Why Do People Use Aloe Vera?

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Research backs up the ancient use of topical aloe vera as a skin treatment, at least for specific conditions. Studies have shown that aloe gel might be effective in treating psoriasis, seborrhea, dandruff, and minor burns and skin abrasions, as well as radiation-induced skin injuries. Aloe gel also seems helpful in treating the sores caused by genital herpes in men.

There’s also strong evidence that aloe juice (also called latex) taken by mouth is a powerful laxative. In fact, aloe juice was once sold in over-the-counter constipation drugs. But because aloe’s safety was not well-established, the FDA required that aloe be removed from all medicines in 2002.

Other uses of oral and topical aloe vera have been studied, ranging from cancer prevention to diabetes to easing the side effects of radiation therapy. For example, aloe vera gel taken orally seems to help people with diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. It may also help to lower cholesterol. The results for other medical conditions have been less clear.

How much Aloe Vera should you use?

Creams and gels with aloe vera vary in dosage. Some creams for minor burns have just 0.5% aloe vera. Others used for psoriasis may contain as much as 70% aloe vera. As an oral supplement, aloe has no set dose. For constipation, some use 100-200 milligrams of aloe juice — or 50 milligrams of aloe extract — daily. For diabetes, 1 tablespoon of the gel has been used daily. High oral doses of aloe or aloe latex are dangerous. Ask your doctor for advice on how to use aloe.

Can you get Aloe Vera naturally from foods?

There are no food sources of aloe vera.

What are the risks of using Aloe Vera?

•    Side effects. Topical aloe vera might cause skin irritation. Oral aloe, which has a laxative effect, can cause cramping and diarrhea. This may cause electrolyte imbalances in the blood of people who ingest aloe for more than a few days. Aloe gel, for topical or oral use, should be free of athroquinones (primarily the compound aloin). These are the compounds that can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.

•    Risks.  Do not apply topical aloe vera to deep cuts or severe burns. People allergic to garlic, onions, and tulips are more likely to be allergic to aloe. High doses of oral aloe are dangerous. Long-term use may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Don’t take oral aloe if you have intestinal problems, heart disease, hemorrhoids, kidney problems, diabetes, or electrolyte imbalances.

•    Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using aloe supplements. They could interact with medicines and supplements like diabetes drugs, heart medicines, laxatives, steroids, and licorice root.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, aloe vera supplements should not be used by children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Introducing – Melatonin

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Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. It also appears to influence other hormones in the body. Melatonin supplements have become popular as natural sleep aids.

The amount of melatonin we produce is determined by how dark or light our surroundings are. Our eyes have specialized light-sensitive receptors that relay this message to a cluster of nerves in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. The SCN sets our internal biological clock, also called our circadian rhythm, which regulates a variety of body functions including sleep.

Melatonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan. When our surroundings are dark, the SCN tells the pineal gland to produce melatonin, which is thought to trigger sleep. Some melatonin is also made in the stomach and intestines.

Melatonin levels were originally thought to decline with age. Early reports said that a person’s melatonin levels peaked at age 20 and gradually decreased to 20% at age 80. This theory was used to explain why many older people have sleep difficulties. Melatonin supplements became marketed as a “youth hormone,” contributing to its rise in popularity. Recent evidence, however, suggests that melatonin levels don’t actually decline with age.

Why Do People Use Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements are popular as natural sleep aids for the following sleep disorders:

    * Jet Lag

      Travel across time zones disrupts the circadian rhythm. Evidence suggests that melatonin supplements can decrease jet-lag symptoms, particularly in people traveling eastward and/or crossing five or more time zones. Melatonin has been found to lessen the time it takes to fall asleep, reduce daytime tiredness, and boost alertness during the day.

      The best results occur when melatonin supplements are started on the day of travel and taken at the desired bedtime at the destination. It is usually taken for several days. Melatonin doesn’t work for everyone: Evidence suggests that approximately half of the people who take melatonin notice an improvement.

    * Shift Work

      Although night shift work also disrupts the circadian rhythm, the evidence that melatonin can improve sleep after night shift work is less solid. It also hasn’t been found to improve alertness during shift work. More research is necessary.

    * Insomnia in Older Adults

      A number of studies have found that melatonin supplements taken between half an hour and two hours prior to the desired bedtime can shorten the time it takes older adults to fall asleep. It isn’t clear, however, whether melatonin can help people stay asleep.

    * General Sleep Improvement

      Melatonin appears to lessen the time it takes to fall asleep, promote sleepiness, and lengthen sleep time when taken by healthy people. Most studies have been small and short in duration, so more research is needed.

    * Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

      Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a circadian rhythm disorder. People have trouble falling asleep until late at night and then have difficulty waking in the morning. Melatonin may help establish a regular sleep-wake cycle.

    * Sleep Problems in Children with Neuro-Psychiatric Disorders

      There have been a number of well-designed studies and case reports on the use of melatonin in children with neuro-psychiatric disorders that result in sleep difficulties, such as autism, psychiatric disorders, visual impairment, or epilepsy. The studies conducted so far suggest that melatonin can shorten the time to fall asleep and lengthen sleep duration.

Additional Uses

Although the evidence is unclear, melatonin has been studied for the following conditions:

    * Cancer

      Melatonin has been studied for cancer, primarily using lab animals and human cells in test tubes. Although results have been promising, there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether melatonin is safe or effective, and whether or not it might decrease the effectiveness of cancer therapies.

    * Withdrawal From Benzodiazepine Medications

      There is some evidence that melatonin may help ease the withdrawal symptoms in people who are decreasing their use of benzodiazepine drugs, often used for sleep disorders and anxiety.

    * Sleep Problems due to Specific Conditions

      Preliminary evidence suggests that melatonin may improve sleep for people with specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and diabetes.

    * Electromagnetic Field Exposure

      There is a theory that low-frequency electromagnetic fields (such as those in household appliances) may disrupt melatonin levels. Overall, studies with humans haven’t supported this theory.

Melatonin Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Melatonin is generally considered safe when used short-term and within the recommended dosages. There is no research on the long-term effects of melatonin supplements, particularly in higher doses.

Some experts consider the doses commonly found in melatonin supplements, 3 to 5 milligrams, to be far too high and say that amounts in the range of 0.1 to 0.5 milligrams are more reasonable.

Melatonin side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, headache, irritability, vivid dreams, and a temporary reduction in attention and balance. People shouldn’t drive or use machinery for several hours after taking melatonin. Melatonin may cause abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting, lower blood pressure, and rarely, hallucinations or paranoia.

Melatonin may increase the risk of blood clotting, so it should not be used by people using warfarin (Coumadin), other medications that influence blood clotting, or by people with clotting disorders.

Melatonin Side Effects and Safety Concerns, cont’d


Melatonin influences the production of other hormones. It could theoretically interfere with normal sexual development, so it shouldn’t be used by children unless they are under the supervision of a healthcare provider. For the same reason, it shouldn’t be used by women who are trying to conceive or by pregnant or nursing women. Increased male breast size and reduced sperm count have also been reported. Melatonin may also affect insulin levels.

Melatonin can influence immune function and it’s not known how it affects people with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes.

Melatonin supplements may worsen the symptoms in people with depression, so people with depression should only use melatonin under the supervision of a health care provider. Melatonin is broken down by the liver, so people with liver disease should avoid melatonin.

Possible Drug Interactions

Melatonin may interact with the following drugs:

    * High blood pressure medication

    * Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporine

    * Antidepressant medication

    * Corticosteroids (used for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis)

    * Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), and other drugs that cause sedation

    * Herbs that cause sleepiness or drowsiness, such as kava kava and valerian

    * The herb St. John’s wort

Health insurance Premiums Rose Modestly in 2009

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LOS ANGELES – The cost of employer-sponsored health insurance rose modestly again this year, but researchers predict a return to bigger increases that may eventually produce crippling premiums if left unchecked.

Meanwhile, more workers with single coverage are facing high-deductible plans that make them pay $1,000 or more out of pocket before coverage starts, according to a report released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, a nonprofit research organization affiliated with the American Hospital Association.

The average annual premium — the amount charged for a fully insured policy — rose 5 percent for the third straight year to surpass $13,000 for employer-sponsored family health coverage.

Employers picked up about 74 percent of that cost, while workers paid the rest. Single coverage remained relatively flat at an average of $4,824, with employers paying 84 percent.

The 2009 increases represent much smaller growth than just a few years ago. Premiums increased anywhere from 10 percent to 13 percent from 2000 to 2004.

But the 2009 numbers still outpaced inflation, which actually fell less than 1 percent, and Kaiser CEO Drew Altman said the slower growth likely will not last.

“We’ve historically seen these peaks and valleys before, and we always have a bounce back effect,” he said.

Experts say premium growth may be slower due to the recession and the possibility of health care reform, both of which make it harder for insurance companies to increase prices. It also may be impacted by growth in high-deductible plans, which generally come with lower premiums, and wellness programs that help employees lead healthier lifestyles in an attempt to pare medical costs.

But Altman said they haven’t seen anything meaningful done to address big drivers behind medical cost increases, like advances in expensive medical technology.

He expects premium increases to return to more typical growth of 7 percent to 9 percent annually, and that could lead to big numbers.

If annual premiums for family coverage grow by an average of 8.7 percent per year over the next decade — as they did from 1999 to 2009 — they will increase to more than $30,000, Altman predicted.

“That was a pretty shocking number,” he said. “It just underscores the urgency of reaching a stronger consensus about how we’re going to tackle the problem of health care costs.”

Premiums track directly with the cost of medical care, according to Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the insurance industry trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, which was not involved in the study.

“In order to make health care coverage more affordable for families and small businesses, policymakers need to address the underlying cost drivers,” he said.

Congress is currently debating several bills that aim to lower costs and cover the uninsured. But benefits consultants have said that if any reform is passed this year, it won’t have a major impact for a few years.

Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust surveyed more than 3,000 employers from January to May. Their study does not include the federal government, and it does not estimate the number of workers who lost coverage due to company cuts or closings.

It also doesn’t measure the total cost of health care to employees, a figure that would include co-payments and other expenses.

The study also found that the percentage of workers enrolled in a single-coverage plan with an annual deductible of $1,000 or more increased to 22 percent this year from 18 percent 2008. These plans offer lower premiums but generally require the person covered to pay more out of pocket before insurance coverage starts. These higher upfront costs have been shown to cause some people to skip routine care or tests.

Among companies with less than 200 workers, that percentage rose to 40 percent this year from 35 percent in 2008 and only 16 percent in 2006.

A total of 60 percent of companies surveyed in 2009 offered benefits, down from 66 percent in 1999. Only 46 percent of companies with three to nine employees offered benefits, down from 56 percent 10 years ago.

The study also reports that 21 percent of companies offering coverage reduced the scope of their benefits or increased cost sharing due to the economy. A total of 15 percent said they increased the worker’s share of the premium.


Genetically Engineered Dandelion Can Ooze More Rubber

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MUNICH – Scientists have developed a genetically engineered dandelion that produces more latex that could be used in gloves, tires and drugs.

For thousands of years, most of the world’s rubber has come from tropical rubber trees.

A diagonal cut in the trunk allows the white latex to drip into hanging cans, which can then be harvested and eventually turned into a variety of materials.

But, natural rubber contains trace amounts of biological impurities.

For car Tire makers, those impurities give vulcanized rubber a give and elasticity they can’t get anywhere else.

For some hospital workers, however, those same impurities can trigger life-threatening allergic reactions.

Synthetic or petroleum-based rubber typically has fewer impurities than natural rubber, which makes it ideal for applications like allergy-free gloves.

But, according to a report in ABC Science, dandelion-derived latex has both the elasticity of natural rubber but lacks the allergens, making it an ideal alternative to rubber tree latex.

Unfortunately, dandelion-derived latex is also difficult to obtain.

Because dandelion latex transforms from a liquid to a solid on contact with the air (known as polymerisation), turpentine and naphtha are usually required to chemically extract the latex from the shredded remains of Russian dandelions.

To eliminate polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme responsible for the phase change, German scientists engineered a special virus.

Once inside, the virus deleted the offending genetic sequence from the Russian dandelion’s DNA. Pop the head off an infected dandelion, and the latex begins to flow freely.

Eliminating polymerisation means dandelion latex can be harvested using a low-speed centrifuge, a much easier and cheaper alternative than chemical solvents.

It also means up to five times the amount of rubber can be harvested than with chemical extraction.