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Deal to bring Paganism to hospital bedsides.


HEALTH chiefs have reached a deal with Scotland's 30,000 Pagans to bring bedside healing rituals, meditation and special prayers into hospitals.

Patients following the ancient religion will be allowed to keep a small model of a Pagan "healing goddess" on their bedside tables.

The agreement between the Pagan Federation Scotland and NHS Tayside, which runs Dundee's Ninewells teaching hospital, Perth Royal Infirmary, and a number of local hospitals, is understood to be the first of its kind north of the Border. It also means Pagan chaplains will be allowed access to patients.

A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said: "If people ask for a chaplaincy visit, of whatever faith, we will facilitate it."


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'Holy grail' drug reverses devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's...

A revolutionary drug that reverses the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is being developed by British scientists.

Described as the "holy grail" of Alzheimer's research, the drug can improve memory in brains ravaged by the condition that affects millions around the world, including 500,000 Britons.

Although existing pills can delay the progress of symptoms including memory loss, none is capable of repairing the damage to the brain.

 

With 500 new cases of the disease diagnosed every day as people live longer, there is a desperate need for new treatments.

 

Tests show that the new drug, being developed at St Andrews University, stops brain cells from dying in mice suffering from a condition similar Alzheimer's disease.

Crucially, the drug also improves the animals' memory and learning, suggesting that brain tissue destroyed by the disease is actually repaired.

Rebecca Wood of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, which funded the study, said: "A drug that can stop Alzheimer's disease from killing brain cells is the holy grail for researchers working to overcome the condition." Describing his results as "striking" researcher Dr Frank Gunn-Moore said: "Humans are always more complex than animals but if you can give somebody another six months of good quality life, that has huge implications."

The drug works by stopping a chemical reaction behind much of the brain cell death in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Key players in the reaction are ABAD, an enzyme that in healthy people helps power the brain, and amyloid, a sticky protein that clogs up the brain in Alzheimer's patients.

When the two come together, they trigger the release of toxic chemicals which kill brain cells. This cell death leads to memory loss and, eventually, the loss of the ability to walk, talk and even swallow.

The St Andrews drug, currently known as Tat-mito-ABAD-DP, stops the reaction in its tracks, giving the brain time to heal.

When mice bred to suffer from a condition similar to Alzheimer's were injected with the drug, their memory improved and they found it easier to learn.

The scientists, who discussed their breakthrough in an article in the journal Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, are now working on refining the drug to ensure it is suitable for human trials.

They are also searching for other similar compounds which may be even better at combating the disease.

However, while the work is groundbreaking, the extensive research and testing needed means that such a a drug is around a decade away from the market.

Should it prove successful in treating humans, it is likely it will be used in combination with other drugs, including vaccines which are being developed by other researchers.

"Our research holds a possible key for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, particularly in its early stages," said Dr Gunn-Moore, a neurobiologist, who carried out the study in conjunction with American researchers.

"I am not saying it is a cure but it is a certainly a stepping stone. It has opened up a new avenue for us to look at.

"We will never have a one drug wonder, we will have to have combinations of drugs in the treatment of something like Alzheimer's disease."

The Alzheimer's Research Trust described the discovery as "very important" but cautioned that such a drug is still many years from the pharmacy shelf.

Chief executive Rebecca Wood said: "Alzheimer's is a complex and under-funded disease, so it is a real challenge to find the right targets to fight it.

"If researchers can find proof that inhibiting a particular reaction will prevent the death of brain cells then this is a real step forward - but we desperately need to fund many more steps if we are to beat this devastating disease and find a cure."

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "This study provides another important piece in the puzzle for understanding Alzheimer's disease and points toward a possible new treatment

target."

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's costs the NHS up to to £14billion a year - more than it spends in total on stroke, heart disease and cancer.

Experts predict that the ageing population will cause a global epidemic, with one in 85 people around the world having Alzheimer's by 2050.

A vaccine capable of stopping the disease in its tracks is being developed in Switzerland and could be available for use in as little as six years.


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The daily 3-in-1 super pill all men over 50 should take to avoid heart attacks...

A pill a day: Could stave off heart attacks... 

All men over 50 should take a "polypill" to cut heart attacks and strokes, says the Government's leading cardiac expert.

It would contain a cholesterol-busting statin, aspirin and drugs to cut blood pressure.

Professor Roger Boyle, the Department of Health's national director for heart disease and stroke, said it would transform the nation's health and relieve pressure on the NHS.

While mass prescription of a polypill would cost around £6billion a year, heart disease and strokes claim more than 200,000 lives a year and cost the health service £14billion a year to treat.

Women would be medicated slightly later in life, as their hormones protect against heart disease until menopause. Although a polypill is yet to come on the market, one is being tested in New Zealand which would cost no more than £1 a day.

Professor Boyle, who takes statins himself, said: "Although we have seen a decrease in death rates, heart disease remains our country's biggest killer. It kills more than all the cancers put together. The short cut to all this is to say that when you are a man of 50, you need treatment."

He also stressed, however, that lifestyle plays a big part in cardiac health. "One in five of the population only walk for 20 minutes once a year or never at all. That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard. I don't think they are afraid of exercise - they are just bone idle.

"The couch-potato lifestyle is the biggest driver in the rise of obesity. We need to work on that message. We need to get our obese kids into a healthy lifestyle, having exercise as much more of the daily routine in schools and going to work and in everyone's approach to life." The professor also conceded that the population would have to be persuaded of the benefits of mass medication.

"I don't think the general public is ready yet for a 'get to 50, take a tablet' type of approach," he said.

"I think they want individual assessment and I think we are going to be stuck with that for the time being.

"I think we would be making a big impact with a blanket approach but we are also conscious of being accused of being a nanny state and choice remains important."

The polypill is a GP's dream, as it would cut down on prescriptions and be acceptable to patients who do not wish to take lots of individual tablets each day.

Doctors estimate that mass-medication with such a pill could slash the rate of heart attacks and strokes by 80 per cent. However, critics of mass medication say it turns essentially-healthy people into patients. There are also worries that overreliance on pills would lead them to neglect other aspects of their health, such as exercise and diet.

In addition, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, warned: "The problem is that if you take a polypill and end up with a side effect, you don't know which constituent is behind it. It is an interesting concept but you would need proper clinical trials to see if it has acceptable tolerability and works."

Professor Weissberg is also against giving statins to all over-50s. He said: "I have always taken a cautious view to prescribing. There is no such thing as a totally safe drug."

Introduced in the late Eighties, statins can, in rare cases, cause muscle pain and liver problems, leading some doctors to argue that the risk of the side-effects outweighs the benefits of the drugs for those not showing symptoms of heart disease.

"With statins the downside is about as low as I have seen with any drug, but there is some downside,' added Professor Weissberg.

"You need to accrue quite a lot of information from clinical trials, but also from experience, before you take the sort of approach of putting fluoride in tap water."

Statins, which are thought to save up to 10,000 lives a year, are currently prescribed to survivors of heart attacks and strokes and to those whose cholesterol is much higher than normal.

However, doctors are being urged to prescribe them more widely, with new guidelines recommending they are handed out to all adults judged to have a one in five chance of developing heart disease in the next decade. Doing this would take the number of patients on the drugs to around six million and the annual bill to over £1billion.


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MASSAGE THE NECK TO RUB OUT CORONARIES.
 
Head massage

A REGULAR neck massage could help to prevent heart attacks, research has shown.

A study found that it could lower abnormally high blood pressure, without using drugs.

At any one time, one-in-10 people in the UK suffer neck pain.

The problem is growing because changing lifestyles mean people spending more time sitting down.

Now scientists have found that treating a stiff neck can help reduce blood pressure, which is a major cause of heart attacks and stroke.

Researchers at Leeds University say links between neck muscles and the brain play a crucial role in controlling blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.

The study identified cells in the neck that are connected to an area of the brain that controls unconscious body functions.

Traditionally, the causes of blood pressure have been linked to excess weight, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.

The researchers say nervous signals from the neck may play a key role in ensuring that adequate blood supply is maintained to the brain as we change posture, such as from lying down to standing up.

Where such signalling fails, we can suffer problems with balance and blood pressure.


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Why women should avoid using anti-perspirants that could cause breast cancer...

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Danger: The alluminum in anti-perspirants could cause breast cancer...

New research suggests that the aluminium in many anti-perspirants has a potential link with breast cancer.

Here, a leading breast cancer specialist explains why he suggests avoiding the products.

Women who have had breast cancer should consider not using antiperspirants or deodorants.

And healthy women should think twice about it, especially those with a strong family history or other risk factors.

This is what I suggest to my patients and my own family.

Giving up using deodorant could be as effective in reducing cancer risk as a diet rich in disease-preventing antioxidants.

This might sound surprising, as we know fruit and vegetables can help keep cancer at bay.

But the irony is that women - who are particularly diligent about eating enough fruit and veg - then cover their armpits every day with chemicals that mimic oestrogen, the cancer-promoting hormone.

Like many oncologists I routinely discuss with patients their lifestyle risks as well as the benefits of chemotherapy, hormone and Herceptin.

That's what I suggest to my patients.

What all this suggests is that using these products may make breast cancer more likely.

I'm very much aware there is no clear proof anti-perspirants or deodorants cause cancer, but with one in nine women developing the disease, it seems sensible to be cautious and not take unnecessary risks.

discuss with patients their lifestyle risks as well as the benefits of chemotherapy, hormones and Herceptin.

These factors include their exposure to potential dietary carcinogens, fat intake, level of exercise and exposure to pollutants - and deodorants.

Though a direct link with cancer has not been established, my view on deodorants is based on the available evidence and informed common sense.

This week, a study at Keele University found aluminium salts - used to block the pores so you don't perspire - can get into breast tissue.

Worryingly, these salts are more concentrated in the areas of the breast where cancer is more likely to develop - on the side and towards the armpit.

This study follows on from one done two years ago at the University of Reading, which showed aluminium salts can behave like oestrogen in the body.

This study also found that the preservative parabens used in these products has also been found in breast cancers.

Another part of the jigsaw came from a U.S. researcher, who has found that the more often women use anti-perspirants or deodorants (which make you smell nice without blocking the sweating) and shave their armpits, the earlier cancer is likely to appear.

Of course, industry commentators such as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association dismiss this latest research and claim there is no evidence for a link between breast cancer and anti-perspirants.

But I say: Why take the risk?

We are surrounded by carcinogens and we can handle a certain amount, so the sensible thing is not to add to your exposure unnecessarily.

The point about deodorants is that once you get into the habit, you are going to use them every day for years, which means you build up a lot of exposure to a potential carcinogen.

I've been increasingly impressed by the impact lifestyle changes can have on the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

In response to the needs and desires of patients, I have established a major lifestyle research unit at the Primrose unit at Bedford Hospital.

I began to look around to see what could improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

I've just published a paper on the foods that raise the risk of prostate cancer, for instance.

Most people know there is a link between fried food and a cancercausing chemical called acrylamide, so it makes sense to cut down on barbecued food.

But I've found that some rather surprising foods, such as vegetable crisps and cream crackers, also have high levels of acrylamides, so it makes sense to cut down on these as well.

Though improving diet is important, I believe that an equally significant consideration is your use of deodorant.

The sensible thing is to cut down.

Don't use them every day - only at those times when you really feel a need.

Then try alternating brands so you don't keep on having exactly the same combination of chemicals.

Some say there is more risk with anti-perspirants than deodorants, but I believe that the less chemicals to which you expose your body on a daily basis the better.

There is a lot you can do just by washing thoroughly.

I'm certainly opposed to my family using deodorants and anti-perspirants.

My partner uses a natural crystal and she smells just fine.

Men could also think about their exposure to chemicals. In our household, this means my 14-year-old son will use a deodorant only if he is going to a party (my ten-year-old is too young).

If I had girls, I would be even more strict about it.

No doubt my fellow oncologists wouldn't want to commit themselves to such a definite position on the use of deodorants, but they would agree with the need to keep our exposure to chemicals to a minimum.

Not wearing a deodorant every day is not as bad is it sounds, and it could even be good for you.


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Depression more harmful than angina, says study.

Depression can do more physical damage to a person's health than several long-term diseases, according to a study.

Saba Moussavi of the World Health Organisation led the largest population-based study on the physical effects of several illnesses by analysing data from more than 245,000 people in 60 countries. His results, published today in the Lancet, showed that depression had more impact on sufferers than angina, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes.

"On the basis of our results, addressing the further exacerbation of disability due to depression needs to be a priority of health systems worldwide," wrote Dr Moussavi. "Primary care providers must be taught not to ignore the presence of depression when patients present with a chronic physical condition."

He said that this would only be achieved by reducing the stigma around mental illness and alerting doctors and the public at large that depression was a disease at least on a par with physical chronic diseases in damaging health.

Depression was the fourth leading cause of "disease burden" in 2000, a measure of the number of years of full health lost due to an illness. Projections by scientists at the Harvard School of public health suggest that, by 2020, depression will rise to become second only to heart disease in terms of disease burden.

On a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 indicating worst health and 100 indicating best health, sufferers of depression had an average score of 72.9 in Dr Moussavi's study. This compared with 80.3 for asthmatics, 79.6 for angina sufferers, 79.3 for arthritis sufferers and 78.9 for those with diabetes. "Our main findings show that depression impairs health state to a substantially greater degree than the other diseases," Dr Moussavi said.

In addition, suffering from depression along with another chronic disease produced significantly worse health than having one or more of the chronic diseases alone. "The need for timely diagnosis and treatment of depressive disorders to reduce the burden on public health is imperative," wrote Dr Moussavi. "In many primary care settings patients presenting with multiple disorders that include depression often don't get diagnosed, and if they do often treatment is focused towards the other chronic diseases."

In an accompanying article in the Lancet, Gavin Andrews, of the University of New South Wales, said: "In Australia less than 30% of patients receive good treatment with antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, and proactive maintenance care. By contrast, 80% of patients with arthritis and 90% of patients with asthma receive an acceptable standard of care."

Dr Moussavi said mental disorders often came hand-in-hand with other chronic illnesses and would become more common as the world's population lived longer.


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Heart attacks drop by 17 per cent after smoking is banned...

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There has been no evidence of smokers shifting from public places into homes since the Scottish smoking ban...

Further dramatic evidence emerged last night to show that banning smoking in public reduces the rate of heart attacks.

Hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped by 17 per cent in the year after the legislation was introduced in Scotland.

If the pattern is repeated throughout the UK, there would be almost 40,000 fewer heart attacks a year.

The research comes after a study last week revealed the ban in Ireland led to 14 per cent fewer heart attacks.

The Scottish research also revealed a 40 per cent drop in passive smoking since the ban was introduced in March last year.

The quality of air in pubs is now just as good as that outdoors, according to a series of reports published online in the British Medical Journal yesterday.

Anti-smoking campaigners said the figures proved smoking bans would improve public health.

As well as reducing heart attacks, the bans are likely to cut rates of cancer in the long term, said Deborah Arnott, of the pressure group Action on Smoking and Health.

She added: "We knew from epidemiological statistics there was a risk from secondhand smoke to cardiovascular health but not how much of a risk until now.

"Bans on smoking in public places will reduce some of that risk, although it means we should be concerned about smoking at home and the effect on children."

Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce a ban last year, followed by Wales and Northern Ireland.

England introduced a ban on July 1 this year and it will be some months before health statistics are available.

However, cigarette sales dropped by 7 per cent in the first month of the ban, a fall three times higher than existing trends.

Around ten million British adults smoke - about a quarter of the population - and there are 230,000 heart attacks each year causing around 100,000 deaths.

Of these, around 123,000 take place in adults aged under 75.

People in this age group stand to benefit more from bans as they suffer greater exposure to smoke than those aged over 75, according to evidence from Greek researchers presented to a conference yesterday in Edinburgh.

The study into heart attacks, which was also presented to the conference, is said to be the most comprehensive carried out into the impact of anti-smoking legislation.

The research, which was coordinated by NHS Health Scotland, compared admissions to nine major Scottish hospitals in the year before and after the ban came in.

There was a 17 per cent drop year-on-year in heart attacks, whereas the annual reduction over the preceding decade had been just 3 per cent.

There was also a 39 per cent reduction in exposure to smoke among 11-year-olds and adult non-smokers.

There was no evidence of smoking shifting from public places into homes, and there was high public support for the ban even among smokers.

Scotland's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Peter Donnelly, said the research showed that 'significant' public health benefits had been achieved already.

He added: "It provides evidence that the legislation is improving the health of everyone in Scotland - including smokers, non- smokers, children and bar workers."

Elspeth Lee, of Cancer Research UK, said: "These studies provide further evidence that the comprehensive smokefree legislation in Scotland is helping to protect Scottish people from the very dangerous effects of secondhand smoke - and helping smokers to quit.

"We also know that we will see many more health gains in the years to come.

"But we must not be complacent if we are ever going to break the cycle of tobacco addiction, disability and death."

Dr Mary Church, of the British Heart Foundation Scotland, described the results as 'encouraging'.

She added: "This research suggests that the impact of the ban could be even more effective than many of its supporters had hoped. Lives will be saved."


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It may be the longest hangover in the history of binge beer drinking. When a 37-year old man walked into a hospital emergency room in Glasgow, Scotland last October complaining of "wavy" vision and a non-stop headache that had lasted four weeks, doctors were at first stumped, the British journal The Lancet reported Friday.

The unnamed patient "had no history of head injury or loss of consciousness; his past medical record was unremarkable, and he was taking no medications," Zia Carrim and two other physicians from Southern General Hospital said in a case report.

Body temperature and blood pressure were both normal, and a neurological exam scanned negative.

But when an eye specialist was called in, the fog began to clear, at least for the doctors.

The patient, said the ophthalmologist, had swollen optical discs, greatly enlarged blind spots and what eye doctors call "flame haemorrhages," or bleeding nerve fibres.

"We sought a more detailed history" from the patient, noted Zia drly.

That is when the man revealed he had consumed some 60 pints -- roughly 35 litres -- of beer over a four day period, following a domestic crisis.

Severe dehydration caused the alcohol, the doctors guessed, had led to a rare condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). A scan of the brain's blood vessels confirmed the diagnosis.

CVST -- which can cause seizures, impaired consciousness, loss of vision and neurological damage -- strikes three or four people per million, mainly children, every year in Britain. The cause is generally unknown.

It took more than six months of long-term blood-thinning treatment to restore the man's normal vision -- and to get rid of the headache, the doctors reported.


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MILLIONS will try everything from face cream to botox to cling on to their youth.

But the on-going battle to stay young could be coming to an end.

Scots scientists have discovered a simple drug therapy which appears to halt the ageing process.

Elderly volunteers normally too frail to exercise showed a marked improvement after taking a widely available blood pressure pill.

Regular doses of ACE inhibitors strengthened their muscles and improved their mobility, according to researchers.

The 130 pensioners who took part in the three-year study were able to stay active and independent for longer than those in a controlled group who didn't.

Experts from Dundee University who monitored their progress have hailed the findings a major breakthrough.

Lindsay Scott, of Help the Aged Scotland, said: "This sounds very exciting. One of the biggest problems we face as a nation is how to support our increasingly aged population.

"Any research like this which might alleviate the cost of growing old, as well as improve the quality of life of the elderly, is to be warmly welcomed."

It is estimated the number of over-85s in the UK will double by 2050 putting enormous pressure on the NHS and the government.

The £160,000 study was funded by the chief scientist office of the Scottish Government's department of health.

Researchers found the improvement in exercise capacity in the OAPs was equivalent to that reported after six months of exercise training.

Some of the group were given Perindopril, a common blood pressure tablet, while others received a placebo.

Thousands of patients use Perindopril to treat heart failure and control their blood pressure.

Professor Marion McMurdo, head of the university's Ageing and Health unit, said: "This is an important finding and provides further encouragement about the possibility of slowing decline and disability in later life."


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Mixing alcohol with energy drinks such as Red Bull is like 'mixing cocaine with heroin', a drugs expert had claimed.

Don Serratt, founder of British drug treatment centre Life Works, said mixing extreme quantities of the stimulant caffeine with the depressant alchol was 'a very dangerous cocktail'.

He was responding to a study which found young adults were twice as likely to be hurt and require medical attention and twice as likely to travel with a drunk driver if they had the cocktail, than those who did not mix their drinks.

In the first study of its kind, American researchers questioned 4,271 students from 10 U.S. universities about their drinking habits and the consequences.

They found, compared to those who did not mix caffeine and alcohol they had almost double the risk of being taken advantage of sexually.

In a typical drinking session, they drank up to 36 per cent more than the other students, and they also reported twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness.

Study leader Dr Mary Claire O'Brien, from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in New Carolina, said: "We knew anecdotally - from speaking with students, and from researching internet blogs and websites - that college students mix energy drinks and alcohol in order to drink more, and to drink longer.

"But we were surprised that the risk of serious and potentially deadly consequences is so much higher for those who mixed energy drinks with alcohol, even when we adjusted for the amount of alcohol."

Mixing caffeine with alcohol was like "getting into a car and stepping on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time", said Dr O'Brien.

A Red Bull spokeswoman said: "We cannot comment on the findings of the American public health report until we have looked at it in detail.

"Until then, we can only state what we have always said, which is to drink Red Bull responsibly."

The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington DC.


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Cannabis smoke more toxic than puffing tobacco...

Cannabis smokers are exposed to more toxic chemicals in each puff than those who smoke only tobacco, scientists have found. Earlier research shows cannabis smokers are more prone to lung damage than cigarette smokers.

In tests, directly inhaled cannabis smoke contained 20 times more ammonia than cigarette smoke, five times more hydrogen cyanide and five times the concentration of nitrogen oxides, which affect circulation and the immune system.

Researchers led by David Moir at Health Canada investigated after noting there are 4,000 chemicals and toxins listed for tobacco smoke but no such list for cannabis.

They set up machines that "smoke" the plants and collect the fumes.

The scientists first analysed smoke that would be inhaled directly, but later examined "sidestream smoke", which accounts for 85% of the fumes you inhale if you sit next to a smoker. This smoke contained higher levels of almost every toxin measured, except for compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which were more concentrated in directly inhaled cigarette smoke.

The chemicals combine to cause harmful health effects. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer, while, at high levels, ammonia can cause asthma.

"Cannabis contains similar carcinogens to tobacco, in particular volatile organic compounds," Stephen Spiro of the British Lung Foundation told New Scientist magazine.

"That these exist in similar or even higher proportions to tobacco smoke is a great worry."

In July scientists in New Zealand reported that smoking a single cannabis joint could cause as much lung damage as five chain-smoked cigarettes. Much of the damage is believed to be caused by smokers inhaling cannabis more deeply than tobacco and holding it in up to four times as long.


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California's first marijuana vending machines open today. The machines can be used by patients who are prescribed marijuana for health reasons.

 

Patients have to present a prescription and be fingerprinted before they are issued with a pre-paid credit card that stores the dosage and type of drug prescribed.

 

They can then use the card to access the Anytime Vending Machines whenever they need extra supplies.

 

  • Vince Mehdizadeh, owner of the Herbal Nutrition Centre in Los Angeles, where one of the first machines is based, said patients could get access to prescribed drugs after hours.

    "They'll be greeted by a security guard right there. They'll slide the card in and they'll fingerprint in to verify that it's them," he said.

    "A camera takes a picture of them, verifying that they're actually at the machine. And they get the medicine and they move on."

    Owners believe that the AVMs could eventually become as common as vending machines for soft drinks or confectionery and that they could also be used to dispense other prescription drugs such as antidepressants or Viagra.


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    Handshake with GP saves man's life

     

    It was nothing more than a warm handshake between two people meeting for the first time - but it was a gesture that saved Mark Gurrieri's life.

    The hand that clasped his belonged to a GP, Dr Chris Britt, who noticed a 'fleshy and spongy' feeling which instantly triggered his professional concern.

    A glance at Mr Gurrieri's large facial features all but confirmed his suspicions and set alarm bells ringing.Dr Britt had recognised the symptoms of acromegaly, a life-threatening disease caused by a benign brain tumour that affects just three people in every million.

    The chance meeting led to Mr Gurrieri visiting his own GP, who referred him to a specialist, and the growth was removed last month.

    The life-saving handshake happened on December 6, when lifelong friend Rob Thompson brought Dr Britt to an Italian restaurant Mr Gurrieri runs in Canary Wharf.

    "I came out to meet them at the door. My friend, Rob, brought Chris along for the first time," he said.

    "We shook hands and I sat them down at the table. He didn't say anything to me at the time but he turned to Rob as soon as he sat down and said 'I'm sure he has acromegaly, I can tell you. I'll stake my career on it.'

    "Rob didn't tell me straight away. He came in two days later and was really nervous about telling me.

    "I got straight on the internet. I read down the lines and saw the word 'tumour'. That word is frightening, especially when it has to do with the head.

    "I went to my GP with everything I could print off from the internet and waved it under his nose.

    "He looked it up and said he wasn't sure but would send me off for a blood test and MRI scan. They came back positive for acromegaly."

    The condition, in which a tumour grows on the pituitary gland, causes an increase in growth hormones that can cause giantism in children.

    In adults, it causes soft tissues to be deposited in the hands and growth of the skull bones.

    Other symptoms include blindness, diabetes, high blood pressure and weakening of the heart and kidney. If left untreated it can lead to premature death.

    Mr Gurrieri, 36, from Loughton, Essex, who is divorced with one son, is believed to have had the condition for up to five years before it was diagnosed.

    He said he had been feeling under the weather for some time and would fall asleep at a moment's notice.

    "I always had big hands but I noticed in recent years they had become quite chunky. I put it down to DIY at home and working in the kitchen," he added.

    "I had noticed my face becoming more fleshy too. I went to a school reunion last year and I recognised everyone but I thought it was strange that no one recognised me.

    "I also had muscle definition like I had been on steroids. I went to play golf with a friend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years and he asked if I had been going to the gym."

    During an operation in Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood, north London, on January 14, a pituitary surgeon managed to remove 92 per cent of the tumour.

    Mr Gurrieri now takes medication and has to be monitored to keep the condition under control.

    Dr Britt said: "As soon as I saw him I thought he looked like somebody who had acromegaly. When I shook his hand it felt fleshy, which is caused by the soft tissue being deposited.

    "When I was a medical student I was at Barts Hospital in London where I saw a few people with the condition because it is a specialist centre for treating it. But it is extremely rare."

    Mr Gurrieri added: "My mum thinks Chris is my guardian angel. I think I owe my life to him - and a few meals at the restaurant."


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