Why cinnamon is good for you

Few aromas are quite as seductive, or as warmly enveloping, as that of cinnamon, the fragrant bark of the eponymous tropical tree. Just half a teaspoon added to cakes, biscuits or puddings fills the kitchen with an intoxicating scent guaranteed to stimulate the appetite and raise the spirits.
One of the most versatile spices, and therefore a store-cupboard essential, cinnamon can take you on a savoury journey through the Levant, Africa, China and the Indian subcontinent, adding fragrance to stews, curries, and rice dishes; or down a sweeter northern European trail, where it is dangerously effective at transforming a pile of flour and sugar into something utterly addictive. It's easy to overdose on cinnamon simply because it is so pungent, so use it with restraint, or you may be put off it for life.
Why is cinnamon good for me?
A well-used spice in Indian ayurvedic medicine, recent research confirm its healing properties. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that consumption of cinnamon can significantly reduce blood pressure, particularly in people diagnosed as pre-diabetic or type 2 diabetic. Cinnamon seems also to have a beneficial impact of blood-sugar levels, possibly because it aids glucose control by enhancing the effectiveness of insulin. Cinnamon also kills off bacteria that cause gum disease. In Sri Lanka, cinnamon sticks are used as toothpicks.

Eating nuts during pregnancy is safe, new research suggests

Advice to pregnant women to avoid eating nuts may have been not only misleading but at odds with the potential benefits for offspring of doing so, according to research that has found children could be less likely to develop nut allergies if their mothers eat nuts during pregnancy.
The study of more than 8,000 children in the US found that those with non-allergic mothers who ate nuts five times a week or more during pregnancy turned out to have the lowest risk of peanut or tree nut (P/TN) allergies. A British expert said that while the results of the study were interesting, they contradicted other studies that have shown either no effect of nut consumption during pregnancy or suggested a possible risk from increased consumption.
"To make things even more complicated, there is also strong evidence to suggest that nut allergy doesn't develop until after birth and that it is exposure of the infant's skin to nut protein that is most important in the development of allergy," said Dr Adam Fox, consultant children's allergist at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS foundation trust.
"With such differing results from different studies, it is currently impossible to offer advice about exactly what mothers should do regarding nut consumption during pregnancy, but current international guidance is that there is no need to either avoid nuts, nor to actively eat them."

Can acupuncture in your ear help you lose weight?

There's hope if Christmas over-indulgence leaves you with an unsightly spare tyre – because acupuncture on the ear will banish it,  say researchers.
They found it helped overweight people slim down within eight weeks, especially around the midriff. One treatment, which involves inserting needles 2mm deep on five points around the outer ear, was particularly effective at tackling a bulging waistline. But even targeting one spot termed the ‘hunger’ point produced results, they said.
Participants in a two-month study saw their body mass index (BMI) drop by up to 6 per cent and also had less body fat and a smaller waist, says a report published online in the journal Acupuncture in MedicineSo-called auricular acupuncture therapy is based on the understanding that the outer ear represents all parts of the body.
It was first used in France in 1956 by Dr Paul Nogier, who noticed that a patient’s backache was cured following a burn to the ear. In the UK, acupuncture may be offered as traditional Chinese therapy using needles at certain points on the body to boost energy or in a Westernised form of electro-stimulation to release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
Researchers at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea tested the traditional method on 91 overweight adults, who were all put on the same diet.

Source  - Daily Mail

Pesticides 'could harm brain development of unborn babies'

Pesticides linked to declines in bee populations may also affect human health and harm the brain development of unborn babies, European safety experts have said.
Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) called for further limits on human exposure to two chemicals following research on rats.
One of the pesticides, imidacloprid was associated with brain shrinkage, and reduced activity in nerve signals in newborn rats, while the other, acetamiprid led to reduced weight and reaction times.
The two chemicals are neonicotinoids, designed to attack the nervous system of insects. Three such pesticides are subject to a two-year temporary ban throughout the European Union because of concerns that they are harming bee populations, with major implications for the pollination of plants and crops.
Experts found that the chemicals “may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory," an EFSA statement said. “Some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced.”

Vitamin pills are a waste of money

Vitamin pills are a waste of money, usually offer no health benefits and could even be harmful, a group of leading scientists has said.
A study of nearly 500,000 people, carried out by academics from the University of Warwick and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, has delivered a damning verdict on the claims made by the vitamin supplement industry.
Evidence from the study suggested that "supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults...has no clear benefit and might even be harmful", despite one in three Britons taking vitamins or mineral pills.
According to The Times, scientists involved in the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that companies selling supplements were fuelling false health anxieties to offer unnecessary cures. The industry in the UK is thought to be worth more than £650 million annually.
Researchers declared 'case closed' on the vitamin and mineral pills after making their conclusion based on the study of half-a-million people along with three separate research papers.

Apple-a-day call for all over-50s

If everyone over the age of 50 ate an apple a day, 8,500 deaths from heart attacks and strokes could be avoided every year in the UK, say researchers.
Apples would give a similar boost to cardiovascular health as medicines, such as statins, yet carry none of the side-effects, the University of Oxford researchers say in the BMJThey base their assumptions on modelling, not direct scientific study.
Any fruit should work, but getting people to comply could be challenging. More than two-thirds of adults do not eat the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, population surveys suggest. And although nine in 10 of us do manage to eat at least one portion a day, Dr Adam Briggs and colleagues, from the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University, say we would all benefit from eating more. By their calculations, if adults of all ages could manage to eat an extra portion of fruit or veg a day, as many as 11,000 vascular deaths could be averted each year.

Does eating greens give dads healthier babies?

Finally it is the turn of prospective fathers to be told what to eat – men who want to be dads should ramp up their intake of green vegetables and cut out junk food. A study published in Nature Communications found that fathers with a diet deficient in folate (found in greens such as spinach, sprouts and broccoli) were more likely to have offspring with abnormalities of the head, face and sternum (breastbone) and a build-up of fluid on the brain.
The researchers linked their findings to changes in regions of sperm DNA that are altered by folate. They also found chemical changes in the DNA of genes associated with the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. But before you start storming the vegetable aisle – the study wasn't conducted on humans. The folate-deficient fathers were mice. And although their poor mouslings had nearly 10 times as many abnormalities as those with daddy mice who had eaten their greens, there is no evidence that men who are folate deficient do any harm to their offspring. But while there is no proven link, might such a study make you think twice before refusing that extra helping of sprouts?

Exercise 'better than drugs for stroke and heart disease patients'

Exercise could be better than drugs to combat life-threatening illnesses, a study reveals.
The large-scale investigation found doctors had a better chance of preventing death in patients recovering from a heart attack or stroke by prescribing light fitness instead of pills.
It is the first time scientists have compared the benefits of exercise with heart medication such as statins and beta blockers.

Examining data on 340,000 patients who had been diagnosed with heart disease, chronic heart failure, a stroke or diabetes, the findings published in the British Medical Journal have been touted as revolutionary.

Researchers analysed previous studies and found no marked change between the outcome of exercise and drugs for people who have diabetes or heart disease. For stroke victims, the research swung overwhelmingly in favour of exercise, showing it was far more likely to prevent death than drugs.

The study leader Huseyin Naci, of LSE Health and Harvard Medical School, said more people are consuming prescription drugs but far fewer are exercising.

Source  - Daily Mail

People who drink alcohol outlive those who abstain, study shows

A contentious study is suggesting people who drink regularly live longer than those who completely abstain from drinking.
Research published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found those who did not consume any alcohol appeared to have a higher mortality rate, regardless of whether they were former heavy drinkers or not, than those who drank heavily.
Instead, ‘moderate’ drinking, defined as one to three drinks per day, was associated with the lowest mortality rate, according to Business Insider.
A team led by Charles Holahan, a psychologist at the University of Texas followed 1,824 participants over two decades. They conceded the gender ratio of participants was disproportionate as sixty-three per cent of participants were male. All of the individuals were aged between 55 and 65.
Sixty-nine per cent of the participants who abstained from drinking alcohol died during the 20 year observation period, in comparison to 60 per cent of the heavy drinkers. Only 41 per cent of moderate drinkers died within this time frame.

Why sprout tops are good for you

Even to the most hardened brussels sprouts dodgers, sprout tops – the clusters of leaves that grow at the crown of the sprouts' stalk – may come as something of a revelation. 
These elegant, curved, purple-green leaves look beautiful – like a still life painted by a Dutch old master. In taste terms, they unite the sweet, cabbage-like freshness of young spring greens with a delicate memory of brussels sprouts, but without any of the latter's sometimes testing sulphurous undertones. They cook almost instantly to a submissive silkiness.
Although they have long been a passion shared by allotment gardeners, until quite recently, sprout tops used to lie discarded in the fields after harvest, or were fed to livestock. Happily, the word is out. Sprout tops are currently one of the hottest vegetables to have on your table, and retailers and growers are beginning to appreciate their market potential. So if you remain perplexed by the pre-Christmas sprout stampede, get your hands on some of this "new" (old) vegetable instead.

Mediterranean diet key to dementia battle

Converting Britons to a Mediterranean diet should be placed at the centre of the Government’s fight against dementia, leading clinicians have said in a letter to David Cameron.
Eleven senior doctors, including Claire Gerada, former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, called for a diet rich in vegetables and low in meat to be placed at the heart of health policy.
In a letter to Mr Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, they said that improving public health would be a stronger weapon in the fight against dementia than any drug treatment. Their comments came ahead of a crucial summit in London on Wednesday, at which the G8 group of nations will meet to plan a new approach to research and treatment of the disease.The letter, signed by experts from Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Greece, calls for governments to invest more in teaching the public, including children, about the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle. There is currently no effective treatment for dementia, but the protective effect of a healthy diet is being “largely ignored”, they said.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiology registrar at Croydon University Hospital and one of the letter’s signatories, said: “We are not going to overcome the increasing burden of chronic diseases by prescribing more pills. The medical profession has itself been guilty of placing too much emphasis on drugs, the benefits of which are often grossly exaggerated and fuelled by a powerful pharmaceutical industry, who naturally wish to expand the use of their drugs for financial gain."

Why you should choose a pint over a coffee

Next time you congratulate yourself for choosing a coffee over a beer, you might want to think again.
Researchers have discovered that caffeine can shorten life expectancy, while alcohol can increase it. 

Scientists at Tel Aviv University found that caffeine shortens, and alcohol lengthens, telomeres – the end parts of chromosomal DNA. Just as the plastics tips of shoelaces prevent fraying, telomeres keep chromosomes stable and prevent deterioration when the cells containing them divide. Telomeres become shorter as a person gets older as every time a cell duplicates, the chromosomes are copied into the new cell with slightly shorter telomeres. When the telomeres become too short, the cell dies.

Shorter telomeres are associated with poor health and an increased chance of premature death.
‘For the first time we've identified a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it,’ said Professor Martin Kupiec. ‘What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases.’ The researchers set out to establish if different environmental factors had an impact on telomere length in yeast cells.

Source  - Daily Mail

Doubt cast on vitamin D's role against disease

Scientists have cast doubt on the value of vitamin D supplements to protect against diseases such as cancers, diabetes and dementia.
Writing in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, French researchers suggest low vitamin D levels do not cause ill health, although they did not look at bone diseases. More clinical trials on non-skeletal diseases are needed, they say.
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for certain groups. Recent evidence has shown it may also have a role to play in preventing non-bone-related diseases such as Parkinson's, dementia, cancers and inflammatory diseases.
 Prof Philippe Autier, from the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, carried out a review of data from 290 prospective observational studies and 172 randomised trials looking at the effects of vitamin D levels on health outcomes, excluding bone health, up to December 2012.

Why pineapple is good for you

In summer, when berries are abundant, what's the point of pineapple? Why bother wrestling with that spiky intruder when there are home-grown seasonal fruits to eat? But at this time of year, as a complement to autumn's still firm British apple and pear crop, and leafy Spanish and Moroccan citrus, sweet-sharp, heady pineapple really finds a purpose.
We now know that the pay and conditions of workers in tropical places who labour in pineapple fields are often notoriously bad – a powerful argument for buying only Fairtrade pineapples. With this guarantee, you know that the people who grew your fruit earned a living wage and received a little extra premium to use for community projects.
Let your nose be your guide to selecting a pineapple that will eat well. It should smell fragrant, but not of boiled sweets (too ripe) or dank drains (too long in storage).
Why is pineapple good for me?
Pineapple contains a compound called bromelain. The protein-digesting enzymes in it are thought to aid digestion. While not all studies agree on its effectiveness, bromelain is used worldwide as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-coagulant, and is thought to have anti-cancer properties.

Prince Charles and homeopathy: crank or revolutionary?

The Royal family has long been devoted to the practice of homeopathy - in fact, to this day, there is a court homeopath, a position that seems as anachronistic as the royal horologist or the master of the Queen’s music. The Queen’s father, George VI, was a firm convert to the cause, as was his father, George V.
Indeed, Her Majesty is not only devoted to homeopathy, which she also uses on her animals, but the broader spectrum of alternative medicine - and it is said that her avoidance of illness during her 60 years on the throne is due to supplementing her conventional medical regime with herbal remedies.
But it is Prince Charles, famously so in tune with nature that he talks to plants on his Highgrove estate, who is alternative medicine’s staunchest supporter among the Royals - and indeed one of its most enthusiastic advocates in the UK. The practice is, he told the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2006, “rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understood the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world”.
Though his interest in the subject dates back to his childhood, Charles’s public devotion to alternative medicine first became clear in an address to the British Medical Association in December 1982 on the 150th anniversary of its foundation. Charles, sitting in his study at Highgrove, was struggling for inspiration on what to say and wandered over to his bookshelf, where he picked up a tome about the 16th-century physician Paracelsus.

Alternative health: acupuncture

The successful, driven individuals who tend to come through Gerad Kite's Harley Street doors know why they are there. Or at least they think they do. “There is normally one thing that gets them here,” the 52-year-old five-element acupuncturist says with a smile. “They say, 'I’ve got backache,’ or, 'I can’t get pregnant,’ or, 'I feel depressed.’ There is a wide variety of reasons.”
But what concerns Kite, who uses the most traditional form of acupuncture, one that predates the discipline’s 20th-century Traditional Chinese Medicine incarnation by a couple of millennia, is not the symptom but the cause. “Five-element puts you back in touch with that part of yourself that lives intuitively as opposed to in a predetermined way.”
Kite argues that the way we live is making us ill. “If you want to let your life unfold in the best possible way, you need to accept that you are not in control. When people are well they live instinctively, they are not consciously engaged with everything they do.” Five-element draws on Taoist philosophy. “We are brought up to think 'yourself’ is the sum of your thoughts. But in the five-element world, your thoughts are one thing, who you are is something else. The goal is to become more aware of your true self.”

I really believe acupuncture helped me to get pregnant

The surest way to start a spat over the dinner table in strictly rational and empirical, science-worshipping Cambridge, where I live, is to say that you think complementary medicine can sometimes prove effective. It’s tantamount, in many of my friends’ eyes, to declaring yourself a congenital imbecile.
I have enormous sympathy for their views on the matter. I understand that the only proper way of proving the efficacy of a particular treatment is the use of randomised controlled trials, and that anecdotes of “miracle cures” hardly amount to serious evidence. I would be the first to admit that you never hear of anyone who requires a heart by-pass, or liver transplant, being healed by homeopathy or Reiki. I find it just as terrifying as any doctor when a cancer patient declares they’d rather not have an operation because they’re going to sit in a pyramid and meditate with crystals.
At the same time, I have a degree in English literature and I am highly suggestible, hence my fondness for Hamlet’s quote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Do supplements really help us keep healthy in the winter?

Supercharging our immune systems with supplements seems to be a national obsession, with £36 million spent annually on vitamin C alone, according to the NHS. But which supplements – if any – can help keep us healthy in the winter months? We look at the science behind the claims and ask Dr Anne Mullen, lecturer in nutrition sciences at King’s College London, to comment.
The promise: Echinacea contains phytochemicals called alkylamides, which are thought to stimulate the body’s natural immune system.
The research: Nearly 1,000 published trials on this herb, many industry-funded, have had mixed results. A big review in 2009, by the independent Cochrane Collaboration, found that echinacea had no more effect in preventing colds than a placebo. However, preparations from one particular species (echinacea purpurea) might reduce the duration and severity of colds in adults. Dr Mullen says: “Echinacea supplements come in a variety of forms, which has made it difficult to evaluate their effectiveness.”
Verdict: Not proven for prevention but echinacea purpurea extract might help reduce cold symptoms.