Ahad, 17 Februari 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro


Delectable cookout tribute

Posted: 21 May 2011 10:23 PM PDT

Writers and contributors play chefs in celebrating their fun stints with Sunday Metro.

STARTING tomorrow, The Star and Sunday Star will have an exciting new look which, we hope, will further enhance our readers' reading experience. The new look entailed a review of the entire paper to streamline content, and some tough decisions.

One of these was the decision to cease publication of Sunday Metro upon the launch of the new look. However, Sunday Metro-style content will continue to be featured in the magazine pull-out, StarTwo on Sunday so "fans" will not really want for anything.

And so today is our last publication. Looking back over the years since its launch, Sunday Metro has resonated with readers mainly for its coverage of food, people and their favourite pastimes, among others.

So, to cap off an enjoyable run, we have got together some of the people who have been closely associated with Sunday Metro to share their favourite recipe(s), don their aprons and cook up a storm.

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Buddies and foodies

Posted: 21 May 2011 11:44 PM PDT

Best friends Kavin Jayaram and Adrian Jalaludin are foodies who will travel the distance for their favourite satay or chicken rice balls.

COMEDIAN Kavin Jayaram and TV host, model and actor Adrian Jalaludin are the best of friends now but when they first met, insults were involved.

By day, KL-born Kavin is the serious guy doing his work as an engineer. But at night, he is a laugh-a-minute man who performs stand-up comedy on stage.

The 31-year-old funny guy, who jokingly describes himself as an "idiot", can be seen doling out his side-splitting lines at Time Out KL Comedy Thursday at Zouk Club and shows organised by Comedy Club KL.

"I'm also part of a big project involving an Asian comedy tour," he reveals during this interview with Sunday Metro.

Kavin continues to jest, saying that he has an opinion on everything, "and usually it's wrong. So, I decided to share my opinions with everyone in the hope that they will pay me. A loveable idiot whom people come to see if they need cheering up, so their life problems won't seem so bad anymore."

He says he was 17 when he first saw Harith Iskander on stage and thought stand-up comedy was something he could pursue.

"My brother used to say I should perform stand-up comedy but I procrastinated," he recalls. "Unfortunately, he never had a chance to watch me perform as he passed away five years ago."

Quickly brushing aside the melancholy, Kavin describes being a good comic as no laughing matter and that it requires a lot of hard work.

"The first time I attempted to do comedy was in 2006. I got 150 friends to watch me at a pub but my performance then was really bad," he relates, adding that it took him three years to master his act with support from other comedians.

Always game to learn something new, Kavin went to audition for the position of host for Cube, an English youth talk show on NTV7, last September. It was during this audition that he met Adrian.

"I got the gig in the end," quips Adrian, who was present at the interview.

"The producer called me to say they opted for someone who was better looking," says Kavin, who adds jokingly that he called Adrian names after that. "But Adrian took my insults quite well and we've been good friends ever since."

Adrian, 26, co-hosts Football Overload and Bola@Mamak on Astro. He was named by Female magazine as one of the finalists for 50 Gorgeous People, Malaysia in 2006, when he was 21 years old.

Also born in KL, Adrian is of Indonesian-Dutch-German-Chinese-Pakistani parentage. In 2006, he began a career in runway modelling but after eight months, realised it wasn't for him.

"My friends told me to try TV hosting, which I did. My first job was hosting the Champions Youth Cup for Astro in 2007," Adrian says.

The Champions Youth Cup is an annual football tournament endorsed by the G-14 group as a Club World Championship for the Under-19 teams of some of the world's largest clubs.

Adrian also hosts a TV show in Singapore called National School Games, a sports magazine programme. It keeps him busy commuting between the two countries.

Apart from being in the business of entertaining, Kavin and Adrian share another interest – eating out. The guys speak about their food adventures and how far they would go for their favourite food.

> What is your philosophy on food? Do you have any favourite food?

Kavin: I will try anything once. I have travelled to many places all over the world and have eaten some weird stuff. But I will not try those Balut eggs from the Philippines. My favourite food is Italian food.

Adrian: I like trying weird food too, including fried insects and bugs in Thailand. On the normal side, my favourite dishes are French escargots and chicken rice balls from Malacca.

> Is there any food you don't like?

Kavin: I have a dislike for giant beansprouts. It has a certain smell that turns me off.

Adrian: I hate brinjal and papaya.

> Do you binge or have comfort food?

Kavin: Nasi Lemak! There is a stall selling great nasi lemak near my home in Ampang. Cooking is also something I love. I like to make my favourite pasta with coconut cream and bacon.

Adrian: Snickers ice cream. But I can't binge a lot nowadays as my metabolic rate has declined.

> Do you have any peculiar eating habit?

Kavin: I like to use my fingers to eat most of the time, even with spaghetti. I also like eating food on toast, spaghetti sauce and baked beans.

Adrian: I dip everything in Nutella!

> Would you go out of your way for certain food? Would you eat at an empty restaurant?

Kavin: Definitely. My wife and I like to drive to Kajang to eat satay, sometimes to Ipoh for the Char Koay Teow and Johor for Laksa Johor. The beef noodles in Seremban are also good; another favourite place is Port Klang where we go for the seafood. Yes, I will eat at an empty restaurant just to give it a try.

Adrian: I will travel to Malacca for the chicken rice balls and Kampung Baru for Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa. Yes, I will eat at an empty restaurant because I feel bad for them (laughs).

> What do you dislike most about eating out? What turns you off?

Kavin: Having to argue with my wife about where we should go for a meal.

Adrian: Getting all dressed up (laughs). I prefer to order in for food.

> How do you find out about where to eat?

Kavin: Mostly from TimeOut KL.

Adrian: Google!

> Do you watch TV food shows? Which are your favourites?

Kavin: Yes. I like to watch License to Grill and Nigella's show.

Adrian: My favourite is Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares.

> If you had to cook a fast meal, what would it be?

Kavin: Lamb and yoghurt curry.

Adrian: Fried rice.

> Is there a street food recommended by friends that you have been hoping to try out?

Kavin: The Thai Fish Cakes in Bangkok! I can never get the perfect recipe to do it on my own.

Adrian: I like to tuck into lok-lok after a night out on weekends.

> What's your favourite shopping mall/pasar malam/flea market?

Kavin: Kepong wet market. You will smell like a fish market for a few days but it is worth it.

Adrian: Taman Tun Dr Ismail market during Ramadan.

> How do you spend your Sundays?

Kavin: Sundays are mostly spent with my wife. We will either be at my parents' house in Puchong or my in-laws' place in Perak.

Adrian: Under the blanket watching DVDs. But I'm usually busy commuting to Singapore to host my show.

‘Squatty’ good porridge

Posted: 21 May 2011 11:46 PM PDT

It's back-to-basics for those who want to savour a bowl of piping hot porridge in old George Town.

PATRONS of fine dining will be horrified at the idea of squatting to eat but for more adventurous foodies visiting Penang island, it is definitely an experience to boast about to friends.

While this island food paradise may have eateries on every street corner, the Teochew porridge stall along Magazine Road is one that definitely stands out for its unique seating arrangement.

A relic of days gone by when neither grace nor etiquette was a prime concern while dining, squatting to eat has always been the norm at this open-air eatery in inner George Town.

Long benches line the stall, with wooden stools placed on top of them. To eat, one simply mounts the "throne", adjusts the stools accordingly and makes oneself comfortable. It is a delicate balancing act in itself, one that regular customers have seemingly turned into a graceful art.

Popular now with those from the working class, the place in the old days was often frequented by trishawmen. Back then, customers simply wanted to enjoy cheap and good food comfortably (though the uninitiated might beg to differ on the comfort aspect), and the practice has persisted to this day, becoming somewhat of a curiosity.

The back-to-basics simplicity is a winning formula that has seen the family-run establishment thrive for the better part of seven decades. Neither signboard nor advertising is needed here. It has never failed to catch the attention of tourists while most locals of a certain age know about it. Come lunch time, they'll find their way here and pack the place to the brim.

They all come for one thing – a piping hot bowl of plain porridge, which is dished out from one earthenware pot after another. According to Tan Joo Hong, who now helps his elderly father, Jin Hock, run the place, they normally sell in excess of a hundred bowls of the moy (Hokkien for congee) each day.

For accompaniments, there are around two dozen side dishes, ranging from vegetables to fish and meat, all freshly prepared in the simple and basic kitchen mere footsteps away by a team of helpers.

Once these are cooked, they're scooped into trays and placed on the counter. With so many side dishes coming out and so little space, some are stacked on top of the other. Thus, ordering a meal can be akin to a treasure hunt to see what morsels lay beneath.

"We try to prepare as many dishes as possible until there's nowhere to put them," Joo Hong says.

The side dishes come in small servings, allowing one to try a little bit of everything. With the plain porridge providing a neutral base, items like the tau yew bak (braised pork in soya sauce) or stir-fried clams with garlic and chilli can be added for flavour.

Another, the humble fried fish, has a crispy texture that is in stark contrast to the mushy porridge. And then there are the many types of stir-fried vegetable items and eponymous salted duck egg and salted fish, which are also popular with the crowd.

With such an array of accompaniments on offer, the combinations are almost endless. Patrons are literally spoilt for choice, and when they come in, they simply point to their desired item and these are scooped and ready in no time at all.

That, combined with very affordable prices, is what keeps the customers coming back, enabling the business to withstand both the test of time and competition from the many eateries at Komtar, Prangin Mall and 1st Avenue shopping complexes.

A security guard who shares the surname Tan, has been a regular for almost a decade. A resident nearby, he goes to the stall several times a week but never gets tired of it.

"It's delicious, cheap and good. What more can one ask for?" he asks as he clambers off his stool, makes his way to his motorcycle and rides off, back to work.

Delivery man Chen Ah Huat is another who never fails to stop by for a meal whenever he's making rounds in the area. It's a routine that he has followed for as long as he can remember.

"With Penang's hot weather, a soothing bowl of porridge is the best option," he says.

Those interested to try the squat-and-eat porridge should take note that the stall (located opposite Traders Hotel) is only open from Thursday to Sunday, from about 11am until the final morsels of food are sold out between 4pm and 5pm.

When quizzed on why they're not open on the first three days of the week, Joo Hong nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders before replying, "It's always been like this since my grandfather's time."

Another popular Teochew porridge haunt can be found at the heart of George Town's heritage area, Muntri Street, directly opposite Cititel Penang.

Known as Tai Buan Porridge, it is located in a prewar shop lot close to the intersection with Leith Street.

Locals wax lyrical about it, and similar to the above mentioned one on Magazine Road, the porridge comes with a variety of condiments, though not as many. Also, fret not as you don't have to squat here - there are proper chairs and tables.

Within a steaming cauldron, pieces of duck meat, pork innards, pork belly and tofu gently braise away in soy sauce, while others are neatly displayed, a definite eye-catcher for anyone passing by.

Those with adventurous palates might find the duck liver, gizzards, pig's ear and intestines to their liking, but it is an acquired taste. No part of the animals goes to waste, that's for sure. Regardless of which you choose, it seems that the savoury items are tailor-made for the mild porridge.

This place is open from around 1.30pm to 8pm daily except Sunday. For takeaways, be sure to bring your own containers as the owners have long practised a go-green, no plastic bag policy.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio


Learning about traditions

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 11:33 PM PST

Street Cases

Monday-Friday, 8am-9am

Chap Goh Meh (in Hokkien) or Yuan Xiao (in Mandarin) is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. How do people in Malaysia celebrate this special day? Tune in to find out about all the interesting customs practised around the world.

The Feature

Monday-Tuesday, 9am-10am

988's Siami For You traffic PSA (public service announcement) series was very popular with its witty and often sarcastic script. This year, look out for the station's newest traffic PSA, featuring a group of popular local acts from 28 Stage. They will be in the studio to tell you why they took up the project and how the brand new series is going to outdo Siami For You.

Street VIP

Wednesday-Friday, 9am-10am

Zhou Si Jie was once a popular singer-cum-actress who, up until a few years ago, carried a huge debt. Today, Zhou has not only paid off her debts, she is also one of Taiwan's most well-known motivational and wealth management expert speakers. Be inspired by her extraordinary will to overcome and enjoy her rollercoaster-like life journey.

Music Gets Crazy

Monday-Friday, 1pm-4pm

In Stars Guide this week: The famous Taiwanese pop duo, Ukulele aka You Ke Li Lin was huge back in the 1990s. The vocalist, Terry Lin Zhi Xuan, who has since enjoyed a fairly successful solo career, introduces his good friend – and it's not his former singing partner Lee Chi! Meanwhile, Claire Guo Jing invites you to take a peek at her wardrobe and shares her thoughts on fashion's hottest and worst. Also, Yoga Lin You Jia has not two but several dream girls! Tune in to get the scoop.

Music VIP

Monday-Friday, 2pm

Your impression of a melancholy-looking Peter Pan Yu Wen is far from the true reflection of his personality. That was entirely a branding strategy to market his debut album. Three years since then, the Taiwanese singer is ready to show his true self. Let's get to know the naturally cheerful and friendly singer.

For more information, log on to www.988.com.my. 988 is owned and operated by The Star.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business


Ta Win share price falls nearly 50%

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 06:30 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Ta Win Holdings Bhd's share price fell nearly 50% to 20.5 sen on Monday on concerns of further losses for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2012.

However, the pullback in the share price was not unexpected as it had surged to 40 sen on Feb 6. Its 52-week high was 55 sen on Feb 27, 2012.

At 9.56am, it was down 19.5 sen to 20.5 sen with 5,000 shares done.

The FBM KLCI fell 4.13 points to 1,623.80. Turnover was 139.82 million shares valued at RM77.89mil. There were 90 gainers, 160 losers and 166 counters unchanged.

On Dec 27, 2012, it was reported Ta Win expected to report a further loss of RM3.16mil for the financial year ending Dec 31 due to an additional tax and penalty charged to its unit.

Its unit Ta Win Industries (M) Sdn Bhd had received a notice of an additional assessment from the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) to raise an additional tax of RM2.18mil and a penalty charge of around RM981,500 in respect of the tax audit for the 2006 year of assessment.

However, on Jan 7, 2013, Ta Win said the IRB allowed its unit to settle the additional tax of RM2.18mil and a penalty charge of RM981,521.35 for the year of assessment 2006 by 36 months installments, starting Jan 15, 2013.

Won leads Asia FX lower as G20 gives green light to weak yen

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 06:25 PM PST

SINGAPORE: The South Korean won led slides among emerging Asian currencies on Monday after the Group of 20 did not criticise Japan's reflationary policies, which have driven down the yen. The won lost 0.5 percent against the dollar, while the Singapore dollar and the Malaysian ringgit both eased 0.2 percent.

The G20 on Saturday declined to single out Tokyo but committed to refrain from competitive devaluations and said monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth. Japan said this has given it a green light to pursue its policies unchecked.

The dollar rose to 93.90 yen in early trade on Monday, within reach of a 33-month peak of around 94.47 set a week ago.

"Japan will keep seeking the current policy. The rest of Asia will not just wait and see. That will put more pressure on Asian currencies," said Yuna Park, a currency and bond analyst at Dongbu Securities in Seoul.

"The outlook for emerging Asian currencies for this year is not as bright as earlier, given continuous talk of regulatory measures within the region. That will also reduce attractiveness of their bonds," Park added.

Last week, many of emerging Asian currencies saw weekly gains as investors snapped up regional units on expectations that the G20 may express concerns over the recent yen's weakness.

Most emerging Asian currencies have softened so far this year as a weaker yen is seen hurting export competitiveness of its Asian peers such as South Korea.

Regional authorities have expressed concern about the negative spillover effects from massive easing policies undertaken by several major central banks over the last year.

Some Asian policymakers have warned of possible measures to stem their currency appreciation or better manage capital flows. - Reuters

Blue chips slip in early trade, Genting, Sime down

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 05:23 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's blue chips slipped in early trade on Monday, with Genting Bhd and Sime Darby among the major decliners.

At 9.07am, the FBM KLCI was down 0.74 of a point to 1,627.19. Turnover was 29.33 million shares valued at RM11.21mil. There were 68 gainers, 41 losers and 78 counters unchanged.

Japanese shares rallied and the yen fell on Monday after Tokyo escaped direct criticism from its Group of 20 peers on its aggressive reflationary plans that have weakened the currency, Reuters reported.

At Bursa Malaysia, Genting fell 20 sen to RM9.46 and Sime Darby three sen to RM9.21.

Among plantations, IJM Plantations fell three sen to RM2.87 and PPB Group two sen to RM12.22.

CMSB lost six sen to Rm3.02, Dijaya four sen to RM1.25 and Coastal three sen to RM1.99.

P&O fell two sen to RM1.33 as investors took profit after Friday's rise as they expected more dividends from the sale of a 49% stake in the insurance unit.

P&O is expected to pay out only RM37mil (or about 15 sen per share) in special dividends to shareholders from the total proceeds of RM270mil that it would receive from the sale of its insurance business, analysts said.

However, UMW and CCB rose 10 sen each to RM12.22 and RM2.84 while Lafarge added four sen to RM9.24. MISC and Tenaga gained three sen each to RM5.33 and RM6.98.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies


The actor, the collaborator

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 12:32 AM PST

THE name Alden Ehrenreich may not sound familiar, but the 23-year-old's resume includes being discovered by Steven Spielberg and working with Francis Ford Coppola on two movies.

Right now he's taken on a lead role in Beautiful Creatures, allowing him to work with the likes of Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. Also on his plate this year are a project with Nicole Kidman (Stoker) and a Woody Allen film, which puts him in the same space as Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard.

"Well, you know, when you work with people on that level, it's like playing sports with people who are better than you; it brings you to another level. And it was really great because everyone was supportive and encouraging of the younger actors. And I just feel like I learned a lot just being in a scene with them," says Ehrenreich, dialing in from Los Angeles, where he was born and is currently based, to talk about Beautiful Creatures.

Although he began acting at age four in school plays and community children's theatre productions, he didn't want to pursue acting on a more professional level at that age.

"I didn't want to be a child actor because that's actually very damaging. I wanted to have a normal upbringing. And then I made this video – which is a very stupid silly video – as a joke and they played it at a bar mitzvah, that Steven Spielberg saw. He wanted me to come in and have a meeting, and it started a validation of me and I was able to get an agent," he recalls.

Before entering the world of filming seriously, he attended the Gallatin School at New York University, where he founded The Collection, a group that created six original plays and five short films. The Collection recently completed its first feature film, Running Wild, in which Ehrenreich stars.

Having a deep love for films, Ehrenreich watches a lot of them – and all sorts, too.

"I have been trying to watch more international films because I have seen most American films from all over. My favourite films are from the 70s, and from the 30s. I love Frank Capra. There is a group of films from the 1950s, immediately post-World War II, that I think are some of the more interesting films that were made. And any Paul Newman film," he says.

Ehrenreich says that he has not charted his career to any specific pattern. To him, what is important is to work with directors and actors he can learn from, and to play characters that he believes in and are real people – "Just telling the best story possible."

The actress, the artist

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 12:32 AM PST

THE first thing that strikes you about Alice Englert is just how grown-up she sounds on the phone. Viewing a video interview of her only strengthens this assessment.

Seriously, there is no way this could be the same girl who was just 17 when she filmed Beautiful Creatures.

If there is any indication that she is still a teenager, it's when she confesses that her character in Beautiful Creatures – Lena Duchaness, who is struggling with who she is – has got things sorted out better than she herself does.

"She figures it out in the end," says Englert, calling from New York.

Otherwise, Englert comes off very confident and even a little bit worldly. Maybe the fact that she grew up in so many different locations following her mother – New Zealand director Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait Of A Lady) – has something to do with this.

"I actually grew up all over the place," she shares. "I practically grew up on aeroplanes."

Although born in Australia and has a deep love for mother's homeland, New Zealand, Englert wants to be based in London. "I always had a crush on London. It's a great place."

Why not the United States? "I am too shy to be in the US."

It seems like a natural progression for a daughter of two directors – her father, Colin Englert, is also a director and producer – to be in the same industry. But the young girl says there was never a definite moment when she knew that she wanted to be an actress. According to her, it all stemmed from being infatuated with stories.

"That was always my first love," say Englert, who also writes poetry. "That is how acting came into the picture – being able to express stories with characters."

She says that her parents are really fantastic and totally supportive of her career choices. "I am determined anyway," she adds, sounding her age just for a moment.

Besides Beautiful Creatures, the actress is attached to three other projects: an 18th-century epic entitled Singularity, the thriller In Fear, and Cold War period piece Bomb, co-starring Elle Fanning. Hence she has no fear of being stereotyped as all the four films are scheduled to be released this year.

"They are all of different genres and (I play) very different characters. So I don't feel bound in any way," she adds.

According to her, any roles that make her nervous are the ones that interest her: "If I feel anxious and alive when I am reading a character, then I am interested."

If all this isn't enough to convince that Englert is no typical teenager, maybe the fact that she has neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account will. "I still have Hotmail. Everyone still laughs about that. I just prefer to have (a) connection with people. I never got anything out of Facebook. I just prefer the old-fashioned way."

Destiny’s child

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 12:30 AM PST

The two young stars of Beautiful Creatures wax philosophical on crucial life decisions, defining one's own future, and headlining what some hope will be the next Twilight franchise.

EVERYTHING seems to be so ... apocalyptic with teens, doesn't it? It's all pivotal and life-changing and world-ending. But in the case of 17-year-old Ethan Wate and soon-to-be-16 Lena Duchannes, that may not be an exaggeration.

These youngsters are caught in a typical teen drama, only it's compounded by mysticism, dark secrets and a mystery. They are caught in a battle between the forces of Dark and Light and a generations-old curse that threatens them in the present.

Then there is that little thing called love, which proves to be a challenge, too, because Lena is not your typical teenager – she is a Caster, which means she has magical powers like everyone else in her family. Naturally, the union between a Caster and a normal guy (a Mortal) meets with objections from their loved ones for a variety of reasons.

Welcome to the world of Beautiful Creatures, a film directed by Richard LaGravenese, who adapted it from the New York Times bestseller by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Set in a seemingly unexciting town (Gatlin, South Carolina), the film first introduces us to Ethan, who is just waiting for the day when he can leave this dull place where everything stays the same, day in and day out. Ethan reads a lot and is constantly making exciting plans to visit new places and meet new people.

In a telephone interview from Los Angeles, Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Ethan, describes his character as someone who is restless, who "wants something more out of life than what's given to him. He is a dreamer and has a really romantic vision of what he wants his life to be. He's got this really strong drive and ambition to get out of town and see the world. And what happens is, Lena comes to town and she embodies all the feelings that he thought he could only have outside of the town."

Ethan learns of Lena on the first day of school, which is naturally buzzing about the new girl because she is related to Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the town recluse who is generally dismissed as a loon.

Lena refuses to conform to any sort of Southern rules and niceties, which in turn leads the mean girls and school jocks to label her an outsider. Ethan, on the other hand, is intrigued by this unusual girl and wants to get to know her despite warnings from, well, basically everyone. As he gets closer to Lena, he discovers things about the town and its people that he never knew before. It's far from mundane, that's for sure, with the mystical world playing a large role in Gatlin's history.

These present-day teenagers, meanwhile, must find out if they are able to determine their own destiny. For as long as she can remember, Lena has dreaded turning 16 because she will be claimed by either Dark or Light on that day, and learn her true identity.

With that fateful day drawing near, the young girl is naturally upset that such a big decision has been taken out of her hands and left simply to a force that she doesn't comprehend.

Ethan makes his own fate by choosing to stand by Lena, even though his decision leaves him facing an uncertain future that throws him off the path he had mapped out for himself.

Once you take the magical aspect out of the Beautiful Creatures equation, you would notice that the story is no different from anyone else's experiences of growing up and making those all-important decisions about their future.

That similarity is what struck actress Alice Englert when she read the script.

The 18-year-old, who plays Lena in the film, describes it as "that internal struggle that we continue to try and resolve – the good and evil identity."

In a telephone interview from New York, she continues: "I was excited to see what we could do. Richard wrote such a wonderful script with so much charm and warmth to it. It felt real to me within the fantastical element. Obviously I am not a 15-year-old witch but I am still a teenager; just the struggle of what you are, that's really international and I just relate to that."

Despite being unknowns in the industry, both Ehrenreich and Englert impressed the director and other more established actors (including Emma Thompson and Viola Davis) in the cast with their work ethic. Oscar winner Irons attests: "I admire what they did; they worked very well together. They are very interesting actors, both with different styles.

"You know, when you are acting with good actors, age really makes no difference."

LaGravenese reportedly auditioned more than a thousand people before settling on the two relative newcomers. Ehrenreich knew he got the part a week before shooting began in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Englert was pursued by the director after he met her and was convinced that she was the embodiment of Lena, and could ably lend the character strength, intelligence and danger.

Interestingly enough, Englert – the daughter of The Piano director Jane Campion – wasn't interested in the project at the start. It was only after she read the script that she had a complete change of heart and was eager to do it. "Thank God, I got it."

Beautiful Creatures is already touted to be the next Twilight, with both Ehrenreich and Englert signed on to reprise their roles for two more movies if this one becomes a hit. When asked if she is ready for the "Twilight effect" that changed the lives of that franchise's stars Kristen Stewart and Robet Pattinson, Englert laughs and says: "I am in denial about it. I don't want get ahead of myself but I am not ready. I am in denial."

Ehrenreich chooses to be more Zen about what could be. He says: "The first hurdle is for people to like and respond to the film. If that happens, we'd be happy with that. And if the other stuff happens, we can take it as it comes."

He adds that he would be be delighted to reprise the role as he loves the character. "I was thinking the other day that on television, an actor really gets into his stride and finds the character in the second or third season. So it would actually be a cool opportunity to expand or deepen my understanding of this character."

If the Twilight phenomenon is any indication, fans do tend to get a little too passionate about these characters. Here's something to appease the fans of the book: Englert says the film does not pretend to be the book.

"This is our version of the story, the story we are making. We know that people will always have their own versions of Lena and Ethan, and they would always belong to them," she explains.

Fans of the book would already know that LaGravenese has combined the characters of Amma (Ethan's surrogate mother after his mother's death) and Marian (a librarian and best friend to Ethan's mother) into one person. She is now just Amma and is played by Davis.

Ultimately, the script was the reason why both Englert and Ehrenreich wanted to participate in the film.

"Alice and I got along really well from the minute we met because we both wanted to be in this film for the same reason," says Ehrenreich. "We both wanted to do something that was intelligent, and had wit to it. We wanted to really live up to what Richard's vision of the film was. He was doing something that was in the genre but at the same time, more intelligent and something unique."

Beautiful Creatures opens nationwide on Feb 21.

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The actress, the artist
The actor, the collaborator

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Water supply disruption in Negri Sembilan on Feb 19

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 04:11 AM PST

SEREMBAN: Certain areas in Jelebu, Jempol, Rembau and Tampin in Negri Sembilan will experience water supply disruption on Tuesday.

Syarikat Air Negri Sembilan Sdn Bhd (Sains) corporate chief Azlan Abd Aziz said the 12-hour disruption in Jelebu would begin at 8am, to facilitate repair and maintenance works in Ulu Kemin.

In a statement here Sunday, he said the affected areas were Mukim Ulu Triang, Kuala Klawang, Peradong, Ulu Klawang, Glami Lemi, Taman (Tmn) Naga Mas, Meranti, Titi, Sri Kenaboi and Sri Jelebu, Sekolah Menengah Teknik Kuala Klawang, MRSM Kuala Klawang and Kolej Komuniti Kuala Klawang.

He said, the disruption in Jempol would be from 9am to 5pm, due to scheduled cleaning of the Lui Timur tank, adding that it would affect the Lui Timur Felda area.

Azlan said, Palong 2 to 14 in Jempol would be simultaneously disrupted, due to meter installation works at the Lodah tank in Tampin.

The disruption in Rembau will be from 8am until 8am, the following day (Feb 20), due to meter installation works at the Rembau-Tampin border.

The affected areas are Kendong, Kota, Gadong, Legung Ulu, Legung Hilir, Bongek, Chengkau, Nerasau, Penajis, Miku, Selemak, Astana Raja, Semerbok, Kampung (Kg) Durian Daun, Kg Pulau Besar, Kg Pulau Bukit, Kg Pulau Mampat, Kg Fajar Harapan, Kg Batang Nyamor, Kg Chenong Ulu, Kg Lada, Kg Tanjung Kerling, and Kg Batu Hampar.

Other affected areas in Rembau are Tmn Seri Rembau Fasa 1,2,3, Tmn Rembau Utama, Kg Chuai, Rembau town, Sena Ulu town and Hilir town, Kg Rendah Kayu Ara, Senama, Desa Permai Mampong, Kg Mampong, Rembau Petronas, Rembau Shell, Rembau district office and district council, Kg Mulia, Kg Seberang Sawah, Kg Perigi Jernih, Kg Tebing Tinggi, Kg Relong and Tmn Seri Rembau (landed lots).

In Gemas, the affected areas are Kg Tiong, Tmn Desa Bakti, Tmn Gemas Jaya, Tmn Sungai, Tmn Indah, Gemas town, Tmn Sentosa, Tmn Desa Permai, Tmn Gemas Setia, Tmn Damai, Gemas people's housing, Kg Baru Gemas, Tmn Sahabat, Gemas industrial zone, KTMB quarters, Tmn Halachara Baru, Kg Bangkahulu, Kg Ladang, Kg Ulu Ladang, Kg Londah, Syed Sirajuddin army camp, National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), Tmn Pinggiran Felda, Sg Kelamah Felda, Batu 1-10 Jalan Gemas-Tampin and Kg Bentan.

In Gemencheh, the affected areas are Bukit Jalur Felda, Tmn Sri Air Kuning, Air Kuning town, Kg Tengah, Kg Mantai, Kg Air Kuning, Kg Air Kuning Selatan, Kg Paya Lebar and Kg Ulu Air Kuning.

Azlan said the water supply would be restored in stages, and consumers needing assistance could contact Sains, via toll-free number, 1-800-88-6982. - Bernama

Police to introduce online system to review police reports

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 04:03 AM PST

KUALA TERENGGANU: Police are expected to introduce an online system to check police reports online (SSO) throughout the country by mid-2013.

Police National Key Results Area (NKRA) chairman Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob said the system would be implemented with cooperation from the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU).

"The draft is in the final stages and once ready we hope to implement by this year. Through the system, those who lodge police reports may be given a password to check on their report, online," he told reporters when met at the Terengganu police headquarters, here, Sunday.

Ayub added that the system would undergo a trial and error period to identify weaknesses of problems before being implemented.

He added that police may also introduce the concept of '1 household 1 police volunteer reserve' (PVR) to better understand the problems faced by the people and to ensure better security.

"If possible we want every house to be secured by the presence of at least a PVR personnel to enhance cooperation between the people and police. If youths can join as PVR, it would help our cause," he said.

He added that engaging the services of police might not be viable due to the high cost involved but the deployment of PVR should be sufficient to carry our patrolling duties in their respective areas.

Ayub said in Terengganu, the employment of 500 PVR was approved but the figure had increased to 632 while 558 had already undergone a week long PVR course, last month. - Bernama

Sales of prisoner’s products to increase to RM20mil

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 04:01 AM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]KUALA TERENGGANU: The sales of prisoners' products nationwide are expected to increase to RM20mil this year from RM17mil last year due to better quality produced, said Prisons Department director-general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar.


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Hormones for health

Posted: 16 Feb 2013 05:08 PM PST

Hormones are of vital importance for good health, both in men and women.

HORMONES are vital to our health. They instruct our cells to do important metabolic functions. Too much or too little hormones can cause cells and organs to malfunction. Since our organs are not independent of one another, any upset in one system will soon affect many or all other organ systems.

There are many hormones that regulate the body. Of these, about a dozen need to be monitored and fine-tuned if you want to be really healthy.

Unfortunately, the role of hormones has not been properly understood by many doctors. This is reflected in the fact that when you do your comprehensive medical check-up, the blood tests will only include one hormone (TSH or FT4).

How can the doctors give an accurate assessment of your health when they don't even check the other important hormones?

Anti-ageing doctors, on the other hand, will investigate at least 10 other hormones to have a better estimation of the state of the body, and to be able to optimise these hormones should they be at sub-optimal levels.

Other doctors have written about the subject, but I would like to share my perspective on this.

How important are these hormones? And how do they function? Let me give three illustrations:

Insulin

On the first day of the fasting month, most Muslims who fast get very tired, and their productivity at work suffers. Then at breaking-fast time, just a glass of syrup water or air bandung will recharge and revitalise them. Of course, they get used to the fasting in the next few days.

This is to illustrate that as we fast, our glucose (and other nutrients as well) level declines and that makes us lethargic, since glucose is the main source of energy for the body. When we consume a sugar-laden drink, the glucose level is promptly restored, and so is our energy level.

But have you ever wondered why those people with diabetes, whose sugar levels are several times higher than ours, are not also several times more energetic? In fact, they are less energetic, and are prone to many diseases (eye disease, heart disease, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, infections, etc.) because of the high glucose level.

The reason is that while the blood is loaded with glucose, the cells are starving because of lack of instructions by the hormone insulin for the cells to assimilate (take-in) the glucose. Diabetes type 1 patients lack insulin, while type 2 patients have abundant insulin, but their cells have become insulin-resistant.

Insulin regulates glucose and lipid intake by the cells. Insulin resistance is currently believed to be the underlying reason for diabetes, hypertension, central obesity and dyslipidemia (abnormal blood lipid levels). These will in turn predispose to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, other organ diseases, and possibly cancer, too.

The earliest step towards becoming diabetic is when your fasting insulin level is elevated even though your fasting blood glucose is normal. This may indicate insulin resistance (confirmed after repeated tests). But your doctor will not be able to advise you on this if the fasting insulin level is not tested.

The next step towards becoming diabetic is when your blood glucose becomes slightly elevated, despite the high insulin. You are now "pre-diabetic".

When the glucose level gets even higher, you will then become diabetic. The insulin level is expected to become higher than before (though not always).

Oestrogen

A woman may not be going through any change in her lifestyle, diet and exercise routine, but when she goes into menopause (average age 50-51), she will start ageing at a faster rate than before. Every organ in her body will be affected – especially her brain, heart, bones, skin, and sexual organs. Her libido and sexual activity will be adversely affected.

All these are due to the sudden rapid decline in her oestrogens (female sex hormones). There are three important oestrogens (estrone, estradiol and estriol), but it is sufficient to monitor estradiol only, since it is the most abundant and most important.

Some doctors monitor the "free" or active estradiol levels (usually from saliva), but I have found this unnecessary in my practice.

It is also important to monitor progesterone (the only natural progestogen, which is important for fertility and pregnancy, and also "balances" out many of the negative effects of the oestrogens at other times).

For example, vaginal dryness will become evident during the "peri-menopausal" stage (ie in the months or even years before cessation of menses). This will make sex uncomfortable if untreated.

Libido is likely to be low, and often it is the husband who complains (provided the husband also does not suffer from low libido due to male menopause/andropause).

Women rarely get heart attacks before menopause because her oestrogens protect the heart. After menopause, the woman joins the "heart attack club" because her risk starts rising.

In fact, after 10 years, her risk equals that of men; and after 15 years, her risk exceeds that of men.

So for several decades, doctors were recommending HRT (hormone replacement/replenishment therapy) to women, with the promise of reversing all those problems brought about by menopause.

However, that almost came to a halt due to damning results published by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI, US National Institutes of Health) a decade ago and later by The Million Women Study (UK). The WHI studies showed that the most popularly prescribed HRT drug – a combination of horse oestrogen (conjugated equine oestrogen) and a progestin (a synthetic progestogen, the other group of female sex hormones) – caused more harm than good.

This HRT formulation increased heart attacks and stroke; increased breast cancer; and increased blood clots, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. It did however, decrease colorectal cancer and fractures. Almost immediately, HRT became unpopular.

The WHI studies have since been severely criticised as being flawed. Last year, a study on over 1,000 postmenopausal women in Europe showed that there was no increase in heart disease, stroke or breast cancer among HRT users. So the debate continues.

What is clear is that women age and become diseased faster as their oestrogens decline. What is not clear is what is safe and effective to delay or reverse this. We know that horse oestrogens and synthetic hormones may cause more harm than good. So I and some other doctors resort to using natural (human) "bio-equivalent" or "bio-identical" hormones to treat our patients.

These are hormones derived from plants, which are then modified in the lab to become exactly the same as the human hormones.

Since what causes menopause (and andropause) is the decline in the natural hormones that flow inside us, it makes sense to replace them with the natural or bio-identical hormones (BIH). The benefits and risks associated with BIH are expected to be the same as in women who have late menopause (who continue to have higher levels of natural oestrogens compared to menopausal women of the same age).

However, evidence-based medicine demands that every claim must be backed by scientific study. Unfortunately, no company is willing to spend the millions to do research on BIH since the natural formula is not patentable and the money spent cannot be recouped.

So, although using natural human hormones or their equivalents makes more sense than using horse hormones or synthetics, we are not allowed to make any claims.

Those of us who prescribe BIH to our patients do so based on the collective experience of BIH experts worldwide, our own experience, and the positive results seen in our patients.

In fact the Malaysian Menopausal Society (MMS) is against doctors using BIH. In contrast, the Society for Anti-Aging, Aesthetics and Regenerative Medicine Malaysia (SAAARMM) and the Society for Advancement of Hormones and Healthy Aging Medicine Malaysia (SAHAMM) both encourage the use of BIH and conducts seminars and courses to improve the doctors' understanding of this controversial subject.

The debate will surely continue among the doctors.

Androgens

Just as oestrogens are required by women for the health of most of their organs, the same applies to androgens and men. And just as the oestrogens decline at menopause, the androgens also decline with age, but not as suddenly as the oestrogens in women.

Partial Androgen Deficiency in Ageing Men (PADAM) is the other name for andropause/male menopause.

The decline of androgens in men is gradual, starting from about age 25 onwards (after the peak growth and stabilisation stages). The rate of declines varies among men due to genetic, lifestyle, diet, body weight, exercise and other factors.

Since we are generally leading less healthy lifestyles and do less physical work than our predecessors, the decline is expected to be faster. Indeed, many men in their 40's already have low testosterone levels.

While women know they have become menopausal by the cessation of their periods, men are clueless. They attribute their weakness, muscle loss, lethargy, obesity (especially central obesity), poor libido and poor erections to various reasons, but very few realise that low testosterone could be the main reason behind many or all of these.

The main androgens are testosterone and DHT (dihydrotestosterone). Testosterone is more abundant, although DHT is more powerful. DHT is also more responsible for male-pattern baldness, and is blamed for prostate disease. Once you have prostate disease, both will worsen it.

Andropause is defined as having low levels of testosterone accompanied by one or more of the symptoms. It is sufficient to monitor just the testosterone. I find that monitoring the free or active testosterone is also important as some men with symptoms have normal testosterone levels but low free testosterone.

Unfortunately, both free testosterone and DHT tests are expensive.

I have listed four hormones (insulin, estradiol, progesterone and testosterone) that you should get tested for if you want to know what's really happening in your body.

Women should also test for testosterone as this may be too low (and may affect their libido) or too much (and may cause infertility, excessive hair growth, and other masculine features), and men should get tested for estradiol because this may be excessive (and may cause fat accumulation and gynecomastia or "man boobs") in some of them.

I will continue with the other hormones in the next article.

> Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Oz-ing praise for tocotrienol

Posted: 16 Feb 2013 05:01 PM PST

Famed American celebrity doctor Dr Mehmet Oz and US alternative health expert Bryce Wylde believe in the health benefits of red palm oil.

IN a recent American television broadcast that left many gaping with amazement, famed American celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr Oz, actually sang the praises of palm oil.

Specifically, the doctor was extolling the virtues of red palm oil (RPO), which in industry parlance would be the crude oil extracted from carefully selected fresh fruit bunches of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis).

The beautiful red colour, akin to the colour of a ready-to-drink Ribena (a blackcurrant drink), comes from the high content of beta-carotenes (precursor to Vitamin A) found in the oil palm fruitlets. The manufacturing of RPO via a gentle refining process preserves the maximum amount of natural vitamin content in the oil.

Calling it one of the 13 "miracles for 2013", Dr Oz pointedly said that in this case, the colour red might as well be the "stop sign for ageing, both inside and out".

In his recent television show, Dr Oz, together with alternative health expert Bryce Wylde, both expounded on the properties of RPO to rapturous applause from the live audience.

"Did you know that palm trees contain an ancient remedy that can slow down the ageing process, fight belly fat and combat heart disease?" asked the oft-controversial Dr Oz as he tried to position RPO as one of the most significant nutritional findings of 2013.

Other than carotenes, the health benefits of red palm oil are now also attributed to another phytonutrient called tocotrienols, which are now touted by some as the "Super Vitamin E". Tocotrienols are the primary form of vitamin E in the mesocarp (flesh) of the palm fruit, and initial research findings are suggesting that tocotrienols possess powerful neuroprotective, antioxidant, anti-cancer as well as cholesterol-lowering properties.

Tocotrienols occur at very low levels in nature, and are natural compounds found in rice bran, coconut oil, cocoa butter, barley, wheat germ, annatto, and palm oil. However, crude palm oil contains the highest amount of tocotrienols in nature, mainly consisting of gamma-tocotrienol and alpha-tocotrienol (the other two forms are beta and delta tocotrienols).

The TV host went on to explain how the tocotrienols provide protection against age-related brain and heart diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia; arterial blockage and unhealthy levels of LDL-cholesterol.

"Furthermore, study shows that women who consumed red palm oil enriched with tocotrienols resulted in the loss of belly fat as red palm oil is metabolised immediately and not stored in the abdomen," said Dr Oz, who added that the unique mix of tocotrienols and carotenes puts RPO above other oils in terms of nutritional and health benefits.

Not many people paid heed to tocotrienols 30 years ago, but of late, the scientific community just can't seem to get enough of it.

Just in the last five years alone, dozens of papers have been published on this lesser known form of vitamin E, which can actually exist in four forms, or isomers. The most well studied isomers would come under the tocopherol group, with its alpha, beta, delta and gamma isomers.

Initial research on tocotrienols, which also comes in the alpha, beta, delta and gamma isomers, looked at its value in moderating cholesterol levels.

In the 1990s, scientists started to look at how tocotrienols could be used against cancer.

Wylde also took the opportunity to clear the confusion among some people that equated palm oil with palm kernel oil (PKO). "Palm fruit oil contains mainly palmitic and oleic acids and is around 50% saturated, while PKO contains mainly lauric acid and is more than 89% saturated.

"Uncritical observance by some has led to the general assumption that PKO and palm fruit oil are the same (kind of saturated fat), and this may have led to one of the greatest oversights in modern nutrition," he said in response to Dr Oz's question on why he is only hearing about the benefits of RPO only very recently.

"The stigma attached to the kernel has kept the fruit in the dark – at least until now. Virgin organic sustainable red palm fruit oil is otherwise a bona fide miracle food," Wylde declared on Dr Oz' website at doctoroz.com.

On the recent fascination with coconut oil, Wylde added that even when the marginally higher levels of medium chain triglyceride levels that coconut oil has over palm is accounted for, RPO's carotenoid and tocotrienol antioxidants will "give the latter a significant health advantage over coconut oil".

The high antioxidant content of RPO suggests that it could be a potent "anti-cancer food", with some suggesting that tocotrienols may help fight skin, stomach, pancreas, liver, lung, colon, prostate, breast, and other cancers.

For Dr Oz, the cardioprotective properties of tocotrienols are also important. "Palm oil is used in many countries in the world. Science now understands that inflammation in the artery lining is what warrants cholesterol to deposit in the first place. So, it makes sense that the protective effects come from the high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory content of the red palm oil, which works to quench free radicals and keep inflammation under control."

High in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, RPO has a mild, neutral taste and is a healthy choice for cooking, frying, baking and in dressings and marinades. However, Wylde is more specific in his recommendation in that he is asking the audience to look for "virgin organic RPO". Virgin oil is the result of a single, simple pressing of the fruit or nut, while the organic status of a product has to come from accredited agencies, like the United States Department of Agriculture, for example.

"The health benefits of olive oil have been touted for many hundreds of years. More recently, coconut oil has become all the rage and hailed by many as the king of oils. But, whatever oil you choose – whether it's olive, coconut, almond, canola, peanut, safflower, walnut, or even avocado oil – none compare to the powerful nutritional virtues of virgin organic red palm fruit oil," said Wylde, who recommended his audience to supplement their diet by incorporating one to two tablespoons of RPO into their daily diet.

In Malaysia, planters had for decades carefully cultivated some special palm hybrids for the production of RPO. While the uptake of RPO in the Malaysian market is low compared to the "normal" (the oft-used golden colour cooking oil found in many homes), it is heartening to note that palm oil as a whole is the world's most consumed vegetable oil, and is used in edible oil as well as in processed foods like chocolate bars, ice cream, instant noodles, and margarine.

To his credit, Wylde also reminded the people to buy sustainably produced palm oil that comes from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified sources. "Besides its known nutritional virtues, private enterprise has recognised palm oil's other lucrative applications.

"The controversy is focused primarily on three issues: Extinction of orangutans, deforestation, and, particularly, the food versus fuel dispute. Besides demolishing the habitat of one of the most wonderful creatures on earth, it is thought that the conversion of the crops currently used for food over to fuel would significantly decrease accessibility to those looking to use the oil for dietary purposes, increasing the number of undernourished people in the world.

"Where some researchers believe that the palm oil industry has the capacity to fulfill both demands, responsible people don't want to create negative environmental impact. So, on top of 'virgin' and 'organic' RPO, we need to look for brands that produce the oil sustainably."

Reference: www.doctoroz.com/videos/miracle-fat-red-palm-fruit-oil-pt-1

Wart a problem!

Posted: 16 Feb 2013 05:00 PM PST

HPV is now inevitably linked to cervical cancer; however, it's primarily the cause of genital warts.

LAST year, the free vaccination programme for human papillomavirus (HPV) for women and girls was rolled out nationwide.

HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus that can cause symptoms in the anogenital tract (anus and genital tract), including cancer. HPV infection is a complex issue, as there are many different types of HPV, each affecting a different part of the body.

Since the launch of the HPV vaccination programme in Malaysia, a lot of attention has been given to one of the major diseases that HPV is linked to: cervical cancer.

However, HPV infection can also cause genital warts. This is what I will be focusing on in this article.

An introduction to HPV

To say that there are many types of HPV is an understatement – there are more than 100 types of the virus that can infect both men and women.

Out of these, more than 40 types specifically infect the anal and genital tract (from these, a further subgroup is responsible for precancerous changes in the uterine and cervix, causing uterine and cervical cancer).

The most common types of HPV that infect the anogenital tract are HPV-6, -11, -16 and -18. These can be further narrowed down to HPV-6 and -11 as the two most common "low-risk" types, as they are associated with genital warts and precancerous cells in the cervix.

On the other hand, HPV-16 and -18 are the "high-risk" types as they are found in the majority of cervical, uterine and anal cancers.

Many people are unaware of this – and usually do not believe me when I tell them – but HPV infection is remarkably common and, for the most part, harmless.

In the US, statistics show that at least 75% of the reproductive-age population has been infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Over six million people are newly infected with HPV every year in the US, with half of them falling between the ages of 15 and 25.

Most people who have been infected with HPV do not develop warts or cancer, or even any symptoms of HPV infection. This is why many people are not even aware that they have or had the virus, although they can potentially pass on the virus to their sexual partners through sexual contact.

One can also live with the HPV virus in the body for many years, without any symptoms occurring, until much later.

The what of warts

Genital warts may look like flesh-coloured spots that are raised or flat, or growths that resemble the top of a cauliflower (think of the wrinkly texture).

In women, the warts may be found inside or outside the vagina or anus, or on areas of skin near these body parts. They may also grow on the cervix, which is the top end of the vagina that joins with the lower part of the uterus inside the body.

In men, the warts are commonly found on the penis, testicles, groin area, thighs, as well as inside or around the anus.

It may be commonly perceived that genital warts are generally very large and obvious, but this is not true. Some may be so tiny that you cannot spot them.

A word about non-genital warts: HPV infection can also cause warts to develop on the lips, mouth, tongue and throat.

Along with the warts themselves, other symptoms may occur, including increased dampness in the genital area near the warts, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding (during or after sex) and itching/burning/tenderness in the genital area. However, these symptoms are rare and may not necessarily occur in every case.

Diagnosing genital warts

There is no actual test for warts itself, as they are usually diagnosed through physical examination. For warts that cannot be seen with the naked eye, the doctor may use colposcopy to magnify the view of the cervix and vagina.

However, there are ways to test for the presence of HPV in the body. The most common test is the Pap smear, which identifies abnormal or precancerous cells in the cervix caused by HPV infection, although it does not actually identify the virus itself.

To know whether you have been infected by the high-risk types of HPV, you may need a HPV DNA test, which can look for the presence of HPV-16 or -18. The DNA test is carried out if Pap smear screening shows that precancerous cells have developed.

Treatment

If the warts are obvious, your doctor may prescribe treatment immediately without further testing.

While genital warts can be treated and removed, there is, unfortunately, no treatment for the HPV virus itself. This means that even though you treat the warts this time around, they may recur later.

You are also still able to spread the virus to your sexual partners even if your warts have been removed.

Your doctor may prescribe a 0.5% solution or gel of podofilox, which is to be applied to the warts twice per day for three days, followed by four days without treatment.

This routine is to be continued for up to three to four weeks, or until the lesions are gone.

Another form of treatment is a 5% cream of imiquimod, which stimulates the body's immune response. This cream is to be applied to the warts three times a week before going to bed, and washed off upon waking up the next morning.

This routine is continued for up to 16 weeks or until the warts are gone.

Some treatments have to be administered by the doctor. One of them is a 10-25% solution of podophyllin resin, applied on the warts and then washed off several hours later.

This is done every week until the warts are gone.

Another treatment you can get at the clinic is an 80-90% solution of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or bichloracetic acid (BCA), applied weekly on the warts.

Apart from topical treatments, some people may require injections, either of 5-flurouracil epinephrine gel or interferon alpha. These injections also require several weeks of visits to the clinic.

If these non-invasive therapies do not work, laser surgery or surgical excision of the warts may be necessary.

Preventing genital warts

The burden of HPV infection usually lies on the woman, as men carrying the HPV virus never develop problems or symptoms. However, men can pass on the virus to their partners. Therefore, the most effective way of preventing HPV infection and warts is by having safe sex.

Obviously, abstaining from sexual contact altogether is the most foolproof way of avoiding genital warts. Recognising that this is not possible for most people, other measures that women can take are to have as few sexual partners as possible.

Using condoms can reduce the risk of HPV transmission, though it will not eliminate it completely. This is because HPV is transmitted through skin contact, not through bodily fluids.

Finally, there is the HPV vaccination, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article. There are two types of vaccines in the market – one of them protects against HPV-6, -11, -16 and -18, while the other only protects against the two high-risk types, HPV-16 and -18.

These vaccines can be given to girls and boys, and can greatly reduce the risk of developing warts and cervical cancer, as they protect against the HPV types that are most commonly implicated in tese conditions.

The vaccinations are most effective if administered before a girl or woman becomes sexually active.

Many women find it difficult to address the issue of genital warts, but I urge them to be open with their partner and doctor if they develop the symptoms.

Women who have genital warts also need to be aware that regular Pap smears are very important to screen for cervical cancer and precancerous changes.

> Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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