Friday, March 28, 2014

The wrong kind of ears?

Love, pain and snoring. What's the link? Stuff I've been sent to try out recently. Here's how things went

The claim: Sweet dreams without annoying sounds … enjoy an undisturbed night’s sleep particularly if you have a snoring partner. Warning sounds (telephone, crying baby) remain audible so you can still wake up if needed.

The verdict: I liked the little storage tube but neither my husband or I managed to get the earplugs to stay in place long enough to test the claims. ‘Useless,’ said the husband. I wondered if we had the wrong sort of ears.

The product: Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love by Marica Naomi Berger (New World Library)

The claim: 30 minutes a week to the relationship you’ve always wanted.

The verdict: The agenda for the weekly meetings should apparently be: expressing appreciation, co-ordinating chores, planning for good times, addressing problems and challenges. The book is full of annoying American couples (Wendy and Zack, you know who you are),  I failed to find any advice on how to deal with snoring – and I’m not sure British couples are ready to set aside half an hour a week for a regular ‘marriage meeting.’

The product:  Pain Reliever Disposable TENS from Lloyds Pharmacy rrp £6.99

The claim: Good for people who need pain relief from sports injuries or for those who suffer from joint pain as a result of a long-term condition.

The verdict: Husband – who suffers from chronic neck and shoulder pain – gave it a try. ‘Useless, he said. I wondered if he had the wrong sort of pain. 
I also pointed out that Lloyds pharmacy offer a free pain assessment service to help people manage their pain better. By then he was asleep – and snoring. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buzzed off

Mosquitoes have always found me particularly tasty which is why I always slap on anti-mosi stuff even if we're just chilling out in the back garden. So I was interested to get a press release this morning which announced:
New Topical Skin Patch Launches To Stop Insects In Their Tracks This Summer
‘Relax UK has announced that it will make protecting skin from ravenous mosquitoes and other biting insects easier than ever this summer with the launch of the new Don't Bite Me Patch. Using a natural blend of Vitamin B1 and Aloe Vera, the clear topical patch is applied to the skin and actively deters the unwanted attention of those pesky bugs that just wont stop biting. No more chemical sprays or sticky lotions, just a simple, easy and discreet adhesive patch that provides up to 36 hours of guaranteed protection.’

Sounds good. But now comes the scary stuff. According to the press release:

‘Natural products are gaining rapid popularity amongst health conscious consumers worldwide. Many conventional products on the market use an array of ingredients that are proven or suspected of being harmful towards the skin.

‘DEET is of particular concern, studies indicating that the toxic oil could be responsible for neurological damage, Gulf War Syndrome and birth defects in baby boys.

‘The Dont Bite Me Patch is proud to be DEET free and 100% natural. This makes it a safe and non-irritating product that is perfect for sensitive skin types. The formula is also gentle enough to be used on children.’

The trouble is that there is no evidence that Vitamin B1 or aloe vera stop mosquitoes biting – and if you are travelling to countries where maleria is a real risk, using ‘natural products’ could be downright dangerous.

And preying on people’s concerns in this way – especially when it comes to suggesting a link between the anti-mosi sprays you can buy in the supermarket and birth defects – seems pretty underhand to me.

Last year I met insect expert Dr James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicines who explained that even here in Britain we have more than 30 species of mosquito – and most of them like to dine on us.

Today I asked him about the claims made in the Don't Bite Me Patch press release. He said: 'I have never heard of this product, nor have I ever tested it, However, there is no scientifically published evidence that vitamin B repels mosquitoes. In fact, there is scientific evidence to suggest that it does not work.

‘Aloe vera may have a mild repellent effect, as most essential oils do, but neither aloe vera or vitamin B are recommended as repellents for use against mosquito bites.

‘This point is particularly important to note if you are travelling to a country with mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. You must use a product which has been scientifically proven to work. The only repellent products that work are those that contain DEET, PMD and picaridin.

‘If you want some protection from mosquito bites in your own back garden in this country, where the mosquitoes do not carry diseases, then use whatever works for you, so long as it is safe to do so. However, bear in mind that we do have ticks in this country that transmit Lyme Disease, so a good repellent containing DEET or PMD should be used.

‘The claim that DEET is unsafe is simply untrue if it is used appropriately and according to label guidelines. DEET has an incredibly good safety record and it has been around for at least 60 years. There are around 500 million applications of DEET to the skin every year. If it was a big problem, we would know about it by now.

'DEET should be recommended for travellers to countries where there is a risk of mosquito-borne disease.'

Despite these wise words, I suspect many of the old wives' tales about what will and what won’t stop mosquitoes biting will persist. Guidelines, published by Public Health England last August, tackled some of the most common. This is what they said:

‘Herbal remedies have not been tested for their ability to prevent or treat malaria.’

 ‘Electronic buzzers (emitting high frequency sound waves) are completely ineffective as mosquito repellents. Companies selling them have been prosecuted and fined under the UK Trades Descriptions Act … advice is that they should not be used.’

‘There is no evidence that vitamin B1 taken orally repels mosquitoes.’

‘There is no evidence that vitamin B12 taken orally has a repellent effect on mosquitoes.'

‘There is no evidence that garlic taken orally repels mosquitoes.’

‘It is sometimes stated that Marmite® taken orally repels mosquitoes either by giving off a cutaneous odour repellent to mosquitoes or via its vitamin B1 content. There is no evidence that either assertion is true.’

‘There is no evidence that tea tree oil is an effective mosquito repellent.’

‘There is no evidence that proprietary bath oils provide effective protection against mosquito bites.’

Friday, March 21, 2014

Free MOT

If you are going to faint, then I can confirm that the best time and place to do so is probably in the House of Lords, surrounded by healthcare professionals.

It was hot, I had been standing for the best part of two hours – and foolishly I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Despite my protests that I’d be fine after a drink of water and some fresh air, an ambulance was called.

Richard, the first responder who arrived on a motorbike, and his colleagues in the ambulance, were lovely and very thorough. They even gave me an ECG.

I felt guilty at taking up their time – I’m sure there were more urgent cases in the capital needing their help. But top marks to the London Ambulance Service for their prompt, professional response to a call that could have been more serious than it was.

Two days later I was having a different kind of check-up – this time to see what  my cholesterol levels are.

In January the people of Rutland were given a challenge to lower their cholesterol in just three weeks through a combination of exercise, a healthier diet and Flora pro-activ products.

The results? Of those who stuck at it for three weeks, 82 per cent succeeded.

Flora pro-activ would like to encourage the nation to take up the challenge and I’ve agreed to give it a try. You can find out more about the challenge here.

According to the cholesterol charity Heart UK, six out of every 10 adults in Britain have raised cholesterol They say: ‘ For most people a healthy total cholesterol level is below 5 mmol/L (which is short for millimoles per litre of blood)’

Mine came in just under this at 4.81. I’ll keep you posted.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Good Life

Off to the House of Lords - more of this later - for the answer to the question: Can you still live a good life if you have dementia? 

The HoL was the setting for the launch of a report funded by dementia specialists and independent healthcare company Red & Yellow Care and published in association with the Alzheimer’s Society.

The report - amongst other things - aims to alleviate some of the fear people have about being diagnosed with the condition  and to bring a 'more hopeful perspective' in the way we approach it. 

It suggests, for instance, that we should worry less about memory and remembering and focus more on enabling people with dementia to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now.

The report has identified what it calls Six Paths to a Good Life with Dementia.

The other five are:
*Respecting identity
It’s not one size fits all. Being seen and valued as an individual is central.
*Sustaining Relationships
You don’t always need words.
*Valuing Contrast
We all have good days and bad days – why should we expect things to be different for people with dementia?
*Supporting Agency
Not wrapping a person with dementia in cotton wool for their own safety - letting them do things they enjoy even if this means they take risks.
*Maintaining health
Making sure that everything is not automatically put down to dementia. If someone is not eating, they might have dental problems, for example.   

You can read more here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Meaty matters

If, like me, you enjoy tucking in to things like  … beef Wellington, a juicy steak with Bearnaise sauce, leg of lamb roasted with garlic and thyme (you get my drift) … then you might have been dismayed by recent headlines suggesting that eating red meat could be more dangerous than smoking.

May I, then, introduce you to Behind the Headlines, set up in 2007 to provide an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news.

Fortunately for meat-lovers like me, when the Behind the Headlines team examined the story they concluded: ‘We have decades of very good evidence that smoking kills and – fortunately for meat lovers – this latest unhelpful comparison with high protein diets largely appears to be a triumph of PR spin.’

So is red meat good or bad for us? The jury is still out. There is evidence that eating red meat, especially if it has been barbecued, or processed, can be linked to an increase risk of bowel cancer.

On the other hand, according to the Meat Advisory Panel, who carried out a survey into people’s red meat eating habits, most of us know little about the important nutrients – such as iron - that red meat contains, 

‘Almost half (49%) of those questioned wrongly believe that spinach is a better source of iron than red meat, whilst more than one in five (23%) thought they were equally good. Just one in six (15%) correctly rated red meat as a superior source of iron.’
Dietitian Carrie Ruxton said:  ‘Red meat is one of the best sources of easily absorbed iron and it is particularly important for women to understand the value of including beef, pork or lamb as a regular part of their diets.
‘Low iron levels can lead to a host of niggling health problems including tiredness, poor concentration, headaches, feeling short of breath, irritability and dizziness. Symptoms are easily overlooked, but other warning signs include pale skin, brittle nails, cracked lips, muscle pain and feeling the cold.’
So … let me now wholeheartedly recommend you to the Duke’s Head in Highgate Village.

Many years ago I used to play darts (badly) in this pub. It was then a bit of a dive. Now it has been transformed and sells a range of craft beers  - but best of all is the food: salt beef rye buns or bagels courtesy of The Bell & Brisket.

Food for the soul – iron for the body. Perfect.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sunshine Man

don’t all look 
like this.

Some of them look
more like this

If you know about Vitamin D, why it’s called the sunshine vitamin, and why so many of us in the UK don’t get enough, then Oliver Gillie is the man to thank.

He has campaigned tirelessly for the health benefits of sunshine to be recognized and he now believes that low vitamin D levels may be linked to a rise in a whole range of ‘modern’ diseases.

That’s why he is calling for all pregnant women to be given free vitamin D supplements.

He says:
As a scientist and writer, I first realised the significance of vitamin D for prevention of ill-health some 12 years ago, at a time when it was only recognised as important for bone growth. I have researched and written extensively on the topic, including a report on the health benefits of sunlight - this at a time when official advice was to avoid the sun at all costs, especially when the sun is at its highest.

‘My belief is that we could go much further – that vitamin D, given freely to all women in pregnancy, could be used to curb or prevent some major diseases including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, schizophrenia, asthma and several cancers; and that it might also be used to treat established disease, at least in early stages.’

You can read the full article here.

It makes sense to me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Piecing things together

What is Mosaic?

a) the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials.

b) a collection of compelling stories that explore the science of life?

Top marks if you answered a and b – and never mind if you didn’t.

 Simply check out Mosaic, launched by the Wellcome Trust and now bookmarked as one of my regular reads.

In the first week's issue I particularly liked The Alzheimer’s Enigma which asks whether we will ever be able to pinpoint the cause of this devastating condition  if, like good detectives, we gather enough clues. 

Another feature that told me things I didn't know was The Future of Sex which is about the reinvented female condom – once described as as a plastic bag 
with the erotic appeal of a jellyfish.

The image used to accompany the article 
sparked a bit of a Twitterfest – what do you think?

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Secret Phobia

I’ve written about phobias many times – social phobia, arachnophobia, fear of flying, even fear of giving birth. But the one phobia that magazines and newspapers don’t like featuring is emetophobia – fear of being sick or of seeing someone being sick. ‘Too yucky,’ one commissioning editor told me.

Yet emetophobia can be a full-blown pathological phobia that significantly affects people’s lives, day in and day out.

As therapist Rob Kelly says: 'Emetophobia is a little known but incredibly debilitating fear. I've seen the devastating affect it has on people's lives - many are teetotal and avoid other drinkers by not going out because they fear they may witness someone vomiting.

‘Similarly, sufferers may avoid dining out or eating food prepared by others and they worry a great deal about hygiene - taking excessive time off work or school because they worry about being exposed to germs that will cause them to be sick is a common example.

‘There are some extremes where women avoid becoming pregnant worrying about morning sickness, or feel completely unable to look after their children when they are unwell.’

Sarah Burton used to suffer from emetophobia. When she was 15 she was wrongly diagnosed with an eating disorder. In fact, the reason she had stopped eating was that she was afraid that food would make her sick.

Sarah lived with emetophobia for years, keeping it secret from friends and partners, until at the age of 36 she stumbled across the programme developed by Kelly. It lets people ‘understand how their unhelpful beliefs and thinking styles contribute to their phobia’ and helps them change these ways of thinking .

Kelly has now written a self help book Cure Your Emetophobia and Thrive (available on Amazon, £ 22.95) and has a websiteAdmittedly I’ve not tried and tested his methods – but they certainly worked for Sarah.

She now says: ‘I don’t obsess about sell-by dates on food any more, I can watch hospital programmes on tv – and I’m looking forward to trying oysters!’

Personally Sarah, I’d still give oysters a miss … 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

And what do you do?

Today actor Tim West  revealed that his wife, Fawlty Towers star Prunella Scales, has 'a sort of mild Alzheimer's'. 

I know this isn’t a fun topic. But I have a little first-hand experience of what living with someone with dementia is like. 

My father-in-law, a clever, perceptive man, developed dementia towards the end of his life. And although we could laugh about his little ways – humming to himself when he couldn’t follow the conversation round the dinner table or asking the same questions in a tone of polite enquiry over and over again – it can’t have been easy for his wife who cared for him day in, day out.

I was recently sent a book written to help families cope with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. It’s full of useful, easy to understand advice and I could have done with it when my father-in-law was still alive. 

It spells out how to  managing the sort of challenging behaviours that may present themselves  - such as agitation and confusion, hiding things or refusing to wash. The advice is often simple but is drawn from decades of caregiving experience by experts. So although I haven't personally tried and tested these techniques, others have. 

Here are a couple of tips concerning meal times:
*Avoid patterned dishes, placemats and tablecloths. Patterns can be confusing as vision worsens or distracting when you need Mum to eat.

*Look to create contrast on the dinner plate. Mum may not be able to see turkey, potaties and cauliflower on a white plate. Consider a coloured plate.

And a couple about delusions:
*Enter her reality. If Mum believes she is a young mother with toddlers, go along with her reality in a non-commital way by discussing how toddlers can be difficult. Redirect Mum to a favourite activity such as naking a cake.

*If Mum says ‘There’s a man outside,’ say ‘He’s just passing by. Let’s go and have some lunch.’

Confidence to Care by Molly Carpenter (Homestead Press) is available through Amazon rrp £7.99.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Handbags in Amsterdam - my mini-break heaven

When we head off for a mini-break at this time of year M and I always have the same discussion. 

Should we go chasing the sun to celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary? 

Or should we head for a destination where there will be plenty to do even if it pours?

This year I won and we headed off to Amsterdam.  And it was a brilliant choice.

More by luck than judgement the hotel turned out to be in an area called De Negen Straatjes – the Nine Streets – full of designer boutiques and galleries. Shopping heaven.

It’s many years BC (before children) since I was last in Amsterdam – but some things haven’t changed. 

The cyclists still don’t wear helmets, ride sit-up-and beg bikes carrying dogs, children and everything else you can possibly imagine, and don’t mow down pedestrians or jump the lights.

I can’t comment on the red light district – or pot  because we didn’t check out either. But the revamped Rijksmuseum is stunning.

So what else can I tell you? It‘s easy to get around on foot or by tram but Schipol airport feels enormous and if you’ve pre-ordered an city card or equivalent you may find it easier to pick this up from the visitor information centre opposite the Central Station rather than schlep around the airport with your bags looking for the one there (which is what we did).

And remember that if you decide to take the hotel shuttle bus service into the centre your hotel might be the last on their drop-off schedule – which is fine if you have a map and want to orientate yourself but not so good if you just want to check in and unpack. 

We did posh wining and dining at the wine bar Vyne and the restaurant Envy – both within walking distance of our hotel, both excellent. But we went twice to Bistro Bijons – even though I was convinced when I first saw it, that it would be simply a tourist trap.
It did feel a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo -  but the stampot (a Dutch stew) was tasty and filling and the women running it were a cabaret act in themselves.

But the highlight of the trip for me was high tea at this museum. Handbags, champagne and cakes. What better birthday treat could there be?