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So many reasons to quit…the time is now!

Another year, another resolution. You know you should, everyone tells you that you should…but what’s in it for you? Apart from saving loads of $$, Shiney Mehrotra looks at the benefits to your body.


Time since quitting Beneficial health changes that take place
Within 20 minutes Your body begins a series of changes that continue for years. Your heart rate reduces.
12 hours The carbon monoxide level in your blood reduces dramatically
2-12 weeks Your heart attack risk begins to reduce. Circulation improves. Exercise is easier. Lung function improves.
1-9 months Coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
1 year Your risk of coronary heart disease is halved compared to a continuing smoker.
5 years Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus decreases and your risk of stroke is dramatically reduced.
10 years Your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and your risk of cancers of the bladder, kidney and pancreas also decreases.
15 years Your risk of coronary heart disease and risk of death fall to about the same as someone who has never smoke

Money Saved

Cigarettes cost money. Have you thought about how much you could save by quitting smoking and being a non smoker?

Let’s do the sums.

If a packet a day smoker spends $12.50 on a packet…… then they spend

$87.50 a weekThe cost of a nice meal at a good restaurant

$350 a month.  The cost of a weekend away or some new clothes

$4,550 a year.   The cost of a new lounge suite or top level private health insurance for a whole family

$22,750 in 5 yearsThe cost of a holiday for two people to Europe, all expenses paid.

$45,500 in 10 years. The cost of a house deposit or a significant mortgage repayment

Of course these costs don’t even take into account tobacco price increases.

“Every cigarette you don’t smoke is doing you good”


“First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.”
Honore de Balzac

Coeliac or insensitive?

Part 1 – The rise of the gluten free diet

Going out for a meal these days isn’t as easy as it used to be. People used to eat what they were given, especially when choices were limited. But now, there’s always one…”Sorry, I don’t do gluten or dairy”.  So is there any substance to this or is it just the latest bid to be uber trendy?

Shiney Mehrotra investigates.

Gluten is a mixture of two proteins (Gliadin and glutenin) found in a number of grains including wheat, rye, barley and oats. When these two proteins are mixed with water it becomes sticky and so forms the familiar texture of dough made from wheat and rye flour.

While most people don’t seem to have an issue with gluten, in some people – such as coeliacs – foods containing gluten triggers an auto-immune response in which the body’s own immune system damages the lining of their small intestine.

That is, as gluten is ingested and comes into contact with the villi (small finger-like projections covering the lining of the small intestine), the immune system mistakenly attacks the villi by antibody production as if it was a ‘foreign’ organism.

This means a whole range of foods – such as bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals and even some processed meats – are off the shopping list and the dinner menu.

Over time, the small intestine becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients, which is why chronic coeliac disease is linked with nutritional deficiencies.

For adults, coeliac symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Anaemia
  • Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic fatigue.


Associated Conditions

There are a range of auto-immune conditions often associated with coeliac disease including Type 1 diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive) and hyperthyroidism (overactive), Addison’s disease (a failure of the adrenal gland to produce the essential hormone, cortisol) and alopecia areata (total hair loss in defined patches) and dermatitis herpetiformis (an associated skin condition).

Coeliac disease can also cause a host of serious long-term health problems anaemia, osteoporosis and a range of vitamin deficiencies. Recent studies show that gluten-sensitive individuals on a gluten-free diet often get too much simple starch, too little fibre and vitamin B.

It is believed coeliac disease affects 1% of the general population in the Western worlds, so why are there so many people that seem to snub the humble baguette??

So what’s the big diff?

But most Gluten sensitive people return negative or inconclusive results upon Coeliac testing. The correct term for these people is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive (NCGS) or they may have gluten sensitivity. It is estimated that around 15% of the population or 1 in 7  suffer from NCGI. 

Gluten consists of many long elastic chains of proteins (gives it the characteristics of a dough) lined along each other. Not all of them cause Coeliac disease, but some can cause irritation to the small intestine, enough to hinder the cells of the small intestine to produce digestive enzymes to break down foods.

So how come you were always fine with gluten enriched products before and now it’s a pain in the, err, gut?

Gluten sensitivity can develop at any point in life, and symptomatic disease may appear years after disease develops.

To confirm if you are NCGI do an elimination test by avoiding all gluten food for at least two weeks and then introduce it. If symptoms return, and previous tests for Coeliac disease were negative or inconclusive then you know that you might have NCGI.



Food Intol:

Give the ‘ok’ to donate your organs by discussing your wishes with your loved ones

You may have noticed a recurring theme in this blog over the past few years – my unrelenting campaign for organ & tissue donation awareness. This week is the official awareness ‘week’. So, here are a few quick stats before you tune out:

  1. One organ and tissue donor can save the lives of up to ten people and significantly improve the lives of dozens more.
  2. Australia also has one of the lowest donation rates in the developed world.
  3. Australia’s family consent rate is low with less than 60% of families giving consent for organ and tissue donation to proceed.
  4. Around 1700 people are on Australian organ transplant waiting lists at any one time.
  5. On average, people on the transplant list must wait between 6 months and 4 years – longer for Asians including Indians, Hispanics, Africans, Indigenous populations. See ‘Ethnicity important in finding matching organs.
  6. You may not be too ‘unhealthy’ to donate – You can still be a donor even if you drink or smoke, are overweight or have a chronic condition. There’s every chance that some of your organs and tissues will be suitable for donation. Only some medical conditions may prevent you from being a donor, such as transmissible diseases like HIV.
  7. Doctors will do everything to save your life –  Organ and tissue donation will only be considered after all efforts fail and you have been legally declared dead. ie. 2 senior doctors have separately tested that you are brain dead. The clinical tests for brain death establish there is no brain function and no blood flow to the brain. At this point, there is no possibility your brain will ever function again.
  8. Open caskets are still possible – Your body will be treated with respect and dignity at all times, no one will be able to tell that you have donated your organs and tissues.
  9. Donated tissues and organs will never be used for medical research unless explicit written permission is given by your family.
  10. Rich & famous don’t get preference – All donations and transplants are performed by specialised teams of clinicians in the Australian public health system. Everyone is assessed in the same way. Allocation is based on several factors, including urgency, the organ match and how much the recipient will benefit. Other considerations include the length of time on the official waiting list, and access to the relevant hospital. A person’s identity or social status is not taken into consideration. Just ask Kerry Packer.

For more details about getting the facts, see

For information on how to ‘make the most of life’, get involved with Transplant Australia –

And please, don’t send any money – just have the all important conversation with your loved ones today.

Cannabis linked to earlier onset of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is poorly understood by the community and links to cannabis use stigmatises the condition further. Diet and exercise are factors that are still largely ignored when it comes to treating the condition. Shiney Mehrotra investigates.

A recent study has found conclusive evidence that cannabis can speed up the onset schizophrenia.

The study found that users of cannabis experienced psychosis more than two-and-a-half years earlier than non-cannabis users. It also found that stopping or reducing cannabis use could delay, or even prevent, some cases of psychosis.

The Schizophrenia Research Institute defines it as a disorder of brain function that may be a developmental disorder resulting from alterations in the maturation of the nervous system.

“Schizophrenia is characterised by a retreat from reality with delusion formation, hallucinations, emotional disregulation and disorganised behaviour.”

However, the cause-effect relationship cannot be established conclusively. According to Phillip Mitchell, head of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales,

“This research can’t distinguish about whether cannabis causes schizophrenia or brings it out in vulnerable people.

More recent medications such as risperidone and olanzapine are less likely to produce severe side effects, allowing many sufferers to achieve long-term stability by maintaining their regular dosages.

The condition has also been linked to gluten allergy with some clinical trials showing that cutting out cereals also alleviating symptoms of schizophrenia.

Researchers have also found that a daily dose of fish oil could provide a way to treat schizophrenia without the drastic side effects of antipsychotic drugs.

Exercise is also an important factor when it comes to treating the condition. The researchers found that exercise programmes improved mental state for measures including anxiety and depression, particularly when compared to standard care.

However, medication isn’t the only answer and mental health services in Australia are lacking.

In his last speech as Australian of the Year for 2010, Professor Patrick McGorry has urged the Federal Government to support a substantial investment in the mental health sector.

Schizophrenia ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide. Onset is typically between the ages of 15 and 25 and it is a major cause of suicide with 30% of people with the condition attempting suicide.

A holistic approach is vital to improving the outcome of this potentially devastating illness.


Ignoring any medical advice can be dangerous

The naysayers must be overjoyed with yet another news story that ‘alternative medicines’ are dangerous. And they are right. They can be. Along with every other pharmaceutical remedy – if used incorrectly. Shiney Mehrotra looks into the issue.

Obviously giving babies and children herbal and complementary therapies in lieu of prescribed medications in not such a good idea, especially when they involve in potentially fatal medical conditions. It’s not ‘alternative’ then, it’s just stupid. And ignoring the fact that the child is not improving or in fact getting worse, isn’t exactly genius either.

Last year, a family were convicted of manslaughter for treating their daughter with eczema with homeopathic remedies. It’s a very sad case of parents trying to do the best for their child but were unaware of the serious nature of the condition.

“They had treated Gloria’s eczema with the best intentions, and none of the health professionals they consulted – homeopathic and conventional – had warned them that the condition could imperil her life.”

Would the parents have changed their views had they been informed of the dangers? Perhaps. Perhaps their views would have always been clouded by their own steadfast beliefs.

But how much are we really warned of the dangers of any medications? Even the over-the-counter pills are potentially dangerous – paracetamol can kill if taken incorrectly. Pain-killers can kill the pain but do not aim to solve the underlying problem, which is why so many people seek the alternative therapies in the first place.

Australia’s addiction to pain killers can have detrimental consequences if we’re not advised of the risks. Have you ever been warned about the risk of kidney disorders when taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen found in Nurofen?

So we always get back to the same point – common sense: Don’t completely ignore the advice of your doctor, tell them what complementary therapies you’re intending to take and don’t ignore if symptoms persist or get worse.

And this holiday season, if you’re nursing aches and pains, be careful when you reach for that pain killer once too often. Just because they are available without a prescription, doesn’t mean they are always safe.

NOTE:  VIOLENT behaviour should be considered a potential side effect of a range of drugs, notably the anti-smoking aid varenicline, a study suggests. AustralianDoctor

Related link: “NSAID painkillers linked to increased heart risk”

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Frohliche Weinachten or whatever you are celebrating – be safe and stay healthy!

Patents on discoveries in nature cause legal action

Patents protect the rights of the inventor by preventing anyone else from making use of the invention. But should this restriction to access be extended to a human gene? Shiney Mehrotra investigates.

Earlier this year, I came across a very interesting article on ABC’s ScienceMixed message on gene patents.

A US court ruled that Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company, did not have the right to patent breast cancer genes as they were “products of nature”.

A patent can be defined as:

“A declaration issued by a government agency declaring someone the inventor of a new invention and having the privilege of stopping others from making, using or selling the claimed invention”

For me, the argument is superfluoushuman genes are not an invention that can be subjected to sole privileges that prevent others trying to cure a potentially fatal disease, in this case, breast cancer.

However, the biotechnology industry argues that such patents are needed to encourage the huge investments in genetic research.

Several decades ago though, the argument was more clear cut. Patent offices ruled that genes could be patented. While the US court ruled against this decision in April this year, a Senate Enquiry into Gene Patents in Australia was still pending.

The dilemma is this – Scientists from research institutions are encouraged to patent genes as part of key performance criterion. The more patents they obtain, the more likely they are to further their career.

Those seeking a blanket ban on patenting genes as they occur in nature, would make some allowances for those patents already in the system.

But people like Professor Ian Olver of Cancer Council Australia argue that

“.. patents were designed for inventions not discoveries,”

Olver wants protection for researchers and clinicians, citing a case in which one company tried to stop Australian researchers from testing for breast cancer genes.

In June this year, legal action challenging a patent over breast cancer gene BRCA1 commenced.

Melbourne-based company Genetic Technologies Limited (GTL) has the exclusive licence from Myriad to do the BRCA1 and 2 testing in Australia. The tests show whether a woman is more susceptible to developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Both the US and Australian legal cases are attempting to remove patents from human genes altogether.

Lawyer Rebecca Gilsenan says there are many dangers to having a monopoly on this patent.

“There’s a philosophical and ethical issue about commercialising the human body and its genetic material,”

GTL’s monopoly could lead to Australian women paying significant sums of money to test for BRCA1 and 2, which are responsible for up to 10% of cases of breast cancer.

While GTL ‘gifted’ its intellectual property rights to institutions in Australia and does not impose royalties, the company then went on to to Westmead Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute in Victoria, telling them to stop testing for the BRCA1 and 2 genes.

Following public outcry, GTL withdrew it’s threat but the issue remains uncertain.

The Sentate Enquiry into Gene Patents was extended.

At least 20% of human genes are patented in Australia. The outcome of this legal action will have not only have implications for other genetic patents but will hopefully ignite an ethical debate.

APRIL 15, 2013 – US Supreme Court hears patents case


Latest News:  “New insight into cancer risk

Complementary medicines found to be cost effective for chronic disease

While there is still a widespread notion that complementary therapies or alternative medicines are ‘quackery’, when it comes to the bottom line, governments start taking notice. Shiney Mehrotra investigates.

An Access Ecomomics study into the ‘Cost effectiveness of Complementary Therapies“, focused on the prevention and management of chronic disease – a high burden of disease area where mainstream medicine typically has poor results.

The study looked at how these results were improved using a combination of complementary and mainstream interventions.

After safety and efficacy, a critical issue for consumers, practitioners and governments, is the cost effectiveness of medical interventions, whether mainstream or complementary.


Specifically, the report looked at:

  • Acupuncture for chronic low back pain;
  • St John’s wort for mild to moderate depression;
  • Omega‐3 fish oils for secondary prevention of heart disease;
  • Omega‐3 fish oils to reduce non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drug use in rheumatoid arthritis; and
  • A proprietary herbal medicine for pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.


Only direct health costs were included in these analyses. Indirect costs (such as loss of productivity at work) have been excluded. Cost savings would be expected to be higher if indirect costs were included in the analyses.


  • Acupuncture for chronic low back pain – cost effective when used as a complement to standard care such as medication, physiotherapy, exercises, education. Not cost effective when used as a replacement to standard care.
  • St John’s Wort for mild-moderate depression – cost effective when compared to standard anti‐depressants for patients with mild to moderate depression due to the the lower unit cost of St John’s Wort. Not cost effective for severe depression. (Saving – nearly $50m p.a.)
  • Omega‐3 fish oils for secondary prevention of heart disease – highly cost effective when used as an adjunctive treatment in people with a history of coronary heart disease, achieving reduced death and morbidity.
  • Omega‐3 fish oils to reduce non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drug use in rheumatoid arthritis – Not cost effective.
  • A proprietary herbal medicine for pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis – Phytodolor, a proprietary herbal medicine, cost effective in managing osteoarthritis compared with the principal non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drug Diclofenac. (Saving – $178m p.a.)


Selected complementary medicine interventions represent cost effective treatment options in an Australian practice for specific medical conditions, despite the addition of the GST to complementary medicine products.

In an interview with the ABC, Professor Kerryn Phelps, President of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association and GP, said the findings will have the result that complementary medicines will “become increasingly integrated into mainstream care“.

I think what we need to do is to educate consumers about the most high quality use of complementary medicines alongside conventional medicine.

And saving the best part for the last part of the food series – fats & sugars.

Fat in the diet should be minimised and unsaturated where possible.


They are an important energy source but contain few other nutrients, so best to keep them to a minimum.

What are fats?

Fats are concentrated sources of energy.

  • Supply essential nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and essential fatty acids (EFAs) around the body.
  • Stored in adipose tissue (a thick layer of tissue under the skin) as a long-term fuel reserve;
  • Plays a key role in membrane structure;
  • Cushions, and so protects, the internal organs.

Saturated fats:

  • Generally solid at room temperature;
  • Usually from animal sources.

Unsaturated fat:

  • Usually liquid at room temperature;
  • Generally comes from vegetable sources;
  • Includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Where can I find it?


  • Lard;
  • Butter;
  • Hard margarine;
  • Cheese;
  • Whole milk;
  • In anything that contains the above ingredients;
  • The white fat on red meat and underneath poultry skin.


  • Sesame oil;
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soya
  • Olive oil,
  • Soft margarine
  • Oily fish –  including mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon.

How much should I have?

  • Fats make up no more than 35% of the energy in your diet
  • Saturated fats should provide less than 11 % of total energy intake.

Women70 g daily

Men – 95 g daily

What are the risks?

Excess fat may also accumulate around your organs, especially in the abdominal cavity.


  • Associated with increased blood cholesterol concentrations
  • Increased risk of heart disease.
  • Polyunsaturated fats contain inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and it’s the balance of these with omega-3s which is important.
  • Trans fats, or hydrogenated unsaturated fats, are used in the food industry but are increasingly recognised as being unhealthy.


  • Generally healthier than saturated fat.

What are sugars?

As this has already been covered in a previous post, please read “A spoonful of sugar“.

Reference: BBC Nutrition – Fats & Sugars

Now onto ‘Milk and Dairy Products”.

Milk and dairy products are an important source of calcium


What are they?

This food group includes milk and milk products – cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais – but not butter, margarine or cream.

What do they do?

They are are important sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, and are particularly rich in calcium.

Calcium is a mineral that helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates muscle contraction (including the heartbeat) and makes sure the blood is clotting normally.

Lowering the fat content in milk does not affect the calcium content, so an adequate calcium intake can still be obtained from lower-fat dairy products.

Where can I find it?

  • Milk – Most common is cow’s milk, but others include sheep and goat’s milk, as well as a number of plant-based substitutes – including soya, rice, oat and almond milk – for those with lactose intolerance.
  • Cheese – Contains the same beneficial nutrients as milk.
  • Yoghurt Is rich in protein and vitamin B2: essentially the same nutrients as in milk. Some varieties contain living bacteria that are healthy for your digestive system (probiotics).

Other sources of calcium include:

  • Fish – fish such as sardines and anchovies, especially the bones
  • Dried fruit – apricots, dates and figs all contain small amounts of calcium
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Soya- calcium-enriched soya milks, yoghurts and cheeses
  • Dark green leafy vegetables- such as spinach, broccoli and watercress

Other important factors for strong teeth & bones:

  • Vitamin D – Ffrom daily diet or from the sun’s effect on the skin
  • Exercise – Sufficient exercise is now seen as another vital factor in maintaining healthy bone structure and density.

How much should I have?

  • 3 portions of dairy products daily:

Examples of 1 portion:

  • 200ml milk – full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed;
  • 250ml calcium-fortified soya milk;
  • 40g hard cheese – cheddar, brie, feta, mozzarella or stilton
  • 125g soft cheese – cottage cheese or fromage frais
  • 1 small pot / 150g low-fat plain or fruit yoghurt
  • Fruit smoothie made with 200ml milk or 150g yoghurt

What are the risks?

  • Cheese -Most cheeses contain much more saturated fat than milk and high levels of added salt, so it’s important to only eat full-fat cheese occasionally and in small portions.
  • Yoghurt – They can be made from whole or low fat milk, but fruit yoghurts often contain added sugar. Low fat doesn’t necessarily mean low calories.

Reference – BBC Nutrition