May 07 2009

Call for consistency in food labelling

I have noticed the lack of consistency in food labels in the UK.  It is very confusing, even to someone like me, who is educated.  Despite education, most of us do not know what to make of the numbers listed.  Is it percentage of RDA/GDA? Or is it percentage of the entire portion?  Of course, they usually report per serving, but they do not always report in terms of percentages.  And most people are not aware of their daily allowances for fats, salts, sugars, etc.  Then there’s the colour-coding system, where green is good, amber is acceptable and red is bad.  Child-friendly, but it might not give you the actual numbers.

One of the reasons for the lack of consistency is that there are so many systems.  In addition, the EU will be deciding what they want for labelling of foods across the EU.  The UK has not decided on any one system, so retailers are using whatever they please.  In addition, individual product makers can put their own system on the packaging.

The other thing I have found is that the focus is on fats, saturated fats, calories, sugars and sodium.  But you can never find any other nutritional information such as any vitamins and minerals contained in the food.  Are we somehow supposed to know that?  In the US, part of the RDA system will list all the nutritional values for the main vitamins and minerals.  Some foods may be high in certain vitamins and the makers would like to point that out.  Is it because most UK residents like to take a multivitamin, so they don’t care about the vitamin content in their foods?  I find the vitamin and mineral content useful.

Though rare, I also have found that some packaging does not even label all the ingredients of the products.  This can be dangerous for someone who might have an unusual allergy.

The government is calling for a single system to be used in reporting the nutritional values on package labelling.  It is a start to some consistency, but I think they’ll need to expand on the information presented.


May 06 2009

New growth charts for children to combat obesity

In an effort to identify babies at risk for obesity, the government will introduce new child growth rates charts.  No longer will those pudgy, adorable babies be the norm.  Instead, we will start seeing those slimmer, trimmer babies.  That’s right, health experts want to encourage breast-feeding and it is well-known that breast-fed babies grow slower.  However, it is recommended that after 6 months of breast-feeding, babies are given some baby food, which helps them grow faster.

I remember breast feeding my baby and we went for a well-baby check at around 4 months.  The paediatrician had to keep re-weighing her because she could not believe the scale.  According to her records, my little girl had not gained any weight since she was 2 months.  She was falling off the growth chart.  Yet, to look at her, she was as happy and healthy as could be.  She was not the chubbiest of babies, but she had nice rolls in her thighs and her cheeks were full (they still are, 10 years on).  So, we had to supplement with formula more.

Had we had different growth charts back then, perhaps the concern would not have been so great.  She might have appeared on the overweight side at the beginning and dipped down to normal.  As it was, she was average and had dipped to below average.

Since obesity leads to many health problems and we are now starting to recognise that obesity can begin very early in life, the change in growth charts will be able to identify those at risk.  Of course, nothing is fool-proof, but it’s a start.  It won’t mean that all heavy babies are obese.  Only those who are not long enough to support their weight.  The chart is meant to carry out weight-for-height measurements.

No longer will averages in weight and height depend on what is perceived to be the norm based on the majority of babies being fed formula, but on those being breast-fed.  Should breast-fed babies increase in size in the future, the growth charts will change again.  But, if obese women produce more milk and their babies feed more and eventually get bigger, will changing the growth charts at that time defeat the purpose?  I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.


May 05 2009

Chinese encouraged to smoke

What do you think about these Chinese officials being forced to smoke?  Apparently, a council in China has decided that in order to increase revenues from tax on tobacco, all officials and civil servants are encouraged to smoke.  Not just any cigarettes, though.  It has to be a locally-produced brand.  Those who do not smoke or smoke the wrong brand risked fines as well as removal from office.

Now, the story has led to criticism and the government has decided to rescind this edict, but they have not commented on it further.  Millions of Chinese die each year from smoking-related illness, yet half of all male doctors there still smoke.  There is still much ignorance about the health risks and The Healthy Blogger can only assume it was part of a government plot.  But said government had made a U-turn in recent times and had even imposed a ban on smoking in public buildings. That was before the Olympic Games – what they will do for the future remains to be seen.


Apr 30 2009

4-MMC should be banned

It seems that once one drug is banned, another comes along to take its place.  The latest “legal high” comes from 4-MMC and psychiatrists are urging the government to ban its use.  Apparently, it is already banned in several countries, but the UK is lagging.  The government advisers are aware of the drug and will be discussing it next month.

Psychiatrists warn that the drug is addictive and can cause hallucinations, agitation, and psychosis.  The drug is snorted and has similar effects to ecstasy, imbuing the user with a sense of confidence and euphoria.  Because it is currently “legal”, it is attractive to young people, who are buying the drugs on the internet.

Internet sales will be difficult to regulate, but at least, if they do make it illegal, it may scare people from buying it.  After all, there should be caution with buying any drug from the internet, legal or not, as these drugs may be tampered with.

Unfortunately, once this drug is taken off the market, something new will come along, if not already out there and we are just not aware of it.


Apr 30 2009

Anti-wrinkle creams proven to work

Two years ago, a scientist declared that there was evidence that a Boots face cream did decrease the appearance of wrinkles.  The public reacted by buying up five-months’ worth of stock on the cream within one day.  Now, two years since that first announcement, Professor Griffiths’ team showed evidence that the cream works.  The cream was found to increase fibrillin, which promotes elasticity in the skin, making it smoother.

But don’t rush out to buy that cream.  Though the study showed that the cream increased fibrillin, it did not state how much or in what percentage of people.  However, less than 50% showed improvement in their wrinkles.  Nearly 25% of people showed improvement using a regular moisturiser.  The study only looked at one brand from Boots pharmacy, but the researchers feel that similar products would probably show similar results.  Nevertheless, he felt that prescription creams with retinoic acid are probably even better.

Whether you feel a 25% improvement over the use of regular moisturisers is enough justification for the extra expense of buying the special formula, then you can find it at Boots.  The cream will be renamed No.7 Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum.  It was previously called No.7 Refine & Rewind Beauty Serum.  Perhaps, the best therapy is prevention by avoidance of the sun (or tanning beds).


Apr 29 2009

Is bed-sharing cause of crib death?

Is bed-sharing harmful to babies?  According to experts, it may be.  There has been much concern about crib dead and they blame some of it on bed-sharing or sofa-sharing.  They point out that the babies at greatest risk are those of low birth weight, have respiratory problems, or if the parents smoke or drink alcohol.  Of course, their advice does make sense.  However, the babies at highest risk of crib death from bed-sharing also seem to be those at highest risk for crib death in any sense.  So, does bed-sharing really make a difference?

I will not go against medical advice in suggesting that it is OK, but even the experts say that a blanket warning to parents is not appropriate.  I will say that we shared our beds with our babies and they did not suffer from it.  Of course, they were and are healthy babies and we do not smoke or drink.  Therefore, we were at low risk to begin with.  I will not say that it was the most comfortable situation all the time, but we are no worse for wear.

There is still no explanation for much of sudden infant death.  When it first came to light, there was suggestion of child abuse.  Later, it was found to be much more mysterious, but sometimes showed signs of abuse from suffocation or “shaken baby”.  As it received more coverage, attention turned towards diagnosing some undetected physical problem.  So, we ended up with some heart and lung defects that can cause babies to suddenly stop breathing – called apnea.  Other causes came to light, such as reflux.  However, reflux came about (sometimes) due to medications given to treat apnea.  But, people forget that many of these physical conditions had been around even before SIDS or crib death came to attention.  Children born with birth defects were monitored carefully and if they did suffer negative consequences, it was not classified as crib death because there was a known cause for it.  SIDS was a diagnosis given to those babies who died under mysterious circumstances. 

Those circumstances remain mysterious, although multiple hypotheses have been forwarded.  Some say that babies sleeping on their stomachs may accidently suffocate when they roll their heads into their pillows and cannot roll them away again.  Or, when they roll their heads they compress arteries in the next that supply the brain.  Prior to this, it was recommended that babies sleep on their stomach because they breathe better that way.  The current recommendation is to keep them on their sides.  Other hypotheses include the presence of bacteria due to a change in the manufacturing of crib mattresses, excessive mucous in the nasal passages.  Other hypotheses include many medical conditions.  But, again, if there is a medical explanation for the death, it would not be classified as SIDS.  Until they can connect all the crib deaths with some distinct explanation, we will never know the real cause of SIDS.  Perhaps, what is classified under the umbrella of SIDS may be more than one condition.  But, surely, we should be able to start grouping these deaths into categories.  Statistics suggest that thousands of babies die of crib death every year.  Could there be that many different diagnoses to explain all these deaths in the end?

So, if we do not know the cause of crib death, what can we do to prevent it?  Really, there is nothing that can guarantee our children’s safety.  However, if expert advice does not sound harmful in any way, then it would be appropriate to follow it. If it goes against any of our fundamental beliefs, then it might be best to discuss it with the doctor before going against medical advice.  But, what about bed-sharing?  It is an individual decision and should be discussed with the doctor or midwife.  Of course, if a parent crushes their child, causing suffocation and death, it really is not crib death, is it?  It would be accidental death or neglect.


Apr 29 2009

First swine flu death outside Mexico

The US reported its first casualty from swine flu today.  It occurred in a toddler in Texas.  It has been expected that eventually there would be mortality from swine flu outside of Mexico. 

Though it is not a full blown pandemic as yet, the WHO have declared that is not longer containable.  Because of this, travel restrictions are of no use in controlling it.  Yet, many people have changed their holiday plans and even some travel agents have cancelled trips to Mexico.

The number of confirmed cases have risen around the world, despite the fact that the actual number of confirmed cases in Mexico have declined.  This is because they applied more rigorous testing to the samples.  Could it be that it is not swine flu that is causing all the problems?


Apr 27 2009

Update on swine flu

The swine flu has been spreading, with more deaths in Mexico and more confirmed cases in the US and Canada.  There are increasingly more suspected cases reported in Mexico and this has spread to other countries as well, including Spain, Israel, New Zealand and Australia.  These cases have been reported in tourists who recently visited Mexico.

The WHO have not increased their pandemic alert level, but they have issued travel advisories.  Because of this, there is concern in the travel industry and shares have plummeted.

Yet, so far, there have been no deaths outside of Mexico.  The international cases have been comparatively mild and all have responded to antiviral therapy.  The deaths in Mexico may be attributed to the fact that it is more severe and many have been unable to receive treatment.  A British woman in Mexico reported that she was very ill and could not get out of bed.  However, she was unsure if she had the swine flu.  Information, according to her, was rather scanty.


Apr 24 2009

New flu epidemic hits Mexico

There is a small outbreak of swine flu in Mexico that has killed 60 people.  It is being blamed for 800 more cases of illness.  Seven other cases of swine flu in southern US have been reported.  All those have survived.  It is unclear at this time whether the cases in the US are linked to the ones in Mexico.  Interestingly, the seven in the US had no contact with pigs.

Tests are still being done on the cases in Mexico to confirm that it is swine flu in all of them.  A spokesman for the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported that the virus that has been identified in the confirmed cases show a mixture of pig, bird and human viruses.  This is the first time that experts have seen such a combination strain.

It is rather late in the season for influenza, but it is an unusual virus that we are dealing with.  Schools have been closed and a vaccination campaign has been started.  However, it is doubtful that the vaccine will have much effect since it was produced for a different strain of the flu.  People are urged to take preventative measures.  Experts have been nervously awaiting a major flu pandemic, so one wonders if this is the start of a major worldwide problem.

So, what can you do if this swine flu does spread?  Well, it’s best to take care of your general health.  That means eat right, get plenty of rest, wash hands thoroughly when required, cover up when you sneeze or cough, isolate those who are ill.  Vaccination will depend on whether the correct vaccine is distributed.  However, it is recommended to take the vaccine even if it is does not cover the correct strain, because it should confer some protection against fatality.


Apr 23 2009

Chocolate, anyone?

They are looking for volunteers to do a study on the health benefits of dark chocolate.  I’m sure it won’t be too hard to find enough volunteers out there.  Chocolate seems to be on top of most people’s list of favourite treats.  However, not all people like dark chocolate.  I, for one, feel that it is too bitter.  Yet, it is the bitterness of the flavonoids in the cocoa bean that are beneficial to heart health. 

Many makers of dark chocolate have removed the flavonoids to make the dark chocolate taste less bitter.  In doing so, they have removed the healthy component of chocolate.  What’s left is the fat and sugar, which is detrimental to your body.  Scientists are hoping to discover how flavonoids do their job in protecting the heart.  If they can discover this, they may want to find out how to add flavonoids to other foods to make them more healthy.  However, if it adds bitterness to the food, it might not be very palatable.

Volunteers for the study may be assigned to dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate.  My personal favourite is white chocolate, though it is probably the least healthy.  Since this blog is supposed to be dedicated to improving health, I should probably not describe my weakness for such an unhealthy treat.  However, all things in moderation should be acceptable.  That goes for dark chocolate as well.

I don’t know how the scientists will control for other factors that may affect the study. I’m not even sure how they hope to answer their questions simply by checking blood and urine tests.  But if anyone is interested in participating in this study, they should call 01224 716693 or email l.ostertag@abdn.ac.uk.  One requirement they have is that you must be healthy.