I received literature from a company selling mineral supplements known as colloidal mineral supplements, which the company claimed are dramatically more effective than inorganic minerals taken in tablet form because they are 98 per cent absorbable by the body – compared to only 8 to 12 per cent for inorganic minerals (falling to 3 to 5 per cent in people over 40).

Supplementary news

I received literature from a company selling mineral supplements known as colloidal mineral supplements. The company claims that colloidal mineral supplements are dramatically more effective than inorganic minerals taken in tablet form because they are 98 per cent absorbable by the body – compared to only 8 to 12 per cent for inorganic minerals (falling to 3 to 5 per cent in people over 40). What is your view of these claims? Are you able to cite credible scientific research in their support?

My view is that claims for the effectiveness of colloidal mineral supplements are a load of complete nonsense. I have searched the medical literature looking for evidence to confirm the claims made by the company you mention. I can find no credible evidence for any of them. Colloidal mineral supplements are extracted from shale that is mined in Emery county, Utah. The shale is ground up and mixed with water and left to sit for a few weeks. The minerals allegedly leach out into the water, which is then filtered and made into various preparations. These are sold at high prices through shops, the internet and mail order. A reputable study of colloidal mineral supplements containing silver was published by scientists from the American Food and Drug Administration in 1996. It concluded that there was no evidence that these products were effective, and it warned of their potential toxicity.

Stomach pains

Over the last year I have had four bouts of very severe stomach pains with violent vomiting. My GP says this is unlikely to be caused by an ulcer as I have no symptoms between bouts. However, the last outbreak was so excruciatingly painful that I am keen to find out what might be causing the problem so that I can take appropriate action. I do not eat meat, and suspected at first that the vomiting might be caused by shellfish. On the first two occasions I had eaten out in seafood restaurants shortly before the attack. But on subsequent occasions when I have been ill I have not had any shellfish, and indeed I have eaten shellfish between attacks with no ill effects at all. It was so bad on one occasion that I couldn't move and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance, only to be put on a saline drip and, after blood and urine tests came back negative, discharged the next day with instructions to take it easy for a while. Is there any way of finding out what might be behind my problem so that it can be treated once and for all?

Making a diagnosis of intermittent symptoms is always difficult. It is the medical equivalent of an intermittent fault in a car. The car sometimes refuses to start. You take it to the garage, the mechanic turns the key and the engine starts immediately. "Seems OK to me," he says. Both patients and car drivers find this incredibly frustrating. You seem to have eliminated shellfish as a cause. Could there be some other food or ingredient, that has been the culprit in every attack? If not, you may want to consider seeing a gastroenterologist with a view to having an endoscopy. This involves the insertion of a flexible fibre optic tube into the stomach to have a look around. An intermittent problem that has only occurred four times in a year could be caused by an ulcer, or some other unusual problem in the stomach which would not be detected by blood and urine tests. If you have any other symptoms, such as weight loss, indigestion, swallowing difficulties or nausea, the need for an endoscopy is more pressing.

Early developer

My daughter is only seven but she has slight underarm body odour and her hair has begun to get greasy very quickly. Could she be showing signs of puberty? (She is very tall for her age and slightly overweight.) And should I be worried?

Puberty among girls happens at a younger age than it used to years ago. The average age for puberty to begin is now about 10 or 11 years old. The average age for periods to begin is 12 or 13. Seven, however, is unusually early, so you are right to be concerned. In girls, the first signs of puberty are the beginnings of breast development, and the growth of pubic hair. If neither of these is present, I think it is unlikely that puberty is starting yet. Precocious puberty in girls is defined as the start of puberty before the age of eight, so even if your daughter does start puberty in the next year or two, this is unlikely to be abnormal. If you are worried, I suggest talking to your GP, who can compare her growth and development to standard charts. If she is developing abnormally early, she needs a full assessment from a paediatrician.

Have your say

Dr JH, a retired GP, suggests a fail-safe remedy for head lice:

I was a GP for 38 years. When all else failed, I used to advise parents to shave their children's heads. I don't think anyone ever did, but it should work. It might be worth a try now that the look is fashionable.

JH from Devon helps to unravel the mystery of using haemorrhoid ointment as an instant facelift:

The magic ingredient might be witch-hazel lotion, a mild astringent used topically to shrink haemorrhoids and acute swellings such as bumps on the head. I once asked an elderly lady for the secret of her beautiful complexion; she had lived a colonial army life in India and the only beauty product she could get hold of was witch hazel.

Please send your questions and answers to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax to 020-7005 2182; or e-mail to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions

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