From new cancer treatments to recent advances in fertility medicine and stem cell research, the latest medical breakthroughs have been nothing short of mind-boggling. Here Dr Cassy Richmond takes a look at some of the more recent medical developments.
Watercress may protect against breast cancer
Watercress may be much more than just a mere leafy green to add to your salad. Yes, it is known to be a source of folic acid and vitamin C, but now, there is evidence to suggest that it may also play a role in suppressing breast cancer development.
Research at University of Southampton has shown that the compound phenyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), found in watercress, has the ability to "switch off" a chemical pathway required by tumour cells for growth. In effect, PEITC interferes with the function of a certain protein, called Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). This acts to prevent the formation of new blood vessels in the body which are required to supply cancer cells with essential nutrients.
Furthermore, the researchers found that, when breast cancer survivors consumed about 80g of watercress (about a cereal bowl full), significant levels of PEITC were detectable in their blood, and the function of the HIF protein was measurably affected in these women. This is important as it supports the notion that watercress in the diet could play a role in preventing breast cancers.
It's no secret that cigarette smoking is bad for you. It can lead to heart attacks and a whole range of cancers (including lung and throat cancer) and can also affect fertility. If you are a smoker, it's not surprising, then, that your doctor has likely advised you to stop. For good. Right now.
But there's, of course, a catch: it is difficult to quit smoking as cigarettes are highly addictive.
Thankfully, there could be good news on the horizon. Over recent times, an anti-smoking vaccine has been developed with promising results. The vaccine, called NicVAX, works by stimulating the production of antibodies in the body to bind to nicotine. This prevents nicotine from reaching receptors in the brain, curbing the addictive, pleasurable effects it has for smokers.
Considering that around 20 percent of Australians under the age of 60 years currently smoke, the advent of this vaccine could be just the ticket for many. In the meantime, while trials continue overseas, it is advisable to use more traditional methods for smoking cessation. For support and advice, call QUITLINE on 13 7848.
An accidental discovery
Scientists from UCLA may have recently discovered the cure for baldness by accident. Intending to study stress-related stomach problems, mice were treated with a stress-blocking compound for five days. Much to the investigators surprise, they found that the mice, which were bald, grew hair. The experiment was repeated several times to positively confirm the result.
At this stage, it is unknown whether this finding could potentially translate to a cure for baldness in humans. However, it is believed that it could play a role in treating hair loss, particularly related to stress and aging. As the prospect of going bald may be a scary thought for many, this finding could be truly hair-raising.
Sleepy health fix
If you are ever caught snoozing at work again, you can now tell your boss you have a good reason. A new US study has determined that taking a kip for at least 45 minutes during the day may help stressed-out people lower their blood pressure and protect their heart.
In the study, 85 university students were divided into two groups: those who took a 45 minute nap, and those who didn't. All subjects were then given a mental stress test. The study found that, in those who had napped, the average blood pressure was significantly lower after the test suggesting that cardiovascular recovery following mental stress is greater in those who take a catnap.
Given that we are constantly bombarded with potential stressors, doesn't it make good sense to take regular time-out for ourselves? If you are unable to nap at work (as many of us are), try having a siesta on the weekends.