Well it seems, here in the Eastern Cape, we’ll be going into Winter with no water in the dams and no grazing for the livestock. The rain has continued to elude us and our historically rainy season, February to April, is about to come to an end. Farming has now become a challenge and it is going to be interesting to see how we cope. Ha! just listen to me! Having been married to an adorable farmer for 30 years, I am beginning to sound just like him! Although when it comes to farming, especially without water, I don’t really know what I am talking about, so let me rather get back into the area of health where I feel more comfortable.
MIGRAINES FROM HELL
If you or any of your relatives are a victim of this curse, you will know very well how painful a migraine can be. But what I’d like to know is, why am I seeing more and more people nowadays who are migraine sufferers and, most distressing of all, some are children. Were migraines always this common or is it to do with the bad diets foisted on us by processed foods and additives?
What triggers a migraine headache?
The answer to this question is something every migraine sufferer would like to know, especially since knowing what potential triggers to avoid would give a patient a sense of control over a disorder which strikes episodically and often without warning.
Diet can play an important role in the precipitation of migraines and yet the diet factor is frequently neglected in favor of preventive drug therapy. The list of foods, beverages and additives that may trigger a migraine includes peanuts and peanut butter, some cheeses, chocolate, citrus fruits, processed meats containing nitrites or nitrates, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, fatty foods, ice cream, ripe bananas, avos, breads that contain yeast, caffeine withdrawal, alcoholic drinks, especially red wine and beer, dried meats and dried fruit and foods or beverages preserved with sulphites or benzoic acid. The list seems depressingly long but the good news is that most of the offenders are the highly processed and manufactured food products so aren't too difficult to identify, test, and eliminate from the diet.
An elimination diet can help you find your own natural headache cure. While keeping a daily headache and food diary, cut out all the foods that could potentially be a migraine trigger and then slowly add them back into your diet one by one. If your migraine headaches come back when you add a certain food, you can identify it as a trigger and totally eliminate that food from your diet.
But trigger foods are not the only culprits. There are stress links as well as emotional inputs and even prescribed medications, including the very ones used to treat a migraine, may, after a while, trigger more headaches from a rebound effect. For females it is also important to consider hormonal influences because migraines tend to develop around menstrual cycles or at the pre-menopausal or menopausal stages. Allergies or even low blood sugar may be the cause of migraines, so it would be a good idea to be tested for these and then have a nutritional therapist design a diet plan based on the results.
Butterbur: A natural remedy for migraines which is receiving a lot of attention lately is butterbur, a perennial shrub found throughout Europe that flourishes along the banks of streams and has a long list of traditional uses dating back to ancient times. An extract of butterbur, called petasin, is responsible for its antispasmodic and analgesic effects used for the treatment of migraines. Randomized and placebo controlled studies on adults, adolescents and children, alike, have produced excellent results with significant reductions in the frequency and severity of migraine attacks over a 4 month treatment period. This is welcome news especially for practitioners working with children. As an all natural prophylactic treatment for migraines, butterbur offers a safe and effective alternative to drugs which may have harmful side-effects. Vitamin B2: Promising results have been found with the use of 400milligrams of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) daily over a 3 month period. Since this nutrient is water soluble, it is advisable that the total daily dose be split into three smaller doses and supported with the entire B complex. Fish Oil: In a study by scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, taking fish oil capsules daily was also shown to not only halve the number of migraine attacks, but also reduce the pain and severity of those that did occur. In the trial, 60% of subjects benefited from the supplement, which reduced the number of attacks from two a week to two a fortnight. Men reported more relief than women, but if you are going to investigate this nutritional approach, take fish oils made from an unpolluted source. Do I need to remind you of the See Yourself Well and Life Support brands available online? Magnesium and B6: Another well-documented treatment regimen especially for pre-menstrual migraines, involves supplementing with a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6. Progesterone: Migraines which strike at pre-menopausal or menopausal stages in a woman’s life may often be cured simply by balancing hormones using a natural (not synthetic) progesterone cream such as AIM’s Renewed Balance, preferably done under the guidance of a health practitioner. There are many other natural remedies for migraines, too many to mention here, but one can find combinations of them in excellent supplements such as Willow’s Migran. So it is comforting to know that there are effective and safe natural remedies for treating migraines and one does not have to resort to drugs which by all accounts show vague results, especially in children. Remember though that natural remedies are not overnight fixes and may require at least 1 to 3 months to effect results.
PSA TEST -"A HUGELY EXPENSIVE PUBLIC HEALTH DISASTER"
In my November 2009 newsletter I cited reasons why prostate cancer screening via the so-called prostatic specific antigen (PSA) test, may be an unnecessary and costly exercise. Confirmation of this could not have come from a more valid source: the doctor who discovered PSA! In fact, he thinks doctors should stop using it! Dr Richard Ablin of the University of Arizona has been quoted recently in both a British Medical Journal as well as the New York Times. Dr Ablin is scathing in his opinion of what drives PSA screening in the US and is quoted as saying: “It seems to me that financial motives have spurred a tsunami of testing,” adding “There’s an unbelievable industry behind this. Unfortunately we don’t practise evidence based medicine here; we do things and later rationalise what we’ve done by saying we thought it was the best thing to do at the time.” He says the screening procedure is too costly and ineffective. In a commentary for the New York Times, Richard Ablin wrote: "I never dreamed that my discovery four decades ago would lead to such a profit-driven public health disaster," He adds, “PSA testing does have a place, after treatment for prostate cancer and for men with a family history of prostate cancer. Testing should absolutely not be deployed to screen the entire population of men over the age of 50, the outcome pushed by those who stand to profit." He ends with: “The medical community must confront reality and stop the inappropriate use of PSA screening. Doing so would save billions of dollars and rescue millions of men from unnecessary, debilitating treatments.”
Some of Dr Ablin’s reservations about PSA screening are: 1. It is not specific for cancer: the cut-off point for PSA is generally set at 4 ng/ml. 80 per cent of men with PSA values of 4-10 ng/ml actually have benign (non-cancerous) prostatic enlargement. 2. Even when it detects actual cancer, the test cannot be used to determine whether the cancer is slow-growing and non-life-threatening or more aggressive in type. 3. Evidence shows that for one life to be saved as a result of PSA screening, 48 men would have to be treated. This leaves 47 men who have had perhaps non-critical surgery, that can leave them impotent and maybe incontinent. All this makes the mind boggle doesn’t it? At the same time another cancer screening practice - mammography - has also been called into question and the BMJ has published a study which, at face value, reveals mammography to also be a largely worthless endeavour. Perhaps there’ll be space for more about this in my next newsletter.
FOCUSSING ON BUTTERBUR
Already mentioned in the above article on migraines, butterbur deserves a little more attention here because it is so much more than just a prophylactic against migraines. One of the main active constituents of butterbur extracts is petasin, which is thought to be responsible for the antispasmodic properties, making butterbur useful in treating urinary disorders, menstrual cramps, kidney stone disorders, obstruction of bile flow, and other liver or gastrointestinal disorders associated with smooth muscle spasm. Petasin also inhibits leukotriene synthesis which is why it also works well for hayfever, asthma, chronic cough, seasonal allergies and sinus related headaches.
Good news for those who experience the runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and inflamed sinuses that accompany the change of seasons is that a number of studies on 168 allergy sufferers found that butterbur significantly reduced the bothersome allergic symptoms and concluded that butterbur is effective and well tolerated. Some doctors even recommend butterbur as a first line treatment for seasonal allergies, instead of or combined with conventional drugs. When compared to a conventional Antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec), butterbur was found to work as well and to have fewer side effects. When it comes to asthma, research results suggest that butterbur may be a beneficial adjunctive treatment to conventional asthma medications. Preliminary trials show that butterbur, when administered with conventional corticosteroid inhaler medications, helped reduce airway Inflammation in both children and adults. Since asthma is a serious condition, you should not begin any supplement routine without first discussing the implications with your doctor. If you decide to give butterbur a try, make sure you get the extract from which the pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been removed, as these PAs can be toxic to the liver.
SHOULD MELANOMA SUFFERERS AVOID THE SUN?
A recently-published study has found that survivors of malignant melanoma are at heightened risk of other cancers including those of the breast and colon cancers and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Malignant melanoma is a form of skin cancer we are repeatedly warned about and told, to prevent it, we need to limit our exposure to the sun. Has this advice back-fired? Why should melanoma survivors be at increased risk of cancers that have no direct link with melanoma? This question has led some researchers to explore the idea that at least some of this increased risk might be as a result of sun avoidance and lowered levels of cancer-protective vitamin D. I think it is a given, that individuals who have had a diagnosis of melanoma become very sun-shy, their rationale being based on the widespread belief that sunlight causes melanoma. However there is a school of thought that believes that if we avoid the sun and slather ourselves in sunscreen when we’re in it, we run the risk of limiting the production of vitamin D in the skin. And higher levels of vitamin D and/or increased sunlight exposure are associated with a reduced risk of several cancers, including – as it happens – cancers of the breast and colon and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So when individuals become sun-shy, they are quite likely to be increasing their long-term risk of several cancers, as well as several other conditions linked to sunlight/vitamin D including cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis. A book written by researcher Oliver Gillie quite persuasively makes the point that some of the chronic disease burden in Scotland might be down to lack of sunlight. Now no one is saying go out there and get burnt but the anti-sun propaganda does seem to have gotten out of hand. There is even some thought that the indiscriminate use of sunscreens might actually increase melanoma risk. One reason for this is that use of sunscreen generally prolongs sunlight exposure, giving one, so to say, a false sense of security. Another issue I have with sunscreens is that they prevent one’s skin from becoming conditioned to the sun. Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see children returning from a summer holiday only marginally browner than when they left. My sun-safe advice to South Africans would be to get yourselves a golden summer tan by exposing your bodies, without sunscreen, to the sun’s rays before 10 am and after 3pm. When necessary, use shade, hats and t-shirts to avoid burning. Tanning is not just a cosmetic thing: it protects the skin and reduces the risk of damage and burning. A tan is natural and is generally associated with good health. I also like to think that supplementing with vitamin D should not be necessary in South Africa where we have sunny skies all year round. Vitamin D is stored in the body so even if you’re an 8 to 5 office worker, if you’re able to spend a fair amount of time in the sun over weekends, your vitamin D requirements should be covered. Only those confined to indoors, such as the frail in an old age home, might need to consider supplementing.
WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST SECOND-HAND SMOKE
This is welcome news indeed. As we all know the policies that restrict smoking in public, enable non-smokers to be exposed to a lot less second-hand smoke. This has already manifested in a reduction in the number of people who have heart attacks, as well as an improvement in other indicators of health. These findings are reported in a Cochrane Systematic review published in April 2010. Needless to say the impact on active smoking has not been conclusively demonstrated, so we need to save our smokers by getting them to kick the habit altogether, don’t you think? Send any smokers you know to www.quitsmokingnaturally.co.za to learn about Vice-Breaker, a phenomenal herbal anti-smoking aid and lung cleanser. We are having great success with these potent little capsules and those using them are reporting feeling healthier than they have in years, with one lady particularly thrilled with all the compliments she is getting about her skin.
Well that's it from me this month. Take good care of yourselves before we meet again next month.