Trust Me I'm A Doctor (2013) s03e01 Episode Script

Series 3, Episode 1

1 We are constantly being told how to live our lives, but what's the health advice you can really trust? In this series, we use our expertise to guide you through the contradictions and the confusions.
We'll get to the heart of the debate and ensure you get the information you need.
We're here when you don't know where to turn.
I'm Michael Mosley.
In this series, I'm joined by a team of doctors.
Together, we'll cut through the hype, the headlines and the health claims.
This is Trust Me, I'm A Doctor.
We start this series in Newcastle, where we're trying out some unusual ways to keep your brain in tiptop condition.
Anyone think they're going to have any trouble keeping it up? LAUGHTER Asking "Do herbal supplements "really contain what they say on the label?" - They can't just be lying.
- Yes, they're lying.
These guys are lying! 'Finding out, what's the cure for cramp?' Ah.
Asking, "Can being fat ever be good for you?" And what are the signs of a deep vein thrombosis? I wasn't expecting that! But first I've been a medical journalist for many years covering a huge range of topics, but what are the things that you're really interested in? Well, we decided to conduct a survey to find out and top of the list is "How can I avoid dementia?" So I'm here in Newcastle to try and find out.
Before that, however, Dr Chris van Tulleken is on a different mission.
In a July that's had the hottest day on record, the barbecues are out, but there's a problem.
We've known for a while now that, when we barbecue meats, it creates chemicals that can cause cancer.
So, is there a way to make the British barbecue safe? I'm determined to find out.
To help me, I've got myself an expert chemist all the way from Portugal and a barbecue festival, complete with bangers.
And, no, I don't mean this one, because this is my dream machine.
A pimped-up camper lab with all the kit we need to test what we cook.
We have some beef.
This is literally my idea of the best day ever.
There's only one thing that could make it better.
That's finding a way to stop the chemicals that could cause cancer known as PAHs from forming.
And I've heard of a potentially genius solution from Portugal which Isabel is here to help me test.
Luckily, Isabel, you have an idea that this stuff, beer, might actually be useful at preventing the formation of these PAHs.
- Is that right? - Yes.
Beer marinades can be helpful.
It sounds almost too good to be true.
Could soaking it in beer really make barbecued meat healthier? Well, I'm in the right place to find out because this is also a beer festival.
I've enlisted the help of two of the Ludlow Spring Festival's finest brewers.
Together, the three of us are going to put Isabel's theory to the test by cooking three pieces of beef, two of them soaked in beer provided by Paul and Eric, the other without beer.
Ready? Go.
Now we're going to cook them for ten minutes, and then Isabel will do some clever chemistry in our camper lab to see if the beer has reduced the amount of those harmful PAHs.
These barbecues are ferociously hot.
I tell you what, I'm barbecuing my face just standing here.
Barbecues have the perfect conditions for PAHs to form.
First, high temperatures.
These chemicals form as the food chars.
Second, fat dripping onto the embers produces more of them.
And, third, the smoke carries even more of them and plasters them all over the food.
Now, these PAHs are bad news.
In the lab, they've been shown to damage DNA and that can lead to cancer.
But could the beer really stop them from forming? OK, guys.
What do you think, Eric? I don't know.
I would say the heat has burned everything away - that would be beneficial.
- Paul, what do you reckon? - I believe the term's Well Done.
- Right.
Let's take these to the van and do the analysis.
Now Isabel's going to measure the levels of PAHs in our three pieces of meat.
Meanwhile, I want to find out what the punters think of our barbecue efforts.
Of these three meats, no marinade, dark beer, light beer, which one do you think looks the most cancer-causing? Cancer-causing? - Non-marinated.
- The unmarinated? - Yeah.
I would suggest anything that's slathered with sugar and then burnt is probably more likely to cause - So anything with a marinade.
- You'd go for the beer? - Yeah.
Beer plus burned meat is more likely to give you cancer.
I think they're mostly put off by my cooking.
Anyway, Isabel's got the scientific answer.
She's extracted the PAHs from each steak into these little tubes and, if you put them under a UV light, they'll fluoresce.
So the brightest tube in the middle here has the most PAHs but which steak did they come from? Very interesting.
The vial in the middle that is glowing really strongly is the unmarinated meat.
- Can you see that, Eric? - Yeah.
So, there you have it.
Soaking your meat in beer before cooking it can make it safer.
But there's one last question.
- Which beer is the best? - Which beer is the best? So, Paul, with his seven different types of malted barley, yours was the best at reducing the number of cancer-causing chemicals.
The dark beer is better.
- How do you feel about that? - Pretty good.
- Post-match interview.
Beer and barbecues -- winner.
Beer has this effect because it contains chemicals known as antioxidants that reduce the formation of the dangerous substances.
The darker your beer, the more of them it contains and the better it works, and, if you don't like beer, other marinades such as wine and garlic, which also contain antioxidants, have been shown to have a similar effect.
A gas barbecue may also help because it has lower temperatures and less smoke.
I love a happy ending.
This is just great news, Isabel.
It's just such a classic pairing, isn't it? It's like fish and chips, bacon and eggs.
A marriage made in heaven.
Beer and barbecue.
Cheers, Isabel.
One of the things that most of us are interested in is staying sharp, on the ball, as we get older, so how do you do it? Well, we've come to Newcastle to test out some intriguing techniques.
Over to surgeon Gabriel Weston.
As we age, most of us, me included, find our memory isn't quite what it used to be.
Have you noticed that your memory is not as good as it was 20 years ago or is it still tiptop? - I forget names.
- Yep.
- Forget places.
- Yeah.
You start a conversation and then you suddenly can't always remember the next word or the place or the person.
And do you do anything to try and ward that off? Well, I do puzzles.
For most of us, getting forgetful as we age is a sign of a more general decline in mental sharpness.
It happens because our brains change as we age.
The brain is a fantastic engine made up of 100 billion brain cells that guzzle loads of our daily energy and it's supplied by an intricate network of blood vessels, but, as with all machines, the brain's ability to function, as well as its blood supply, can break down over time.
Now, when I trained as a doctor, it was thought that nothing could stop this decline but, in recent years, a huge market has sprung up in products and techniques that claim they can boost our brains.
But does anything actually work? We thought it was time to give the subject the Trust Me treatment and put some mind-boosting methods to the test.
I've come to Newcastle University, where we've recruited 30 volunteers from the north-east of England.
They're all aged between 50 and 85.
They're going to take part in our big experiment to see if there's anything we can do to keep our minds sharp.
Before they start When everybody's ready at the back.
clinical psychologist Daniel Collerton is going to do some baseline tests of their mental abilities.
We have one minute to write down as many words as you can think of which begin with the letter B.
He's testing skills that tend to get worse with age like memory, concentration and the ability to plan.
It's hard, isn't it? With the tests over, we're dividing our volunteers into three groups.
For the next eight weeks, each group will take up a different activity that's thought to improve how our brains function.
Come on in.
Our first group will be overseen by clinical psychiatrist Dr John-Paul Taylor.
OK, you guys, you're probably all going to be familiar with what's in here.
These are your classic brain training things such as sudoku puzzles, crosswords, those kinds of things.
So, we're going to get you to be doing this particular task to see if we can really enhance your brain function over time.
It's a random assortment.
So, for our first group, it's three hours a week of brainteasers.
We want to know whether doing puzzles can really make our brains perform better overall.
I'm taking our second group for a walk to meet physiologist Professor Mike Trenell on the other side of town.
The reason I've walked you here is because that's going to be your task for the next couple of months.
We're going to ask you to do two to three hours of brisk walking every week over the next eight weeks.
So the adage for your group is really, "A healthy body, a healthy mind.
" Anyone who knows me knows that walking is my absolute least favourite activity.
- OK.
- So, the more you move, your heart rate goes up and that increase in blood flow in your heart increases the blood flow in your brain.
We'll be testing whether this increase in blood flow actually improves the brain's performance.
Now, I suspect the last team will find their challenge equally stimulating.
MUSIC: Leave Your Hat On by Etta James So, if you just follow me.
Come on in, everyone.
Come through.
Let me introduce, most importantly, Steve, in the middle of the room here, and what we're going to be asking you all to do for the next eight weeks is to draw Steve.
This group will spend three hours a week learning a new skill and we'll see if this gives their brains a boost.
Well, we know, when you learn something new, a new skill, a new ability, your brain changes and develops and that's true no matter how many years you have behind you.
What we're going to see at the end of these eight weeks is, has that produced general changes in your memory? Your ability to concentrate? We hope you enjoy it.
Anyone think they're go to have any trouble keeping it up? LAUGHTER Our volunteers will be back in eight weeks' time to repeat the tests and see if their brains are performing better.
This is our Trust Me, I'm a Doctor video booth where we're taking questions from people up and down the country which we'll do our very best to answer.
This time, it's with us in Newcastle and our first question is How can I stop cramp? Now, most of us have been there.
You wake up in the middle of the night, you've had this tremendous jolt like an electric shock go through your leg.
It's cramp and, if this happens frequently, then that can really mess with your sleep.
Over a third of us get cramp and it becomes more common as we get older.
But what exactly is it? Well, I can demonstrate using this rather sinister kit.
That is nasty.
And that is just sending it all the way down there and I could feel my toes really cramping.
That is very unpleasant.
The electrodes on my leg are sending an electrical signal to my muscles and that makes them contract tightly in a way I simply can't control.
It's thought that this is what happens when you get cramp, only it's nerves in your muscles themselves that cause this uncontrollable tightening.
So why does that happen and how can we stop it? There are lots of different theories about what causes cramp.
It could simply be exhaustion of the muscles or something to do with salt.
Perhaps too much salt, more likely too little.
If you do lots of heavy exercise then you're going to sweat, lose salt and become dehydrated.
But recent research has shown the theory that a salt imbalance can lead to cramp is just a myth, so drinking water or taking salts is not likely to help.
The leading theory now is that cramp tends to occur when our muscles have been overworking, the constant tensing and relaxing that happens even when we do everyday activities like walking around.
So cramp can happen to any one of us.
And the best way to relieve it is by stretching.
Now, if your problem is cramping in the calf muscles, then lean against a wall, put your foot up and just stretch a bit, And you should really feel it here, down in the calf.
'Stretching overcomes the signals from your nerves, 'and reverses the contraction of the muscle, 'allowing both to settle down and get back to normal.
' And we've got demonstrations of different stretches you can try, on our website.
But how to prevent cramps from starting -- especially at night? Well, you could try this.
Get a spare pillow, put it down here, put your foot on top of it, like that, and that sort of supports it, but it also creates a little bit of stretch in the calf.
The theory is that sleeping in a position that gently stretches your muscles might prevent an attack of cramp.
And lying on your front, hanging your feet over the end of the bed, might do the same thing.
Road-test these, and it may just give you a better night's sleep.
Goodnight! Still to come -- what's the best way to get rid of earwax? It looks lovely! And could aromatherapy really work? But first In this series, I want to investigate the products on our shelves that are sold on the promise of improving our health.
How do we know we're not just wasting our money? The marketers are trying to persuade us that all kinds of products are good for our health, and it's not always easy to see through their smokescreen of confusion to the real truth.
Today, I'm looking into herbal products.
It's a growing market.
As a nation, we now spend a staggering £118 million on them every year.
Now, many people question whether herbal remedies are effective at all.
But even if you think they ARE, how do you know exactly what you're buying? How much of THIS would you say there is in THIS? - All of it, I reckon.
- I think half of it.
Half the tree.
- 10%? - Quite a lot, I would imagine So most people very reasonably assume that if it says "ginkgo" or "milk thistle" on a bottle, then it does in fact contain ginkgo or milk thistle.
But is that always the case? Is what's ON the bottle what's IN the bottle? We've teamed up with University College London to find out.
We've bought over 70 different herbal products, and the School of Pharmacy here is going to test what's actually in them.
'These products fall into two different groups, 'although you'd be hard-pushed to notice when you buy them.
' Herbal products are divided into categories based on the health claims that are made.
So, if a manufacturer makes a specific health claim -- for example, on this pack of Echinacea, it says it's "a traditional herbal medicinal product "used to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu" -- that specific health claim changes everything.
'To make such a claim, the product must have been awarded 'this mark, THR -- Traditional Herbal Registration.
' 'It means the quality control for the product's manufacture 'is regulated.
'So it should be safe, its dosage is verified 'and it won't contain anything harmful.
' Products without the THR symbol aren't allowed to make any specific health claims.
So, on this bottle, there is in fact no information about what milk thistle does and it's sold as a food supplement.
But what that means is that this product is not subject to anything like the same degree of legal and manufacturing scrutiny as this product is, even though they both claim to be milk thistle.
So we've taken three common herbal remedies.
Milk thistle, sold for indigestion and upset stomachs.
We guzzle £3 million worth of it a year.
Gingko, sold as a memory enhancer.
We spend £6.
5 million a year on this.
And evening primrose, sold for hormone balance and "healthy-looking skin and hair" -- something we pay nearly £8 million a year for.
For our tests, we took a number of different brands of each of these, some with the THR mark, some without.
The team at UCL have analysed their chemistry to see whether each one really contains what the label says.
The results are in.
First up, the milk thistle products.
These are the chemical traces of a sample of the products we tested.
The first band on the left here is the chemical "signature" of the herb milk thistle -- so this is the pattern we're looking for.
Three of the products tested had a very similar pattern, so these did actually contain milk thistle.
One of these was a THR product, and the others were sold as food supplements.
Two others looked similar, but the researchers estimate they contained less than 20% milk thistle compared to the reference.
And two had apparently no milk thistle in them whatsoever.
'Professor Michael Heinrich heads the team here at UCL.
' This one's totally different colours -- what's going on with that? It doesn't look like a plant sample, actually.
It looks more like a mixture of synthetic compounds.
It's worrying that they don't have the milk thistle.
It's maybe even more worrying that they've got something else in that we also don't understand what it is.
Absolutely, and there are many, many cases globally now where adulterants have caused all sorts of problems.
And it's not just milk thistle pills where we found problems.
Next up, ginkgo.
THR ginkgo pills are not readily available in the UK, so all the products we tested were food supplements.
So what did you find? We found that 8 out of 30 samples don't contain any significant or detectable amount of ginkgo.
- 8 out of 30? - So more than a quarter.
We also tested a range of evening primrose products.
Again, these were all non-THR food supplements.
These products DID contain what the packet claimed.
So clearly, not all supplements are bad.
The problem is that, as a consumer, there's little way of knowing which are OK.
And our tests suggest that a worrying proportion are not.
In essence, a large share of these products -- about a quarter to more than a third -- do not contain what is on the label, - so what they claim to contain.
- Really? So, Michael, I don't get how this happens.
If I look at all these packs on the table, they're all very clear, they have ingredients, they have a dosage I mean, they can't just be lying? Well, I'm sorry to say, I think some of the suppliers of food supplements, yes, they are lying.
In other cases, I think they simply don't know what they're doing.
Now, many of the botanical drugs come from rare or increasingly rare species, so it makes perfect sense to get something cheaper and to do something which helps you to get a better price at a lower cost.
However, there does seem to be one reliable guide to choosing a herbal product -- the THR mark.
Although they're not always available, we found that all the THRs we tested did contain what they were supposed to.
But price was not a good guide to quality.
Many of the supplements are not cheap, and we have one product in this collection here, which is extremely expensive, one of the most expensive ones, and seems to contain nothing.
So don't think that a high price indicates high quality.
That doesn't work.
We were so shocked by the results that we approached the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Food Standards Agency and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and offered to pass them our results to investigate further.
The MHRA told us that the regulation of herbal food supplements isn't their responsibility, it's up to the FSA and Trading Standards.
Both of them said that they would only act if a complaint were made about a specific product not containing what it claims.
So, we've now passed our results to the FSA's Food Crimes Unit.
But without lab tests like ours, how would anyone know? So if you want to be sure that the pills you're buying really are what they say they are, the best advice I can give you is to look for that THR label on herbal products.
It's a mark that they've been checked and don't contain anything they shouldn't and they do contain everything they should.
When it comes to herbal food supplements, an ingredients list is no guarantee of anything whatsoever.
Back at our Trust Me video booth, more Newcastle residents are popping in with their health questions.
What's the safest way to clean out my ears? One for Gabriel Weston, our very own ear, nose and throat surgeon For most of us, our first port of call for cleaning our ears is one of these.
- Do either of you use these? - Yes.
- Yes.
- And what do you use them for? - Cleaning my ears.
My ears.
And make up.
But mostly my ears.
So if I were to tell you that using these is actually not helping you, would that change what you do? It is a nice feeling.
There's something irresistible about it? There is.
It's a guilty pleasure.
These are the devil's work.
Now, you might think that putting one of these in your ears is going to clean the wax out of them, but what it actually does is pushes the wax right in against the drum.
And I'm pretty sure that more than 50% of the hardest cases I've treated of wax have been because of these.
'But something that fires me up even more, 'is poking one of these in your ears.
' This is an ear candle.
What you're meant to do with this is put it in the ear and apparently, that sucks the ear wax into the candle itself.
It's a wild claim.
Though you can see a waxy deposit here, the candle hasn't been near an ear.
The wax has come from within the candle itself.
It's a complete sham.
'Far from trying to remove it, we should leave our wax where it is.
' Wax is actually really important -- it's produced in this outer portion of the ear canal and it protects the ear and stops things getting in there that shouldn't.
And if you leave your wax, it will naturally come out of the earhole all by itself.
So for the majority of us, wax isn't a problem.
But sometimes, it can build up, causing discomfort or loss of hearing.
If that happens, there's quite an array of products you can buy to unclog your ears.
These work by soaking into ear wax and softening it, although simple almond oil and olive oil are just as effective.
Warm the oil up to no more than body temperature.
Fill your ear and leave for 5-10 minutes, until the wax softens and falls out.
'If there's a real problem, your GP might recommend ear irrigation, 'also known as syringing.
' This involves pushing some water into the ear canal to dislodge the wax there.
Now, in my opinion, it's often painful, it can be useless, and most importantly, it can damage the eardrum.
So what can you do about an excess of wax? 'Well, one option is what I'm doing here, 'sucking wax out through a tube using a tiny vacuum cleaner.
' Oh, yes.
You've got loads of wax on this side.
'In my experience, 'this is the only way to deal with persistent blockages.
' There's a nice big bit coming out now, which I'll try and let the camera see before it disappears.
It looks lovely! Most of us have a got a completely normal amount of wax in our ears.
So my advice is, unless you've got a real problem, leave your ears well alone.
And I beg you, whatever you do, DON'T use these.
Over to Dr Salehya Ahsan.
One of the most difficult things about working in A & E is dealing with the death of a patient who may have been saved, had they recognised the danger signs and sought treatment in time.
Sometimes, a symptom can appear harmless, but it's actually what we call a red flag for something more serious.
A textbook example of this is deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that is most commonly found in the leg.
One in nine of us will develop one in our lifetime.
A DVT in itself is not life-threatening.
However, if the blood clot breaks away and travels up to the lung, it can cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.
'So I'm going to give you the information you need 'to recognise a DVT to save a life.
' Either your own or someone else's.
There are three main risk factors to be aware of when it comes to DVT.
Sticky blood, which can be caused by illness, old age, pregnancy and medication, vein damage, which can come from trauma such as surgery, and immobility.
How often do you get up from your desk? Em I think a few times a day.
Do you take lunch here? Um, maybe two days a week, I will have lunch at my desk.
I've got all my snacks here, ready for me.
So, when did you last get up? Probably about an hour ago, to get a glass of water.
And when do you think you'll be getting up again? Probably as that glass of water goes through my system! It's been shown that sitting for 90 minutes can reduce the blood flow in the legs by half, increasing the risk of DVT, so if you end up with a DVT, how do you spot it? What I want you to do is roll your trousers up and get those legs out.
Sometimes the only symptom is pain, a bit like a pulled muscle, but other signs include redness, tenderness and warm skin in the area of the clot.
It will feel warm to touch as well.
Another sign that we look for in A & E is swelling, and the best way to spot it is to measure your calves.
- Jared, what did you get for your calves? - 37.
LAUGHTER If you have a blood clot, the swelling might make one leg bigger.
If it's three centimetres or more, it is a very important red flag.
If you do have a DVT and you consult a doctor quickly enough, you can get treatment before it becomes more serious, but it would be even better if we could avoid getting a DVT in the first place.
It's really important to stand up regularly.
When you do that, you use your muscles.
They contract, that squeezes the vessels, the veins, which, in turn, pushes the blood around your body, and stops it from pooling and staying in the same place.
Simple preventative measures like this can reduce our risk of developing a fatal blockage.
So, remember, if you have pain like a pulled muscle, especially in your leg, and there's swelling, redness and warmth, it could be a DVT.
Ask yourself, are you at risk? Could you have sticky blood due to age, illness or pregnancy? Or have you lately experienced a triggering event like trauma, or a period of immobility? If any of these red flags are raised, seek medical advice.
It could save your life.
All this information and more on all of the items in this series are on our website.
Over at Newcastle University, our big experiment to find a way to keep our minds sharper as we get older is under way.
We've asked three groups of volunteers to take up a new activity -- puzzles .
walking .
or life drawing.
Challenging, something that that I would never in a million years think about doing at all.
When they've been doing their allotted task for eight weeks, we'll be testing them to see which has the biggest brain-boosting effect.
But meanwhile, I'm going to try a very different technique -- something with a more instant effect.
Now, we'd all of us like a better memory, but how do we get one? Lauren and Kamila are researchers from the Brain Performance And Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University.
Their team is researching the effect of aromas on our memory.
I've always quite liked the idea of aromatherapy, but perhaps I've never taken it all that seriously, so I'm intrigued.
First, I'm going to find that how they test memory the hard way.
We're going to start with the glasses, they're just going to sit over there.
'I have to try to remember where Lauren has hidden five items, 'while doing other tasks designed to distract me.
' Write down as many words as you can think of with the following first and third letters.
'And along the way, 'there'll be a number of extra tasks to confuse me.
' At five past three, using this clock, could you please remind me to ring the garage and check if my car is ready.
I'm hoping there's nothing really wrong with Kamila's car, because I don't think I'm going to remember that.
ALARM BEEPS OK, so we have finished the test.
Now I have to remember to tell you where those objects are.
The glasses are on that desk.
Doll, pocket watch.
Baseball, pocket knife on the stairs behind the bottles.
Yep, that's correct.
- There's one more thing.
- Oh! Oh, your car! Which you're now going to crash cos I forgot to tell you.
- Thank you.
- So how did I do? OK, you scored a total of 32 out of a possible 36, - which means for your age, you did average on the task.
- Oh.
It's better than below average.
That is true, I could have been below average.
'Oh, dear.
I'd flattered myself I'd get full marks.
'Clearly, I need all the help I can get.
'And the team here at Northumbria University 'suspect the answer might have been hiding in plain sight 'in our gardens for centuries.
' Since Shakespeare's day, this common garden herb has been associated with memory.
As a modern scientist, I'm pretty sceptical about whether it really could have an effect.
But, here at the University, I'm going to see it put to the test.
We've prepared a series of rooms with exactly the task I've just done all ready for an influx of 60 volunteers.
So the first group are going to do the test like I did, with no smells in the air, but for the second group, we are going to switch this on.
It's a diffuser and it heats up rosemary oil, sending the aromas into the air.
I'm going to hide it behind this little guy.
And, for a third group, we're going to infuse the room with the scent of another common herb, lavender, widely believed to help us sleep.
And we've got another little friend to hide this one.
That is now counting down.
This one is yours, just place it in front of you so you can see it.
The volunteers don't know it, but I'm monitoring their every move with Lauren and Kamila's boss, Dr Mark Moss.
When there are seven minutes I would like you to remind me not to forget my keys.
You were going to do something when there were seven minutes left.
Did you remember what it was? Great stuff.
Thank you.
So, if there is an active compound in the rosemary oil that we think might help this form of memory, why is it better to inhale it and not just eat it? Inhaling something is the most efficient way to get it to the brain.
When you inhale something, any active compounds that are inhaled are directly passed into the blood which is then pumped straight to the brain.
ALARM BEEPS We have finished this test.
Straight afterwards, our volunteers have a blood test to see if they've absorbed anything from the herbs that might affect their memory.
In both groups, it shows their blood now contains different chemical compounds which research has shown to have effects on the brain.
These compounds have drug-like properties.
They affect the neurotransmitter systems in the brain.
So, the moment of truth -- are these chemical compounds really doing anything to our volunteers' memory? First, the part of the test where people had to spontaneously remember the positions of objects as soon as the test finished.
As you can see from this figure, there was a 10% improvement in terms of performance from people in the rosemary condition.
That is really remarkable.
Then my nemesis, remembering to do something at a particular time like ringing the garage.
Lavender aroma actually leads to an 18% impairment.
I think this lavender impairment is really interesting, because don't people use lavender to try and fall asleep? Certainly this would suggest that you are being sedated.
I have to say that I'm quite taken aback by this experiment, clearly demonstrating that one herb can improve memory and another impair it to such a extent.
I had never considered the possibility that aromatherapy was anything more than using nice smells to make people feel nice.
But today I've seen how those chemicals can go straight into our blood and even affect our memory, and it's given me something else to remember.
Maybe as scientists, we should all be a little bit less SNIFFY about aromatherapy.
Still to come -- can being obese ever be good for you? And the results of our big experiment, how can we avoid losing our marbles? But first At some point in our lives, an amazing 80% of us will develop back pain.
If it's serious, you will probably need surgery, which carries risks.
But is there an alternative? Well, surgeon Gabriel Weston has been to California to find out.
I'm on my way to witness a trial of a pioneering treatment that could transform the lives of people with debilitating back pain.
For these people, every day is a struggle, and until now, the only hope has been surgery on their spine.
I got in a car accident in 2000 and had a bulging disc at that point and then it's just been progressively degenerating since then.
The pain is now prohibiting me from all physical activities -- sports, bike riding, walking upstairs, lifting anything.
It's just at a point now where I can't I can't handle the pain any more.
Jessica's pain is being caused by damage to the discs that sit between the bones of her spine, and after so many years of agony, she feared she'd have to resort to risky surgery, but just before taking that step, she was given the opportunity to become part of a study trialling a new kind of treatment.
The trial that I've come here to see in LA is testing an entirely different approach to the problem of lower back pain.
Instead of subjecting patients to invasive and risky surgery, doctors here are attempting to regenerate discs from within using an injection of stem cells.
Stem cells are unique within the human body because they have the ability to develop into many different cell types.
But because of this potential, they are surrounded by a lot of hype, so I'm going to need a bit of convincing.
The trial is now in its third and final phase, and is being led by spinal expert, Dr Hyun Bae.
Before this intervention that you are trialling now, what would the options be? Typically, our method of treatment is really taking the disc out, so removing the disc, and either fusing it or we would put a cage or device in-between the bones and then we would place screws to fixate it.
That's a pretty brutal-looking option.
Yes, what we're doing to the body is a major physiological change.
Spinal surgery like this is risky.
There's no guarantee of success and there's a danger that any improvement could be temporary.
I would prefer to avoid surgery at all costs.
Fusion surgery, they say that the odds are that in 10 to 15 years, there's a 20% chance that my adjacent discs will have a problem, and so that puts me at 50 with three discs, instead of one.
No, thank you.
The therapy that Dr Bae's trial is offering is innovative but simple.
The idea is that a single injection of stem cells, directly into the disc, will stimulate healing from within.
It's hoped this procedure could revolutionise the treatment of chronic back pain.
So the results of this trial will be critical.
There are two different treatment arms in this trial -- some of the patients get the stem cells, but others receive a placebo, and, in fact, the protocol for this trial is so tight that they don't want me to witness a procedure being done, just in case my presence in the room might influence a patient into thinking that they had one treatment or another.
The doctors must carefully prepare the stem cell samples.
As a surgeon, I know that the procedure is far less invasive than removing a disc and placing implants in the spine.
The injection will take just a matter of minutes.
But there's one question that always preys on my mind when it comes to stem cell treatments.
How do you manage the kind of public desire fanatically to believe that if any physician offers stem cells for anything, that's going to treat them and cure them and make them young again.
I think that what's really needed in this field, because there is just so much hype, so much hope, is we need results.
We really need something that tells us that, hey, this actually works.
If we can do that, then I think that it will be tremendous, it will be an inflection point where truly regenerative medicine will enter the new era.
It's a hope that's shared by patients like Jessica.
Over the last 15 years, I've tried everything, so I'm hoping that I get the real stem cells and that they see the improvements that these studies have actually been showing so I don't have to have surgery.
I can start doing things like riding a bike.
SHE LAUGHS Yeah, just normal things.
What's giving everyone such strong grounds for optimism is that earlier phases of this study were highly successful.
And I'm going to meet one of the patients who took part.
Stephen is a personal trainer who spent years suffering from life-altering back pain.
'I used to just lay on the floor on ice for often up to three hours 'at a time to try and relieve some of the pain that I got most of the day.
'I went to physical therapy, I went to chiropractic services, 'you name it, and I tried it, to no avail unfortunately.
' As part of the trial, Stephen received an injection of stem cells.
And after a few weeks, he began to feel a change.
Six weeks in, eight weeks in, was when I started going, "Wow, something's going on here, whether it's in my head "or whether it's physically", but something was happening.
I started to notice that I could sit down at dinner and not have to get up and use the restroom to kind of stretch out.
I was able to drive in my car for 30 or 40 minutes without going, "This is miserable", and having that just driving pain.
I knew something was going on and I would say 80% of my pain at that point was gone.
And now I have no pain, and so it's .
I came out here full of scepticism, but, in fact, what I've seen has amazed me.
Dr Bae's study has been set up incredibly robustly and this one patient absolutely swears that the stem cell intervention has worked for him.
Now, it's obviously way too early in the day to be drawing any permanent conclusions.
But if this one person is anything to go by, it looks like it could be a real success.
There are eye-catching headlines in the newspapers every day, some making the most extraordinary health claims.
There was one the other day, for example, which said that being overweight protects against dementia.
Can that really be true? The most recent headlines about dementia join a long list of reports claiming that being overweight is a health benefit.
Which is a surprise, because overweight people are generally more prone to health problems like diabetes and heart disease and yet their survival, when they get these conditions, seems to be better.
It's a phenomenon known as the obesity paradox.
But there may be a simple explanation.
It turns out the obesity paradox has got less to do with being fat and more to do with being fit.
Because the way the researchers have measured fatness is to use BMI, or body mass index -- a ratio of weight to height.
And that's just not a good measure.
In fact, many people with a high BMI are actually very fit -- just tall, or muscly.
That might explain why they recovered well from illnesses.
What's a more relevant measurement is the size of your waist -- a measure of dangerous belly fat.
So the message is ignore the headlines, and ignore BMI too.
The best way to stay healthy is to keep your belly fat down, and your exercise levels up.
On Trust Me I'm A Doctor, we try to tackle issues that most matter to you.
We wanted to find out which questions you particularly wanted answers to, so we commissioned a poll of 2,000 people.
When the results came in, the question you most wanted answered was "How can I avoid dementia?" So what, if anything, can we do to reduce our risk? There are lots of theories out there.
In fact, hardly a week goes by without some new piece of medical research being reported in the news which suggests that some aspect of our lifestyle will either raise or lower our chances of getting dementia.
What I want you to do is put the things here under risk, benefit, or ones that you have doubt about.
- Aluminium.
- Hearing loss.
- Pardon? - Age is a risk.
- Yeah.
You tend to think it would be under everything There's clearly a lot of confusion.
So what can we do to get to the truth? Well, in our big experiment, we're putting some leading ideas to the test -- brain-training, learning a new skill and doing aerobic exercise.
But what else can we do? I've come to meet a man leading major research projects across Europe to prevent dementia.
From the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, Professor Craig Ritchie.
What causes it? There's multiple causes.
There are different diseases, if you like, that cause dementia -- Alzheimer's disease, cerebrovascular disease, Lewy Body disease.
You know, there's probably a list of about 50 or 60 different causes.
Historically, we've always looked at dementia being a disease of later life.
I think what we're now realising is that dementia has its genesis, - it starts in midlife and that's where we - In your 50s? In your 50s.
Well, maybe even earlier.
But certainly, I think going back to your sort of midlife 40s-50s is probably a good place to be looking at modifying risk.
How good is the evidence that the things you can do, and what are the things you can do? I remember 20 years ago, it was all about aluminium pans, wasn't it? and everybody threw away their aluminium pans.
There are still people exploring that avenue but I think the level of evidence is such that that we wouldn't certainly be advising people to throw away aluminium pans at this stage.
So if you were to look at the things that cause dementia, that you can modify, what would they be? You would certainly rank very high on the list diabetes.
Type II diabetes is doing that.
Does that not point to a future in which an awful lot more people are going to develop dementia? I don't think one should say, "I've got diabetes, there is nothing I can do about it.
" I think if you manage your diabetes well, then you will hopefully get back to the same risk as somebody without diabetes.
So there are endless claims in the newspapers about some sort of thing will make a huge difference to your dementia.
I'm clutching my favourite drug of choice, which is a cup of coffee.
How good is the evidence that coffee might reduce your risk? There is evidence to say that caffeine is probably good for your for your brain health.
It's one or two small studies -- actually French studies, as it happened -- and they also tended to suggest that it was even more beneficial in women than in men so it seemed to be a gender effect.
In terms of alcohol, is alcohol good for your brain? I think there is probably a level of alcohol consumption which is good for your brain.
Now there's, there's arguments - How much? - Well - And what? - And what? There's a study from France which says it's about Bordeaux, there's a study from Italy that says it's Chianti.
So I think, certainly, you know, small doses of red wine -- - small DOSES - Yes.
- .
of red wine may well be good for-for brain health.
What about something like, say, fish? There is reasonable evidence that eating fish provides you with omega-3, fatty acids, that's good for your brain.
But it's highly unlikely that one specific thing, more of or less of, is going to make any sort of great benefit.
So I think, you know, if somebody thought, "Well, actually, I can still do all the things I've been doing, "but as long as I have fish and chips every night, I'll be OK", isn't going to be true.
But if you were to choose a diet which you think might maintain brain health, then you would be looking at, you know, good fats in fish oils and pulses and what have you.
Do you do any specific things yourself in order to protect your brain into old age? One of the best protecting factors we can have, and in some ways especially later in life, is that social interaction.
There is nothing more cognitively stimulating than talking with people and being, you know, in a pub, in a restaurant or a party with folk.
So again that's that's critically important.
Well, Professor Ritchie has certainly scotched some myths and given us clear pointers to what we should eat and drink to help avoid dementia.
And now it's time for the results of our big experiment -- testing three different activities that are believed to ward off mental decline.
Over to Gabriel.
Eight weeks ago, we embarked on an ambitious trial to see if we could find a way to make our minds sharper as we get older.
We recruited 30 volunteers, split into three groups, to put some brain-boosting ideas to the test.
For our first group -- Sudoku, crosswords and brain teasers.
For the second group -- brisk walking.
And for our final group -- life drawing.
All the groups have been spending three hours a week on their new pastime.
And they've also been wearing devices that monitor how active they are generally, to see whether this has an effect on their brain.
Eight weeks later, they've returned.
- Welcome back, everyone.
- Hi! Clinical psychologist Daniel Collerton is putting them through the same set of mental tests they did at the start to see if they've improved.
Each of our three groups was overseen by an expert and they're all back together to see which group has done the best.
Here are your results.
I feel a bit like the magician's assistant.
'I was unsure as to whether 'we would see any change in our volunteers in just 60 days.
' 3, 2, 1 -- reveal! 'All three groups have seen 'an improvement in their mental performance.
' You're speechless! Speechless! 'But which group are our winners?' The group which improved the most was My group, the art group.
Yes! LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE That naked gentleman certainly had an effect.
Taking up life-drawing was undoubtedly a mental challenge but, unlike puzzles, it combines this with a new physical skill, something that other studies show to be especially beneficial.
But our results suggest that's only part of the reason this group came out on top.
The data from the activity monitors showed that across all three groups, the volunteers who where the most active showed the greatest improvement in the tasks.
And though exercise wasn't their main task, doing the art class made this group, generally, more active than before.
I remember the art group complaining to me about the amount of activity they had to do to get to the art lesson and then standing up for three hours painting.
And probably that was part of the benefit.
So it seems the art group may have benefitted from the mental challenge of learning a new skill, and from being more active physically.
I must say I was sceptical about whether we would notice any change in our volunteers' minds in just a few weeks.
But increasing their activity levels and challenging their minds in ways that barely cost anything does seem to have produced results.
And it seems the most successful way to boost your brain is to combine a new mental challenge with a more active lifestyle.
And what's more, you can start to see the benefits in just a few weeks.
That's enough to give us all something to think about.
That's it from Newcastle.
Next time, we're in London where we'll be doing an experiment to see if you can lower your cholesterol simply by making some changes to your diet.
Revealing the new cure for snoring Get your tongue, and push it backwards.
and asking, what do skin products really do to your skin? Prepare to be shocked! THEY GASP