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Every week, the Pharmacy Self Care Program (from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia) publishes a Health Care Facts column.  This also appears in the Herbert River Express every week.

For your convenience, they will be published here - feel free to browse back over past editions.


John Bell Column 14 Nov 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –14 Nov 2012


Cycling and recycling drug free

In January next year, the Tour Down Under, once Adelaide’s, now Australia’s premier cycling event will again attract the world’s best road cyclists. Of course, there will be one big name missing. Lance Armstrong’s achievements at being first across the line in the Tour de France seven times have been well and truly tarnished by revelations of his performance enhancing drug use.

Nevertheless, cycling has become increasingly popular in Australia (Cadel Evan’s efforts have no doubt helped); and not just professional or competitive cycling, but also cycling simply to commute from place to place. And in recent years there’s also been renewed interest in recycling.

Recycling in Australia has a long history. The first Australian paper mill to use recycled material was built in 1815. And waste paper collections from households and factories started in Melbourne in the 1920s. During the first half of the last century, resources were generally not as readily available as they are today; so people valued them more and reused materials whenever possible.

Now, with greater awareness of environmental issues, recycling has once again become an important part of our more modern society. National Recycling Week was established by Planet Ark 15 years ago and now has a permanent place on the calendar of Australia-wide events during the second week of November each year.

However, some things should never be recycled, nor should they end up on the rubbish dump. On top of the list of these non-recyclable products is medicines.

Keeping old medicines can be a health risk, and disposing of unwanted medicines poses a risk to the environment.

Australians are certainly a nation of hoarders. That may be great for some things – items of furniture perhaps, that might gain in antique status – bottles of wine that mature with age – and there are those unique collectible items such as stamps and coins that appreciate in value as time goes by.

There’s no financial benefit, however, in collecting medicines. In fact, there are some significant problems associated with having old or unwanted medicines lying around the house.

It seems obvious that if your medicine cabinet is ‘choc-o-block’ with medicines there’s a chance of confusion and misadventure – even more so if those medicines are not stored correctly. They must be out of sight, out of mind and out of reach of kids and grandkids. And while children may be at special risk by swallowing a little (or a lot) of this and that – just out of curiosity, it’s also easy enough for us adults to get confused with a cupboard full of alternatives.

So what to do to ensure our homes are safe from medication misadventure? Well, what we don’t do is flush our unwanted medicines down the toilet or the kitchen sink; nor do we dispose of them in the household garbage.

We shouldn’t assume that sewage treatment plants can effectively treat all substances contained in medicines and we don’t want fish and other aquatic life suffering the side effects of medicines we no longer want.

The only safe disposal method is returning  unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy. Medicine collection bins funded by the Commonwealth Government have been placed in every pharmacy in Australia. Once full, they are removed and the contents safely destroyed. It’s all part of the RUM (Return Unwanted Medicines) campaign.

The second week in November might have passed but there’s still time to give your medicine chest a bit of a spring clean. For more information about RUM or simply to get some advice on how to sort your medicines and manage them better, call into your local Self Care Pharmacy. Phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772, or visit the Pharmaceutical Society website at: for the nearest location.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 07 Nov 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –07 Nov 2012


Facing up to men’s health


For ten years now, the eleventh month of the calendar year has had a new name – Movember. It’s the month when clean shaven men are encouraged to change their daily ritual and grow a moustache.

The concept of Movember, which began in Melbourne in 2003, is now a global phenomenon promoting an increased awareness of men’s health problems generally and, in Australia, specifically prostate cancer and male mental health.  Similar campaigns are now held at this time in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, The United States, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

Men sporting Movember moustaches, the Mo Bros, become walking, talking billboards.  And the women in their lives, the Mo Sistas, can provide important support – even by just hiding the razor blades for 30 days. It’s estimated more than around 2 million Mo Bros and Mo Sistas worldwide now participate.

American businessman King Camp Gillette is widely acknowledged as inventing the safety razor in the early 1900s.  In fact it was really the disposable aspect of razor blades that was the basis of Gillette’s success.

For many years, and until the introduction of the twin, triple and quadruple bladed razors, an image of King Gillette’s face appeared on every packet of blades – his face adorned (perhaps ironically) with his “trademark” moustache.

The oldest portrait of a shaved man with a moustache is said to date back to 300BC, but shaving with stone razors would have been possible even before then.

Moustaches now come in many shapes and sizes.  The toothbrush style, favoured by such “famous” people as Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and Robert Mugabe, has understandably, gone out of fashion.

However, whatever style of moustache you fancy – handlebar, horseshoe, walrus or pencil thin – Movember’s the time to grow one.  In Australia the Men’s Health partners are The Prostate Cancer Foundation and Beyond Blue: the national depression initiative.

Even when young men survive their aggressive adolescence, they are still more likely to indulge in dangerous lifestyle pursuits – smoking, eating and drinking to excess and exercising too little.

Self esteem, or lack of it, has an effect on men’s health; a critical issue in times of employment and financial uncertainty.  When men feel they have no control over their lives they are sometimes burdened with feelings of guilt and shame.

One out of every six men suffers from depression at any one time; and men are more likely to suicide than women.  Also, men often do not recognise the symptoms of depression, and so do not seek help.

The Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) with has produced a fact card titled Depression.  It’s one of a series on mental health issues which includes topics such as: Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleeping Problems and Relaxation Techniques.

There is also a Self Care fact card on Prostate Problems, which are common for men to develop as they get older.  Of course, prostate problems don’t necessarily mean prostate cancer.  Furthermore, some types of prostate cancer are very slow growing and may not cause significant problems; but other forms of prostate cancer grow quickly and are life-threatening.  Check out the Prostate Problems fact card, and if you experience any of the symptoms listed, consult your doctor.  In any event, have a prostate check if you’re over the age of 50.

The fact cards are available from pharmacies around Australia which provide the PSA Self Care health information.  You can call 1300 369 772 for the nearest location or log onto the website at and click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.

Remember Movember is the ideal time to learn more about men’s health. For more information about competitions, prizes, activities and events and simply how to get more involved during the month of the moustache you can check out the website:

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 31 Oct 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –31 Oct 2012


Diabetes – not such a sweet disease


Diabetes is a condition where the body can’t use glucose properly – usually because of a lack of insulin or so-called insulin resistance when the body fails to respond to its own insulin.  Glucose is a particular type of sugar – it’s essential for normal healthy body function; and insulin is the chemical messenger or hormone that controls the uptake of glucose by muscles, liver and fat tissues.

Diabetes is probably one of the first medical conditions described. Egyptian and Indian physicians as far back as 1500 BCE documented the sweetness and increased volume of urine associated with the disease. The name Diabetes mellitus (meaning from honey) was coined in the 1700s and it’s not surprising that the condition became commonly known as “sugar diabetes”.

There’s no doubt excess consumption of sugar is an unhealthy habit; but concentrating on sugar alone could be counterproductive according to nutritionist Associate Professor Timothy Gill from the University of Sydney. Sugar added to processed foods, rather than natural sugars found in milk, fruit and grains, is more problematic, he said.

The Australian Diabetes Council (ADC) agrees that it is important to take a balanced view with regard to nutrition; drawing on a range of foods rather than focusing on single nutrients as “good” or “bad”. Whilst no single nutrient is responsible for weight gain or loss, total kilojoule (or calorie) intake from all food certainly is.

Weight management is an essential part of diabetes management. And put simply, the cause of being overweight or obese is too much energy in, and too little energy out. That is too much food, too little exercise.

In fact, the underlying cause of obesity is much more complex, but the resulting problems of obesity are well known: not only type 2 diabetes, but also cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, social exclusion and low self esteem.

Worldwide, diabetes is fast reaching epidemic proportions. New data show that a staggering 350 million people are living with diabetes In Australia, studies show that nearly one in four Australian adults either has diabetes or so-called impaired glucose metabolism which is associated with a substantial risk of diabetes and heart disease.

In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 85% of all people with diabetes, insulin is still produced but for some reason it doesn’t work effectively. While it most often affects mature adults, more young people, even children, are getting type 2 diabetes. It’s very much a lifestyle disease, and more young people are getting type 2 diabetes because more young people are getting fatter sooner.

Clearly achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important; but being a ‘big loser’ with respect to weight doesn’t mean your new lower weight will be easy to maintain. Australian research, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has shown that, once we become overweight or obese, hormone changes reset what our body thinks is the ‘normal’ weight at this heavier level.

It is much easier, therefore, not to become overweight in the first place. And if you need to lose weight, take it slowly. According to the ADC website by losing just 5–7% of excess weight and participating in moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes each week can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 50%.

To increase awareness of diabetes, its associated problems, prevention strategies and available treatments, World Diabetes Day is celebrated each year on November 14. So, now’s the time to become more diabetes aware.

You can get more advice on diabetes and how to maintain a healthy weight from pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s health information. For the nearest location phone 1300 369 772 or log on to the Society’s website at and click on Self Care and then Find a Self Care Pharmacy.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 24 Oct 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –24 Oct 2012


How dense are you


World Osteoporosis Day (20 October) has one again highlighted the need for us all to be building healthy bones.

Osteoporosis literally means porous bones.  It’s a disease that occurs when our bones lose minerals – principally calcium; and the body can’t replace these minerals fast enough to keep the bones healthy.  The bones become fragile and brittle.  They break and crack more easily.  All bones are at risk, but the most common fractures occur in the spine, the hip and the wrist.

According to Osteoporosis Australia (OA), 6.6 million Australians have low bone density which puts us at risk of a bone fracture with serious, sometimes fatal consequences. The message from OA this year is know you bone density and stay fracture free. There’s more information on the website 

Presently, every 5-6 minutes someone is admitted to an Australian hospital with a fracture due to osteoporosis; and this is likely to increase to every 3-4 minutes within the next ten years.

Nevertheless, we can help ensure we don't become part of these statistics; because osteoporosis is largely a preventable disease.

Both lifestyle and genetic factors have a role in determining bone density and strength.  We can’t do much about choosing our parents, but there are other simple self care strategies we can undertake. Chiefly these strategies involve calcium, vitamin D and exercise.

Also, there are a number of risk factors for osteoporosis, many of which we can minimise or manage. These are listed on the new fact card titled Osteoporosis which is available from all pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. (log onto the website or phone 1300 369 772 to find the nearest location) Note that certain medical conditions and certain medicines are associated with bone loss and an increased risk of fracture. Long-term use of what is known as corticosteroid treatment (that is cortisone-like medicines) can be a particular problem. Extra calcium and vitamin D may be necessary in this case.

In fact we all need calcium to prevent bone loss. The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1000 mg for young adults, and for older adults and people with osteoporosis it's 1300 mg.  Three or four serves of dairy foods each day will generally achieve these aims. There are a few other high calcium-content foods, too – for instance almonds, salmon, sardines and tofu.  But, clearly there will be times when the dietary intake of calcium is not sufficient and a supplement will be necessary.

The need for vitamin D to ensure adequate calcium absorption is now well recognised; and our best source of vitamin D is sunlight. Most Australians achieve adequate vitamin D levels through the sun exposure they receive during typical day-to-day outdoor activities (so the need for vitamin D is no excuse for sunbaking). In the warmer months, (depending on where we live in this vast continent) just a few minutes daily exposure to sunlight on the hands, arms and face is quite sufficient. In the winter, especially in the southern parts of Australia, a few hours exposure, spread over the week, may be needed.

If you rarely get out into the sun a vitamin D supplement will be necessary. Your “Self Care” pharmacist can advise you.

 Being active is important. Regular weight bearing exercise helps reduce bone loss associated with ageing or menopause; and exercise has other health benefits as well.  The exercise doesn’t have to be, and in fact shouldn't be,  too complicated – walking or dancing is fine – preferably for about 30 minutes on all or most days of the week. And, as well as all the other, perhaps better recognised, health problems caused by smoking, it’s a significant risk factor for osteoporosis - another good reason not to smoke

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 03 Oct 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –03 Oct 2012


Staying free from infection

The history of infectious disease is as old as life itself. The various plagues of Egypt were documented in the Old Testament (though the causes might be in some dispute) and  in this context the word plague really means, and from time to time still means, not just some widespread infectious disease but any form of major calamity.

From a medical perspective, plague refers to a specific disease caused by a bacterium and carried by rats. The plague (also called the Black Death) of the mid 14th century is said to have wiped out between 30% and 60% of the population of Europe.

Of course other significant epidemics of infection have occurred since then. It’s estimated that the flu pandemic of 1918 killed 75 million people worldwide.  SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) first identified in Hong Kong in 2002 and spread to 37 countries within a few weeks. And, more recently this century, the influenza variations of Swine Flu and Avian Flu have raised concerns of uncontrolled infection; whilst in the last couple of years there have been major outbreaks of mumps, meningitis, measles, cholera and dengue fever.

The “germ theory” of disease was promoted vigorously by French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur in the 1860s. Then, the discovery a short time later by German physician Robert Koch of the organisms which cause anthrax, tuberculosis and cholera, and the pioneering of antiseptic surgery by Scotsman Joseph Lister all increased our pool of knowledge relating to infectious diseases and the likelihood that such diseases could be effectively treated and prevented.

Antibiotics were not freely available till well after World War II; and we now tend to take the use of antibiotics very much for granted, but they are not effective against all infections; and overuse or inappropriate use will make them even less effective.  At least equally important in combating infectious disease have been improved sanitation and hygiene and the introduction of immunisation programs.

The spread of infections such as the common cold and influenza, which can be transmitted by respiratory droplets (both airborne and on surfaces such as door handles and eating utensils), can be reduced by practising good respiratory hygiene. This includes:

  • Turning away from others when coughing or sneezing.
  • Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Disposing of used tissues in a waste basket or rubbish bin.
  • If a tissue is not available, coughing or sneezing into the arm – not the hands. An
  • After coughing or sneezing, washing hands with soap and water or cleaning them with an alcohol-based hand rub.

Alcohol hand rubs are effective for reducing bacterial and viral contamination on the hands.  However, these products are not effective for cleaning dirty hands. If soap and water are not available, and provided the hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand rub can certainly be used.

Many infectious diseases can be prevented by immunisation with an appropriate vaccine. And the risks from these diseases that immunisation prevents are far greater than the very small risks of the immunisation itself. Comprehensive information about vaccines which are available in Australia can be found in the Australian Immunisation Handbook. It's online, too, at The Department of Health and Ageing also publishes a booklet titled Immunisation, Myths and Realities. It puts the immunisation debate into proper perspective with an objective view of the risks and the benefits.

More advice about preventing, or at least reducing the risk of, infection can be obtained from pharmacies around Australia which provide the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care information. There are special “fact cards” on Antibiotics, Childhood Immunisation, Travel Health and a number of specific infectious diseases. Phone 1300 369 772 for the nearest Self Care location.



Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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