Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Heroin on the NHS?

Some people have called for heroin to be available on the NHS. No kidding.

Making heroin on the NHS is supposed to prevent female drug addicts from becoming prostitutes (or sex workers, if you prefer euphemisms) to finance their habit. This isn't a novel idea, however. There are already a select group of drug addicts who get heroin on the NHS. Take Erin O'Mara, whose story you can read in this article. She is one of 400 users in the UK who are currently being prescribed heroin, on the NHS. Each of these "special" addicts cost the taxpayer about £10,000 a year.

And if some policy makers have their way, more drug users would have access to heroin on the NHS. Arguments supporting this range from reducing drug-related crime, improving the quality of drug addicts' lives and protecting women (presumably from the dangers of working on the streets).

I'm all in favour of protecting women and cutting crime of every kind. But giving addicts heroin on the NHS? Wouldn't that encourage more people to use heroin even when they know they may end up becoming addicted to it? Hmm. There are more questions than answers, it seems.

I agree with Dr Emily Finch, a consultant psychiatrist at one of the sites conducting trials into heroin prescribing, that society will have to think seriously about whether they want to pay (financially and otherwise - my own words) for this drug to be made available.

What do you think? Add your comment below.

Friday, 23 February 2007

A Controversial Vaccine

Gardasil is a controversial vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer. It is licensed to be given to boys and girls aged 9 to 15 and women aged 16 to 26. The vaccine is expected to protect against the most common sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer.

The government is considering whether all children aged 11 and 12 should be given the vaccine routinely in schools before they become sexually active and can be infected with HPV. This is supposed to help reduce cervical cancer rates.

Because HPV can also cause genital warts and anal and penile cancer, some men are arguing that they also need the vaccine. And many private clinics have been offering it to men. Merck, the company that make the vaccine are testing its efficacy with 4000 men, including men who have sex with men.

Dr Anne Czarewski, clinical consultant for Cancer Research UK, is quoted in this article as saying "it is bad enough suggesting to people that their 12- year-old daughter might need a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection."

She says she would be interested to see the response if parents are told their 12 year old boys should be given the vaccine in case they become gay.
Talk about controversy. Let's stir it up a bit more. Why doesn't there seem to be any mention of abstinence in these discussions?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Fertility Detection

A natural family planning technique that monitors two indicators of fertility can be just as effective as oral contraception, according to a European study reported here. Learning to use the natural method requires more effort and time, but it is not associated with any health risks. That's more than can be said for "modern" methods of contraception, including the pill.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Video Games and Surgery

Playing video games apparently helps laparoscopic surgeons improve their skills, according to a study reported in this article. Surprised? So was Iowa State University psychology professor Douglas Gentile, one of the study's authors. He thought it was surprising that video games skills, more than length of training or prior experience in laparoscopy, detemined how well the surgeons performed in surgical skills tests. "Surprised" isn't the word I'd use to describe my own reaction, but I digress.

According to the study, this supports previous research which showed that video games can improve "fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, visual attention, depth perception and computer competency". Impressive. It makes me wonder who sponsored the initial research.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Higher Cholesterol Levels in Women

Many of us know there are health risks associated with having raised cholesterol levels - raised "bad" cholesterol, that is.

But it seems that among healthy women with no history of major illness (such as heart disease and cancer ) those who have raised cholesterol levels have a much higher risk of stroke than those with the lowest levels. More information in this article.

I had a cholesterol test about six months ago and fortunately my levels were OK. Do you know what your levels are?

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Back Pain and the Brain

Chronic back pain seems to be a common ailment. About eighty percent of the population suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, according to Dr Alison McGregor, a back pain expert from Imperial College London.

A recent article reported that researchers in Germany have found that back pain is linked to physical changes in the brain. More research is needed to determine whether the changes are a cause or result of the pain. The researchers said their work provided evidence that back pain is a real condition, and not just a subjective experience.

Of course, back pain is a real condition. I know this from personal experience. I used to suffer from lower back pain and because I didn't want to take drugs in the long term, I tried using some naturally derived products that I market. The result? I got rid of my back pain. You can read my story here.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Breastfeeding and Social Class

Breastfeeding tends to arouse strong emotions among many people. When advocates and opponents of the practice engage in passionate debate, sparks often fly - enough to start raging fires.

And breastfeeding in public, that's even more controversial. Let's not go there. I enjoy breastfeeding my son, in public and in private. Those who are offended by the sight of a mother breastfeeding her child can always look away, just like I do when I see people wearing outfits that reveal more than I'd like to see.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the results of a study on breastfeeding that I read about in this article. I knew breastfeeding had many health benefits, but I wasn't aware that breastfed children were more likely to move up the social ladder as adults. That's what this research shows. Of course, not everyone will agree this is beneficial. But for those who do, that's one more reason to breastfeed, rather than bottlefeed, their child.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Siestas and Stress

Taking an afternoon nap is good for the health, especially for young working men, according to a six-year Greek study, reported in this article. Experts think napping reduces stress. It is known that in countries that have lower levels of deaths from heart disease, siestas are common.

The researchers found that those who took midday naps had a 34% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who did not take naps. Among working men, however, those who took naps had a 64% reduced risk of dying, compared to a 36% reduced risk among non-working men.

Lead researcher Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health thinks that if these findings are supported by further research, taking an afternoon nap may be an interesting way to reduce heart disease as it has no side effects.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

To Ban Or Not to Ban?

Should skinny models be banned from the catwalk? That is a question
many people are asking in the wake of the death of some models due to anorexia.

As London Fashion Week opened this Monday, the question has again been raised. Campaigners for eating disorder groups were distributing leaflets backstage at some shows. The British Fashion Council, which organized the event, has issued guidelines to designers asking them not to use underweight models for their shows. The Council has declined to issue an outright ban. More in this article.

Asked why it would not ban skinny models outright, the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council said it was not possible to tell by looking at a model or by weighing her whether she was underweight or had an eating disorder. I think that's true.

But I also think that more could be done by the Council and by designers to reduce the incidence of eating disorders among models.

Monday, 12 February 2007

15 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

According to the World Health Organization, 10 million cases of cancer are diagnosed worldwide. This number is expected to rise to 15 million by 2010 if we don't make lifestyle and dietary changes.

Most cases of cancer don't develop overnight but are the culmination of processes that occur over many years. I read an interesting article in the Reader's Digest that lists 31 ways to reduce one's risk of the big C. Some of the tips are:

1. Steam broccoli rather than microwaving it. Broccoli has cancer-preventing nutrients, but microwaving the vegetable destroys 97% of these.

2. Eat some Brazil nuts. They contain selenium, an important trace mineral that helps fight cancer.

3. Take a calcium supplement with vitamin D. A study suggests that the supplements reduce colon polyps, a risk factor in colon cancer in people susceptible to the growths.

4. Add garlic to everything you eat. Studies suggest that garlic can reduce the incidence of stomach cancer by as much as a factor of 12.

5. Eat several pieces of cantaloupe every morning. This is a good source of carotenoids, plant nutrients shown to reduce the risk of lung cancer.

6. Mix half a cup of blueberries into your morning cereal. Blueberries have antioxidant power. Antioxidants destroy free radicals which can damage cells and lead to diseases including cancer.

7. Coat barbecue food with a thick sauce. Grilling meat can create cancer-causing chemicals, but researchers found that coating meat with a protective marinade to prevent direct contact with the flames can help reduce the amount of such chemicals produced. Another way to do this is to precook meat before grilling it.

8. Drink a glass of water every time you go to the bathroom. A major study found that men who drank six eight-ounce glasses of water every day reduced their risk of bladder cancer in half. Another study found that women who drank more water reduced their risk of colon cancer by up to 45%.

9. Take a multivitamin every day. Studies have found that getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals can help improve the body's immune function and prevent cancer.

10. Eat kiwifruit regularly. Kiwi contains cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin C, lycopene and copper. You can also rub cut kiwi on low-fat meat as a tenderizer.

11. Eat more oranges. A study found that a daily dose of citrus fruits may cut the risk of mouth, throat and stomach cancers by half.

12. Buy organic foods. They're grown without pesticide or hormones, both of which can cause cellular damage that may lead to cancer.

13. Buy clothes that don't need to be dry cleaned. Many dry cleaners still use a chemical called percheloroethylene found to cause kidney and liver damage and cancer in animals that have been exposed to it repeatedly. If you must dry-clean your clothes, air them outside or in another room before wearing.

14. Avoid smoked and pickled foods as studies have found that they contain various cancer-causing agents.

15. Play a game or do some other activity that reduces stress. A study found that men with high levels of stress and those with less satisfying contact with family members and friends had higher levels of prostate-specific antigen in their blood, a marker for prostate cancer.

I've only listed 15 out of the 31 suggestions in the Reader's Digest article. To read the rest, go here.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

All That You Can Eat?

I take nutritional supplements because I believe they are beneficial to my health. I know that some people still think they can get all the nutrients they need from their food. The question I would ask these people is "how do you know you are getting enough of everything that your body needs?"

Research has shown that various health benefits can be obtained by taking certain supplements. For instance, a recent study shows that Vitamin D can help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Read more about this study here.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Second Hand Smoke? No, Thanks.

As I said in an earlier post, I do not suffer second-hand smoke gladly. I feel no compunction about removing myself from a smoky environment, and I do not feel that I have to apologize for doing this. Protecting my health matters more to me than not hurting a smoker's feelings. Especially if the smoker seems not to care that others may not wish to inhale noxious fumes.

I can't count the number of times I've walked away from people in the middle of a conversation because they lit up without asking if it bothered me. Before walking away, I would always explain that I liked to avoid second-hand smoke . It never even occurred to me to grin and bear it, or more aptly, inhale it. I felt that if someone was inconsiderate enough to light up without asking me if I minded the smoke, they couldn't take the high moral ground if I interrupted the conversation and moved away. I feel sorry for the babies who can't do the same when their parents smoke over them. That's something I can't understand - why anyone would do that to their child. But then there's a lot about smoking that I don't understand.

It's generally known now that second-hand smoking is bad for the health. A new study in the US shows that up to 20% of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked. In men, 8% of lung cancer patients are non smokers. It is not clear why the figure is much higher in women: perhaps women are more susceptible to smoking, whether it is direct or second hand.

The researchers know that second-hand smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. They believe many of the cases they studied can be attributed to this. The leading cause of lung cancer is smoking, but radon, asbestos, chromium and arsenic are also associated with the disease.

Anyone still in doubt as to whether second-hand smoking is dangerous to health may want to read this article about the new research.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Snow, Snow, Everywhere

There was heavy snow today (well, heavy by British standards) in many parts of the UK. As is usual here, this caused widespread disruption and more than 2000 schools were closed due to the severe weather. And a senior member of the government admitted that Britain could cope "a little bit better" with this type of weather.

I didn't venture out in the snow and I spent way too much time on the internet. I'm leaving cyberspace now, but not before sharing some pictures of landscapes in the snow, which I found on the internet. I particularly like the one that shows an intrepid postman in shorts striding out in style!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Are Health Warnings Any Good?

I've always wondered whether serious smokers paid any attention to the health warnings on cigarette packs. Frankly, I think the warnings aren't worth the paper they are printed on - they don't seem to have put many people off buying cigarettes . I'm not a smoker myself. I tried it many years ago and fortunately didn't like it.

Maybe the health warnings do help some smokers quit. A new study shows that pictorial warnings on cigarette packs have a greater impact on smokers than warnings that consist of plain text. On the face of it, this seems to provide some evidence to support the UK's plans to introduce picture warnings later this year.

And then there are the graphic anti-smoking messages that are sometimes shown on British TV. Don't get me started on that one. I don't think die-hard smokers take any notice of those messages or health warnings for that matter. I know smokers who continue to smoke even after losing a family member to smoking-related cancer. What graphic image or large pictorial health warning is going to stop someone like that?

Monday, 5 February 2007

Voodoo Nutrition

Manufacturers or marketers of nutritional products who make "unverified" product claims may face legal challenges.

This may be a problem for Coca-Cola Co and Nestle who launched a new drink called Enviga which they say "gently" burns calories. The two companies have been asked by a Connecticut (US) Attorney General to show scientific evidence of the calorie-burning claims. Without such evidence, the Attorney General says such claims would be no more than "voodoo nutrition".

The two companies maintain that their claim is backed by scientific studies. Apparently, a study conducted on behalf of the companies showed that drinking the equivalent of three cans of Enviga a day resulted in burning more calories.

Hmm. I wonder how many calories are contained in a can of Enviga. This information was not included in the article I read.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Are Trans-Fats on the Way Out?

British Retail Consortium members (Asda, Boots, Co-op, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose) have said they will stop using trans-fats in their own-brand products by the end of the year. That's good news - of which more details can be found here.

Trans-fats have no nutritional value. Like saturated fats, they raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some people say they should be allowed to eat whatever they like, even if that includes unhealthy foods. So I guess not everyone will welcome the announcement by the Bitish Retail Consortium. But then you can't please everyone...

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Boutique Ultrasounds

I remember the first time I had an ultrasound scan done during my pregnancy. Our excitement was palpable as my husband and I watched the moving image of our baby on the screen. I was a bit disappointed that they wouldn't tell us the sex of the baby, but I figured I could wait until the birth. We thought the grainy black and white picture we were given afterwards was the most beautiful picture we'd ever seen!

Although I would have wanted to find out whether the baby I was carrying was a boy or girl, it wasn't that important. But I knew some women in my position chose to have an ultrasound scan done privately so they could find out the sex of their baby. Sometimes they would have 3D scans.

It seems, however, that not everyone thinks it's a good idea for pregnant women to have ultrasound scans for reasons that have nothing to do with health. A recent news article talks about the risks of carrying out so-called "boutique ultrasounds".

Friday, 2 February 2007

Unhealthy Emotions

I believe that holding on to negative feelings like anger, bitterness, and hatred can endanger one's health. It's best to let go of these emotions so that they do not consume one's thoughts.

That seems to be the moral of a book I've just finished reading, titled "Every Breath You Take" by Ann Rules. It's a true story about a man who was so obsessed with anger and revenge that he hounded, stalked and finally ordered the killing of his ex-wife and mother of his two oldest children. This man was immensely wealthy and had remarried and started a new family, but he was consumed by hatred for his ex from whom he had been divorced for ten years. Imagine spending ten years of one's life hating someone else! In the end, he lost everything when he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Hatred is a waste of human potential. Love is so much more fun.