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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 13 Jun 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –13 Jun 2012


Keeping your family in the picture

It seems there are many more health issues to consider than there are weeks in the year; so it's probably no surprise that some days and weeks have to be shared around. For instance the recent World No Tobacco Day fell squarely in the middle of Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.

Nevertheless, these two events are a very comfortable fit; because smokers and people who have smoked are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration (MD) – sometimes known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because of its high prevalence in older people – is the name given to a group of diseases of the retina which cause progressive, painless loss of central vision.  Thus the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces is slowly but surely lost. It's the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Australia and other Western countries.

Presently there is no cure for AMD; and treatments to delay or stop its progression have met with limited success; so there is increasing interest in identifying risk factors which, when modified, may reduce the chance of getting AMD, or stop the condition becoming worse when it does occur.

A family history of macular degeneration gives us a 50% chance of developing the disease - as a consequence the theme this year for Macular Degeneration Week was "keep your family in the picture".  We can’t do too much to change our parents, so if one or both of your parents has or had AMD, a regular and frequent check up by your optometrist or eye specialist is important for early diagnosis and the best available treatment.

On the other hand, prevention strategies are essential. Something we can address is a commitment to become a non-smoker.  Many studies have clearly demonstrated the link between smoking and AMD. Also, there is ongoing debate about the relationship between AMD and obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels; but research certainly suggests that diet is significant.

In particular the likelihood is that the pigments beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin found in carrots, pumpkin, corn and some green leafy vegetables are beneficial. Other antioxidants of interest include vitamins A and E and the trace elements zinc and selenium.

Proprietary preparations containing these substances are now available, but the use of anti-oxidants in high doses is not without risk. Beta-carotene has been found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers; and vitamin E has been associated with an increased risk of heart failure in people with diabetes or disease affecting circulation. Check with your pharmacist before you choose a specific product.

On the other hand, there is evidence that fish oil (containing so-called omega-3 fatty acids) might provide protection against AMD. So, the Macular Degeneration Foundation advises eating fish two or three times a week, eating dark-green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit, eating a handful of nuts once a week and protecting your eyes from sunlight exposure; and of course, if you’re a smoker, then quit! You can get more good advice from the Foundation at  Check out their publication Slips, Trips and Falls. It's an excellent guide for people with low vision on how to avoid some of the inevitable problems.

Also, pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information have a fact card titled Vision Impairment. The card gives details about not only AMD but also glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and refractive error.

To locate the Self Care pharmacy nearest you, log on to the Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) website at and click on “Self Care", then "Find a Self Care Pharmacy”. Or phone PSA on 1 300 369 772

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


John Bell Column 06 Jun 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –06 Jun 2012


Captain Cook was the real star

This month we’ve had the opportunity to observe the Transit of Venus when that planet positioned itself between us and the sun. It only happens twice every 100 years or so, and the next time is in 2117. So, if you missed it this time, then you’ve missed it.

It was in June 243 years ago when that junior naval officer with great mapping and mathematical skills sailed the HMS Endeavour to the South Pacific to witness the transit of 1769, and he sailed on to the east coast of Australia, making landfall at Botany Bay nearly a year later.

James Cook was widely acknowledged as the greatest explorer of the 18th century; but this reputation was not only due to his navigational skills; he was also well recognised for his ability to keep his crew fit and healthy for the duration of long voyages - no mean feat at the time.

Cook carried good provisions including citrus fruits, and it is likely his decision to do so was, at least in part, encouraged by another James - Dr James Lind.  In 1753 Dr Lind published his study titled Treatise of the Scurvy which indicated the then frequently fatal disease was a dietary deficiency from the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.  It was later that vitamin C was named as the essential component.

So, basic research into the effects of vitamin C is certainly not new. In fact it's likely that the Chinese navy was well aware of the importance of diet in protecting its sailors from disease centuries before the western world came to the same conclusion.

These days scurvy is not so common. The amount of ascorbic acid - the chemical name for vitamin C - required to prevent scurvy is as little as 60mg a day. However, the common cold is very common indeed; so an equally easy way of preventing colds and flu would be really welcome.

Sadly the evidence to support the use of vitamin C in either preventing or treating the common cold is not that good.

Some years ago a review of 29 studies into the effects of vitamin C undertaken over more than 60 years concluded that the vitamin does not prevent the common cold in the general population; daily doses up to 2g were investigated.

However, there was some good news.  In a sub group of six of those 29 trials involving marathon runners, skiers or soldiers who were exposed to physical exertion or extreme cold, there was a reduction on average of about 50% in the incidence of colds - and this with a daily dose of about 200mg.  It seems that for us mere mortals vitamin C won't do much to prevent the infection, but for supermen and women under great stress there could be some benefit.

Furthermore, the studies showed that adults who developed a cold and were taking vitamin C had, on average, an 8% reduction in the duration of symptoms.  Children fared even better still with a 14% reduction in the number of days with cold symptoms.

So, while evidence shows vitamin C might help us manage a cold just a little bit, it's clear that antibiotics do not.  It seems the myth still exists that antibiotics might be useful in treating a cold.  However, not only are antibiotics useless against the cold virus, taking antibiotics when we don't need them can make them less effective when we do need them.  This is the message is being enthusiastically delivered by the National Prescribing Service (NPS) during this cold season.

According to the NPS the best treatment for the common cold is a good dose of common sense. Maybe we should also take a leaf out of Captain Cook’s journal, and make sure we have some oranges, especially if we're going on a long boat trip.


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


John Bell Column 30 May 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –30 May 2012


Maintaining men in a healthy environment

International Men’s Health Week (IMHW) is celebrated in June each year, with the aim of increasing community awareness of men’s health issues.  This year the theme relates to the impact of the environment on men’s health.

Acknowledging the importance of the environment is why we have trees, gardens, parks, picnics, bush walks, family days by the beach and so on. A study from the UK showed that patients with a view of trees and gardens needed less pain relief and were discharged from hospital earlier than those with just a view of a building.

Of course, looking at the environment is one thing, becoming an active part of it is another. If men walked for 30 minutes each day it’s estimated heart attacks would be reduced by more than 35%.

And too often, it seems, the topic of men’s health is confined to discussion of conditions such as erectile dysfunction, prostate problems or male pattern baldness, while overlooking issues such as heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer. 

There are some alarming statistics regarding men’s health. More than 40% of Australian men over 40 suffer a serious health problem.  Men under 75 years of age are almost three times more likely to die from so-called cardiovascular disease than women in the same age group; and, in men, alcohol misuse results in about 3,000 deaths and 65,000 hospitalisations every year.

According to the Men’s Health Australia website, compared with women, Australian men of all ages are less healthy and, therefore, do not enjoy as good a quality of life as they should. All chronic conditions such as obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease occur more frequently in men.

In the past hundred years things have improved. A male born in 2010 can expect to live 24 years longer than one born in 1901; but still the life expectancy of men is nearly five years less than that of women.

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that men generally indulge in more risky behaviour than do women; and this behaviour pattern has been the case for many centuries.

Perhaps this is one reason why men don’t last quite as long as women.  Compared with women, men are much more likely to die in accidents – traffic or work-related accidents – and be the victims of homicide or suicide. But the fact that some men occasionally behave quite badly is not the only reason that in Australia women live longer than men.  This five year gap is quite common in other parts of the world as well; but the reason differs from country to country.

So, when young Australian 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

It’s fair to say that women appear to have biological advantage over men; women seem to have a stronger immune system; and the hormone oestrogen protects against heart disease and stroke – at least until after the menopause.

However, men are less inclined to visit the doctor, both when they are ill, or just to have a regular check-up.  They’re very much aware of the need for motor vehicle or other machinery maintenance, but ignore the need to protect their bodies from abuse, misuse or age-related deterioration.

In attempting to close that five year gap, all men, and women who care about them, could check out the series of men’s health fact cards.  They’re available from all pharmacies around Australia providing the Self Care health information.  For the nearest location call the Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) on 1 300 369 772 or log on to the PSA website at 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 23 May 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –23 May 2012


Eating apples for a good gut

In October each year the city of Ryde in NSW holds a festival of the apples. It celebrates the life of one of the district's most famous citizens, Maria Ann Smith – also known as "Granny" Smith. More than 150 years ago it seems she accidently grew the little green apples to which she gave her name, and are now grown and eaten the world over.

Apples of a somewhat different colour are also highlighted in June during Bowel Cancer Awareness Week culminating in Red Apple Day – this year on Wednesday 6 June. Red Apple Day aims to increase awareness of bowel cancer and other gastro-intestinal problems.

Eating an apple each day used to be considered a convenient way of avoiding the need for a doctor’s visit; although there are other lifestyle and dietary issues that may be more important. Nevertheless, the health benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables are now well known.

In any event, apples are a good source of fibre and vitamins – especially vitamin C, but some other vitamins and minerals as well. In the fibre department, apples contain both soluble fibre – such as pectin which helps prevent the build-up of cholesterol in the lining of the blood vessels – and insoluble fibre, which provides bulk in the intestinal tract. This bulk enables a quick passage of food through the digestive system – just what the doctor ordered.

Other than skin cancer, bowel cancer is the commonest of all cancers affecting both men and women. There are 10,000 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed every year; and there are twice as many deaths from bowel cancer in Australia as from motor vehicle accidents. One Australian dies from bowel cancer – also known as colorectal cancer (CRC) – every two hours.

Perhaps because these statistics are so frightening, there is a reluctance for us to seek medical attention or even acknowledge the possibility of CRC; but bowel cancer is both treatable and curable.

In the early stages, bowel cancer often has no symptoms; but blood in the bowel motions, persistent changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation) frequent “wind” pains and loss of weight for no known reason, should all be investigated by your doctor. If a close relative has had bowel cancer, your own risk increases significantly, and a regular check-up is necessary.

In any event, all Australians age 50 or over are encouraged to undertake bowel screening. You can pick up a kit from your local pharmacy.

Another screening strategy is a colonoscopy whereby small growths called polyps are detected and, if found to be cancerous, are removed. Apart from the existence of polyps, bowel cancer appears to be more common in people whose diet is high in red or processed meat. On the other hand, eating wholegrain foods and cereals has a protective effect against bowel cancer.

So just crunching an apple a day won’t mean we have no need for a regular check-up; but we do need to eat sensibly and we also need to limit our alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day. Of course, we should definitely not smoke. It seems regular physical activity might also reduce the risk.

Pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care material can give you more information about bowel cancer. Ask the pharmacy for the fact cards titled Fibre and Bowel Health and Fat and Cholesterol. They contain some great hints on how to keep your bowel and also the rest of your body healthy and functioning well.

To locate your nearest Self Care pharmacy phone 1300 369 772 or visit the PSA website at 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 16 May 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –16 May 2012


Underpants overexposed for kidney health

For those of us who are very sensitive or openly emotional, it might be said we wear our heart on our sleeve – a phrase suggested to have derived from the middle ages when jousting knights wore the colours of their lady-loves tied to their arms. In fact, the first recorded reference to such a habit appears in Shakespeare's Othello.  Nowhere in literature, however, does there seem to be any mention of putting kidneys on underpants; yet this is what the patient support group Kidney Health Australia wants us to do.

Not in a literal sense, of course, but they make the association simply to draw attention to the importance of those two small fist-sized, bean-shaped organs so essential to good health.

Generally, underwear is not as immediately obvious as some other articles of clothing; but neither is kidney disease usually foremost in our mind. As the Kidney Health website says it’s time to give some decent exposure to chronic kidney disease (CKD), a disease which has flown under the radar for far too long – just like our undies. So this year 27 May until 2 June will be designated Red Undies Week and we'll be encouraged to wear red undies (visible or otherwise) and think carefully about maintaining healthy kidneys.

Whatever the colour of our underwear, kidney health is critical. One in three adults is at increased risk of developing CKD.

If the lungs are our air-conditioning unit, then the kidneys are our body’s washing machine and waste disposal system. They’re also a superbly effective filter system with about 200 litres of blood passing through 2 million tiny filters every day; resulting in the removal of about 2 litres of waste products and unneeded water.

As well as enabling us to excrete certain unwanted and toxic substances, the kidneys produce hormones and regulate water levels and blood pressure.

There is a close relationship between high blood pressure and kidney disease: high blood pressure can cause kidney damage and kidney damage can cause high blood pressure.

Uncontrolled blood glucose levels (i.e. diabetes) is another major risk factor for CKD. Around half of all people with diabetes develop kidney damage; so it’s important for people with diabetes to have regular kidney function tests.

With diabetes, all the small blood vessels in the body are damaged; and those in the kidneys are especially vulnerable; the blood cleaning activity of the kidneys does not operate effectively; and the body retains more salt and water than it should, leading to swelling of the ankles and weight gain.

Being overweight is in itself a risk factor for kidney disease. As well as increasing the likelihood of both blood pressure and diabetes, as we get bigger and more overweight the kidneys have to cope with a greater workload.

Being overweight is a very visible characteristic, but having high blood pressure and diabetes can often go unnoticed until the CKD is well established and difficult to treat. So a regular visit to the doctor is essential. The kidney health check involves a blood pressure test, a urine test for protein and blood test for a substance called creatinine.

Prevention strategies (and often initial treatment as well) involves dietary and lifestyle changes – losing weight, cutting down on alcohol intake, exercising regularly, consuming less salt and stopping smoking. If medication is necessary it may involve life-long treatment.

You can get more information about diabetes and high blood pressure and their relationship to kidney disease from pharmacies throughout Australia providing Self Care health information. For the nearest location phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 722 or check the website: and click on Self Care then Find a Self Care Pharmacy. If necessary you'll probably also be able to get some red dye for your undies.

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


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