Posted on

Health warnings written on your face

Everyone knows a lucky so-and-so who hates the gym, eats junk food and drinks wine every night, yet somehow maintains an enviably tiny and firm figure.

But some experts are warning that, in fact, there really is no such thing as a free lunch — because regardless of what your body looks like, your face will tell the truth about your bad habits.

‘You can tell a lot about someone’s lifestyle from their face, including what their diet is like and how much they smoke or drink,’ says Dr  Tabi Leslie, dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation.

Alcohol seems to be one of the worst offenders for the face. Dr Michael Prager, a Harley Street cosmetic surgeon, says he is treating increasing numbers of women whose faces have become podgy, pallid and wrinkly because of their nightly wine habit.

‘They often say to me: “My mother looked so well at my age, I don’t understand why I look so much older.” I tell them it’s probably because their mother didn’t drink so much,’ he says. But that’s not the only lifestyle habit that could be damaging your looks — stress, over-exercising, and even becoming vegetarian have an impact, as we reveal here…


Culprits: Over-exercising, yo-yo dieting.
Although exercise is crucial for healthy body and skin, too much can leave us with hollow, saggy cheeks, says Dr Aamer Khan, medical director of the Harley Street Skin Clinic.
‘It’s known as the runner’s face but any excessive cardiovascular exercise that raises the heart rate will do it — cyclists have the same look.
‘Initially when you start running, the face goes red as the blood vessels widen to get oxygen flowing round the body.

‘But after 15 minutes, as the muscles start to require more oxygen, the blood starts to be diverted away from the face, meaning the fat pads in the cheeks are deprived of oxygen and start to die off slowly.
‘If you run excessively, you’ll have a great heart and lungs, but you’ll lose the plumpness in the cheeks, and look emaciated.’
Varying your workouts with different types of exercise, such as weight-training or yoga, will help prevent this. Ditching cigarettes will also have an effect, he adds, as toxins in cigarettes also attack the blood supply to the fat pads in the cheeks, exacerbating the narrowed face.
And avoid faddy crash diets, as these can take their toll on your looks, warns dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe of the Cranley Clinic. ‘Yo-yo dieters regularly lose weight on the face then quickly put it back on. This rapid fluctuation in weight causes the skin to stretch and lose elasticity — so you start to have excess skin and jowls.’

Culprits: Alcohol, lack of exercise.
Cosmetic surgeon Dr Prager says alcohol ‘stresses the body, causing you to produce the hormone cortisol’. This hormone causes more fat to collect around the face, as well as triggering water retention around the cheeks, leaving a ‘bloated-looking face’.

Furthermore, alcohol is also known to overstimulate the parotid — or salivary — glands, which sit on either side where the neck meets the jaw, adds Dr Khan. ‘Excessive drinking causes these glands to become bigger which gives that chubby, jowly look. If you stop drinking or cut down, you’ll soon notice an improvement.’
Alcohol is 50 per cent sugar, and there’s growing evidence that a diet high in sugar can age the skin by a process called glycolisation. Here, molecules produced when sugar is broken down slow the production of collagen and elastin fibres, the building blocks of skin.
‘The face becomes saggy and loses elasticity, facial muscle and shape in general so it looks podgy,’ says Dr Prager. ‘Between 20 and 30 you can get away with murder, but if you carry on drinking like that, by your 40th birthday the damage will be done.’
Regular exercise is also essential for keeping the skin on the face healthy and youthful.
In 2010, researchers at the University of St Andrews released images of three people showing what they would look like in 20 years’ time if they did no exercise — inactive people were more at risk of sagging, loose skin on the neck and fattening in the forehead and eye area. Exercise keeps blood circulating to the skin, maintaining collagen production.


Culprit: Not wearing sun block.
You can tell what’s caused a wrinkle just by looking at it, says Chris Griffiths, professor of dermatology at Manchester University and an expert on ageing. ‘Fine, crepey wrinkles occur with age, but coarse, deeper wrinkles tend to be from the sun.’
Dr Aamer Khan adds that lines and ridges under the eyes tend to be a sign of too much time spent in the sun. ‘The whole face will be hit, but the hair will protect the forehead, so generally it’s the areas under the eyes that are most affected.
‘The skin is thinner here, too, and so more vulnerable to wrinkling.’

Culprits: Not eating your greens, being overweight.
In March last year, researchers at the University of St Andrews published research showing that eating just three portions of fruit and vegetables a day can give skin a natural glow akin to a suntan within weeks. Ross Whitehead, research fellow at the university, who led the study, explains: ‘Fruit and vegetables contain pigments called carotenoids, which give carrots their orange colour, for example, and tomatoes their red colour. When we eat them, these pigments get deposited on the skin, creating a glow.’
He adds that an overweight person may have to consume more fruit and vegetables in order to get the glow. Carotenoid pigments are fat-soluble, meaning they are absorbed by fat in the body.
‘The more fat a person has under the skin, the more the visibility of these pigments might be obscured.’
Meanwhile, a natural flush to the cheeks can also indicate cardiovascular fitness, adds Whitehead.
‘Oxygenated blood has a redder tinge to it than deoxygenated blood, so someone who exercises and has a strong heart will have a permanent redness to their cheeks. So a pale complexion might indicate someone who doesn’t do a lot of exercise.’

Culprits: Sugary food.
Discoloured, brownish-grey patches on the neck can be a warning sign for type 2 diabetes, a condition linked to a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates.

Known as acanthosis nigricans, the patches suggest high levels of the hormone insulin, involved in breaking down sugar in the body. They can start small, but if the underlying cause is not treated, may spread to take over the whole neck. ‘It’s very much a feature of obesity and diabetes, and tends to appear on the armpits and sometimes the neck,’ says Dr David Price, a diabetes expert at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
‘It suggests the insulin is not working very well, so the body is having to produce a lot more of it. Losing weight is the best treatment for this.’

Culprits: Caffeine, lack of sunlight.
Dr Aamer Khan says drinking too much coffee can dehydrate the skin, giving it a red and parched appearance. ‘If you drink more than three cups a day, for each one you need to drink an extra glass of water to counter the effects,’ he advises.
Low levels of vitamin D, formed in the body when sunlight hits the skin, can also cause redness in the face, adds Dr Khan. This is because the vitamin is vital for the creation of new skin cells, so a deficiency can lead to flaky, red skin.
Around one in ten of the population is thought to suffer with some degree of rosacea, a chronic skin condition that starts with flushing in the face and can progress to permanent redness, spots and blood vessels in the skin becoming visible.
Rosacea can run in families, but the condition is triggered or made worse by alcohol, coffee and spicy food, says dermatologist Dr Tabi Leslie. ‘Alcohol and caffeine seem to dilate the blood vessels, which can aggravate the rash on the face.’

Culprits: Dairy foods and Atkins-style diets.
It’s now widely recognised that acne is genetic rather than lifestyle related.
‘However, there is increasing evidence that in some cases excess dairy intake or high-calorie diets may be a contributory factor to the severity of the condition,’ says Dr Leslie.
The reasons are unclear, but some experts suggest that the compound insulin growth factor-1, which is found in milk (and is also naturally occuring in humans), might be to blame.
Dr Khan adds that Atkins-style diets that promote high protein and low carbohydrate intake may trigger acne, too.
‘Protein contains certain amino acids which encourage production of hormones such as testosterone which can cause acne,’ he says. A diet high in omega-3 (found in oily fish such as salmon or mackerel), fresh fruit and vegetables is thought to be the best way to prevent or reduce acne.
Omega-3s have been shown to control the production of sebum — the oil produced naturally by the skin that can cause acne.


Culprit: Not eating your greens.
Cracks in the corner of the mouth — angular stomatitis — can be a sign of vitamin B deficiency, says dermatologist Dr Leslie.
Vitamin B has anti-inflammatory properties and too little is linked to redness and cracking. ‘You may also have a thickened tongue. Meanwhile, a vitamin C deficiency can result in sore, cracked lips.’
Dr Leslie adds that both these vitamins are found in many fruit and vegetables, with vitamin B particularly high in peas and wholegrains and vitamin C high in oranges and peppers.

Culprits: Stress, fatty and spicy foods.
‘A person’s dental age can be quite distinct from their chronological age,’ says Dr Ben Atkins, principal dentist at Revive Dental Care in Manchester.
Stress can cause people to grind their teeth at night or clench in the day, which can reduce the length of the teeth, he explains. ‘Often people don’t realise they’re doing it. I see people who’ve lost 50 to 80 per cent of their teeth because of this, causing the actual face height to shrink in size, too.’
Mouth guards can be worn at night, but Dr Atkins says clearly it’s also vital to work out the cause of your anxiety.
Excess stomach acid from a fatty diet or drinking too much alcohol can also wear away the teeth, he adds.

‘Eating lots of high-fat and spicy foods like curry means you’ll produce more acid, and if you suffer reflux, where there is a weakness in the valve between the gullet and the stomach, the acid can splash up the gullet into the mouth and damage the teeth.
‘You’ll see your teeth shrinking in size and may notice the back surfaces of your teeth feel very smooth.’

Culprits: Cigarettes.
Tooth decay is usually linked to sugary snacks, but gum disease is more strongly linked to smoking, says Dr Atkins.
‘The damage to the blood supply in the gums from smoking may cause them to recede, and they can also start to look pale and leathery — in the same way a fish does when you smoke it. That’s essentially what you’re doing to your mouth when you smoke a cigarette.’


Culprits: Too much screen time, lack of sleep.
Watery eyes are usually, surprisingly, a tell-tale sign that you actually have dry eyes — this is because the tear glands react by overproducing tears, says Shamina Asif, from the College of Optometrists.
Often this is caused by spending too much time at a computer. ‘When you’re concentrating on a screen you’re less likely to blink, and it’s blinking that generates tears and lubricates the eyes,’ she says.
‘This is why a lack of sleep also contributes to dryness — during sleep your eyes repair themselves and produce tears.’ Constant blinking and watery eyes are the most common symptoms, she says.
‘If you suffer from dry eyes, make sure you take regular screen breaks, and consciously remember to blink regularly,’ she says. ‘And drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.’

Culprits: Vegetarian diet, lack of sleep.
A lack of iron — anaemia — may be to blame for dark circles under your eyes, suggests Dr Aamer Khan. This problem can be common in vegetarians, as meat is a major source of the nutrient.
‘Iron is needed for the turnover of tissue, so a deficiency slows down the creation of new skin and can cause the face to look pale and dark under the eyes.’ Furthermore, Dr Khan adds that tiredness can cause blood vessels in the skin to dilate.
The skin under the eyes is particularly thin, meaning that the blueish tinge of these blood vessels will be seen more acutely (the skin makes blood in vessels appear blue, although it is actually red), adding to the dark circles.

Culprits: Fatty diet.
White rings in the iris, known as arcus senilis, and yellow plaques or lumps around the eyelids, known as xanthelasma, can both be signs of high cholesterol, often linked to a diet rich in high-fat foods.
The excess cholesterol is deposited around the eye because it has a rich blood supply.
‘Studies have shown that people with arcus senilis and xanthelasma have a higher risk of developing heart disease,’ says Ms Asif.
She recommends seeing your GP for a check if you are worried about your cholesterol levels.

Culprits: Not wearing sunglasses, surfing.
Not shielding your eyes in bright sunlight can leave you at raised risk of a condition called pinguecula. This causes a whitish-yellow ‘pearly’ lesion or blister on the eyeball, that’s usually just next to the iris on the side closest to the nose.
It may remain small or grow large enough to interfere with vision. If it starts to extend over the iris, and becomes triangular-shaped, this is known as a pterygium.
These growths, also known as Surfer’s eye — due to the fact they are more common in people who spend a lot of time in the sun — can sometimes interfere with vision.
‘Both pinguecula and pterygiums are pretty common — I see around two patients a day with this,’ says Shamina Asif. ‘UV light is one of the main risk factors, so it’s important to wear sunglasses to stop it from getting worse or preventing it from occurring in the first place.’
The condition tends to be slow-growing, and does not usually require treatment, but if it starts to cause irritation, lubricating eyedrops or a short course of steroid eyedrops can help.

Posted on

The Western diet really is a killer – it is official

The Western diet really IS a killer.

The typical Western diet, high in fat and sugar, really does lead to an early grave, new research suggests.

A study of more than 5,000 civil servants found those who ate the most fried and sweet food, processed and red meat, white bread and butter and cream doubled their risk of premature death or ill health in old age.

It adds to evidence that ‘Western style food’ is the reason why heart disease claims about 94,000 lives a year in the UK – more than any other illness.
The findings published in The American Journal of Medicine are based on a survey of British adults and suggest adherence to the diet increases the risk of premature death and disability later in life.

Lead researcher, Dr Tasnime Akbaraly, of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France, said: ‘The impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, but few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages.’
She examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), is associated with physical ageing 16 years later.

The AHEI is an index of diet quality, originally designed to provide dietary guidelines with the specific intention to combat major chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Akbaraly added: ‘We showed that following specific dietary recommendations such as the one provided by the AHEI may be useful in reducing the risk of unhealthy ageing, while avoidance of the “Western-type foods” might actually improve the possibility of achieving older ages free of chronic diseases.’
The researchers analysed data from the British Whitehall II cohort study and found following the AHEI can double the odds of reversing metabolic syndrome, a range of disorders known to cause heart disease and mortality.

They followed 3,775 men and 1,575 women from 1985-2009 with a mean age of 51 years.
Using a combination of hospital data, results of screenings conducted every five years, and registry data, investigators identified death rates and chronic diseases among participants.

At the follow up stage, just four per cent had achieved ‘ideal ageing’ – classed as being free of chronic conditions and having high performance in physical, mental and mental agility tests.

About 12 per cent had suffered a non-fatal cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack, while almost three per cent had died from cardiovascular disease.
About three quarters were categorised as going through ‘normal ageing’.

The researchers said participants who hadn’t really stuck to the AHEI increased their risk of death, either from heart disease or another cause.

Those who followed a ‘Western-type diet’ consisting of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products, lowered their chances for ideal ageing.

Posted on

IBS and menopause

When Does Perimenopause Usually Start and End?

Perimenopause is the term for the months and years that lead to menopause. It begins with the first signs or symptoms of menopause. For some women, this is as early as their thirties. By their mid-forties, most women notice at least occasional signs that their estrogen is beginning to decline. Officially, perimenopause ends with the diagnosis of menopause, which is when you’ve had twelve consecutive months without a period. The day after you have not menstruated for one full year, you are considered postmenopausal. The day before your menopause day, you are premenopausal. The average women experiences menopause at the age of 51. The normal range is from 40 to 58 years old.

Perimenopausal and Menopausal IBS symptoms

An increase in gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including bowel discomfort, abdominal pain/discomfort, bloating, gas and alterations in bowel patterns, has been reported during premenses and menses menstrual cycle phases and the perimenopause period in women with and without irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Dr. Margaret M. Heitkemper, Ph.D., of the Department of Biobehavioural Nursing and Health Systems at the University of Washington in Seattle, conducted a review of scientific literature about the possibility that fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome. During perimenopause (and menopause), the gastrointestinal tract slows down, which contributes to constipation, and constipation may cause hormonal imbalances.

Author Dawn M. Olsen, founder of the Menopause A to Z website, explains if a woman going through menopause is also dealing with stress, constipation and indigestion can worsen, especially if she overeats, eats certain foods or eats too quickly. Not drinking enough water may lead to dehydration and contribute to constipation. Constipation can be problematic, because daily bowel movements are essential to eliminate waste from the body and may be crucial for maintaining hormonal balance as women go through menopause.

It has been theorized that this increase in symptoms at the time of early menopause is due to the lessening of the levels of sex hormones that occurs at this time, in much the same way that women experience an increase in IBS symptoms in the days surrounding the onset of menstruation. There is a well-established relationship between these sex hormones and digestive symptoms, most likely due to the fact that receptor cells for these hormones are located throughout the digestive tract. Thus, the changing hormonal levels of menopause do have an effect on IBS, but what that effect is is not completely clear. The evidence to date currently provides only conflicting and incomplete evidence about the change in IBS symptoms during and after menopause.

Many women in menopause develop acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD. This condition occurs when the lower part of the esophageal sphincter does not close properly, allowing stomach contents to reflux or leak back into the esophagus. One of the main symptoms of GERD is persistent heartburn caused by acid regurgitation; however, some women who have gastroesophageal reflux disease do not suffer from heartburn. Women may experience a burning or choking sensation in the throat, chest pain, trouble swallowing and morning hoarseness. Mary Infantino, RN, Ph.D., Director of the Graduate Nursing Program at Long Island University in New York conducted a study in 2008 on gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in perimenopausal and menopausal women. The research found that perimenopausal and menopausal women had higher percentages of GERD diagnoses than premenopausal women and that menopausal patients had significantly more upper gastrointestinal discomfort. Dr. Infantino’s research found that menopausal women were nearly three times more likely to have GERD symptoms, suggesting a hormonal link between menopause and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

To conclude, studies have shown that the drop in hormones after menopause results in reduced severity of IBS symptoms; after age 50, the severity of IBS symptoms in women and men is identical. Women in postmenopausal age groups have significantly less severity overall for IBS abdominal pain, bloating and have a higher quality of life scores compared to younger women with IBS. The theory that the drop in hormones from menopause directly correlates with improved IBS symptoms is further supported by studies finding that hormone replacement therapy in menopause is associated with an increases risk of IBS flares.

Posted on

Probiotics value

So let’s take an example of a typical popular probiotic supplement being marketed today,

Bottle A
This good quality product is £13.00 for 30 capsules, each capsule containing 2 billion live bacteria. The total number of probiotic bacteria in the bottle is 60 billion, making each billion bacteria cost £0.21. In other words, each capsule costs almost almost 50 pence!

Bottle B
A larger size of 120 capsules for $39.95 yields a total of 240 billion bacteria in the whole bottle, bringing the per billion bacteria price down to £0.17 per billion.

Bottle C
By contrast, a bottle of Custom Probiotics CP-1 at £39.98 has 90 capsules, each with around 70 billion bacteria per capsule, making the total number of probiotic bacteria in the bottle 6300 billion, more than 100 times the total in bottle A. This gives a per billion bacteria price of less than half a penny.
Compare this with 21 pence per billion bacteria!
Bottle A – 21 pence
Bottle B – 17 pence
Bottle C – less than half a penny

It is a no-brainer!

The term ‘probiotic’ is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘for life’. Probiotics are currently defined as ‘live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host’. Common descriptions for probiotics include ‘friendly’, ‘beneficial’ or ‘healthy’ bacteria.

Probiotics play a key role in human nutrition and health in balancing the intestinal microflora naturally. Probiotics have been used therapeutically to modulate immunity, improve digestive processes, lower cholesterol, treat rheumatoid arthritis, prevent cancer, improve lactose intolerance, and prevent or reduce the effects of atopic dermatitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, diarrhoea, constipation as well as Candida and urinary tract infections.
Qualities of an effective probiotic dietary supplement include the following:
Must be of human origin
Exert a beneficial effect on the host
Be non-pathogenic and non-toxic
Contain a large number of viable cells
Be capable of surviving and metabolizing in the gut
Remain viable during storage and use
Be antagonistic to pathogens.

Probiotic bacteria are generally, though not exclusively, lactic acid bacteria and the best researched strains include Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. plantarum, L. salivarius, L. rhamnosus, L. reuteri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, B. longum, B. infantis and S. thermophilus.
The most common probiotic supplements on the market today will include one or more of the above strains, and will fulfill most or all of the seven criteria listed above for effectiveness.

Probiotics should be ingested regularly for any health promoting properties to persist. It is possible to manipulate the composition of the intestinal microflora in adults through dietary supplementation with probiotics. This concept is gaining popularity throughout the world. A state of balance within the microbial population within the GI tract is called “eubiosis” while an imbalance is termed “dysbiosis”. For optimum “gut flora balance”, the beneficial bacteria, such as the gram-positive Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, should predominate, presenting a barrier to invading organisms.

Around 85% of the intestinal microflora in a healthy person should be good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. The greater the imbalance, the greater the likely symptoms. In addition, the greater the imbalance or dysbiosis, the greater the number of beneficial bacteria required to correct that imbalance. In cases of dysbiosis, such as, for example, candida overgrowth, or after antibiotics, low doses of probiotics make little difference. It is only the higher doses of around 100 billion bacteria per day that are able to effect a significant change within a short period of time.

To use an analogy, using small doses (under 20 billion bacteria per day) to correct a dysbiosis is like invading a very large country with a very small army – the chances of success are slim. One of the reasons for this is that a dysbiotic gut has a pH level that is hostile to good bacteria, so small numbers do not survive. Large numbers (100 billion plus) are able to change the pH level quickly to one that supports good bacteria. Continuing the analogy, this is like invading a very large country with a very large army – the chances of success are much higher! Probiotics, being able to lower the pH in the intestinal tract, may also be able to interfere with the enzymatic activity of the bad bacteria and yeast organisms. A healthy and well balanced intestinal microflora provides protection against a broad range of pathogens, including certain forms of Clostridia, Escherichia Coli, Salmonella, Shigella and Pseudomonas, as well as yeasts such as Candida albicans.The use of probiotics may be the most natural, safe and common sense approach for keeping the balance of the intestinal ecosystem.

Probiotics can modulate the composition of the intestinal microflora. The survival of ingested probiotics in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract differs between strains. As a result of their concentration in the lumen, they contribute to transient modulation of the microflora ecology, at least during the period of intake. This specific change may be seen in the GI tract for a few days after the start of consumption of the probiotic preparation, depending on the dosage of the strain in question. Results show that with regular consumption, the bacteria temporarily colonise the lower intestine. Once consumption stops, the number of probiotic microorganisms quickly falls. This applies to all probiotic supplements available in the market today.
Custom Probiotics CP-1

Our five-strain Adult Formula CP-1 capsules have a total bacterial count of at least 50 billion microorganisms per capsule at date of expiration. The count at date of manufacture can exceed 78 billion bacteria per capsule. This is independently verified by certified laboratory analysis. Upon request, we will be pleased to share with you the most recent independent laboratory test results, that indicated 69 billion per capsule.

Adult Formula CP-1’s high bacterial count, broad-spectrum formulation and high viability of friendly bacteria all contribute to its effectiveness. It is dairy free, hypoallergenic, and does not contain any artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, sugar, gluten or FOS. Our custom probiotic powder formulations range from 100 to 400 billion micro-organisms per gram, the highest potency of any probiotic formulation available in the market today.

We do not use prebiotics, such as fructooligosacharides (F0S) or inulin, in our formulations, with a view to eliminating possible adverse reactions by highly allergic and sensitive individuals, such as those suffering from Candida or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients. Most FOS in today’s market contains 5-40% free sugar. We suggest getting FOS from vegetables such as onion, garlic, asparagus, dandelion, artichokes and leeks, which have many additional health promoting and nutritional benefits.

Posted on

Antacids – storing up trouble?

Recent research suggests that antacids, which are the world’s most popular drugs, can double the risk of pneumonia. This is because these drugs suppress gastric acids allowing viruses and bacteria in the upper GI tract to migrate into the respiratory tract. The study’s findings were similar for proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists, both of which lower acid production in the stomach. (The Dutch researchers want doctors to avoid prescribing antacids to elderly patients, particularly those with a history of respiratory problems.)

As well as digesting food in the stomach, the acid acts as a natural defensive barrier that kills pathogens that we ingest with our food. The weakening of stomach acid with antacids allows viruses and bacteria to pass down into the gut, where they can cause a wide range of IBS-like symptoms, such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, wind and abdominal pain.

Antacids are thought by the medical profession to have no serious side effects, and so are freely available over the counter, and used for heartburn and reflux as well as stomach and duodenal ulcers. Those with magnesium in them are available only on prescription; these may have a laxative effect, while those made with aluminium may cause constipation. Aluminium hydroxide should be taken in moderation because the aluminium can enter the blood stream, and there may be a link with osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s, particularly if it is taken for a long time. For all that, antacids generally have fewer side effects than the newer generation of anti-reflux drugs (or histamine-2 receptor antagonists, as they’re formally known) like ranitidine and omeprazole. H2 blockers are used to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers, especially those due to arthritis painkillers like non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Also prescribed to relieve heartburn and indigestion, they are known to cause insomnia, depression, blurred vision, severe headaches, irregular heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, hepatitis and other liver disorders and, rarely, impotence or blood disorders. Omeprazole can cause chest pain, liver failure, mental disturbances, stomach pain and, again, nausea and vomiting. Proton pump inhibitors are also considered benign, but require a prescription. The most common side effects are diarrhoea, nausea, constipation, flatulence, abdominal pain and headaches.

Paradoxically, neutralising stomach acid only causes the stomach to produce more to compensate, which means you continue to take the stuff indefinitely. It also tends to reduce the availability of digestive enzymes, so you don’t digest your food as well as you should. This allows undigested proteins to proceed into the gut, producing toxic amines that act as a substrate for bad bacteria, encouraging them to proliferate. These toxic amines have also been linked with carcinogens in the gut.

The term ‘heartburn’ is an umbrella term for common gastro-intestinal discomfort variously described as indigestion, fullness, gaseousness, abdominal distension, burning pain in the upper abdomen, chest or behind the breastbone. It is common for heartburn to have a burning quality to the pain, hence the name. Mild heartburn is annoying, but severe heartburn can be frightening, feeling as if a hole is being burned through your stomach.

There are a number of potential causes of heartburn. Common causes of heartburn that are easy to remedy are overeating, eating too fast, drinking too many caffeinated drinks, eating too much refined carbohydrate and smoking. Also avoid carrageenan, a seaweed used as a food stabiliser. Other more complex causes of heartburn can be various medicines (hormones as in the birth control pill, progesterone, diazepam and nitroglycerine).

Persistent heartburn from a particular food may indicate an allergy to that food. Food allergies stimulate histamine release, which stimulates stomach acid production. The most common offenders are dairy products, wheat, eggs, corn, beef, soy and some citrus fruits. Using a non-aluminium natural alternative for heartburn and reflux, like Refluxin, which forms a foamy raft on top of the stomach’s contents to avoid reflux may be preferable. Infection with the bug Helicobacter pylori in the stomach may cause heartburn and ulcer type pains. Doctors think that H. pylori may be the cause of up to 95% of stomach and duodenal ulcers. If you think this is a possibility, you can ask your GP for a blood test. The natural remedies Helicobactrin, Colostrum, and Lactoferrin all have a good track record with H. pylori, and do not give the negative side effects associated with the traditional medicines detailed above.

Sufferers of duodenal ulcers may find drinking a large glass of tepid water half an hour before eating helpful. This allows the production of alkaline compounds in the duodenum, which act as a natural barrier to the acid as the stomach empties into the duodenum.