Monday, October 28, 2013

Cancer Council address from Harvard Experts


During the week of 23rd October, I attended a conference here in Australia run by the Cancer Council of Western Australia. The keynote speaker was Associate Profession Eva Schernhammer from Harvard Medical School where she is Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, as well as holding adjunct faculty positions at the Department of Epidemiology Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA and the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Vienna where she gained her graduate degree.
Over the past 10 years she has levied almost 10 million research dollars from NIH related to her primary interest in the relationship of circadian rhythms and melatonin to cancer risk. This work has led to the establishment in 2007, of a new classification by the World Health Organization, of shift work as a probable human carcinogen - which means that working nights over a long period of time can be a part of the process that leads to the development of cancer.
Her lecture at the conference was based around the findings of the world renowned Nurses Health Study which has been an ongoing Epidemiological research tool since its inception in 1976 - a study which has a definite Aussie flavour as one of the founding “fathers” of that study was Frank Speizer, now Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The original Nurses study recruited 121,700 nurses, and has followed them ever since with a two yearly questionnaire that still evokes a 90% response rate - a truly remarkable achievement! Initially, the researchers looked at things like the oral contraceptive pill which back then had only been commercially available for around 10 years, and was significantly stronger than the more modern combinations. They also looked at smoking, hormone replacement therapy and odd things such as hair dyes, to see if there was any link to specific health issues or risks of cancer.
In 1991, they added a dietary questionniare to their list of inquiries, and in 1993 Quality of Life was added and then in the 1990’s they started to collect blood and urine samples which are still stored in hundreds of refrigerators in the basements of their building at Harvard!
In other words they have amassed a massive amount of information which the epidemiologists have continued to crunch ever since. Many of their findings have subsequently impacted on Government Health Policies around the world, and more information will help refine our understanding of the interaction between the human body and the environment in which we live.
Cigarette smoking has been known to lead to various cancers since the mid 1960’s and this has been confirmed by the Nurses Study in women too. But it’s in the area of diet and obesity that the study has had a particular impact.
A diet rich in red or processed meat raises the risk of getting cancer.
Obesity raises the risk of breast cancer, although interestingly, if a woman loses weight after the menopause she will reduce her risk of breast cancer.
When they looked at causes of becoming overweight, the findings showed that eating potatoes, processed grains and red and processed meat were all implicated in stacking on the kilos. But a diet high in vegetables, salads, nuts and even yoghurt would help keep those kilos off.
When it comes to reducing the risks of developing cancer in women, the Nurses study showed that:
     Maintaining a good level of effective physical activity reduced cancer rates as did decreasing the amount of red and processed meat in the diet. Other factors which point to lower risks of developing cancer in women included being lean at ages 5 and 10 years and avoiding alcohol during adolescence. These last two facts need to reach consciousness in all western parts of the world where childhood obesity is such an increasing challenge, and teenage drinking is at almost epidemic proportions.
Rates of fertility were also looked at in relation to women’s weights: so having a Body Mass index between 20 and 24 was favourable for fertility, but on either side of that range, levels of fertility dropped away.
When it came to skin cancer, it’s generally thought that all sunburns are created equal and were equally dangerous. But it appears that in women at least, if you have blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 then you double the rate of risk for developing a malignant melanoma. And blistering sunburns, although very painful, were less significant after the age of 30, although they are still associated with other forms of skin cancers such as basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers. The message here is that once again we have to remind our bullet proof teenagers that alcohol and sunshine are not as great for us as the advertisers would like us to think they are.

On the up side for this now aging cohort of Nurses is the finding that the long term usage of Aspirin - greater than 20 years according to the study - is associated with a reduced incidence of colon cancer. However, before you start thinking of taking long term aspirin, you need to talk it over with your family physician, because aspirin may have been around forever, but it too has it’s drawbacks and certainly is not for everyone.

Finally Prof Schernhammer spoke briefly about her personal research into the cancer causing effects of shift work.
As we all know, we all need sleep and one of the major players in the sleep cycle  - or circadian rhythm - is melatonin which is produced and released by the pineal gland in the brain. When there’s lots of light around Melatonin production is suppressed and there is a compensatory increase in the amount of Oestrogen produced, and it is thought that this process may play a part in the increased rates for cancer to be found amongst shift workers. Across the board, Professor Schernhammer has found a 50% increase in the rate of cancers in long term shift workers.
Naturally this needs to be addressed, and their focus now is on ways of how to reduce those risks by varying the type, frequency and amount of shift work that an individual should do. And perhaps there might be a place to think of more appropriate lighting for certain workers - needless to say there is much work and research to be done, but now at least it has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a real risk for developing cancer.
The other keynote talk was by Assistant Professor Markus Frank also from the US and who is an expert in the field of Cancer Stem Cell biology. This was a really fascinating talk, but very scientific in it’s detail. What I gleaned from this very interesting man was, just like we humans, not all cancer cells are created equal either.
If you think of a cancer anywhere in the body, we have the image of “malignant” cells - nasty things just out to do us no good - a bit like a gang on the street. But not all gang members are really toxic or virulent, there’s usually a few ringleaders who stir up the most anger and cause the most damage, and it’s always best to target the ringleaders in order to control the situation. And it’s the same with cancers - Cancer Stem Cells are the ringleaders and the ones that we really need to focus on. Most cancer treatments do kill off cancer cells, but they don’t kill off the cancer stem cells and that’s why we get recurrences. The trouble is that it’s much harder to kill these cells off than you’d think. I actually sat there thinking, “how come these microscopic individual cells avoid and defeat the best - not only that our own immune system can throw at it - but the combined brain power of the best thinkers and computers that we have at our disposal!” It’s as mind baffling as it is frustrating.
The good news is that researchers are developing several approaches to target these cells and develop specific treatments based on the cancer stem cells DNA, their surface markers and their ability to generate their own blood supplies. It’s early days in the science of Cancer Stem Cells but already effective treatments are appearing in laboratory models. The battle has only just begun.
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Downs Syndrome

Click on THE LINK to download the Podcast of this article

Back in the 1960’s the British education system was the envy of the world: but it wasn’t great for everyone, especially children who had genetically inherited diseases. Those who had graduated to High School - or as the English called it, Grammar School were mainly Anglo Saxon and generally all fairly healthy. Those who suffered from genetic illnesses such as Haemophilia were admitted, yet readily identified by having to wear red armbands as a warning sign to others - but which in some cases proved to be an invitation to bullying from the less socially inclusive teenager of the time. People who suffered from other genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome - known in those times as Mongolism because of their non Anglo-Saxon facial features - were sent to special Homes where they might have been heard, but they definitely were never seen.
So we should give our current education systems a huge pat on the back for their far more enlightened attitude to “Education” in the most inclusive sense of the word. Now, whilst schools must rightly focus on improving and guiding the young mind, it must also pass on the social skills that are essential for the smooth running of our far more pluralistic society here in the 21st century. The current high school would have pupils from many different ethnic backgrounds, and most would also have students who also have physical or mental disabilities - or as some would describe them, exceptional students! And the most common disability in this group of students is Downs Syndrome.
Downs Syndrome is a genetic disease where there are three copies of the 21st chromosome and which leads to the classical features of those with the problem, which are
  • Flattened facial features
  • A Small head
  • A Short, squat neck
  • A Protruding tongue
  • Eyes that slant upwards and which are unusual for the child's ethnic group.
  • Unusually shaped ears
Children with Down syndrome may also have:
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Broad, short hands with a single crease in the palm
  • Relatively short fingers and a short thumb
  • and they’re joints are hyper-flexible
In the early part of their lives, they develop as all children do, but will often take much longer to achieve their milestones of crawling, sitting and walking. But they’re also incredibly loving children too. As they continue to grow, they will often be of shorter stature than their peers, and more likely to put on weight and to become obese.
As well as the obvious external signs of Downs syndrome, these children can also have other very real medical challenges to cope with as well. Such as
Heart defects. Approximately half the children with Down syndrome are born with some type of heart defect. These heart problems can be life-threatening and may require surgery in early infancy.
Young children with Down syndrome are more likely to develop leukemia than are other children.
Infectious diseases. Because of abnormalities in their immune systems, children with Down syndrome are much more likely to catch infections, such as influenza and pneumonia.
Dementia.  Symptoms and signs of dementia may appear before age 40 in people with Down syndrome. And not only that, those who become demented also have a higher rate of seizures.
Other problems. Down syndrome patients can also get gastrointestinal blockage, thyroid problems, early menopause, seizures, hearing loss, premature aging, skeletal problems and poor vision.
These children face huge hurdles in every facet of their lives.
But there is some good news for them: about 100 years ago the life expectancy of someone born with Downs was death before the age of 10. Nowadays, people with this genetic disease can live up to the age of 50 years and even beyond that depending on the severity of their problems.
But as well as the obvious physical differences, there are mental disabilities to deal with. And this is an area where there have been great changes both for the individual and for the community as a whole.
As I said earlier, in times past, people with Downs were often sent to special “Homes” where they were kept away from the eye of the public. Today they are integrated seamlessly into the school environment, to the betterment of all concerned. But behind the scenes, there is - or at least there should be - a team of professionals supporting the individual and their families to cope with the many problems that each child faces. This team would contain some or all of the following professionals:
  • A pediatric cardiologist
  • A pediatric gastroenterologist
  • A pediatric endocrinologist for the glandular problems
  • A developmental pediatrician
  • An audiologist
  • A physical therapist
  • A speech pathologist
  • An occupational therapist
  • A pediatric neurologist
As well as helping the child, parents need support too and thankfully there are many organizations around the world that are available to help those families and communities who are living with Downs syndrome whether as a patient, a family member or a school community.
Because Downs is a genetically based disorder, screening tests are available to parents during the first half of pregnancy to help confirm if their baby has Downs or not. Although the rate of Downs syndrome births rises as a woman ages - at 35 the risk is 1 in 400, but by the time the women is over the age of 45 the rate has risen to 1 in 35 - however, most children with Down syndrome are actually born to women under age 35, mainly because younger women have far more babies. Tests for Downs would generally include an Ultrasound and some blood tests looking at certain hormone levels - but the results of these combined tests are not 100% accurate and they do have a certain level of false positive results. The screening tests, by design, are much better at identifying women who may be at risk of having a baby with Down syndrome, rather than women who actually have a baby with Down syndrome.
If these combined ultrasound and blood tests suggest Downs is present, then confirmation requires that genetic material be gained from the infant in the womb and this necessitates a more invasive type of testing such as Amniocentesis, or Chorionic Villus Sampling. Research continues to seek a test that is accurate and non invasive.
There are often no easy options when Downs syndrome is diagnosed, but the paradox is that even though life can be pretty tough for all concerned, there are always so many great memories and so much laughter. And when that child’s life is cut short, as it sometimes is, then there is just as much an empty space left in the families’s and their communities hearts, as there is when any so called normal child dies too.
We still have so much to learn about Downs, and yet those with Downs teach us so much about how to be better people. We need them to become more human, and they need us to care for them - it’s not a bad arrangement really.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Family meal times - more than just nutrition.


Recently I read an article heralding the return of family TV viewing time! Apparently we’ve been through an era where seemingly “everyone in the family” had a TV in their own room and consequently family viewing time had gone the way of the dinosaur: but not so apparently! Now we have to thank the ever present tablets - not those of the pharmaceutical variety but rather the electronic ones - that allow each family member to watch the family wide screen whilst following friends on Facebook or, miracle of miracles, actually reading a book ...on their iPad that is.

You may gather by the tone in my voice that I am perhaps a tad cynical about such amazing advances in human interactions, but just call me old fashioned, but when it comes to spending time with family, watching TV together doesn’t come very high up my list of things to do together. Don’t get me wrong, I am a total convert to the electronic age because it’s opened up so many new horizons and spaces, but the downside is that so many of those spaces have been filled with total and absolute ... well .. rubbish.

But even the suggestion that families congregating to view a common TV is important news, and tells me that family still has a huge part to play in our society. Family is not just a group of people living together, it’s also the time when we create so many templates for our children’s future in health, education and value systems and once that period of time has passed, unfortunately we cannot go back and easily fix up the mistakes we made. And realizing that family life has such a big impact on future health is why I’m a big advocate of family meal times.

There is no doubt that we live in a frenetic era far different from earlier generations, and that’s perhaps a reflection of the far higher living standards and expectations that we now enjoy. But with the need to have a nice home and a nice car - in order to provide the best education we can for our little people, this also means that we need the cash to pay for these things and as a result, where there are two parents, both often have to work, and where there is only one the pressures are even greater - and creating the time for a daily family meal together can turn out to be a major juggling act between all the demands that young parents face. But when it is done, then the benefits are huge.

Where families frequently sit down to eat together,  the children tend to eat more vegetables and are less likely to be obese, and if obesity can be avoided then so too can all the health complications that come with it. But physical health is not the whole story. Family meals are not just about the food that we eat, there is a process that has to occur in order to prepare the food and prepare the table - and by involving the children in these activities they start to “own” and be involved in the process of service as well of being recipients of the good deeds of others.

Family meal times are an occasion where that unit of people - whatever the composition by gender, race or religion - sit and share their daily activities within the boundaries of that particularly family unit’s “family rules”. These rules are often unspoken - such as telling the truth, being kind, no bad language and not fighting or shouting at each other - whilst others may base their family rules on the Judeo-Christian ethic that has survived over 2000 years and of which GK Chesterton famously once said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and largely left untried” - which I suspect also applies to most other major world religions too!  By having such a set of family rules each person is then subject to them .. including the parents. And this can have unexpected and yet positive benefits for everyone: for example, when one of the parents has bent the rules - it might be when a child is unjustly shouted at by a parent - then at the family meal time, if the innocent party feels secure enough to point out the injustice, this can provide the occasion for the parent to apologize for getting it wrong and asking their son or daughter for forgiveness. This is a crucial lesson for a child to learn at an early age and helps them understand and accept personal responsibility for their actions - and how sorrow and forgiveness can heal an emotional injury at source and not allow it to fester into chronic guilt or resentment.

All parents of teenagers know that the teenage years are the years of chaos - and it really is not surprising as the teenage brain is continuing to make new connections during a time when their bodies are physically changing, and at the same time surging with adolescent hormones - a guaranteed recipe for long sullen pauses or inexplicable explosive reactions. If all parents were to realize that teenage development equates with chaos not entirely of their own making, then life for both parents and teenagers could be more serene. Which brings me back to family meal times.
One of the great joys of family life is that just about everyone there is of a different age group, whilst at school for 12 years of their lives, our young people are put in classes where everyone is of the same age and at the same level of life experience. Whilst preparing for, eating and cleaning up after the family meal, the group has to cooperate with people of different ages and life experience. So when the teenager says to the parent “You don’t get it do you?” ... well perhaps they do actually get it better than the teenager thinks! The important thing is to allow the youngsters to express their thoughts in a loving secure atmosphere, within the family rules, and not get a long lecture on why they are wrong, and how they should get their act together.
Family meal times allow for parents to hear whats happened to their children during that day or week and try to understand what outside influences they’ve been under when away from home. It also calls on each member to learn how to listen, as well as to have the confidence to speak out to. And it’s also that important time when issues can be completed and not carried on as hurts for weeks, months or even years. Unfortunately, children still grow up in dysfunctional families where parents continue to pass on the negative ideas and habits they learned from their parents and which still stunt their own children’s emotional development for life.
All of this is so important for the mental health of our young people as about 1 in 3 of the whole population will experience some form of mood disorder during the course of their lives, but if they have experienced the benefits of life in a stable, happy family unit, they will be better prepared to deal with such challenges if and when they arise.
Family meals are not easy to organize in these so called modern times, but they are an essential part of a healthy society - both physically and mentally - so the effort to make it happen as often as possible will be more than rewarded with happy memories and a healthier future generation.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Hay Fever: how to live with it in Springtime.


It’s October here in the southern hemisphere and after a colder than expected winter in some areas, spring has well and truly arrived with newly greened trees and wild flowers blossoming in city parks and out in the vast countryside too. Whilst in Sydney recently the temperatures reached the low 30’s and a strong swirling breeze tossed hats and papers into the air. But there was something else in the air in Sydney that was making life really miserable for literally hundreds of thousands of its occupants - pollen!

Around the world there seems to have developed the great idea that London Plain Trees are fantastic for the urban streetscape. And yes they do grow quickly, and they do grow to some tremendous sizes and yes they do provide welcome shade in the long hot summers that we all like to experience. But someone forgot to tell the planners about the enormous number of dust balls that these trees produce in spring time, and which you can see as a visible cloud being swept down streets and into the noses, eyes and ears of all pedestrians in it’s path.

Sydney was coughing and sneezing, and rubbing its collective red eyes as this onslaught of nature’s desire to reproduce its species - in this case the mighty Plain tree - invaded every exposed human mucous membrane in sight! This was hay fever on a grand scale.

But although the London plain tree may be a dramatic example of how hay fever can affect whole cities at a time, it’s certainly not the only cause of the problem - not by a long way.

Grasses are everywhere, and all of us love to spend time in a park perhaps eating our lunch under the welcome shade of a tree whilst admiring the bounty of beautiful flowers planted by accommodating City gardeners - but for many this can lead to an afternoon of sneezing and itching, and for those with asthma, it may even bring on an asthma attack.

So what is hay fever and what can we do to reduce it’s impact on us at this glorious time of year?

All plants produce pollen. It’s a part of the sexual reproductive process of all plants on this planet, and plant pollen is the equivalent of our human male sperm cells. We males of the species will produce millions of sperm in the attempt to fertilze one female egg. Plants do a similar thing but in a much more public way - especially in the case of the London Plain tree - and plants do it on a massive scale! Amazingly, scientists have collected samples of ragweed pollen 400 miles out at sea and 2 miles high in the air. And it’s usually these prolific, allergy-causing plants that produce pollen in such huge quantities. For example, a single ragweed plant can generate a million grains of pollen every day. With all those pollen particles looking for someone to love, problems will invariably arise.

One zoologist humorously expressed the cause of hay fever in this way, “ he said that what the pollen is attempting to do is actually trying to mate with the inside of your nose”
The result of this plant human interaction is that our bodies rapidly respond to this foreign plant based protein invader and set off the following chain of reactions. Firstly it tries to make it more difficult for the pollen to settle on the surface of our mucous membranes by producing watery mucus in increased quantities in order to try and wash it off - hence the runny noses and watery eyes. Then it tries to literally distance itself from the invading protein by making the lining of the mucous membranes thicker - so that anything that may be trying to breach our surface defenses has further to penetrate. This leads to swelling of the lining of the nose and the conjunctiva of the eyes. And that’s why hay fever sufferers get runny congested noses and bleary watery eyes. The pollen also triggers an “allergic” response by the bodies immune system, and that leads to the itchiness  as well. For those who suffer from eczema/dermatitis caused by hayfever - usually as a response to grasses and pollens - then not only do they suffer from nose and eye problems but their skin also reacts with furiously itchy areas that are almost impossible to stop oneself from scratching.

Unfortunately we  cannot stop what nature does in abundance each year, producing tons of male plant gametes - or pollen particles - that are hungrily seeking a female partner to fuse with, but we can do somethings to reduce the impact of the resulting hayfever in our daily lives, especially in the spring time.

The first thing to try and do is to avoid going out when all those pollens are in the air - such as a on a hot windy day in springtime on a Sydney street! Stay indoors where possible and keep the windows closed: if you do have to venture out then avoid the windy times and cover your eyes and face where possible to reduce the bulk of air born particles. And once you return home then literally wash your eyes and nose with appropriate fluids to clear any pollen that may have attached themselves on to those lining, surface membranes. For the eyes, simple liquid tears will do the job and for the nose there are saline based irrigation sprays that can be brought over the counter at the pharmacy to do just this. It’s simple, safe and effective.

Some may like to get their retaliation in first by taking a non sedating anti-histamine that will block the body’s immune response to the pollen - again these are simple and safe and can be obtained from your local pharmacy.

If symptoms have started and nasal congestion is causing a problem, then try a mild steroid based nasal spray to help reduce the swelling within the nose - for short term  7 to 10 day usage this is quite safe: but if symptoms are failing to settle then a quick chat with your family Doctor would be in order.

For those who suffer an annual agony as a result of hay fever, there is the choice of de- sensitization. This is an ongoing treatment and is usually conducted over a couple of years - although some physicians do use an accelerated program with similar success rates to the more traditional method - and which aim to dampen the body’s immune response to a specific plant based protein.

Spring is a fantastic time of the year - perhaps the best time when it comes to nature putting on her glorious show for us - but there are downsides for those who suffer from hay fever. Hopefully the suggestions I have made today will help you to enjoy the best of springtime with the least amount of irritation.
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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Do we all need vitamin and mineral suppliments?


According to scientists, there is little doubt that we inhabitants of the 21st century have all evolved from the primitive hunter gatherer who came out of Africa and who survived on nuts, berries and the occasional kill of meat, fish or fowl. And even now, in various parts of the globe, indigenous peoples still follow a similar lifestyle in an often hostile environment: environments in which we we city slickers would succumb at a fairly rapid rate.
But as the hunter gatherer moved from the idea that humans should hunt in isolation or in packs, to living together in small communities, they then took on the challenge of controlling the environment by farming crops and husbanding animals, with the hoped for intention of replacing the feast/famine cycle with the more constant production of basic foods.
And over the many hundreds of thousands of years from the hunter gatherer to the present day, our bodies have adapted to the consumption of the wide variety of foodstuffs that we eat and which contain the essential nutrients that our bodies need. In fact we are now only just beginning to glimpse, and understand the role of, the billions of organisms that have evolved inside our intestines during this same period of time and which help us digest these foodstuffs. Not only do these internal organisms help us digest our meals, but they also supplement our nutrition with essential nutrients that help maintain our health, and it now looks like they also play a part in helping our immune system, regulate our nervous system and even interact with other organs around our body!
These are some of the reasons why I’ve always had some concern about the “pellitization” and widespread promotion of vitamins and minerals: formulations that are sold worldwide and which are promoted as aids to improving our health,  boosting the immune systems, or changing us from flu ridden wretches to bouncy smiling super athletes in a matter of minutes after consuming one of these marvelous, Multivitamin pills.
Vitamins weren’t in fact discovered until the early part of the 20th century - which in the evolution of mankind is literally only a few minutes ago. Vitamin C has a slightly longer history as it had been noted by a ships surgeon back in the 18th century that the scurvy, which affected all sailors who embarked on long sea voyages and which we now know to be caused by vitamin c deficiency, could be prevented if they ate limes which are rich in vitamin C. However it was to be another 200 years before the active constituent in limes  was identified, and not until 1935 that it was first produced commercially and which has since made billions of dollars for the manufacturers.
Many of the vitamins were first isolated in foods as a result of deficiency syndromes found in sick patients : for example Beri Beri is due to thiamine - or vitamin B6 - deficiency, and pernicious naemia is due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the body. The problem is that once these critical substances were identified, the “idea” developed that “more is better” so if we all took more of these life - and the Latin word for life is Vita - these life enhancing chemicals, then we’d all live healthier lives. But unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case.
Vitamins are to be found in all well balanced, healthy diets and the vast majority of people do not need any vitamin replacement. But as well as the vitamins we get in a well balanced diet, there are other beneficial micro-nutrients: for instance an orange provides vitamin C plus some beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients: which cannot be said of vitamin C supplements which lack these other Micronutrients. Food stuffs can also contain essential fibres that are very helpful with conditions as varied as constipation to diabetes and heart disease. Other health positive nutrients to be found in a well balanced meal are Phyto-chemicals and anti-oxidants which have their own unique benefits in maximizing our health.
However, just as I am against the blanket promotion of Vits and Mins for the whole population, I also recognize that certain people definitely do need replacement therapy for proven medical conditions and some, such as those with Cystic Fibrosis, would be at critical risk should they fail to take their daily vitamin supplements.
Neonatal Folic acid is essential for pregnant Mums to prevent the occurrence of neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida. Vitamin D is recommend for pregnant Mums to help with healthy bone formation in infants. Iron supplements may be necessary for menstruating women who have heavy periods or who are pregnant. And those people who cannot produce or absorb Vitamin B12 need regular replacement in order to protect and maintain healthy functioning of their nervous system.
One of the major drawbacks of single substance replacement - which is what vitamins and minerals offer us - is that their potential for good has failed to live up to the promised expectations. In fact trials aimed at showing the benefits of vitamin E have proven potentially, to do more harm than good.
Then there are the health supplements which contain herbal extracts
: and these have proven to be much more difficult to assess. Fresh herbs are far closer to the natural foodstuffs that we eat, and the greener and fresher the leaf the better it is especially when it comes to Cruciferous vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and arugula. With herbal extracts however, there is a huge disparity between whether the leaf, stem or root of the herb is used and at what time of year they are collected. Also, there have been many reports of sports-related herbal extracts being tainted with anabolic steroids and other chemicals in order to enhance their effects. So if you do choose to take a herbal extract,then it’s very important to read the label, see where it was manufactured and see what’s actually in the supplement that you are taking. Then check out the expiry date as this can have a big impact on the potency of the supplement involved.
Herbal extracts and even vitamins and mineral supplements can interact with medications that people take - especially older people who are on anti-coagulant medication and on young women who take the oral contraceptive pill, so always discuss what you are taking with your pharmacist and when in any doubt, seek professional advice first.
But to put the whole thing in perspective, Vits and Mins as well as herbal supplements can cause problems, but when held up against the adverse drug reactions, the inappropriate use of medications and the hospital deaths that are caused by the wrong medications being given, they do pale into insignificance.
The vast majority of young families who are enjoying good health do not need any supplementation if they are eating a varied diet of healthy food. Even those recovering from the flu can get all their nutrients replaced in a few days by resuming a normal diet. For more serious infections that may have required powerful medications, then you should consult with your treating doctor and even a dietician to get the correct advice on what is best for you.
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Our Human Microbiome

Our bodies are home to a huge bio-diversity of organisms and they all play a part in our health and well-being. Scientists are just beginning to understand how our co-inhabitants interact with us and literally make us tick.


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