Monthly Archives: July 2015

What’s the deal with electrolytes?

18 May 2015, 2.49pm AEST

Health check: what’s the deal with electrolytes?

Sports drinks claiming to contain electrolytes have innundated stores in recent years. So what are electrolytes? Are they good? How can we best get them?

Sweat is made up of water and minerals that are collectively known as electrolytes. Chris Hunkeler/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Electrolytes are an important part of normal human function. The failure to maintain a normal balance of electrolytes can lead to dehydration and possibly heart and neurological problems.

When we’re physically active, either as a regular part of the day or when exercising, our bodies produce heat. So we start sweating to prevent overheating. Loss of water in this way can lead to dehydration, but failure to prevent overheating by sweating can result in dizziness, thirst, headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, cramps, fatigue and disorientation.

The human body can produce up to two litres of sweat in an hour, although this amount is highly dependent on environmental conditions as well as exercise intensity and duration. Sweat losses of this magnitude, which can amount to 2% of body weight, can significantly affect how the body functions at rest. And it can result in a significant decrease in performance during exercise.

Enter electrolytes

Sweat is largely made up of water (the watery part of blood known as plasma) as well as important minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, bicarbonate, phosphate and sulphate. These minerals are collectively known as electrolytes and are essential for the normal function of our cells and organs.

Sodium is the most important electrolyte because it plays a key role in normal muscle and nerve function and preventing cramps, as well as in stimulating thirst, improving fluid absorption in the small intestine and helping fluid retention.

Other electrolytes also play key roles in normal physiological function. Calcium, for instance, helps co-ordinate muscle contraction. Low levels of potassium and magnesium are implicated in muscle cramps. Chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate and sulphate all contribute to maintaining pH balance and regulating fluid in and out of cells.

Traditionally, we just drank water to rehydrate, but research published in the 1990s showed that could be improved on when water had a small amount of glucose and a larger portion of sodium in it. This led to the creation of electrolyte-based rehydration drinks.

Electrolyte drinks

Electrolyte drinks are a simple but effective way of rehydrating. You can buy ready-made drinks as a practical way to replace the lost electrolytes, or you can purchase a tube of effervescent electrolyte tablets or tub of powder and simply mix with plain water. Alternatively, you can add a little bit of salt to your post-exercise meal as an economical alternative.

But the tablet and powder make a nice-tasting, scientifically formulated drink that quickly rehydrates. And it may be a better choice because many ready-made electrolyte drinks contain large amounts of sugar.

Sports drinks aim to replenish the sugars used during high-intensity exercise as well as electrolytes. Clean Wal-Mart, CC BY

Typically known as “sports drinks”, these beverages have a different intention to just rehydrating. They aim to replenish the sugars used during high-intensity exercise. But most people who exercise don’t do so to the degree of intensity that justifies consuming sports drinks.

Electrolyte “only” drinks, that is, the tablets or powder you dissolve in water yourself, are calorie-free. So they’re a better option for people who are exercising to lose weight and are looking to rehydrate, or even people who don’t want to consume the added sugar. Sports drinks have been linked to serious dental erosion.

Who benefits?

Everyone sweats during exercise – both incidental and planned – so electrolytes are good for anyone who wants to recover the water and electrolytes lost through sweat. That means anyone from recreational exercisers to elite athletes can consume electrolytes. The main thing to be mindful of is the sugar content of sports drinks.

When we exercise, our fluid and electrolyte requirements increase. So consuming at least half a litre of an electrolyte drink three to four hours before exercise, a quarter of a litre two hours prior to exercise and approximately the same every 20 to 30 minutes during exercise will ensure you stay hydrated.

The most important thing to note is that everyone sweats at a different rate. A practical way to work out how much fluid you lose during exercise is simply to weigh yourself immediately before and after exercise. The difference will indicate how much you need to replace: for every one kilogram of body weight lost during exercise, you should consume a litre and half of an electrolyte drink.

If you’re particularly curious, you can compare your urine colour against a chart or have it assessed in terms of darkness. Darker yellow or brown urine indicates greater levels of dehydration.

Or you can simply drink to thirst – a strategy that’s just as effective as having a personalised hydration protocol!

Remember that the warmer it is, the more you will sweat, so you’ll need to drink more during the warmer months. Improving your daily hydration levels will support your exercise requirements and help you get and keep fit.

Why Most Gynecologists Use an IUD (and How to Decide if You Should Too)

May 11, 2015 |
By Rachel Zar
Why Most Gynecologists Use an IUD (and How to Decide if You Should Too)

Lately IUDs (intrauterine devices) are making as many headlines as Beyoncé. One woman live-tweeted her insertion earlier this year and another wrote how she is “completely and totally obsessed with” hers. Yet despite all the attention (and at times praise), the little T-shaped device isn’t an especially popular form of contraception, except with the women who may know the female reproductive system best: gynecologists.

While IUDs are GYNs’ contraceptive of choice (with 40 percent reporting using one), only 11 percent of women ages 25 to 44 have an IUD . “They’re safe, they’re effective, and they’re pretty much foolproof,” says Lauren Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever.

IUDs are appealing because there’s no worrying about missing a dose, your period may lighten or even disappear, and it can save money in the long run. But outdated beliefs about safety and fear about a painful insertion process keeps more women from getting them. While they’re not for everyone, we set out to get all of the facts about this option.
What Is an IUD?

This little device makes birth control easy

This little device makes birth control easy

First introduced in the 1960s, IUDs are two-inch T-shaped plastic or metal devices that release either copper ions or the hormone levonorgestrel, depending on the type. Both of these cause the cervical mucus to thicken, which prevents sperm from entering and makes implantation difficult . And that means no pregnancy worries (IUDs are 99 percent effective) for at least three years (and many last up to 10!).

It takes about 10 minutes for a healthcare practitioner to insert an IUD through the cervical opening into the uterus, and then you should be good to go. “I recommend that a woman assures herself that the IUD is where it needs to be monthly by inserting a finger into her vagina and feeling for a string that hangs out from the IUD,” Streicher says. “If she can’t feel that string, it’s critical that she come back for a follow up appointment.”

And if you decide you want your IUD removed, no worries: There are no added risks if you do this, and fertility returns quickly after removal, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist in Westchester, NY, and co-author of V is for Vagina.
The Pros: No Increased Risks, No Pills, No Problem

Compared to IUDs of the ’70s (such as the Dalkon Shield, which increased the risk of infections, complicated pregnancies, infertility, injuries, and death), today’s IUDs are widely revered as one of the safest birth control options . Once inserted, there’s no increased risk of infection, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists even encourages IUDs as a first-line approach for preventing pregnancy, stating that they are safe and appropriate for most women, including those who haven’t given birth and adolescents .

With perfect use (in which the user reaches into her vagina to make sure the strings of the IUD are still there regularly), the probability of pregnancy is 0.8 percent in the first year with ParaGard and 0.2 percent with Mirena or Skyla—comparable to sterilization procedures. In contrast, birth control pills and vaginal rings have failure rates of 9 percent, and for condoms it’s a whopping 18 percent. Plus, you won’t have to worry about popping pills every day, or having vaginal rings or condoms messing with your sex life. Though keep in mind that, unlike condoms, IUDs don’t protect against STDs.

Another benefit is the cost. An IUD will set you back up to $1,000 for the product and insertion. That sounds like a lot, but birth control pills can cost up to $50 a month, so after 20 months, you’re saving moolah. “Patients tell me their IUD is the best contraception bargain ever,” Streicher says.

For many women, the biggest upside of hormonal IUDs is that periods often get lighter and lighter and may eventually disappear altogether . So long tampons, hello white pants!
The Cons: Heavy Bleeding, Cramps, and Pain (Oh My!)

Some IUDs can make cramps worse

As with all things, this seemingly miraculous pregnancy preventer isn’t without downsides. The most common side effect of any IUD is a change in bleeding pattern. While hormonal IUDs bring a welcome lighter flow (or none at all), with the copper version, periods often get heavier and are accompanied by more painful cramps, especially at first. “Hormonal IUDs cause the lining of the uterus to be very thin, which decreases bleeding, but the copper IUD doesn’t have that effect,” Streicher says.

Since the IUD has to go up through your cervix, insertion isn’t going to be the most pleasurable experience of your life. But for many women, it’s not so terrible either. “I always recommend women take a Motrin or Advil before coming in,” Dwerk says. She recommends scheduling your appointment at the tail end of your period so you know you’re not pregnant, and try to relax. “If you’re too anxious and tense, insertion may be more challenging,” she adds. And for the rare woman, gynecologists will have to utilize a tiny dilator to open the cervix enough to admit the IUD—a process that may make the experience a little more painful.

“While it’s hard to predict what each woman’s experience with insertion will be, it’s usually mild to moderate cramping, no worse than a bad menstrual period,” Streicher says. “But if you have a uterus that tips back a little, it’s not a ‘straight shot,’ so it may be a little harder to place the IUD.” Your doc will let you know if you’re like this, and while insertion may be more uncomfortable for you, you can certainly still get an IUD, she adds. In fact, there are very few women who are not good candidates for IUDs.

Afterward, women often experience cramping for up to a couple hours and should wear a pad to account for extra bleeding for up to 30 minutes after insertion, Dwerk recommends. If the cramps are I-can’t-move severe or your bleeding is very heavy, go back to your doc to be sure the IUD is positioned correctly, she adds.

Other risks are perforation of the uterine wall during insertion (though that only happens during insertion in about 0.1 percent of cases) and the IUD falling out, which occurs 3 to 6 percent of the time and of course means you’re no longer protected against pregnancy . If the IUD falls out, you may also notice an increase in bleeding or pain, especially if it’s only partially out (which you should be able to feel with a finger). This is why doctors recommend checking once a month with your finger that the IUD string is hanging about a half inch out of the cervix, Streicher says.
Find the Right IUD for You

Picking the contraception that’s best for you, your body, and your plans for the future should involve a talk with your gynecologist. If you’re considering an IUD, keep these things in mind.
1. Copper IUD: ParaGard

How it works: The copper in Paragard interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization, preventing implantation.

How long it lasts: 10 years

Cost: $0 to $932 (depending on insurance coverage), plus cost of insertion

Side effects: ParaGard is the only IUD that doesn’t decrease menstruation, and it may make periods heavier. Although no adverse reactions related to copper allergy or Wilson’s disease (a rare disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in vital organs) have ever been reported, hormone-releasing IUDs are still preferred for use in women with these conditions.

IUDs can save you from anxiety when a condom breaks

Added bonus: Paraguard can be used as emergency contraception and then left in place to provide ongoing contraception. “Like the morning-after pill, copper IUDs can be used as emergency contraception since you have five to seven day before a fertilized egg travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus, and IUDs prevent this,” Streicher explains. This option is great if you’re not only worried about one slip up but also want to avoid the anxiety of potential future mishaps.
2. Hormonal (levonorgestrol) IUD: Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta

How it works: “Levonorgestrol IUDs prevent pregnancy by making the mucus in the cervical opening so thick that even the most motivated sperm can’t get through,” Streicher says. “If one strong sperm does manage to get past that cervical barrier, implantation is unlikely since the hormone progestin makes the uterine lining thin and inactive.”

How long it lasts: 5 years (Mirena), 3 years (Skyla and Liletta)

Cost: $0 to $1000 (depending on insurance coverage; Mirena is the most expensive of the bunch), plus cost of insertion

Side effects: These IUDs decrease—and often completely diminish—menstrual bleeding. In one study, after 24 months of use, 50 percent of users didn’t experience a monthly period, 25 percent had occasional and very light periods, 11 percent reported spotting, and the rest experienced normal or heavy bleeding . Hormonal IUDs have also been shown to decrease pain from endometriosis .

Other side effects are similar to those you’d see on low-dose birth control pills—breast tenderness, mood changes, or acne. “While strictly speaking these are hormonal contraceptives, it’s important that women realize that they’re not in the same category as other hormonal options like the pill or patch since the hormone is released in the uterus instead of in the bloodstream, so there are minimal systemic effects,” Streicher says. “Often, people who are told they can’t use hormonal birth control actually can use hormonal IUDs, so check with your doctor before ruling them out.”

Added bonus: Skyla is smaller than the other two, making it easier to insert and good for women who have never been pregnant and may have a tighter cervical opening, Streicher says.

A quick chat with your doc can determine if an IUD is for you


More than one good reason for eating mainly plant foods

6 March 2015, 4.17pm AEDT

More than one good reason for eating mainly plant foods

The high meat intake in Western countries is not only bad for waistlines but also for the environment.

Advice to favour plant-based foods and reduce meat intake should now be considered part of healthy dietary advice given by doctors and nutritionists. Marc Phu/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Meat contains some important nutrients, but it’s not essential for a healthy diet. Many people, especially men in Western countries are, on average, eating too much of it. Despite vested interests that wish to maintain this status quo, which prevails in most Western countries, there are very good reasons to curb your meat consumption.

A large body of evidence suggests vegetarians enjoy lower rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. A 2013 study of over 70,000 individuals in the United States found a 12% reduction in premature death for vegetarians and studies of healthy long-lived populations all show modest consumption of red meats.

Clearly, advice to favour plant-based foods and reduce meat intake should now be considered part of healthy dietary advice given by doctors and nutritionists. Especially because myths that a vegetarian diet leads to inadequate levels or iron or protein have been dispelled. But a recent report by a US nutrition advisory committee that suggests exactly this has come under fire.

Under attack

The scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee will form the basis of the latest US dietary guidelines, which will aim to curtail the growing national prevalence of lifestyle diseases.

Meat contains some important nutrients, but it’s not essential for a healthy diet. Mike/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Half of American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases and over two-thirds of the adult population and one-third of children are overweight or obese. (Australians are not far behind with over 60% of adults and 25% of children overweight or obese.)

The US report has been in the news for its recommendations to scrap restrictions on eggs and the advice to limit red meat as well as refined grains and sugary foods and drinks.

Australian dietary guidelines have never restricted eggs, but the most recent set, released in 2013, made similar recommendations about avoiding large quantities of red meat – especially for men. Indeed, our guidelines have emphasised the need for more plant foods, including vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains (as wholegrains rather than refined grain products) since the first set was released in 1981.

But the US committee has faced quite strident criticism from the North American Meat Institute and other meat industry groups for its focus on diet’s impact on human health and the environment. The report states:

The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector, mostly methane and nitrous oxide, are estimated to account for 14.5% of the global total. U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr, CC BY

Meat and the environment

According to the report, following its suggestions would lead to:

lower greenhouse gas emissions and more favorable land, water and energy use than are current US dietary patterns.

It’s not alone is highlighting the impact of meat consumption on climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector, mostly methane and nitrous oxide, are estimated to account for 14.5% of the global total. This is more than direct emissions from the transport sector.

And a report from UK think tank Chatham House released late last year recognises modification of meat consumption as one of the strategies to reduce the extent of climate change.

But many people enjoy eating meat and don’t wish to adopt a vegetarian diet. For them, the good news is modest meat intake is compatible with both health and environmental benefits. Having at least some main meals with less meat and more legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables will be good for not only your health, but also the environment.

Oestrogen good for Multiple Sclerosis.

We know oestrogen is good for women in many ways – but we did not know it helps MS.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis during use of combined hormonal contraception

European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 07/16/2015

The incidence and disease course of multiple sclerosis (MS) is influenced by sex steroids, and several studies have shown less disease activity during high estrogen states. The aim of this study was to expand on the research and determine variation in symptom experience related to the estrogen/progestogen phase in women using combined hormonal contraceptives (CHC). Researchers concluded that women with MS experience more pronounced symptoms during the pill–free, low–estrogen/progestogen phase of CHC use.


  • 22 women completed self–assessments about MS symptoms in relation to CHC cycle.
  • They used a symptom diary based on a validated instrument for cyclical symptoms.
  • Researchers compared mean symptom scores for high and low estrogen/progestogen phases.


  • Four out of ten symptoms were scored significantly higher during the pill–free week than during the CHC phase (P<0.05).

Technologogy robbing us of sensory input.

7 April 2015, 1.43am AEST

Un-doing awareness: Do smart watches make dumb humans?

Samsung Gear S smart watch with Galaxy Note 4 Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr
Click to enlarge

I think I have successfully talked my partner out of getting an Apple Watch. I generally do not interfere with his purchase decisions, but the description of the Apple Watch’s features, or those of any other smart watch, fails to offer more than what one currently available on any smart phone. The Apple Watch promises:

In conjunction with your iPhone, it keeps time within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard…add a physical dimension to alerts and notifications. For example, you’ll feel a gentle tap with each incoming message…gives you a complete picture of your all-day activity.

The main advantage promised by smart watches is that you can stare at your wrist to receive notifications, instead of having to take out your smart phone. For some people, the inconvenience of taking out your smart phone is worth $99 to $799 retail price. But is it worth the actual environmental and potential social negative impacts just to wear this additional technology on your wrist?

In the past five years, the Conversation has published over 35 articles about smart watches and other wearable technologies. David Glance in his Technophrenia column has written some of the best of them. The Conversation scholars have raised the questions: Will they make us healthier or not? What are the legal ramifications for the data being collected? How they are improving sports performance? One of my favourites is Professor Andre Spicer’s article on how smart watches might make us more self-obsessed.

As a design anthropologist, I am more concerned with how digital monitoring leads to human dependency on sensing technologies that tell us things that our bodies, including the mind, are already well designed to monitor. A sub-concern is that these technologies are driven by the desire for corporations to commercialise the data gathered for profit. Adult Swim has a parody called Smart Pipe that highlights the issues.

Smart Pipe parody of sensing technology, bodily functions, and private commercialisation

I teach a class called Multi-Sensory Design Anthropology at Swinburne. A collaboration between my Neuro-Affective Design research colleagues Professor Allan Whitfield, former Swinburne Professor John Patterson, and myself, the unit explores the boundaries of neurophysiology, culture, and design.

Based on John Patterson’s original lectures, I give each week a lecture on the senses (i.e. sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and kinaesthesia) from the biological perspective of nature and the cultural perspective of nurture. Instead of nature versus nurture, the class emphasises how nature is nurture and vice versa.

One of the most important things that students learn in the class is how the human body is able to receive millions of sensory inputs, transform them into basic electrical impulses, and then process those impulses so they are perceived as feelings, poetry, or music in ways that science does not fully understand.

Slide from Multi-sensory Design class Elizabeth Tunstall
Click to enlarge

Our bodies already monitor our heartbeats, tell us when we are not getting enough exercise, reinforce the pleasure of communicating with people we love, remind us when we are getting too much sun, and perform slew of other features. They do so without needing to be plugged into a socket, sell the information to a corporation, or generate more techno-waste in African countries.

For example, I have a heart arrhythmia. For years, I have had to monitor my heartbeat for stress to avoid going into a flutter or fainting spell. My smart phone’s heart monitor fails every time to read my heartbeat because of the arrhythmia. So, I rely upon the features inherent in my body, such as rapid heartbeat, slight dizziness, or shallow breathing to remind me to relax, slow down, and do deep breathing to control my heart rate. After 15 years of practising Tai Chi Chuan, I have a fine-tuned body monitoring and regulation process because it promotes holistic body awareness.

One aspect of the social value of technologies is that they augment human weaknesses. I have described this in my chair and vase articles as Victor Papanek’s Triad of Limitations, in which designs must help human beings overcome the limitations of biology, habitat, and mortality.

Victor Papanek’s Triad of Limitations Elizabeth Tunstall
Click to enlarge

But there is a difference between technologies that seek to augment versus those that seek to replicate or replace human processes. For example, airplanes augment human weakness, as we have no wings to fly. But smart watches seem to be doing the latter, perhaps to our detriment.

Andre Spicer warns us against the constant distractions of being tapped all day long by smart watch messages. Writer Nicholas Carr in a 2010 WSJ article based on his book The Shallows states about the internet:

But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

Might the sensing and monitoring technologies in our smart watches turn us into superficial bodily sensors as well?

By asking my partner to not purchase the Apple Watch, I hope to keep him aware of his body without the need of a sensing technology. But I’ll have to wait until next week to find out if my article was persuasive.

Hormones, herbal preparations and nutriceuticals for a better life after the menopause: part II.

Climacteric. 2015 Feb 10:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Hormones, herbal preparations and nutriceuticals for a better life after the menopause: part II.


Long-term estrogen replacement therapy with estrogen has benefits for many postmenopausal women. However, some women prefer non-steroidal substitution with herbal preparations. The effectivity against vasomotor symptoms has been evidenced for the extracts of pine bark, of linseed and of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), whereas there is controversy about the effectiveness of genistein-rich soy extract. The extracts of cruciferous vegetables such as Broccoli and of linseed induce changes in the metabolism of estrogens, and antioxidants may reverse altered epigenetic DNA methylation, possibly reducing the risk of breast cancer or its recurrence. Indirect evidence from the literature and from clinical trials supports that a nutriceutical composed of plant extracts, low-dose vitamins and minerals may improve the quality of life by delaying certain age-related diseases. On the basis of epidemiologic studies, physiopathological considerations and controlled prospectieve trials, it is suggested that transdermal substitution therapy with estradiol together with nutriceutical food supplementation may increase the number of quality-adjusted life years of postmenopausal women, but complementary, large-scale, prospective trials are still needed.

Invite Some Germs to Dinner


Credit Inés Estrada

WITH the recent recalls of millions of gallons of ice cream as well as several tons of hummus, pine nuts, frozen vegetables and various meat products, you might think the American food supply is an unholy mess. It’s not. It’s arguably the safest in the world.

Yet despite continually improving processing methods and quality controls, the number of cases of food-borne illness has remained stubbornly high since the 1990s, with the incidence of people getting sick from some pathogens increasing. Some experts wonder if we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in food safety — whether our food could perhaps be too clean.

Industrial food sanitation practices — along with home cooks’ antibacterial veggie washes, chlorine bleach kitchen cleaners and sterilization cycle dishwashers — kill off so-called good bacteria naturally found in foods that bolster our health. Moreover, eliminating bad or pathogenic bacteria means we may not be exposed to the small doses that could inoculate us against intestinal crises.

“No one is saying you need to eat a peck of dirt before you die to be healthy,” said Jeffrey T. LeJeune, a professor and head of the food animal research program at Ohio State University in Wooster, Ohio. “But there is a line somewhere when it comes to cleanliness. We just don’t know where it is.”

The theory that there might be such a thing as “too clean” food stems from the hygiene hypothesis, which has been gaining traction over the last decade. It holds that our modern germaphobic ways may be making us sick by harming our microbiome, which comprises all the microscopic beasties — bacteria, viruses, fungi, mites, etc. — that live in and on our bodies.

Research so far has focused primarily on the detrimental effects of cesarean births and not breast-feeding, which may inhibit the formation of a robust microbiome, and the use of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics, which diminish the microbiome once it is established.

A result is an immune system that essentially gets bored, spoiling for a fight and apt to react to harmless substances and even attack the body’s own tissues. This could explain the increasing incidence of allergies and autoimmune disorders such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

There is also the suggestion that a diminished microbiome disrupts hormones that regulate hunger, which can cause obesity and metabolic disorders.

When it comes to food-borne illness, the idea is that fewer good bacteria in your gut means there is less competition to prevent colonization of the bad microbes, leading to more frequent and severe bouts of illness.

Moreover, your underutilized immune system may lose its ability to discriminate between friend and foe, so it may marshal its defenses inappropriately (e.g., against gluten and lactose) or not at all.

All of this is hard to prove. While there has been some research to support the effectiveness of consuming harmless bacteria, known as probiotics, in reducing the likelihood of gastrointestinal infection, there are ethical issues involved in dosing humans with known dangerous pathogens like salmonella and listeria.

But animal experiments have lent some credence to the theory. Researchers at Texas Tech University in Lubbock have found that guinea pigs fed less virulent strains of listeria are less likely to get sick or die when later fed a more pathogenic strain. And anyone who has visited a country with less than rigorous sanitation knows the locals don’t get sick from foods that can cause tourists days of toilet-bound torment.

“We have these tantalizing bits of evidence that to my mind provide pretty good support for the hygiene hypothesis, in terms of food-borne illness,” said Guy Loneragan, an epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech.

This is not to say we’d be better off if chicken producers eased up on the salmonella inspections, we ate recalled ice cream sandwiches and didn’t rinse our produce. But it raises questions about whether it might be advisable to eradicate microbes more selectively.

It is worth noting that serious food-borne diseases — the ones that make it into the news, like listeria, salmonella, E. coli, cryptosporidium and campylobacter — are mainly diseases of immuno-compromised populations. And that’s getting to be a significant number of people, thanks to our aging population.

“It’s a cruel reality that anyone 55 and older is potentially immuno-compromised,” said Haley Oliver, assistant professor of food science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Also included are young children, pregnant women, the estimated 1.2 million people with H.I.V., cancer patients, organ recipients and anyone who has been prescribed a lot of antibiotics.

The three people who died after eating listeria-laced Blue Bell ice cream, prompting a recall of the company’s product last month, ate it while inpatients at a hospital in Wichita, Kan. Local health officials said listeriosis may have contributed to but did not cause these people’s deaths. Seven more people were sickened nationwide.

That leaves millions who, experts said, ate the remaining five years’ worth of ice cream included in the recall and probably didn’t have so much as a stomach cramp. Research shows listeria is commonly found in dirt and in households, particularly in rural communities, and those who come in contact with it often remain asymptomatic.

“When disease happens you have to have a perfect storm of enough of the pathogen present in the food, the person ate enough of that food and that person was immuno-compromised,” said Dr. Oliver. “But because of the hygiene hypothesis we may be becoming a more naïve or vulnerable population.”

She’s not so worried for herself since she travels widely on U.S.A.I.D. missions to places with abundant food-borne pathogens like India and Afghanistan. She and other food science experts interviewed said they ate potentially disease-carrying foods like sushi, medium-rare steaks and items that they dropped briefly on the floor (invoking the five-second rule).

“It’s a personal trade-off,” said Martin Wiedmann, professor of food safety at Cornell University. “If it’s something I really like, I might be willing to take more risk,” which in his case is eating raw oysters, albeit from very cold waters.

But risk is difficult to gauge because of factors like age, illness, popping too many antibiotics, psychological stress or possibly too clean a diet.

On the upside, efforts like the Human Microbiome Project and Earth Microbiome Project are using advanced methods to identify all the microbes living on and within us, as well as in the soil and also in foods, to see how all those invisible organisms interact to promote or inhibit disease.

“It’s exciting because methodological approaches to getting this data are almost outpacing our ability to analyze it,” said Dr. LeJeune at Ohio State. “We’re going to have these humongous data sets that we’re going to have to sift through and figure out what it all means.”

Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)- Possible treatment for Auto-Immune Diseases ?

It is a long time since I have been as interested and enthusiastic about a medical breakthrough as I have about LDN.

Auto-immune diseases are rapidly reaching epidemic proportions. Most doctors are seeing many more people now with auto-immune disease than they did in the past. There are many probable reasons for this, but the despoiling of our environment with all these chemicals, detergents, additives, pollutants and what not may be part of the cause. There is no effective treatment for most of these diseases, which include MS, CFS, Hashimoto’s disease, Coeliac disease and Gluten sensitivity, IBS, Ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and many more. The drugs doctors use to treat these have some nasty side effects, sometimes quite serious.  They are also very expensive.

LDN may be an effective, safe and inexpensive treatment for anyone with Auto-immune disease. I have been using LDN for the last 6 months in over a dozen patients, and have seen some improvements in those using it. Due to the way it works, the results get better the longer it is taken.

For more information, read about LDN on my web page, or watch these 2 videos which are very interesting. If you have trouble getting it up on your screen, get help from the IT expert in your family/friends.


Progesterone protects against Breast Cancer.

I regularly use progesterone when treating menopausal women, even those who have had a hysterectomy. There is evidence that progesterone has breast cancer protective properties. Note however that it must be the natural, or what is known as micronised progesterone. Most HRT given to women contain progestogens, which are totally different and may cause breast cancer.

Adding Progesterone To Drugs Could Help Breast Cancer Patients: Study

By @Guneet_B on July 10 2015 4:12 PM EDT
A woman undergoes a mammograms, a special type of X-ray of the breasts, which is used to detect tumours as part of a regular cancer prevention medical check-up at a clinic in Nice
Progesterone can help slow tumor cells, a recent study says. Reuters

Adding the female hormone progesterone to breast cancer drugs could help nearly 50 percent of the world’s breast cancer patients, a recent study says. The study — published in the journal Nature — claims that progesterone can help slow tumor growth in breast cancer patients.

Currently, medical staff use drugs such as Tamoxifen to block estrogen receptors in tumor cells. Such receptors are known to cause tumor growth. It was long observed that women who had progesterone receptors as well had a far better outlook. However, researchers didn’t know why.

To find out why, scientists from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and Australia’s Univeristy of Adelaide studied the mechanism involved. They found that the progesterone receptors changed the behavior of the tumor cells by “talking to” the estrogen receptors. This resulted in slow growth of the breast cancer tumor cells.

“This important laboratory research helps explain why some breast cancer patients have a better outlook. Crucially, it provides a strong case for a clinical trial to investigate the potential benefit of adding progesterone to drugs that target the estrogen receptor, which could improve treatment for the majority of hormone-driven breast cancers,” said Dr. Jason Caroll of Cancer Research UK, in a news release.

The researchers believe that this method of controlling the growth of the breast cancer cells is cheap, effective and safe. In addition, the wide availability of progesterone could potentially help provide an improved and timely treatment to the breast cancer patients.

Nature. 2015 Jul 8. doi: 10.1038/nature14583. [Epub ahead of print]

Progesterone receptor modulates ERα action in breast cancer.


Progesterone receptor (PR) expression is used as a biomarker of oestrogen receptor-α (ERα) function and breast cancer prognosis. Here we show that PR is not merely an ERα-induced gene target, but is also an ERα-associated protein that modulates its behaviour. In the presence of agonist ligands, PR associates with ERα to direct ERα chromatin binding events within breast cancer cells, resulting in a unique gene expression programme that is associated with good clinical outcome. Progesterone inhibited oestrogen-mediated growth of ERα+ cell line xenografts and primary ERα+ breast tumour explants, and had increased anti-proliferative effects when coupled with an ERα antagonist. Copy number loss of PGR, the gene coding for PR, is a common feature in ERα+ breast cancers, explaining lower PR levels in a subset of cases. Our findings indicate that PR functions as a molecular rheostat to control ERα chromatin binding and transcriptional activity, which has important implications for prognosis and therapeutic interventions.

Can I exercise while getting over a bug?

1 May 2015, 1.52pm AEST

Health Check: can I exercise while getting over a bug?

As we move into winter, the cold mornings, dark evenings and rain tend to bring out the best excuses to miss a session at the gym or run around the park.

If your symptoms are above the neck, you’ll still be able to manage a lighter-than-normal workout. mimohe/Shutterstock

As we move into winter, the cold mornings, dark evenings and rain tend to bring out the best excuses to miss a session at the gym or run around the park.

But if you’re feeling tired and run down, can exercise actually make you sick? And should you wait until you’ve completely recovered before putting those runners back on?

Like many things in life, moderation and common sense are key. If your symptoms are above the neck – a runny nose, nasal congestion and a sore throat – you’ll still be able to manage a workout, though at a lighter-than-normal level.

The human body is constantly under attack from bacteria, viruses and fungi that encourage an infection. The common cold is the most common type of infection worldwide, with most adults succumbing to at least two to three colds a year. Thankfully, most people’s immune system helps to protect them.

But exercise can both help and hinder our immune system. People who perform moderate exercise regularly catch fewer colds than those who are either inactive or perform high-intensity or long-duration exercise. So, a little bit of exercise is good, but too much may be bad.

The body’s response to exercise

Simply speaking, the body’s response to a one-off workout is similar to being injured or fighting off an infection. Inflammation increases the blood levels of different parts of the immune system, providing us with a positive “boost” to help restore the body back to its normal state.

This boost doesn’t last much longer than a few hours before returning to pre-exercise levels. But when repeated regularly, and with sufficient rest in between, each bout of exercise improves immune function that accumulatively leads to a 20-60% reduced risk of infection.

Click to enlarge

In contrast, athletes and heavy trainers who regularly perform either very intense and/or long-duration exercise are two- to six-times more likely to get sore throats and flu-like symptoms than the rest of the population.

This is most likely caused by the exercise also triggering “stress hormones”. Using the inflammation analogy above, imagine you were constantly injured; this depresses some of the many functions of our immune system and thereby limits recovery back to normal.

What else I should know?

It’s not all about the exercise. Many of the accompanying behaviours associated with people being moderately or highly active could also explain some of the changes.

Those training too much, including athletes, might not be taking enough care of their diet, or could be suffering from impaired sleep or encountering raised levels of mental stress.

Swap your training for some R&R if your symptoms are below the neck or you have a fever, muscle aches or widespread fatigue. CandyBox Images/Shutterstock

At the other end of the scale, those beginning an exercise regime might be making positive changes to all the above.

Diet, sleep, mental stress, poor hygiene and contact with other infected people (large crowds, mass transport such as planes, trains and buses) are all known to influence immune function.

While you may have seen adverts claiming that supplement X can improve your immune function and protect against infection (think probiotics, green tea or berry extract), none appear to provide the same benefit as a healthy, well-fed and active individual.

However, something you can do is keep well-hydrated during your workout. If that comes through the use of a sports drink, it may not be a bad thing – taking in some carbohydrate doesn’t only keep your blood sugar steady, it also lowers the stress hormone response that could take the edge off any immune function depression during recovery from exercise.

Who benefits?

The good news is that no matter whether younger or older, male or female, or the type of activity you do (gym, aqua-aerobics, playing a sport, gardening, dog-walking, being intimate with your partner, and so on), at least 20 minutes of something that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster should provide the same benefit.

Although most of the research conducted and guidelines tend to promote cardio exercise, the limited research looking at lifting weights (resistance exercise) suggests a similar benefit to immune function and therefore reduced risk of infection.

When should I not exercise?

Well, you should probably swap your training for some R&R if your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, cough, stomach problems such as vomiting or diarrhoea) or you have a fever, muscle aches or widespread fatigue.

Similarly, if symptoms get worse with exercise, stop and rest, and if they continue beyond a few days, make an appointment with a doctor. Remember, you can always restart your routine gradually when you’re feeling better.

The bottom line

Where exercise is concerned, if you want to prevent infections it’s better to be fitter and exercise most days of the week, while making sure you rest and recuperate sufficiently.

As long as you only have mild symptoms above the neck (runny nose, nasal congestion or sore throat), there’s no need for these to be your excuse from meeting up with your friends at the gym.

But don’t think that your workout alone equals a healthy lifestyle. Don’t neglect a varied and balanced diet, good sleep and hygiene habits, and your psychological and social well-being

Also see:

Exercise and the ‘Good’ Bugs in Our Gut