Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The latest wrinkle racket

Such claims have been made many times before. Note the rubric below

Surprisingly, it all started with an apple. A dull, sour apple, almost extinct, living quietly on a rare tree in a remote part of Switzerland. Now, that humble apple is a big celebrity, with fans such as Michelle Obama, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Lopez. It spends its time among beautiful people in swanky department stores. Why? Because this Swiss fruit is at the centre of what's being described as a 'revolution' in anti-ageing treatments. It's claimed this ingredient can reverse skin ageing, increase the lifespan of human cells, and may even make it possible to grow back lost hair.

I'm used to hyperbole in the beauty world, but this new development is really getting the cosmetics companies excited. They believe they have the science to prove that plant stem cells can be incorporated in skin creams, will interact with human skin stem cells, and can eliminate wrinkles and make skin look younger. Human stem cells can turn into any part of the body and so are big news in medical research, but the law bans the use of embryonic stem cells in cosmetics. So, instead, researchers turned their attention to plants. These also produce stem cells throughout their lives, both to grow, as a response to an injury.

The biggest 'star' in the stem cell world is called PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica. Derived from a rare 18th-century species of apple tree, the Uttwiler Spatlauber, it first attracted attention, as it could be kept for months without withering.

In a paper published in the cosmetics industry journal, the Journal Of Applied Sciences, Swiss scientists noted: 'These apples must have especially long-living tissue stem cells. Could we profit from these stem cells? 'What would be the effect of an extract of such long-living stem cells on the skin?'

To find out, scientists cut pieces of the apple, which responded by forming a protective 'callous' made of plant stem cells on the surface. These cells were grown in a liquid culture and put to the test. A solution containing one per cent apple stem cells seemed to boost cell production of human stem cells by a staggering 80per cent.

The human cells were irradiated with UV light, which killed 50 per cent of those grown in a normal liquid culture, but hardly any of those protected by the apple stem cells. Also, hair follicles kept in a solution of Uttwiler Spatlauber continued to grow for 18 days, while those kept in a typical solution died after 14. And, in tests on 20 women, applying a cream enriched with 2 per cent PhytoCell-Tec Malus Domestica twice a day reduced crows feet by eight per cent after a fortnight, and 15 per cent after four weeks.

But Professor Liam Dolan, the Sheradian Professor of Botany at Oxford University, who specialises in studying plant cells, is sceptical about the new ingredient. 'I don't see how plant stem cells could interact with human stem cells in this way,' he says.

But Dr Daniel Schmid, research director of Mibelle Biochemistry, the Swiss lab which developed PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica, insists that his study shows his apple stem cell extracts have been 'shown to improve the maintenance of the stem cells characteristics of epidermal stem cells.' He admits: 'The anti-ageing benefit for the skin after topical application could not be confirmed in a clinical trial.' But, he adds: 'The extract offers a promise of real skin rejuvenation.'

Further studies would be needed to prove that plant stem cells truly are as effective on faces as they are in the lab, but in our search for the elixir of youth, a new cream that can peel away the years, dreams tend to win over doubts, and this little apple looks as if it's going to bask in the limelight a little longer yet.


10 reasons why sex is good for you

The research details underlying the assertions below are not given but it is more likely that healthy people have more sex than that sex keeps you healthy. The direction of cause is speculative

HERE is something to get you in the mood tonight: a 10-year Welsh study found that those who enjoyed an active sex life were 50 per cent less likely to have died during that time than those who did not. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual health benefits, says body+soul's sex and relationships therapist Dr Gabrielle Morrissey. "It makes sense that sex is good for you because we need lots of inducements to do it so that we stay on the planet," she says. "Sex involves our circulatory, nervous and muscular systems and brains, so it's a tune-up and workout of everything that’s important."

Sadly, it's often the first thing to go when our health is on the blink. "We have the attitude that sex is a luxury item instead of a necessity for wellness. We also think of it as something only for the young and strong, but its effects are a bonus as we age." Still need convincing? Here are 10 health reasons to ramp up your sex life:

1 Less heart attacks and strokes

Films often depict men having heart attacks in the throes of passion, yet the estimates of this happening are about one in a million. Research actually shows that having sex several times a week may cut your risk of a heart attack or stroke in half. "Sex releases feel-good hormones such as dehydroepiandrosterone and oxytocin," says Dr Darren Russell, president of the Australasian Chapter of Sexual Health Medicine. "You get more blood moving through the blood vessels."

2 Lowers blood pressure and stress

A small Scottish study exposed people to stressful situations and found that those who had regular sexual intercourse responded better to stress than those who engaged in other sexual activities or abstained. A partner's hug can do wonders, too: a US study found it can lower blood pressure and heart rates in premenopausal women. "Touch releases quantities of oxytocin, so you don’t have to orgasm," Dr Morrissey says.

3 Reduces depression

Those feel-good hormones also help keep depression at bay, although US psychologist Dr Gordon Gallup found that women whose partners did not wear a condom during sex were less likely to be depressed than those whose did. His theory? Semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which may be absorbed through the vagina and act like an antidepressant. But this doesn't mean you should avoid condoms, he warns.

4 prevents osteoporosis

"Men and women who have regular sex have higher testosterone levels, (which) are linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis and bone problems," says Dr Russell. More studies are needed.

5 Keeps colds and flu at bay

Lots of sex means fewer colds and flu, say researchers from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, USA. They found that having sex once or twice a week increased production of the immune-boosting antibody immunoglobulin by a third. A German study found that even masturbation can increase men’s white blood cells.

6 Prevents prostate cancer

Several large studies have shown that men in their 20s who ejaculate frequently (about 21 times a month) can reduce their risk of prostate cancer later in life by a third, compared to those who ejaculate five to seven times a month. "It doesn’t necessarily have to be intercourse," Dr Russell adds.

7 Relieves headaches

Research shows that sex can alleviate an aching noggin, especially in women. The endorphins and corticosteroids released have an analgaesic effect, alleviating the pain of headaches, arthritis, cramps and body aches. "Endorphins are a natural painkiller," Dr Russell says. The production of oestrogen in women may also ward off period pain.

8 Improves sleep

Dr Russell prescribes sex for people with sleep problems. "Sex helps people sleep better and is less addictive than things like Valium," he says. Again, it's those powerful oxytocins at work. In turn, sleep boosts mental and physical health.

9 Keeps you fit

Some experts say that 30 minutes of vigorous sex is comparable to 15 minutes on a treadmill or walking up two flights of stairs, and burns between 360 and 835 kilojoules. Sex works the pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms, neck and thorax. Your pulse rate doubles from about 70 beats per minute to 150, the same as an athlete mid-stride.

10 Prevents incontinence

The muscles that stem the flow of urine, reducing leakage and incontinence, are given a workout during sex, says Dr Morrissey. "Orgasm is best because the entire pelvic floor contracts." Flexing your pelvic muscles during sex maximises the benefits and makes sex more pleasurable. Use it or lose it

Regular sex keeps your genital organs in good working order, says Dr Darren Russell. Abstaining for long periods may cause the following:

Erectile problems in older men: A Finnish study of men aged 55 to 75 found that those who had intercourse less than once a week had twice the risk of erectile dysfunction than those who had sex more often.

Vaginal atrophy in women: A decline in oestrogen, especially during menopause, can result in the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. "Once the oestrogen is gone, the vagina can atrophy and the tissues can wither away," Dr Russell says. This can cause pain and irritation if you return to sex after a long break. "Regular sex keeps the vagina lubricated and in good working order as a woman goes past the menopause." Vaginal oestrogen creams can also help.

More great reasons to say "Yes!" tonight:

Regular periods: US researchers found that women who have sex at least once a week have more regular menstrual cycles than those who have sex less often.

Look younger: In Secrets Of The Superyoung (Berkley), Dr David Weeks says his research found that couples who had sex three times a week looked seven years younger than those who had sex less often. Other researchers say sex raises a woman’s oestrogen levels, making her hair shinier and her skin more supple.

Better skin and teeth: Some argue that the minerals in semen (such as zinc and calcium) help stop tooth decay and improve skin, but Dr Morrissey is not convinced.

"The kind of momentary exposure, even over a long, repetitive experience, couldn’t possibly have any kind of impact, let alone the minimal number of minerals you’re talking about."


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