Monthly Archives: November 2012

Foot Health

Keeping your feet in shape

Exercising your feet not only improves overall foot health, but may also reduce your risk for injury.

Walking is the best overall foot exercise. Each step puts your foot through its full range of motion, from the time your heel hits the ground until you push off with your toes. Moreover, walking is one of the best forms of exercise for your entire body. It improves cardiovascular health and can help your circulation, muscle tone, and mood.

In addition to walking, flexibility and resistance exercises can also help keep your feet healthy.

Flexibility exercises. Exercises that improve flexibility help keep your feet limber. Don’t worry if your feet have grown stiff with age; studies show that no matter how old you are, you can still improve your flexibility. The easiest way to build flexibility is through slow and gentle daily stretches, focusing on one group of muscles at a time.

Resistance exercises. Resistance exercises are those in which your muscles work against some type of resistance, such as weights or exercise bands. Resistance exercises strengthen muscles, which, in turn, provide better support and protection for the foot as a whole.

Foot flexibility and resistance exercises can be built into your daily routine. You can do some while you sit at your desk or kitchen table; others require you to stand up. To avoid slips and falls, you may want to be barefoot and have a chair, desk, or wall nearby that you can use for balance. Don’t do foot exercises if they cause you any pain. And if you have arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or structural foot problems that might affect your ability to exercise, consult a foot care specialist first.

Straight talk on 9 popular foot products

For some body parts, the drugstore has little to offer. Not so for the feet. You’ll almost always find several shelves of products for the pedal extremities. We asked Dr. James P. Ioli, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and faculty editor of the Harvard report Foot Care Basics, to accompany us on a trip to a drugstore near our offices. Here is a list of some of the foot products we saw there, along with Dr. Ioli’s comments.

1. Arch bandage. Might make the arch feel better and more supported, but it isn’t going to change the structure of the arch or fix serious problems. As the package says, people with diabetes or poor circulation should avoid these because they could reduce blood flow through the foot.
2. Callus and corn cushions. Simple and effective. The donut shape keeps pressure off calluses (which usually form on the bottom of the feet) and corns (which form on the top, often on toes). Change them often; otherwise the skin underneath will start to break down. Well-fitting shoes often reduce the skin irritation that causes calluses and corns in the first place.
3. Callus and corn removers. Stay away from them. The active ingredient, salicylic acid, can harm the healthy skin around the corn or callus.
4. Detoxifying foot pads. They claim to absorb impurities from the body and aid “natural cleansing.” In a word — bunk! The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the makers of Kinoki foot pads in 2009. The best way to naturally cleanse your feet is by washing them with a little soap and water.
5. Foot files. Okay, but use with care. People scrape and scrape and start to bleed. Old-fashioned pumice stone is a more gentle way of removing dead skin from the heels and balls of the feet.
6. Foot powders. Better than many sprays. Foot powders can help with sweaty and smelly feet. Some brands contain menthol, which creates a pleasant sensation and smell (if you like menthol). Others have an antifungal medication.
7. Moleskin. These products are cotton flannel with an adhesive backing, not actual moleskin. Good for reducing friction points in shoes caused by bunions, calluses, or corns. If you’re using a lot of moleskin, though, it’s time to consider switching to more flexible, better-fitting shoes.
8. Orthotics. Nonprescription orthotics are worth a try before considering the prescription ones, which cost a lot ($300–$500) and usually aren’t covered by insurance. The flat, foam, and gel orthotics cushion the foot nicely — not a bad thing. But if you overpronate or have arch problems, buy a pair with arch support. There’s some limited evidence that orthotics can also help with bad knees and backs, but don’t buy them expecting those problems to go away.
9. Toe exercisers. Billed as yoga for the toes. If these make you feel better — sure, why not. But don’t expect the minor miracles (restoration of foot health, increased circulation, relief of stress and tension in feet and legs) promised on the package and in late-night TV ads. Investing what you’d spend on toe exercisers on new shoes might be a better use of your money.

Wash your hands,Doctor/Nurse before you touch me!

1 November 2012, 2.33pm AEST

We can beat superbugs – here’s how

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Ask whether you really need to take antibiotics and be vigilant with food and water when traveling. duncan

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are reaching epidemic proportions around the world, particularly in developing counties. In Australia, we’re also seeing increasing numbers of serious infections which are very difficult or impossible to treat. This is because the bacteria causing these infections are resistant to most – and sometimes all – antibiotics. These strains of bacteria are known as superbugs.

Superbugs are able to resist the effects of the antibiotics we direct against them. They have effectively put on bullet-proof vests against our “magic bullets” (antibiotics) that cured people with serious infections. They do this by destroying the drug or altering the “goal posts”, by changing the receptors where these drugs need to bind and act.

When serious infections can’t be treated with common antibiotics, the risk of complications and death increases exponentially. People with antibiotic-resistant E. coli or golden staph (MRSA) bloodstream infections, for example, not only have a greater likelihood of death but the survivors spend, on average, an extra five days in hospital. This also increases health-care costs.

As superbugs develop resistant to more and more types of antibiotics, we may face a future without effective antibiotics. The only option, then, would be to revert to 1930s-style medical care treat serious infection: surgically remove the infection, which may result in amputation.

There is, however, a lot we can do as individuals and as a community, through our governments, to improve the situation and reduce the risk of being infected with a superbug.

Reducing individual risk

Here are five ways you can reduce your risk of contracting superbug:

  1. Maintain good personal care and hygiene. Regularly washing your hands with soap or alcohol gel is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and those around you from infection.
  2. Make sure your health is as good as it should be, as this will optimise the body’s response and immunity against bugs. This means making sure your immunisations are up-to-date and ensuring you seek timely medical care when something goes wrong.
  3. Limit the antibiotics you receive. More than half of antibiotics used in people are to treat viral infections, for which antibiotics do not work. Whenever you see your doctor and are prescribed antibiotics, ask if you really need to take them.
  4. Be vigilant when travelling. In developing countries such as India, many people acquire superbugs through water and food. Uncooked meats contain large numbers of bacteria and fruits and vegetables are frequently cross contaminated. Only drink boiled water or water from a reputable supplier and eat hot foods, as heat kills these bacteria. With fruits, make sure the skins have been cleaned and you peel the fruit yourself with clean hands.
  5. Avoid medical tourism. Health-care facilities in developing countries have extremely high rates of superbugs compared with Australia.
Regularly washing our hands with soap or alcohol gel is one of the most effective to prevent the spread of infection. peapod labs

Governments also need to do much more to reduce the threat of superbugs in the community.

Use in animals

Worldwide, about 80% of all antibiotics are used in food animals. High volumes are added routinely to animal feed or in water to prevent disease and, at times, to promote growth. But these antibiotics provide no or marginal benefit. The use of antibiotics as growth promoters should be banned as soon as possible.

Currently, some of the most important classes of antibiotics are fluoroquinolones and third-generation cephalosporins. But around the world, large volumes are used in food animals. If these classes of last-resort drugs are ineffective because of resistance, there may be no therapy for life threatening infections.

Antibiotics classed as “critically important” by the World Health Organization should be reserved for use in people.

Renew our focus on safe water

In the developing world, large numbers of superbugs are acquired and spread via water. In New Delhi, multi-resistant bacteria such as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1) can even be found in the chlorinated water supply.

The availability of clean, safe water for everyone in the world would make a huge difference to our superbug problem. It will stop their spread to large numbers of people, as well as to and from food animals.

Hospitals

Back home, the most effective way to decrease the spread of superbugs in hospitals is to enforce strict hand hygiene policies. We should encourage patients to be more assertive and say to their doctors or nurses, “I’d like to see you clean your hands before you touch me”. Portable small containers of alcohol hand rub are a good alternative to soap and water.

Hospital design can also decrease the spread of superbugs. Providing each patient with a toilet for their own, for example, reduces the need for multiple patients to share bathroom facilities, and, inevitably, superbugs.

Research, development and control

Governments must invest in ongoing research to find new classes of antibiotics, improved vaccines and finding better way to stop the spread of superbugs.

We also need better surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people, foods and food animals.

And finally, the international community must implement better controls on antibiotic usage. All antibiotics (human and agriculture) should be on prescription and usage patterns captured.

Superbugs are with us and increasing worldwide. We as individuals and as a community can however do many things to lower the risk of superbugs.

Green tea prevents Ovarian cancer.

In my Book “Live Well Over 100” I have a chapter on the benefits of green tea.

I mentioned that drinking green tea reduces our chances of getting Esophageal cancer by 60%

Mice given black tea to drink had 59% less tumors than mice which drank water.

Green tea also lowers our cholesterol level, and destroys viruses, like the flu virus.

Now a new study has found an additional benefit of green tea. read below:

 

Ovarian cancer is a common and often lethal disease.
Finding ovarian cancer at an early stage is difficult and
at the moment there is little women can do to prevent
ovarian cancer. The oral contraceptive pill will reduce
the ovarian cancer risk by 50% and prophylactic surgery
will virtually eliminate the ovarian cancer risk for those at
greatest risk (e.g. strong family history).
Women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer
also want to know what they can do to stay well after
treatment. New research points to the power of green
tea. Its active ingredient is Catechin, which is especially
abundant in green tea. In a recent meta-analysis
published in Gynaecologic Oncology1, results from 17
in-vitro, 1 in-vivo, four case control and one cohort study
were summarised.
In 11 of the 17 laboratory studies, using several
ovarian cancer cell lines, downregulation of a number
of proteins involved in inflammation, cell signalization,
cell motility and angiogenesis, were reported. Most
commonly, Catechin appeared to induce ovarian
epithelial cell inhibition mediated by apoptosis. Women
in the four case control studies (one from China, two
from the USA, and one from Australia) showed that
drinking of green tea reduced the risk of developing
ovarian cancer by approximately 30%.
In one study, mice were inoculated with ovarian cancer
cells. Half of the mice were given green tea to drink;
the other half drank water only. The mice that were fed
green tea had 60% lower tumour volume than the ones
that received water. Finally, a Chinese cohort study
followed 244 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and
showed decreased mortality in women who drank green
tea daily after diagnosis.
It seems that a randomised trial to confirm these
laboratory and observational results would be needed.
Until such a trial gets funded, I might start drinking
green tea myself.

Prof. Andreas Obermair | http://www.obermair.info | Phone: (07) 3847 3033 (Mon – Fri 8.00am to 4.30pm) | Fax: (07) 3847

1.Trudel D et al. Green tea for ovarian cancer prevention and treatment: A systematic review of the in vitro, in vivo and
epidemiological studies. Gynecologic Oncology, Volume 126, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 491–498.

Quick fix for stress.

Mini-relaxation exercises: A quick fix in stressful moments

Mini-relaxations are stress busters you can reach for any time. These techniques can ease your fear at the dentist’s office, thwart stress before an important meeting, calm you when stuck in traffic, or help you keep your cool when faced with people or situations that irritate you. Whether you have one minute or three, these exercises work.

When you’ve got one minute

Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.

Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of your chair.

When you’ve got two minutes

Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine”, and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.

When you’ve got three minutes

While sitting, take a break from whatever you’re doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly.

From Harvard University Healthbeat.

Treating cancer with Vitamins

Although I am a keen believer in natural therapies, it always must be proven to be effective through research and studies. Saying something is good for you does not necessarily make it so. I remember getting castor oil (a very natural substance) as a child for various complaints. Ghastly stuff and I am extremely pleased when they showed it was harmful to humans. I am glad my children did not have to take it.
9 June 2011, 6.32am AEST

A helping hand? Vitamins may be dangerous for cancer patients

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Cancer patients need to think twice before adding vitamins to their treatment. shannonkringen/flickr

Previously unthinkable questions about vitamin use by cancer patients are being asked following a series of recent clinical studies.

Is it time for cancer patients’ love affair with vitamins to end? Might vitamins actually be harmful for cancer patients?

It’s well known that many cancer patients – perhaps a majority – supplement treatment recommended by their cancer specialists with so-called complementary and alternative medications, also known as CAM.

CAM can include a wide range of treatments such as special diets, meditation and herbal preparations. The term also embraces wacky treatments such as coffee enemas and energy zapping machines.

Until now, vitamin supplements have generally been thought to be at the benign end of the CAM spectrum. Many patients and their doctors subscribe to the notion that at least they can do no harm. But is this really so?

Vitamins are components of our diet required in tiny quantities to guarantee good health.

Most were discovered in the first half of the twentieth century when it was found that lack of individual vitamins led to specific debilitating illnesses.

Deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy, for example, and deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) causes beriberi. These diseases are rarely seen nowadays in prosperous countries such as Australia, due to general knowledge of the need for vitamins and the ready availability of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products.

But the apparently magical properties of vitamins in rapidly relieving the symptoms of their respective diseases has naively led to them being used – without evidence and often in big doses – to treat conditions for which modern medical science lacks answers.

Their use among cancer sufferers was spurred in the 1970s by a report from the double Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, a biochemist, who together with a Scottish physician Dr Ewan Cameron, observed a group of patients with advanced cancer being given high doses vitamin C. The researchers claimed that these patients survived much longer than expected.

This study has since been severely criticised on the grounds that the treated group and the comparison group were quite dissimilar and that comparing them was invalid.

To check Pauling’s claims, a series of high-standard scientific comparisons were carried out by the world famous Mayo Clinic in the United States.

The result: no benefit whatsoever was found for patients given high doses vitamin C compared with those who were not.

The Mayo Clinic studies were randomised controlled trials – the highest standard of medical evidence – in which the treated and untreated or control groups were comparable in all respects other than their treatment.

Nonetheless, the idea that high doses of vitamins might be beneficial for cancer patients had taken hold. In addition to vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants and other vitamins (A, E and those of the B complex) are often combined in the hope that their use will help control the patient’s cancerous growth.

But let’s look at history. Way back in the late 1940s, a famous Boston children’s cancer specialist, Dr Sidney Farber, noted that children with leukaemia who were given folic acid – one of the B group of vitamins – had more rapid growth of leukaemia cells and died more quickly than those who did not receive the vitamin.

This led him to seek out a group of anti-folate drugs which, remarkably at the time, brought about a temporary remission in many of these children. Leukaemia remission was almost unheard of until then.

One of these drugs, methotrexate, is still used as a component of the successful multi-drug treatment that can bring about cure in 80% to 90% of childhood leukaemia cases.

Shouldn’t this experience have been a warning?

The scientific literature concerning the possible benefit of vitamins on cancer growth is bedevilled by the types of unfair comparisons of which Pauling and Cameron were guilty.

Only in recent years have proper high-standard scientific randomised controlled trials been carried out, and the results have surprised those who thought vitamins could only do good.

The first shock came from a study in Finland carried out in the 1990s. This was designed to find out whether giving vitamins and antioxidants – in this case vitamin E and beta-carotene – could prevent lung cancer in a group of nearly 30,000 male cigarette smokers.

Unexpectedly, not only did the treatment not prevent cancer, the group given beta-carotene had a higher rate of lung cancer than those not given it.

Subsequently, a series of high-standard scientific studies were carried out on the value of various vitamins – often in high dosage – to prevent, and in some cases to treat, a variety of cancer types particularly bowel cancer and prostate cancer.

These studies often involved tens of thousands of subjects. No benefit was found and, like the Finnish study of lung cancer, several of the studies have shown the treatments to be harmful.

To be fair, one study did show some benefit from a vitamin/mineral complex. This was a stomach cancer prevention trial carried out in subjects from rural China.

But many of these subjects were likely to have been borderline vitamin deficient to start with due to a poor baseline nutritional status. So their experience is probably not relevant to patients from developed countries.

Vitamin D might be another exception – there are a number of recent studies suggesting that lack of vitamin D can increase the risk of succumbing to various diseases including some cancers.

But we do not yet have proof that giving additional vitamin D can prevent cancer nor that it is useful in cancer treatment.

So, is it plausible that vitamins A, C, E and vitamins from the B complex for cancer treatment could be harmful? Undoubtedly yes.

Just consider what vitamins do – they are chemicals in the diet whose role, as a generalisation, is to help cells grow and they stimulate healthy cell growth and multiplication.

Isn’t it likely then that vitamins, particularly if given in larger than necessary doses, could stimulate the growth of cancer cells along with normal body cells?

Cancer patients need to think twice before adding vitamins to the treatment program recommended by their cancer specialists. They might be doing themselves more harm than good by taking vitamin supplements.

Benefits of Herbal Medicine

7 November 2012, 2.48pm AEST

Western herbal medicine – panacea or placebo?

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Calendula (marigold), lavendar and rosemary are used by practitioners of Western herbal medicine. Smoobs/Flickr

PANACEA OR PLACEBO – A weekly series assessing the evidence behind complementary and alternative medicines.


Herbs have been used for therapeutic purposes in most cultures for hundreds and even thousands of years. The father of Western medicine, Hippocrates (460 BC – 377 BC) is known to have used many plants and herbs for medicinal purposes. Hippocrates’ use of up to 400 plants are well documented in a collection called the Corpus Hippocraticum.

Western herbal medicines have traditionally been used to help prevent and treat diseases. Many useful pharmaceuticals have been derived from such herbs, including:

  • salicylic acid to make aspirin from the bark of the white willow tree (Salix alba);
  • morphine from the poppy plant (Papaver somniferum);
  • digitalin, digitoxin and digoxin from the plant foxglove (Digitalis purpurea);
  • atropine from the belladonna plant (Atropa belladonna) and;
  • quinine from the bark of the quinine tree (Cinchona ledgeriana).
Poppies Rob van Hilten

In herbal medicine, the whole plant or parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, stems and roots) are used for their potential therapeutic properties.

Herbal medicines differ from pharmaceuticals as they contain complex multi-component substances, and like pharmaceuticals can exert biochemical and physiological effects on the body. There are natural variations of the active components in herbs, which is why there are differences in the profiles of batches of the same herbal ingredient.

This variation creates difficulties for research and analysis of systematic reviews of trials. Standardisation of extracts of herbs has improved over the years but remains an ongoing issue for both research and clinical use.

Safety is also an issue for herbs. As they contain active substances, herbs can cause adverse reactions as a result of interacting with pharmaceutical drugs. A good example is St John’s wort, which is used for treating mild depression. The hyperforin levels found in this plant can result in reduced efficacy for drugs such as digoxin, the oral contraceptive pill and warfarin.

Western herbal medicines used by Hippocrates and still commonly used today include fennel, cinnamon, clove, chaste-berry, anise or licorice, coriander, garlic, St John’s wort, white willow bark, valerian, linseed, peppermint, chamomile, celery, clove (oil), Viscum album, elder-wood, sage and nettle.

The evidence base

Most of the evidence for herbal medicine stems from traditional use accumulated over hundreds of years and is documented in key monographs. Randomised control trials have also been conducted for some herbs but the majority vary in quality, lack methodological rigour, are often of short duration and have small numbers of participants.

St John’s wort randomtruth/Flickr

Still, there are some Cochrane reviews and research worthy of mention that demonstrate the potential effectiveness of some herbs. Cranberry tablets (not the juice) for the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in young women, for instance, or St John’s wort for mild, moderate and major depression, various herbs (STW 5 and STW 5-II) for irritable bowel syndrome, and rosehip and avocado-soybean unsaponifiables for osteoarthritis.

Also, hawthorne berries as an adjunct treatment for chronic heart failure, and garlic for hypertension.

As the trials included in the systematic reviews are quite diverse, it’s difficult in some cases to know the type of extract, dosage or form of herbs that are most active and clinically effective.

Larger rigorous and high-quality trials are needed to help identify which herbs or standardised extracts of herbs are clinically useful. This would also help identify the safety profile of Western herbal medicines, especially with prolonged use.

Foods that fight fatigue

 

A good, balanced diet — one that includes a variety of unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with an emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils — will help keep you healthy. Eating well also provides optimum fuel for your body and can help keep you firing on all cylinders.

Certain types of foods can help preempt fatigue. Candy and other simple sugars give you a quick burst of energy but that boost fades quickly and can leave you feeling depleted and wanting to eat more. On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day. So to keep your energy up and steady, limit refined sugar and starches to the occasional treat.

How you eat can also either boost your energy or drag it down. Eating small meals and snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. Some people begin feeling sluggish just a few hours after eating. But it doesn’t take much to feed your brain. A piece of fruit or a few nuts should do it.

Smaller is better especially at lunch. Researchers have observed that people who have a big lunch typically show a more pronounced afternoon slump. One possible explanation is a sharp rise in blood sugar after eating, following by an energy dip a few hours later.

Are you tired from…too much sleep?

 

A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling pretty tired the next day. Put a string of those together and nagging fatigue starts to set in.

Getting good sleep, in the right amount can make a big difference in how you feel. Too little or too much sleep can increase your perception of fatigue. And even if you get enough hours of sleep, you might find yourself dragging the next day if that sleep was interrupted by frequent awakenings or was of poor quality.

Although most of us need about eight hours a night to feel refreshed during the day, what counts as sufficient sleep is highly individual. It makes sense that getting less sleep than you need might leave you feeling tired, but you may be surprised to learn that getting more sleep than you need may not leave you refreshed and energized. In fact, many people find that on days when they hit the snooze button more times than usual, they feel more lethargic and unmotivated.

Research bears out the connection between too much sleep and too little energy. It appears that any significant deviation from normal sleep patterns can upset the body’s rhythms and increase daytime fatigue. The best solution is to figure out how many hours of sleep are right for you and then stick with it — even on weekends, vacations, and holidays

Treating Cancer Naturally

Although I have a reputation for preferring natural treatments wherever possible, I also only use treatments that are proven to work. This is known as Evidence based medicine. Unfortunately, I have witnessed cancer patients being denied effective treatment because they have gone down the road of using ineffective treatments with nice sounding names, lots of hype, and is often very expensive and beneficial for those promoting them, and little else. It is very sad.
5 November 2012, 2.28pm AEST

Monday’s medical myth: natural cancer therapies can’t harm you

One of the most misleading myths of modern medicine is that conventional cancer doctors reject “natural” therapies in favour of artificial or “unnatural” cancer treatments. This myth has contributed to the popularity of unproven, alternative cancer treatments. The truth is that oncologists and other…

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Natural does not necessarily equate to harmless. Nor does conventional equate to unnatural. Flickr/wine me up

One of the most misleading myths of modern medicine is that conventional cancer doctors reject “natural” therapies in favour of artificial or “unnatural” cancer treatments. This myth has contributed to the popularity of unproven, alternative cancer treatments.

The truth is that oncologists and other trained medical professionals involved in cancer care welcome and support effective cancer treatments in any form, provided there is evidence to show they can work and are safe.

Making assumptions about the benefits and harms of therapies according to whether or not they are natural is high-risk. For example, laetrile, an extract from apricot kernels, was for years promoted as a natural alternative therapy for cancer; yet it is utterly useless for treating cancer and can cause fatal cyanide poisoning.

The herb comfrey, also recommended as an alternative cancer treatment, actually causes cancer.

So natural does not necessarily equate to harmless. Nor does conventional necessarily equate to unnatural. Plenty of natural products are used in chemotherapy. These include extracts from the yew tree (docetaxel, paclitaxel), the opium and mandrake plants (epipodophyllotoxins) and from natural moulds that produce doxorubicin and related drugs, used effectively to treat breast cancer and lymphoma.

Some natural products used in conventional cancer medicine had for centuries been part of traditional folk remedies and have been adapted for modern use after being rigorously tested.

So the difference between alternative and conventional is not that one is natural and the other is not. It’s that conventional cancer treatments must be subjected to rigorous research before they can be recommended for use and prescribed by professional oncologists.

The highest level of research is the randomised control trial, which is only applied to a product after lengthy laboratory studies, preliminary testing and approval by an ethics committee made up of medical experts, ethicists and healthcare consumers.

A typical trial involves randomly selecting two groups of patients in large enough numbers to control for physical differences between them. One group receives the new treatment and the other group is given a different treatment or a placebo; the results are then compared. A trial is designed to show that any significant difference in patient outcomes can only be the result of the treatment being tested.

Oncologists will only prescribe treatments if they have been tested in this way and are found to be effective and safe.

A good example of this testing process on a natural derivative is the development of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, extracted from the Madagascan periwinkle. Improved through continual clinical trials over 50 years, these so-called “vinca” alkaloids have been a key part of modern-day successes in curing childhood leukaemia and other cancers that were previously incurable.

A healthy diet can prevent cancer and assist people living with cancer, but it won’t cure cancer. donireewalker

Some alternative cancer therapists also promote fad diets, but there is no evidence to support this approach. A healthy diet can prevent cancer and assist people living with cancer. But diet will not cure cancer, which directly attacks the body’s cells in a highly destructive and relentless way.

Such a malignant disease can only be cured if the cancer cells are surgically removed before the cancer has spread or if they are destroyed with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

Nor is there any evidence to support mind control in any form as a cancer therapy. Such a belief or expectation in many cases adds to a patient’s distress. Can you imagine the terrible trauma of being diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer and told you can think your way to good health with a positive attitude?

The reality is, we have a limited lifespan; science does not have all the answers to our health needs. But we agree as a society that we should do what we can to increase life expectancy and improve health.

Over the past century, average Australian life expectancy has increased by almost 30 years, largely through a combination of improved infection control, sanitation, diet, immunology and many other advances in medical science.

The changes in medical practice and public policy that have improved our length and quality of life were guided by evidence of what works.

So we must let the evidence – not uninformed perceptions of what is natural – guide continuous improvements in cancer treatment.

Improve brain function with Omega 3

29 October 2012, 10.43am AEST

Omega-3 may improve brain function

Healthy young adults could boost their cognitive function and working memory by increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, new research has found.

The study looked at healthy young men and women between 18 and 25 from all ethnicities to boost their omega-3 intake with supplements for six months. Participants were monitored monthly with blood sample analysed and a working memory test.

During the last stage of monitoring, the improved working memory of was revealed. However, imaging studies were unable to clarify the mechanisms by which it enhances working memory. This unanswered question may pave the way for future research