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The Experts

Ross Walker
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It’s extraordinary what humans will put into their bodies

Friday, February 16, 2018

By Ross Walker

Over the past 10,000 years, our physiology has not changed much from the hunter-gatherer wandering around a jungle constantly looking for food. The human body has evolved purely to consume natural foods in a natural environment.

Enter the modern world!

Many of our modern dietary choices are based around processed, packaged muck masquerading as food, often with graffiti written on the side of the box such as “low-fat” or “no cholesterol” to make you falsely believe that there are some health benefits from consuming this rubbish. Also, there is now increasing evidence that the synthetic chemicals used in the packaging may cause significant health issues. Many of the preservatives, artificial sweeteners and other ingredients in the food itself, appear to be contributing to modern illnesses and other significant health issues.
One of the great scourges of our modern world is that of substance abuse. Whether this be alcohol or illegal drugs, the abuse of any substance can cause significant health and social problems for, not just the abuser, but also his or her loved ones, friends and also in the work place. For a number of years, I have been calling for the banning of energy drinks. A recent disturbing report from the US has revealed that one third of teenagers aged between 12-17 regularly consume energy drinks and that males in the 18-34 age group have the highest consumption. There have been many associated adverse health effects reported, such as headaches, cardiac rhythm disturbances, flushing, nausea and lethargy, along with loss of consciousness and even death. A few years back, I had a paramedic ring my Melbourne radio segment stating he had just been to the unsuccessful cardiac arrest of a 15-year-old girl who had consumed 3 energy drinks over the previous few hours.
This study from the US looked at 1100 young adults and followed them for four years up to the age of 25. It had already been previously reported that there is a clear link between energy drink consumption and drug and alcohol dependence but this was the first study that looked at the amount of energy drinks used and this issue. Disturbingly, it was found that 51% of young adults in this age group were regular users of energy drinks, 17% were occasional users and 11% were trying to cut down. 21% were non-users.

The study showed clearly that the higher use of energy drinks was associated with a higher dependence of alcohol and drug abuse. Surely these drinks are completely unnecessary and should be banned.
Another equally concerning study around artificial sweeteners, (which are strangely called “diet soft drinks” which is clearly an oxymoron) showed that if drinks are perceived to be of high sweetness but low calorie, this tricks the body into believing that it needs more calories. This is one of the explanations for where you may feel quite full after a meal but are still happy to tuck into the dessert. In nature, the intensity of sweetness reflects the amount of energy in the food consumed. For example, fruit is quite sweet because of the fructose content but this is quite proportionate to the number of calories in the particular fruit. Unfortunately, in our modern world with this sweet taste perception and calorie mismatch our brain’s reward circuits do not register the calories that have been consumed which is a significant contribution to overeating.
Finally, and just as disturbing, is the pervasive effect of many of the preservatives and other common chemicals that are so ubiquitous in our modern world. One of the most commonly used preservatives is Butylhydroxy toluene (BHT) which is used in foods to prevent fat from turning rancid. Perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) is used in cookware and carpeting. Tributyltin(TBT) is used in painting but often ends up in the water supply and subsequently in seafood. A recent study showed clearly that all of these chemicals have a profound effect on human stem cells and block the signals between the gut and brain to make you perceive that you are full. It appears from this work that there is a link between the ingestion of these chemicals and obesity, clearly one of the scourges of our modern society.
There is no doubt that if you want to lose weight it is “calories in” versus “calories burnt”. Calories in is the food and fluid you consume and calories burnt is exercise, movement and metabolism. It appears from the last two aspects of this report that metabolism is also affected by many of the chemicals we do not even consider when we are ingesting that food or fluid. With all the evidence I have recently presented regarding the pervasive effects of the containers our food is stored in, along with the increasing recent evidence about the enormous amounts of synthetic chemicals used to colour, preserve and thicken our food, it is my opinion there needs to be a total rethink of how food is produced, stored and marketed to the public.
Until we start demanding these changes, we will continue to see the rampant increase in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Hospital complications a leading cause of death

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The most common cause of death and disability in the world is cardiovascular disease, closely followed by cancer. Coming in at number three and closing in fast is Western health care. It is estimated that in the US alone there are 780,000 deaths on a yearly basis as a consequence of doctors treating patients.

A preventative health expert from the United Kingdom has recently suggested that 10% of hospital admissions are directly due to medical error. A recently released report from the Grattan Institute has basically assessed the complication rate for Australian hospitals. It appears that one in nine patients being treated in an Australian hospital will suffer a complication and this increases to 1 in 4 if the person is lucky enough to be admitted overnight.

Interestingly, however, this review did show that some hospitals have a complication rate of a whopping 16.6% whilst others only 2.9%. This raises the question-if some institutions are so low why aren’t all witnessing complications at the same rate? It Is not clear from the report if it is the institutions with the highest rate are purely treated the sickest of the sick i.e. people at greater risk or whether the higher complication institutions do not have the same rigid safety protocols, high-quality or less constant staff.

These complications range from anything between the catastrophic and very rare situations e.g. the two babies who were accidentally gassed with nitrous oxide leading to their tragic death at the Bankstown-Lidcome Hospital.

Complications may also involve healthy patients contracting infections after surgery. The federal government has published a list of 16 relatively common hospital acquired complications which in many cases may be prevented. To give some examples, these include pressure injuries leading to skin ulceration; unsupervised falls within the institution leading to either fractures or head injury; the very common infections which can be anything from hospital-acquired urinary tract infection to infections complicating surgery; other surgical complications requiring return to the theatre such as haemorrhage or wounded dehiscence, to name a few.

As I am suggesting, these complications can vary from minor wound infections or modest reactions to prescribed medications to the more life-threatening severe infections, bleeding and clotting or kidney failure.

In defence of my hospital colleagues, the reality is that the more serious complications typically occur in the sickest of the sick who would possibly die without medical intervention and it is hardly fair to blame the hospital, medical nursing staff on that person’s complications. But, often healthy people undergoing elective procedures may develop serious complications. Some examples here are a person who goes for routine colonoscopy experiencing a bowel perforation. Another example is the person who has been sent for a radiologic procedure involving intravenous dye developing a serious, life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to the dye.

The reality is that strong medicine has strong effects but also strong side-effects and complications. The more aggressive the therapy, often the greater the benefit but also the greater risk.

Regardless, the current figures are unacceptable, especially where there is such variation between institutions and we do need better explanations and solutions than this report is offering. Hospital care is an essential component of modern society but those who avail themselves in this care need to know that hospitals are safe places.

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Opinion: Solving earth's overpopulation dilemma

Friday, February 02, 2018

It is my strong opinion that doctors should be prolonging everyone’s life, but no one’s death. But, I am a stronger believer in health span rather than life span. Any sensible doctor knows when a person’s life has finished and their death phase has begun. When a person has entered the death phase, I believe it is the responsibility of the medical profession to ensure that person’s death occurs as quickly, painlessly and with as much dignity as possible. Unfortunately, many relatives and members of the medical profession believe it is their responsibility to pull out all stops and do everything possible to maintain someone’s existence, regardless of the quality of that existence.

The death phase, in my view, is when a person has a terminal illness with absolutely no possibility of recovering.

This doesn’t just relate to terminal cancer but it also involves end stage Alzheimer’s disease, a severe stroke with a subsequent disability from which there is no reasonable chance of recovery, severe intractable pain for which no reasonable medical therapy is leading to any degree of relief and of course end stage neurologic conditions, such as motor neurone disease.

If we had a more compassionate system of assisting dying people in reducing the length of their death phase, not only would people be able to leave the planet with a bit of dignity and end their discomfort, but we also would be saving millions of dollars in government resources.

Another major issue here is that modern medicine is unbelievably expensive and requires, not only very expensive medicine, procedures and investigations but also high-level expertise to administer all of the above. Unfortunately, our finite world only has finite resources and there is no world leader and only an occasional high-profile person who attempts to make any comments about what is the major issue on this planet i.e. overpopulation. Until this issue is addressed, it is my opinion that as a species we probably have somewhere between 50-100 years left on the planet.

If I can make the analogy here with cancer; what happens with cancer is the cells rapidly divide, rip the nutrients out of the host and pour toxic chemicals into the body leading to death. Therefore, cancers are stupid because they kill the host and therefore themselves. Clearly, human beings are rapidly dividing, ripping the nutrients out of the earth and pouring toxic chemicals into the earth & atmosphere, with the ultimate result that we are destroying all life on earth. Human beings are therefore stupid because they are killing the host and therefore themselves. There is this ridiculous argument for and against climate change with one side being strong advocates and the other side saying it does not exist and is not man-made.

The argument is a side issue because again, using the cancer analogy, if someone is significantly affected by cancer if the temperature goes up or down this is not the central problem but purely a symptom of the cancer or a secondary infection. There is no doubt that human beings are destroying the planet along with many other plant and animal species in humanity’s wake and whether the temperature goes up or down is purely a symptom of this obvious assault by humanity.

Obvious proof for this is now the clear fact that one in eight deaths around the planet are directly related to pollution and in the most heavily populated area of the world i.e. China, this is now one in four deaths.

Some experts have estimated that as a species we can only sustain indefinitely around 4 billion people across the planet and we are now getting close to 8 billion. Unfortunately, I can only see two major areas where this assault on the earth by humanity can be altered. The first is to reduce the amount of people coming into the system in the first place through restrictions on the number of children being born across the planet. The second being my earlier comments about ending the suffering of the dying.

Ever since homo sapiens first evolved we have believed it is our God-given right to bear children. In fact, a previous treasurer of Australia, Mr Peter Costello once encouraged each family to have three children, one for the mother, one for the father and one for the country. But, for the sake of our species and the planet we have to rethink this position. At the least, I believe contraception should be freely available and governments should sponsor programs to encourage contraception with any medical consultation involved in seeking contraception being free. At its most draconian, it may be suggested that if you are not financially contributing to your community then you forfeit the right to have children. Interestingly, an Australian Labor politician suggested this a few years ago.

There are many civil libertarians who will be horrified by this argument but I am purely making the suggestion that to prevent all of humanity dying off at some stage over the next 50-100 years we should be preventing births into families where the members cannot afford to bring up the child without government assistance.

Certainly, in my view, there should be no encouragements for people to have children such as baby bonuses et cetera. Assisted reproduction is another discussion & argument altogether.

Let me make the strong point that I do not believe it is acceptable in a country such as Australia where only 48% of the population is paying net tax and 40 cents in every dollar of our tax money goes to paying social welfare, that we can continue to fund such expensive social programs. Australia is already in $600 billion debt & growing daily, and our ever-increasing younger population will be saddled with paying back this debt unless we start to make some drastic changes.

I strongly believe it is the job of every government to look after the disenfranchised and disabled but we all need to strongly consider the contribution each one of us is making to society rather than what we believe is our right to extract from the public purse.

Unless someone with a public profile is brave enough to make these comments and to change the thinking of the population, we will continue to see an exponential rise in the population, wars fought over food and water and a continually rising divide between the haves and the have nots.

As Albert Einstein famously once said, “We cannot solve our current programs with the same thinking we used to create them”.

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What causes autoimmune disease?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The function of every organism is to survive. This survival is achieved by the finally tuned processes of metabolism and homeostasis.

Metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.

Homeostasis is defined as the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

To put it more simply, we need a balanced set of reactions in our body to keep us living. Although this seems rather obvious, the extraordinary complexity of metabolism does mean that with minor variations in our genetics or with an assault from different environmental toxins, our metabolism can go horribly wrong.

The most common causes of death and disability on the planet are heart disease and cancer. Less common, but certainly not rare, are the ubiquitous set of conditions known as autoimmune disease. Our immune system develops soon after conception and matures slowly into adulthood having been exposed to a variety of infectious agents, environmental toxins and other life stresses over time.

The immune system is basically the body’s security system that deals with damaged and ageing cells, invading organisms and toxins and, possibly most importantly, rids the body of renegade cells which are threatening to turn cancerous.

We live in a world that has many flaws and the same is certainly true for our body and it's safe to say that no one has a perfect immune system that copes with all of the above without any issues.

The immune system is made up of white cells such as lymphocytes and neutrophils along with many other cells which have variety of functions and also what is known as humoral immunity, where particular antibodies are produced against various toxins.

Autoimmune disease is where the immune system falsely recognises normal parts of the body as being foreign and sets up an immune reaction against these particular components. The best two and most common examples of autoimmune disease are rheumatoid arthritis and the condition, systemic lupus erythematosus.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common cause of symmetrical, often destructive disorder of the joints and in particular affects the hands, the feet and the cervical spine. It is associated with a number of systemic conditions, most commonly affect the eyes, the lungs and often the blood.

Systemic lupus erythematosus has a lesser effect on the joints but can have a profound effect on the kidneys, the lungs, the cardiovascular system, the gut, the skin and also may cause quite severe neuropsychiatric issues. Lupus, in some cases, may only have mild limiting effects on the person, but in some cases may be life threatening. It is easily diagnosed with blood tests known as antinuclear antibodies and is effectively treated with modern immune suppressing agents.

As with all diseases, apart from obvious infections, the big question is what causes this to happen? The honest answer with our current level of scientific knowledge is that we really don’t know. What we do know, however, is that there are some interesting precipitants for a variety of autoimmune diseases which also appear to have a major contribution to heart disease and cancer as well.

There is no doubt in my opinion that the major precipitant of most illnesses is that ubiquitous term, stress. Stress, which is defined as a great pressure or strain can be manifested in any of the following ways:

1)  Physical-I’m not just referring here to excessive exercise but also to the physical stress of having a gallbladder full of rocks, as another example

2) Emotional-probably the biggest stressor for most people comes in this category. Relationship issues, divorce and probably the numero uno- the death of a loved one, are major precipitants for any illness

3) Mental-with the increasing demands of the modern world, work stress, studying and having to deliver presentations and lectures (many people fear public speaking, strangely, I fear not public speaking),  many people are suffering as a consequence

4) Pharmacologic stress-certain types of legal and illegal pharmacology may be great precipitants for a number of illnesses. Even the most common addiction in the world, Coffee, has been shown in low doses to have a beneficial effect but in high doses may cause all sorts of issues

5) Infective-there is no doubt that any type of infection has the potential to overload the immune system, thus taking its attention away from performing its regular job of maintaining the normal functioning of the body. Certain types of viruses and bacteria, not to mention the occasional parasite, can alter the immune reaction and precipitate an autoimmune disease.

However, many people don't realise that the immune system, like the rest of the body needs proper nutrition to function well. Thus, our modern diet with all its processed, packaged muck containing excessive amounts of salt, sugar and synthetic chemicals may also have a deleterious effect on the immune system. Recent work has shown that a particular component of the immune system known as Th17 is very sensitive to salt and an acute or chronic salt load may precipitate an acute episode of autoimmune disease, in particular rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus.

A recent study from the US evaluated just under 1400 patients with Lupus, average age 47 of whom 92% were female. They measured vitamin D levels and found those who were deficient, which was just over 27% of the patients had the highest risk of kidney damage, skin involvement and other organs being affected.

Vitamin D supplementation is inexpensive, very safe and may have significant health benefits for people with this particular condition.

As with all conditions, it is vitally important that an integrated approach to management is adopted to ensure the best possible outcomes. Fortunately, many health professionals are embracing integrative medicine and this attitude is certainly being welcomed with open arms by the general public.

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Myth - High blood pressure is 100 plus your age

Friday, January 19, 2018

Years ago, this incredibly simplistic dictum was taken as gospel by the medical profession. 

There have been a number of myths over the decades surrounding high blood pressure and I would like to clear up some misconceptions around this very important topic. Blood pressure is simply the pressure within the arteries when the blood moves as it is pumped. 

The typical designation for BP is systolic/diastolic. The systolic pressure is an indirect measure of the force of contraction of the heart whereas the diastolic pressure is the resting pressure between heartbeats.

For many years, hypertension was defined as a BP of 140/90 or higher. Any level above 120/80 up to 140/90 was considered pre-hypertension and those in this category are at a higher risk than those with a completely normal BP.

Recently, a panel of 21 specialists in the field published new guidelines for the American Heart Association and American Academy of Cardiology task force after analysing 900 published studies.

Hypertension is now categorised as a BP of 130/80 or above. In an interesting twist, the task force is designating blood pressures 120-129 systolic as being elevated BP but not designated high. 

Interestingly, the research is suggesting that people with a blood pressure in the 130 to 139 systolic range and the 80 to 89 diastolic range should also have a 10-year risk assessment for heart disease and if this risk exceeds 10%, medications should be considered and the person treated until the BP is normalised. Recent data has suggested we should be aiming for a BP level of 120/80.

These new guidelines are suggesting that 50% of the adult population have hypertension.

Following on from these guidelines is the new study of 412 adults with elevated blood pressure which was published in the November issue of the Journal the American College of Cardiology. This study suggested that following the DASH diet, which is a diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains along with dairy, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts combined with low salt reduces blood pressure more than pharmaceutical medication.

The study looked at 412 adults including 234 women whose ages ranged between 23 to 76 with a systolic blood pressure somewhere between 120-159 mmHg a diastolic pressure between 80 to 95 mmHg. Over half were African-American.

No people were taking BP pills or Diabetic medication, and did not suffer heart disease, kidney disease, cholesterol elevation or diabetes.

The diet was continued for 12 weeks and the groups were also split into low salt, medium salt or high salt. For example, medium salt intake was considered the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt on a daily basis, which is much lower than what most people living in our society would be ingesting.

Those individuals consuming the DASH diet alone had an 11mmHg reduction in systolic pressure if their initial systolic was 150 compared with a 4 mmHg reduction if their systolic pressure was less than 130.

But when the researchers reviewed the people with the highest systolic blood pressure of 150mmHg also on the low salt arm, there was an average reduction of 21 mmHg compared to the high salt, control diet. This is actually better than most BP pills alone. Commonly used drugs such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers & calcium channel blockers would typically reduce systolic blood pressure by somewhere between 10 to 15 mmHg.

This study reinforces the vital importance of lifestyle modification for the management of hypertension, no doubt, the most important cardiovascular risk factor.

The most powerful lifestyle factors to reduce BP are follows:

1)  Weight loss and in particular loss of abdominal fat

2)  Regular exercise-3 to 5 hours weekly

3)  Markedly reduced the intake of sugar and salt

4)  No more than 1-2 standard alcoholic drinks per day

5)  Stress management techniques such as regular meditation

Kyolic aged garlic extract, two daily has been shown in a randomised controlled clinical trial of 88 patients with mild hypertension to have a significant reduction in BP similar to a standard pharmaceutical drug.

Bergamot polyphenolic fraction-One pill twice daily of the 47% polyphenolic extract has been shown to have an antihypertensive effect.

Two small pieces of dark chocolate, > 70% cocoa has been shown in a Cochrane review to have a reasonable effect on reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to organs.

Management of sleep apnoea through either mandibular advancement devices or nasal CPAP has been shown to control BP in affected individuals.

Pharmaceutical therapy is also often necessary but unless there is evidence of end organ damage as seen typically in the heart, the kidneys or the blood vessels in the eye (a good marker for what is happening in the blood vessels in the brain), lifelong drug therapy should not be commenced until all of the other avenues have been utilised.

Regardless, hypertension is the most common cause of stroke and over the age of 60, heart attack. As we collectively become more educated about the vital importance of managing hypertension and bringing in measures to do so, we will see the rates of these devastating diseases markedly reduce. Unfortunately, at present, cardiovascular disease is still our biggest killer.

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Should medical cannabis be legalised?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

In early January, the Health minister Greg Hunt announced that the Federal government in Australia will be introducing legislation which will hopefully assist the Australian medical cannabis industry to become a major exporter of therapeutic products. Soon after the announcement, I was interviewed on ABC radio and I made the following points.

Firstly, at present a number of cultivation licenses have been allocated to various companies and groups but to date, no group is producing medical grade cannabis in Australia which is even available to the Australia market. 

Secondly, currently all legal medical cannabis products are being imported from overseas with the average price to the consumer being around $1500 per month. 

Thirdly, I am on the board of a medical cannabis company, MGC pharmaceuticals and we will very soon be making available a medical cannabis product for epilepsy, CannEpil which will be about half the price but still quite expensive for the average consumer. 

Finally, I made the point that it is still quite difficult for people to obtain medical cannabis in Australia with the rather laborious special access scheme and the limited amount of authorised prescribers, not to forget the aforementioned prohibitive pricing.

During the interview, I also made the distinction between illegal, smoked, recreational marijuana and medical cannabis. It is my view that illegal marijuana should stay illegal purely because there are a number of well performed scientific studies suggesting significant neuropsychiatric issues from the long-term use of marijuana because of the high level of THC in a smoked joint. The higher level varies somewhere between 5-25%. Although medical cannabis comes from the same plant species, it is a different genetic variety that produces different proportions of CBD and THC and thus has minimal psychotropic effects, unlike illegal marijuana.

Soon after my interview, some ill-informed people, clearly pushing their own agenda who are deluded into believing that smoked marijuana is harmless and clearly want to continue illegally growing their own marijuana, came out and openly criticised me on Facebook accusing me from ignorance up to insider trading because of my association with MGC pharmaceuticals.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I heard a separate interview on radio 2GB (I do have a working association with the Macquarie radio network of which 2GB is a key station) where a pain management expert expressed great concerns about the use of medical cannabis suggesting that the studies to date were poor and/or anecdotal.

The pain management expert clearly has not reviewed the literature, including a relatively recent randomised controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing clearly that medical cannabis significantly reduces breakthrough seizures in children with severe childhood epilepsy. He is also ignoring many good studies performed in people with cancer associated issues and multiple sclerosis. 

I agree that the work in chronic pain management is not particularly robust at present but randomised controlled trials are commencing all over the world for this condition. I was surprised to hear that the pain management expert did not mention the enormous problems in our society from prescription narcotics and the fact that they are now more deaths every year in Australia from the use and abuse of prescription narcotics than there are from heroin overdose. Clearly, we have a problem with pain management that needs to be addressed and hopefully medical cannabis will be one of the solutions.

Thus, we have one group of individuals who want to push their own agenda and have marijuana legalised, ignoring the multiple studies that show the danger from using so-called recreational marijuana and on the other hand we have people working within the conservative medical profession who want to maintain the status quo of pain management and ignore potentially more effective therapies.

Any sensible health professional will agree that we need well designed randomised controlled studies that are peer reviewed and published in major journals before we fully embrace any therapy but it is also very important to realise that there are many people who are suffering because of the inadequacies of our current therapeutic regimens. 

Surely it is time for a more balanced approach in the area of medical cannabis and hopefully the Federal government will make this entire area more accessible and affordable because at present this is certainly not the case.

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Myth: Warfarin is a poison

Monday, January 15, 2018

One of the longest standing drugs in cardiology is warfarin. Warfarin is an extremely effective blood thinner which has been in use for decades. 

It effectively stops clots forming in people with cardiac valve replacements & in those with the very common electrical abnormality in the heart, atrial fibrillation. 

In atrial fibrillation, because the chamber is not contracting properly, there is sluggish flow and clots may form. If these forms clots dislodge, they may travel to the brain leading to a stroke.

Warfarin has been shown in a number of studies to significantly reduce stroke risk. But, it is a difficult drug to take because it requires regular blood monitoring and has significant interactions with many other drugs and certain types of food and supplements.  

Also, because of warfarin’s actions in blocking the vitamin K dependent clotting factors, there is a somewhat higher risk of osteoporosis in people taking warfarin.

Also, one of the great stigmas of warfarin is that many ill-informed people call it ratsack. There is a rat poison which contains lethal doses of the active component of warfarin. When rats ingest this poison they have a lethal bleed.

I make the very strong analogy here with paracetamol. If you have a headache and I give you two paracetamol, I typically take away your headache. If however, I give you the entire box then you will die from liver failure. So, paracetamol is just as much a poison as warfarin but for some strange reason doesn’t carry this stigma.

I have had multiple patients on warfarin for many years who have been very well-controlled and have shown absolutely no signs of poisoning because they have taken the medication at therapeutic doses.There is also another commonly used drug in cardiology known as Digoxin (again this has been around for years). In therapeutic doses this is an effective drug at controlling heart rhythm disorders but in toxic doses can cause serious digitalis poisoning. 

There are common symptoms of this such as loss of appetite, nausea, visual disturbances and even confusion, but well trained medical practitioners detect these problems early and organise appropriate blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine examined warfarin’s ability to block a particular enzyme (AXL receptor tyrosine kinase) which may halt the spread of cancer cells. The study reviewed data from the Norwegian national registry looking at just over 1,250,000 individuals born in Norway between 1924 to 1954 with a 50-50 sex distribution.

This well done study examined warfarin use between January 2004 to December 2012 of which just under 93,000 people were taking warfarin; clearly, a commonly used drug. Interestingly, the individuals taking warfarin had a 16% reduction in the risk of all cancers compared with those people did not use the drug. There was a 31% reduced risk of prostate cancer, a 20% reduction in lung cancer and a 10% reduction in breast cancer risk.

There was also reduction in colon cancer risk as well.Over the past few years there have been newer, somewhat more effective drugs for blood thinning than warfarin. 

These drugs known as the novel oral anticoagulants do not have the same interactions with other drugs or food and are somewhat better at reducing stroke risk than warfarin. But, at this point in time, there is no data to suggest any cancer prevention and as it appears that warfarin’s ability to do so is through its vitamin K blocking action, it is highly likely that these new drugs will not have the same benefit.

Because warfarin is a difficult drug to use, I’m not suggesting that we should be touting this is an anti-cancer treatment but suffice to say if you have been prescribed this drug, it is not poison and you may get the side benefit of a reduction in cancer risk. As I have said previously, you can teach an old drug new tricks.

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Is it possible to slow, stop or reverse ageing?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The function of every living organism is to survive but the only inevitability of survival is that we will also stop doing so. 

Every fear and for some, neuroses, emanates from the fear of death. It is difficult for all of us to comprehend a world where we are no longer present.

So, one of the holy grails of science has been the quest to (at least) slow down, even stop and possibly reverse the ageing process. 

For human beings, the peak of our life, physiologically, is around 30 years old and it’s all downhill from there. 

All high-performance athletes are at their best in their 20s and not as good after the age of 30. 

No one at 80 looks as good as they did at 60. No one at 60 as good as they did at 40 and no one at 40 as good as they did it at age 20.

So, why is this? It’s all to do with our DNA. DNA is a single molecule made up of 3 billion base pairs. If you straightened out one single DNA molecule it would be 2 metres long.

Up to the age of 30, our DNA is very tight and packed in. All the structures within each cell in the normal state are highly regulated and constantly moving. 

The DNA moves like the intricate machine it is and the combination of the specific structure and movement sends appropriate signals throughout the cell to maintain the normal, intended function of the particular cell in question.

As we age, there is shortening of the caps at the end of each molecule that maintains this tight structure. These are known as telomeres. With the telomere shortening, our DNA becomes looser and often mutations occur. Also, vitally important to a discussion of ageing is the function of our cellular powerhouses-the mitochondria.

The function of our mitochondria (which are vital components of each cell) is to make energy to drive our cellular reactions. It doesn’t matter what sort of car you drive, without fuel or some type of energy source, the car won’t move. It’s exactly the same for our cells.

As we age, our mitochondrial DNA also ages leading to reduced supply of energy. This is one of the main reasons most of us beyond age 50 don’t have the same energy as we did in our 20s.

Recent research (as you may expect from the varying opinions you often hear from most areas of science) is suggesting conflicting ideas as to whether we can stop or possibly reverse ageing. 

On one side of the argument, a report published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has suggested that you can’t slow or stop ageing. 

The report argues that as we age, some of our cells are winding down and losing function. 

This is seen obviously in the appearance of wrinkles and grey hair at a superficial level. At its most profound, in the loss of neuronal function, as seen with Alzheimer’s disease. But, on the other hand, some cells appear to be going haywire with rapidly dividing cancer cells and also the disordered immune reactions seen in autoimmune disease.

Thus, the Catch 22 of ridding the body of the failing, sluggish cells but allowing the cancer cells to proliferate and vice versa.

But, other groups argue, such as a recent UK group published in the journal BMC Cell Biology, that analogues to the well-studied natural chemical Resveratrol found in particular fruits and vegetables, reactivate a process known as mRNA splicing, very active in the young but becoming increasingly defective as we age. 

These compounds make older cells appear young again.

Another very interesting study has suggested that the mitochondria within cells (those vital fuel packs) presented with mild but not overwhelming stress also reverses the ageing process. The study from the Journal “Cell Reports” was done on the well-studied Nematode, C. Elegans.

A study recently published in the journal “Genes and Development” researched the vital body process of autophagy. Autophagy is a mechanism that clears out used and damaged proteins to be recycled, creating new products for cellular use.

It appears that autophagy promotes health and fitness in the young but drives the process of ageing later in life. The theory of evolution has demonstrated that natural selection results in the fittest individuals being able to pass on their healthy genes.

The more beneficial a trait is at promoting reproductive success, the stronger that trait is passed on to the offspring. 

Interestingly, once you have survived your reproductive years then the traits that were beneficial for fitness and reproduction may have a paradoxic effect on promoting ageing.

One of the lead authors of the paper, Jonathan Byrne, stated that ageing is an evolutionary oversight. In this particular paper he found 30 genes that demonstrated this paradox by only examining 0.05% of the genes in the aforementioned particular worm known as C. elegans.

The genes that are involved in regulating autophagy, maintaining fitness and reproductive ability in the young, tend to accelerate the ageing process. 

These genes are essential for young ones to reach maturity but after reproduction they tend to malfunction with age.

This is where it becomes very interesting in that it appears to be better to switch off the autophagy genes in the regulator neurones of worms completely than allow them to rundown to the point where they are defective and promote ageing.

When the researchers switched off the autophagy genes in the ageing worms they prolonged their life by 50% but also their cells functioned better and more efficiently.

Regardless of whether through some medical intervention we can or cannot slow, stop or even reverse the ageing process, there is no doubt the people on the planet with the longest lifespan and healthspan and the best quality of life, are those people who have picked the right relatives giving them a solid genetic foundation and then follow the five keys to being healthy.

As I say often, it’s your genes that load the gun and your environment that pulls the trigger.

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Is there real science behind complementary medicine?

Monday, January 08, 2018

In my view, an important aspect of the human condition is the variety of opinion, the need for opposing views and healthy scepticism. But it is also disturbing when the loudest voice or the greatest critic is seen as the correct opinion, often because the person in question appears well credentialed.

This is typically the case in medicine and science, when the opinions of conservative, ingrained professors are taken, often without question as the final arbiter for any particular conflict. Over the past decade, a group of dinosaurs, the latest members of the Flat Earth Society who call themselves the Friends of Science in Medicine but are probably (as a colleague of mine recently said) better called-the Friends of Selective Medicine, have continued their vendetta to destroy complementary medicine because they believe there is no science behind this discipline.

One of the Friends of Science in Medicine, a serial pest, practices science by trolling complementary medicine websites looking for what he believes to be unfounded comments and then submits complaints to the TGA which have to be answered, at tax payers expense. Typically, the company involved makes some comments such as,” substance X supports healthy blood pressure or maintains healthy metabolism”- Bland comments because Australian regulations won’t allow listed medicines such as complementary medical products to make any real health claims, so these meaningless comments are all that the companies are allowed to make. So, the complementary medical companies have to play the game and employ lawyers to defend their advertising, claims etc etc. All a waste of time & expense, no doubt passed on to the consumer through increased product prices.

As a regular and long-standing commentator in the Australian health media, with my own radio show, I commonly discussed the legion of pharmaceutical drugs and complementary medicines available on the market. As a radio presenter, I am paid for some commercials for various products but in the vast majority of cases, the comments and opinions I present are unpaid and purely presented because I have either read the research, done the research or have observed significant benefits or in some cases, detriments from its use in my patients over 40 years of practising medicine for the various products discussed, both pharmaceutical and complementary. I would never present any information, typically unpaid, if I didn’t believe in the product in question, always with scientific evidence to back up my comments.

I have been mentioned in two recent cases, by this serial pest, suggesting my comments have breached the Australian advertising code for therapeutic products. In both cases, I was giving my unpaid opinion with no discussion with the company prior to my comments in the same way I discuss many other complementary medical and pharmaceutical drugs on a weekly basis on the five regular radio spots I have, my TV appearances and my CheckUp segment on Weekend Switzer, one of the Internet Switzer publications.I’m all for transparency and any expert or well-informed layperson giving their opinions, whether they agree with me or not but I would like to make some important points that are not being considered with this all out attack on complementary medicine by a small group of (in my opinion), not so scientific people and also, the outdated government regulations.

1)  70% of Australians use some form of complementary medicine on a daily basis, (I am certainly in this category), so most of us are either a bunch of deluded fools or there is something to this form of therapy

2) In my view, this analogy works very well in that pharmaceutical therapy is like a high-performance motorcar, getting you from A to B very quickly but with the potential for crashing and causing injury or death, thus the need for significant safety equipment within the car, seat belts and significant road rules to ensure safe driving. Complementary medical therapy is more like a bicycle getting you from A to B much slower with some exercise along way and is better for your health than driving. The regulations and clinical trials for complementary medicine do not need to be the same rigid randomised controlled trials so necessary for pharmaceutical medicine where the potential for harm is so much higher.

3) Every year in the United States there are over 100,000 deaths from the appropriate use of pharmaceutical therapy and if you divide this 15 this is what we are also experiencing in Australia. There are no reported deaths from the appropriate use of complementary medicine

4) Complementary medicine does have a strong evidence based when you examine the evidence correctly, something the Friends of Science in Medicine refuse to do. 

To give some examples, two major epidemiologic trials from Harvard university, the Nurses Health study and the Male Physicians trial have shown significant reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer when multivitamins have been taken for more than 10 years.A recent meta-analysis from the Mayo Clinic has shown an 18% reduction in cardiovascular mortality when fish oil supplements are taken for more than five years.I have been directly involved in six of the 20 published studies of Bergamot polyphenolic fraction all showing significant health benefits in a number of areas such as vascular disease, diabetes and fatty liver.Ubiquinol, the active version of CoQ10 has been shown to improve cardiac function in people with heart failure, reduce statin induced muscle problems and improve energy and stress levels in healthy people.Vitamin K2 has been shown to improve vascular function and bone strength in postmenopausal women.Kyolic aged garlic extract has been shown to work as effectively as a pharmaceutical agent for the control of blood pressure. Another study performed by my friend and colleague Prof Matt Budoff, one of the top preventative cardiologists in America has shown reversal of atherosclerosis with high dose Kyolic garlic.A concentrated tomato pill has been shown to improve vascular function and also assist men with prostate issues. These are purely a few examples of significant benefits seeing with harmless, effective complementary therapies.

5) This country is in $600 billion of debt. Every time one of these ill-informed fools makes a frivolous complaint to the TGA about benign claims or comments made by a company or health commentator, it requires hours of time by the TGA in responding to these complaints and therefore thousands of wasted taxpayer dollars.Are you happy about your tax money being wasted on this nonsense?Do you think a sports person or celebrity is in a better  position to be the advertising  face of a product where they have no training or knowledge of how the product actually works or would you prefer a highly trained professional who has been involved in the area for many years to educate the public about what works, how it works and who should take it?Until we all start complaining about this entire scenario, these ridiculous complaints will continue and the government regulations will stay in place, all the while we will continue to see our country’s debt spiral.

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Myth - All milk is the same

Thursday, December 21, 2017

By Ross Walker

These days, ordering coffee can be quite a stress. Do you have a full cream milk, skim milk, soy milk or most recently almond milk?

Over the past decade, there has emerged an even newer decision, should you have A1 or A2 milk?

A2 first emerged as an alternative in around 2002 when Prof Julie Campbell from the University of Queensland fed rabbits either A1 or A2 protein, otherwise known as Beta casein A1 or A2, one of the main proteins in milk.

The study found that A1 protein promoted the build-up of fat in the wall of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, whereas A2 protein prevented the same build up. In 2014, research from Curtin university in Perth also showed that A2 milk caused less bloating or other gastrointestinal symptoms compared with A1 milk.


There is also very interesting epidemiological work from New Zealand, Africa and a comparison abetween Toulouse and Belfast. There is a north to south gradient with increasing heart disease risk the further south you go in New Zealand. This parallels with an increasing production of A1 milk in the changing breed of cows from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. In Africa, the Masai consume full cream milk from Zebu cows which exclusively produce A2 milk. The Masai experience little atherosclerosis but they also have a very nomadic existence. 

The cardiac risk factor profile between Belfast and Toulouse is identical in terms of cholesterol, BP and cigarette smoking but there is three times more heart disease in Belfast. This parallels with three times higher levels of A1 milk in the Ayrshire cows in Belfast compared to the Jersey cows in Toulouse. But, you could also argue that it is more dangerous living in Belfast and thus the stress levels are higher along with the fact that their alcohol of choice is Guinness rather than the red wine consumed in France.


So, with the evidence we have today there is a compelling suggestion that A2 milk may have some benefits over A1. But, it is important to stress that the evidence is certainly not definitive. Then, there is the age old chestnut of high-fat versus low-fat dairy products. For decades, we have had this low-fat nonsense shoved down our throats and unfortunately many health professionals are still trotting out this unscientific rubbish.

The recent PURE Study looked at over 135,000 people followed for around seven and an half years in 18 different countries. This clearly showed that those who consumed the highest carbohydrates had a 28% higher death rate, whilst those who had the highest fat intake had a 23% reduction in death rate compared with those with the lowest fat intake and those with the highest saturated fat intake compared with the lowest had a 14% reduction.

A study of 30,000 Europeans followed for 15 years demonstrated a 23% reduction in Type II diabetes in those people with the highest intake of high-fat dairy. Therefore, all this nonsense about skim milk and avoiding cheese has no scientific basis. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated harder cheeses are actually good for your health.So, the next time you order your coffee, don’t feel guilty about having full cream milk, especially if it’s A2. Rather, see it as therapy!

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Tips for keeping healthy over the Christmas break

Myth - all alcohol is equal

The case for compassionate medicine

Heart disease – is it reversible?

Exercise - is more better?

Depression: Is it just a brain disorder?

Is healthy eating always good for you?

Myth - An elevated PSA always means cancer

Choosing wisely

How long can we really live?

Low fat is dead

Sudden death - can it be prevented?

New study another nail in the coffin for E-cigarettes

Alcohol - is it all bad?

Breast cancer: What hurts and what helps

Overdiagnosis and overtreatment

Thinking - your brain needs it!

Can air pollution increase the risk of dementia?

Prevention is better than cure

Contraceptive Microchip

Weight loss - is it all about calories?

Is low dose alcohol safe?

Aspirin for all?

Can you die of a broken heart?

3 common myths about Fibromyalgia

Statin use in older people

Doctors warned about using the word pain

Euthanasia and compassionate medicine

Are hospitals always the safest place to be?

The death of general practice

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Strokecheck: does it cause more harm than good?

4 good reasons to eat your fruit and veggies

Eating ourselves to death

How do you find Doctor Right?

Myth: BPA free is a safer alternative

Medical myth: Having a life purpose is a delusion

Is there any basis for Hanson's vaccination comments?

Myth: Contraception is only for women

Medicare: our God-given right?

The dangers of overcooking your food

Myth: you can’t teach an old drug new tricks

Does an aspirin a day keep the doc away?

Diet v non-diet soft drinks

Be a health nut

Blame Mary Jane

The dangers of Irukandji jellyfish

5 tips to beat the Christmas bulge

Does anxiety increase your risk for heart disease?

The lowdown on Vitamin D

Are you still smoking?

Busting the myths about type 2 diabetes

What's wrong with our modern diet?

The facts behind the chemotherapy dosage ‘scandal’

Is human longevity capped at 115?

Health organisations should cut sugar supply

Alcohol: The good, the bad and the ugly

The sweet truth about industry funded research

The real world dangers of Pokémon GO

Attack of the super bug

The 5 keys to ultimate health

Do you have chronic pain? Read this.

Can you be obese and healthy?

How to prevent burnout

Health is a balancing act

Does diet and exercise prevent cardiovascular disease?

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Sins of the father

How noise pollution interrupts your health

Diet soft drinks and diabetes

Low dose alcohol and breast cancer risk

Antibiotic resistant superbugs

Rethinking Medicare

Do mobile phones cause brain cancer?

Something fishy about Omega-3 supplements?

The Western healthcare death toll

How worried should you be about Legionnaires’ Disease?

Is it safer to use e-cigarettes?

5 keys to happiness

The growing diabesity issue

You are what you eat

Are you a functioning alcoholic?

St Vincent's chemotherapy controversy

How to survive a Comminsure heart attack

Should the government fund our health?

Alcohol and children

5 principles of being healthy

Is the flu jab necessary?

The new generation of cancer treatments

Revisiting Darren Lehmann's condition

Revisiting Darren Lehmann's condition

The health benefits of Valentine's Day

Knee osteoarthritis: is a replacement inevitable?

The role of Keytruda in the fight against cancer

Is chromium safe?

10 holistic steps for a healthy heart

Is there a hangover cure?

When pills become part of the long-term problem

Staying safe over the holiday break

Coffee as therapy

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