Food poverty is now a health emergency

Food poverty in the UK has now become such a big problem that it should be seen as a public health emergency according to a group of health experts.
Food poverty is now a health emergencyIn a letter to the British Medical Journal, six leading public health figures warned poor nutrition could lead to a host of problems.

It comes amid reports that people are struggling to feed themselves as the UK Red Cross has started asking for food donations for the first time since World War Two.

And in October the Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks, said the numbers of people it was helping had tripled to 350,000 in the past year.

The letter also cited research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that indicated the amount of money being spent on food by households had fallen by over 8% in real terms over the past five years.

Families with young children have been hit the hardest.

The study also suggested that much of the savings had been made by people buying cheaper, processed food.

The BMJ letter, signed by academics and pubic health directors, said this had “all the signs of a public health emergency”.

It warned malnutrition, particularly during childhood, could have lifelong effects including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illness.

David Taylor-Robinson, a population health scientists at the Medical Research Council and one of the authors of the letter, added: “It is clear people are increasingly struggling with their food bills. We need to start monitoring this and treating it as a public health problem.”

Chris Mould, the executive chairman of Trussell Trust, said he wanted the government to set up an official inquiry because “these alarming developments point towards serious trouble for the nation in the years ahead unless urgent action is taken now”.

But a government spokesman said action was been taken to help people with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance and freezing council tax and fuel duty.

He added: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks.”

Britain’s bad summer weather will see epidemic of vitamin D deficiency

Britain faces an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency- which can cause rickets and is linked to cancer and other diseases because of the poor summer weather, a leading expert has warned.Britain’s bad summer weather will see epidemic of vitamin D deficiencyProf Norman Ratcliffe, from Swansea University, said the dull summer will lead to high levels of deficiency in the sunshine vitamin.

Other experts said vitamin D deficiency was a ‘major public health concern’ and Britain was heading back to the 1920s when large numbers of children suffered bone pain and bowed legs from the effects of rickets.

The combination of a 21st Century childhood of not playing outside, being driven to school and constantly wearing high factor sunscreen will be compounded by the poor weather this summer, they said.

Most doctors have yet to ‘wake-up’ to the problem, it was argued.

Prof Ratcliffe said that because 2012 was one of the dullest summers on record, vitamin D stores have not been replenished in time for winter, when light levels in most of the UK are insufficient to make vitamin D.

Figures from the Met Office show that hours of sunshine in the summer of 2012 were 18 per cent lower than the average over the last 30 years and lower than at least any of the last ten summers.

Prof Ratcliffe said parts of northern England recorded sunshine hours in summer similar to late winter.

He said: “Unfortunately, the dull summer of 2012 will probably result in a record number of people with vitamin D deficiency.

“The situation in 2012 is probably much more serious than normal with the dull summer leading to even more people with vitamin D deficiency.

“This deficiency may be present almost continuously throughout 2012, commencing during the summer months rather than, as in previous years, in the winter and spring.

“Thus, vitamin D inadequacy may stretch over much of the period from June 2012 until the spring/summer of 2013.

“The effects of low vitamin D levels in the body are very serious as adequate levels may be necessary to prevent common cancers, heart and autoimmune diseases, rickets, osteomalacia (bone pain and muscle weakness), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression.”

He said widespread fortification of foods with vitamin D and use of supplements was the only way to combat the problem, however pregnant women are not routinely informed that they should be taking vitamin D and vitamins for children under the Healthy Start programme are not promoted, Prof Clarke said.

Pregnant women, children under five, over 65s and people with dark skin are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency.

The vitamin is present in some foods but most is made by the body when exposed to sunlight and stored.

Earlier this year Prof Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, highlighted the problem and said up to one in four people have low levels of vitamin D.

She said: “A significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.

“People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements.

“Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.”

From: http://multi-vitamins.eu/britains-bad-summer-will-see-epidemic-of-vitamin-d-deficiency.

Vitamin D supplements recommended by NHS health experts

The chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, is to contact medical staff about concerns young children and some adults are not getting enough vitamin D.Vitamin D supplements recommended by NHS health expertsGovernment guidelines recommend some groups, including the under-fives, should take a daily supplement.

However, recent research found that many parents and health professionals were unaware of the advice.

There has been an increase in childhood rickets over the past 15 years.

According to Dr Benjamin Jacobs, from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, links to heart disease and some cancers are also being investigated.

The Feeding for Life Foundation report, published in October last year, suggested one in four toddlers in the UK is vitamin D deficient.

However, this may be an underestimate as only vitamin D from food was included, and not any vitamin D obtained through sun exposure.

Vitamin D supplements are recommended for all people at risk of a deficiency, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under five years old, people aged over 65, and people at risk of not getting enough exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D is mainly obtained from sunlight. However, too much sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer.

According to one recent study, nearly three-quarters of parents and more than half of health professionals are unaware of the recommendations.

The Department of Health has asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to review the issue of current dietary recommendations on vitamin D.

Dame Sally Davies: “We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood. People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements. Free supplements

“Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

“Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

“It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups.”

It has long been known that vitamin D prevents rickets and children were once given food supplements like cod liver oil.

However, this practice was stopped in the 1950s because it was thought unnecessary.

In the last 10 years, doctors have been seeing more cases of vitamin D deficiency, leading to a debate over the use of food supplements and concern that many medical staff are unaware of the problem.

From:  http://multi-vitamins.eu/vitamin-d-supplements-recommended-by-nhs-health-experts

Homeopathy treatments- biologically implausible and damaging

Homeopathic treatments funded by the NHS are “biologically implausible” and risk damaging patients’ health by discouraging them from getting proper treatment, a leading researcher has claimed.Homeopathy treatments- biologically implausible and damagingEdzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, said homeopathic remedies had not been proven to work in clinical trials.

People who still maintain the treatments are effective are “ignoring or misrepresenting the best evidence available”, he added.

Homeopathy could even be dangerous because it is sometimes used instead of scientifically proven medical procedures such as immunisations, he added.

Prof Ernst, a former homeopathist, is an outspoken critic of unproven treatments provided on the NHS. He once labelled the Prince of Wales a “snake-oil salesman” because of his support for “unproven and disproved” medicine.

The NHS spends about £4 million a year on homeopathy, which is based on the theory that patients can be cured through exposure to a diluted form of the substance that caused their symptoms.

Writing in The Biologist magazine Prof Ernst, now a professor of complementary medicine, said this belief “Is in contrast with the laws of physics, chemistry and pharmacology. Homeopathy is thus biologically implausible.”

He said: “Homeopathy could be (and often is) used as an alternative to effective interventions. For example, the advice from homeopaths not to immunise has become a major cause of low vaccination rates.”

The strategy of using homeopathy as a placebo can only work if doctors hide the truth from their patients, he added.

Homeopathists insist that the form of treatment is not suited to the design of conventional clinical trials because they do not take into account the benefit that many patients have been shown to experience in observational studies.

They say that the method of administering extremely diluted substances works by triggering the body’s natural healing systems, which can lessen symptoms and lead to eventual cures.

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said: “The UK spends billions of pounds every year ensuring that the new and existing conventional medicines we take are effective, safe and fit for purpose.

“It makes no sense to allow other treatments available through public expenditure to be made available without application of the same rigorous standards. That is what is happening with homeopathic treatments. It needs to stop.”

Síle Lane of the Sense About Science campaign group added: “When a treatment like homeopathy is offered by the NHS, people will think the evidence for it has undergone the same level of scrutiny as conventional medicine.

“It misleads people into thinking there is something in it when there isn’t.”

From: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Homeopathy-biologically-implausible

Vitamin D deficiencies linked to cot deaths (SIDS)

Two senior paediatric pathologists say they have discovered vitamin D deficiency in a significant number of children who have died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)- cot deaths.Vitamin D deficiencies linked to cot deaths (SIDS)The two doctors, Dr Irene Scheimberg and Dr Marta Cohen, say that vitamin D deficiency and associated diseases such as the bone disease rickets could also explain deaths that are often thought to be suspicious.

Both doctors believe their findings merit further investigation and research.

The findings in children from London and Yorkshire followed the discovery by Dr Scheimberg in 2009 of congenital rickets in a four-month-old baby whose parents had been accused of shaking him to death.

Chana Al-Alas,19, and Rohan Wray, 22, were acquitted of murdering their son Jayden after the jury learned that his fractures, supposedly tell tale signs of abuse, could have been caused by his severe rickets. Dr Scheimberg also discovered rickets in Jayden’s mother.

In London, Dr Scheimberg discovered vitamin D deficiency in a further 30 cases. Vitamin D deficiency was found to be a cause of death in three cases. Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, was discovered in two small babies. A third died of hypocalcemic fits, a condition of low serum calcium levels in the blood caused by vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency was a co-existing finding in the sudden and unexpected deaths of eight children, so-called Sudden Infant Death or Sids; in five children with bronchial asthma and another five with combined bacteria-polyviral or polyviral infections. Two of the babies, including baby Jayden, also had rib fractures.

In Yorkshire, Dr Cohen found moderate to severe levels of vitamin D deficiency in 45 children, mostly infants aged less than 12 months, who died of natural causes. Of the 24 sudden infant deaths Dr Cohen investigated from this group, 18 – or 75% – were deficient in vitamin D.

Dr Scheimberg said severe vitamin D deficiency could make the bones of small babies very brittle and capable of fracture with little or no real force.

Dame Sally Davies Chief Medical Officer was quoted as “We need to investigate the vitamin D levels of these children carefully and the circumstances in which the bones fracture,” she explained.

“Obviously if you have bones that fracture easily then they will fracture easily they will fracture with any normal movement like trying to put a baby grow on a baby you will twist their arm. In a normal child you won’t produce anything. But in a child whose bones are weakened and [who have] an abnormal cartilage growth area, then it’s easier for them to get these very tiny fractures or even big fractures.”

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and endocrinologists are experts in how the body is regulated by the hormone excreting glands – or endocrine organs.

Stephen Nussey is professor of endocrinology at St George’s Hospital at Tooting in south London. He believes that, despite repeated government recommendations on vitamin D supplementation, vitamin D deficiency is still not being taken sufficiently seriously by the authorities.

“Lizards are quite like humans in their vitamin D. Their dietary intake is pretty low and they need to have sun exposure and you need to have a light in the enclosure in which you keep your lizard of the right wavelength.

“If you don’t have one of those lights your reptile will get osteomalacia [adult rickets] very similar to humans. I guess the RSPCA would quite rightly prosecute you if you didn’t give your reptile vitamin D.

“But there’s no action taken against you if you don’t give it to your daughter. So that rather illustrates the importance placed on vitamin D for your reptile rather than giving it to your daughter.”

Earlier this week, the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, wrote to doctors, nurses and other health professionals advising them to consider vitamin D supplementation for certain at risk groups, including pregnant mothers.

“We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood. People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements. Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children,” she explained.

“Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

“It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend vitamin D supplements to at risk groups.

From: http://multi-vitamins.eu/vitamin-d-deficiencies-linked-to-cot-deaths-sids

Low vitamin D linked to Type 2 diabetes risk

Children with low vitamin D levels are more likely to be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a study suggesting a deficiency could help trigger the disease.Low vitamin D linked to Type 2 diabetes riskResearchers found those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to be obese and have higher degrees of insulin resistance, when the hormone becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar.

Dr Micah Olson, lead author of the study Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews , published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said: “Although our study cannot prove causation, it does suggest that low vitamin D levels may play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.”

He added: “Future studies are needed to determine the clinical significance of lower vitamin D levels in obese children, the amount and duration of treatment necessary to replenish vitamin D levels in these children and whether treatment with vitamin D can improve primary clinical endpoints such as insulin resistance.”

The skin helps manufacture vitamin D, but only when exposed to strong sunlight. In the winter and early spring the body’s reserves can drop to low levels, particularly if a person has had insufficient exposure in the summer months.

Vitamin D can also be derived from certain foods, such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.

Therefore, lack of vitamin D could simply be a sign of a generally unhealthy lifestyle: not getting out for enough exercise in the fresh air, and not eating a good diet.

Children who sit in front of the television for most of the day, snacking on fatty foods, are therefore likely to have lower vitamin D levels and be overweight as well. The two factors might not be biologically related.

Nonetheless, Dr Iain Frame, director of the charity Diabetes UK, said the study “adds to growing evidence of a link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

He went on: “However, as the authors note, the exact causes of vitamin D deficiency and its role in the development of Type 2 diabetes are still unclear.

“Diabetes UK is currently funding research at the University of Glasgow to help establish if people with Type 2 diabetes might benefit from vitamin D supplementation.

“Until we know more, it is not possible to recommend vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and people should not see this as an easy fix.

“Maintaining a healthy weight by keeping to a healthy diet and undertaking regular physical activity is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”

Women trying to conceive should take vitamin supplements

All women who are trying to have a baby should take special ‘conception’ vitamin supplements after a study found fertility patients were twice as likely to get pregnant if they were taking them.Women trying to conceive should take vitamin supplementsThe research involved women who were having treatment to boost their fertility but as there were no side effects from taking the vitamins, scientists said all women who are trying to conceive should consider them.

In the study half of women were given a multivitamin and mineral tablet to take each day and half were given folic acid, recommended by government to prevent abnormalities in the baby.

Four weeks later they then had a fertility drug treatment.

Women on the vitamins were more likely to conceive and 60 per cent were still pregnant three months later compared to 25 per cent on folic acid.

They were also likely to fall pregnant after fewer fertility treatments with three quarters conceiving on their first cycle, compared with less than one in five of those on folic acid, it was found.

The study conducted by researchers at Warwick University involving 56 women attending University College London and the Royal Free Hospital fertility units.

The women, who were mostly from an affluent background, all had healthy diets at the beginning of the study and later blood tests showed those on the multivitamin had higher levels of micronutrients than those only taking folic acid.

Lead author Dr Rina Agrawal, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and Associate Professor in Reproductive Medicine, said: “All women considering pregnancy should take a specifically formulated prenatal micronutrient supplement to optimise their chances of conception.”

She said it is not known what components of the vitamin tablet had the effects on pregnancy but the Pregnacare Conception product used contained a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and substances linked to ovarian function and blood flow to the reproductive organs.

The findings are being published in the Reproductive BioMedicine Online journal.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield said “The influence of nutrition on our fertility is of general interest to the public and professionals, but there are relatively few studies which have examined this systematically and few which have shown direct benefits of taking supplements to enhance things.”

“Therefore, on the face of it, this study is interesting but we should acknowledge that this is a relatively small number of patients and the study would need to be repeated in a larger trial before we could be certain of the results.

“I can’t help but thinking that for most people, just general dietary advice would achieve the same effect and a good basket of fresh fruit and vegetables from the greengrocer each week would have much the same effect if their diet was poor.”

Glenys Jones, a Nutritionist at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research said: “This is an interesting study and supports the body of evidence that diet plays an important role in supporting women’s health and their fertility.

“However this study alone cannot result in the general recommendation that all women undergoing fertility treatment should take a preconception multivitamin as it is a very small single study and further large-scale research is required to investigate if this is reproducible in a larger more diverse group of women.”

Catherine Collins, Principal Dietician, St Georges Hospital NHS Trust said: “Although the researchers claimed their diets were nutritionally adequate no robust data was provided to confirm this – a major concern for any trial making nutritional claims.

“We know that broad-spectrum supplements can correct dietary deficiencies and boost blood levels of iron, B12, folic acid and vitamin D – as was shown in this study which suggests these women had low intakes pre-conception.

“As this study was of women with conception problems there’s no evidence to suggest every woman considering pregnancy should take them.

“Similarly, n-acetyl cysteine and arginine have been shown to improve the efficacy of IVF treatments in a small number of studies, but there’s no evidence to support their use in natural conception. However, the nutritional advice for women contemplating pregnancy remains unchanged – take folic acid supplements until 12 weeks of pregnancy and if you decide on a multi-nutrient supplement for nutritional insurance make sure it’s one suitable for pregnancy, as the vitamin A content is lowered to ensure safety of the developing baby.

From: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Women-trying-to-conceive-should-take-vitamins-researchers

Eating fish could protect against Alzheimer’s

Eating fish could protect against Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss – but only if it is baked or grilled, researchers have claimed.Eating fish could protect against Alzheimer'sA study by US scientists found that elderly people who eat fish at least once a week are three to five times less likely to develop the conditions than people who did not.

But it is essential that the fish is cooked in a manner that preserves the vital Omega-3 fatty acids which help protect the brain, researchers said.

Grilling or baking the meat provides the maximum levels of Omega-3, which increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and limit the build-up of harmful plaques which precedes Alzheimer’s.

In contrast fried fish has very low amounts of Omega-3 and consequently offers no protection whatsoever against dementia and age-related memory loss, known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied a group of 260 healthy volunteers with an average age of 76.

In a study Eating Fish Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease to be presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting they questioned the participants about how regularly they ate fish.

Brain scans carried out ten years later showed that those who did not eat fish regularly had suffered much more shrinkage in key areas of the brain linked to working memory.

A further five years on, they found that 31 per cent of non-regular fish eaters had gone on to develop Alzheimer’s or MCI, compared with between three and eight per cent of those who ate fish at least once a week.

Dr Cyrus A. Raji, who led the study, said further studies could help identify whether Omega-3 supplements yielded similar effects, and whether some types of fish offered better protection than others.

He said: “We know from other studies that salmon gives the maximum amount of Omega-3 fatty acids so it is very possible, but we did not look at which fish people were eating in the study.

“Studies like this definitely justify trials that will look at Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Having said that, I would speculate that taking supplements is no substitute for a lifetime of eating fish.”

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This study suggests that eating fish on a weekly basis may reduce the risk of cognitive decline, but it is not clear whether other underlying factors may have contributed to the lower risk in people who eat fish.

“As a number of controlled studies using fatty acids from oily fish have failed to show benefits for dementia, there is a clear need for more conclusive research into the effects of dietary fish on our cognitive health.”

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager of the Alzheimer’s Society, added: “This moderately sized study adds weight to existing evidence suggesting that eating fish reduces your risk of developing cognitive decline.

“However, this research did not account for lifestyle factors such as other foods or exercise which could also have had an effect. The best way to lessen your chance of developing dementia is to eat a healthy diet including fruit and vegetables along with taking regular exercise and giving up smoking.”

Fair skinned people may need extra vitamin D supplements

Fair skinned people who are prone to sunburn may need to take health supplements to ensure they get enough vitamin D, say experts.Fair skinned people may need extra vitamin D supplementsIt appears that those with pale skin, while not deficient, may still be lacking in the essential vitamin that the body makes from sunlight.

The Cancer Research UK charity say that even with a lot of sun exposure, those with fair skin may not be able to make enough vitamin D.

And too much sun causes skin cancer.

Clearly, for this reason, increasing sun exposure is not the way to achieve higher vitamin D levels in the fair-skinned population, say the researchers. But taking supplements could be.

Their work examined 1,200 people.

Of these, 730 were found to have “lower than optimal” vitamin D levels – and many of these were people with very pale, freckled skin.

Supplements are already recommended for groups at higher risk of deficiency. This includes people with dark skin, such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, and people who wear full-body coverings, as well as the elderly, young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people who avoid the sun.

Based on the latest findings, it appears that pale-skinned people should be added to this list.

Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth.

A level less than 25nmol/L in the blood is a deficiency, but experts increasingly believe that lower than 60nmol/L are suboptimal and can also be damaging to health.

Most people get enough vitamin D with short exposures to the sun (10 to 15 minutes a day). A small amount also comes from the diet in foods like oily fish and dairy products.

But people with fair skin do not seem to be able to get enough, according to Prof Julia Newton-Bishop and her team at the University of Leeds.

Part of the reason might be that people who burn easily are more likely to cover up and avoid the sun.

But some fair-skinned individuals also appear to be less able to make and process vitamin D in the body, regardless of how long they sit in the sun for.

Hazel Nunn, of Cancer Research UK, explains how to increase vitamin D levels if you’re pale

Prof Newton-Bishop said: “It’s very difficult to give easy advice that everyone can follow. There’s no one-size-fits-all.  However, fair-skinned individuals who burn easily are not able to make enough vitamin D from sunlight and so may need to take vitamin D supplements.”

Hazel Nunn, of Cancer Research UK, said: “It is about striking a balance between the benefits and harms of sun exposure.

“People with fair skin are at higher risk of developing skin cancer and should take care to avoid over-exposure to the sun’s rays.  If people are concerned about their vitamin D levels, they should see their doctor who may recommend a vitamin D test.”

From:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15151930