Archive for the ‘Alternative Therapies’ Category


SA Health has issued a warning about a Chinese medicine after a 60-year-old man had an adverse reaction to it.

Nangen Zengzhangshu is promoted as a treatment for sexual and erectile dysfunction and is available over the internet.

The medicine contains the drugs sildenafil and glibenclamide otherwise only available on prescription in Australia.

SA Health says people with pre-existing heart disease who take sildenafil can suffer sudden cardiac death, heart attacks or strokes.

Glibenclamide is used to treat diabetes and can cause dangerously low blood pressure, vomiting, loss of consciousness and fits.

SA Health says the medicine poses a risk because it contains two drugs which should only be taken under medical supervision with a prescription.

South Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips says sildenafil can cause serious heart problems.

“Sildenafil is used for erectile dysfunction and can cause low blood pressure, chest pain, abnormalities of heart rhythm, even stroke,” he said.

“Especially it can cause problems if it’s used for, if it’s used in combination with certain medicines used for heart disease such as nitrate medicines.”


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‘Higher death risk’ in sleep apnoea sufferers

A new Australian study shows patients with moderate to severe sleep apnoea are at greater risk of dying than people without the condition.

A study of 400 patients found a sixfold increase in mortality in patients with the breathing disorder.

Professor Ron Grunstein from the Woolcock Institute says patients with sleep apnoea often have other health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

He says when those factors were taken into account, patients with sleep apnoea still had a higher chance of dying.

The findings have been presented at an international sleep conference in the United States.

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New controls considered for complementary medicines

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines.

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)

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More than half of Australians have used at least one complementary medicine, ranging from vitamins to treatment drugs for arthritis and weight loss.

But recent studies have raised doubts about the effectiveness of some top-selling remedies.

Consumer group Choice recently found the drug glucosamine, used to treat osteoarthritis, provided little benefit to sufferers.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn says the only effect is a placebo one.

“People who purchase it are convinced of its efficacy but in terms of the real science, we are far less convinced of that, and in fact we just advise people, you are much better off moving to lifestyle treatments, losing weight, doing exercise,” he said.

“This is actually going to get you better results than taking glucosamine.”

There are more than 16,000 complementary medicines listed on the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The national prescribing service is currently reviewing the information provided to consumers about such drugs.

Jan McLucas is the parliamentary secretary to the federal Health Minister and is responsible for complementary medicines

She says she’ll consider the report within the next two months.

“Information provided to consumers can really only be described as patchy,” she said.

“Some producers provide very good websites with information about their products.

“With other products it is quite difficult to find out firstly what is in them and how they will work.”

Senator McLucas says the Federal Government may introduce measures to help consumers make more informed choices about complementary medicines.

She says that may include tougher disclosure rules.

“A range of proposals have been put to the Government including increased labelling on the medications themselves,” she said.

“Another alternative is to look at a Government-run website which consumers would have confidence in.”

Another option being considered is a proposal by Choice for complementary medicines to be given the right to display a green tick – similar to the red tick used by the National Heart Foundation.

Mr Zinn says improvements to the industry are long overdue.

“There is no reason why complementary medicines should not be treated with the same, if not similar, scrutiny as other pharmaceuticals and something else we would like to see is that those medicines who do not choose this opting system with a green tick, have some sort of label on their packaging which says this medicine has not been evaluated by health authorities for efficacy,” he said.

Dr Ken Harvey, from the school of public health at the La Trobe University, has welcomed the Government’s proposals.

“Most complementary medicines are listed, which means they’re not evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Authority to see if they work,” he said.

“There is no approved product information for them, as there is for other medicines and there is no consumer medicines information either.

“So really there is no independent source of information about these medicines in Australia.”

Nobody from two of the biggest suppliers of complementary medicines, Symbion and Blackmores, was available today to respond to the criticism.

But Dr Wendy Morrow, the executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, rejects suggestions the industry doesn’t provide consumers with adequate information.

She says the changes aren’t needed.

“The Complementary Healthcare Council believes that the Australian Therapeutic Goods legislation and regulations already provide consumers with one of the best practice and most scientifically rigorous regulatory frameworks for complementary medicines internationally,” she said.

“There have been two comprehensive government-initiated reviews of this system since 2003 and both of these substantially supported the existed risk-based regulatory framework, subject to minor modifications and that is something that we do support.”

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Govt considers ‘tagging’ dementia sufferers

There's a 'sense of hopelessness' for carers when a dementia sufferer goes missing, Glenn Rees says.

There’s a ‘sense of hopelessness’ for carers when a dementia sufferer goes missing, Glenn Rees says. (Reuters: Christian Hartmann)

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Alzheimer’s Australia says about one third of people with dementia at some point go missing, causing distress for carers and relatives.

Glenn Rees, the group’s national executive director, says it is very traumatic for family carers when somebody goes missing.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness,” he told AM. “Sometimes the person with dementia will go to a favourite place and the situation can be resolved quickly.

“On other occasions, it can’t be. And sometimes, of course, it ends with fatal consequences.”

The Federal Government has just introduced measures to make it mandatory to for service providers to report to it when people with dementia go missing.

Federal Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot says she’s also considering a tag to make it easier for people to be found.

“First and foremost, it could be an identification bracelet,” she said. “So when a lot of these people with dementia are missing, other people can see and realise they are dementia patients.

“As to where they would be a particular tracking or tagging device in a wristwatch or a bracelet, this is something that I’m looking into in consultation with these other groups.”

Alzheimer’s Australia is keen to see a tag with a symbol indicating people have dementia introduced as soon as possible.

“We’ve encouraged the Government to look at a symbol, a symbol for people with cognitive impairment with something that our consumer stakeholders have asked us to examine,” Mr Rees said.

“What they want is something that’s readily recognisable in emergencies, in hospitals, in residential care and in the community.”

As for an electronic device, Mr Rees says the first thing is to establish whether or not a person needs such a device, and then look at the technological options available.

He concedes some of people will have concerns about such a device and he wouldn’t want anyone to be forced to wear it.

Ms Elliot agrees that a ‘tag’ would not be compulsory.

“This is totally in consultation with older Australians and with their families,” she said.

“I want to make sure that people are safe and it’s really important to be working with all groups right across the country to get the best result.”

Mr Rees says technology should not replace quality care, but it could be a good solution for some people.

“But it’s got its limitations and we would certainly encourage people to think in terms of good quality dementia care first, good design in residential care rather than assume that electronic devices would be the total solution,” he said.

Based on a report by Sara Everingham for AM

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School mornings too early for studying teens: report

The researchers showed that the average teenager misses more than an hour of sleep each night and is forced to wake up 2.5 hours earlier than their natural rhythms would dictate (file photo).

The researchers showed that the average teenager misses more than an hour of sleep each night and is forced to wake up 2.5 hours earlier than their natural rhythms would dictate (file photo). (Getty Images: Peter Macdiarmid)

Scientists have confirmed what parents of teenagers have always suspected: adolescents are out of sync with the rest of the world.

Most teens probably do not get enough sleep and suffer in their school work because their internal clocks make them night owls, according to a new study published on Tuesday.

Australian researchers showed that the average teenager misses more than an hour of sleep each night and is forced to wake up 2.5 hours earlier than their natural rhythms would dictate.

High school students with a late-night “circadian preference”, as the biologically driven cycle is called, reported doing more poorly in school and feeling more frequently depressed and unhappy.

“For all people, there is a genetic disposition to being either a ‘morning lark’ or a ‘night owl’,” explained lead author Suzanne Warner, a professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn.

But she says that when hormonal changes kick in at the start of adolescence, young people start to stay up later and – given the chance – wake up later too.

She said most of the students in the study were such “evening persons”.

“Teenagers find that they are most alert in the evening and do not feel sleepy until later, and so find it difficult to get enough sleep during school term,” she said.

The key is melatonin, a hormone that signals to the body that it needs rest and sleep. In teenagers entering puberty, it is released later and later in the evening.

Dim the lights

Professor Warner says there are also environmental factors that contribute to the problem.

Ambient light tends to minimise the amount of melatonin secreted, and the constant use of computers could keep adolescents up past their natural bedtime, even after lights are turned out.

“One thing parents can do is to lower the lights and switch off computers and televisions an hour before bedtime,” she said.

In the study, Professor Warner and two colleagues compared the sleep patterns of 310 students during a school term and while they were on holiday.

Whereas the adolescents slept more than nine hours during the school breaks, they averaged less than eight hours when hitting the books.

‘Night owls’ were more likely than ‘morning larks’ to have negative attitudes about themselves, to express feelings of unhappiness and voice irritation with their classmates, according to the study.

They also complained of low energy, and “impaired” daytime functioning.

“For classes that start before 9:00am, we have to question whether the students are going to be alert and able to learn,” Professor Warner said.

Previous research has shown that nine hours is the optimal amount of sleep time for teenagers.

Circadian clocks are found in organisms ranging from bacteria to human beings, and impose a roughly 24-hour schedule on our activities, such as sleeping and eating.

The mechanism controlling these rhythms is found in individual neurons located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei inside the brain. Scientists have identified at least one gene that determines whether one’s “clock” will be naturally set for early or late rising.

The same process is involved in jet lag, Professor Warner points out.

“You could say that a lot of young people feel quite jet-lagged coming into the school term – it is a very similar feeling,” she said.

She said parents should rethink a tendency to let adolescents set their own bedtime schedule.

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Humble vegie may end diabetes fight

By Thea Dikeos

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China's most revered medical scholars.

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China’s most revered medical scholars. (ABC TV)

Many people swear by the health benefits of Chinese traditional medicine, but often there are concerns such medicine may not have been subjected to rigorous scientific analysis.

Now in a groundbreaking partnership between East and West, Australia and China are analysing the reputed therapeutic effects of a traditional Chinese vegetable – the bitter melon.

Using high-end technology, researchers have been able to unlock its secrets and in the process may have found the basis for a new drug for type 2 diabetes.

At least once a week Sharman Wong prepares a traditional Chinese dish using the vegetable bitter melon.

The recipe comes from her grandmother, who also recommended a concoction of bitter melon juice to combat ailments.

Now her husband, a scientist at one of Australia’s largest medical research institutes in Sydney, is analysing the potential of this humble vegetable.

“Chinese medicine is a very rich source for finding new therapies for diseases, including diabetes,” Dr Jiming Ye said.

The health benefits of bitter melon were noted 500 years ago in the writings of one of China’s most revered medical scholars.

Since then, it has been credited by Chinese medicine practitioners as helping to cool the body, promote digestion and even brighten the eyes.

But many find its bitter taste hard to swallow. Today researchers are returning to these ancient texts in the hope of finding clues to combat modern diseases like diabetes.

Fighting diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has been identified by the Chinese Government as a ticking time bomb. Now it is estimated that by 2025, China will have one of the biggest diabetes problems in the world.

Four years ago, the Chinese Government sent a delegation to Australia to explore new research opportunities in diabetes medication.

The Garvan Institute’s Professor David James is a cell biologist specialising in diabetes. In Sydney, he heads up the team selected to work with the Chinese to analyse the properties of bitter melon.

“I think a lot of people thought this idea was a little bit weird to begin with,” he said.

“Maybe some people thought the Garvan Institute had lost the plot. We got the funds for the two big new instruments.

“Much of our modern medicines actually come from this very way, so aspirin and Metformin – which is one of the most commonly-used medications for diabetes – came from plants.”

A tonne of bitter melon was broken down to its most basic parts. Using a high-powered microscope, the team were able to identify several new compounds which when applied to muscle cells produced an important reaction.

What appears to be an explosion is actually the compound triggering the muscle cell to absorb glucose.

“When we give this compound to our mice just before a meal, we then give the meal, we find that they have a much more efficient removal of glucose from the blood compared to animals that have not been given the drug,” Professor James said.

The most significant observation was that there were no side effects in the mice with type 2 diabetes. The process is in its early stages and human trials are possibly a year away.

But the hope is that this new naturally occurring compound can be replicated in a laboratory and provide the basis for a new diabetes medicine.

“We have even taken out a patent on these molecules, which in a sense, it’s like Sir Edmund Hillary stabbing his flag on the top of Mount Everest so that’s how confident we are that it’s a world first,” Prof James said.

The potential benefits of bitter melon come as no surprise to Benny Fan of the Australian Chinese Medicine Association.

For 25 years he has been telling patients it can help with all manner of ailments.

“Not just diabetes, [but] for people keep slim, weight loss – even for the cholesterol,” he said.

A natural alternative

For the 500,000 Australians with the disease, tablets or injections are taken daily to regulate blood sugar.

Kathy Samaris has been working with type 2 diabetics for over a decade. She is well aware of the some of the side effects some patients experience with their medication.

“Some people can experience nausea, a low blood sugar level, but in its worst manifestations will cause a seizure,” she said.

“A lot of the drugs will cause weight gain which in people who are already struggling with their weight is a big added problem.”

Of course prevention of type 2 diabetes is the ideal approach, the key being weight loss and exercise.

But for Joseph Skrzynski, that was not enough.

“It was about five years ago and it was totally accidental,” he said.

“I actually lost my referral for a blood test and found an old one which actually had the laundry list of tests on, so I whizzed in with that but it came back saying I was a diabetic. So it was a total shock to me and my GP.”

Why he contracted the disease is still a mystery. He was not overweight and had no family history of type 2 diabetes.

More accustomed to investing in corporate ventures, his own health prompted him to put his own money behind the study.

“It mimics something we do in business in venture capital and private equity, which is finding different and novel way of doing things, Mr Skrzynski said.

But for all those type 2 diabetics who may be rushing out to take bitter melon, researchers stress caution and consultation with medical professionals.

“I think in general, with many of these sort of natural products, there’s a lot of uncertainty and we advocate that if ever you’re going to advise people to take some form of treatment, whether it’s a natural product or a prescription medication, there has to be scientific validity behind that recommendation,” Prof James said.

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Epsom salts can prevent cerebral palsy: study

A group of US researchers say giving a woman an infusion of Epsom salts when she goes into premature labor can help protect her baby from cerebral palsy.

Dr John Thorp, a professor of obstetrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says magnesium sulfate, popularly known as Epsom salts, cut the rate of cerebral palsy in half.

“We have a cheap, widely available treatment already in hand that cuts in half the risk of babies being born with an extremely disabling disorder,” Dr Thorp said in a statement.

“And virtually every delivery room in the United States is already stocked with magnesium sulfate solutions that are given to pregnant women during childbirth for other reasons.”

Dr Alan Fleischman, medical director of the birth defect charity March of Dimes, is more cautious.

“I think it is an important study,” he said.

But he says that more study is needed to understand how the treatment works, and that the children were not protected from more subtle brain damage that affected intellectual and cognitive function.

Dr Thorp’s team presented their findings to a meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Dallas.

They gave either magnesium sulfate or a placebo to 224 women going into early labor or with ruptured membranes.

The women’s pregnancies were at between 24 to 31 weeks – a full-term pregnancy goes 40 weeks.

Babies born as prematurely as that can suffer brain damage and other problems including cerebral palsy, a range of conditions that affect control of movement and posture.

Did not prevent deaths

The magnesium did not prevent any deaths among the premature babies, but 4.2 per cent of the babies born to women given magnesium developed cerebral palsy, versus 7.3 per cent of those born to women who got the placebo.

The researchers followed the infants that were born for up to two years.

Dr Thorp’s team says it is not clear how the magnesium works, but it may stabilise the blood vessels, prevent the damage caused by having oxygen cut off and also help prevent immune system damage to the brain.

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