Top 5 Summer Wellbeing Escapes

August 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Travel

One of the keys to longevity is learning to relax, and if your idea of a holiday is getting away from it all to recharge your batteries then Michaela Olexova from Baoli has put together a list that might tempt you to start packing.

From yoga breaks, fitness retreats to wellbeing escapes, there are hundreds of operators that promise to take you to new destinations across sun lit Europe and recommend inspirational programs to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. To help you with your search of a wellbeing holiday that best suits your nature and fitness level, we have found five wellbeing escapes that deliver it all – gorgeous locations, excellent teachers, delicious healthy food, time to relax and recharge, not to mention a personal service and attention.

If yoga or meditation is your thing then Hazur Vadisi on Turkey’s ‘Turquoise Coast’ might be just want you are looking for. Famous for its warm hospitality, delicious vegetarian food and beautiful natural location Hazur Vadisi runs retreats throughout the year. To forget everyday worries and relax, you should find your way to the popular Czech resort of St. Katerina where you will be spoilt for choice with a variety of wellbeing packages and therapies for both body and mind.

The world class health experts from in:spa’s promise that you will come home fitter, lighter and tighter after a week luxury detox holiday set at the boutique hotel in Andalusia.

And if you would like to extend summer till September then pick one of the following two mountains escapes: fitscape’s personal fitness and training sessions will boost your energy in the Italian Dolomites, while KiYoga run by the popular yoga teacher Kirsty Norton ensures a heightened sense of your wellbeing at a luxury chalet in the French Alps.

More information on these, and more, at

What Can Double or Triple the Risk of DVT’s for Women?

July 19, 2011 by  
Filed under At Home, At Work, featured, Health, Natural Medicine, Travel

The risk of blood clots and DVT’s are well publicized in relation to air travel, but what you may not be aware of is that just prolonged sitting around at home or the office can also be potentially life threatening – particularly for women.

New research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows that although the greatest risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is surgery, most people associate it with long-haul flights and the Pill but they could be tragically mistaken. The amount of time spent sitting every day – wherever you are – means you could be putting yourself at risk of developing potentially life-threatening blood clots.

This study was done in the USA, and found that women who sat for a long time every day had double or even triple the risk of a dangerous blood clot in the lungs.
While the women most at risk had sat for more than 41 hours a week (on top of their work hours), the research is the first to prove a sedentary lifestyle increases the dangers.

DVT is caused when the wall of a blood vessel is damaged through injury, such as a broken bone or surgery, or if the blood clots more easily than normal as a result of medication or genetics. They fact here though is that it can also be triggered by the blood flow slowing down considerably — such as when you’re immobile for a long time through lying or sitting down.

What Can Help?
First of all realistically monitor how much time you do spend sitting down and reduce it in simple ways. First of all bin the TV remote and get up to change channels, if you work at a desk or on a computer get up every hour and just move around for five minutes. If you have the choice of stairs or a lift, use the stairs for at least part of the way.

When travelling try to drive no more than two hours without a break, even if you just pull into a car park and walk round it for a few minutes. By air, it is not now frowned on to get up and walk round the plane, though your way may not always be clear it is worth the effort to avoid the duty free carts or if stuck in your seat try tensing and releasing the muscles in your buttocks, legs and feet. By curling or pressing the toes down, which causes the muscles to contract and squeeze on the leg veins, helps to pump the blood along. Another way to help move blood to the heart is to wear compression stockings, which put gentle pressure on the leg muscles as studies in healthy people have shown that wearing compression stockings minimizes the risk of developing DVT after long flights. Avoid socks, or knee highs for women that have very tight elastic bands at the top and do not sit with your legs crossed for long periods of time, which constricts the veins.

Keep the fluid flowing:
Sorry, not alcohol but you need to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration as this causes blood vessels to narrow and blood to thicken, increasing the risk for DVT. Reducing alcohol and coffee consumption, which both contribute to dehydration, is also recommended.

If water is not your thing there is also a new fruit juice which has been proven to benefit blood circulation. Sirco™contains a tasteless tomato extract, Fruitflow®, that has been scientifically proven to have heart and circulation health benefits because in several clinical trials it has been shown to help maintain a healthy blood circulation by preventing the “clumping” of blood platelets which can lead to blood clots. The blood platelet smoothing action of Sirco™ takes effect within 1 ½ to 3 hours from drinking it and lasts up to 18 hours and is suggested as a natural alternative to a daily aspirin that many people take for this action. It fits well into the healthy Mediterranean diet eithos and comes in two 100% pure fruit juices mixes; Pomegranate/Orange and Blueberry/Apple.

You should find it in your supermarket or local health store or go to

Why Holiday Preparation Should Include Your Health

June 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Travel

We all look forward to our holidays and start thinking in advance about what to pack, what to wear, what we did with the sun tan lotion and so on. What we don’t often think about is that we also need to prepare or bodies to cope with the stress of travel, time zones and changes in climate, temperature and local food and drink.

Happily someone has thought of it and with the Advanced Nutrition Programme made it easy for you to have a happy, healthy holiday.

So what do you need to do to prepare for that all important break? Well there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the inside and with this in mind leading nutrition expert Patrick Holford has formulated an Advanced Nutrition Programme which includes a new Travel Pack that contains a two months supply of three supplements specifically formulated to help safeguard nutrient intake, support immunity and aid digestion.

If anyone says that they don’t get stressed over all the details and planning that go into organizing a trip, then they are exceptional, and it is certainly true that going on a trip, whether for business or pleasure, can place greater demand on our nutrient levels, and eating different foods – however pleasurable – can adversely affect our digestive system.

In addition, the dehydrating effects of flying, greater exposure to infection and the increase in incidences of norovirus can also take their toll on your body.

The handy Travel Pack covers all these areas and contains:

Probiotics – 75g of powder that contains three strains of beneficial bacteria which support healthy digestion and maintain a healthy gut flora balance, especially when under attack by holiday bugs. Take ¼ teaspoon in water, juice or sprinkled on cereals.

Skin Vitality – 60 capsules containing a broad spectrum multi-nutrient that contains a wide range of easily-absorbed vitamins, minerals and plant extracts to help maintain your energy levels. Take one a day with a meal.

Skin Vit C – 60 capsules to help support your immune system and ward off any colds while travelling. Vitamin C and bioflavinoids, hesperidin, rose hip and rutin help defend against skin ageing. Take one a day with a meal.

Personally, I start my programme a week before I travel so I have a reserve to build on, particularly with the probiotics as my stomach is my most vulnerable area. Simple tips to maximize your holiday health include drinking plenty of water as dehydration can lead to headaches, dizziness and dry skin and cutting back on alcoholic and caffeinated drinks when you fly so you arrive looking and feeling fresh.

I always travel with herbal teabags: valerian and chamomile to aid sleep, and antioxidant-rich green tea as it reduces the inflammation and damage associated with sunburn as well as boosting the immune system.

The Travel Pack costs £42.25 for two months supply and you can order at by clicking on products, then wellbeing and then packs.

Why You Should Avoid Airport Scanners in the USA

In the US there has been a great outcry against the naked body X-ray scanners recently introduced into American airports as a counter terrorism measure. The transport safety authority (TSA) has always claimed that they were safe, but this has been greatly disputed by many in the health media and now it seems also by authorities who certainly seem to know what they are talking about.

It appears that TSA faked its safety data on its X-ray airport scanners in order to deceive the public about the safety of such devices. The evidence has emerged thanks to the revelations of a letter signed by five professors from the University of California, San Francisco and Arizona State University. The letter reveals:

• To this day, there has been no credible scientific testing of the TSA’s naked body scanners. The claimed “safety” of the technology by the TSA is based on rigged tests.

• The testing that did take place was done on a custom combination of spare parts rigged by the manufacturer of the machines (Rapidscan) and didn’t even use the actual machines installed in airports.

• The names of the researchers who conducted the radiation tests at Rapidscan have been kept secret. This means the researchers are not available for scientific questioning of any kind, and there has been no opportunity to even ask whether they are qualified to conduct such tests.

Further, none of the Rapidscan tests have been available to be subjected to peer review. They are quite literally secret tests using secret techniques engineered by secret researchers. We the People apparently have no right to see the data, nor the methodology, nor even the names of the researchers who supposedly carried out these safety tests.

What is perhaps the most worrying aspect is that the final testing report produced from this fabricated testing scenario has been so heavily redacted that “there is no way to repeat any of these measurements,” say the professors. In other words, the testing violates the very first tenant of scientific experimentation which is that all experiments must be repeatable in order to be verified as accurate.

As the professors state in their letter:

“The document is heavily redacted with red stamps over the words and figures. In every case the electric current used which correlates one to one with X-ray dose has been specifically redacted. Thus there is no way to repeat any of these measurements. While the report purports to present the results of objective testing, in fact the JHU APL personnel, who are unnamed anywhere in the document either as experimenters or as authors, were not provided with a machine by Rapiscan. Instead they were invited to the manufacturing site to observe a mock-up of components (spare parts) that were said to be similar to those that are parts of the Rapiscan system. The tests were performed by the manufacturer using the manufacturer’s questionable test procedures.”

Unfortunately, this is not that unusual when national defence is called into question. However with my alternative health hat on I cannot begin to imagine the outcry if a herbal product company claimed that its products cured cancer, and it did all the testing itself, and all the names of the researchers were kept secret, and the methodology was a secret, and the whole document was 50% redacted to protect “proprietary information.”

So is it safe? Well, the dose rates of X-rays being emitted by the Rapidscan machines are actually quite high — comparable to that of CT scans, say the professors. Yes, the dose duration is significantly lower than a CT scan, but the dose intensity is much higher than what you might think. And as anyone who knows a bit about physics and biology will tell you, the real danger from radiation is a high-intensity, short-duration exposure. That’s exactly what the TSA’s backscatter machines produce. Further, the radiation detection device used by Rapidscan to measure the output of the machines — an ion chamber — is incapable of accurately measuring the high-intensity burst of radiation produced by the TSA’s naked body scanners, say the professors.

At the same time, the radiation field measurement device used by the TSA — a Fluke 451 instrument — is incapable of measuring the high dose rates emitted by backscatter machines. The measurement devices, in effect, “max out” and cannot measure the full intensity of the exposure. Thus, the TSA’s claims of “low radiation” are actually fraudulent.
The amount of electrical current applied to the X-ray tubes has been redacted by the TSA (working with John Hopkins). This makes it impossible for third-party scientists to accurately calculate the actual radiation exposure, and it hints at yet more evidence of a total TSA cover-up.

The TSA adamantly refuses to allow independent testing of the radiation levels being emitted by the machines and this is on the basis that “terrorists might be able to circumvent the technology” if anyone is allowed to actually test the machine. For once, I cannot even find a comment to make.

So again, is it safe? Well the actual radiation emitted by the machines is far higher than what the TSA claims according to John Sedat, a professor emeritus in biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and the primary author of the letter.

He says, “..the best guess of the dose is much, much higher than certainly what the public thinks.” Peter Rez, the physics professor from Arizona State, says that the high-quality images described by the TSA could not be produced with the low levels of radiation being claimed by the TSA. The images, in other words, don’t match up with the TSA’s story. Rez estimates the actual radiation exposure is 45 times higher than what we’ve previously been told.

The TSA refuses to allow independent testing of its machines because it knows what informed readers already know: That if the machines were honestly and accurately tested, they would show far higher levels of radiation exposure than indicated and it would show that the TSA’s body scanners significantly increase the risk of cancer to a population that is already over-irradiated with medical imaging tests such as CT scans and chest X-rays.

There is already a very strong public backlash against these devices in the US and it has reached the point where the state of Texas is about to pass a law that would criminalize TSA agents who attempt to operate these naked x-rays. The TSA has put out a preemptive statement on its blog that claims none of this matters as “States cannot regulate the federal government.” It will certainly be interesting to see what happens and Texas would seem to be the ideal state to challenge this.

If you have any choice in the matter avoid the scanners altogether or go by sea.

Jet Lag Is Not All In The Mind – Though It Does Affect It!

December 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Health, Travel

Returning from a long flight can leave you feeling tired and disoriented and this disturbance to your internal body clock and disruption of circadian rhythms can cause you to feel out of sorts and often means an upset stomach because the body’s hunger cycle is out of sync with meal times.

It usually also means your memory is less than reliable which most of us put down to the combination of the time zone shift and the tiredness, but it seems that chronic jet lag alters the brain in ways that cause memory and learning problems long after you get back. Knowing how this can affect your body can help you plan your recovery time and reduce the level of stress and anxiety that you might be subject to as you forget to order the milk or even what your own last name is.

Each of us has an internal, 24-hour clock that drives our circadian rhythm, which is reset every day by small amounts. When a person enters a time zone that is not synched with his or her internal clock, it takes much longer to reset this daily rhythm, causing jet lag until the internal clock gets re-synched.

If you are a frequent flyer then, unlike occasional travellers who recover in a few days, the risks are much greater and include decreased reaction times, higher incidences of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and reduced fertility. The World Health Organization actually lists shift work as a carcinogen so knowing that it pays to be proactive about your health care and reduce all other known cancer risks as well.

Research by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley studied the effects of continuous jet lag by exposing female Syrian hamsters to six-hour time shifts — the equivalent of a New York-to-Paris airplane flight. If you are wondering (and why not) why female and Syrian, then it is because their bodily rhythms are so precise that they will produce eggs, or ovulate, every 96 hours to within a window of a few minutes.

Nice to know hamsters at least have a reliable monthly pattern, but why they didn’t just ask frequent flyer air crews is a mystery, but then I am not a scientist – thank goodness.

During the last two weeks of jet lag and a month after recovery from it, the hamsters’ performance on learning and memory tasks was measured and, as expected, during the jet lag period they had trouble learning simple tasks that the hamsters in the control group had no difficulty with.

What did surprise the researchers was that these deficits persisted for a month after the hamsters returned to a regular day-night schedule.

The real discovery was that the jet lag caused persistent changes in the brain, specifically within the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays an intricate role in memory processing. Compared to the hamsters in the control group, the jet-lagged hamsters had only half the number of new neurons in the hippocampus following the month long exposure to jet lag.

This is important because new neurons are constantly being added to the adult hippocampus and are thought to be important for specific types of learning, and memory problems are associated with a drop in cell maturation and atrophy.

This study shows directly that jet lag decreases neurogenesis in the hippocampus and so this effect means that when you experience jet lag it has a profound effect on brain and memory function, and cognitive function is impaired at that time and for up to a month afterwards.

Anyone experiencing sleep pattern disturbance, whether from jet lag or a working schedule that means repeated disruption of circadian rhythms such as those who undertake shift work, like hospital doctors or call centre operators then they are likely to have a long-term impact on their cognitive behaviour and function.”

A Simple Regime to Help You Cope With Jet Lag:
If you suffer from jet lag, then you are going to be operating under par and a few simple techniques can help you avoid it. The worst effects seem to occur during eastward travel and in general you should allow one day of recovery for every one-hour time zone shift.

These ideas might help too:

1) Melatonin – a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and one of its key jobs is controlling the body’s circadian rhythm. — Melatonin supplements are thought to help the body quickly adjust to the new surroundings and a low dosage is recommended of 0.5 mg a night for three nights, one hour before a normal bedtime – not before, once you get to your destination.

2) Adjust your watch – so it reflefts your destination time the day before you travel as that can psychologically help you adjust.

3) Homeopathy – a popular homeopathic remedy for Jet Lag is Cocculus Indicus and it can be taken every twelve hours starting two days before the flight until three days after the flight. This is not generally available but can be supplied by any homoepathic chemist. These are more commonly on sale for specific aspects of jet lag:

* Arnica – sleeplessness and restlessness when over-tired

* Bellis perennis – waking mid-sleep and sleep interruptions

* Chamomilla – emotional and mental stress, sleeplessness, impatience, intolerance and disorientation

* Ipecacuanha – intense and constant nausea

* Lycopodium – anxiety, anticipatory fears, apprehension, inability to adapt to new surroundings, digestive problems, especially bloating and gas

4) Valerian – is a natural sleep aid and can help you adjust to new time zones by helping people fall asleep at their desired time. Valerian is not addictive and will not cause grogginess the next morning.

5) Diet – the usual suspects; avoid excess alcohol or caffeine, drink plenty of water, and eat light meals. A new development on this is to start 3 days before departure and on day 1 eat a very high protein breakfast to help stimulate the body’s production of dopamine and then a high-carbohydrate dinner to stimulate the body to produce melatonin. Avoid stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks.

On day 2 stick to light salads and soups and then on day 3 repeat day 1’s menu.

On day 4, repeat day 2 and get as much sleep as you can until it is breakfast time at your destination. Then have a protein-heavy breakfast without coffee, turn on the overhead reading light and then stay as active as you can afterwards. If this doesn’t fit in with the airline’s scheduled meal delivery, take your own with you in the form of protein bars.
WARNING – this is not a suitable diet plan for anyone with diabetes or eating disorders.

6) Bedtime – when you finally do get to your own bed make sure the room is completely dark and noise free to allow your body to adjust and get a decent amount of sleep.

The Toothbrush That Doesn’t Need Toothpaste – or Water!

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under At Home, Health, Travel

Wanting to brush your teeth after every meal and being in a position to do so are not always the same thing. If you are one of those people who manages to carry both toothbrush and toothpaste with them you are more organised than I am so I was intrigued when I came across a toothbrush that cleans teeth without the aid of paste or even water.

The publicity for the hyG toothbrush recommends it for those going camping or to festivals – two areas where you are very unlikely to find me – but I do appreciate the benefit of being able to brush not just after a meal but to erase the traces of that mid-morning coffee and almond croissant.

It works by breaking the strong attraction that exists between teeth and plaque. It does this by reversing the polarity of teeth from negative to positive and since plaque is positively charged it is repelled from the teeth and onto the negatively charged hyG toothbrush.

So how does it do that is exactly? Apparently, all you need to do is wet your thumb and make sure it is in contact with the metal plate on the toothbrush’s handle to create the necessary electronic charge. Even when used without toothpaste or water, the hyG toothbrush has been shown to be up to 48% more effective at removing plaque than normal brushing – which puts its certainly ahead on most daily routines. I have tried it out myself on a recent trip and given that it is considerably lighter than my electric toothbrush — and needs no recharging — it was certainly just as effective and a plus on the packing side.

If you want to get one for yourself you should be able to find one in your local Waitrose store, health food shops, or your dentists. It is also available online from

The World’s Healthiest Airline?

March 8, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Health, Travel


Flying these days can present some challenges: risk of DVT, food poisoning from inadequately heated food, and all those airborne viruses so a round of applause for Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates based in Abu Dhabi. No, I have never heard of them either, but they fly from both London Heathrow and Manchester with 60 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Africa, Australia and Asia.

What’s so great about them? Well they are installing new state-of-the-art technology on their long and ultra long haul aircraft which can monitor the condition of passengers who display signs of sickness that might require immediate medical attention. Apparently the “Tempus IC” system allows cabin crew to take photo imagery and gather vital information about a passenger’s health and vital signs, including blood pressure and an electrocardiogram.

That information is then transmitted to a medical team of global experts who specialise in assistance in in-flight medical contingencies. Following their advice the crew will take a decision about what to do next for the passenger and the flight and hopefully you will be treated much more efficiently and swiftly than previously.

RDT is a British company who specialise in the development of leading-edge diagnostic device technology for use by non-experts in remote locations and have installed this technology for commercial shipping fleets, luxury yachts and with the US Military.

As someone who suffered a burst blood vessel in my eye on a Delta Airline flight and was pretty much ignored, I think this is good news and if you want more information go to

Attention Cruise Ship Travellers

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Travel


I travel a fair bit on cruise ships as a speaker, and I know a number of my readers enjoy this form of holiday – after all many of us met when you came to one of my talks onboard! The fear of any traveller is being ill while away and the Norovirus has been a real challenge over the past couple of years with many ships, and passengers succumbing to outbreaks.
Now a new report in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases last week on a combined research project from Boston University School of Medicine, Carney Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance and Tufts University School of Medicine, has worrying news for us.
They have found that widespread poor compliance with regular cleaning of public bathrooms on cruise ships may predict subsequent norovirus infection outbreaks. This is the first study of environmental hygiene on cruise ships where outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis often occur because of the close proximity of such a large group of people. Recent studies into outbreaks of gastroenteritis have confirmed that 95 percent of cruise ship outbreaks are caused by norovirus. It should be said that all this research was done on 66 ships monitored by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so is US based, but I think we can learn a lesson from it .

The problem seems to be mainly around how thoroughly everything in a public bathroom is cleaned and disinfected as only 37 percent of the 273 randomly selected onboard bathrooms were thoroughly cleaned daily.
The most neglected area for cleaning was any handles on stall doors, or entrance and the researchers found that the stand of cleaning did not vary by cruise line and did not meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Vessel Sanitation Program inspection scores.
Washing your hands is of course essential, but this is no help if the bathroom doors are not clean. The solution as ever is preventive action so carry antibacterial gel and handwipes and do not touch the doors with your bare hands – use a barrier such as a handwipe of tissue to cut down the possibility of infection.
It’s not generally realised that one of the biggest sources of infection in public areas are the handrails – whether on a ship, or anywhere else. Avoid using them if you can, and if you have to put your bare hand on them then always use an antibacterial wipe of gel before touching food or drink, or your own face.
The good news is that although the thoroughness of disinfection cleaning was 30 percent on more than half of the ships, near-perfect cleaning was documented on several vessels, so it can be done and is being done on ships that maintain high standards of cleaning and monitoring.

Varicose Veins Linked to DVT

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Medical Research & Studies, Travel


Varicose veins are generally harmless, though not considered attractive, but a new study in Graz, Austria reveals that danger may be lurking under your skin.

There are any number of reasons to get varicose veins including family history, jobs where you are standing for long periods such as hairdressers and teachers, being very overweight and of course in pregnancy.   The most common form generally seen is superficial vein thrombosis (SVT), where the veins become inflamed and swollen.  It can be a painful condition, but most doctors don’t regard it as a major problem.
However this new research looked at a potential link between varicose veins and DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which a dangerous condition that prompts blood clotting in the legs.  Clots that break away can cause thromboembolism (restricted blood flow), and even death if the clot reaches the lungs and triggers a pulmonary embolism.

Of the 50 patients examined who had confirmed SVT it was found that one in four of them had DVT, although none had shown any symptoms.   This suggests those with varicose veins need to be alert and ask for a sonagraph screening to establish if they are at risk.

Varicose veins and Vitamin K link
One factor in keeping your veins healthy is to have a good intake of vitamin K as its importance for circulatory health is already well known.
There was an important study done in France in 2007, only on male subjects, with and without varicose veins. They found a link between getting varicose veins and low levels or no activity of a protein called matrix GLA protein.  This protein is only properly activated when vitamin K levels are adequate, so the researchers at Nantes University concluded that a dood intake of the vitamin may play a role in varicose vein prevention.

If you have any history of narrowing of the arteries in your family, then some nutritionists 5 to 15 mg of vitamin K per day, but that is considerably higher than the recommended daily allowance.
If you want to increase it in your diet then it’s mostly found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, also in cheddar cheese and oats.

WARNING!!! Vitamin K needs to be carefully monitored if you are on blood thinning or anticoagulant drugs after a stroke or surgery and a limited intake is suggested.

Tobacco cure for ‘cruise ship virus’?

September 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Medical Research & Studies, Travel


Anyone who regularly travels by plane or ship will probably have fallen victim to norovirus and its unpleasant symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting. It is sometimes referred to as the “cruise ship virus”, as it has occurred with frightening regularity there, but this microbe can spread like wildfire through any place where people gather such as offices, schools and military bases.

Because of the large numbers of cases, a search has been on for a vaccine and this new certainly is unique in its origin as it was “manufactured” in a tobacco plant using an engineered plant virus. Science has always turned to nature when seeking cures – not always with the best results – but it has been effective in many cases. A study of the top 150 proprietary drugs used in the USA in 1993 found that 57% of all prescriptions contained at least one major active compound derived from plants and we would not have aspirin without white willow bark, or digoxin without digitalis, and many more examples.

Researchers are particularly turning to plants in the battle against fast spreading infectious diseases like norovirus, swine flu, and bird flu. They are doing so because plant biotechnology makes available more efficient and inexpensive ways to bring vaccines quickly to the public and this is especially critical in times when viruses mutate into unpredictable new strains as they are doing more and more today.

It is less expensive than developing conventional vaccines because purification from plant extracts is simpler as there are no infectious agents to clean up. There are no viruses in plants which can infect humans, so you don’t have to worry about viral removal.

Noroviruses are always mutating, making it difficult to produce an effective vaccine in the time scale required. The costs involved in this are huge so it is a great development to be able to use plant biotechnology to create a cheaper, quicker vaccine that is uniquely suited to combat mutating viruses like norovirus and the flu. Plant-based vaccines can be produced and put into clinical tests within eight to 10 weeks and for commercial use that means a fast turnaround of two to four months.

And where does tobacco come in? Well the scientists involved re-engineered plant viruses to produce high levels of specially designed “virus-like” nanoparticles in tobacco plants. These particles are the same size as the norovirus, but they consist only of the outer surface protein — that is the portion of the virus recognized by the human immune system. The particles contain none of the infectious material of the original virus, but they stimulate a robust immune response to fight off an actual infection.

So a good use for tobacco plants, and good news for tobacco farmers who must have seen a serious downturn in profits in the last few years. After successful experiments, a nasal delivery system for the virus-like particles is being developed and will start clinical trials in late 2009.

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