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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 22 Aug 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –22 Aug 2012


Flower power to combat cancer

We can say goodbye to the blues of winter a few days early this year by embracing the springtime yellow of the daffodil on Friday August 26.

Daffodil Day was originally created by the Canadian Cancer Society in the early 1950s.  Now, claiming international significance, Daffodil Day is celebrating its 25th anniversary in Australia and has become the largest national fund-raising event of its kind.

Daffodil Day also serves to highlight prevention and treatment strategies in regard to Australia’s number one killer – cancer.  Each year in Australia, more than 100,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed (this is in addition to so-called non-melanoma skin cancer which accounts for about 440,000 extra cases) and more than 40,000 people will die from the disease. Every year the number of cancer cases continues to grow; by the age of 85, one in every two Australians will be directly affected by cancer.

The good news is that while cancer is on the increase, death rates are actually falling.  More than half of all cancers can be successfully treated. Not surprisingly, early diagnosis and treatment is critical. (Check out the Cancer Council Australia website for a list of early warning signs)

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, the most common cancers in Australia are prostate (actually the most common), colorectal (bowel), breast, melanoma and lung cancer.

Improved treatments for cancer have meant greatly improved health outcomes; but the greatest benefits will undoubtedly came from the introduction of more effective prevention strategies.

According to Cancer Council Australia, each year in Australia, more than 6000 deaths from cancer can be attributed to three major risk factors: inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables, inadequate physical activity and overweight and obesity.

Australian obesity levels tripled between 1985 and 1995. Just over 15 years later, the situation is worse with obesity among children now a major concern. This places thousands of even young Australians at risk of a number of cancers as well as other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The importance of cancer prevention by behaviour and lifestyle change is reinforced by research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which shows that once cancer is diagnosed, modification of diet or the use of dietary supplements (such as vitamins or antioxidants) do not seem to alter the course of the disease.

Of course, tobacco is also a major cause of preventable disease.  Unless current smokers quit, current death rates will continue.

Australia has been a world leader in tobacco control but still thousands of people are dying prematurely as a result of active and passive smoking.  Tobacco is the only consumer product which, when used as directed, kills half of its consumers.

So, a few simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference to your health long term.  For some helpful hints on how to quit smoking for good, ask for the Staying a Non-Smoker fact card from one of the 1500 Self Care Pharmacies around Australia – pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.  You can call 1 300 369 772 for the nearest location or log onto the website and click on Self Care Pharmacy Finder.  Fat and Cholesterol, Fibre and Bowel Health, Prostate Problems and Sense in the Sun are some other titles in the series that can help you stay healthy longer.

Of course you can also help the community as a whole in the fight against cancer by purchasing a daffodil or two of the more than two million for sale on Friday 26.

And no excuses if you’re allergic to flowers.  There’ll be plenty of other yellow merchandise for sale: brooches, pins, pens, key rings, footballs and the ever-popular super hero Dougal Bear – all to assist the work of the Cancer Council.



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

John Bell Column 15 Aug 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –15 Aug 2012


Beware the deadliest of all the nightshades

Extracts from the plant Atropa belladonna have had long histories as medicines, as cosmetics and also as poisons. It’s a member of the Nightshade family. In fact, so potent is belladonna as a poison it bears the common name “deadly nightshade”.

The word belladonna is derived from the Italian and means beautiful lady, so called because of its use to dilate the pupils to produce a seductive look. Belladonna has long been considered one of the world’s most toxic plants. However, these days we know that belladonna is far from the most deadly of all the nightshades. Other members of this extended family include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, chili peppers and tobacco.  And tobacco has become the single greatest cause of preventable death worldwide.

One of the stories that surround the life of 16th century English poet and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh is that he threw his cloak over a puddle to prevent the first Queen Elizabeth from muddying her shoes. Another is that he introduced tobacco to Britain. It’s unlikely he actually ever got his cloak dirty – at least not in the way so commonly described; and tobacco was already a well-known commodity in Europe by the mid 1500s. But, it is fairly certain that he popularised the habit of smoking at the English court – not something we really should thank him for.

Back in Australia, tobacco smoking is thought to have been introduced to the indigenous community by Indonesian fishermen in the 1700s; and from 1788 the British patterns of tobacco use were transported to Australia by the convicts and free settlers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a third of the world’s population now smokes and that around five and a half million people die each year from smoking-related causes. Additionally another 600,000 people, many of them children will die from second-hand smoke.

There were suspicions about the possible link between smoking and lung cancer as far back as 1920; and a landmark study by Richard Doll published in the British Medical Journal in 1950 provided even stronger evidence. However, smoking causes not only lung cancer; it also causes cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, kidney, liver, pancreas, stomach, colon, rectum, cervix and blood. As well, smoking is a major cause of heart disease and a significant risk factor associated with macular degeneration, osteoporosis, depression, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and stroke.

Studies show that nearly two thirds of smokers would like to stop smoking, but fewer than 1 in 20 people who try to quit will actually remain non-smokers after three months.

Up until recently, it was thought that stopping smoking completely – either cold turkey or with the help of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) – was the best way to ensure becoming a long term non-smoker. But this “quick stop” method doesn’t suit everyone. Evidence has shown that reducing the number of cigarettes smoked with the assistance of NRT, makes it easier for some heavily addicted smokers to ultimately quit completely.

Smoking cessation has both immediate and long term health benefits. Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are all less likely to occur in a non-smoker. Non-smokers can cope better with respiratory infections; and there is an improvement in general health. Smokers who quit at age 50 halve their risk of a smoking related death and if they stop by age 30 they avoid almost all the risk.

If you’re ready to quit, your pharmacist can help you choose the smoking cessation therapy which suits you best. Ask for the Staying a Non Smoker fact card which is available from pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. For the nearest location Phone 1300 369 772 or log onto the website then click on “Self Care” and “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.



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

John Bell Column 08 Aug 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –08 Aug 2012


Staying awake – a marathon event

It’s about this time every four years that Australian sports fanatics begin to feel more than a little sleep deprived. And when the Olympic Games are held in a far away time zone the effect is felt to an even greater degree. Of course for the tennis and cycling fans among us, the recent Wimbledon competition and the Tour de France have probably already contributed to significant sleep deprivation.

According to researchers Derk-Jan Dijk and Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer from the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK, writing in the New Scientist magazine earlier this year, the way we sleep has changed enormously over the past century. It’s not just international sporting events that have all altered our traditional sleeping habits, it’s also computers, televisions, shift work and even light bulbs – with huge implications for our health.

Sleep deprivation can have serious adverse health effects – both physical and mental.  Feeling fatigued, irritable, anxious or depressed can all result from too little sleep.  The brain works harder but operates less effectively.  The ability to undertake usual tasks requiring concentration (such as driving) is greatly impaired.

The question is what to do about it?  So-called hypnotics and sedatives certainly have a place in treating insomnia – where insomnia is defined as more than very occasional sleep disturbance.  Nevertheless, these medicines are best taken for the short term only.  It seems likely a habit forming tolerance will develop when continued use exceeds a few weeks.

If you have chronic, (that is long term), sleep problems, there may be some simple ways you can get into a regular sleep pattern more easily.  The newly revised Fact Card entitled Sleeping Problems gives some valuable tips.  This card is available from pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.

It’s most important to establish a routine.  Try to get out of bed at the same time every day; and once you’re up, stay up.  It helps your body maintain that natural waking and sleeping rhythm that makes sleep easier.

Avoid caffeine-containing drinks (tea, coffee, cola, chocolate) in the evening.  As well as being a mild stimulant, caffeine also causes us to pass water more often; so our sleep can be disturbed by the need to visit the bathroom during the night.  If you can’t go without your tea or coffee at night, try the ‘decaf’ varieties.

Exercise is important too, but late evening sport and strenuous work-outs can stimulate the system and make sleep difficult.  Afternoon exercise, probably after work and before dinner, seems to be best.

If you are determined to watch late night TV, don’t watch a thriller, a horror story or an exciting sporting event – it’s even worse if your team loses.  Dreams are important, but nightmares don’t make for a good sleep.

We should be aware that night caps are for keeping the head warm.  The alcoholic varieties really don’t do anything for normalising our sleep pattern.  Alcohol can actually disturb the balance between the various stages of sleep and we tend to wake up still a little hung over.  And just like coffee, alcohol can also encourage those extra trips to the bathroom.

As well, some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can disturb your sleep.  Ask your pharmacist for advice about the possibility of this occurring.  If you need a cold and flu remedy the so-called day-time/night-time formulas are worth considering.

Remember that persistent sleep disorders, especially those involving pain or breathing difficulties need to be investigated by your doctor.

Meanwhile, for the nearest location of your Self Care pharmacy to pick up your Sleeping Problems fact card, phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1 300 369 772 or visit the website: and first click on “Self Care” 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 01 Aug 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –01 Aug 2012


Chalk and cheese; they really have a lot in common

Comparing chalk and cheese is usually reserved for describing things, sometimes even people, with significant differences. Chalk and cheese certainly don’t taste the same, but nevertheless, there are some important similarities.

Chalk is soft, white, pure limestone. It’s composed of a mineral called calcite – a common name for calcium carbonate.

Of course, cheese is also an important source of calcium; but not only calcium. Cheese contains a number of other essential nutrients as well – protein, vitamin A, some B group vitamins and some extra minerals for good measure.

Following the replacement of blackboards with white boards, chalk (at least the drawing form of chalk) has given way to marker pens. However, we’ve become more and more aware of the importance of calcium in our diet. And if we don’t get sufficient in our diet, a “chalk” supplement might be necessary.

The need for calcium-rich foods is one of the messages to be delivered during National Healthy Bones Week (1-7 August).

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bone. Almost all of the calcium in our body is in our bones, with just a little dissolved in blood and other fluids to assist with healthy functioning of the heart, muscles and nerves.

According to the Osteoporosis Australia website ( our bones act like a calcium bank, storing calcium and releasing it into the bloodstream when needed.

If our calcium intake is too low, and there are more withdrawals from than deposits into our bank, then brittle bones (osteoporosis) is the result.

Women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis at an earlier age. This is because of hormonal changes following menopause. However, osteoporosis is certainly not just a women’s disease. While fractures from fragile bones are less common in men than women, when they do occur they are associated with more long-term health problems and a greater likelihood of death.

In Australia one in two women and one in three men over the age of 60 will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis.

After the first fracture, there is a two to four times greater risk of another fracture occurring within 12 months. And this risk increases rapidly with each subsequent fracture – it’s known as the cascade effect.

Both lifestyle and genetic factors have a role in determining bone density and strength; and while we can’t do much about choosing our parents, we can address those issues of exercise and diet.

The recommended daily intake of calcium is about 1000mg for young adults, and for teenagers and older adults is about 1300mg. Three or four serves of dairy foods each day will generally achieve these aims. A serve is equivalent to a 250ml glass of milk, a 200g tub of yoghurt or two slices (about 40g) of cheese. Each serve provides approximately 300mg of calcium. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, cereals and legumes also contribute calcium to the diet, but much smaller amounts than dairy foods.

Calcium absorption is reduced (and, therefore, the risk of osteoporosis is increased) by excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, and soft drinks containing phosphates; and the lack of vitamin D.

For those of us who can’t manage adequate calcium intake from our diet or who can’t manufacture sufficient vitamin D from exposure to the sun, there are suitable calcium and vitamin D supplements available – you won’t really have to resort to the chalk.

Ask your pharmacist for more advice. And for the best osteoporosis prevention strategies check out the Osteoporosis Fact Card at pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. For the nearest location phone 1300 369 772 or go to and follow the link to Self Care Pharmacy Finder.


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

John Bell Column 25 Jul 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –25 Jul 2012


Want to keep your kidneys healthy? Just add water

The recent “Wee Week” organised by Kidney Health Australia has once again stressed the need keep our insides well hydrated to ensure we have a healthy urinary tract, free from infection.

Urinary tract infections, generally called simply UTIs are amongst the most common of infections treated by doctors. About 1 in 2 women and 1 in 20 men will get at least one UTI during their lifetime.

UTIs can involve just about any part of the urinary tract – the body’s plumbing, filtration and liquid waste disposal system. The kidneys and the bladder can be affected, as can the ureter and the urethra – the “pipes” which carry urine to and from the bladder.

Bacteria which normally live harmlessly in the intestine or the bowel are the usual suspects for causing UTIs. If these bacteria manage to spread from the anus (the back passage) into the urethra and then further into the urinary system, they can cause some rather nasty and discomforting conditions.

Urethritis is the medical term describing the infection when just the urethra is affected. If the infection spreads to the bladder causing the bladder lining to become raw and inflamed the condition is known as cystitis; whereas pyelonephritis is the name for the infection if it spreads to the kidneys.

All these conditions can cause a prickly, scalding or burning sensation when passing urine, and the urge to urinate frequently. If the bladder and kidney are affected, the urine might be cloudy or bloody and you may experience lower abdominal or back pain. Kidney related infections are potentially very serious and need prompt treatment to avoid kidney damage.

Mild cystitis can sometimes be treated effectively by drinking plenty of fluids (preferably water) to flush the bugs out the system, whilst often a urinary alkaliniser – something to make the urine less acid – will also help. Some studies have shown that cranberry juice or cranberry extract tablets may assist in preventing symptoms of cystitis in people who are susceptible to repeat infections. It seems cranberries contain a substance that can help prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder. However, results from the studies are not so positive for elderly men and women.

Women, generally, are more likely than men to suffer with UTIs because the urethra is so short. Also, female hormones can affect urine acidity making it more likely the offending organisms can thrive – especially at certain times of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and menopause or after a hysterectomy. Sexually active women are more at risk because sex can push the bacteria into the urethra.

Men with prostate problems may have difficulties with urine flow and bladder emptying and so allow the bacteria more time to reproduce. Older people, or people with another chronic medical condition such as diabetes, where the immune system is already under stress, are also be more likely to get UTIs.

The Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) has produced a Urinary Tract Infection card which has some self help hints on how to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. And it starts with drinking enough water. There’s no specific amount to drink each day – it will vary from person to person; but a good guide is sufficient to satisfy your thirst.

Most importantly, if you think you have a UTI and the simple non-prescription products are not successful, see your doctor promptly. An appropriate antibiotic will usually give the desired results quickly and safely. And you’ll avoid any possible serious consequences.

Meanwhile, if you would like more information about UTIs, check out the Kidney Health website at, or call into your local Self Care Pharmacy for a UTI fact card. For the nearest location phone PSA on 1300 369 772 or click on Self Care then Find a Self Care Pharmacy at

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

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