Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gut feeling for a good remedy

Targeting stress was key to curing a painful bowel complaint, says Emma Mahony

It wasn’t until Melanie Smith sought help from a homoeopath a year ago to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that she was able to look back on seven years of suffering and see it for what it was: stress-related. “Just discovering that I was pregnant, with the stress of a major life change, triggered a flare-up,” says Smith, 35, mother of two boys, 3 and 18 months.

Like many of the million sufferers in the UK, Smith was in the dark as to why she was afflicted until that realisation. But while the cause of IBS, the most common of all diseases diagnosed by gastroenterologists, is often hard to pinpoint, the symptoms follow a traditional pattern: swelling, soreness and bloating in the stomach, either constipation or diarrhoea, and occasional blood and mucus. The unpleasant condition had dogged Smith since the age of 27, but she had learnt to live with it while holding down a demanding job as a modern-languages teacher at a secondary school in Surrey.

Conventional medicine did not help. She visited her GP twice at the onset, and was referred to a specialist gastroenterologist, a surgical consultant and a medical consultant, as well as having a colonoscopy to check for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. “The colonoscopy showed inflammation,” Smith recalls, “but it was inconclusive and I found it an ordeal.” While IBS affects between 10 and 20 per cent of the UK’s population at any given time, treating it is not always effective. People with IBS have what appears to be a disturbance in the interaction between the gut, the brain and the autonomic nervous system that regulates the bowels, and anything from diet, levels of serotonin (the mood-controlling hormone) to emotional factors are cited as the cause.

Before she became pregnant four years ago, Smith had tried dietary changes to improve her symptoms, preparing fruit and vegetable juices. But as a vegetarian who ate some fish, she considered her diet to be good. At the same time, she was given medication prescribed by the hospital. “I had blind faith in my treatment,” she says, “and I didn’t see it as a long-term problem.”

That all changed after the pregnancy and birth of her first child. “I had been told by a GP that during pregnancy the condition can get better, but mine was bad throughout. Then, postnatally, I had a huge flare-up, and was prescribed a high dosage of steroids, which gave me steroid psychosis in which I ballooned up and I went a bit loopy.” Coming off the steroids, Smith began to question her treatment, particularly because she was seeing a lot of different specialists.

When she fell pregnant and gave birth for the second time a year later, the condition flared up again, and again she was prescribed steroids. “I thought that they must know what they were doing,” says Smith. But she had chronic diarrhoea, requiring about 20 visits to the bathroom day and night, and she started losing weight. “I was breast-feeding, but all I could do was lie on the sofa with my two-year-old reading, cuddling the baby, while my mother cooked and cleaned.”

Feeling deeply depressed, Smith agreed to a friend’s suggestion of homoeopathy. And so, seven months after the birth of her second child, she went to see Kate Mead, a London-based homoeopath, last February. Nothing could have prepared her for the transformation. “She looked washed out,” recalls Mead, who had worked in the NHS for ten years as an auxiliary nurse before qualifying as a homoeopath from the Contemporary College of Homoeopathy in Exeter.

Source - Times

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The ten top ways to beat stress

We're feeling the strain more than ever, new research shows. But don't worry, says Jeremy Laurance; here are some simple ways to stay calm
Half the British population feels more stressed today than they did five years ago, according to a survey commissioned by the Samaritans. More than one-tenth of people say they have felt suicidal - twice the proportion in 2002. But there are ways to reduce your levels of stress - and to improve the quality of your working life. Here are 10 tips.
Stress is defined as what happens when the demands made on a person exceed that person's ability to cope. The word is derived from the Latin stringere - "to draw tight". Some stress is good - it keeps us on our toes and driving onwards. Its origin lies in the "fight or flight" response that evolved in our ancestors and was essential for survival in prehistoric times.
Today, the same fight or flight response - triggering the release of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol and marked by a pounding heart or sweaty brow - cannot be discharged by running or fighting as our ancestors did. It has physical and emotional effects, increasing blood pressure and putting a strain on the heart, until we face overload.
We do not want to eliminate stress, but we need to manage it so that it doesn't dominate our lives.
Long hours and a macho culture are among the chief causes of workplace stress. The Health and Safety Executive launched a tough new code to reduce stress at work in December 2004. The code sets six standards, including increasing support and giving staff more control. Employers who ignore the standards are at risk of legal action.
Alan Barber, a former head of maths at East Bridgewater secondary school in Somerset, was awarded £70,000 after leaving with a stress-related illness. The case, which went to the House of Lords, established that an "autocratic and bullying style of leadership" that is "unsympathetic" to complaints of occupational stress is a factor that courts can take into account in deciding claims.
A survey by the mental health charity Mind found that the most stressed workers were teachers, social workers, call-centre workers, prison officers and the police. Public-sector workers suffered more stress than those in the private sector.
The single most popular response to stress is to have a drink. This was mentioned by one respondent in three in the Samaritans survey, up from one in four in 2003. Similar proportions say that they watch television or listen to music.
While these may be pleasurable and relaxing at the end of the day, they are not the most effective remedies for stress. "Going for a short walk, doing stretching or breathing exercises, or just getting away from your desk would have a greater impact," says Neil Shah, the director of the Stress Management Society. Exercise also produces endorphins, the body's natural opiates, which boost mood.
Other measures include changing your attitudes, such as learning to accept what you cannot change, managing your time and agreeing with people some of the time. There are no pills or potions or magic cures for stress - notwithstanding the claims of some companies that sell them.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Spiritual Interventions Do Not Help Recovery, But May Relax Heart Patients

Stress and depression can increase the risk of heart disease and impair recovery from heart attacks. And although not as soundly proven, optimistic and relaxed patients seem to weather illness better than the gloomy and anxious. Can spiritual interventions make tests and treatments easier for patients? Like many areas of alternative medicine, this has not been fully investigated, reports the December 2006 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. But two studies serve as models for further research.

In the first study, researchers looked at whether prayer on behalf of a patient could assist recovery from bypass surgery. A third of the patients were prayed for after being told that this might or might not be done; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer after being told this would occur. The researchers concluded that prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from bypass.

In the second study, researchers randomly assigned patients to one of four groups before elective cardiac catheterization and angiography. One group received standard care. The others, in addition to standard care, received either prayer; music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy; or both prayer and MIT therapy. MIT therapy included instruction in meditation and deep breathing, and the application of "healing touch" hand positions by trained practitioners. The investigators found that neither prayer nor MIT therapy was beneficial in preventing subsequent heart problems.

However, patients who received MIT therapy experienced a clear decrease in anxiety and distress before the catheterization-and were less likely to die during the subsequent six months. But it's not clear whether it was the music, imagery, or touch that might have helped, reports the Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Source - Medical News Today

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No long term benefits of baby massage

A gentle massage appears to lower levels of stress hormones in unsettled babies, but there's no evidence that infant massage has any benefit on growth or development, a scientific analysis shows.

Infant massage has long been used in many Asian and African cultures to ease colic and crying, help babies sleep, and even aid their growth and development.

There has also been growing interest in infant massage among parents in Western countries.

UK researchers seeking to assess the science behind the practice analysed 23 clinical trials.

They report their findings in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation that evaluates medical research.

The trials involved infants aged six months and under who were randomly assigned to receive massage or not.

Source - Health News

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Parents told to massage babies for good night's sleep

Parents who want to ensure their newborn baby sleeps at night should try giving their child a massage.

Researchers have found it can be as good as rocking at lowering stress levels in infants, helping them sleep better and cry less.

It can also promote and strengthen the bonds between parents and their new baby.

They concluded that massage could be a useful technique for parents who want to find ways to improve their babies' sleep and ability to relax.

Infant massage has traditionally been used in some parts of the world including Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union.

It is also increasingly being recommended to UK parents in antenatal or special baby massage classes. In each case the parents giving the massage had been trained by health workers.

Overall the research showed infants benefited from massage as they tended to cry less, sleep better and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to those who did not receive massages.

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Good for stress.

IF THE Christmas party season is filling you with dread, try Rhodiola rosea, a plant indigenous to Siberia. It's a powerful herb that helps the body adapt to physical, mental or emotional stress. It is also excellent for improving mental and physical performance and for centuries has been prized as a powerful stimulant - it is the major ingredient in many love potions of folklore. Research and anecdotal evidence have shown that it can help men suffering from erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

Viridian sells rhodiola in capsule form (£9.60 for 30), with a bilberry, alfalfa and spirulina base. See for more information.

Gill Hames is at Neal's Yard Remedies, 102 Hanover Street, Edinburgh (0131 226 3223,

Source - Scotsman

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Nature 'can help people keep fit'

Getting in touch with nature can help keep people fit, reducing the burden of sickness on the health service, conservation experts say.

Natural England is launching a campaign to get people to spend more time outside among the country's wildlife and natural environment.

It said being close to nature could cut stress and increase physical activity.

The conservation agency said the aim was to help prevent ill-health, such as obesity, rather than treat it.

Natural England health adviser Dr William Bird said: "Increasing evidence suggests that both physical and mental health are improved through contact with nature.

Source: BBC News


Sleepy in the car?

I always keep a bottle of Litsea Essential Oil (£4.35 for 10ml) in the car, as I find it more effective than coffee in helping me stay alert behind the wheel. I put about four drops on a hankie and inhale from time to time. It can also be used in a burner, diluted in a massage oil or added to a warm bath.

Litsea essential oil is steam-distilled from the small, pepper-like fruits of a plant commonly called may chang, which grows wild from north-east India to south Vietnam. It is a non-toxic and non-irritant oil that is soothing and uplifting. It is used to treat stress-related tension, which may cause conditions such as headaches, high blood pressure, travel sickness, indigestion, flatulence and muscular aches. It has similarly been used to ease arrhythmias.

Source - Scotsman

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Can chewing 40 times cure food intolerances?

Wheat, milk, cheese, citrus fruit, red meat... the list of foods that people say they can't eat because they have a food intolerance can make them unwelcome dinner party guests.

But rather than dismiss them as faddy eaters, a new book suggests that these people could be suffering from a lack of digestive enzymes.

Enzymes in food play a vital role in our body's cells. Dr Jeremy Kaslow, a biochemist, and Ellen Cutler, the authors of Enzymes For Health And Healing, claim that modern diets and lifestyles are leaving many of us prone to enzyme deficiencies that can cause food cravings, weight gain, premature ageing, lowered immunity and food intolerances.

'Enzymes are essential to every bodily function, including breathing, circulation and immune response,' says Cutler. 'But as we get older the quality and effectiveness of enzymes diminish, our bodies don't produce as many and those that remain lose their spark.

'Poor diet, digestive stress, metabolic imbalance, illness and medications also lower enzyme levels.'

The three basic groups of enzymes are systemic, digestive (made in our body) and food enzymes (obtained in our diet).

Systemic enzymes maintain blood and tissues, ensure our heart beats and our senses work, and balance the hormones that support memory and mood. While the body can make them when we are healthy, when we're ill or stressed 'it can no longer heal or rebuild itself efficiently', explains Cutler.

Source - Daily Mail

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Doctors prescribe self-help books

SELF-HELP books are being made available on prescription in an attempt to tackle depression, eating disorders and other mental-health issues.

The scheme allows patients to borrow the books anonymously from local libraries for up to six weeks. The initiative has been introduced in Fife and Glasgow, and if successful it is likely to be extended to other health authorities across Scotland.

Depression is the most common condition recorded by family doctors in Scotland.

Statistics show that more than 300,000 Scots visit their doctor each year because of stress or depression.

But it is estimated that 75 per cent of people with depression do not seek treatment.

Experts believe part of the problem is that many people - especially young men - are too embarrassed to ask for help.

They hope prescribing the books will allow many people with mental-health problems to treat themselves in privacy, without the need for attending therapy sessions.

Source - Scotsman

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Oats as a medicine

YOU hear so much about the Scots having a poor diet that I thought it would be good to talk about oats - a traditional Scottish food that is still very popular as a healthy breakfast.

Oats are a powerful food and medicine and are known to be a great tonic for the nervous system. They help us deal with depression, anxiety and stress, and can be useful when trying to break an addiction or increase stamina when recovering from an illness.

Oats are also good for the skin and are particularly good in treating eczema. They nourish, moisturise, soften and cleanse and work well when combined with calendula, another great skin healer.

Source - Scotsman

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Body Map every woman should read

Heartache can lead to heart disease, scientists said last week. Here, Anne-Marie O'Leary charts the impact of other life events, and the lifestyle choices we make, on our bodies

Heartache is a physical phenomenon, as any who have felt it will know. Now, new findings claim that it can actually lead to heart disease.

Researchers at the University of Texas have discovered that women who experience divorce are 60 per cent more likely to develop heart disease in later life than their long-term married friends - even if they go on to remarry.

The theory is that the emotional stress of marriage breakdown triggers physical changes in the body that lead to an increased risk of heart disease. But it isn't only heartache that can metamorphose into a health issue. Bereavement, childbirth, exercise, the way we work and play, our sex lives - all can take their toll. Read on to find out how…

Source: - Telegraph


Focus on individual herbal remedies - Festival survival

Festival survival tincture
Made up of Ashwagandha, Gotu kola and milk thistle this remedy provides a boost of energy for those intent on getting the most from their festival - in this case Edinburgh! Ashwagandha is an Ayervedic herb that rejuvenates and energizes the nervous system. Gotu kola helps the body deal with stress. Milk thistle helps protect the liver from toxins.

Source - Scotsman

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Probiotics may ease gut disorders

Probiotics may help ease gut disorders linked to long-term stress such as Crohn's disease, research suggests.

A team at Canada's McMaster University analysed gut tissue taken from rats put in stressful situations.

Animals fed drinking water containing probiotic bacteria showed less signs that harmful bugs were mobilising to cause damage.

The gut study suggests probiotic bacteria literally crowd out their harmful peers.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Charles study backs NHS therapies

Complementary therapies should be given a greater role in the NHS, a report commissioned by the Prince of Wales has said.

The report, by economist Christopher Smallwood, said patients with conditions such as back pain and stress can benefit from some of the therapies.

However, there is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poorer areas.

Source - BBC News

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Happy moments 'protect the heart'

Every moment of happiness counts when it comes to protecting your heart, researchers have said.

A team from University College London said happiness leads to lower levels of stress-inducing chemicals.

They found that even when happier people experienced stress, they had low levels of a chemical which increases the risk of heart disease.

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Thursday, March 31, 2005

Chewing gum can 'enhance breasts'

A chewing gum which the makers say can help enhance the size, shape and tone of the breasts has proved to be a big hit in Japan.

B2Up says its Bust-Up gum, when chewed three or four times a day, can also help improve circulation, reduce stress and fight ageing.

The gum works by slowly releasing compounds contained in an extract from a plant called Pueraria mirifica.

In theory, this helps to keep the muscle tissue in good order.

Pueraria mirifica, also known as Kwao Krua, is a species found in Thailand and Burma.
It has long been used by indigenous hill tribe people as a traditional medicine.

Source BBC News.

(Just don't let Jordan near it!)


Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Herbal stress remedy banned

Remedies containing the herb Kava-kava have been banned after it was linked to four deaths.
The herb is used as a natural tranquiliser and as an alternative to Valium.

It was voluntarily removed from the shelves a year ago after almost 70 cases of suspected liver damage associated with the herbal medicine were reported, four in the UK. Seven patients needed liver transplants.

The UK's Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) and the Medicines Commission have now recommended a ban.

Source BBC News

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Monday, September 30, 2002

Tea 'to join health menu'

Tea could soon join fruit and vegetables on the list of must-have health foods.

Recent studies have suggested the traditional cuppa protects against a range of conditions including cancer, heart disease and Parkinson's.

But scientists in the United States now believe that the health benefits are so great that everyone should be urged to drink tea.

Experts believe antioxidants in tea help to repair cells in the body which have been damaged by sunlight, chemicals, stress and many foods.

Damaged cells can lead to cancer and heart disease as well as a host of other serious conditions.

Source BBC News

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