Medical notes

If you're a woman aged 55 or under and often feel tired but can't explain why, you could try iron supplements. Doctors believe that the common phenomenon of unexplained tiredness in younger women could be down to iron deficiencies, even if you are not anaemic. A Swiss study showed that symptoms of fatigue can be cut by a third by taking iron tablets regularly. They also found that many women suffering from tiredness as a result of a lack of iron were being told by doctors that their tiredness was due to emotional stress rather than a physical problem.

Tiredness might not be psychological, but scientists believe that bad backs are. Exercise scientists in Manchester spent two years monitoring a unique programme that combines recuperative exercise with psychological support. They found that patients who were depressed or had particularly low confidence recovered from back injuries slower than others. Steve Woby, who carried out the research, said: "Many patients mistakenly believe that by exercising they are making their back worse. We teach that there is good pain and bad pain. By changing their beliefs we are giving them back control of their bodies and breaking the cycle of inactivity and depression, which often makes their back pain worse."

Bizarre medical finding of the week: scientists from the University of Crete say that Greek Orthodox Christians who fast three times a year lower their cholesterol levels. Their diet is based on vegetables, legumes, fruit, cereals, bread and olive oil, with the crucial thrice-annual fast. The fasting reduced the levels of total cholesterol in the blood by 9%. Unfortunately, the levels rose again as the fasters resumed their normal diet, but not to the original levels, showing, they claimed, that regular fasting may give some long-term protection against heart disease.

And a new treatment for neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's as well as damage caused by strokes could be found in a protein identified by researchers at Imperial College, London. Professor Jacqueline de Belleroche, author of a paper about the naturally occurring protein, which was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry last week, said: "At present, there is no cure for neuro- degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but the discovery of the beneficial effects of this protein in the brain may provide us with a way to at least slow down the process of the disease."

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