Light from smartphones and tablets affects melatonin levels

Bright light from electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can interfere with melatonin production which may result in sleep difficulties.

New research offers a compelling reason for parents to ban smartphones, tablets and laptops in their children’s bedrooms at night: The bright light of these devices may lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that prompts sleep.The effect was most pronounced for kids just entering puberty, with nighttime melatonin levels suppressed by up to 37 percent in some cases, the investigators found.With a recent study suggesting that 96 percent of teens use at least one high-tech device in the hour before bedtime, the researchers have a suggestion for parents.

“The message is that we really have to be careful about protecting our especially young teens from light at night, which means parents need to get all screens out of the bedroom, because ultimately they can be quite damaging to a child’s capacity to get enough sleep,” said study co-author Mary Carskadon. She is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, in Providence, R.I.Puberty and changing sleep habits go hand-in-hand, the study authors noted, as growing kids start to push for later bedtimes.To some degree, the shift is likely prompted by several social factors, including the loosening of parental restrictions, budding friendships and media. But scientists believe that biological factors also play a role, as a child’s internal sleep clock starts to changAt the heart of that change is light sensitivity, said Carskadon, who’s also director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory at the E.P. Bradley Hospital. Her team theorized that puberty increases a child’s sensitivity to light at night, causing melatonin levels to stay low and delay sleep.

But the researchers also suspected this natural process could be knocked out of whack when newly light-sensitive children are around the bright glare of modern technology.So the study authors focused on 38 children between the ages of 9 and 15 (early puberty), along with 29 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 16 (later or post-puberty).For four nights, all were exposed to a single hour of light, involving four different brightness levels. Brightness levels ranged from near-dark “romantic restaurant lighting” all the way up to what Carskadon called “light you would find in the produce section of your favorite large supermarket.”The exposures occurred either at 11 p.m. or 3 a.m., the authors said.The result: While melatonin readings were uniform during the early morning light tests, late-night light tests caused much greater melatonin suppression among boys and girls at the earliest stages of puberty.

In that group, dim “mood” lighting suppressed melatonin by more than 9 percent, while “normal” room light triggered a 26 percent dip and “bright” light prompted a 37 percent plunge. Overall, older teens saw much smaller drops in melatonin levels, the study found.The study did not prove that bright light before bedtime causes adolescents to get less sleep, however.”We cannot say we found a sleep ‘disturbance,'” Carskadon said. “But what we did find was that young children exposed to light at bedtime saw their melatonin production suppressed. And this could cause sleep rhythms to be affected in a way that causes children to stay up later, which is exactly what adolescents need not to be doing.”Dr. Jim Pagel, director of Rocky Mountain Sleep in Pueblo, Col., agreed with the finding.”It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “At puberty onset, the circadian pattern is very unstable and very sensitive to light. So the problems they’re finding make sense.”

That opinion was seconded by Kelly Baron, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.”This study didn’t actually test how light affected sleep itself, but it did find that it causes a problem on the pathway to sleep by suppressing melatonin,” Baron said.”At the same time, other studies have consistently shown that electronics in the bedroom are detrimental to sleep for both parents and kids, frankly, which means we all really should be thinking about ways to limit our exposure to electronics, and light in general, before we go to bed,” Baron said.

Alternative remedies for joint pain

Excercise, acupuncture and supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin are showing great promise in alleviating the pain associated with arthritis.

Alternative remedies for arthritis are nothing new. Folklore is full of potions and poultices that supposedly relieve joint pain, and the advent of modern medicine hasn’t dampened the public’s interest. If anything, arthritis patients are more adventuresome than ever before.

It’s no surprise that so many arthritis sufferers are willing to venture beyond the bounds of mainstream medicine, says John H. Klippel, MD, president of the US Arthritis Foundation. With few exceptions, patients with arthritis are never completely cured by standard medicine.

“Traditional treatments can relieve pain, but people still suffer,” he says. In addition, today’s patients aren’t always willing to just sit back and take doctor’s orders. “Many patients will try anything to take charge of their health,”

Heading for the mainstream?

When this proactive attitude is backed up with caution and common sense, good things can sometimes happen, Klippel says. In some cases, he says, today’s alternative medicine may someday be tomorrow’s mainstream.

Many rheumatologists (doctors who specialise in arthritis and other joint diseases) are very open to the idea of complementary medicine, he says. If any remedy can prove its worth in controlled clinical trials, doctors will quickly embrace it.

Unfortunately, most alternative treatments have rarely, if ever, been put to the scientific test. A few studies have shown some benefit from these treatments, but the results aren’t consistent. While some patients swear by the results, doctors are still waiting for the hard data. There are, however, a number of studies on at least three complementary treatments that show great promise: acupuncture, exercise and glucosamine/chondroitin.

Will acupuncture work?

A landmark study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Other studies have also found it helpful in relieving pain. As a result, it is increasingly being used as part of arthritis treatment and may even be covered by health insurance.

Exercise – though considered more self-care than alternative remedy – is also widely recognised as reducing arthritis pain and improving flexibility, range of motion and mobility. One study published in Arthritis Care and Research found that two hours of strength building exercises a week showed that after eight weeks, participants had less pain and fatigue, and improved leg and arm functioning; those that continued the program beyond eight weeks also saw an improvement in stiffness.

With the approval of your physician, exercise 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. This could include a combination of strength-building exercises and walking , biking, dancing, swimming or water exercise.

What about glucosamine and chondroitin? 

Glucosamine and chondroitin have also begun to enter the mainstream. According to Klippel, preliminary studies have suggested that the supplements can relieve osteoarthritis, presumably by restoring cartilage. The supplements may even be able to slow down the advance of the disease, a claim that no current medication can make. (There’s no reason to think that the supplements would be effective against any other form of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, he says.)

Interest in glucosamine and chondroitin has been so great that the National Institutes of Health conducted a large-scale study of the supplements for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. More than 1,500 osteoarthritis sufferers at 16 rheumatology centers across the United States participated in the study over a 24-week period. Scientists gave research subjects five different treatment options including glucosamine only, chondroitin only, and a combination of both.

Although there were no significant differences between treatments overall, researchers found that for those with moderate to severe pain, glucosamine combined with chondroitin reduced patient suffering by at least 20 percent.

However, a follow-up study published in 2008 found that the supplement did no better than a placebo in slowing the loss of cartilage. Since the placebo group did better than expected, however, researchers cautioned that the results are difficult to interpret and further research is needed.

In 2010, however, a new analysis of large-scale studies on the issue found that there is no evidence that supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin relieve the pain of osteoarthritis in the hips and knees.

However, the study found no evidence that the pills cause harm, and the study authors said that in general, there was little reason to stop taking them if people feel they are helpful.

Beet juice boosts muscle power in heart patients

In a study, the high amounts of nitrates found in beet juice caused a robust increase in muscle strength among heart patients.

Beet juice, with its high concentration of nitrates, may help boost muscle strength among heart patients, a small study has found.

Nitrates are processed into nitric oxide by the body, which helps relax blood vessels and improve metabolism. Dietary nitrate, found in beets and leafy greens like spinach, has been shown to boost muscle performance in elite athletes.

Based on studies of elite athletes, especially cyclists who use beet juice to boost performance, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis tested the benefits of dietary nitrate among nine people with heart failure, a condition that causes the heart to gradually lose its pumping power.

A major impact on quality of life

The patients were given concentrated beet juice. Two hours later, they showed a 13 percent power increase in muscles that extend the knee. The researchers also found the greatest benefit when the muscles performed fast, powerful actions.

Longer tests measuring muscle fatigue however, showed no performance improvement, according to the study published recently in Circulation: Heart Failure.

One to two weeks either before or after the nitrate supplement, the same nine patients were given a control drink of beet juice that had the nitrate removed, to serve as a baseline for muscle strength in each individual.

“It’s a small study, but we see robust changes in muscle power about two hours after patients drink the beet juice,” senior study author Dr Linda R. Peterson, an associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, said in a university news release. “A lot of the activities of daily living are power-based: getting out of a chair, lifting groceries, climbing stairs. And they have a major impact on quality of life.

“We want to help make people more powerful because power is such an important predictor of how well people do, whether they have heart failure, cancer or other conditions. In general, physically more powerful people live longer.”

The researchers estimated the benefits of the beet juice supplement by comparing its effects to the results of an exercise regimen.

“I have compared the beet-juice effect to Popeye eating his spinach,” said the study’s corresponding author, Andrew R. Coggan, assistant professor of radiology, in the university news release. “The magnitude of this improvement is comparable to that seen in heart failure patients who have done two to three months of resistance training.”

The researchers said they plan to also examine the beneficial effects nitrates could have on older people struggling with weakness.

“One problem in ageing is the muscles get weaker, slower and less powerful,” Coggan said. “Beyond a certain age, people lose about 1 percent per year of their muscle function. If we can boost muscle power like we did in this study, that could provide a significant benefit to older individuals.”

What you must know about hair dyes and cancer

Dyeing your unsightly greying roots may be an important part of your beauty routine but are you putting yourself at risk of cancer? This is the latest on hair dye and cancer.

It is a fact that hair colour products contain strong chemicals, but can they cause cancer?

It’s a non-negotiable part of your beauty routine: every two months you book in at the hairdresser to get rid of your unsightly greying roots.  But rumours that hair dye may up your cancer risk are making you nervous. Should you be worried? The risk associated with hair dye seems to depend on the type of hair dye used, as well the frequency of exposure.According to the US National Cancer Institute, there are three types of hair dyes:

1. Temporary hair dyes that don’t penetrate into the hair shaft and only last one or two washes (many people use these hair dyes for one-off occasions such as fancy-dress parties).

2. Semi-permanent dyes that do penetrate into the hair shaft, but which wash out in 5 to 10 washes.

3. Permanent hair dyes, which are used most frequently and which cause the most concern. These also penetrate into the hair shaft, and the colouring agents (which contain chemicals called aromatic amines and dye couplers that form pigment molecules when mixed with hydrogen peroxide) contain a wide variety of chemicals. In the 1970’s these chemicals were reported to cause cancer in animals, but, according to the American Cancer Society, hair dye manufacturers have changed the ingredients of their products.

Two groups studied

Many studies have been conducted to see whether there’s a link between exposure to the chemicals in hair dyes and the development of certain cancers, including bladder cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma and breast cancer.Two groups of people have been studied in the past: those who have their hair dyed every few weeks, and hairdressers and barbers who are exposed to these chemicals on an ongoing basis.A meta-analysis published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine (May 2010), which included 42 studies, did show an increased risk for bladder cancer among hairdressers, particularly in those who held their jobs for 10 or more years.

But the researchers cautioned that the results were possibly influenced by whether the hairdressers smoked or not. The aromatic amines that were used in hair dyes and other hair products until the end of the 1970s, but banned thereafter, could also have played a role in hairdressers whose careers spanned many decades.Another meta-analysis from the same source showed a slight increased risk for lung cancer, larynx cancer, and multiple myeloma among hairdressers.But the increased risk of cancer among users of hair dyes seems to be extremely slight, and then only in women who began using hair dyes before 1980, when they still contained some potentially harmful carcinogens.

The good news is that there’s no increased risk among recent users.

A few questions on the safety of hair dyes:

Can I dye my hair while I’m pregnant?

Yes, you can dye your hair while you’re pregnant, It’s recommend you wear gloves if you’re doing it yourself, dyeing your hair in a well-ventilated room, and leaving the dye on for the minimum amount of time. There are simply not enough chemicals in hair dyes to do any harm to you or your baby.

How do I find out if I’m allergic to hair dye?

An allergic reaction can vary from skin irritation in areas of direct contact, to a systemic reaction such as urticarial or widespread itching, according to Allergy UK. A patch test at an allergy clinic could help identify the culprit in your case. Non-permanent dyes may be safer for regular use if you have a reaction to the stronger chemicals in permanent hair dyes.

Should I keep any other safety tips in mind when colouring my hair?

The FDA recommends the following:

– Follow the directions on the package.

– Do a patch test to test for allergies.

– Wear gloves.

– Don’t colour your eyebrows or eyelashes yourself with hair dye.

– Rinse your scalp well after using hair dye.

British cancer boy Ashya returns to Prague a year after treatment

Ashya King is showing major improvements a year after his parents snatched him from a British hospital and brought him over to the Czech Republic for life-saving brain tumour treatment.

ashya king

“Everything is improving with Ashya,” his father Brett told reporters in Prague while the six-year-old smiled and walked around on unsteady legs. A year earlier he had only been able to open his eyes.

“His walking is improving, his coordination is improving, his speaking is improving, his writing and drawing skills are improving, but he is a little bit behind,” Brett added outside the hospital where Ashya had received the so-called proton therapy. “I’m sure in the years to come he will catch up and be like a normal child,” he said before taking Ashya on a walk along the historic Charles Bridge in the city centre.

Ashya’s case made headlines when his parents removed him from a British hospital against the doctors’ orders in August 2014, sparking an international manhunt. The Kings feared traditional radiotherapy would damage his brain and opted instead for the proton therapy, unavailable in Britain but touted as more precise because it only targets malignant cells.

Brett and Naghemeh King were taken into custody in Spain on an international warrant as British authorities suspected they were not acting in the best interests of their child. But after they spent four days in a Spanish prison, a British court reunited them with their son at a Spanish hospital and allowed them to travel to Prague where he spent almost 50 days.

Ashya was declared cancer-free in March, almost half a year after undergoing 30 sessions of proton therapy with a beam targeting his brain tumour.

“His progress seems to come in jumps, it’s not continual, so he might plateau out for some time but suddenly he’ll do something that takes him onto the next level,” Brett said as Ashya stumbled down the 500-metre (0.3-mile) bridge with the help of his parents and siblings.

“There’s a lot of things he could do but we’re just very careful with him, we want the progress to be without him injuring himself so we don’t take any risks whatsoever.”

How to choose a fish oil supplement

Taking an omega-3 supplement can have many health benefits but choosing a supplement can be tricky. Here are some tips for taking omega-3.

fish oil supplementSouth Africa’s supermarket and pharmacy shelves are filled with omega-3 supplements, causing much confusion for consumers. Experts offer tips to help consumers decide who needs a fish oil supplement and how to choose the best one.

Science has shown that fish oil holds several health benefits and most of these benefits seem to come from the omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)).  Interestingly, the body fails to produce its own omega-3 fatty acids, which therefore need to be consumed via the diet or supplements. Cold water fatty fish like pilchards, sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids is acknowledged for its role in decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, which protect against type 2 diabetes, cancer, ulcerative colitis, asthma, psoriasis and many more. The role of omega-3 fatty acids in brain and eye development is also well documented.

How much should I take?

Around 250-280g of oily fish should be consumed weekly to reach recommended intakes and this amounts to about 500mg EPA in combination with DHA per day. To reach these levels, many consumers prefer using a supplement – and there is no shortage of choice. In 2014, there were more than 65 fish oil supplements available on pharmacy and supermarket shelves in South Africa. Choosing the right one is not straightforward, but there are a few things consumers can look out for. The most expensive supplements are not necessarily the best. Become familiar with claims on supplement labels and If it sounds too good to be true it usually is!

Read: Why fats are important for ADHD sufferers

High concentration is not necessarily better

In nature, virtually all fats appear in the form of triglycerides (TGs) and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are almost exclusively TGs. However, not all omega-3 supplements on the South African market are encapsulated as TGs, but may be processed to fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE), a combination of FAEE and TG or a synthetic form of TG. Many supplements claim that they comprise of high potency, concentrated or even super concentrated fish oil.  But concentrated fish oil is not considered to be fish oil anymore. Fish oil concentrates are obtained when alcohol is mixed with fish oil during the manufacturing process, leading to the formation of FAEE. During the digestion of FAEE alcohol is released. Though the safety of FAEE has not yet been proven in humans, pregnant women have also been advised against its use. Yet in South Africa most manufacturers fail to indicate whether their products contain FAEE on product label and neither warn pregnant women against its use. Research has also shown that FAEE is not well absorbed, compared to other forms of fish oil. A 2013 survey conducted by the Functional Foods Research Unit at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) found that a fifth (21%) of 63 fish oil supplements on the South African market comprised exclusively of FAEE, while 68% were a combination of FAEE and TG.

Read: Omega 3 fatty acids may help improve treatment and quality of life in cancer patients

Check the expiry date

The state of rancidity of some fish oil supplements is another concern. In the same study, 57 fish oil supplements were tested for rancidity and more than 80% of these supplements exceeded the recommended rancidity levels. When fatty acids become rancid they are considered harmful to the health and are less effective.

Health professionals should advise consumers to purchase supplements from outlets which have not been stored on shelves for excessive periods of time, where exposure to light is a problem. Consumers should avoid buying supplements packaged in clear containers since exposure to light may enhance the oil rancidity and have been advised to refrain from using any supplement beyond the expiry date.

Don’t overdo it!

Excess fish oil consumption (less than 3 000 mg/day) should be avoided. Supplement labels should clearly indicate the exact contents of both the fish oil supplement and the EPA and DHA contents in a capsule. Oversupplementation can lead to prolonged bleeding, especially when used in combination with other blood thinning medication and increases the risk of suffering a stroke. Diabetics should also exercise caution when using omega-3 fatty acids since it could affect blood glucose levels. Ideally the source of fish oil should be indicated especially since different types of fish contain different amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Healthy habits

Taking the right supplement contributes to good health in the long term, but consumers should not expect instant benefits. Science indicates that it takes 30-60 days for EPA and DHA to fulfill its optimal function and for the user to recognise a difference in inflammation levels. Like any good habit – taking supplements is something consumers have to be committed to developing and maintaining. And remember, taking supplements does not replace the need to have other healthy habits. Always eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and exercise regularly for optimal health.

How phospholipids boost liver health

Increasing your intake of dietary phospholipids could improve the health of your liver, protecting it from diseases caused by poor lifestyle choices.

liverIn today’s world where many of us make poor lifestyle choices, our livers are under more strain than ever. Unbalanced diets, a lack of exercise, risky sexual behaviour, obesity, drug abuse and binge drinking mean that our livers have to work harder and are at a higher risk of damage and disease.

One of the most common conditions affecting the liver is fatty liver disease (steatosis). It is almost entirely influenced by lifestyle choices but is also reversible. Fatty liver disease can be caused by alcohol abuse (alcoholic steatosis) or by other lifestyle factors such as poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and smoking, the British Liver Trust explains. This is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Fatty liver can cause liver inflammation and progress to scarring. Advanced fatty liver disease can cause cirrhosis and liver failure, the Livestrong Foundation explains. It is associated with a number of conditions including metabolic syndrome, hypertension, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Can phospholipids help?

For over 100 years experts have recognised the benefit of phospholipids for reducing symptoms of a number of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and inflammation, according to an article published in Lipids in Health and Disease.

Phospholipids are capable of repairing damage to the liver caused by alcohol, poor diet and other factors. They are an important component of cell membranes and contribute the overall functioning of the cells. They help to form a semi-permeable bilayer that encloses the cytoplasm (cellular fluid) and allows for transportation of substances in and out of the cells.

A paper published in Lipidology states that there is increasing evidence that phosphatidylcholine, a type of phospholipid found in egg, fish and soybeans, can reduce fat in the liver. This indicates the potential benefits of increasing phospholipids as a means of treating fatty liver disease and maintaining liver function.

How to increase your intake of phospholipids

To protect your liver and improve its functioning, you can supplement your phospholipid intake. This can be done by taking a supplement or by increasing your dietary intake of foods containing phospholipids. Try increasing your intake of:

–          Egg yolk

–          Soybeans

–          Fatty fish, especially sardines

–          Brussel sprouts

–          Broccoli

–          Lean meat such as chicken

–          Organ meats such as liver and kidney

–          Milk

If the idea of changing your diet doesn’t appeal to you, there are many affordable liver supplements on the market. It is important to specifically look for ones that contain phospholipids as not all of them do. In particular, keep an eye out for brands that state that their phospholipids are derived from soybeans, fish or eggs as these will contain phosphatidylcholine.

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