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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Romania keeps ancient tradition of bee medicine alive

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:20 PM PDT

The humble bee has been a key source of alternative medicine.

Bee venom to combat multiple sclerosis, pollen for indigestion, honey to heal wounds – the humble bee has been a key source of alternative medicines since ancient times, and Romania is working to keep the tradition of "apitherapy" alive.

The tradition goes back to ancient Greece when Hippocrates applied honey to treat wounds, and the Romans saw pollen as "life-giving".

In the past of India, China and Egypt, a resinous substance collected by bees from the buds of certain trees, known as propolis was popular as an antiseptic.

"The hive is the oldest and healthiest natural pharmacy," said Cristina Mateescu, director general of the Institute for Apicultural Research and Development in Bucharest.

Today in the wilderness of Romania's Carpathian mountains, honey bee products are still a familiar part of traditional medicine. "In my village, my great-grandmother was a healer and used products from beehives. She inspired me," Dr Mariana Stan told AFP.

Having spent years as a conventional doctor, Stan now practises in Bucharest as a apitherapist – using bee products "which give slower but longer lasting and more profound results".

In a country still infused with folk culture, several families continue to use propolis against sore throats, as well as honey and pollen to boost the immune system. Every town in Romania has its "plafar" – natural pharmacies selling products made from plants, honey, beeswax and propolis.

"Romania is a pioneer of apitherapy, which it recognised very early as a component of scientific medicine," said US professor Theodor Charbuliez, head of the Apimondia Commission of Apitherapy, a group that brings together thousands of practitioners from around the world.

Modules on apitherapy have started to work their way into more conventional medical classes and extracts from propolis developed by the Apicultural institute into recognised medicines.

Founded in 1974, the institute employs 105 people who look after local bee colonies and sell around 30 approved products. A new range even seeks to treat cats and dogs with bee-related products. Bucharest also boasts an Apitherapy medical centre, the world's first, which opened in 1984.

Scepticism remains among the regular medical community in the absence of scientific studies about the effects of bee venom, but many users are full of praise and welcome the cheap costs and environmentally friendly approach.

Doina Postolachi comes twice a week to the medical centre to receive injections of bee venom, or "apitoxin".

The 34-year-old poet says the injections have allowed her to "rediscover hope" in her fight against multiple sclerosis.

"For a year, I could no longer walk or get into my bath. My feet were stuck to the ground. But today, the venom treatment has given me back strength in my legs. I walk, I can take baths," she said.

She said she has never wanted any regular pharmaceutical treatments "which come with numerous side effects".

The organic image of bee products is one reason why people find them appealing.  

There has been mounting interest across the world in apitherapy. In 2013, Washington University in the US published a study on the efficacy of milittine, a toxin contained in bee venom, in countering the AIDS virus.

In France, thousands of patients have benefited from bandages treated with honey at the abdominal surgery department of Limoges hospital.

Bee products are also infiltrating the cosmetics industry, used in skin-toning and anti-wrinkle creams. Part of the appeal rests with the natural and organic image of bee products.

"In Romania, we have the chance to maintain an unspoiled nature," said Cornelia Dostetan, a member of the National Apitherapy Society.

Under Communism, poverty meant that pesticides were rarely used and the country has never shifted to large-scale monoculture forms of agriculture. The result is that Romania retains a great diversity of flora, said Dostetan.

Certified organic, the Romanian brand Apiland, a specialist in raw pollen, has launched its products in France and Italy. According to the last agricultural census in 2010, Romania counted 42,000 beekeepers and more than 1.3 million colonies of bees.

Postolachi says she looks on the bees with "immense gratitude". "These miniscule beings do wonders," she says. — AFP Relaxnews

Zinc can reduce the length of common cold

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 09:35 PM PDT

According to a study, taking zinc supplements at the first signs of a cold might be a good idea.

While there is still no cure for the common cold, there is one way to make sure the symptoms are over as quickly as possible. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers concluded that zinc supplements taken at the first signs of a cold could reduce the duration of symptoms by as much as half.

It may start with a sneeze, a runny nose, or a cough. Regardless of how it begins, you know you're in for at least a week or two of unpleasant symptoms.

But zinc supplements, taken orally within 24 hours of the first cold symptoms, could reduce the duration of the illness.

This is the conclusion reached by pediatricians Rashmi Rajan Das, of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Bhubaneswar, and Meenu Singh, of the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, upon analysing data from 18 randomised controlled trials.

The researchers warn, however, that "given the high heterogeneity of data, these results should be interpreted with caution" and that "the prevalence of adverse effects with zinc lozenges is high." According to the pediatricians, zinc was observed to be effective in limiting the duration of a cold at doses of above 75mg per day.

The study also revealed that the preventative use of zinc over a period of five months reduced the incidence of colds in children. However, the side effects associated with excessive zinc intake limit the attractiveness of prescribing the supplement to children over an extended period.

The study's focus on preventing colds in children is particularly relevant in light of the fact that the average adult experiences between two and four colds per year, compared to between eight and ten for the average child. — AFP Relaxnews

'Gluten-free' and 'homemade' claims rise on US menus

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 09:30 PM PDT

The term 'organic' has seen a decline on restaurant menus, while the term 'gluten-free' has posted a 200% increase, says a new report on the status of dining in the US.

According to a new report from market research group Mintel, though the term "organic" continues to be the leading ethical claim on restaurant menus, its appearance declined 28% between 2010 and 2013.

On the other hand, in response to the continued popularity of the gluten-free diet and lifestyle, analysts report a 200% increase in the appearance of "gluten-free"; claims on American restaurant menus in the same period, accounting for 40% of the total growth in ingredient nutritional claims.

Perhaps some of the best examples of commercial brands to adopt the trend can be found in the pizza industry, with both Domino's and Pizza Hut launching gluten-free crusts recently.

"The reality is that organic foods are quite expensive and consumers are looking for alternative claims to help them determine what other types of menu items are safe and of good quality to eat," said report spokesperson Julia Gallo-Torres.

"Tying into this, we are seeing a return to tried-and-true, traditional preparations, signaled by claims tied to classic, original, homemade, etc."

In addition to specific terms like "organic" and "gluten-free", the report found that consumers are increasingly interested in dishes that denote artisanal craftsmanship, authenticity and homemade preparation.

The claim "made from scratch" for example, is contributing 10% to the overall growth of all restaurant menu claims, the report adds.

Other terms that are being thrown about in response to consumer interest include: "original recipe", "freshly-picked", "farmstead" and "farm style".

And to seduce diners with promises of unique dishes they can't find elsewhere, restaurateurs are also slapping the word "signature" on more dishes, with claims growing 34%. — AFP Relaxnews


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