A lot of buzzing over honey

  • Health
  • Sunday, 23 Feb 2003

HONEY, the best-known bee product, has been valued by humans throughout history. But only recently has interest grown in another bee product, royal jelly. The substance, which is secreted by young worker honeybees, is a mixture of protein, amino acids, sugars and vitamins that is fed to the queen bee, causing her to achieve extraordinary size, fertility and longevity.  

Some manufacturers claim royal jelly can fight infection and help prevent colds. It is also used for its purported ability to improve cardiovascular health and to slow ageing. Dosage is usually set at 50mg to 100mg daily in capsules or tablets.  

Precautions: Royal jelly is dangerous for people with allergies to honey or bee pollen. (Bees secrete enzymes into the pollen they collect from flowers and store in hives. This is known as bee pollen.) People with a history of asthma and allergies should also avoid it.  

There is some evidence that royal jelly has antibacterial properties and may help lower cholesterol. Few data exist to support its effectiveness as an anti-ageing tonic. Ask your health-care provider for advice on selecting a brand.  

What's a safe dose for children? 

IT'S not just adults who mistakenly overdose on non-prescription painkillers. Every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 27,000 children are victims of acetaminophen overdoses.  

While deaths are rare, and many incidents involve accidental poisonings, some cases occur because adults, typically parents, administer the wrong dose or form of the drug. Sometimes they substitute an adult formula for a paediatric one. 

“People don't understand how critically important it is to dose correctly,” said Michael R. Cohen, a pharmacist who is president of the US Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a consumer group dedicated to reducing medication errors. 

In a paper about acetaminophen toxicity published in October 2001, the AAP's Committee on Drugs found that it is difficult to determine the dose that's harmful to children's livers. As is the case with adults, lack of food appears to be implicated in liver damage.  

“Severe toxicity has been observed despite apparently reassuringly low acetaminophen levels,” the committee noted, recommending that an antidote be administered if a physician is suspicious that an overdose may have occurred.  

To reduce the chance of dosing errors, the committee recommended that paediatricians provide parents with specific written information about over-the-counter pain relievers and that they be told to avoid the use of more than one product containing acetaminophen.  

“Parents should search the entire label of any over-the-counter product for acetaminophen content, especially those recommended for colds, cough, fever, headaches or general aches and pains,” the committee advised. Paediatricians, they continued, should also “dispel the misconception that, even with over-the-counter drugs, more is better.”  

Clot link to new Pill 

ALTHOUGH birth control pills carry some increased risk of blood clots, doctors have been debating whether the newest-generation pills are any safer than their predecessors.  

One of those new pills, available in the United States since 2001, is attracting particular attention because of reports that European users have suffered serious blood clots in the legs and lungs.  

Like other combination pills, it contains forms of two female reproductive hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. What's novel about the pill is that it uses a new, synthetic version of progesterone that closely resembles the progesterone made by a woman's body. Because it is chemically related to a diuretic called spironolactone, it also acts like a water pill and reduces bloating. And, like spironolactone, it helps lessen acne and oily skin.  

Dutch authorities recently reported on five cases in which women taking it developed serious blood clots, one of which proved fatal. A 17-year-old collapsed and died after taking the pills for six months. An autopsy revealed she had suffered a pulmonary embolism, despite having no obvious risk factors, such as smoking, immobilisation for a long period or plane travel. Although doctors never had a chance to test her blood, her parents tested negative for clotting problems.  

The five Dutch cases were described in the Feb 1 issue of the British Medical Journal. A 28-year-old suffered a leg thrombosis four months after switching to it; a 45-year-old had a deep vein thrombosis after two months on the pill; a 50-year-old had a similar thrombosis after three months on it, and a 35-year-old survived a pulmonary thrombosis after 17 days on the medication – four months after she'd given birth.  

They were among 40 European users who suffered major clots – two fatal – first reported in the British journal in April 2002. That report led to several European warnings about the pill, manufactured by Berlex Laboratories, a unit of Germany's Schering. The pill has been available in Europe since late 2000.  

Dr David Plourd, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Naval Medical Centre, San Diego, said he was concerned that several of the Dutch women suffered clots so soon after starting the medication. “If they'd been on it for 10 years and then threw a blood clot, it's less likely to be due to it,” Plourd said. “However, we don't know among how many women these 40 events occurred. So while I have a concern, there is no clear-cut evidence that this is a particularly less-than-safe or potentially harmful formulation.”  

Dr Philip Darney, chief of obstetrics and gynaecology at San Francisco General Hospital, said he was unaware of any similar complications in the US. “We may not have had a broad enough experience with it in the US to have seen any of this yet,” he said.  

Because the risk of suffering a blood clot rises with higher doses of hormones, Darney said he hoped physicians and patients would be interested in several new contraceptive options, including the vaginal ring and an intrauterine device.  

Intriguing promise of Coenzyme Q10 

COENZYME Q10, a nutrient made by the liver (and found in some foods), was discovered about 40 years ago. Scientists have become increasingly interested in the substance because of its role as an antioxidant and in helping cells produce energy.  

Recently, researchers at the University of California at San Diego reported that coenzyme Q10 supplements might slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.  

Because it is crucial to cell energy function, coenzyme Q10 supplements may have broad uses, especially in people whose natural coenzyme Q10 levels are low. This includes individuals with congestive heart failure and other cardiac disorders, inflammatory gum disease and AIDS. The nutrient also has been used by people with cancer to reduce the toxicity of some types of chemotherapy.  

Typically, the dosage is 100mg to 300mg daily. Some experts recommend taking the supplement with meals.  

Coenzyme Q10 appears to be safe, even in doses of 1,200mg a day. It can interact with medications used to treat heart failure, diabetes, kidney or liver problems. Some people have diarrhoea, stomach upset and poor appetite from taking the supplements.  

There is a great deal of research under way on coenzyme Q10. So far, the best evidence for its use is for congestive heart failure. For other conditions, such as for Parkinson's disease and for cancer, it is too early to say whether coenzyme Q10 will help. Only a few studies have been done on how the nutrient might affect people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or angina. Early studies on its ability to improve athletic performance have been unimpressive. – LAT-WP 

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