I read an article at the tea shop a few weekends ago: "Workers report increased stress". The story was in one of the major Australian newspapers on 5 March 2016, and went on to say that corporate psychologists have warned stress-related absence from work is on the rise.

The common saying, "work is not a party" comes to mind. It is no secret that many are exhausted or feel emotionally abused during their day at work. It may be helpful to undergo a sea-change and leave a job in some cases. But when the thought of doing that causes more stress than staying in your job, it may not be the right time for such drastic solutions. This article reminded me that it is important to re-energise and refresh at home, using any simple, effective and affordable methods available.

Aromatherapy for relaxation at home can cost pennies, and can be a simple, effective option. Essential oils embody the regenerating and protective properties of plants. The power of a few drops of the correct therapeutic essential oils in a warm bath can work wonders within minutes. The molecules in essential oils are small and fat-soluble; many of them easily penetrate the skin. These properties also allow them to get inside the cells of the body, even if cell walls have hardened because of disease. Essential oils have the potential to affect every cell of the body within twenty minutes, and then get treated like any other nutrients in the cells. A bath allows aromatherapy for relaxation to work on the body and mind by two different routes: the oils sit on the skin, and the aroma is also inhaled as you breathe in the steam from the bath.

Aromatherapy for relaxation can also work just by placing the correct therapeutic essential oils on a cotton ball and leaving it nearby during a nap or while reading a book. Inhalation of the aromas this way can be just as powerful, and is an even simpler option for home.

Essential oils are powerful anti-oxidants. Some can support the liver in detoxifying the blood. Some contain sesquiterpene molecules, which are known to be able to interact with brain cells (these essential oils pass through the blood-brain barrier). Even those essential oils that can't cross the blood-brain barrier can still affect the brain through the sense of smell. Odours and emotions are processed in similar pathways in the brain, in an area called the "limbic system". Favourite smells are worth a try. If aromatherapy for relaxation helps you to unlock and release emotional trauma after a day at work, these pennies will be well spent.

For more information on aromatherapy for relaxation, visit my free eBook site.

This is a reprint of my article published on Ezine: http://EzineArticles.com/9353817


Most people heal pretty quickly from cuts and bruises. And many have heard about the B-cells, T-cells and the lymphatic system cells that our own bodies produce to fight off illnesses. So the belief in our own innate healing potential is a hopeful and familiar place to revert to, when at times our health issues defy Western medicine.... 
Click here To read my full article published on Ezine.

Free Picture: Tomatoes On Cutting Board
© Michael Smith | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Preventing cancer is a topic of interest to many people. I am a big advocate of trial and error in healthcare, because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person, and there are so many ideas, products and healthcare theories that it is impossible to test all of them rigorously. Affordable ideas that make sense are often worth trying.

When it comes to cancer, many people are looking for natural cancer prevention, because they don’t want to take medicines or chemicals that could have side effects. A health-conscious person may not want to risk side effects from a preventative treatment for a health problem that they don’t even have yet.   

The problem with trial and error of natural cancer prevention products is that there is no way to accurately measure if the product is working for you personally. If you are trying a natural product for sinusitis, you can feel if it is working within a short period of time (if not, stop using it). When trying lifestyle changes or natural supplements for cancer prevention, you may feel more energised or healthier, but that does not provide meaningful information about whether the risk of cancer is reduced. So reviewing the scientific evidence that exists from larger studies of healthy people over several years can provide some worthwhile insights especially in this area. Clinical science isn’t perfect, but it is a good starting point on this topic.

When I accessed The Cochrane Library (http://www.cochranelibrary.com/) on 1 February 2016, there were 653 systematic reviews under the topic “Complementary and Alternative Medicine”. Of these, 34 were for treatments related to cancer. Of these, 8 covered cancer-prevention products: 
  • vitamin D, 
  • selenium, 
  • supplements for preventing lung cancer in healthy people, 
  • lycopene for preventing prostate cancer, 
  • green tea, 
  • antioxidant supplements (beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium for preventing gastrointestinal cancers, 
  • dietary calcium supplementation to prevent colorectal cancer, and  
  • dietary fibre for the prevention of colorectal carcinomas.
Many randomised trials have been undertaken for some of the above products, which was an interesting realisation. There were also many nonrandomised and low quality studies. The reviews are worth reading for anyone interested in natural cancer prevention. Overall the most significant findings showed potentially a small to moderate protective effect of some of the natural cancer prevention products:
  • Selenium seemed to show significant beneficial effect on gastrointestinal cancer occurrence , but not for other cancers. There were some risks observed with long-term selenium supplementation such as non-melanoma skin cancer and type 2 diabetes. In observational studies, higher body levels of selenium were associated with lower risk of cancers, however these studies do not prove a causal effect. These studies however measured selenium levels from all sources, mainly foods. Selenium has possibly not been studied sufficiently to determine if increasing intake of Brazil nuts and other food sources may be protective.
  • Patients with previous colorectal adenomas may have a moderate protective effect of daily intake of 1,200 g of dietary calcium, from developing recurring adenomas. This finding was based on randomised controlled trials, the highest quality clinical study design. Whether this translates into a lower risk of colorectal cancer is not known as the trials would have to be much larger. In contrast, there is currently no evidence from randomised trials to suggest that increased dietary fibre intake will reduce the recurrence of colorectal adenomatous polyps I (studies were only out to 2 or 4 years). 
  • There was limited to moderate evidence that the consumption of green tea reduced the risk of lung cancer.
    In prostate cancer, observational studies with higher methodological quality and the only included RCT suggested a decreased risk in men consuming higher quantities green tea or green tea extracts.
  • Anti-oxidants did not show any noteworthy protective effect for cancer. There were some risks observed, ranging from yellowing of the skin and belching, to an increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer and type 2 diabetes.
  • There was more scientific data than I had expected on natural cancer prevention. There is a general consensus that lifestyle and diet are environmental factors that influence the incidence of cancer. It is uncertain whether any one component plays a dominant role, however the scientific findings that are available in the literature now may help you decide what to spend your money on, if anything, for natural cancer prevention.

PictureScreen shot of the Cochrane Library
The Evidence For Vitamins And Supplements

Any decision about whether to spend money on vitamins and supplements, generally would be  based on how well the product works. That means that I wanted to see what the evidence is.

I thought it would be easy for me to decide if vitamins, probiotics, anti-oxidant food supplements like acai berry juices, resveratrol, and other supplements to aid general wellbeing are worth spending money on. After all I have been doing scientific literatures since I did an epidemiology degree and all throughout my 20 year career as a public health researcher.

I went straight to the Cochrane Library of evidence-based systematic reviews (see screen shot to the left; click on the image to be directed to the Cochrane website). That would give me the answer I thought, it is the trusted authority for evidence-based information after all. I clicked on the topic "Complementary and alternative medicine" (see screen shot) and was excited about all the reviews posted in the Cochrane Library about probiotics, Echinacea, the effect of prayer etc. in fact there are 626 reviews about 'complementary medicines' in the Cochrane library on today's date 25 Apr 2015!!! (when you are on the results page, you need to scroll down the menu at the left of the screen to the 'stage' menu; you need to select reviews, and unselect protocols and anything else listed in that menu). My excitement was short-lived. As I clicked on the reviews of interest, and read them, most of the reviews concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend use.

Sure there were a few exceptions. An anti-oxidant supplement was found to enable 60% of asthmatic children to stop using their anti-asthma inhaler, compared to only 10% in the control group. This anti-oxidant product tested was a type of pine-tree extract. In another study in ADHD children, it was found that use of the supplement lowered the level of oxidative damage by a small statistically-significant amount. Echinacea supplement was found to reduce the number of occurrences and the duration of colds slightly. But the study designs were not considered high quality. Well-designed, adequately powered trials are needed to establish the value of this treatment.

Similar conclusion for probiotics: Probiotics were better than placebo in reducing the number of children who experienced an upper chest infection, and also reduced the average length of and infection,  reduced the need for antibiotics use, and reduced the number of cold-related school absences. This indicates that probiotics may be more beneficial than placebo for preventing acute URTIs. However, the quality of the evidence was low or very low.

Likewise, nasal saline irrigation possibly has benefits for relieving the symptoms of upper chest infections. However, the studies were generally too small and were not considered reliable enough.

Use of supplement to treat eczema was not supported: "There is no convincing evidence of the benefit of dietary supplements in eczema, and they cannot be recommended for the public or for clinical practice at present. Whilst some may argue that at least supplements do not do any harm, high doses of vitamin D may give rise to serious medical problems."

But I was specifically interested in the fish oil data in the review about natural medicines for treatment of eczema. Why? Because I had spent 1.5 years stressing over my then 18-month old daughter's eczema. I spent money on calendula cream, naturopathic pilules from my local health food shop, strawberry flavoured fish oil (which did not taste like strawberry and my daughter refused to take), Moo Goo cream, and the corticosteroid creams prescribed by my GP (two kinds, one with only steroids, and another with steroid plus an anti-fungal agent), all with teeny-tiny results (not one of those treatments led to any significant improvement in her eczema, which was all over the creases of both elbows, both armpits and behind one knee; the treatments kept it from getting worse and kept flares to a mild level, but certainly nothing cleared it up). I was then recommended an orange-flavoured yummy fish oil gel that kids only need to take every other day. It was cheap and I tasted a sample myself to make sure I would not waste my money again on something a child would not eat, and it was delicious. Behold, my daughter's eczema cleared up completely within 4 weeks, and even when we got lazy and stopped buying wheat-free food, it has not come back at all. That was over 9 months ago and I have long forgotten the stress of that year and a half. We have moved on with our lives! So, of course I expected the Cochrane Review about fish oil supplements for eczema to show that it works! I read the details in the Cochrane Collaboration excema review (by the way, there are contact details on the Cochrane collaboration site for you to get help reading and interpreting these reviews).   This is what it said:

"The three studies looking at fish oil versus placebo found no significant differences for any of the primary outcomes. However, pooled analysis of two of the studies found that fish oil significantly improved the effect on daily living compared to placebo (our secondary outcome looking at quality of life). This analysis also found a significant difference in area affected at the end of treatment as assessed by the physician (one of our tertiary outcomes). One study evaluated itch at the end of the study and found that fish oil significantly improved itch compared to the placebo group. The largest of the fish oil supplementation studies did not show any benefit over placebo."

How to decide if vitamins and supplements are worth the money

Hmm, super convincing evidence is not available. Even for fish oil to treat childhood eczema is uncertain. If I didn't know for sure that fish oil completely cleared my daughter's eczema, as a consumer I would be confused whether I should spend my money on fish oil. I am glad I did use it before I read that Cochrane Collaboration review actually. The evidence for natural therapies is still, after 30 years of research, uncertain. Why? Why are studies in this area of research so unhelpful? Why do you still take supplements, if you do, despite some evidence that multi-vitamins may not do much for your wellbeing? I have so many questions and thoughts whether supplements are worth the money and why, I would love to hear other people's comments. And I certainly will be writing a lot more blogs about specific studies and findings in this area over years to come.

Tips for Trial and Error Of Vitamins and Supplements 

Given the uncertain evidence about supplements for most ailments, I believe that a process and clear approach for trying supplements is the best way for any consumer looking for supplements and vitamins to improve your health. These are my tips:

1. Generally try a product for about 4 weeks (unless experiencing adverse effects; always speak to a health practitioner and read labels so that you know what to look for). But choose a timeframe that makes sense in relation to the specific ailment. Six (6) weeks is probably better long-term problems like sinusitis and facial wrinkles, whereas 1 week is long enough to decide if a cough or flu is improving.

2. If you are not experiencing noticeable improvements in your ailment within 4 weeks, move on, until you find what you are looking for.

3. Write down notes about your health or beauty problem before you start a new product, and document how this changes on a daily basis, either in a note pad or in your smart phone, or any other way that is really convenient for you.

4. Always ask about the refund policy. It makes sense to buy a product that provides a money-back guarantee if the product doesn't meet the consumer's expectations. Full money back guarantees are not that common, but I was surprised to find a number of companies that do offer this, and I am more willing to try products from vitamin and supplements manufacturers who do offer this.

5. Get ideas about what product to try for a specific ailment from your doctors, facebook, discussion groups and from forums. But take everything with a grain of salt. Evaluate products you have heard of yourself, by considering whether the product concept makes sense for your health concern and the product and company information. I have learned that doctors are simply not aware of all the options available from pharmacies, health food stores and other online stores, and regular people's experiences on discussion boards and forums may or may not be reflective of how a product will work for you.

6. Learn to review the scientific literature yourself if you are at all interested in looking a the scientific studies about vitamins and supplements. Although often the studies don't provide concrete answers, they do provide some information that is useful, including what kind of benefits some of the study participants experienced, and also side effects information.

And you can be comforted that, even when scientific studies don't provide clear answers, science itself is more and more turning to what is called "N of 1" experiments. This means that two different treatments are tried in one patient, in a controlled experimental setting (this means that the researchers go to efforts to make sure that the effects of each products are cleared out of the system before trying the next product, and often the patient tries both treatments two or more times, alternating in sequence). This kind of experimental trial is even being used for cancer medicines and other scientifically-developed medicines and device. As a consumer, you can learn valuable information about what products do and don't work for you, and what products you do and don't consider good value, by trying certain vitamins and supplements in sequence, and making notes on what benefits and side effects you feel.

I love the idea of feeling unbelievably happy and well, living in a world where everyone smiles a lot, and feels really healthy. I even read that by 2040, there will be many people over the age of 100 years old, more than this world has ever seen. Surely supplements will be partly the reason for this? Who knows! Again, I would love to hear comments, and watch this blog for more info about this. Please feel free to contact me at rwbnorthshore@gmail.com if you need any help navigating the scientific literature yourself.


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