Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu -a different perspective

Viruses are present in the environment all year round. Some people seem to rarely get viral illnesses and others are frequently sick. Equal exposure does not mean equal numbers or severity of infections.

Lois Pasteur, the father of germ theory reportedly said on his deathbed “the seed (germ) is nothing, the soil (body) is everything.” Whether you get swine flu will be determined by your health rather than the virus. If this were not the case everyone would be equally affected.

To use an analogy, if it is raining outside and you are inside a house, you won’t get wet – unless the roof is damaged and leaking. The rain is the same but your protection has been damaged.

Our protective roof against viruses is our immune system. When it is fully functional, it will stop any virus and we don’t get sick. This happens each day, as we are constantly exposed to viruses, and we don’t even realise it.

We become sick when a virus has gotten through the immune system (through the hole in the roof). At this point the immune system works double time to clear out the invader. Symptoms such as a fever and tiredness tell us the immune system is working.

Two questions that arise are what leads to a weakening of the immune system and what can be done to strengthen it. Attitude and stress are major contributors to weakened immunity. A Spanish University study showed people with a negative outlook on life had four times the likelihood of getting a cold than those with a positive outlook. Those who felt stressed had 3 times the rate. Tiredness, poor diet, overwork and even some medications can lower our immunity. Smoking and exposure to other toxins are also factors.

It may be that getting a virus is a sign that the body is overloaded and hence the virus has slipped through the immune system. When ill, people will rest and reduce their load – just what the body needs. This is a bit like repairing the hole in the roof before it gets bigger.

Our goal however is to keep the roof free of holes. There is much that can be done to strengthen our immune system. Putting the right fuels (foods) into your body is the key. Eat a balanced diet with adequate fruit and vegetables as well as sources of essential fatty acids such as fish, olives (or olive oil), linseed or nuts. In addition to this many people may benefit from vitamin supplements, particularly antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E which help the immune system. Zinc, Vitamin D and Folate supplements are also helpful.

Make sure you get enough sleep, as this is the bodies recharge the battery time and drink 35ml/kilo of water each day.

Most importantly examine your workload and stress levels and take steps to reduce them before they reduce your immunity to illness.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cancer- a sentence or a word?

The word cancer still strikes fear into people’s hearts. In 1971 then president Nixon declared a war on cancer with the aim of winning it by the bicentennial in 1976. Suffice to say this hasn’t happened. In fact the death rate for cancer in the USA adjusted for age and population has declined only 5% in over 50 years. This is despite the spending of billions of dollars.(link 2)

Yet there are people who have beaten cancer and lived long years to tell the tale. The question arises what is different about those people, as they have often received the same medical treatment as those who didn’t survive? In my opinion it will be in their attitudes and how they manage their condition.

Those who see cancer as a word rather than a sentence, those who examine and change their lifestyles do best. I have heard many people describe getting cancer as a wake up call. These people have looked at what aspects of their life are not working and may be “cancerous.” For some it is their diet, some are in toxic relationships, others are overworked. There is no one answer. There are answers though and that is the positive message of every person who has “beaten” cancer.

The key message though is that it is more to do with the individual than the treatment. This does not mean that cancer can be meditated away or replace the need for medical treatment. It does mean that those who take an active role in their recovery will do better than those who regard themselves as “victims.”

Interesting too this week, questions being raised about chemotherapy guidelines being too influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. Writing in the Internal Medicine Journal leading Australian oncologists have criticized drug company sponsored guidelines which encourage” aggressive and often futile treatment with expensive chemotherapy agents”.(link 3 ) In the US a new trial on the drug Avastin failed to show a significant effect in preventing the recurrence of colon cancer. Sales of this drug in the USA were $2.7 billion last year.(link 1)

It is not all doom and gloom. Take an active role in any treatment. Do not see yourself as a victim. Be prepared to look honestly at aspects of your life, which may not be serving you. Be prepared to make changes. Be accepting of your emotions and work through them without suppressing them.

Each person is on a journey in this life. There are lessons to learn and experiences to be had. Work with your body not against it. This does not guarantee recovery from cancer or any illness. It does mean you will get the most out of the days you have on earth however many they may be.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You become what you eat

Two recent reports highlight how easy it is to significantly reduce your likelihood of getting common diseases, and improving your health at the same time.

Research in the UK published in the European Journal of Cancer prevention showed that rates of colon cancer could be cut by around 30% in men and 20% in women. This is achieved by simply eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting down on red meat, (to under 90g per day) doing regular exercise, drinking only moderate amounts (maximum 2 drinks per day for women and 3 for men) of alcohol and being in a healthy weight range. Of course the last one is a by-product of the others.

Meanwhile a review of 50 years of studies on diet and heart disease was published in Archives of Internal Medicine. This showed that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish reduced rates of heart disease. A diet high in processed foods, refined grains, high GI (glycaemic index) foods, red meats and foods with trans fats increased the risks.

These findings do not come as a surprise. Whilst there is at times a view that we are “innocent victims” of disease there is very much that we can do to influence our chances one way or the other. Whilst eating foods which our bodies need and doing regular exercise does not guarantee we will never get sick it does significantly reduce the chances.

You wouldn’t dream of deliberately putting fuel not suited to your cars engine into the tank. Yet many put fuels not suited to our bodies into ourselves. Eating good food is not difficult, boring or expensive. Apart from the benefits outlined above you will have more energy and feel better. What you eat today becomes you tomorrow - think about what you put into your body.

The best way not to get sick is to be healthy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A "rusting" silver bullet

The development of penicillin was rightly seen as a great breakthrough in medicine. Fatal infections could now be treated with a “silver bullet However in nature nothing is static. Bacteria have been around for longer than humans and have survived by being able to adapt.

In the 1970’s a term, antibiotic induced diarrhoea was coined -describing a form of diarrhoea that followed a course of antibiotics. This was caused by a bug, resistant to antibiotics called Clostridium difficile as it was difficult to treat.

The problem has gotten worse. A report in the New York Times (see link) estimates that there are over 350,000 cases and up to 20,000 deaths from this infection each year in the USA. The rate of infection doubled between 2001 and 2005. Almost all of these will be after a course of antibiotics for another reason or were contracted in hospital. In fact the chance of getting this outside a health care setting is low.

Herein lies the issue with our silver bullet and bacteria which are smaller than us but not as stupid as we thought. We overuse antibiotics particularly in illnesses like colds flus, sinus and upper respiratory infections. Many of these are caused by viruses which don’t respond to an antibiotic anyway and others would be adequately dealt with by our immune systems –if we gave them the right support and a bit of time.

Many people believe an antibiotic will reduce time spent off work. This is rarely the case. Some feel better after the first tablet which is nice but has nothing to do with the antibiotic. Some feel that last time they got sick an antibiotic worked so they must need it again. The chances are that they got better anyway rather than due to the tablets.

The medical fraternity and public need to take responsibility here. Doctors have been too willing to prescribe. However there is a contribution from people “demanding” antibiotics when the doctor feels it isn’t needed. Please note – your children don’t need an antibiotic any more than you if they have a cold.

So what can you do to strengthen your immune system. Eat a balanced diet with adequate fruit, vegetables and essential fatty acids such as fish, olives (or olive oil), linseed or nuts. Many benefit from vitamin supplements, particularly antioxidants such as vitamins A C and E which help the immune system. Zinc, Vitamin D and Folate supplements may also have a role. Drink 35ml/kg of (preferably) filtered water each day.

Make sure you get enough sleep as this is the bodies, recharge the battery time. When ill, people will rest and reduce their load – just what the body needs.

Most importantly examine your workload and stress levels and take steps to reduce them before they reduce your immunity to illness.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chocolate Its better than OK

Easter Sunday is the day when everyone can indulge their love of chocolate without feeling guilty-and rightly so. Chocolate is universal. It is said that nine out of ten people say they like chocolate and the tenth is lying.

So why the guilt about chocolate and do we need to feel guilty? Simple answer -NO Chocolate is not intrinsically bad for us. At levels of cocoa of 70% it is actually good for us. What applies to you will depend on how much you eat and the quality.

Chocolate is viewed with suspicion because it tastes so good. As a “pleasure” it has been seen as sinful. There are also linkages between chocolate and that other great “sin” of humanity-sex.

So lets look at the “health benefits” of chocolate. The good feeling you get is not imagined. Chocolate contains a phyto-nutrient, which is an endorphin. The “high” from eating chocolate can be similar to the high runners get. It comes from the endorphins (the bodies natural happy hormone). Chocolate is virtually an antidepressant. Is it any wonder people turn to chocolate when they feel down?

Dark chocolate has lots of minerals including potassium, zinc, copper, chromium and magnesium. Many women turn to chocolate if they have pre menstrual symptoms. This is related to low magnesium. Again the body knows what it needs.

Cocoa is rich in antioxidants (10g dark chocolate has the same amount as a cup of green tea). The glycaemic index(GI)of chocolate is 40. Polyphenols in cocoa can reduce LDL(bad cholesterol). There are also good fats in chocolate.

Above all else fun is one of the pillars of health. Apart from providing goodness for us, our food needs to give us joy. Chocolate scores ten out of ten on this one.

So as I said above, there is no need to feel guilty about eating a bit of chocolate today or on any other day. This does not mean a bar a day and yes you can get all the above nutrients from other sources, perhaps without the same amount of fun. The best is 70% cocoa and organic is great if you can get it.

As part of a balanced DIY health program chocolate hits the spot.

Happy Easter Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A fishy tale

A man with a salmon under his arm goes into a bar and asks the bartender

" Do you serve fish cakes?"

To which the barman replies "No we don't"

The man looks down at the salmon and then back at the bartender and says

" Well thats a pity It's his birthday"

Happy easter Enjoy some fish Full of omega 3s

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Investing in your health

A report in the New York Times shows that sales of vitamins have been going up whilst the economy has been going down. Sales nationally in the USA were up 8% in the last quarter of 2008 compared to 2007.

Different reasons are given to explain this. One theory is that people are buying supplements instead of going to the doctors. According to an economics professor at Princeton, Uwe Reinhardt people are initially trying to “tough it out” rather than go to a doctor. There is also the view that people are concerned about costs of medical care in the USA and particularly their inability to control costs once in the system.

As usual this trend is knocked by doctors. Indeed in February a study was published in the Archives of Internal medicine which claimed no benefit to post menopausal women in taking multi vitamins. It apparently didn’t stop them dying.

Yet the sales figures show that people do benefit. As the old saying goes you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. If there was no benefit to people in taking supplements eventually they would stop. Consumption would certainly not increase and even less so at a time when using your dollars wisely is so important.

Taking supplements does not mean you will live forever. It does not guarantee that you will never get any form of disease. It is about putting the right fuels into your body. This is why there is no absolute one size fits all. Whilst fish oils and multi vitamins are the biggest sellers many people have their own favourites which work for them. Furthermore the body may have different needs at different times.

It is also important to use a good quality supplement.

Professor Reinhardt also described a move to “consumer directed healthcare” which is essentially people taking more preventative measures (especially if insurance premiums or other disease related costs rise.) This is criticised as leading to delay in treatment.

This misses the main point. If you have just had a heart attack, then no vitamin is immediately going to fix it. The role of supplements, healthy eating, regular exercise and the other pillars of health make it less likely you will get disease and hence less likely you will need treatment. This is about reducing the requirement not delaying what may be required.

The best way not to get sick is in fact to be healthy. Consumer directed healthcare is all about you taking control of your own health. DIY health is about you being able to have the knowledge base and empowerment to take action.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just in time for April 1 -The Pollypill

Two days before April fools comes news of a polypill which reduces the chances of “cardiovascular events” (read heart disease ) in healthy people with one “risk factor” for heart disease. The pill contained five different drugs There was aspirin, a cholesterol lowering drug and three drugs used for high blood pressure

The study was done on around 2000 people in India over an 18 month period. The conclusion was that this pill could be “conveniently used to reduce multiple risk factors and cardiovascular risk”

Are you kidding me ? Two days later it could have be put down to an April fools joke. It is hard to know exactly whether this should be taken seriously or not. Firstly there are all the issues to do with statistics and the presentation of medical findings. A drop in rates from 1% to 0.5 % can be presented as a 50%drop in disease rather than a 0.5% drop hence making it sound more impressive

Then there is the small number studied and the short space of time the study ran for. In promoting life long treatment an 18 month trial is meaningless. Most importantly is the confusion of risk factors with actual disease. Reducing” risk factors”, is not the same as reducing disease .This has been well documented The two are in my opinion though, often confused .

Treating risk factors is very popular It is seen as being proactive. It is also potentially life long “treatment “ .However it is essentially reclassifying people with no need for medication into a group of people who” need “medication for the rest of their lives. This is also called the medicalisation of the human condition

Heart disease high blood pressure, stokes and other cardiovascular diseases are largely lifestyle related They are mainly function of our diets weight and physical activity(or lack thereof) This means the solution is not five drugs It means the solution is putting the right fuels into our bodies and regularly moving our bodies. It means carrying the weight the body is designed to rather than an excess

Being on a Mediterranean diet which is high in fruits and vegetables poly unsaturated fats (like olive oil) nuts and unrefined grains and a bit of red wine has a much higher impact on rates of heart disease than any drugs and no side effects .There has even been talk of a polymeal of garlic fish olive oil vegetables blueberries and red wine as a way to reduce heart disease as it has all the right nutrients .This has got to be better than a pollypill

DIY health is all about the things you can do to influence your health now and in the future .Despite our best efforts there may be times when drugs are still needed There is no need for people to take 5 drugs lifelong when change in diet and activity levels would have the same or greater effect