Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rubbished! Stars who peddle 'silly science' to cure our ailments

Their day jobs involve looking glamorous and posing for the cameras – and perhaps they should stick to them. When celebrities turn their attention to solving our health problems, a report suggests, their contribution is, at best, questionable.

Tamara Ecclestone, Suzi Quatro, Gwyneth Paltrow and even the Duchess of Cambridge and her little sister Pippa are among those named and shamed for peddling what the report calls ‘silly science’.

The organisation Sense about Science highlighted Miss Quatro’s claim that her sore throats were cured by a ‘colon cleansing’ powder. The American singer-songwriter said: ‘I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleaner powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference.’

But Dr Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist, said: ‘Sore throats do not come from your colon; they are caused by viruses that come in through your nose and mouth. The colon...certainly is not the cause of all illnesses.’

Pippa Middleton was abruptly corrected after crediting her glossy hair to rinsing it in cold water. Miss Middleton, 28, claimed: ‘It closes the pores and gives it a lift and shine... it really works.’ Sense about Science pointed out that hair does not have pores, and its smoothness is unaffected by water, hot or cold.

Her sister Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, featured in the report for saying that spending more time with horses had made her less allergic to them. Dr Pamela Ewen, of the allergy department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, conceded that, in cases of mild allergy, Kate might be right. But she added: ‘If the allergy is more severe, re-exposure usually makes it worse.’

Heiress Miss Ecclestone came under fire for saying acupuncture stopped her getting ill. She said: ‘I have acupuncture to boost my immune system every month or so.’ Professor Peter Lachmann, an immunologist at Cambridge University, said: ‘There are ways to enhance different types of immune response – though acupuncture is not one of them.’

Gwyneth Paltrow, who has previously made comments about shampoo causing cancer and is a fan of a bizarre Chinese medicine treatment called ‘cupping’, was also on the hitlist for claiming that a ‘detox diet’ helped her liver and gave her ‘mental clarity’.

Simon Cowell also featured for saying that he found vitamin injections ‘calming’. And Snooki Polizzi, star of U.S. reality TV show Jersey Shore, claimed whale sperm was what made the sea salty.

Tracey Brown, of Sense about Science, said: ‘It’s tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse.’

The charity did congratulate one celebrity for making a helpful contribution. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was praised for her comments in the Daily Mail about the link between a poor diet and osteoporosis. The duchess said: ‘What particularly concerns me is the rise of osteoporosis in young people and its link with eating disorders.’

Sian Porter, of the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘It is very important to strengthen bones in the first 30 years of life to “stockpile” calcium and other minerals. Her Royal Highness is clearly well informed. ‘Unfortunately this is not the case with many celebrities who give advice.’


Study warns against pet cats

Tempted by the playful antics of that adorable kitten in the pet shop? If you've never had a cat before you may want to think again, especially if you have other allergies, researchers warn.

And if you do acquire a feline, keep it out of your bedroom.

While having a cat as a child may protect against future allergies, getting one in adulthood nearly doubles the chances of developing an immune reaction to it - the first step towards wheezing, sneezing and itchy eyes, a European study found.

The same study, which covered thousands of adults and was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that people with other allergies were at extra high risk of reacting to a new feline in the house.

"Our data support that acquiring a cat in adulthood nearly doubles the risk of developing cat sensitisation," wrote Mario Olivieri, from the University Hospital of Verona in Italy. "Hence, cat avoidance should be considered in adults, especially in those sensitised to other allergens and reporting a history of allergic diseases."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 6000 adult Europeans twice over nine years, taking blood samples. None of the participants had antibodies to cats in their blood to start with, meaning they were not sensitised to the animal's dander.

Sensitisation can be measured in a skin prick test. It does not necessarily lead to symptoms, but in many cases it is the harbinger of full-blown allergies.

About three per cent of people who did not have a cat at either time of the survey became sensitised over the course of the study, compared to five per cent of those who acquired a cat during those nine years.

Four in 10 of the newly sensitised also said they experienced allergy symptoms around animals, four times the rate seen among people without antibodies against cats.

It also turned out that only people who let their pet into the bedroom became sensitised.

"If you are an adult with asthma and/or allergies, you should think twice about getting a cat and particularly, if you do so, letting it into your bedroom," said Andy Nish of the Allergy and Asthma Care Centre in Gainesville, Georgia, who wasn't involved in the study.

The researchers did find, however, that people who had had a cat in childhood had a much smaller risk against becoming sensitised to it than those who were new cat owners.

"We thought that having a cat in early childhood may be protective against the development of cat allergy in childhood, but this study seems to indicate that protection extends into adulthood," Nish told Reuters Health in an email.

Noting that he always recommends keeping cats out of the bedroom, he added: "It is remarkable that none who did not allow the cat in the bedroom became sensitised."

For people who have a cat and have become allergic, he recommended finding a new home for the pet, followed by keeping the cat outdoors at all times. "If it comes in even occasionally, its dander will remain in the house for months. If the cat needs to be indoors, at least keep it out of your bedroom, consider a HEPA filter for your bedroom, and consider washing the cat at least once a week," he added.


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