Category: Latest News

Eczema and sunlight: New study

Concerns about the downside of exposure to the sun’s rays seem to be everywhere these days, and while such worries are certainly not without foundation, and people should always use SPF to protect themselves, it is crucial to keep in mind that sunlight is also good for our health. A recent study has discovered that the symptoms of eczema can be reduced by exposure to sunlight, a finding that could open up a whole new array of methods by which to treat one of the most common skin problems in the United Kingdom.

Eczema – what is it?

Eczema is a skin condition, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, which affects a large proportion of the population and is characterised by patches of skin that become inflamed and itchy. Eczema is particularly common in babies and children, often materialising on infants’ faces, but teenagers and adults can also be afflicted, with eczema striking behind the knees and inside the elbows. Atopic dermatitis affects both sexes equally, and can in some rare instances first occur during puberty or even adulthood.

Types of eczema

Although atopic dermatitis is normally the condition to which people refer when they are talking about eczema, which is both the most chronic and most common form of the condition, there are a number of other types of eczema, including:

  • contact dermatitis
  • nummular dermatitis
  • dyshidrotic dermatitis
  • seborrhoeic dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is the result of contact with some sort of irritant which can cause burning, redness and itching. When the irritant is taken away the inflammation will also subside. Nummular dermatitis, which affects men more than women, generally strikes on the legs in the winter months, causing round, dry patches of skin.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis, which affects women more than men, can appear on the soles of the feet and the palm of the hands as well as the fingers, resulting in scaly, itchy skin patches that become red, painful, cracked and flaky. Seborrhoeic dermatitis is responsible for red, scaly, itchy rashes that materialise on the scalp, the eyelids, the eyebrows, and on both sides of the nose.


It is still not fully understood exactly what causes eczema, but it is believed that the condition is a consequence of an overactive immune system responding to the presence of irritants in a very aggressive manner. An abnormal response to bodily proteins can also cause eczema, with the immune system becoming unable to distinguish between the proteins of an invader, such as viruses or bacteria, or the normal proteins that are a natural part of the body, thus resulting in inflammation. When one or several symptoms of eczema suddenly appear on the body, this is known as an eczema flare-up, and common triggers of this include:

  • chemicals that dry the skin which are found in detergent and cleaning products
  • synthetic fabrics
  • sweating
  • a sudden fall in the humidity level
  • food allergies
  • an upper respiratory infection
  • scratchy, rough material such as wool
  • an increase in body temperature
  • changes in temperature
  • stress
  • animal dander

The new research

In the new study University of Edinburgh researchers performed tests on healthy volunteers and found that nitric oxide was released into the bloodstream when a small area of skin was exposed to UV light, dampening inflammation and causing a reduction of symptoms in eczema patients such as itchiness. Dr Anne Astier, the lead researcher on the project, says that the new findings imply that there are powerful anti-inflammatory properties to nitric oxide, potentially offering a new avenue of treatment for eczema sufferers.

The condition affects one in twenty adults and one in five children in the United Kingdom, and scientists believe that new therapies could result from the discovery, with the intention being to mimic the impact of the sun’s rays but without its adverse side-effects. People suffering from severe forms of eczema often make use of tanning lamps as a way to cope with symptoms, but this can result in other, even more serious, issues including accelerated ageing, skin burning and an increase in the risk of cancer. The University of Edinburgh’s senior dermatology lecturer, Professor Richard Weller, says that science is just starting to discover that vitamin D is only the beginning of the sun’s health benefits.

Categories: Latest News, Skin

Study Finds Health Risks of Artificial Sweeteners

Every few years, a new health scare comes along that makes us change our diets, re-join the gym and start reading food packets in the supermarket. The most recent and sustained campaign has related to sugar intake; namely, why we should all aim to reduce it.

A high sugar intake is bad for us for a number of reasons – it can lead to tooth decay, weight gain (which in turn increases your risk of serious conditions such as diabetes) and potentially even depression. In an effort to avoid sugar, many people turn to artificial sweeteners, but if the latest studies are anything to go by, artificial sweeteners may do just as much harm as the real thing.

According to a recent study carried out by the University of Manitoba in Canada, the consumption of sugar alternatives is linked to weight gain and an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The research project, led by Dr Meghan Azad, reviewed data from 37 separate studies, which looked at more than 400,000 people over a 10-year period.

Part of what is concerning about this news is that most artificially sweetened products are not clinically trialled. It’s not known, in other words, exactly what kind of effect sugar alternatives are having upon our bodies.

How worried should we be about artificial sweeteners?

The main issue with the reporting that surrounds this kind of study is that it is not clear what the correlation is between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. One explanation for the data may be that a large proportion of people who opt to use sugar substitutes already have difficulty sticking to a healthy weight, and may be predisposed to diseases such as diabetes.

Another convincing theory that scientists have suggested is that artificial sweeteners can actually stimulate your appetite, causing you to eat and drink more than you would if you had consumed a product containing sugar. As detailed here, artificial sweeteners do not seem to activate the same “reward” pathways in the brain as natural sweeteners. When we consume something sweet that is “decoupled from caloric content” our reward pathways aren’t activated to the same extent, which leads us to “seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness”.

After drinking a Diet Coke, in other words, we may be more tempted to reach for a biscuit or a packet of crisps than if we had drunk a full-sugar Coke.

Considered in this light, artificial sweeteners themselves may not be problematic, but their effect upon our brains may lead us to develop particular eating behaviours, which counteract the benefits of consuming low-sugar or zero-sugar products.

For people using artificial sweeteners in their diets, there is not necessarily cause for alarm just yet, but as Dr Azad has said, “caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised.”

This may be especially important to bear in mind if you are currently trying to lose weight, and you find that you are relying upon low-calorie or zero-calorie products that contain artificial sweeteners. Though sweeteners are recommended by the NHS as a substitute for natural sugars, it’s important to bear in mind that weight loss should incorporate a balanced, healthy diet and exercise. Switching to low or no-sugar versions of your favourite foods alone is unlikely to be effective.

Losing Weight 

If you’re keen to lose some weight and get healthier, the best thing to do is adopt a realistic and manageable diet and exercise plan. One place to start is with your sugar intake; slowly reduce the amount you consume in your diet and start eating more fruit to satisfy sweet cravings.

Eat plenty of vegetables and fibre-rich starchy foods such as jacket potatoes and brown rice, and cut back on red and processed meats. Source healthy protein from pulses, beans, fish, eggs and lean meats like chicken and turkey, and switch to lower fat dairy products.

Exercise is also key – adults should try to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and strength exercises two days a week.

Lastly, if you’re really struggling to lose weight, remember that certain prescription medicines can help. There are online Weight Loss clinics, which may be suitable for you.

Categories: Latest News, Weight Loss