The Health Protection Agency has just released a survey showing that antibiotics are overprescribed because the public believes they will cure colds and flu.
The problem with antibiotics for colds and flu is not just that they don't work. If that were all, they would be only a waste of money. But the long-term danger is that they will spread antibiotic resistance, which really would kill very large numbers of people. The spread of organisms like MSRA in inadequately cleaned hospitals could lead us back to the state that prevailed for most of history, where a hospital was where you went to die, not to get well. A European report reckons that antibiotic resistance could soon cost €1.5bn to combat.
The view we have today that medicine works the way that magic ought to is pretty new. The expectation that doctors will cure us has only really taken root in the last 50 years, and although it is often wonderfully well-justified, it brings its own problems. A huge amount of any GP's time is taken up with people who are unhappy and perhaps unwell, but for whom no medicine exists.

Source  - Guardian

An apple or a few vitamin pills a day?

Every day I do something that, among my medical colleagues, would raise a few eyebrows. I bet lots of you do it, too. Each morning, I take a fistful of supplements. It started off innocently enough – a multivitamin while I was recovering from flu a few years ago. More recently, I noticed a funny creaking sound in the vicinity of my knees. Imagining my future life in a wheelchair (despite the reassurance of a rheumatologist friend), I started on the cod liver oil capsules. After that, it was the slippery slope to ginseng, then vitamin B complex, and garlic. And, of course, where would I be without my echinacea? In bed, nursing a life-threatening cold, no doubt.
The scientific evidence would suggest that as I eat a (fairly) balanced diet and I’m not infirm, pregnant or alcoholic, there is absolutely no need for me to take any form of nutritional supplement. Countless studies have shown that they make absolutely no difference, except to your wallet.
In addition, there is evidence emerging that excessive quantities of supplements can, in fact, do harm. Last week, we were told that high levels of vitamin D – which many post-menopausal women take with calcium to fend off osteoporosis – may increase the risk of a heart condition, atrial fibrillation, by two‑and-a-half times. This got me thinking about the nation’s penchant for pill-popping. That we need vitamins and minerals is not in dispute. That we need them from a bottle is what scientists would challenge.

Source  - Telegraph

Honey: The 'bee penicillin' that could even beat MRSA

It is often hailed as a natural, healthy sweetener – but in most cases, honey bought from supermarkets today is simply sugar syrup with no nutritional value at all. To reap the true benefits of what was dubbed ‘the food of the gods’ by the Ancient Greeks, you have to look for the raw variety.


Perfectly clear honey has usually undergone a process of ultrafiltration and pasteurisation, which involves heating and passing it through a fine mesh, to ensure it remains runny at any temperature. This strips away many of the unique chemicals and compounds that make it a nutritious and healing health food.
There is no law that requires a beekeeper or factory to specify whether the honey is raw. Non-EU honeys are often treated with the antibiotic chloramphenicol, a substance that can be dangerous to pregnant mothers.  Chinese honey was banned from being imported to EU member countries in 2002 for precisely this reason.

Source  - Daily Mail

Sea salt health claims 'flawed'

Rock and sea salt is no different to ordinary table salt, despite claims it is natural and more healthy, say consumer groups.
Research for Which? and Consensus Action on Salt and Health found no difference in chemical content between regular salt and costly gourmet brands. Manufacturers dispute the report saying it does not give the full picture.
Most UK adults eat too much salt, far above the recommended guideline of about a teaspoon a day. Eating a diet high in salt is linked with high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke, heart failure and heart disease.
The research analysed the chemical content of several gourmet brands of sea and rock salt, and compared this with ordinary table salt.

Source  - BBC

Mirror trick could ease arthritis

A simple trick makes it appear as if the sufferer's arthritic joints has been replaced by healthier ones, causing the brain to believe it is less stiff and painful.
The technique, which has also been used to help amputees overcome "phantom limb" pain, could help millions of sufferers relieve the symptoms of arthritis without the need for more drugs.
In a small study, researchers from the University of California in San Diego helped eight patients reduce their pain by an average of one-and-a-half points on a ten-point scale after just a minute of treatment.
The results, announced at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington DC, have not been peer-reviewed but could provide a simple alternative to steroids or painkillers. Treating a patient with arthritis in their right hand, the researchers asked them to place it on a table and blocked it from view using an upright mirror. 

How magnets can help the body fight off prostate cancer

A prostate cancer treatment that uses a magnetic force to help the body's own cells kill tumours is being developed by scientists.

They say it would be particularly effective for the most advanced forms of the disease for which there are few drugs available.

Unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the treatment can kill cancerous cells without harming healthy tissue – which is what causes side effects such as extreme tiredness, nausea and hair loss.
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. There are around 37,000 new cases a year and 10,700 deaths. But there are few treatments for patients in the most advanced stages and the currently available drugs will only extend life for a few extra months.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are developing a treatment that uses magnetic particles to help the body's white blood cells kill tumours.

Source  - Daily Mail

Parkinson's disease symptoms 'can be improved by teaching patients to regulate their brains'

Patients with early-stage Parkinson's disease may be able to improve their symptoms by learning to regulate their brains, a study suggests.
A group of five patients were able to increase their motor speed by monitoring magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their own brain activity as they carried out a finger-tapping task. After a time, they had learned to alter activity in specific parts of the brain affected by Parkinson's. Similar biofeedback techniques have previously been used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and combat chronic pain.
Study leader Professor David Linden, from the University of Cardiff, said: 'This is the first time that this neurofeedback technique has been used with patients with Parkinson's disease.
'Self-regulation of brain activity in humans based on real-time feedback is emerging as a powerful technique. In this study, we assessed whether patients with Parkinson's disease are able to alter their brain activity to improve their motor function. We found that the five patients who received neurofeedback were able to increase activity in brain networks important for movements and that this intervention resulted in an overall improvement in motor speed - in this case, finger tapping.'

Source  - Daily Mail

Q&A: Edzard Ernst on alternative medicine

Steve Jobs’ tragic death may have added a new urgency to Edzard Ernst’s work. In October 2003, when Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he turned not to conventional medicine but acupuncture, macrobiotic diets, and visits to a spiritualist, delaying surgery some doctors suspect could have saved his life. About ten years before that diagnosis, Ernst—an award-winning, U.K.-based physician—began establishing an evidence base for alternative therapies. Since then, Ernst has become the world’s first professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, founded two academic journals on the topic (Perfusion and Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies), and published more than 1,000 papers and over 40 books (including the recent Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial).
So far, only five per cent of the alternative therapies Ernst turned his critical gaze to have shown curative powers beyond those of a placebo. The demise of Apple’s founder, then, seems a fitting occasion to reflect on the powerful allure that alternative medicine holds—even for the geniuses among us. “My first thought was, ‘How tragic,’ and the second, ‘When will we learn the lesson?’” said Ernst. “People—even if they are smart—are all too easily misled to do the most stupid things, particularly with the promotion of alternative medicine being as viciously effective as it is.”

Source  - Macleans

Yoga may work better for lower back pain than conventional treatments

Doing yoga is a more effective way for people with lower back pain to become more mobile than the treatments currently offered by GPs, according to new research.
The study found that back pain sufferers recorded greater improvements in everyday physical tasks such as walking, bending down and getting dressed if they did weekly yoga sessions. Participants who had practised yoga reported enhanced function compared with those receiving standard care, even nine months after the yoga classes had finished.
Previous, smaller studies have suggested yoga could be beneficial to back pain sufferers. However, these have often involved just one teacher and have not included long-term follow-up.
Back pain is estimated to affect 80% of adults at some point in their lives, and one in five people visits their GP in any given year because of it. The condition, defined as chronic if it lasts longer than six weeks, is the second most common cause of long-term disability after arthritis and second only to stress as a cause of absence from work. It costs the NHS around £1bn per year and the annual cost to the economy has been estimated at £20bn.
Existing treatment options include painkillers, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, exercise classes and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Source  - Guardian

One glass of wine a day increases risk of breast cancer:

A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University has found that women who drink just four small glasses of wine a week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15 per cent.
In Britain women are recommended to drink no more than 14 units or two small glasses of wine a day with some alcohol free days each week. Experts said the new study confirmed the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer as it is thought up to one fifth of cases are caused by drinking to excess. There are almost 50,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Britain each year.
Women who drank up to four units a day were 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not drink at all, it was found. 
Moderate drinking has been found to protect against heart disease and doctors warned women who may consider abstaining from alcohol in light of the findings that they may miss out on these benefits.
The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association was based on 106,000 nurses in America who were followed up from 1980 until 2008. 

Source  - Telegraph

Cancer-risk of well-cooked meat

It may give you pause for thought before you burn your sausages to a crisp on the barbeque.
Scientists have found that the carcinogenic risk of eating well-cooked meat may be more than twice than previously thought. It was known that frying or grilling food can cause carcinogenic food 'mutagens' on the surface.
But previous research has relied on using mice as models, basing the expected effect on humans on the effects on the rodents.
Scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that humans have certain enzymes called sulfotransferases (sult) in many part of their bodies. However, mice only have them in their livers.

Source  - Daily Mail

Handful of nuts a day can help beat belly fat

A handful of nuts a day can keep hunger at bay and beat belly fat, according to scientists.
This is the first time a link between eating nuts and higher levels of serotonin - a substance that decreases appetite, boosts happiness and improves heart health - has been detected.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona say that it only took one ounce of raw and unpeeled walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts a day to produce the positive health effects.
It is hoped the findings, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, will benefit patients with metabolic syndrome (MetS) which is characterised by excess abdominal fat, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
Dietary changes along with the regular consumption of nuts, which contain healthy fats and antioxidants, may help patients shed excess weight, decreasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The team led by Cristina Andris-Lacueva in collaboration with the Human Nutrition Unit of the Rovira i Virgili University said: 'An increased excretion of serotonin metabolites was associated for the first time with nut consumption.'

Source  - Daily Mail

Sitting around can increase risk of breast and colon cancer

Sitting around can increase your risk of cancer, say scientists.
A major study, presented at the at the American Institute for Cancer Research annual conference, has revealed a strong connection between inactivity and unregulated cell growth.
Researchers say that 92,000 cases a year of breast and colon cancer can be attributed to lack of exercise and are now urging people to get fit, interdepersing every hour of sitting with one to two minutes of activity.
Lead researcher Christine Friedenreich, of Alberta Health Services Cancer Care in Canada, presented findings from a new paper, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, on physical activity and cancer risk.
An assessment of post-menopausal women confirmed that taking brisk daily walks helps to reduce several key biological indicators of cancer risk, including sex hormone levels, insulin resistance, inflammation and body fatness.

Source  - Daily Mail

Children with low levels of zinc may be at higher risk of autism

Children who are low in zinc may be at higher risk of autism.
A study found that large numbers of children with autism and related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome were deficient in the mineral, which is found in meat, bread and dairy products. The researchers said their finding provided hope for the treatment and prevention of autism.
But British experts say it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions from the study – and people should not rush out to stock up on zinc supplements.
Autism and related conditions affect more than one in 100 British children – ten times more than just 30 years ago – but the condition is still little understood. 
In the latest study, researchers in Tokyo measured levels of zinc in the hair of almost 2,000 children with autism and related conditions.

Source  - Daily Mail