Dr John Briffa's guide to wellbeing

Back to vitamin D

Back pain is estimated to afflict 40 per cent of adults, and 180 million days of work are lost each year due to it. Scientists have speculated that some bad backs may be related to a deficiency in vitamin D - important for the maintenance of strong and healthy bones. In a study of 360 men and women with back pain, 83 per cent were deficient in vitamin D. Supplementation for three months was found to help relieve pain in everybody who was deficient in this nutrient, as well as 69 per cent of people with normal levels. Vitamin D is found in egg yolk, butter and oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardine. This nutrient is also made by the action of sunlight on the skin, so try al fresco fish-based meals.

Ten tips for overcoming premenstrual syndrome

1 Avoid sugar

There is evidence that women who eat lots of sugar are prone to PMS. PMS sufferers may do well to cut back on their intake of sweet stuff such as chocolate, biscuits, cakes and confectionery.

2 Avoid caffeine

Caffeine appears to worsen PMS, and the more is had, the worse the symptoms tend to be. Cutting down or switching to naturally caffeine-free alternatives such as Rooibosch and herbal teas may help.

3 Right blood sugar levels

The sweet cravings and mood swings that are often part of the PMS picture may be related to episodes of low sugar levels in the bloodstream. Three meals a day based on whole, unrefined foods, perhaps with healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and nuts in between, may prevent sugar lows and help to regulate moods.

4 Eat potassium-rich foods

In one study, supplementation with potassium was found to help women with severe PMS within four cycles. Prime sources include fruit and veg, as well as nuts and seeds.

5 Cut back on salt

The sodium in salt tends to encourage fluid retention, which is often a feature in PMS. Cutting back on processed foods, many of which contain very high levels of salt, may help to contain uncomfortable feelings of bloatedness.

6 Take evening primrose oil

This is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a healthy fat that seems to correct a biochemical imbalance believed to cause some cases of PMS. 3-4g of evening primrose oil a day seems to be effective at relieving symptoms including increased appetite, fatigue and dizziness.

7 Take vitamin B6

This is another simple but often effective remedy for PMS. All good evidence points to this nutrient being safe in doses up to at least 200mg per day. Supplementing with 50mg of B6 daily often helps quell PMS symptoms, including the flare-up of spots.

8 Take magnesium

This has been found to help relieve the symptoms of PMS, including the migraine attacks that some women suffer. Besides eating magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans, it can help to supplement with 300-500mg of this nutrient each day.

9 Take agnus castus

This herb is believed to correct the hormonal balance that seems to be at the root of many cases of PMS. In practice, I find it highly effective in the majority of sufferers. Recommended dose is 40 drops of tincture taken each morning.

10 Be active

Research suggests that regular exercise may help prevent PMS. About half an hour's exercise most days should help.

Berry good

Nutritional science has revealed that summer fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are rich in a class of compounds known as flavonoids. Also found in apples, onions and tea, flavonoids have the capacity to combat disease-making chemical entities called free radicals in the body. Last year, American researchers announced the results of experiments in which feeding rats with berries seemed to significantly slow the growth of cancerous tumours. Other science has linked flavonoids with a reduce risk of heart disease.

Broccoli and prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the number one cancer in men, and statistics show that the condition is growing more common. However, evidence suggests that consuming more of certain foods, including tomatoes and soya milk, may help reduce the risk of this disease. New research suggests that another food worth adding to the list is broccoli. Broccoli contains a substance called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that is transformed into another chemical by the name of 3,3'-diindolylmethane (DIM) in the body. In a study published recently in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, DIM was found to substantially slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in the test-tube. This study showed that DIM can help inhibit a form of testosterone that is believed to be an important provoking factor in many cases of prostate cancer. Those who do not care for broccoli may be keen to learn it is not the only good source of I3C: alternative foods rich in this include other vegetables from the same family such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and bok choy.

· Dr John Briffa's latest book Ultimate Health (Michael Joseph) is available from the Observer book service on 0870 066 7989 for £10.99 plus p&p (rrp £12.99).

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.