Gill Stannard

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Trip has moved

Thanks for dropping by. There have been a few changes since you last visited. Health Trip has now been incorporated into my new website

All the articles from Health Trip can be accessed on the new site, there will be regular updates about the show, new information about naturopathy, complementary medicine, herbalism and a whole lot more.

Nothing else has changed:

• You can still find me at City Natural Therapies, 510/220 Collins St, Melbourne – for a consultation call me on (03)9650-3419.

• My radio show on RRR can be heard on 102.7FM at 9.15 am on the first Wednesday of the month.

• You can listen to podcasts from the show by subscribing to the Health Trip podcast.

• And don’t forget to sign up to the monthly e-newsletter for exclusive health tips, recipes and special subscriber offers.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Flu vaccine not safe or effective for children with chronic illnesses

A paper recently presented by Avni Joshi, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, to the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society has raised doubts about the safety and efficacy of the annual influenza vaccine when given to chronically ill children, especially those with asthma who are routinely advised to be immunized against seasonal flus.

The research was carried out over 8 consecutive flu seasons, which should over ride the problem that some years the manufacturers take a punt on the wrong flu strain to base the annual vaccine on.

Dr Joshi and his team conducted a cohort study of 263 children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, who were evaluated at the Mayo Clinic and had laboratory confirmed cases of influenza. The scientists noted who had and had not received the flu vaccine, their asthma status and whether they required hospitalisation. Their finding showed:

* the children who had recieved the influenza vaccine were three times more likely to be hospitalised due to complications of influenza

* children with asthma who had been immunised had an even higher rate of hospitalisation

As the study was conducted prior to the detection of H1N1, swine flu cannot be blamed for causing any anomalies in the data.

The Mayo Clinic study comes hot on the heels of a Cochrane reveiw on the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in preventing flu in healthy children. This peer reviewed meta analysis of 51 eligible studies found that in children under 2 years old, the efficacy of the inactivated influenza vaccine was similar to placebo.

The Cochrane review also raised strong concerns about the lack of safety data for the use of these vaccines in children.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

“Riding the bacon”: Swine Flu update

The number of swine flu cases in Australia is now at an uncountable level, with many choosing to suffer at home without official confirmation. NSW now has had 10 confirmed H1N1 related deaths, as the virus spreads more widely across the country. In recent weeks the UK has become a major swine flu hotspot with 55,000 new cases in the past week alone, joining Mexico, where the disease originated, the US, Canada, Chile, Argentina and Australia at the top of the tally.

While health minister Nicola Roxon recently stated the ‘worst case scenario’ death toll from H1N1 in Australia could rise to 6,000 this season (6 times the number of seasonal influenza fatalities) I wonder how influential pharmaceutical companies who sell antiviral drugs and race to make a vaccine are in making such predictions?

One of the most asked questions of the year is “how do you know you have swine flu”. For a first hand and delightfully satirical description, Ben Probjie’s account in New Matilda is worth a read. While you are there click his link to Tracee Hutchison’s recent opinion piece in The Age where she echoes the advice I give clients every year – resist the urge to soldier on, go to bed instead.

While there are no recent breakthroughs on preventing infection, my top three tips remain:

1. Wash your hands well and often. At least 30 seconds of serious scrubbing with soapy water. Dry hands well. Remember influenza-containing droplets are often spread from hands to mouth, nose and eyes.
2. Support your immune system with daily medicinal doses of Vitamin C and cod liver oil.
3. If you feel unwell, stay at home – don’t spread it to your fellow commuters, colleagues and friends. If you are pregnant, have any serious pre-existing health conditions, are young or old then do go to your doctor within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, as antiviral medications only have a narrow time window to be effective.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The myth of the chemical cure

One on the most stunning pieces on psychoactive pharmaceutical drugs I have read. What is more Dr Moncrieff is a psychiatrist and has an impressive CV in the area of mental health and research.

The following article, just a small taste of her book, is reprinted from the BBC

'The myth of the chemical cure'

Dr Joanna Moncrieff
Mental health expert

Taking a pill to treat depression is widely believed to work by reversing a chemical imbalance.

But in this week's Scrubbing Up health column, Dr Joanna Moncrieff, of the department of mental health sciences at University College London, says they actually put people into "drug-induced states".

If you've seen a doctor about emotional problems some time over the past 20 years, you may have been told that you had a chemical imbalance, and that you needed tablets to correct it.

It's not just doctors that think this way, either.

Magazines, newspapers, patients' organisations and internet sites have all publicised the idea that conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be treated by drugs that help to rectify an underlying brain problem.

People with schizophrenia and other conditions are frequently told that they need to take psychiatric medication for the rest of their lives to stabilise their brain chemicals, just like a diabetic needs to take insulin.

The trouble is there is little justification for this view of psychiatric drugs.

Altered states

First, although ideas like the serotonin theory of depression have been widely publicised, scientific research has not detected any reliable abnormalities of the serotonin system in people who are depressed.

Second, it is often said the fact that drug treatment "works" proves there's an underlying biological deficiency.

“ Psychoactive drugs make people feel different ”
But there is another explanation for how psychiatric drugs affect people with emotional problems.

It is frequently overlooked that drugs used in psychiatry are psychoactive drugs, like alcohol and cannabis.

Psychoactive drugs make people feel different; they put people into an altered mental and physical state.

They affect everyone, regardless of whether they have a mental disorder or not.

Therefore, an alternative way of understanding how psychiatric drugs affect people is to look at the psychoactive effects they produce.

Drugs referred to as antipsychotics, for example, dampen down thoughts and emotions, which may be helpful in someone with psychosis.

Drugs like Valium produce a state of relaxation and a pleasant drowsiness, which may reduce anxiety and agitation.

Drugs labelled as "anti-depressants" come from many different chemical classes and produce a variety of effects.

Prior to the 1950s, the drugs that were used for mental health problems were thought of as psychoactive drugs, which produced mainly sedative effects.

'Informed choice'

Views about psychiatric drugs changed over the course of the 1950s and 1960s.

They gradually came to be seen as being specific treatments for specific diseases, or "magic bullets", and their psychoactive effects were forgotten.

However, this transformation was not based on any compelling evidence.

In my view it remains more plausible that they "work" by producing drug-induced states which suppress or mask emotional problems.

“ If we gave people a clearer picture drug treatment might not always be so appealing ”
This doesn't mean psychiatric drugs can't be useful, sometimes.

But, people need to be aware of what they do and the sorts of effects they produce.

At the moment people are being encouraged to believe that taking a pill will make them feel better by reversing some defective brain process.

That sounds good. If your brain is not functioning properly, and a drug can make it work better, then it makes sense to take the pill.

If, on the other hand, we gave people a clearer picture, drug treatment might not always be so appealing.

If you told people that we have no idea what is going on in their brain, but that they could take a drug that would make them feel different and might help to suppress their thoughts and feelings, then many people might choose to avoid taking drugs if they could.

On the other hand, people who are severely disturbed or distressed might welcome these effects, at least for a time.

People need to make up their own minds about whether taking psychoactive drugs is a useful way to manage emotional problems.

To do this responsibly, however, doctors and patients need much more information about the nature of psychiatric drugs and the effects they produce.
Have we been misled about these medications? Are people now too reliant on them?

Provocative thoughts from experts in the worlds of health and medicine
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/07/15 04:30:46 GMT

Friday, July 10, 2009

A pot of tea, a winter salad and an exciting new venture

I'm at my desk drinking a delicious cup of my "winter warming tea" with hibiscus flowers, liquorice and ginger. Currently the entire clinic is scented by the herb order that arrived this week from Southern Light Herbs. This is a great time of year to drink herbal teas but the trick is to use good quality, organic teas that are well stored so they retain their vibrancy and flavour. If you'd like me to make a special blend for you, let me know at your next consultation.

I have been a little bit quiet on the site lately because (drum roll please!) I am creating a new website that incorporates both the practice and the radio show. I'm very excited about it and hope to announce that it is live - very soon.

In the meantime, if you haven't signed up for the Health Trip newsletter that comes out each month, the following recipe is a taste of what you are missing.

Pumpkin and chickpea salad with tahini dressing
(Double the ingredients for a large group or for a tasty packed lunch)

1/2 medium sized pumpkin
1 can organic chickpeas, drained and well rinsed (even better use freshly cooked chickpeas)
1 medium sized red onion, finely sliced (or 1-2 baked brown onions)
a generous handful (or a whole bunch), coriander, ripped or chopped

Cook the pumpkin by your preferred method. I like to cut it into a few large chunks and bake it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes - til tender without being too soft. Once cool enough to handle, remove skin and cut into bite sized cubes. If you aren’t a fan of raw onion, throw in a brown onion or two as well to bake.

Add the remaining ingredients and toss with the dressing below.

Tahini, lemon and garlic dressing

1-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup tahini (fresh tahini is best, make sure it doesn’t taste bitter)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons hot water
pinch of sea salt

Combine ingredients well then mix through the salad.

Friday, July 03, 2009

July newsletter out now

...get it while it's hot!

Winter teas, salad and lots more. You can view it here for a limited time. But even better type your email in the box below and the newsletter should arrive within seconds.

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Swine flu update 3.7.09

I’ve noticed over the last two weeks a peak in the incidence of colds and flu like infections. But does everybody have swine flu? If an account of the early stages of the epidemic in Melbourne is anything to go by – no they don’t.

According to Dr Peter Eizenberg, only 5% of those treated with anti-viral drugs for flu-like symptoms in Victoria, actually had swine flu. This meant 15,000 people unnecessarily took a drug with potentially dangerous side effects.

Dr Eizenberg, chairman of a division of general practice in Melbourne's north-east, has published a damning opinion piece in this week’s Medical Journal of Australia regarding deficiencies in the Victorian Department of Human Services response to the outbreak. The over prescribing of antiviral drugs could easily be remedied by on the spot rapid testing for swine flu, taking 10 minutes to get results in the clinic, rather than days for lab testing.

To date their have been 10 deaths from swine flu in Australia. One of the most recent has been a 3 yo boy in Melbourne. No details have been given regarding any pre-existing health issues, all other deaths have occurred in adults with ongoing medical problems. In an average year 3-6 children die from influenza of any strain, in Australia.

Remember to keep taking extra Vitamin C, cod liver oil and wash your hands thoroughly. Stay at home if you feel unwell and if your symptoms are severe call your doctor or go to your nearest hospital.