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Wed, 18th February 2015
 

At least one in seven Australians is infected with "helicobacter pylori". Amazingly very few either know or care, let alone suffer any adverse outcomes. What is it all about? Before 1990, millions were bugged with symptoms such as dyspepsia, maybe abdominal pain, frequently ulcers in the stomach or next part of the bowel called the duodenum. Some even developed stomach cancer for reasons then unknown. Of course, millions still have the same symptoms and diseases, but they are much less frequent and amazingly now the cause can be readily diagnosed and successfully treated. The germ is helicobacter. This was discovered by serendipity by a Perth scientist, Dr Barry Marshall, and his associate, Dr Warren, who had unwittingly let a stomach "culture" from a patient with symptoms, grow over a long weekend. Amazingly, when they returned they discovered the presence of a hitherto unknown "bacteria".

Subsequent tests by Dr Marshall on himself indicated this could lead to the horrible symptoms already described. But even better, within a fairly short time, they found the germ was readily eliminated with everyday antibiotics, given when stomach acid was neutralised. So an unbelievable "cause and cure" had been identified for a common "disease" that had been bugging doctors for hundreds of years.

Until then, dyspepsia and ulcers had often been attributed to mental anxiety, stress, overwork, cigarettes, diet, alcohol and psychological causes. Although these may play a contributory role, they are now considered only minor (apart from smoking, still a big No No).

How is one infected? It appears millions carry the germ and there are no symptoms. It sits there minding its own business, until triggered into activity. Here, the nerve factors may play a role. Still not totally known.

How is the germ transmitted? By simple direct contact. Kissing, drinking from a glass with an infected rim (by somebody else) are cited reasons. But there are probably heaps of other obvious but unknown causes. The Barry Marshall saga was greeted with scepticism and indeed hostility by other "wiser" doctors who immediately felt threatened. But gradually, it has been accepted into mainstream medicine, and Marshall and his friend were awarded the Nobel Prize recently.

Today, although "antacids" are still widely used for dyspepsia, this had largely been replaced by the acid suppressants, antibiotics. A simple breath test (or endoscopic examination) gives a quick diagnosis.

 
GINGER

Q: 

I am 23, in early pregnancy and find nausea and morning sickness quite disturbing. The doctor gave me some capsules which my mum used to take for arthritis!!

A: 

Morning sickness is due to hormones circulating in the system, to which you are not normally exposed. All cases settle within a few weeks. Many remedies have been tried. Currently, some doctors prescribe concentrated ginger. This was widely used a few years ago as a black capsule called Zinaxen and seemed to relieve pain in arthritis also! Many "natural" remedies have multiple uses. It is also good for any kind of nausea. Vitamin B6 (tablets or injections) are also effective in many, another old timer.

 
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COLA DRINK

Q: 

For fun we put a dirty copper coin into a bottle of cola drink, and a fortnight later it had become shiny just like new. Then what is this stuff doing to our stomach lining?

A: 

A good question. Some people also use it to clean dirt marks off the wall, or shoe skid marks off the floor? Fortunately, it does not lie in the stomach for days or weeks, for most is simply water with additives. However, probably of more concern is the enormous sugar content, and the phosphoric acid levels which may cause mineral imbalance in the body and suck calcium from the bones. Which means moderate amounts only are preferable. I go for water when thirsty!

 
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KEYBOARD ERRORS

Q: 

I learned to touch type when 12, which has been a wonderful asset all my life. Switching to a computer keyboard, I am eternally making errors, with lines of xxxxxxx and wrong letters eternally popping up.

A: 

It takes time to a readjust, which is why many without keyboard skills are probably better off with the two finger pick and peck system. Your touch is obviously much heavier, and inadvertently knocking other keys is the issue. Type more slowly, and I am sure you will revert to your original skills with fewer errors. There is nothing wrong with your fingers or brain!

 
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SPORT

Q: 

My ten year old is not very interested in sports, is often well down the list in competitions, and often tends to give up in despair.

A: 

Sport is sport which is really body exercise. It also uses limbs, muscle fibres and joints. Also, it improves eyesight. Whether he is good or not very good is immaterial. It helps eye muscle co-ordination, which is an essential part of everyday life. Encourage him as much as you can. Playing in the back yard is also a good idea, when he can win most of the time! This can also improve self esteem.

 
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FACE LIFT

Q: 

A friend, mid fifties and overweight, recently splurged $15,000 on facial surgery. Like eliminating wrinkles and creases around the mouth, eyebrows, eyes, forehead. Her usual happy smile seems to have diminished. I can foresee in five years, specially if there is some weight loss, they will all return only worse. Does not everything "go south" in time?

A: 

It is a case of what price does one place on self esteem, perceived beauty, appearances to others. My view is that sparkling eyes and a happy voice projects more personality and attraction than physical appearances. But everybody has their own opinion, and this is important. Money can buy all sorts of things, but it cannot purchase inner spirit and outgoing vitality.

 
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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.

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